Learning to Sit in Silence

Ever since I got back from Omaha, I have tried to maintain  two 20 minute silent prayer sits per day. Forming a habit is a messy process, so sometimes I forget, other days I only do it once, and I’ve played with the best times of day.  I’ve also attended a weekend meditation workshop at my yoga studio, and picked up some pointers there.  One helpful hint was to meditate before dinner, but that doesn’t really work for me because I’m so hungry by the time I get home!

 

But even though this habit is imperfect and in-process, it’s still forming.  I wake up, and these days I’m trying to wake up without an alarm, and hit my sounding bowl 3 times.  I sit with my back against the wall, on my yoga mat and I close my eyes, placing my palms on my knees.  Some days I hold a more traditional meditation practice repeating a mantra, accepting all the thoughts, emotions and sensations that come up.  Other days, I practice centering prayer, which is more about releasing those thoughts, emotions and sensations, returning to my sacred word, not as a mantra, but when a thought or emotion comes to mind.  The focus is on letting go.  I repeat this same practice right before bed.

There are not really “a-ha” moments.  It’s just a practice in being still. It’s a practice in letting go, so in my active life I will know how when the time comes.  Contemplation and action are not truly separate.  However, even in only intentionally practicing this for one month, I am noticing some shifts.

In silence, it is much easier to embrace the reality that we all are one. And that at the core of our being, we are full of love and goodness.

Not every day, but slowly, my mind can come to stillness more quickly.  In the beginning, I felt like I was constantly returning to my sacred word because my mind could not come to quiet.

It can be quite emotional.  Being quiet and still in our culture is hard!  Hard memories have come to the forefront of my mind.  There has been some freedom for me in letting them go in my prayer sits, but processing them in counseling.

My true self surfaces in these prayer sits and I’m asked to shed my false self.  Letting agendas, plans, titles, and relationships fall away is both scary and a relief.  I am more than what my culture, family, or friends say about me.

Simply, it’s an embrace of the unknown.  And in this quiet space, my perception slowly shifts.  I see reality differently. Once I emerge from my prayer sit, hopefully, I am more grounded, and over time full of compassion for myself and the world.

What’s Saving My Life-Winter Edition

Quite simply, this winter, learning to practice yoga and meditation as a regular practice are saving my life.

I’m learning to be still, to breathe deeply, to be present to this moment, which is a gift I so often look past.

At this place in my healing journey, I expected my life to become faster-more health, more vitality, more relationships, more things on my calendar.  And yes, I can do so much more than two years ago.

And yet the transforming parts of this season are in the stillness, often on my yoga mat.  My life is getting slower yet.

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My prayers are quieter.  There’s just not as much to say.  I’m less reactionary in my conversations with God-not because I’m lessening my honesty or the intensity of emotions.  But instead, because if I’m actually present to a moment of solitude, not much is happening.  Through meditation, my brain is changing (and if you’re a doubter, read this), and I’m practicing paying attention to my body and my breath.  I’m re-teaching myself, that my true self is not necessarily the thoughts I think.

What may be more true about myself is how I breathe and the messages my body is telling me.

It’s not been an easy process (what process is?!).  When I started, I could not touch my toes, and my mind would wander constantly.  After six weeks though, I’m seeing small changes.  I come to a place of stillness more easily.  I’m gaining more flexibility and my posture is improving.  But I’m not practicing yoga for the quick changes.

The most powerful, subtle change has happened in my mind.  Yoga and meditation has helped reduce anxiety.  It has allowed me to take a more receptive approach to life.

I’m learning to see more kindness, rather than threat.

More safety, rather than violence.

More love, rather than hate.

More acceptance, rather than self-destruction.

More friendship, rather than exclusion.

More inclusiveness, rather than competition.

 

I want to be someone who views myself and the world from a place of compassion.

A person who can be still enough to see reality for what it actually is.

A person who is gentle and empathetic, and yet isn’t afraid to speak honestly.

My life is being saved in the daily moments, and I’m grateful.

What is saving your life this winter? 

The Shadow Side

On Monday, I wrote about the spiritual practice called the Examen.  In that post, I also referenced learning to get more in touch with my dark side, or shadow side.

Here’s a real life story of my shadow-side that I thought I’d share, not because it’s overly dramatic, but because it’s human.

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Last week, my roommate and I went to a movie, then decided that dairy free fro yo would make a good dinner.  As we sat outside she began talking about how great summer vacation would be, about school, about her students.  I listened, I asked questions that drew out more information from her, yet underneath there was this subtle jealousy, this sadness that I didn’t want to name.

I tried to mask it, yet in the car on the way home I couldn’t find words to say.

So eventually, later that night, I just said that tutoring behind the scenes in a tiny cubicle is still hard for me.  It’s hard for me to tell myself day after day that my job matters, because it receives much less public recognition.  I’m struggling in giving up power and recognition that comes with urban education.

And yet I said, “I can’t blame other people.  This is about me learning to give up control, set aside what I thought my life would be like.”

I failed in the moment to rejoice with Chels, to honor how hard she has worked, to look forward with her to her summer vacation.  I was stuck, stuck because I’m still in the middle of my own struggles, doubts and fears.

Upon realizing these emotions and tensions in myself, I have much to learn in the coming months.

So as I sit with these emotions and feelings in upcoming examens, I am asking:

  • How can I seek to rejoice when others are rejoicing?
  • How do I daily hear the Lord’s voice and Him telling me that I matter and what I do matters?
  • How do I express my sadness appropriately, yet still see the great blessings and provisions of my life?

How does your shadow side manifest itself in daily life? Do you seek to hide from your shadow side or accept it as a teacher?

