Contemplative photo by Dr. Kathy Bozzuti-Jones
I think I was a pretty stubborn child, which my parents euphemistically called “independent.” That might have been a formative strategy but became somewhat prophetic. Okay, so it was strategic parenting. But it didn’t take immediately. When my unvarnished stubbornness was a potential problem, as in conflicts and grudge-matches with my brother, my mom would say, “What would it really cost you…?” To apologize, or to forgive, or to listen to one another’s point of view. The immediate reply was usually, “I will if he will.” But her question always lingered and eventually softened my self-righteous hard line.
I recently asked someone the same question when they refused to consider a compassionate posture toward people with whom they didn’t understand or identify. In other words, more compassion for one does not mean less for another. Case in point: in the loaves and fishes model — generosity only multiplies itself.
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Contemplative photo by Dr. Kathy Bozzuti-Jones
Becoming Conscious, One Breath at a Time
Dr. Kathy Bozzuti-Jones
We can claim the future we desire and act from it now. To do this takes the discipline of choosing where to focus our attention. If our brains, as neuroscience now suggests, take whatever we focus on as an invitation to make it happen, then the images and visions we live with matter a great deal. So we need to actively engage our imaginations in shaping visions of the future. Nothing we do is insignificant. Even a very small conscious choice of courage or of conscience can contribute to the transformation of the whole. It might be, for instance, the decision to put energy into that which seems most authentic to us, and to withdraw energy and involvement from that which doesn’t.
—Pat Farrell OSF (2012 LCWR Assembly Address, Leadership Conference of Women Religious)
Lately, I’ve become intrigued by the notion that, with practice, we can take the driver’s seat when it comes to our thoughts, fears, and ruminations. Breath practice has taught me this in real time and is, of course, informed both by neuroscience and thousands of years of contemplative practice. When I sit in meditation, I attempt an objective perspective on all the drama my mind kicks up when I try to be quiet and sit in God’s presence. First my to-do list comes up, then an unfinished conversation, then a lesson plan, a hurt or slight, then an idea for my next book — you know how it goes. The key is in not … pushing … it all away.
The beauty of breath meditation is that there are only two things to do in order for this practice to reveal its effect on our making conscious choices. First, decide that you want to spend some time connecting to your breath, the in and out rhythm, that connects you with the Divine breath. Second, whenever you notice that a thought or fear or rumination has arisen, simply note that and return your attention to your breath without judgment. That’s all there is to it.
This simple element of compassionate return to the breath from Buddhist practice has greatly enhanced my Christian contemplative practice. Every time I notice a thought that has presented itself into my meditation, note it, and then gently return my attention to the breath, I am doing a compassion practice. And when it happens again, I note it and return again. Seeing what is, accepting what the human mind does, and making a conscious choice to return my attention is actually a form of compassion practice. It touches into the relationality of being fully human — how I am relating to my breath and body and experience in the moment, how I relate to others by extension, and how I relate to the Source of all Compassion, the Breath of life, my Ground.
Breathing into a sense of God in me and my desire to be in loving relationship to others and to the whole of Creation, I remember to be grateful for the arrival of the next breath. And the next. And therein lies my conscious choice. In the discipline of choosing where to place our attention, we can learn to make choices in the present that shape the future.
In other words, when I am not led around by my restless thoughts (and when I consider the possibility that I need not believe in all of them!), I can better engage my imagination to envision the future. Imagine that in befriending reality as it is (instead of how I might prefer it to be), I can make conscious choices for transformation — in myself that can affect the collective. Dropping into a place of receptivity for my own experience, I am building the capacity to “choose the images and visions” I live with and can better allow you to choose yours. Training my spiritual imagination in this way gives me an opportunity to make more skillful conscious choices in my own life and in my contribution to bringing in the Reign of Love.
Do you have breath practice? What do you notice when you breathe into spacious awareness of your experience and your experience in God? The world needs your grounded awareness of truth; a breath practice, like prayer practice, can help to align your values with your choices and actions. One caveat: When a message comes through the admixture of thoughts that feels important and authentic to your spiritual growth, you will recognize it and can make the conscious choice to explore that at any point, rather than returning to the breath. In the meanwhile, there is no need to “empty” your mind; you can practice being open to your own experience and make a habit of making conscious choices through the act of breathing.
Try this simple breath practice:
- Close your eyes or leave them open
- Begin to tune in to your body from head to toe, relaxing, releasing, allowing
- Take three full breaths, imagining filling your lungs with the Divine Spirit
- Continue to follow your inhalation and exhalation
- When thoughts or restlessness occur (as they inevitably will), acknowledge it and invite the body and mind to return to the breath. “Ah, there you are.”
- Repeat spacious breathing and return to the breath as needed — without self-criticism — with a spirit of the compassion and gentleness of our loving God.
Read Eating More Than Our Share of Radishes, an essay about will power and self-compassion during the pandemic, by the Rev. Dr. D. Scott Stoner.
Roger Hutchison gives step-by-step instructions for the art response during Summer Sundays.
Playing in God’s Kingdom
What games do you think there are in the Kingdom of Heaven? Have you ever played musical chairs? That game is one of the best illustrations of a zero-sum equation, AND, of the difference between “winning” and forcing someone else to “lose.” In other words, another person’s pain or joy takes nothing from yours, unless you let it. Have you ever been the last one with a chair, or final winner? Have you ever been out of the game in the first round? Which feels better/worse to you? Remember, at the end of the game, all of the people who “lost” are all together again, and the one who won is alone on their solitary chair. But what if there were no chairs? What if players were in a circle in a huge space and the object was to include anyone and everyone in the circle who wanted to play?
The Gospel reading for this Sunday, Feeding the 5,000, illustrates that the Kingdom of Heaven is the opposite of that zero-sum concept, and yet there are plenty of “Christians” who would say that it’s an illustration of godless communism or socialism. Others think it’s a story of a supernatural miracle, or some kind of magician’s sleight of hand.
This story appears in all four Gospels, each with slightly different details. I like John’s version the best because the “miracle” was initiated by a naïve child who was first to volunteer to share his meager lunch. And look what he started — with such a humble gesture!
Join us Sunday at 10am for a time to catch up and to discover and share The Way of Love for children with Roger Hutchison, author/illustrator of The Very Best Day. This week, we’ll talk about rest. We can’t go without some rest. And sometimes we need to rest to help us be with God and listen for the way to go. Please join us! RSVP to Kathryn Carroll at KCarroll@trinitywallstreet.org.
If you would like to follow along with the art project, please have on hand the supplies listed below. You’re welcome to join even if you don’t have the supplies below, and you can always do the project later.
- A washed pillowcase — it can be new or old, but it should be washed
- Fabric pens or sharpies of varying colors
- A piece of cardboard or poster board to place inside of the pillowcase
- A list of The Way of Love practices we have covered: Turn, Learn, Pray, Worship, Bless, Go, Rest
Family Worship: Home Edition
See Family Worship: Home Edition to see this week’s activity for children and families.
Each week, we’re sharing a song of the week to help you go deeper with each Sunday’s theme. The playlist will be updated weekly, and the song of the week will sit on top.