A time to honor the darkness

Photo by Ben Breitenstein

It’s a frantic time of year...

Maybe you have a kid or three (or more?!). Maybe you have a demanding job or business that’s asking more out of you now than at any other time of year. Maybe you’ve been going non-stop since Thanksgiving (or before) running around getting trees, decorating the house, booking travel, preparing for guests, buying gifts, attending performances, going to holiday parties, and all the other hustle and bustle that this time of year brings.

If you’re reading this note, please use it as an excuse to just… take a moment.

The items on our holiday laundry list weave together to make up a giant blanket of distraction that we throw over a deeper discontent.

Take a moment to be with that stuff. Because there’s always stuff. Maybe it’s your own inner battles. Maybe it’s your relationships, finances, or health. Maybe it’s global happenings that you’ve been glazing over. Or just a sense of being overwhelmed by the tidal wave of life as it rolls over you.

But the thing about discontent is that it doesn’t stay under the covers for very long. It always tries to break into the light of your awareness so it can be released and healed.

No need to battle it (it’s like throwing punches at shadows, trust me). No need to brainstorm solutions or try to figure it all out. This isn’t about that.

It’s about honoring whatever ails you. Turn down the Michael Bublé, Mariah Carey, or whatever other God-awful holiday music is playing on repeat and breathe through it. You might need a moment.

I’m big on the seasons. And as we approach the darkest day of the year, it’s a great opportunity to… be a little dark. Don’t let it overtake you. But grab it by the arm and walk with it for a few minutes.

Then grab another eggnog, throw down another sugar cookie, and get back in the game.


If you’re enjoying The Jonas Chronicles and can support me to keep doing this work (while enjoying some perks), click here to view my Patreon page.

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Stop deciding on things

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger

Not all the time. I mean, I highly suggest you decide to stop when the light turns red.

But just for a little while — 20 minutes in a day — stop deciding on things.

This is contemplation. When we sit and as soon as we notice that decision muscle working, we stop and… Well, we just stop. We rest our decision muscle. And when we do, something magical happens.

Make it a daily practice to consciously rest your decision muscle for a little while.

This is when a certain operating system of sorts shuts off within — the one that only runs programs based on ‘either/or’ commands. It’s binary. On or off. Black or white. Green or red (again, this one is nice when you’re driving). When this operating system is active, we squint through life. We constantly unknowingly parse the world in front of us.

And when that operating is turned off, I notice a new one booting up in its place. One that gives me a wider view. One that’s based on ‘both/and’ commands. It’s an expansive one that opens up and holds opposing things in the same place without having to obliterate one of them.

Like my improv brethren, it says, “Yes, and…”

What you’ll find is, the decision muscle doesn’t know how to rest. We’ve trained it since early childhood to stay flexed and active. As you sit there, if you’re like me, you find yourself deciding on the banalest minutiae of life. Not only that, but it blows these decisions up like they’re life or death.

But, no. This is your sacred space. You’re only here for 20 minutes. This is not the time to make decisions. You have 15 hours and 40 minutes (if you get 8 hours of sleep) to do that. Not now.

Relax that decision muscle. This is the small window of time you’ve set aside for release, not gathering. It’s apophatic, not kataphatic. It’s focus is on surrender, not obtaining.

Let that decision muscle rest and see anew.

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Sinking into life just a couple inches deeper

Photo by Ansgar Scheffold on Unsplash

This is one of the things that silent contemplative prayer has helped me with during my fairly short time doing it.

I’m still a headcase. But I’m noticing more moments in my daily life where I feel that I’ve (metaphorically speaking) sunk just a couple inches deeper into my life.

It’s a really hard thing to describe with words. I guess I just feel more rooted. Like my nonphysical center of gravity is a little more solid.

In Western culture, we tend to live from the neck-up (totally guilty of this myself) moving through life in our heads as we assign our logical, rational mind the sole job of running the show. This works great in a controlled environment when we have a model of the past to go off of.

But when things start going haywire in life (if even a little), the rational mind has a hard time making connections. We get mentally and emotionally thrown off center.

The news, the job market, the housing market, religion, family dynamics, male/female roles, economics, parenting — so much of life is in upheaval right now. We’re going through a huge paradigm shift and it’s making a lot of us crazy, especially when we grow up believing that this stuff should be black and white.

