by Charles LaFond
Our brains and our mind are such different entities. Add to that the notion of our souls, the realities of acedia, resistance, doubt, faith, fear, longings, sexual urges, memory, hope, despair – well, the list goes on and on. A lot happens in our heads, our minds, our guts, our “hearts” and our “nefesh.” So a few chapters in our Rule of life need to be providing us coaching on our thoughts.
I know. I know! If there is one thing Anglicans and Episcopalians need to do less of it’s thinking! We camp out in the library of the Kingdom of God the way Roman Catholics camp in the chancel, Lutherans camp in time-out, the Presbyterians camp out at the end of the driveway to catch the “elect bus” and the Methodists camp in the kitchen (“jealous, party of one, your table is ready!”) We Episcopalians are much quicker to think on things than to feel things. And “doing things” we tend to outsource with “outreach checks.” Though I generalize. A little.
We spend a lot of our time thinking, we humans do. And much of our thinking is fear-based, shame-based and anxiety-producing causing sleepless nights and cancer. So our Rule of Life needs to have some chapters that help to remind us of how we want to be in relationship with our thoughts – what our own thought-boundaries are, or what we hope them to one day become. We have chapters on food, sex, intimacy, friendship, feasting and fasting so we should have a few chapters on the thinking which so influences our responses and reactions to getting and not getting these things and more.
So this week and next week we will be looking at chapters of a Rule of Life on thinking. What letters would we write to ourselves so that we are reminded of how we want to live our lives – regarding how, what and when we think? I know there are things I want to do with my body which would not be good for me – not my best self – so I write a chapter about it. Similarly with food – I need a chapter (or six) on food (check out Nourish Magazine this month or next if you want my Tom Yum Soup recipe!) And so a few chapters on how and what I think will be helpful to me since I do so much damage to myself by way of a lack of mindfulness in my thinking. Gabor Maté has a lot to say about the body’s reaction to our thoughts, so do Brené Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert and Byron Katie. So this week and next we will dig deep into chapters on thinking and thoughts. This week we will look at sample chapters on anxious thoughts and quieting thoughts. Next week we will look at grief, loss, uncertainty and betrayal.
Examples on Anxious Thoughts
Chapter IX – Anxious thoughts
This chapter reminds me that I want to be mindful of my thoughts. Aware of how much damage un-noticed anxious thoughts can do, I seek a life in which, what I think, is monitored by me. My thoughts are like an unruly classroom. The age of the child can vary, but the thoughts are many and loud. My anxious thoughts clamor like children in a one-room school-house. My inner-adolescent in this mind-room is seeking freedom and adventure, and needs to occasionally be told “No, that’s not good for you.” My inner-toddler is seeking connection, protection and comfort, so my job is to speak kindly to him and remind him that I am here to do my best to protect him. In the metaphor of an inner-mind-one-room-school-room, God’s Holy Spirit is the school superintendent, making occasional visits to provide discipline, gravitas, guidance or compliment, tending sheep nearby with an ear open. She visits daily for a long morning session coaching, noticing, asking, soothing. Then she leaves the classroom (but is not far off in the nearby pasture or quiet in the desk next door) and I must manage the thoughts in the inner-mind-one-room-school-room. The anxious thoughts need to be soothed and quickly-quieted or else they will inspire the other thoughts to darken with additional fears.
So attending to my thoughts will be an important work in living my life and I will notice when I am curating my thoughts carefully and when I am not. When I am not attending to my thoughts carefully, I will get the help I need (therapy, friendship conversation, spiritual counseling with a director, retreat, rest, etc.) so that I am more an agent of peace on the planet and less likely to cause harm by a lack of mindfulness.
I am aware of what contributes to a lack of mindfulness in my life and so will attend to those things that strengthen or weaken mindfulness in my life. I am aware that what contributes to good mindful attention to my thoughts is rest, sleep, meditation, attention to the daily chores of life, friendship and real connection, pottery, time with Kai, periods of silence or meditation through the day, a reasonable work schedule, reduced caffeine and good nutrition. I am aware that what contributes to poor mindfulness practice in my life are overwork, exhaustion, fatigue, stress from over-scheduling, poor nutrition, caffeine, sugar, a lack of meditation practice, isolation and poor discernment of my “yes” and the discretion of my “no” to the world around me.
