This originally appeared as part of the Daily Sip, a website from the Charles LaFond, an Episcopal Priest who raises money for the homeless and lives on a horse farm in New Mexico with his dog Kai. offering daily meditations and reflections.
A neat, ordered mind is a beautiful spiritual act. It is a big job. One can go to church for decades and perhaps never much let it change their life. It takes time and effort to notice one’s thoughts and actions, but gathering one’s thoughts and bailing them, can keep us believing in the ones which harm us and others.
The farmer next door bales his grass in massive bails the size of a Volkswagen Beatle Bug. They are neatly bound and I always marvel at the precise nature by which the machinery bails the messy piles of cut grasses into these neat, tidy bales. It is fun to climb up on them and take a nap with one’s margarita. They usually bale in the early evening when the day is quiet and the sun not so hot – right about cocktail hour. I find them meaningful icons in the spiritual life as well.
For so many, “mindfulness meditation” is seen as an exotic thing done by thin, toned, attractive people in leotards whose bodies show well in them. Cross-legged on a cushion and smelling of lavender, we imagine these people with a combination of respect and eye-rolling. We imagine that they eat tofu, demure from desserts, never fart, abstain from television and ingest vitamins the way most of us enjoy a scotch at the end of a day.
But mindfulness meditation is neither “eastern” nor is it “unchristian.” We know that Jesus went to the mountains to pray very early and it is conceivable that if Jesus spent two or three minutes asking God for things, He spent another hour or four sitting with his mind, re-collecting yesterday and preparing for today.
Sometimes mindfulness will stand guard at one’s thoughts noticing the ones which cause actions which further cause suffering in us and for others. At other times mindfulness will be there to encourage us to stand up, speak or write the truth, and do so with the kind of courage which retains integrity even if it results in a backlash of domination and abuse. There are times when we must simply decide we can no longer “take it” and it is at those time when mindfulness says “OK. Act. Speak. But be gentle when they notice and attack, for what you are about to say is true, but it will threaten them, so brace for impact.”
A wife standing up to an abusive husband, a child standing up to an unintelligent teacher, a leader calling for institutional change, a group demanding that racists go home – these will result in a backlash. Mindfulness does not protect one from the lashes, but it will root one to the ground while they are being administered. And, mindfulness will also help one to decide how many lashings is enough before deciding to, as the scriptures say, knock the dust off our feet and move on to greener pastures. Sometimes the fight needs to be left to others.
Gathering our thoughts at the beginning and end of each day like the grass bales of my neighbor is a valuable practice in my opinion, much more valuable than two hours of hymns, processions, prayers and praises. People crave knowing God without the least curiosity about knowing themselves. I guess knowing God is easier since one need not do much as a result. Praise, sing, praise, bow, praise eat, praise drink, have coffee, go home and spend a week being exactly the same !#&#%$#@ we were on Saturday night…is that really a plan?
They say prayers don’t change God, they change us. And I believe that. But examining our lives with detached curiosity needs to happen first or we will recklessly, messily, mindlessly be praying for the wrong things. I actually believe God has a handle on life here on planet earth and does not need my operating manual. I am not sure God needs my “to do list” in order to do God’s work. But a sweep of my own mind to determine when my speech needs to be quieted and when risk is worth the welts, seems to be a valuable way in which to bale the hay of a day.