Browsing "Mindfulness"

A poem for the new year by Joyce Rupp

Photo credit: http://morguefile.com/creative/jpkwitter

Photo credit: http://morguefile.com/creative/jpkwitter

Dear Pope Francis,

I was all ready to write my own post on welcoming the new year, and then Joyce Rupp‘s newsletter landed in my email inbox. She says it so perfectly in this poem that I don’t think I could really add anything else.

New Year Prayer of Fastening     (Joyce Rupp)

Fasten my heart to you, Love of all Loves,

that all I am and do finds its motivation in you.

 

Fasten my mind to you, Inner Peace,

that whatever stirs within leads to tranquility.

 

Fasten my days to you, Divine Presence,

that in each happening I remain united with you.

 

Fasten my nights to you, Keeper of Dreams,

that I find restoration in your embracing care.

 

Fasten my joys to you, Delight of My Soul,

that these memories comfort me in times of trouble.

 

Fasten my sorrows to you, Compassionate One,

that I experience solace in your kindheartedness.

 

Fasten my concerns to you, Faithful Companion,

that I withdraw from my fears and anxieties.

 

Fasten my responsibilities to you, Source of Love,

that my daily efforts evolve from a generous spirit.

 

Fasten my relationships to you, Friend of My Heart,

that your profuse love nurtures and sustains them.

 

Fasten my anguished world to you, Holder of Hope,

that my dreams for peace may become a reality.

 

Fasten my prayer to you, Eternal Mystery,

that I might give myself ever more fully to you.

New Year Prayer of Fastening     (Joyce Rupp)

 

Fasten my heart to you, Love of all Loves,

that all I am and do finds its motivation in you.

 

Fasten my mind to you, Inner Peace,

that whatever stirs within leads to tranquility.

 

Fasten my days to you, Divine Presence,

that in each happening I remain united with you.

 

Fasten my nights to you, Keeper of Dreams,

that I find restoration in your embracing care.

 

Fasten my joys to you, Delight of My Soul,

that these memories comfort me in times of trouble.

 

Fasten my sorrows to you, Compassionate One,

that I experience solace in your kindheartedness.

 

Fasten my concerns to you, Faithful Companion,

that I withdraw from my fears and anxieties.

 

Fasten my responsibilities to you, Source of Love,

that my daily efforts evolve from a generous spirit.

 

Fasten my relationships to you, Friend of My Heart,

that your profuse love nurtures and sustains them.

 

Fasten my anguished world to you, Holder of Hope,

that my dreams for peace may become a reality.

 

Fasten my prayer to you, Eternal Mystery,

that I might give myself ever more fully to you.

 

All the best for a great new year.

Your friend,

Kevin

To Know the Name of God

 

Photo credit: http://morguefile.com/creative/clairetrafton

Photo credit: http://morguefile.com/creative/clairetrafton

Dear Pope Francis,

I haven’t written poetry for awhile. But, tonight, I was silent for a time, present to the Divine. And this is what bubbled up.

Your friend,

Kevin

 

To Know the Name of God
by Kevin Aschenbrenner

I’d like to know your name, God.
Your true name.
Not what we’ve called You,
down the millennia.
Names that, at best, never truly fit
or conveyed all that You are.
Or, at worst,
names wielded as weapons,
of power, and prestige,
subjugation, oppression, and exclusion,
by those who claimed to know Your will,
but didn’t,
and never could.

In truth, I’d like to know your name,
oh God,
if only
to prove to others
that
I’m
not
crazy
for having these feelings,
these knowings,
these soft murmurings,
in my deepest deep,
that I know
arise
from
You
but that I can’t explain,
as much as I try.

It would make things so much easier
for me
God
if you could just tell me Your name.
What should I call you
in the middle of the night,
when worries press and sleep eludes,
so I know
I’m addressing
someone
and not
just
my
whirring
ceiling fan?
(Which, though, perfectly useful,
is not of much emotional support).

