Saturday, January 5, 2013

This is the Day that the LORD has Made

“This is the day that the Lord has made, rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalms 118:24. That was Linda’s mom’s favorite scripture, and she lived it to the fullest. Living in beautiful Colorado made that an easy prescription. From their back deck the beauty of Longs Peak was at its fullest. Looking across the rolling hills north of Longmont and listening to the birds and squirrels, breathing the fresh air, that was enjoying God’s creation to the upmost.

She had a sign with that scripture attached to her rural home and all visitors saw it when they drove up. Now that she is no longer with us, that sign hangs in my son Mark’s home as a reminder that we are blessed by everything around us. Focus on today and your experience.

Matthew 6:24 says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

And Luke 12:25 reminds us, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his  span of life?” Don’t worry ... be happy. That is easy to say. But, for many in our fast paced and troublesome world, it can be hard to accomplish.

In grammar, there are three distinct tenses: past, present, and future. Many of us enjoy recalling happy times in our childhood, or when we were first married or our children were born. But, for others, the past is something that led them down the wrong path and now they wander trying to find hope and meaning in life.

The future is a great focus as we make plans for retirement or school or for grandchildren. But others are afraid of tomorrow and spend all of their “todays” worrying about that tomorrow.

As Corrie Ten Boom said, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.”

For those that spend their “todays” in worry or anxiety and spend too much time reliving a past sorrow or focused on a future worry, I have a suggestion for you. It is called “Mindfulness.” That’s bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis or paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.

It is a way to change your mode of thinking, and it can be particularly useful if you are dealing with issues of worry or anxiety. Think about when you are doing something familiar. It might be driving a car or vacuuming the rug. Quite often your mind will be on something else.You may be fantasizing about a vacation or thinking about something else that happened recently. You may be worrying about something that happened or afraid of what might happen next.

When you go to bed at night, do you fall into deep and restful sleep quickly, or do you replay the events of the day and think about what you should have done differently? Do you lay awake afraid of what tomorrow may bring? You need to train your brain to live in the now, not the past or the future.

Most often, we are not focused on our current experience. As you go through your daily routines, you are not really in touch with the “here and now.” Instead you are on some kind of “automatic pilot” thinking. Mindfulness is the opposite of automatic pilot mode. It is about experiencing what is happening “here and now.” Some refer to it as the “being” mode. It can be an antidote to automatic pilot mode, and — more important — it can prevent you from worrying.

My high school class chose a motto that is known as the “Serenity Prayer.”

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

There is so much truth in those three lines originally penned by the American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr. It has been adopted by Alcoholic Anonymous and other recovery programs. It should always be your guide to thinking.

Anxiety, in my opinion, often comes from trying to change those things you need to accept. The issue isn’t the courage to change things, it is the wisdom to know which things can be changed.

Mindfulness can be a powerful tool to help you make the distinction. It is a method of thinking that will allow you to consider the whole of your experience without excluding anything. When being more mindful, no attempt is made to evaluate experiences or to say that they are good, bad, right, or wrong, and no attempt is made to immediately control or avoid experience.

Accepting all of one’s experience is one of the most challenging aspects of mindfulness and takes time and practice to develop. Bringing a kind and gentle curiosity to one’s experience is one way of adopting a non-judgmental stance.

By learning to be in a mindful mode more often, it is possible to develop a new habit that helps to weaken old, unhelpful, and automatic thinking habits. You learn to focus your attention on only one thing at a time, from moment to moment, and to avoid natural distractions that take your thinking into a repetitive groove of self-destructive thoughts.

The method is quite simple. start by observing your experience in a manner that is more direct and sensual. This is called “Sensing Mode.” Rather than being analytical or “Thinking Mode,” try to experience something directly. Use your five senses. What do you see? What do you smell? What do you feel (touch)? What do you hear?

Take washing your hands. Rather than thinking about your troubles, consider the sound of the water rushing over your hands. Feel the water: its temperature, texture, the feeling of the water on your hands. Smell the soap fragrance. Notice your surroundings and your body’s reactions.

You can pick any common household chore or part of your life to be more mindful about. Train your mind to notice the very fine details of what you are experiencing. Imagine that you are going to write a letter to a friend. Focus on describing the experience and how you would tell about it. Allow yourself to notice your whole experience, all aspects of the task or activity your are performing. Let it take your full care and attention.

Practice this mindfulness several times a day. The art of "being present" is to develop the skill of noticing when you have drifted away from the observing and sensing mode. When this happens, it is not a mistake, but just acknowledge it has happened, and then gently return to observing your experience.

When you do this, you are focusing your attention on only one thing at a time. This prevents distracting thoughts from taking over your mind. Develop the skill of noticing when you have drifted away from observing and dropped back into worried thinking. After some time of practice, you'll discover you drop into this observing mode automatically, and it will change your entire attitude.

There is a beautiful world out there for you to experience, and nature is certainly a cure for what is ailing you. I have a friend that I introduced to photography. She does not have a lot of money, so Linda and I bought here a small, inexpensive camera. Now as she goes about her daily chores she stops and much more than just smells the flowers. She photographs them, and the trees, and the sunset. Her artistic spirit is awakened and she has shared some excellent photos of simple things like a hand on a hand carved pew, the patterns the light makes as it passes through the tree limbs, and shapes of leaves fallen on the sidewalk. She is now sharing the beauty she perceives with us.

It is time for all of us to slow down and enjoy our journey more. Not only will this clear our mind of worry and anxiety, but there is a beautiful creation out there meant just for our enjoyment. Accepting all of one’s experience is one of the most challenging aspects of mindfulness, and takes time and practice to develop. Start by bringing a kind and gentle curiosity to one’s experience. Relive the joy of a child asking why the sky is blue. Think of the first rose you smelled. Adopt a mindful approach to your day-to-day experiences and those troubles will go right down the drain.

Focus on the here and now and start to enjoy your senses. Relax, take a deep breath. Look around you. Take in the beauty of your being. Take your dog for a walk in the park. Notice your dog doesn’t worry about yesterday or tomorrow. Take a hint from your animal friend. That’s what I’m planning right now.

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