I have just led a retreat at Worth Abbey based on my new book ‘Putting On the Wakeful One: attuning to the Spirit of Jesus through Watchfulness.’ We have a capacity to slow down, to move from doing to being, but most of the time that capacity is as overgrown as this park bench. We don’t cultivate this natural capacity to come to our senses, to re-inhabit our bodies. But when we do we find a place of energy and peace and renewed purpose.
I shared with the group a picture by Kurt Jackson of a stream, where he says of it ‘I can just hear the robin above the roar of the stream.’
I shared that I felt that it could be a picture of life: that something very noisy and difficult can dominate, drowning out all other voices – but that when we slow down we can suddenly hear again the song of the robin in our own life – another more hopeful narrative in play.
I recently bought a Fitbit watch in part to see if my heartbeat slows down when I pray. As I looked at it I realised that just as we can slow down our heart beat, so we can slow down the beats of our mind. We cannot empty our mind, but we can stop it racing with thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. As these ‘beats’ slow down we can move from rational critical thinking to awareness, we can hear the song of the robin, and many other songs as well, including the song God is singing over us.
The Worth Abbey church is a beautiful open space, that expands your mind as you sit within its big silence. We too have a space like this in our cognitive architecture, that lets in the Light – it is called awareness and attention.
My new book ‘Putting On The Wakeful One – Attuning to the Spirit of Jesus through Watchfulness’ is out on the 24th April and available for pre-order from Amazon.
Please click on the above link to get to the details for my retreat there 14-18 November 2016
Please click on link to see details of this retreat!
This is a link to my talk at HTB Focus, Introducing Mindfulness for Christians
I am at Hayes Conference Centre for the @RetreatsUK retreat. The centre has a beautiful pond where you can watch little fish swimming, being still, moving, suddenly startled…
I’ve recorded one minute of this on video. If you are stuck indoors somewhere it is good for your soul just to be able to step back into nature and your senses even for a minute. Watch the fish and notice their movements and their stillness, hear the sound of the birds and perhaps the indistinct sound of people’s voices occasionally in the background. Notice how the light changes and there are ripples on the water from the breeze. Sometimes we see the fish more clearly, sometimes they are more fuzzy and out of awareness.
If you think of the pond as your mind, a pool of awareness, and the fish as thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations that come into your mind. The fish mirror some of the ways your thoughts have patterns and ways of reacting. Notice how the fish are suddenly startled. That happens in our minds many times a day, but unlike the fish we find it harder to be still again. The stress response sends in fear, anxiety, anger in bigger shoals, more often, creating stress ripples that can stay with us.
Sometimes we see the fish thoughts clearly, sometimes they are out of awareness, sometimes we are the fish caught up by the thoughts, held by the experience and dragged down into a negative automatic reacton.
We live in a society and culture that is triggering that stress response many times a day.
In mindfulness and contemplation instead of being held by the experience we can learn to hold the experience, notice it, intimately feel it, and then let it go – coming back to whatever it is we want to focus our attention on. In this way we learn to calm the mind in an ongoing dynamic pattern.
Consider the lilies…
Take one minute out of clock time. Focus your attention on the poppy. Let it bring you to your senses. Let the colour fill your vision in open awareness. See the movement of the petals in the wind. Let the sounds come to you and the silence of the flower.
See the concrete encroaching, is that like your life? Feel the red blood singing in your veins, and the scarlet bleed of pain. Notice the first thought and if your mind wanders into a negative ruminating story, bring it back to the flower.
Is your breath, slowing, deepening in the moment? Did you hear the birds?
Even one minute out of clock time can re-orientate you, allow you to accept things as they are at the moment…let them go.
Come back to the task in hand. Perhaps with a goal for later. To go for a noticing walk…listen to some music…sing along…
Take three minutes out of clock time. Perhaps you are stuck indoors behind a desk. This is a three minute video of the sea, waves gently lapping at the beach.
Come to your senses. Let the waves and the sounds come to you. Notice your breathing, is it rhythmic like the waves? Is it fast and shallow or slow and deep like the waves?
Let the colours come to you. Notice when the clouds come over, or when the sun comes breaking through. Can you hear quieter sounds in the background.
If your mind wanders, notice what it wanders too and bring it back to the waves.
Feel the sand beneath your feet and the coolness of the water. Salt drying on your face and the cool wind and warm sun…
Notice any longings to walk on the beach barefoot, to paddle in the sea. To gaze out at the horizon in open awareness, breathing in freedom. Is there a sense of gratitude and thanksgiving for the gift of your senses…
Did you notice the light flooding in at the end? May it be a picture of wellbeing flooding into you.
Let go of whatever is troubling you. Come back to the task in hand refreshed. As the paddle boarder appears at the end, so it is time for you to journey on to your next task.
Sometimes I talk to people and they describe the remains of a prayer life, like a discarded nest.
Spring is a good time though to start the process of rebuilding a prayer life again. We can take our lessons from the nest-builders.
The most difficult thing in prayer and mindfulness is a daily practice. It is also the most important thing. You have to gather the stuff of a nest, and the stuff of prayer consistently and regularly.
Just as with the birds the stuff we need is all around. In our prayer times God interweaves his Word with all that we bring into a place that we can begin to find, home in on, like a nest. It becomes a home.
Just as the birds find the stuff they need from the environment around, so can we. Time spent in nature, letting the grass whisper of the Creator, as embodied contemplation, adds to the nest. The flight of silence and solitude where we attentively look and listen for the footprints of the Invisible God who is already there with us. The encouragement of others we see flying in the sky, also looking to build a nest of prayer.
The building of a nest and the life of prayer require stability, the returning to one place, from which we can fly. In that place, just like the birds, we can nurture new life, that will grow wings of its own. Like the birds we also need to migrate, to find a place to retreat to. For me over the last 10 years that has been Worth Abbey.
Perhaps each year, like the birds, we need to re-examine the nest, and start the process of building a new one. Automaticity in prayer and life can be the thing that leads us to discard the nest prematurely, and not try to build again.
Building again asks us to hope again, to not give up, to become resilient in our prayer life. In our prayer life our ordinary, embodied and relational life is transformed, as we meditatively consider His Word, the work of His hands…