So I will try to manage my life to encourage that which seems to contribute to mindfulness and I will try hard to notice what is eroding my mindfulness practice. When I begin to notice, perhaps through the monthly reading of this chapter, that I am leaving my thoughts un-examined, I will work to make course-corrections so that I am in a life-situation more conducive to mindfulness practice.
And I will make an effort to employ “The Work” of Byron Katie as a way to deeply examine thoughts which recur or are deeply anxiety-producing. I will do the “Judge your neighbor worksheet” on particular thoughts which cause anxiety and from that, will apply Byron Katie’s four questions and turnaround:
- Can you be sure that the though “…” is true?
- Can you be absolutely sure that the thought “…” is true?
- How do you react when you think the thought “…”?
- Who would you be without the thought “…”?
- Turn this around: list three ways that you can see that this thought is not true?
This mental technology, along with silent, wordless meditation and prayer will, over time, help make to deconstruct anxiety and will contribute to being the kind of human and Christian I want to be when I am being my best self. I beg God to assist me in this work so that I may live a peaceful life and contribute, by that, to cosmic peace. And when I fail, I will re-read this chapter as a form of self-coaching and encouragement.
Chapter X – Meditation’s no-thought
Life can be so busy and with so many moving parts. There always seems to be an over-caffeinated and over-functioning list of things to do and this list seems to invade me when I wake up in the morning like Lilliputian office-workers camped out on my pillow, waiting to start screaming at me “Do this!” “No! Do this! It’s more important!” “Do it now!” “But this! What about this! It’s three days late!”
As a child of alcoholics, I was raised without the kind of connection, safety provision and guidance which might otherwise have been possible. This means that I need to take much greater care of myself since doing so does not come naturally to me. And this makes mornings very important.
Let this chapter of the Rule of life remind me, gently and kindly, to relax, to awaken into silence and to remain in silence for a few hours before the day begins. I am aware that many – especially parents – are not able to enjoy morning silence and I will endeavor to pray that God forms safe times in their day to rest, pray or meditate. And for those whose poverty is time, I will join the church in praying for God’s provision of time and awareness so that the suffering from that kind of poverty is soothed and reduced. But for me, and my house, we will sit in silence, with a good lit candle each morning.
I need a place for meditation and I will go to that place to meditate – a comfy chair, a cushion, a bed or mat – the space will be different for each of us but a specific space for meditation is important if there is such a luxury of space.
Meditation will not be something about which I stress out. What irony that would be. So I will try to meditate daily but if I don’t I will not scold myself. Mediation can happen at a bus stop, in an office, at a stop sign (if there is no car behind you.) But I will try to remember how great I feel when I take even a few minutes to stop words in my head and make space for God do sit with me and stroke my hair.
A retreat day monthly and a retreat of 10 days annually will be part of my Rule of life. It feels like a responsibility just like my desire that the pilot flying my plane has taken a day or so a month and a week or so a year to learn new flight technology. Being a priest who does not pray and meditate simply seems like a dangerous thing for the people in the congregation I serve. It seems that the people with whom I am working a s a priest, deserve a priest who prays. Furthermore, it seems that without prayer and meditation, I will be impaired in discernment and discretion – my “yes” and my “no” to what is said and suggested around me.
I will use my phone app, set it for bells to begin and end my meditation, and then sit for it, gently setting aside thoughts which clamor to be heard. They can be heard later. And they will. But for now, me, my God and this candle will sit and simply be together. I believe that the peace I inspire in my self through my spiritual practice, contributes, just a bit, to world peace and church peace. And I believe that if we all did this internal cleansing and seeing, we would achieve amazing things for God’s kingdom.
Next week we will look at some other though-chapters of our Rule of Life. Reply to this article and suggest some chapter titles!