Whisper Your name to me,
God.
I can be trusted.
I’ll keep your secret.
It will be enough
to have heard it just once,
and to know,
it exists.
I would form it silently on my lips,
imagining how it would feel,
to have Your true name
flow through my mouth
out into the world,
a solid thing,
as all words are,
once spoken.
That would be enough.

Or would it?
For, even as I write that
I understand,
that to know Your name,
Your true name,
would be like biting
that fruit
all over again.
Worse, even.
For, should I give in to temptation and speak it,
(which, let’s face it, I would)
I’d not only know too much,
I’d know everything.
In one breath, I’d know You,
God,
and hold
what a child of the cosmos
like me
was never
meant
to
hold.
For if speaking your almost-names, God,
can wreak such havoc,
what would Your true name do?
I cannot be trusted with that.

No, it is better to not know
Your true name,
God.
For I think I understand, now,
why we are not meant
to name You.
For You are not a fixed point that can be penned in by mere words,
You are force and movement,
like gravity,
like love,
sweeping through me,
always present,
when I call out in the night,
or laugh during the day.

You are the Unnamed One
surpassing all names.

 

 

 

 

The Scarcity of Silence

Photo credit: http://morguefile.com/creative/sebastiano

Photo credit: http://morguefile.com/creative/sebastiano

Dear Pope Francis,

It snowed this week where I live. Just two or so centimetres, but we don’t get snow here that often, and it’s always an event when the white stuff falls.

As the snow fell, one of the first things I noticed — when I wasn’t preoccupied by thoughts of when it would be most efficient to go out and shovel my driveway and walk — was the silence. Fewer cars were on the road and the noise from those that were was muffled. There was the odd sound of a sliding vehicle or a revving engine warming up, but, aside from that, it was pretty darn quiet.

I thought about how that silence was so noticeable, and realized it said a lot about my life. Logically, I would think noise would be what drew my attention, not the lack of it. Instead, silence was a unique event.

Maybe I just live in a noisier than normal neighbourhood, but I don’t think that’s the case. In fact, as I look more carefully,  I can see that I’ve made my life far too noisy all on my own.

I’ve realized that I rarely let myself be in silence. From waking up to going to sleep, I immerse myself in noise. One of my first actions in the morning is to blindly reach out to my nightstand and feel around for my phone, to check my email. Then I might check Facebook and Twitter, just to make sure I haven’t missed anything while I’ve been self-indulgently sleeping. I get up and do my morning things. Then I make breakfast and coffee, usually consuming them in front of my computer. The next hours are filled with emails and phone calls. I try to get out for a walk, but I almost always have my headphones on, with music or an audiobook accompanying me. At night, I’ll eat dinner in front of the TV, while also checking social media. Sometimes, I have to rewind a scene in a show several times because I am focused more on what’s happening on Twitter than the TV. I go to bed, try to read, but almost always give in to the siren call of my smartphone screen to engage online some more. I even fall asleep to the BBC, the news of the world pouring into my brain.

Just writing this down makes me uneasy because it shows how noisy I’ve let my daily routines become. I’m no longer in right relationship with silence. It didn’t happen overnight; I gradually fell into this pattern over many years. Looking at it objectively, I think I’ve become addicted to noise, both internal and external. Noise, for me, is numbing; when it’s noisy I don’t have to think about uncomfortable things, or face difficult choices. I just turn on the TV and it all goes away. But it doesn’t. Not really. It just adds to the background, well, noise.

There’s also something else I’m crowding out with all that noise — my relationship with the Divine. Where in my routine day have I built in time for prayer, of any kind? Never mind 20 minutes or so dedicated to mindfulness or centering prayer, I’ve ensured I can cruise through the day on a mental autopilot, without attention or intentionality. In all that chatter, there’s no dialogue happening with God. I’m too busy plugging my ears and screaming “nah, nah, nah, I can’t hear you!”

