A Change in tone

Today broke very cold and frosty after some mild and wet days. An abrupt change when things were proceeding in a certain direction. It is the feast of St Stephen, a tale of violent death. It is striking that this feastday is celebrated one day after the birth of a child, the Prince of Peace. Perhaps to draw attention to the reality of our changing experience, that sadness can follow joy very quickly, or disappointment come when least expected. Or maybe to the reality of the world, as many people experience violence and hatred every day, no matter what time of year.

You can see that there are seasons in your life in the same way as there are seasons in nature. There are times to cultivate and create, when you nurture your world and give birth to new ideas and ventures. There are times of flourishing and abundance, when life feels in full bloom, energized and expanding. And there are times of fruition, when things come to an end. They have reached their climax and must be harvested before they fade. And finally, of course, there are times of cold and cutting and empty, times when the spring of new beginnings seems like a distant dream.

These rhythms in life are natural events. They weave into one another as day follows night, bringing, not messages of hope and fear, but messages of how things are. If you realize that each phase of your life is a natural occurrence, then you need not be swayed, pushed up and down by the changes in circumstance and mood that life brings.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, How to Rule

Tenderness


The tender mercy of our God has come to visit us Luke 1: 78

For Christmas morning, on seeing the mystery of a God come as a child

Tenderness is the language of the body as a mother holds her child, as a nurse touches a patient’s wound, or as an assistant bathes someone with a disability. Recently in a buddhist monastery, I watched a sister as she served us food and tea with great delicacy; it was as if the meal itself was sacred, revealing a presence of God. And so it did, because it was treated so.

Tenderness is the language of the body speaking of respect: the body honours what it touches. It honours reality. It does not act as if reality has to be changed or possessed; reality belongs to humanity and to God. Is not this the way we should relate to all living beings, plants, animals and the earth?

Isaiah wrote about the Messiah
“He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard on the street;
a bruised reed he will not break
and a flickering wick he will not quench”

Jean Vanier Becoming Human

What We Feel is not who we are, Part Two

Another reflection on a similar theme to the earlier post by Henri Nouwen, this time from a Buddhist perspective:

It is essential to understand that an emotion is merely something that arises, remains and then goes away. A storm comes, it stays a while, and then it moves away. At the critical moment remember you are much more than your emotions. This is a simple thing that everyone knows, but you may need to be reminded of it: you are more than your emotions.

Thich Nhat Hahn, Healing Pain and Dressing Wounds

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Mindfulness and some anxiety problems

Mindfulness has been studied in the treatment of certain anxiety complaints, with some promising results. In meta-analyses carried out by Baer in 2003 and Bishop in 2002, it was found to reduce distress across a number of anxiety disorders, including Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This is perhaps not surprising because neurobehavioural research has found that the orbital frontal cortex in the brain is involved in people making emotional assessments and judgements about danger in their environment. This part of the brain can be overactive in people with obsessive compulsive disorder, with the increases in metabolism giving a heightened feeling that something is wrong. Because mindfulness trains a person to observe inner experiences with calm and without immediately responding to them, it can assist people to learn different behaviours in response to their anxious feelings. For people with OCD, this means that they can notice what is happening at a certain moment rather than automatically engaging in a ritual or compulsive behaviour.

These finding were supported by a small study conducted on a student population by Hanstede, Gidron, and Nyklicek, published in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease in 2008, which found that mindfulness had a significant effect on OCD symptoms, letting go, and thought-action fusion.

Patience

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

The Season of Advent places an emphasis on waiting in patience and in silence. We often do not know what is really going on in the overall plan for our lives. One metaphor used for this is the farmer who waits for the fields to produce the crop he has planted many months earlier by seed.

There are plenty of opportunities for patience in our lives these busy days. Being stuck in an airport because of flight delays, road and rail travel in chaos due to bad weather, even longer queues than normal at the checkout. However, most of the we don’t like waiting. And often when things go against us, or we get frustrated we certainly don’t wait in silence. A lot of the time, we hurry and we push. We split time into tenths of seconds. When stressed we get anxious when a traffic light turns red and holds us up for a bit.

If we practice with these small opportunities for patience we may grow in the wisdom needed to see the overall plan in our lives. The model for this type of patience at this time is Mary, about to give birth. Like all the figures in Scripture she can be seen as a model for our interior and psychological life, showing a wisdom that leads to true happiness. She prepared to give birth, faced with the difficulties of travel at that time. She did not know what was happening to her, who this child to be born was, what her overall life purpose was. But she trusted and, we are told, ” pondered all these things in her heart”. At times all we can do is wait and trust, not knowing, living in the present moment.