Mindful Relating – mindfulness day at St Mary’s Ealing
Saturday May 2nd 2015 from 10 to 4
Mindfulness is being used to transform our intimate relationships. In this day together we explore a Christian perspective on relating mindfully. Stress damages our relationships as do our own internal negative patterns of thinking and behaviour. Through mindful awareness we learn how to handle stress better, reduce our emotional reactivity and develop more skilled ways of communicating with our loved ones. We will also look at how developing a mindful/contemplative spirituality enhances our close relationships by living out of our deepest values.
If you want to sign up email me via this website and I will pass on your details to the organisers. The cost is £10.
This is Paul Hammond’s interview with me via UCB National Christian Radio – finding grace in the ordinary mindfully.
You can find out more about UCB via their website: http://www.ucb.co.uk/listen.html
Folks have been asking if I am running a retreat at Worth Abbey again next year, and yes I am! The details will be on their website soon but if you want to book in advance then you can email the Open Cloister bookings secretary, Alison Schillinger via TOC@worthabbey.net.
It is the weekend of 9-11 January 2015 and is called ‘Watching with our Transforming Lord.’
This is what they said about it last year:
How do we follow the footsteps of Jesus into our homes, works, and relationships in a way that transforms our lives? In Mark’s gospel, Jesus shows us the way through watchfulness, a lost aspect of the gospel which is cultivated through contemplative practices like Lectio Divina, silence and the Jesus Prayer. The retreat will look at how these practices help us deal with time and work stress. This is an opportunity at the start of a New Year to take time out to take a fresh look at our lives.
How do we enter the doorway of the present moment? One of the ways is by answering a riddle, says contemplative writer Martin Laird.
One of the riddles he sets is this, ‘What do thoughts and feelings appear in?’ (‘Into The Silent Land’, p.80). When I ask people that question, many people can’t answer it. The answer Martin Laird gives, based on his study of Christian contemplative writers is that our thoughts and feelings appear in awareness (p.88).
Now this is affirmed by cognitive psychology and neuroscience. J. Mark G. Williams and Jon Kabat-Zinn summarize this beautifully in their introduction in the book ‘Mindfulness: Diverse Perspectives on its Meaning, Origins and Applications,’ jointly edited by them.
They define mindfulness as awareness, ‘an entirely different and one might say, larger capacity than thought, since any and all thought and emotion can be held in awareness.’ (p.15) This is something we need to become aware of. But as they go on to say, ‘While we get a great deal of training in our education systems in thinking of all kinds, we have almost no exposure to the cultivation of intimacy with that other innate capacity of ours that we call awareness.’ (p.15)
This is why people struggle to answer the riddle, ‘what do thoughts and feelings appear in?’ Williams and Kabat-Zinn go on to say, ‘Awareness is virtually transparent to us. We tend to be unaware of our awareness. We so easily take it for granted.’ (p.15) And yet it is one of our most important innate capacities.
As they conclude, ‘It rarely occurs to us that it is possible to systematically explore and refine our relationship to awareness itself, or that it can be ‘inhabited’.’ (p.15) Mindfulness is awareness but mindful practices can help us systematically ‘explore and refine our relationship to awareness’ so that it can be ‘inhabited.’
One of my favourite mindful awareness or meditative practices is mindful walking. Within the formal meditation you take a certain number of steps, with your focus of attention on the soles of your feet, the movements that make up a step, and the streams of awareness inside you that are your senses. Along with this focused attention you can cultivate an open awareness to gravity as it acts on your body as you slow your movements down, your balance, sounds around you…
You can of course go on an extended walk as a mindful awareness practice, a walk of being rather than doing. As I’ve practiced the more formal meditation, in places like this little garden in the grounds of the Royal National Orthopedic Hospital (RNOH) in Stanmore I noticed that my mind began to clear and difficult decisions became easier as if in the process of walking the negativity within was trailing out behind me.
I was reminded of a story about Desert Father Moses, which is quoted in Rowan William’s little book ‘Silence and Honey Cakes’ (p.29). In the story Moses is invited to a meeting where a fellow monk is to be judged because he has sinned. First, Moses refuses to go, and then when someone goes to fetch him, Moses takes a leaky jug filled with water with him.
When asked why, Moses replies, ‘My sins run out behind me and I cannot see them, yet here I am coming to sit in judgement on the mistakes of somebody else.’ (Williams, 29)
Moses here is talking about the existence of our sinful trail through life as a negative reality. However, through my experience of mindful walking I’ve realised we can use such a walk in a contemplative way, where we intentionally allow what has been sinful in our life, the mistakes, to run out behind us in confessional awareness – to bring us to a state of forgiveness in our relationship with God.
This active way of contemplating through a walk, may help us to actually let go of our mistakes, and when we have noticed them, asked and received for forgiveness – actually move on, rather than clinging endlessly in negative rumination to those mistakes.
In the process we arrive, not at a place of self-critical judgement, or a projected judgement of others, which Jesus himself asks us to leave behind (Matthew 7:1-5) but a place of clear seeing in which we can take the ‘rain forest’ out of our own eye before we try and take the speck of dust out of someone else’s eye.
Fear and anger, guilt and shame stop us seeing clearly, and silt up our ability to respond wisely to our mistakes. In our contemplative and confessional walking, we can let this silt run out behind us. Usually, then, we can find a place of wisdom and compassion and freedom rather than fear and continued slavery to our sinful habits.
A friend of mine Bruce Thompson posted this photo on Facebook. I was immediately taken to a place of wonder as I looked at it.
Alister McGrath in his beautiful book ‘C S Lewis A Life – Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet’ writes:
‘A central theme in the Chronicles of Narnia is that of a door into another world – a threshold that can be crossed, allowing us to enter a wonderful new realm and explore it.’ (p.269)
Each moment of our life is a threshold to different possibilities, including possibilities of wonder. Sometimes we need a photo, a painting, a poem, a story, a face, a beautiful view to remind us of this, to fill us again with hope.
This coming Friday is the 50th anniversary of the death of C S Lewis. Perhaps you could find the thresholds of wonder in your life by re-visiting, or visiting for the first time his stories.
Many of us at a Remembrance Day service may have sung the great hymn ‘Dear Lord and Father of mankind’.
It is about finding a place of stillness, a contemplative mindful place – where we can sense God’s presence and hear His voice.
But it also speaks to me about what are some Christian distinctives about being mindful.
The first distinctive comes in the first verse where we sing, ‘re-clothe us in our rightful mind.’ Christians believe there is a shape to this right mind, both ethically and in terms of the values we live by. This shape is the very mind of Christ HImself (1 Corinthians 2:16).
But that mind has to be developed through contemplation, the re-clothing takes a lifetime of contemplating God mindfully. It leads us to a life of sacrifice and service lived for others.
The second distinctive that speaks to me through this hymn, is the idea that Jesus sees all things with the Father, ‘interpreted by love!’ ( verse two). This mind of Christ as it is developed in us, our right mind, sees the world ‘interpreted by love!’ The perfect love of God interprets, sees things, truthfully and with absolute clarity.
It is fear that takes us out of our right mind, and it is God’s perfect love that drives out fear (1 John 4:18).
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.