I have a choice in all of this. I could continue living in noise, and I might do OK. I’ll be anxious, but I won’t miss anything that’s going on, or so I’ll tell myself.

Or, I could put my fears aside and embrace silence, a little more each day. Maybe I’ll start with 30 seconds, of just sitting still. I’ll try not to plan, or worry, or think, or write blog posts in my head, or check Twitter, or make a witty comment on Facebook. I’ll just be. Baby steps.

I’ll remind myself that the Divine is with me in every moment, and I’ll embrace the Beloved for just half a minute. I’ll probably manage only a nanosecond, but it will be a truly silent nanosecond.

The noise, of course, will start up again, but maybe I’ll try 45 seconds the next time, and then a full minute. And maybe, just as I’ve let noise creep in over time, a companionable silence held in the Divine will come to shape my days.

I know it seems odd to end a blog about silence with music, but this Peter Mayer song always stills me. Proving, I guess, that there’s noise, and then there’s sound that leads to silence.

(If this doesn’t play for you, go here.)

Your friend,

Kevin

 

 

 

 

 

Nov 30, 2013 - Kind of Random, Mindfulness    No Comments

Forgive me, Holy Father, for I have not blogged

beginning again

Dear Pope Francis,

Forgive me Holy Father, for I have not blogged. It’s been…awhile since my last substantive blog post.

I know that, back in the halcyon days of June I said I’d write every day. I’ve kept up with that, for the most part, but there have been a few lags in posts. Life just has a way of intervening. I do try to keep up a few posts a week, at least, with interesting links and resources. But writing a full post every day can be a little tough.

However, with Advent just around the corner, I’ve decided to use the change in liturgical seasons to pick up the pace around here and I’ll be posting most every day until Christmas. There may be the odd skipped day, but I’m going to make it part of my Advent intentions to be more present on this blog.

So, thanks for keeping up with me. I look forward to sharing some great posts over the coming month!

Your friend,

Kevin

The Gratitude Squirrel!

Dear Pope Francis,

I started off today a bit grumbly, feeling a bit sorry for myself, and generally kind of miserable. It was Monday morning. My weekend, as usual, didn’t seem nearly long enough. I was back at work.

As I downed coffee to try and kick-start my energy, I was poking around Google when I discovered this:

The Gratitude Squirrel

 

The photo accompanied this article.

I laughed. So hard I snorted coffee out my nose. It was just what I needed to cause a shift in my day.

I’ve decided to call this little guy the Gratitude Squirrel. I think he’ll be a bit of totem for me from now on, especially on grumpy days.

Your friend,

Kevin

 

Jul 20, 2013 - Kind of Random, Mindfulness    No Comments

Day 33: What a jazz-playing rideshare driver taught me about grace

Dear Pope Francis,

I’m always amazed — and dismayed — at how quickly I fall out of being present to what Richard Rohr would call the “really real” or the “naked now.” This is especially hard to bear as it takes so much work to get to such a state in the first place. Just as I’ve finally fought past my ego and am in the moment with an open mind, heart, and body, the whole house of cards falls apart. In an instant I’ve closed down again am focused on my own small, petty self. Thankfully, however, these moments are sometimes accompanied by gentle prods from the Divine to open back up again, focus on the moment, and glimpse a truth about myself. The trick is catching these moments of grace, which are always undeserved, before they pass.

Here’s just one recent example. In December, I spent a weekend attending lectures by Richard Rohr on spirituality and the two halves of life. The talks were based on his most recent book, Falling Upwards. The whole weekend was amazing; I learned so much about myself. I felt truly cracked open and expanded. I not only learned from Richard Rohr that weekend, but also from my Sophia classmates. We really bonded over those few days and I felt a closeness with many of them that I hadn’t before.