Binary, baby. Let's keep this stuff simple.

But, life says no (yes, particularly at this historical moment, but I think the only constant throughout history is how in flux it is).

The world is going through profound shifts on both a macro (huge, worldwide events) and micro (like, at your family’s Thanksgiving table) level. And with the internet, we’re plugged into all of it in real time. At the same time that we read on Facebook about your Uncle Henry’s shirtless diatribe at the dinner table, we get a Breaking News alert about a mass killing on the other side of the planet.

The rational mind can’t hang on to this stuff.

But this ancient practice of sitting in silence and releasing my mental mutterings is helping me just… be here. Trust me, I’m off-balance plenty of times throughout my day, but I’m noticing more and more that I’m just a little more rooted.

Instead of constantly trying to play chess with my life (a futile, fruitless exercise), I’m more often just… There.

I have a long way to go, but if two inches deeper is where I am right now, I’ll take it.

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Living for the margins

Photo by Ales Me on Unsplash

I took too much time off from work last week…

Now, I’m self-employed. Trust me, I’m not bragging. Because, although I don’t have one of ‘those’ kinds of official bosses that one might have at a traditional workplace, my boss takes on the forms of my clients, my family, and the jerk looking back at me disapprovingly in the mirror.

It was fall break for Rory so we had a lot planned. A day trip to Starved Rock. Another day trip to go enjoy fall festivities at this farm in rural Indiana. And just hanging out with the little one since we had her home all week.

And so, there I was, trying to enjoy myself as I hunted for the perfect pumpkin, munched on cider donuts, and sipped coffee at a veritable autumn wonderland (shout out to County Line Orchard) but anxious as ever on the inside. The nagging from my inner boss was incessant. I had so much client work and blogs to write and emails to answer and other stuff to do.

So there I was, picking apples and stressing like crazy thinking I should be working when it struck me…

Doing a quick scan of my recent life, my default has been to think about work as the hub of my life and everything else as ancillary to that.

I don’t know if it’s a product of my upbringing (as a poor kid with a father who fought to get rich until his last day but died penniless and my battle against that same ending). I don’t know if it’s the overall cultural narrative of the material success of the western male. I don’t know if it’s the frantic nature of this new safety net-less freelance economy where we’re all basically on our own and struggling to make our own way. Or maybe it’s a combo of all of these and more.

Whatever the reason, I’ve grown to be totally work-obsessed and everything else in life has fallen secondary (at best) to that.

Here’s when it really hit me…

Wow, maybe THIS should be the hub…

Maybe this time with my daughter and wife in rural America picking apples and riding on sketchy tractors without seatbelts is the hub, not just the margins. Maybe this is why all the other stuff exists.

This was a big distinction for me. I know a lot of us are obsessed with making as much money and doing as interesting of work as those people on Instagram. The hustle seems really heroic and cool.

And it can be — please don’t get me wrong. Having a good, interesting, soul-fulfilling vocation is an essential element to a life well-lived. But if it’s placed on the altar of life as the idol, it becomes tainted and, in a way, self-destructs.

Maybe this is how we should hold onto Sabbath (no need to be religious to take advantage of Sabbath). Sabbath isn’t an interruption to be tolerated until we can get back to work. Sabbath is it. It should be a central intention to life. This IS the point. To proclaim our freedom as non-slave humans and enjoy the time away from the grind.

And then, yes. By doing this, it just so happens that work becomes a lot more enjoyable. Because as we’re working (and hopefully enjoying said work in and of itself — or not), we can always know that in a number of hours or days, we’ll get back to the point…

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The power of prudence and how to start getting your life back from social media

Photo by Foroozan Faraji on Unsplash

First of all, a huge disclaimer… I’m writing to myself just as much as I am to you here. I’m an active social media user (especially Instagram — ugh). I post photos of my kid more than I should as well as other random stuff that serves no point other than to get others to ‘look at me’. I’m well aware. Okay, let’s get into it here…

We live in a culture where we can instantaneously express ourselves. Share a photo. Book a face. Twitter a tweet. Snap a chat.

It’s so gratifying to the ego to project its ideal to everyone it can. To put it out there and see how much juicy social approval we can gain.

