In part one of this post, I shared some of the words that had moved me to try an experiment applying three things each day for a week. This post, as promised, contains excerpts from the notes I wrote as I applied the following:
1. I will use a silent mantram (or mantra) to still my mind and focus it in the present moment. It is to be spoken silently with true purpose and intent. (My intent was to use the mantram to center myself more fully in Christ. I chose a short phrase drawn from John 15:4.)
2. I will Focus on one thing at a time throughout the day.
3. I will give full attention to each chosen focus and use the mantram to re-center in the present moment when tempted to think about/regret things in the past or worry about/yearn for things in the future.
The timing of this idea was fitting as my schedule was perfectly crammed with plenty to be stressed about being able to accomplish; many opportunities to think outside the present moment abounded...
A couple things before reading the record of what happened:
First, taking the time to quickly write in my phone the observations and questions that came during what I have come to call my "meditation in motion" practice has been key--it always is with any personal application focus. The more consistently I record what happens and my thoughts about a chosen application, the more powerful the experience. For obvious reasons, I'm just giving a sample here of three days writing.
Second, like other forms of dissection, I have found that examining recorded thoughts--a kind of mental dissection--is a way to "lift the lid" on God's designs in our life. I testify his hand is in each our lives. He wants to show us His work and His love for us--no matter how small we feel or how ordinary our daily routine is.
Lastly, I found the simplest moments had the greatest power to teach me--so please forgive the mundane actions often described. I have tried to edit the notes in such a way that emphasizes the macro lessons applicable to all and focuses less on the details specific to my experience. In preparing this, I'm in awe of the way the Lord works; how He uses the small and simple things of our life to teach us great lessons. I'm grateful for the experiences of this week. I am also grateful for what I continue to learn as I have spent time pondering and editing the week's notes for this post.
Today, after coming home from the gym and the 40 minute drive to get Elise to school and back, I began my usual habit of rushing to accomplish several things at once, hurriedly addressing my kids needs before we run to work. I created a mental list: shower, get dressed, dry my hair, put makeup on, sort dirty laundry, clean dirty laundry, fold clean laundry, straighten the main gathering area (a.k.a. my room), finish a load of dishes (so we'd have something to eat dinner with--I really need to buy more bowls!), nudge the children to do their chores and to help me make lunch.
And there is only an hour and a half before work! Hurry!
Five minutes in, I remembered my commitment for the week.
Ok. Here goes. Choose one task to give my full attention to. And somehow, this "mantram" thing will help redirect my mind when (not if :-) I realize my focus has widened again. (Clue to self: if I am tempted to feel overwhelmed or rushed then I'm in the past or the future--stay in the present moment.)
This is harder than I thought! I chose to take a shower first. While I let the cold water heat up, I started taking off my bedding to wash, then started going into "hurry mode" picking up odds and ends around my room as I grabbed a towel to shower. Not until I returned with the towel and went to grab stray items from my desk to put away did I stop myself...
I'm doing more than one thing at a time again! Is that really a bad thing in this case though? Do I really want to try this one-thing-at-a-time focus? I'm being productive, right? Yet... that way would be what I always do. I'm suppose to be trying something different hoping to get a different result. Fine. I'll stick to the rules.
Abide in me, and I in you.
I put things back on my desk and stepped into the shower and gave full focus to getting ready for the day, setting aside the rest on my to-do list.
While dressing, Nathan [my son] knocked on the door. He wanted to ask about a debt he owes me. It's a little routine in our family: I lock the door to shower and dress and my kids come knocking over and over again while I ignore them, thinking this must be the day they finally realize I'm not answering or coming to the door because I can't. They keep knocking until I finally yell from my closet, "The door is locked for a reason--I'll talk to you when I'm done!"
With my focus-on-one-thing-at-a-time commitment today, I had an added excuse to ignore the child at the door until I was done, but something interesting happened instead--reflecting on it now, I realize it's one of the benefits of this "meditation in motion" practice:
Only half dressed, I responded quickly, came out of my closet and spoke with Nathan through the door. I found inside (not just on the outside) I was more patient than I usually am with these negotiations of his. I consciously gave our conversation my full attention (I consciously made sure there was no other task I was aware of in that moment, just his question). Ideas came as we talked. The matter was easily resolved to both our satisfaction and I went back to getting ready.
In writing this down, I realize: because I had one focus, not ten tasks I was trying to accomplish at once, the "weight" of my mind was light and easy to shift.
Laundry was next. Practicing full attention on one thing, I was quickly aware that I had many thoughts that began to seep into my mind. I stopped my musings and checked myself.
Wait. What if my chosen focus is something mundane like this and so my mind turns to pondering things other than the task at hand? Does this practice demand I think of soap and clothing color only? Is there harm in thinking of other things while putting towels into a washer?
No. It does no harm to my peace, or to my task, but I realized: it does harm to such thoughts. I cannot give the thoughts my full attention, capture them, record them, or ponder them. They become hanging chads in my consciousness; unresolved, lost. That disrupts my peace and the present moments going forward. So I stopped what I was doing and came to write all this in my phone.
