Tag Archives: mindfulness

Now You Know

Mindfulness.

This is a word you’ve probably seen pretty often lately, as it seems to be the latest technique for dealing with all sorts of ills: anxiety, eating disorders, stress management, addiction, emotional dysregulation, and depression just to name a few.  Add meditation to the concept of mindfulness and you have just identified the hot, new trend for young, urban professionals.

There is nothing new about mindfulness or meditation. People have been practicing both for centuries. What has gained them both so much press is that medical professionals have come to recognize the power of both techniques for improving overall health (i.e. lowering blood pressure) and reducing pain; mental health professionals have long used these techniques to help their clients reduce impulsivity and act according to their values instead of the strong emotion of the moment, which is a powerful means of increasing self-esteem and the likelihood of choosing positive/effective actions.

All this to say, gee…this mindfulness and meditation thing sure is useful!

Despite the effectiveness of mindfulness and meditation, most of us are not using these techniques on a regular basis because they take time and effort to practice and master—and most of us don’t have enough time or energy to master even one more thing, so it Just. Isn’t. Happening.


My youngest daughter posted something on Facebook yesterday that really caught my attention. She said “If, when I was little, someone told me how much of life is going to work just so you can pay rent and taxes and be able to go to the doctor, I probably would have savored those years more.”

For just a moment I struggled with the urge to tell her that simple observation would have given her a clue if she had only bothered to pay attention to how much work her parents were doing!

I thought about accusing her of being bone-headedly stupid, but the truth is that I didn’t pay any more attention to the difficulties of adult life during my childhood than she did during hers.  I decided that the problem is endemic to childhood and especially to being a teenager, and this reminded me of a specific morning when I was teaching Sunday School to a bunch of high school students.

That Sunday one of the boys in the class was complaining that his mother wanted him to help her clean the house just because he was on Spring Break.  “If she wants to clean the house, then she should do it herself! Don’t make me something just because it’s what you want!”  Then he repeated the mantra of children everywhere: “I can’t wait until I’m an adult. I’ll do whatever I want to do all the time!

I kind of lost my composure for a moment and blurted out “Do you really think that your mother wants to clean the house?!” To my utter shock, he said yes. Still having no composure, I said “Are you on drugs?! NO ONE wants to clean the house! Ever!” He actually had the audacity to ask me why his mother cleaned the house if she didn’t want to do it, since she was an adult and therefore could do whatever she wanted to. So I explained to the class that adulthood is about doing the many things you have to do and need to do whether you want to do them or not…with occasional moments of ease when you get to do what you’d like to do. Then I pointed out that if their parents didn’t clean the house on a regular basis they would quickly be living in filth and unsafe conditions. Then I made it clear that neither their mothers nor their fathers particularly liked going to work every day, nor did they like paying bills, or doing yard work, or doing laundry. I told them that most parents would actually prefer to do the same things that their kids want to do all day: sleep in, play video games, hang out with friends, go shopping, watch a movie, and eat food that somebody else prepares. I made it clear that their parents were not getting to do what they wanted to do very often at all.  I wish I could show you a picture of their crestfallen faces. I think I might be personally responsible for destroying their dreams of an adult life of ease, and I’m not sure that it was the kind thing to do since they had so little time left to indulge that dream.


I did post an answer to my daughter, admitting that her father and I tried to tell her how difficult adult life would be, and revealing that she was consistently unwilling to listen to that truth. I also let her know that she would say much the same thing once her children were born, except in reference to her life with her husband before children. I also told her that she would say the same thing again in reference to raising her children, once her nest became empty.

It’s that old adage: hindsight is 20/20.  You only realize how good you had it after you no longer have it, whatever ‘it’ is.  This is not news to anyone over the age of 20.

Except that I’m not sure that that this is how it’s supposed to be.

And this is where I return to the subject of mindfulness.

Our culture is so focused on productivity and problem-solving that our lives have become driven by our to-do lists.  Each day becomes a marathon of trying to get it all done, with increasing levels of efficiency and task mastery as we grow older, which only lets us cram more onto our to-do list, at least until we reach our mid-60s and need to start slowing down a little.

You’ve heard this before, but I’ll say it again: we have become human doings instead of human beings.

I don’t have the solution to alleviate our busyness or our endless to-do lists, but I do have an idea about how to stop the endless cycle of looking backwards, longing for a chance to truly appreciate what good thing that we didn’t know we had, now that it’s gone.  And no, I’m not going to try and sell you a meditation CD that will increase your levels of gratitude or insist that you sit with a raisin for five minutes, focusing on its texture and appearance, and then five more minutes giving yourself a chance to truly taste a raisin.