That being said, I challenge you (and myself) to try something…

The next time you want to take that photograph of your kid or that selfie of you and your honey on a boat and share it on social, stop. Hang on to that thing. Keep it private.

Then, notice the inner rumblings of the ego wanting that sweet hit of immediate social approval. Can you feel it grinding? Yeah…

That’s no good, friends. No good at all. It’s called addiction. Straight up.

This is where prudence comes in — a quality a lot of us modern westerners have lost touch with. Exercising this kind of restraint is really hard when the share button is just a few touches away.

However, I’ve found, the more of your life you hold sacred to yourself, the more you build up a sort of internal (spiritual?) bank account.

Think of that ‘share’ button as an inner-bank withdrawal that takes a little bit of your life away from you and spends it in the social sphere. And think of the moments you keep to yourself as savings.

I’m not fully against social media (though, as I get older, I’m becoming more and more so). I love being able to keep up with family and friends from across the planet and follow my favorite authors, creatives, etc.

But I’d argue that there are so many sacred moments that get ruined just for the sake of portraying an ego ideal to the world. As we spend the moments of our lives on the social marketplace like good little American consumers (because yes, we are the products on the shelf of social media and our attention is the currency), we lose something.

I’d say, the more epic the moment, the more money it’s like putting in that inner-bank account. The more you yearn to share it, the more it’ll be worth to your humanity if you keep it to yourself.

I don’t know about you, but I spent way too much of my inner-bank savings these last couple weeks.

Restraint and prudence are how we start reclaiming our lives from this social world we’ve found ourselves in.

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On emptying out your best ideas

It kills me every time…

I’m sitting there in contemplation emptying out my thoughts to god (you know, as ya do), and then it hits me: A great idea. I’m only five minutes into my meditation and suddenly, I’ve figured out that one thing I’ve been wrestling with for weeks.

And so, I break the ‘rule’. I pause my Insight Timer, get up, and write that brilliant idea down.

Then I sit back down, get back into position, itch my nose (always), fart (sorry, it happens), press the ‘play’ button on the timer, close my eyes, and get back in the zone.

Five more minutes go by and — BAM — I remember that one thing I keep forgetting to buy at the store. Mouthwash! Gaaah! So I pause the timer, get up, write that bad boy down, sit back down, scratch my nose, (no farting this time), press play, and get back in the zone.

I’ll stop there… 
You’re starting to see the cycle, right?

When we entertain our underlying frantic anxieties, they become more and more incessant.

Back to the ‘rule’… In centering prayer, the only requirement is to let go of each thought.

This is so hard — especially for someone who makes a living from ideas. Those things are like currency to me, yet there I am, consciously forgetting them! And I’m trying to make a habit of this?! What is this madness?!

Afterward, it never ceases to amaze me how, when/if I remember those ‘ideas’, they’re not so epic after all. And those things I needed to get at the store — they come back to me, hopefully, sooner than later.

But that’s not even the point… The thing I have to remember is,

The value (because we’re so big on ‘value’ out west) of this prayer isn’t to ‘get’ anything. It isn’t to increase my productivity or attract cash and prizes from my living room.

The gift of this prayer is to generously hand over my internal garbage to the divine moment after moment.

This is not the time to brainstorm. It’s a time to release my death grip on getting. To experience what it feels like to not have to be like they told me I needed to be like in school — productive, successful, or even smart — for just twenty short minutes.

Instead, my role in contemplation is to just… be. 
(What a strange concept.)

And so, as the ideas come, 
I’ll continue sitting there as they fly away,
Squirming like crazy (and apparently, very gassy),
Empty,
But with everything I need.

P.S. For a great resource on centering prayer, here’s a PDF that I use that’s fantastic.

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On kenosis and being horrible at meditation

It’s fall, so I’ll be going all-in on fall pictures this season. This one is by Bryan Minear on Unsplash

As I touched on last night, I’m really bad at meditating. I also mentioned that this fact doesn’t keep me from the benefits of my practice.

I get distracted easily. Being a writer, the voice in my head is reeeally adamant. (I mean, I depend on that voice for my livelihood. So there's that...)

But in my centering prayer (meditation) time, my task is to remove my investment from it for a short while. To not get caught up in what that thing is saying. To let those thoughts float right by and ascend back into the ether from which they came.

