Ever felt like a beetle on its back?
As I walked into the porch this afternoon, I saw a beetle struggling madly on its back, lying on the plastic cover of a letter that had dropped through the post box.
It made me think of times I had felt like that. The harder I had tried to sort something out the less effective my efforts where.
It can be like that with our afflictive thoughts and emotions which flip us on our back. We try to solve them with rational critical thinking, thinking that will flip us the right way – but like the beetle we remain stuck.
It is when we stop the ruminative struggling (like leg waving in a beetle) and step out of rational critical thinking (what psychologists call the doing mental gear) and step into the being mental gear that we can begin to right ourselves again. We do this by coming to our senses and anchoring ourselves in our breath, or in a body scan, or mindful walking (mindful awareness practices).
It really does flip us back to being the right way up, even though it feels counter-intuitive. Give these mindful awareness practices a go, and let go of the mad leg wiggling of rational critical thinking.
By the way I did rescue the beetle. I am sure it waved a thank you.
Spent yesterday with Gary Dell (@wisewordtv) and Cathy Le Feuvre recording six podcasts for A Book of Sparks – a Study in Christian MindFullness.
These were done as interviews, with readings from the book and example meditations or mindful awareness practices.
The idea came about for this to become a resource for small groups or individuals to use as they work their way through the 40 meditations in A Book of Sparks, along with a study guide.
An ecumenical prayer group are going to use the book as a post – Alpha course, and these recordings were initially done for them, as they begin their six-week course shortly.
Cathy’s new book is out this week, entitled ‘William and Catherine’ – the love story of the founders of the Salvation Army told through their letters. You can read more about this and her work in media communications, and background in broadcasting and production on her website: http://www.cathylefeuvre.com/.
Gary also has a wealth of experience in production and broadcasting and I am hoping to interview soon about his work via @wisewordtv.
I have just come back from leading a retreat at Worth Abbey about shifting our mental gear from doing to being, from thinking to awareness. The beautiful Abbey Church has a visual parable built within it, that helps illustrate an important aspect of our awareness.
It is a circular church, and has windows running all around the rim of the circle (see photo). Attention is about what we do with our awareness. We can focus our attention, for example, on sounds – allowing whatever sounds are out there to come into our hearing. That is like looking through one window of the many we could look through in the Abbey Church.
Daniel Siegel in his book The Mindful Brain talks about us having a rim of awareness through which things can be attended to. We have our five senses on the rim, five windows if you like on to the world. But Daniel Siegel suggests we have eight senses: in the sixth sense we can become aware of what is going on in our body, in the seventh sense we can become aware of what is going on in our minds – thoughts, feelings, sensations, and in the eighth relational sense we can become aware of what is going on with other people around us.
I would also like to suggest that there is a ninth sense, that works with the other eight senses, which is about becoming aware of the presence of God.
We can focus our attention, just attending to one window, whether it is hearing or sight. But we can also cultivate an open awareness where we are able to allow all our senses to come into awareness. Using the Abbey Church as an example this is where light is coming in through all the windows, and we are aware of all the windows in the circular rim of the church simultaneously.
Often we live through only a few windows, the others blacked out to our awareness and attention. Mindfulness and contemplation open up all the windows of awareness to our awareness and attention. As this happens we begin to experience life in the moment as it truly is, which is whole and full of healthy possibilities, including the possibility of hearing the footsteps of the Invisible One in our life.
I have also been watching Howard Goodall’s Story of Music on BBC 2, The Age of Invention (1650-1750), and was enraptured with the performance of Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. I thought, surely this has been played somewhere in the world every day since 1723? Surely the world could never grow tired of listening to it!
I was surprised to hear that Vivaldi ended his days in his sixties in obscurity and poverty in Vienna, having left his beloved Venice, and that his music lay silent for nearly 200 years.
We all have these automatic assumptions. For example, surely New Year has always been celebrated on January 1st every year? According to Stephen Alford’s book The Watchers: a secret history of the Reign of Elizabeth I, January Ist as the first day of the New Year didn’t get adopted in England until 1752.
In the same period between 1650 and 1750 when the laws of gravity were discovered by Isaac Newton, Howard Goodall says musicians became aware of and began playing with the gravity of music. In particular he places one sequence of chords, ‘The Circle of Fifths,’ at the centre of musical gravity. In fact the dozen or so chord sequences beloved of composers in 1700, are, he says, still the top dozen harmonic sequences today.
Religion played its part in the discovery and invention of music, as it did in the discovery of the gravity of attention and awareness. All major religions played a part in this earlier age of discovery and invention of contemplative practices.
As I look at this gravity of awareness and attention, these archetypal chords of the mind, this still music within our thoughts and feelings – I think, surely the church has always been aware of this?
However, as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons fell silent and out of favour, so in the Western Church did this central area of attention and awareness. Watchfulness was once considered the hallmark of sanctity and holiness in the Christian life, but not so in the modern church. It has taken those outside the church, psychologists in particular, to mine the ancient wisdom of the contemplatives.
The modern church has limited itself to a meagre diet, the few notes that sound out reason, and rational, logical propositional thought, and has lost the ancient harmonies, melodies and rhythms of mystery. Indeed mystery and contemplation for some has been seen as forbidden fruit. We have become more harpsichord than piano, unable to play loud and soft.
So what are the archetypal chords of the mind?
The first is the ability to sustain our attention. When our mind wanders off on a ruminative tune, we notice that wandering, and what it wanders to, and switch our attention back to our object of focus. The aim is to catch the first thought as it sounds out, and not allow ruminative and secondary thought processes to write their own music, usually out of tune and discordant.
Within this pattern and in the infinite circle of the present moment we move from focused attention to a more open awareness. It is in that more open awareness as we still our minds that we begin to hear the music of God’s presence. We hear the seductive notes of the addiction to our own ego. We begin to hear the sounds of other people and the created world around us.
What is particularly interesting as you look at the history of composing, whether it is music, books, sermons, art, is that many Christians were involved. Many of them approached this act of composing as a ‘meditatio’, a meditation – and out of this approach came the most dazzling creativity.
Why do we need to rediscover the still music of our minds through contemplative practices? Through these archetypal chords of attention and awareness beauty is discovered and released, the visible is placed at the service of the invisible. In this new ecstatic seeing of reality, we are enabled to hear, in the words of William Blake, the song of the angel, the song of the wild flower.