Can you tell that I am just a little frustrated by the ways that we teach mindfulness?  I knew you could.

How about we just take a minute to pay attention to the good things in life?

I don’t mean the house/apartment/rented room you live in because that’s obvious, and if you aren’t grateful for the roof over your head, this blog isn’t going to do you any good.  I understand that we often forget to be grateful for what we have, but that’s not what I trying to say. I’m trying to shoot at the root of what my daughter talked about in her FB post: the habit of only valuing the fullness of our life after that part of our life has passed.

This problem…this is a part of the human condition. We like to identify our material possessions and our relationships as our blessings (because it’s so obvious) and consign everything else to the ‘meh’ category, wishing we didn’t have to deal with it.  But it’s the stuff in the ‘meh’ category that we will miss the most once it is gone.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

When you’re busy plunging, how often do you think about how fantastic it is to have a flush toilet that functions?  We don’t thank God for the sewer system often enough.

When your life becomes an emotional mess, do you ever think about the ways that your challenges and struggles illustrate to you exactly who your friends are? Trust me, you’ll know who your real friends are because they will show up (either physically or emotionally) to give you support in the midst of your difficulty.

When you are stuck at home with bronchitis or the flu, do you spend any time thinking about your body and how hard it works to keep you going…and how infrequently it breaks down? Ask anyone with a chronic illness how quickly they came to appreciate their previous health and what they now call their ‘good days’…and you might suddenly realize just how many good days you have in the average year.

When you are refereeing a fight between your children, or arguing with your teenager, or grounding your tween for bad behavior, do you ever stop to think that these moments—these frustrating, disappointing moments—are the grist in the mill that will help your child become a decent adult?

You can complain about the crap in your life—and broken toilets and bad breakups and the flu and disobedient kids are crap—all that you want to. It’s okay to call it like you see it. Crap is crap. I’m not asking you to pretend that life is all rainbows and unicorns.

What I’m trying to say is that we need to become mindful of the goodness that is inherent in the daily crap in our life.

We need to take a solid minute to be grateful for the obvious blessings and then another two or three minutes to be grateful for just how crazy life is, for the things that frustrate us, challenge us, and make us exhausted. Trust me…in their absence we will look back and say “If I had only known…I would have savored those years more.”

Well…now you know. Savor the life you have NOW…not just the obvious blessings, but the whole doggone mess.

This is your mindfulness minute for the day. Thank you for reading. I’m going to go clean the dog poop out of my backyard, and think about how I wouldn’t have to do this if I didn’t have two little Shih Tzus who love me, love me, love me!

I thank you Lord, for the crap. Literally.

Advertisements

Holy Discontent, Batman!

Do you remember when I told you that I had a case of the BLAHs? I realized that God had placed some holy discontent into my life to get me out of my rut and move me forward.

Things were getting better there for a while.  I got a workbook about burnout and compassion fatigue. I started reading it and took the tests to see just how burned out I was, how badly beaten and fatigued that my compassion had become.

Guess what? I’m not burned out and I don’t have compassion fatigue.

Apparently, the longer you are a practicing counselor the more likely you have let go of unrealistic beliefs about what you should be able to achieve and have accepted that you will have unlimited capacity for compassion and giving.

I took those tests and discovered that I was just fine, scoring somewhere in the range where folks who’ve been in the industry over 10 years tend to score.

It was great relief.

I also started doing things that bring me happiness just to do them. I started baking regularly and trying new recipes for weekend dinners.  It was fun! I love to bake and I love to watch baking shows.

I was starting to smile and laugh and feel human again and I felt like my holy discontent was lifting.

And then…

A colleague gave me some feedback that was very uncomfortable, and while I’m not sure it’s accurate, I’m also not sure that it isn’t right on the money.  I have chewed on this feedback for more than two days now, and I’m beginning to find streaks of truth that I want to understand more deeply.

It’s not fun. I’m teary and uncomfortable. I feel vulnerable and exposed. I don’t like this one bit.

On the other hand, I told you that God has this kind habit of putting people in my path to help me discern His will, and then I asked Him to break my heart and set me on fire for His Kingdom.

Well…my heart feels a little broken and this person was definitely in my path.

As much as I don’t like it, I do believe God is answering my prayer.  And while it isn’t comfortable, answers to prayer are always good news.  I also know that following God’s will can be profoundly disturbing when you first start down the path, but God always works amazing miracles around us and in us when we submit to Him fully.