This is the notion of kenosis. It’s the term mystics use to describe the self-emptying quality of Jesus (read more here if you care to enter the rabbit hole of kenosis).

And so, in centering prayer, the point isn’t necessarily to be in a perfectly clear blissed-out mental state the whole time. (I mean, if you can actually get there, fantastic, but it’s certainly not a requirement — if it was, no one would still be doing it).

The point of contemplative prayer is kenosis — the self-emptying of personal thinking, agenda, and emotional mental attachment.

We cast away our incessant personal yammerings so that we can sit in the quiet, sacred presence of divine action.

Okay, so back to sucking…

The more I get distracted, the more opportunities I have to work my kenotic muscles (no, I promise, I don’t do it on purpose). To let the thoughts go and return to the silence, if ever so temporarily.

It’s this leaving and returning, leaving and returning, latching onto thinking and kenosis that… does something, internally.

I don’t ever notice drastic internal shifts while I’m sitting ass-on-cushion (for lack of a better term). The changes seep in quietly like an editing of my internal coding and show up when least expected (this is the whole ‘divine action’ thing I mentioned earlier).

That’s when the real mystery of this contemplative faith presents itself… When I find myself (occasionally) not getting pissed off to the point of cardiomyopathy in bad traffic. When I (occasionally) let my five-year-old actually be a five-year-old instead of holding her to stricter standards than that of my fellow adults. When (occasionally) I see a headline that would have typically been triggering but has now been rendered emotionally impotent.

Hmmm…. Strange.

It just shows, when we quiet down our mental chatter, we allow the divine to go to work on us.

And so, as horrible I am at it, I’ll keep on with this ancient mystical practice of contemplative prayer. Getting caught up in my head… and then returning to the emptiness that undergirds my very being.

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When your inner eyes focus

Photo by Quentin Kemmel on Unsplash

So, before you think I’m virtue signaling, let me just tell you that I’m one of the worst, most distracted meditators you’ll ever know.

I’ve written about this before, but I don’t particularly enjoy meditation. It’s not a blissful stretch of time for me. I’d rather be thinking or grilling or reading or sleeping rather than meditating.

So it’s interesting that I’ve somehow fallen in love with my contemplative/centering prayer practice. Because every time, I lucidly realize how horrible I am at it.

This is the beauty of the practice. The point isn’t to achieve some kind of perfectly serene state the whole time through. The point is to return back to the silence (to god, if you will) when you feel caught up in personal thinking. If you can do it once or twice in that 20-minute period, well, you got your money’s worth.

For me, the first 10 minutes is rough. I’m up in my head the entire time. Like, waaaay up there. And then, right around the 10-minute mark, things start to shift. This shifting can’t be rushed, it just… happens (sometimes).

The best way I can describe it is you know how, when you turn the lights off, your eyes take some time to adjust. In that first however-many minutes, all you see is darkness — maybe even some shapes and shadows from when the room was illumined.

But then, suddenly, the room starts opening up to you. And before long, it’s like you’re sitting in a well-lit room, but you’re actually in the dark.

That’s exactly how contemplative prayer is for me (and how I’ve heard it described by others).

When your inner eye softens and relaxes its gaze, you find yourself in the luminous interior space of the divine.

It’s indescribable in nature, but you’re floating in the presence of something… more. Something numinous.

As for me, I still shift back and forth into thinking about my grocery list and my email inbox and the numerous other urgent-yet-unimportant things that strive for my attention.

But I’m in the midst of a psycho-spiritual atmosphere that’s easier to sink back into than it was 10 minutes or so before.

As fleeting as those moments of non-thinking are, what a peaceful place to be.

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Reverence is the key

Photo by Tom Holmes on Unsplash

So much of life seems mundane. Routine. Monotonous.

It’s like we move around on autopilot, driven by our past internal programs, habits, and defense mechanisms. We tend to skim by most of the day — much of it spent with our gaze directed at the flashy digital devices in our pockets.

But what if all of it was sacred? From the highs to the lows and everything in between?

I’m talking about the internal shift that happens when we get out of our heads and our news feeds and into the physical details of our day-to-day.

When we pay reverent attention to the little thing in front of us in the moment, it transforms from mundane to sacred.