The Examen

In my spiritual direction cohort, we are practicing the examen, a practice of silently and prayerfully reviewing one’s day, noticing where the Lord was present what resistance may have occurred during the day.

I decided to practice this discipline in my car on my commute home from work.  So I’m learning to turn off my radio for the beginning of my car ride.  I’m trying to slow down immediately after I leave work.

Today, what did I notice? How was God speaking? Did I listen?

Some days I completely forget. Some days I’m exhausted and my brain is not primed for noticing.  Yet slowly, I can see this practice shaping me.

I’ve noticed myself being more playful with my students after Spring Break, letting myself incorporating more play into their work. I’ve noticed that I’m giving myself more freedom to write.  I’ve let myself linger with uncomfortable feelings and emotions a little longer, not as scared to see the dark side of myself. I’ve let myself ask for forgiveness and be forgiven.

I’ve seen myself get angry with waiting, and I’ve been patient with my body when I just needed a vitamin IV.  I’ve allowed myself to embrace the mundane and get frustrated by it.  I’ve felt lonely and exhilarated.

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I’m seeing that the examen is me seeing that so many times a day God says, “I’m here.  I’m glad to do this day with you.” And so often I reject His words and more easily settle into boredom, comparing, ferociously cleaning, feeling like I’m not enough.

He’s reminding me that I’m shaped by the daily things: a hug after work, winding down the day with a game of Yahtzee, going to bed early because I’m ornery, affirming friends, asking hard questions and not having answers, giving my car a tune-up that it so badly needs.

Life can be so much about creating a facade of control, that I miss out on how I’m being formed.  But I’m learning to listen for whispers, accept change with grace, and live into my questions.  He’s just waiting to remind me what I’ve already forgotten.

He’s here and he’s listening.

The Place of Solitude in Self-Care

Imagine waking up to the rain pattering on the window.  You leave your phone charging and ignore it for awhile.  Then you head into the kitchen and grind some coffee beans.  But you stop and listen to the whirring of the grinder.  You laugh wondering if you woke up anyone else.  After the coffee is made, you sit on the couch, and watch the rain, just holding your mug and smiling from the warmth.

In order to start a morning like this, you must first realize that stillness is healing.  You must believe that small details in life are worth noticing and that they bring you joy.  You must discipline yourself to put away technology for awhile, and resist the to-do list that screams in your mind the second you wake up.  I promise you, it can wait.

Last week, I had a solitude morning in the midst of the city.  I went to a local coffee shop for a cup of tea and writing in my journal.  Then I walked two blocks to eat some gluten-free porridge with coconut milk.  Just me.  I enjoyed watching the regulars at the coffee shop chat with the owners and local artists trying to promote a gallery night by passing out flyers.  I needed uninterrupted time just to put pen to paper, writing whatever came to mind.  I watched the chefs make breakfast and the waitresses in thick sweaters, overalls, and wide-rimmed glasses smile at me.

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Ruth Haley Barton, in her book Sacred Rhythms says,

“Solitude is a place. It is a place in time that is set apart for God and God alone, a time when we unplug and withdraw from the noise of interpersonal interactions, from the noise, busyness, and constant stimulation associated with life in the company of others.”

Now my solitude morning had noise.  Yet I could see God in the beautiful coconut milk porridge, in my rainy walk avoiding puddles, in watching friends talk over breakfast and coffee.  It was a morning to witness the abundance of God’s good creation–and know that this abundance is His love for me.

Why is it difficult for you to seek out solitude? Do you think solitude is important? Why or why not?

Solitude

In her book Silence: Making the Journey to Inner Quiet, Barbara Taylor writes,

“I began to know quiet in a way I have never known it before.  No black hole of emptiness or infinite nothingness. Rather a fullness, a coming-into, a vast, unexplored region.”

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I felt at home with these sentences when I read them.  I’m journeying to pull back the layers and understand why.  Signing up for spiritual direction still seems like a mystery for me, and yet practicing spiritual disciplines in a community has been a homecoming.  I’m discovering a deep longing for solitude that I’ve always had.

As I journey back, I think about my preferences.  No music in the car doesn’t bother me.  Big crowds have always been overwhelming.  A loud concert isn’t where I’d prefer to spend my time.

Yet I have also felt the black hole of silence.  Living alone in an apartment being sick.  Turning on music or a show to keep me company.  I detested quiet because it reminded me I was alone and at the core I didn’t really like myself.

I’m glad I’m learning to journey inward.  I’m more readily accepting my gifts and limitations.  I’m getting acquainted with my “shadow side” or my false self that I tend to portray socially.

Yet no matter what personality type we are: introvert or extrovert, I believe that we all long for quiet.  We long to feel whole, to feel loved, to be still and not perform for applause.  To be rooted and grounded.  We want to be loved at our worst.  We long to be gentle with ourselves and be able to love and forgive others.

What is your relationship with solitude? What emotions surface when you are quiet?

Bringing Silence into Good Friday

Imagine a man or a group of people who, alone or together in a quiet place where no radio, no background music can be heard, simply sit for an hour or a half hour in silence.  They do not speak.  They do not pray aloud. They do not have books or papers in their hands. They are not reading or writing. They are not busy with anything. They simply enter into themselves, no in order to think in an analytical way, not in order to examine, organize, plan, but simply in order to be. They want to get themselves together in silence. They want to synthesize, to integrate themselves, to rediscover themselves in a unity of thought, will, understanding, and love that goes beyond words, beyond analysis, even beyond conscious thought. They want to pray not with their lips but with their silent hearts and beyond that with the very ground of their being.

 

-Thomas Merton, Love and Living

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