It appears the holy discontent train has left the station with me on board and I am on my way.  I’ll keep you posted as things develop.

American Dream To Me

Have you been on Facebook lately? Watched the news much? Listened to talk radio?

If you have, you might just be thinking that the American Dream is coming to an end, that the US has become one giant mess of racial division and hatred. And there is plenty of evidence to support that worldview, except for one thing: it’s not true.

I used to have a professor in seminary who would say “Everything you see and hear confirms your fears, and your fears are still not true.” It took me a long time to understand his statement, but he’s right.

Just because you hear all about on every news source you turn to doesn’t make it true. I’m going to say that again: just because you hear about divisiveness and hatred every day on TV doesn’t mean that this nation is consumed with racial divisiveness and hatred.

Pay attention: THE NEWS DOES NOT REPORT ON WHAT IS GOING RIGHT IN THE WORLD–mostly because that’s kind of boring. News programs report on crime, violence, economic problems, and worldwide concerns. Sure they’ll throw in the occasional human interest story that will make you feel good, but most of the time in any news show is dedicated to reporting what is going wrong in the world.

If you focus on what’s wrong for very long, it will seem like what’s wrong is all there is to focus on.

Everything you see and hear confirms your fears and your fears are still not true. So let me drop some truth on you:

Anyone who tells you that America is rife with division and hatred is lying.

WE ARE MORE UNITED THAN WE REALIZE.

The truth is that you don’t care what ethnicity your neighbor is or what their religion is, as long as they maintain their home and help you create a safe neighborhood for the children to play in.

You don’t care what country or state they came from as long as they will sit next to you at the PTA meeting and work to increase the quality of the schools.

It doesn’t matter what strange foods they eat or how they dress as long as they will help you set up the Halloween Festival in the park in your neighborhood…if they will sit next to you and smile at the children’s costumes…if they will help you with the clean-up afterwards.

You don’t care what your neighbor earns or where they work.

You don’t care who they love or who they choose as their partner, as long as they are private in their lovemaking. (Praise the Lord…I don’t want to see anyone getting their freak on.)

You don’t care what they drive. You don’t care who they vote for. You don’t care what TV shows they watch or what music they listen to…as long as they don’t play it so loud that you are forced to listen to it.

In the end, all you really want is for the person who lives next door to be a GOOD NEIGHBOR…so that you can be a good neighbor towards them and together you can build a safe neighborhood for everyone to live in. All our differences are meaningless when we are kind to each other…once that’s taken care of, what matters is what we have in common.

And we have more in common than we realize. We all want a safe place to raise our children; a good job so we can support our family; enough money to save for our future; and a community that stands together for the good of all. And the things that make us happy are the same: a loving partner, a cozy home, good friends, and occasionally a barbecue and a beer so that we can sit back and enjoy how good life is.

The things we have in common are so much bigger than the differences that supposedly divide us.

And of course, you will always be able to find people who are only in it for themselves, who don’t care about being a good neighbor or a good person. People who are willing to let the public support them; who don’t care about their property; someone who makes things harder for everyone around them. Those people will always exist and you are free let them ruin your ability to believe that we are best when we are united, but I don’t recommend it.

America is not about the red, white, and blue. America is about the black, white, brown, red, and yellow. America is not defined by our geographical borders, but by the unity of the American people, which is far bigger than coasts and islands, and transcends skin color, gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity.

Anyone who tells you that you are living in a country that is divided is LYING. Our unity is bigger than our diversity. It is entirely possible that we are able to be unified because of our diversity, since the American Dream is based in the idea that anyone can succeed in this country if they are willing to work hard enough—anyone, regardless of color, gender, or sexual persuasion. We do love our success stories in this country, and we hold up those successes like beacons of promise to remind us that our goal is to be an equal opportunity nation. It’s no wonder why so many people are trying to immigrate into our nation. And while we may not truly have achieved the equality we seek for all persons, we are still striving for it. We are still working to end discrimination, still striving to recognize the areas where our biases create invisible walls that prevent others from achieving their dreams, discovering that even unknown privilege is a problem.

In the United States of America, we have ideals that are far higher than our actual achievements and we are still working to reach those ideals.

Don’t believe anyone who tells you that our ideals cannot be achieved. If you are losing hope in those ideals, get out there and work to make those ideals a reality in your community. You are only one person and you may not be able to change a nation, but changing your little corner of the world is a great start.

I like what Joe Biden had to say in his speech at the Democratic National Convention: “We are America, and we OWN the finish line!” Indeed! Now…let’s work to make sure that everyone crosses that finish line in the most spectacular way possible. Sounds like the American Dream to me.