So it was in this cracked-open, naked state in which I prepared to leave Sophia on Sunday for the journey home. I should note here that I’m not a good traveler. I stress out. A lot. I worry. A lot. For me, each step in the travel process is just a catastrophe waiting to happen. What if my ride is late? What if my first plane is late and I miss my connection? What if there are weather delays? What if I get crammed into a middle or window seat and have to go to the bathroom? Try as I might, most of my trips are a constant stream of worry from beginning to end. And, it’s really just my ego freaking out because it has no control over the process. From the moment I step out of my door until I return home, things are out of my hands. And my neurotic, control-freak ego has a conniption. (Not being in control, by the way, is how Richard Rohr defines suffering.)

But that post-Rohr Sunday I was in a completely different space as I stood waiting for the shared ride van to pick me up and take me to the airport. I wasn’t worried. At all. I’d pushed my ego aside and was prepared to accept the trip home as it came. And, after all, what could possibly happen? I was in this spiritually enlightened space, and that should protect me, like bubble wrap, right?

You know where this is going, don’t you?

My ride was supposed to arrive at 3:15 p.m. Which ticked by and my watch soon read 3:20, then 3:25. Did I mention I was also flying out of a different airport on this trip and it was further away so it would require more travel time? When it was 3:30 I started to edge into panic mode and called the rideshare company. I was told they’d scheduled my pick-up for 3:15 a.m. that day, not p.m.

Right then I dropped like a stone out of the naked now and became one big ball of hopping mad ego.

What did they mean the car came at 3:15 a.m.? Why hadn’t anyone called me when I’d missed it? What were they going to do about it? I had a plane to catch!

The dispatcher put me on hold for a moment, then came back and said they were sending a new van out. It would arrive in 20-25 minutes. I demanded that it not be a shared ride, as I had a schedule to keep and I would now be very behind. The dispatcher promised I would be the only one on that ride.

I ended the call with another stream of complaints. There may have been unkind words about his mother. And her mother.

Having 20-25 minutes to kill when you’re really angry is never a good thing. It gives you time to stew and for the anger to simmer, then bubble, and then boil over. I was well on my way to Mt. Vesuvius mode when suddenly and quietly a line from Richard Rohr’s lectures crept into my head: “Who do you think you are?” He’d actually used it himself in the context of getting upset over travel plans gone wrong.

It stopped me cold. Indeed, who did I think I was? What right did I even have, my little self, to be taking a plane that day, to travel for my Sophia courses, to be able to indulge my spiritual questioning? It was a grace to have this opportunity, why did I insist on getting upset when the least little thing went wrong?

I started to feel awful for how I’d treated the rideshare dispatcher. Yes, it was a mistake and yes it could cause me problems, but nobody was going to die because I didn’t get to the airport on a timeline that fit with my schedule. My smallness and pettiness were illuminated in that moment. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

One good thing about beating yourself up is that time flies while you do it, and soon my van was pulling up. Even though I had just been shown the dark side of myself, I actually started to get angry again. My ego was not done with the situation; it was going to make this driver pay for the wrongs of the company.

Then, something amazing happened. As he drove by me to get to a place where he could turn around, the driver rolled down his window and called out “Hey man, be right there!” I still don’t know whether it was the tone of his voice, or the simple fact that he wanted me to know he cared enough to keep me in the loop, but my anger started to melt. I felt it slide away, and it was nearly gone by the time he pulled up, put my suitcase in the back, and helped me into my seat.

And we were off. Immediately, the driver reached for an iPod he had wired into the van’s sound system, shuffled through a few playlists, and then selected a song. Motown. Very loud Motown. I’m all for a peppy tune, but this was a bit too much. Just as I was about to say something, though, the driver asked me what I did for a living.

“I work in PR,” I said.

“Ah, you mean like you do TV interviews?”

“No,” I replied. “I’m behind-the-scenes. Setting that kind of thing up. I have a face for radio.”

He laughed, then asked “So you must have to be good with people?”

I found myself feeling very glad he hadn’t witnessed either my call with the dispatcher or the internal raging monologue that followed it.

“Yes, I guess so,” I said, neutrally.

