Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Creating Your Life Through Presence

Stop and freeze? How did you get to this moment right here? At the Park Avenue United Methodist Church, specifically at Space for Grace, sitting in whatever pew you’re sitting in, thinking about whatever you’re thinking about, looking how you look, working where you work, dating who you’re dating…

It’s a combination of things that brought you to where you are and who you are in this moment – it’s biological, part of it is genetic. It’s circumstantial; part of it has to do with the people who have been in your world and the things that have happened to you. It’s self-created; part of it has been entirely because of the choices you make.

And today, I want to talk about this self-created aspect of our lives. Now, not everything is because of our choosing. I don’t think people choose to get cancer, for example. It is true however those things people choose to do can lead to cancer. I don’t think, for example, a woman chooses to marry an abusive spouse. It is true however that some men show signs of being abusive long before a woman marries him, and she chose not to see those signs.

We don’t have control over every aspect of our lives, but that’s all the more reason we should exercise control over that which we can. And there’s a simple way to do this: some call it mindfulness, some call it presence, some call it awareness, some call it the power of now. Call it what you will, the important thing is that it works.

One of the simplest definitions of this idea that I’ve heard of is paying attention to the present moment, to fully be in the here and now.

It’s important to be in each moment because moments are the building blocks of life. The present moment creates your future moments. Take the example of something scientific and easy to prove – weight. If in the present moment I choose to eat a filet mignon with garlic mashed potatoes, and then for desert, follow it up with cheesecake, I know that I’ve eaten a large portion of my daily caloric intake in one meal. If I’m trying to lose weight, this choice has taken me away from my goal. If the next day, I work out and eat only yogurt and salad, I’m back on track.

Now an example that is a little more complex might deal with human relationships. If in the present moment I chose to tell you how I disagree with the way you are handling a situation, and I know you don’t respond well to criticism, then chances are, by choosing to make that comment, I’m choosing to get in a fight with you. If however, I don’t want my future to be filled with fighting, I can simply choose not to make the comment.

All of our power lies in the present moment. Just like a tree that is good bears good fruit and a tree that is bad bears bad fruit, so too does a person with presence live a life of his or her own making. What you are is what comes forth. Christians often talk about being “wise stewards” of the earth’s resources, of financial resources, even of how we spend our time. Let us also consider that we must be wise stewards of our moments.

How do we do this? It’s as simple and as difficult as it can possibly be. We do this by staying awake in the here and now, by being present to what is.

In the meditation that follows, we will first pay attention to our breathing because it is the most basic entry point into this current moment. Then, we will pay attention to our thoughts so we can gain some understanding as to what is consuming our minds. Then, we will listen to music and also watch a slideshow. With each exercise, just try to stay focused on what is happening. As we learn to do this, we assume power over our lives and help to create the existence that we truly want.

Sit with your feet flat on the floor and close your eyes.

Do not pursue the past.
Do not lose yourself in the future.
The past no longer is.
The future has not yet come.
Looking deeply at life as it is
In the very here and now,
We touch the source of life itself.
We come near to God.

Breathing in, I know that I am here.
Breathing out, I know that it is now.

Breathing in, I feel the flow of air entering my body.
Breathing out, I feel the flow of air leaving my body.

Breathing in, I feel myself sitting up straight.
Breathing out, I release all tension and anxiety.


Now, let us turn our attention to our thoughts and feelings. Be present as the watcher of your mind, because whenever you are able to observe you mind, you are no longer trapped in it. You are the witnessing presence established in the here and now.

In the coming silence, just listen to your internal voice. Watch your mind as though it were a video. Don’t get caught up in the thinking, but watch yourself as you think.


Breathing in, I see my thoughts.
Breathing out, I feel my emotions.

Breathing in, I know where I am.
Breathing out, I am happy to be here.

Breathing in, I relax into the present moment.
Breathing out, I open myself to life.

And now, let the music and the images on the screen take us further into the present moment.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

You Are the Mountain

(Read Psalm 30)

Life is not just falling in love. It is also falling out of love. Life is not just landing a job. It is also leaving a job. Life is not always feeling happy. It is also feeling sad.

Most of us would prefer that this isn’t so, but it is the reality of human existence.

Part of what we must do on our spiritual journeys then is learn to embrace that which plagues us. By embrace I don’t mean that we have to like our trials and tribulations, but we must learn to accept them as a part of our life, we must learn to love ourselves though them, otherwise, we will end up bitter and angry.

Part of the reason that embracing is so important is because what you resist persists. If you resist the ongoing argument you are having with someone in your life, the argument persists. In fact, resistance fuels the flame and makes the problem bigger. If you resist and deny your declining health, the problem won’t go away, it will persist. The best way to help yourself is to embrace what you are going through, to look at it through the eyes of compassion and learn to work with it instead of fighting against it.

There is something called a mountain meditation. And in this meditation you are the mountain, and no matter what happens on the mountain, you stand firm and at peace. The sun may be scorching the earth, the wind may be blowing fiercely, the rain or snow may be pouring down, but the mountain is unaffected by all the turmoil going on around it.

The elements of sun, wind, rain and snow are like the changing circumstances of our lives. The important thing to remember is that we are not the elements, we are the mountain. The elements swirl around us and sometimes they make life pleasant and good, while at other times, they make life miserable and bad. Through all of this, you, the mountain remain calm.

The things we have to endure - breakups, work stress, disagreements, destructive attitudes and behaviors, poor health - if we don’t get caught up in these storms of life, we can truly make it through them and be better off than before. But this will take time. Years even. What we should learn to do is harness our energy so that we can make skillful choices that will lead to healing, reconciliation and wellness.

So right now, we are going to take a few minutes to imagine ourselves as the mountain. After I finish speaking, music will begin to play and some images will be displayed on the screen if you would like to look at them. This will be a time for reflection in which you can think about the circumstances of your life and the best ways to respond to them.

To sum it up simply, the road to health and happiness starts with us being strong and still, unaffected and firm like the mountain, and we move further down the road as we respond to life with insight and wisdom.

I invite you to sit up straight or stand in the mountain pose if you like. Close your eyes and focus on your breath.

Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain
Breathing out, I feel solid and strong.

Imagine yourself as a majestic mountain with your summit in the clouds. Imagine how solid and strong you are, how connected to the earth you are, for you, the mountain, have stood for thousands of years.

The weather has always been in a state of flux around you. Some days, the sun shines brightly overhead, and you feel its warmth and bask in its light. Other days, the sun is too hot, and it scorches the earth and rock. No matter what the weather, you, the mountain are solid and strong.

Some days, the sun is hidden by the clouds, and it feels so cold on the mountain that you shiver. On these days, the wind is like a whip against your skin. Debris blows across the mountain, but you are not harmed. You are solid and strong.

Other days, the heavens open up and rain falls gently to the earth providing it with much needed water. Or snow falls from heaven and covers you in a gentle blanket of white, and even though it is cold, there is no harm to you for you feel as though you are covered by a down comforter. No matter the weather, you stand firm and immovable.

The winds of change have whirled for centuries around you without any noticeable effects. And as this meditation ends, you shall remain still, firmly grounded and connected to the earth regardless of the circumstances of your life. So now just sit and continue to follow your breath as you sink deeply into your majestic mountain base. Become one with the feelings of solidity, strength and connection.

Breathing in, I feel calm.
Breathing out, I am centered.

Breathing in, I feel secure.
Breathing out, I am strong.

Breathing in, I feel still and connected.
Breathing out, I reflect on things as they are
And I am at peace.