I Have No Idea What I’m Doing

The hardest thing about being in ministry is the overwhelming desire to do ministry well—to minister to others effectively and consistently.  Basically, what I’m talking about is the desire to do ministry like you do almost any other job, focusing on deliverables and achievements.  Ministry does not work that way.

And all the ministers reading this immediately exclaimed “Oh yes it does!” because every minister in the world produces reports about how many people they baptized and how many families joined the church this year and how many newcomers attended worship this quarter, etc.  I swear some of us are drowning in paperwork that aims to quantify the impact of ministry.  But this is not what I’m talking about—what I’m referring to is the desire to be effective in ministry with the person standing in front of you, right at the moment you are speaking to them.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am both a licensed mental health counselor and a pastor.  Both jobs require me to be with people quite a bit, and to be present to their needs and their distress in order to help them.  I have noticed something very strange about my jobs: I do my best work when I have no idea what I’m doing.

Let me clarify: it’s not that I don’t know what I’m doing.  I have two Master’s Degrees and a license to practice counseling in Arizona that I’ve had since 2005.  I can tell you my theological orientation as a pastor and my theoretical orientation in counseling, as well the eclectic set of interventions I use to help my clients achieve their goals and what theoretical background those interventions come from.  I know what I ‘m doing when I’m doing it.  That isn’t my point.

My point is that when I try to be a “good pastor” or a “good counselor”…when I’m all up in my head, well aware of my theoretical orientation or the intervention that I’m about to introduce…I’m good, but never as good as when I have no idea what I’m doing.

I’ll give you an example:  the other day, I was talking with someone at church.  She was sharing her concerns about her ministry and how it was going, what her next steps would be, and how unsure she was of what those next steps should be.  We started talking about the interesting coincidences that happen in life that later on turn out to be God-inspired, and how God gently guides us along the way in our ministry and how long it can take us to catch on to what God is doing.  It was a great conversation, and I really enjoyed hearing about her ministry because this is a very talented lady that has been sharing her talents with our church for a long time…it’s about time the rest of the world got a share of the joy, you know?  The best part was getting to share in her achievements and the happiness they bring her.  It’s not often that I get to hear all the good stuff—people usually contact me when things are going wrong because it’s my job to help folks when things are going wrong—and so I really enjoy it when people share the good things God is making happen in their lives.

Later on that day, I got a text message from this same lady thanking me for my words and telling me what a God-centered person I am and I thought “Really?” because I couldn’t remember saying anything meaningful to her.  I’m embarrassed to admit it.  It’s not that I don’t remember the conversation; I remember quite of bit of what she said to me…I just don’t remember anything I said in reply to her.

And this is a perfect example of what I mean when I say that I do my best work when I don’t know what I’m doing.  You see, it gets really easy to get caught up in the whole ROLE of being a pastor or a counselor (or a mom, or a wife, or a good friend, or…you get the picture.)  When I get into that space, I start trying really hard to be a good (insert name of role) and then I get all up in my head and start thinking about what I should do or what I should say.  I suppose that this has its value in my counseling office where I do have to be aware of what intervention I’m using to help my client…I can’t just bumble through the session and then charge the insurance for an hour of “I listened…isn’t that enough?”  But the truth is that even in my counseling office, the best stuff happens when I’m busy being Tina, not “Tina the good counselor.”

I suppose that I could start talking about mindfulness and the power of being present…and that’s a blog entry for another day.  What I want to say right now is that we do a lot more for each other by being present than we do for each other by being a good (insert name of role.)  God didn’t create “Tina the counselor” or “Tina the mom” or “Tina the pastor”…those are things that I chose to be and do with what God created.  God just created Tina—plain old untitled Tina.  And while I don’t represent the gold standard of anything (trust me on this, and if you don’t, try asking my kids or my husband) I do know that nothing I could attempt to be can exceed the good that exists in what God created.

This shows up when I accidentally do good ministry by simply listening to another person share their story and then share my unedited, authentic reaction to what they had to say.  My authentic reaction to their story is often exactly what they needed to hear…whether I’m their counselor or their pastor or just a friend.  I know you’ve heard this before, but God didn’t create human DOINGS or human ROLES…God created human BEINGS. Our greatest value is not in our doings or in the roles we fill, but in the power of simply being with other people; being real with them and sharing our truth.  We have more to give and more power to give it when we stop trying to be anything other than who we are, even when we feel that we aren’t enough.

And that is all I have to say, mostly because that’s all I have right now, and it happens to be my truth.