I’ve had a nightmare of a mess on my coffee table for the last week. There are books, magazines, mugs, pens, pencils, my daughter’s sketches, tissue, water bottles, and more all occupying space on this coffee table before me as I write.

Yes, I need to clean it. 
Maybe later. 
I’m just too busy.

But then, I stopped and I realized that my entire life’s path has brought me to this very 15’ X 18’ living room that I occupy in this apartment at this very moment. Yes, where I sit now is a sacred space. And so, I put the laptop down, cleaned up the mess, put everything away, and now, I’m back to writing to you from a much refreshed, less cluttered physical/emotional atmosphere.

As I type, this laptop, these keys, these words appearing on the screen that will soon end up on yours — holy shit — what a sacred moment! I mean, seriously, right?!

My dog, Dagny, the mangy Shih Tzu/Terrier laying over there as she has been for the last several hours — what a sacred creature. A living, breathing animal that we’ve domesticated and made part of our family. It’s something we humans have been doing for centuries since we lived in caves. Well, I’m here to say that the simple timeless joys of the human/animal relationship are alive and well here in our urban dwelling!

I used to think that nothing was important or sacred in and of itself. I was of the belief that we internally made up the narrative and thus, it was so.

Today, I’m not sure if this is true. Maybe everything IS sacred at its core. The ‘making up’ we humans do is when we take the sacred for granted and throw the lead blanket of our frantic, sacredness-killing narrative on top of it.

I don’t really know. All I DO know is that when my personal thinking quiets down, a reverence for the sacred seems to emerge in its place.

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A layman’s introduction to centering prayer

Photo by Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash

I’ve long had a love/hate relationship with meditation (with the scales tipping much toward the hate side). I’ve tried following my breath, focusing on mantras, visualization, and more.

Every time, it’s the same cycle: Three days of enthusiasm followed by a botched session and then a missed session and finally a feeling of utter failure and the realization of how non-spiritual I am.

I remember getting so frustrated as thoughts consumed my brain space while meditating. Here I was thinking about how much I used to like Hot Pockets when I should have been inching towards nirvana. Get. Out. Of. My. Head. Gaaah!!

But there’s something about quietude that draws me toward it. And being as big of a fanboy of Richard Rohr as I am made me look up Contemplative/Centering Prayer to see what it’s all about.

That’s when I found some videos and books by another likable monk, Thomas Keating, who seems to be the go-to guy when it comes to all things about Centering Prayer.

Now, just to set the tone up front, I don’t intend for this post to be a comprehensive guide but merely my personal introduction and beginner-level account of doing it this last year or so.

So, what is Contemplative Prayer?

According to Keating’s Contemplative Outreach, here’s how they define* Contemplative Prayer…

Centering Prayer is a receptive method of silent prayer that prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer, prayer in which we experience God’s presence within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself. This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship.

I like to put it this way… As for most of us, when we think of prayer, we think about petitionary prayer. This is when we ask for things. We’re doing the talking and God (or whatever you call it — I’ll be using the G-word in this post), we imagine, is doing the listening.

There’s also confessionary prayer where we say out loud all the stuff we feel bad for and ask for forgiveness. Again, we’re doing the talking.

Centering Prayer, on the other hand, is where we do the listening and we invite God to do the talking. This is very hard for us, especially in our westernized culture of Christianity that’s based on thinking, talking, expressing, holy rolling, and pontificating. We don’t do very well just sitting there in long stretches of silence wrestling with layer upon layer of internal chatter waiting to be spoken to by something that we’re not really even sure how to define (it’s not like we get a call or a text or anything).

But this is why I like it. Because it’s hard. In fact, as you’ll soon see, it’s supposed to be hard. If it’s not hard, you’re likely not doing it. I found this encouraging. Unlike the previous types of meditation where I felt like a failure for not ‘doing it right’, with this, I feel like I’m on track due to how bad I suck at it. More on this soon…

Why do Centering Prayer?

After doing it fairly regularly (though not daily as I’d like to) for a year or so, here’s what I’ve gotten out of it:

To tell you the truth, I don’t often feel awesome when I’m doing it. I feel like a stumbling, bumbling westerner trying to meditate (which I am). It’s AFTERWARDS that I notice the ‘effects’ of it during my daily life.

