Last week I began an online Masters in Interfaith Action through Claremont Lincoln University. It is a school that brings together people of various faith traditions in the same classroom (online classroom that is), to not only study things like ethics, social justice and theology, but to also engage each other in hopes that a faithful and meaningful dialogue might begin. The course work has been tremendous, and rather than just adding more stuff to my pile, has had the reverse effect—reducing stress.
Here is why: one of my first courses is on mindfulness—the practice of being truly present. It is akin to meditation and contemplation, but really has to do with how we are living each moment, not just those that are actively used for meditation or prayer.
I thought an interesting way to use my reflection this week would be to share one of my discussion assignments with you. Then, ask the question—how might you practice mindfulness?
Discussion Prompt: The first discussion item this week is to share how you might be implementing the essence of the readings and activities in your everyday life. E.g. have you been able to implement present moment awareness in your typical activities? What are your ‘gorillas?’ – in other words, what are the good things in your life that you might tend to overlook because you are typically focused on life’s stresses and challenges? How has reading, thinking or processing about mindful or heartful awareness begun to shift your behavior?
My Response: This week I received the gift of being a solo dad. My wife was out of town at a business conference and so I had our three year old all week. Part of me wanted to react with stress (one more thing on top of all the work!), but another part of me saw this as permission. I had been having a busy couple of weeks, and this was the permission I needed to put some things on the back burner and enjoy time with my daughter. I was the only one there. She needed me. She needed me a lot more than all the work needed me. We played in the park, we had a movie night, we spent time in the backyard, and I was able to give myself permission to simply shut everything else out and play. There is something to the idea of play being an avenue to mindfulness. Coming out of my religious tradition, I think this is what Jesus spoke of when he said to enter into the kingdom you must become like a little child. You must appreciate the specialness of each moment. You must have joy. You must be able to put other things aside and simply focus on the present moment, and in so many ways this is a lesson children have to teach us. This may need to be a focus of mindfulness for me. I never considered that playing, “Queen Elsa,” was a contemplative practice. However, as Professor Daugherty alluded to in the introduction, Thich Naht Hahn said that the greatest gift we can give someone is our presence–being fully present with them. I want to be better at practicing this kind of presence with my daughter. I also want to make time for other meditative practices, but in some ways, I believe this is a good way of really starting on my “Gorillas.”
How about you? Are you going to practice mindfulness by playing, “Queen Elsa?” Or what ways might you be more present in your everyday life?