“That’s great,” he said. “I love people too. It’s why I love this job. I’m not even supposed to be working today, but I came out of a meeting and they needed someone, so I said yes. I love this job that much. I get to talk to interesting people, and I get to play my music.”

Before I could say something to the topic of that music, that loud, loud music, he went on.

“I’m in a band, you know. Jazz. Big Band. I record everything we do. Want to hear something?”

Great, I thought. Now I’m going to have to listen to bad loud music. And jazz. I really, really don’t like jazz. If I say yes, will he ask my opinion? What if it’s horrible? And I don’t know anything about jazz! What if he asks me to comment on some technical riff the second sax player does?

“Sure,” I said. “That would be nice.”

He grabbed for the iPod again, rummaged through his playlists, and the music began.

“This is from a concert we did last year,” he said. “Sold out show.”

And I don’t know why, but I was instantly captivated by that music. As I said, I’m no jazz aficionado, but something about the song transported me into another state. My brain and soul got quiet again. The loudness didn’t bother me; in fact, I was glad of it so I could be completely surrounded by the music. The driver didn’t ask my opinion, he didn’t ask for any kind of commentary on my part. He just let me listen as we made our way to the airport. The world took on an unreal quality, and reality kind of dropped away. It was just me, the driver, that van and his music. We floated and time stopped.

He played through several more songs, and talked a bit about his band.

“I really do record everything,” he said. “Even when we mess up. Want to hear that?”

“Sure,” I said.

“This bit is from a practice in the garage where we rehearse. It’s hilarious, man. The drummer completely loses the beat and we give him such a hard time.”

And I listened. And the drummer did, indeed, completely lose the beat. It was obvious even to me. And then I heard the low rumbling sounds of men talking trash to each other, giving each other a hard time. Chiding voices filled with masculine affection. The voices of men at home with themselves and each other.

“Yeah,” said the driver. “It’s just the best when we get together. Some of these gigs we get pretty good money. We do one each year for an oil company and I’ll maybe get $500 that night. But, you know, I don’t do it for the money. Not anymore. I do it because I love playing and being with the boys.”

And here, I thought, was someone truly living in the naked now. In love with life, with people, and with what he was doing at every moment. Someone who was willing to share both his talent and his screw-ups. OK, they were technically the drummer’s screw-ups, but what kind of person is proud of when the group they belong to fails in some way — and then shows it off? Someone who had a lot to teach me, obviously.

We entered the airport roadways as the last sounds of the band members laughing faded from the van’s speakers. A feeling of peace and tremendous gratitude flooded through me. This, I thought, was grace at work. I certainly hadn’t deserved such a transformative experience. Really, what I deserved was a long, miserable van ride with an insolent driver who made me late for my plane. What I got, however, was a musical magic carpet ride.

When we pulled up to the curb outside the departures area I realized I didn’t want that ride to end. At all. I didn’t even want to move, out of fear I’d break the spell. But, the driver got out and went to fetch my suitcase so I had to get on with things. I realized then that I hadn’t looked at my watch the whole drive. I had no idea what time it was. So I quickly glanced down.

Imagine my amazement when I realized we’d arrived five minutes sooner than I would have had my original ride shown up on time.

Your friend,

Kevin

Jun 26, 2013 - Mindfulness    No Comments

Day 9: The internal monologue when I’m sick

Dear Pope Francis,

Hope you are doing well. Truth is, I’m not. I think all that overwhelm I wrote about yesterday led to my coming down with, well, the plague. OK. Not quite that bad, but it sure feels like it.

When you’re sick, Pope Francis, do you go through an entire inner monologue about why you’re sick, why you can’t be sick, why you should just tough it out and get on with your day? Well, I do, and it often makes being sick even worse.

I tried to capture this in the following poem. It might need some edits, but I think it gives a good sense of what goes on between my mind, body and spirit when I’m sick and worry about what people will think of me for being sick.