I'm learning... there are priorities I must set for this "meditation in motion":
1. I must allow certain things to change or redirect my full attention. Sticking to the task until it's done isn't the point or where the power is. Giving full attention is where the power is.
2. So a decision: if the thoughts feel important and worth capturing, I will stop what I'm doing, and write them down in my phone (or somewhere). If I'm driving or can't write, I will dictate them into my phone. Then I will go back to what I was doing before.
3. However, If the thoughts are not inspired or guiding, but are negative, distracting, or Light-zapping, I will silently repeat my mantram, re-center in the present, and reconnect to my Power Source.
Also, Nathan has taught me a fourth point:
4. If my children or another person ask for my attention, I will shift my focus to them, or invite them to help me with my task, if needed. People and relationships before tasks. ALWAYS.
Just sorting that out right now brings more peace to my mind and soul.
(Later that night)
I was at work easily focusing on all-consuming bookkeeping tasks for my dad while the kids were upstairs doing school with my mom when it struck me--I had forgotten about the girls gymnastics classes! I was planning on picking up my oldest daughter at a play practice 45 minutes away, but forgot my little girl's classes until my phone alerted me. How would I get them there in time when they didn't have their gym leotards with them? I did not think of my mantra but I was surprisingly calm, having practiced a peaceful mind all day.
Ok. What is the first thing I should focus on? Get the kids downstairs and in the car.
Focusing on just that one thing helped me stay calm while I explained the situation to my children. We got in the car, and instead of thinking of the whole problem, I chose to only decide what the next focus should be. A solution came clearly in that present moment:
He was at home finishing work and could meet us at the gym with their leotards and take the other kids while I drove to the next valley to pick up Elise. Adam answered the phone quickly. Norah took the phone and guided him to where their clothes were that they would need while I drove. This time I eagerly used the mantram as it was very tempting to think beyond the present moment and worry...
Abide in me, and I in you.
It struck me how it was an expression of trust to do that. I trusted that my little drama--inconsequential as it was in the eternal scheme--was still something Christ (and those that act in his name) was interested in helping me navigate. All I had to do was center myself in Him and trust the promptings that would come, one at a time. [I read this now and a scripture comes to mind in Isaiah 28:9-10]:
Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little: For with... another tongue will he speak to this people. To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear.
Adam and I both arrived at the same time to the gym. That was cool. The girls weren't late and Nathan was happy about how this way he didn't have to sit in the car with me for 1 1/2 to get Ellie because he could go home with dad.
What next? My attention fell on the car's dashboard: the fuel light was on. I looked at the clock. It was rush hour.
I will be at least 20 minutes late picking up Elise. She doesn't have her phone with her. It is dark outside and they lock up the school after the play practice. Would she be waiting in the cold? Wait. Stop.
Abide in me, and I in you.
Just get fuel first. Focus on that.
There weren't any gas stations I knew of on the way to the freeway from the gym. I'd have to go far afield of the freeway. What was the quickest way? I didn't have any idea.
Abide in me, and I in you.
It's hard to put certain things into words. Yet everyone has experienced it, I imagine: It isn't clear words that come, or an image. It's instruction through impressions and peaceful assurances. I knew there weren't easily accessible stations near the next two onramps so I felt to travel on the frontage road to the third freeway entrance. I didn't remember if there was a gas station there, but I felt assured I'd find one; that I'd have enough gas to get there.
Sure enough, there was a gas station at the corner of the last freeway entrance, and I also noticed from afar that I missed heavy freeway traffic by taking this route. I fueled up the car and was able to get right on the freeway without waiting at more than one light.
But I would still be late.
Again, I chose to use my mantra to center in The Vine instead of disconnecting through my worries. I chose to leave it to God. I thought of Julian [of Norwich] and what she would say: "All is well and all will be well."
Abide in me, and I in you.
The next 30 minutes (of rush hour traffic) were a beautiful experience in abiding and trusting My Guide. I arrived at the school calm and peaceful. I found my daughter just finishing up as the practice had gone late. She wasn't even ready to come out to the car yet.
I reread this tonight and see new meaning after my first day of practice with "meditation in motion."
When attention stays in the present, worry actually evaporates, releasing a flood of vitality that we can use to face a problem and deal with it instead of fretting. "The moments of our daily life may appear commonplace," said one of Mahatma Gandhi's closest colleagues, Vinoba Bhave, "but they carry enormous significance." He added that when we look upon every moment as sacred, a new energy flows into our lives.… When we look upon each moment as the result of every other moment of our lives, we can sieze it as an opportunity to change our thinking and therefore our action. It is a thrilling thought. (P. 62-63)
Tonight while washing the dishes and making dinner, the focus of doing one thing at a time had an efficiency to it I never imagined. It's better than any multi-tasking I've ever tried. Instead of thinking of the whole dinner and running around "getting it all done," I focused on cutting the onions. Then I focused on chopping carrots. While the vegetables boiled I focused on the dishes.