 

When I’m Sick

by Kevin Aschenbrenner

On days like this
when I’m sick as sick can be
I don’t want to go into work.
But my mind says yes, we must
And my body says, no, we can’t.
Yes, we must insists my mind
No, we just can’t, pleads my body

As I lie in bed, fatigued and shining like spilled olive oil on a pale wood floor
my spirit stirs, coughs politely and calmly asks
what are we fighting for?

Dear mind, it says, what’s behind all this?
Body clearly can’t
make it to the bedroom floor
let alone to the shower, the closet, the door, downstairs, the kitchen, the garage, the car, the highway, traffic, the desk, 9, 10 hours at the desk, the car, traffic, garage, upstairs, and to bed again
You know that. You’ve got your electro magnetic finger on the pulse of the body. You are the body.

Well, no, says the mind. That would be the brain. I’m the mind.

Sigh, says spirit. Here we go again.
When will you remember that body, brain and mind are one, you silly goose.
What goes on in you, mind, goes on in the body.
What you do, mind, is reflected in the body.
And what’s good for the body, right now, is to stay home from work, rest,
and if you want,
read one of those fantasy novels you like.

Yes, says mind, I know that.
But when I think about not going into work today,
I just get riled up.
(Oh, and don’t think I didn’t catch that comment about my fantasy novels. I’ve got memory on my side, in case you’d forgotten.)
I start thinking about letting people down,
About Brian from accounting who, just last week, came in with walking pneumonia and a mask to finish the quarterly taxes,
And Mary from IT who broke her leg on the weekend, but was back on Monday, on crutches, making her rounds to fix broken computers
And what about Sid, who is the first in each day, the last out, and travels more and has more meetings than any of us put together? He’s a zombie most days, but he’s there!
All these people push themselves, for work. That makes them good people. Good company people.

OK, says spirit. Anything else?

Well, says mind, then I worry that taking one day will make me fall behind, that my clients will get upset, that they’ll all leave me
And then all of us, body, mind and spirit, will be left homeless. No food. Nothing to keep us all together.

From just one sick day, eh? Wow, says spirit, we are very important and our actions have such profound consequences.

Yes! Yes! We are! They do! I mean, just one sick day could ruin, well, everything!

So, says spirit, summing up, if you let body stay home sick you risk not being a good company person, plus complete destitution. Am I getting this right?

Yes, says mind. See? See? This is why I freak out.

Oh…says mind…one more thing.

Yes? says spirit.

Well…what will people think of us, especially me, if I don’t make body go into work. We’ll be seen as weak. People will think we’re not pulling our weight. People will start to think we’re expendable. That they could get someone better, more resilient, robust. Who wouldn’t get sick, or who would work while sick.

Body says, could you keep it down? I’m trying to rest here. All this negative energy isn’t helping me heal!

Aha, says spirit. Did you see that, mind? What you do affects the body.

Now, says spirit, let me ask a few things.

Does everyone admire Sid for working himself to death, or only management?

Well, says mind, maybe only management. The rest of us think he’s nuts, or at least cruising for a massive coronary by 35.

OK, says spirit. And Mary, did most people think she was smart to come in only a day after breaking her leg?

Well, no, says mind. We thought she might be risking further damage.

Alright, says spirit. And did people really, really love it when Brian spent the day wheezing and coughing all around the office?

Actually, says mind, we all worried we’d catch it.

So, says spirit, these may be good company people, but they’re falling down a bit on taking care of themselves — and even others?

Yes, says mind, I think so.

And, final question, says spirit. At the end of the day, would you rather we look good in front of people who may not care at all about us, or would you rather take care of body so we can greet the challenges of tomorrow, and thereafter in good health.

Mind sighs, and says, the latter, I guess. But..

No buts, says spirit. Buts get you into trouble.

Now before we let body get some rest, let’s meditate a bit.

Oh, no, says mind, I hate meditating. I’ve got nothing to do!

Yes. That’s the point, says spirit. That’s the point.

 

Your sneezy, feverish, nauseous friend,

Kevin