I didn't think of all that had to be done--cook dinner, clean the kitchen--plus feel a victim because my children weren't helping etc.
I j u s t c h o p p e d o n i o n s.
Then an idea came to give one child one simple task to focus on. They quickly agreed and started helping because it wasn't a big looming, "Please help me with dinner?" Just, "Can you peel this carrot?"
I am loving this. I find my mind is more free to receive and capture quiet thoughts that come; I am more able to shift and heed each nudge. I have a single focus and not a mind overwhelmed with many larger tasks all demanding to be done at once. I feel empowered. I have more choice over what I do. There is not an overwhelming list of mommy things to accomplish. There is a choice of what is most important right now. And even a feeling of help to decide.
Once I choose, that is my focus. I trust the rest will work out, that the rest will have its turn. But in the moment I choose one thing, the other things leave my consciousness. When the next thing is needful, it gently nudges me and I realize through my now decluttered mind that it is time to shift. So I do.
It is like a dance. There is something thrilling about it. From the outside I must act and look the same as I always have but on the inside my peace is abiding. I am enjoying the dance. What I am doing fulfills me because each small seemingly insignificant task – chopping carrots, dicing onions, boiling water--is now a small lesson in dancing with a higher mind; a nobler guide.
Tonight, I reread parts I highlighted in the Bhagavad Gita last month. Again, I begin to grasp meaning in what was mostly hazy or felt too "out there" to understand when I first read them:
(From a preface to chapter two of the Gita)
This chapter establishes the various definitions of yoga taught in the Gita. Here the word does not refer to the physical postures and exercises (hatha yoga) it connotes in the West; it refers primarily to disciplining the mind. “Yoga is evenness of mind”: detachment from the dualities of pain and pleasure, success and failure. Therefore “yoga is skill in action,” because this kind of detachment is required if one is to act in freedom, rather than merely react to events compelled by conditioning. Krishna is not trying to persuade Arjuna to lead a different kind of life and renounce the world as would a monk or recluse. He tells Arjuna that if he can establish himself in yoga –in unshakable equanimity, profound peace of mind–he will be more effective in the realm of action. His judgment will be better and his vision clear if he is not emotionally entangled in the outcome of what he does.
These past two days I have tasted a bit of what the editor is speaking of, I've felt what that focus brings: peace of mind. I've learned how this focused peace increases my judgment (the nudges and guidance I am now better able to recognize). By using the short language phrase (mantram) to keep me centered, to help me shun distracting thoughts, I am finding myself "more effective in the realm of action."
This morning it fell apart a bit. Yesterday was a breeze with teaching 6am-6pm with two little breaks and Adam having the kids. I had one student at a time to focus on. It's my passion. I love it. Easy.
But I think it got me out of the habit of consciously doing my "meditation in motion." This morning I was so focused I couldn't shift. I woke up feeling the weight of all I had to do and forgot my practice. Deadlines and demands were too heavy to break away from when my little girls came to talk to me--what did they say?
I hurriedly replied to texts that I feel now should have been given more attention. I was distracted in my replies to my oldest daughter's needs. I fulfilled them hurriedly and curtly. She quietly submitted to my quick-jerk braiding, my terse reminders not to use her phone during class, my unkind tone.
It kept coming to my consciousness to practice focusing on one thing, to use my phrase to re-center, but I pushed the thoughts away.
It's past noon, I have barely eaten. I'm half ready for the day, but I ignored these things and chose to hunker down and work in my old habitual ways... "getting things done."
... Until I walked into the kitchen to find my son washing the dishes. My son. Washing. Dishes.
That's my chore, not his. Has he ever done that? No one asked him to. Am I still on the earth that I know?
He even had classical music playing. It broke my negative cycle. My heart is full to bursting with love for this beautiful soul. I went to him to squash and kiss. He was focused and just sort of smiled and mildly complained, as usual, about the cheek kisses. I sat down at my computer on the kitchen table to "get more done" but instead, I just sit here with tears in my eyes, watching him, fingering notes into my phone so I don't forget what I've learned from my mistakes today; what I've learned from the gracious acts of my children.
Boy I'm in need of lots of practice. God grant me time and grace sufficient to become more than I "get done" in this life? Then perhaps I can look back and find real, eternal things were accomplished--and that I was on the side helping, not one of those holding things back.
The world in which we live is similar to the potter’s spinning wheel, and the speed of that wheel is increasing. Like the clay on the potter’s wheel, we must be centered as well. Our core, the center of our lives, must be Jesus Christ and His gospel. Living a Christ-centered life means we learn about Jesus Christ and His gospel and then we follow His example... The ancient prophet Isaiah stated, “But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.”
If our lives are centered in Jesus Christ, He can successfully mold us into who we need to be... The joy we experience in this life will be in direct proportion to how well our lives are centered on the teachings, example, and atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
~ "The Joy of Living a Christ-Centered Life" By Elder Richard J. Maynes