Keating says that what happens is our value systems slowly and silently get replaced with God’s. As crazy as this sounds, it’s exactly what I’m experiencing to be true. I find my values shifting and strengthening in more healthy directions. I find myself doing things that the previous me would have never done. I hold my life more gently. I feel more peaceful and present with people I was previously nervous around.

Essentially, I feel as though something else (God?) is directing my life. Like she’s rewiring things even I didn’t know needed to be rewired. This is so different (and, in my opinion, far more refreshing) than the popular visualization type meditation where we’re trying to make certain things happen.

In Centering Prayer, as you’ll soon see, all we’re doing is giving things up. Letting them go. When something bright and shiny that we want comes into awareness — that new client, new car, new zip code, new golf swing, new bank balance, etc. — we return to the silence (via our ‘sacred word’ as you’ll soon see) and let it go. We give it up to the ‘Lawd (sorry, preaching over here).

So, how do you do Centering Prayer, you may be asking? Well, you can take an hour or so to watch these videos, but since you’re reading this, I’ll describe the bare-bones guidelines below as they’re quite simple (however, with most simple-but-powerful things, there’s a profound underlying depth and complexity to them that can be discussed forever)…

Oh, a quick disclaimer is appropriate here. If you’re wondering if you have to be religious or Christian in order to do this, the answer is no. If you dig mindfulness of any sort and are at least open to a smattering of Christian language and framing, anyone can do this regardless of religion or non-religion. I mean, if you want to.

Guidelines for Centering Prayer

Know that these are called guidelines for a reason. They’re not hard-and-fast rules. Centering prayer is a relationship you’re entering with the divine, not a technique. These guidelines are meant to be held loosely and danced with.

Ready to dance? Okay, here we go…

Before anything: Sit your ass down (for 25 minutes)

If you can get your ass into a sitting position and a timer set for 25 minutes, you’re already winning. I bought a meditation cushion, but your couch, favorite chair, 5-gallon bucket, or park bench is fine. Before I jump into details, here’s a quick outline of how I lay my session out:

  1. First 2 minutes: Get settled, itch my nose a bunch, do some deep breathing, and whatever else I need to do to get mo’ still.
  2. Next 20 minutes: Meditate/pray (which we’ll get into below)
  3. Final 2–3 minutes: Come back into the room and reflect. I say the ‘Our Father’ really slowly for a couple minutes, but you can do whatever.

Guideline 1 (Opening):

Before you start, you’ll want to choose a ‘sacred word’. This word acts as the anchoring symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within you.

Now, this isn’t a chant. We don’t repeat it over and over again. Just when we catch ourselves getting tangled up in our thinking.

When you bring your mind to your sacred word during prayer, you express your intention to be in the presence. You yield to it. We’re becoming conscious of the divine presence that moves in us and has always been doing so as we’ve been focusing on other seemingly more important things (not so much).

Your sacred word should consist of 1 or 2 (or 3) syllables that you feel comfy with and that express your intention to be with God during this time and open to the divine action.

Suggestions: One of the sacred names of God, Jesus, or Mary (Lord, Jesus, Abba, Father, Mother, Jesu, Chira, or Jeshua) are fine. Amen is a good go-to. Even secular words like Love, Yes, or Peace are fine if the more religious words are too loaded for you.

It doesn’t really matter what word it is. You make the word sacred, not its inherent meaning. Your will/intention sacralizes this sound as an appropriate expression of your intention to be open to the movement of the divine within you.

When you settle on a word, stick with it the entire time (it’s even nice to stay with it for days, weeks, or more so it sews itself into your psyche).

Just so you know, if there is a goal here, it’s to stop thinking (which is tricky because if you stay focused on that goal while praying, you’ll thereby be thinking, which defeats your purpose). This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t have thoughts. You’ll definitely have thoughts, you just won’t be thinking about them (go ahead and read this sentence again).

Does your brain hurt yet? Mine too. Let’s move on…

Guideline 2: Consent

Sitting comfortably with eyes closed and with your sacred word at the ready, briefly and silently introduce your sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.

You’ll sit comfortably so you won’t have to think about how uncomfortable your body is. You’ll close your eyes (both inner and outer) to let go of your interior/exterior worlds (we’re getting woo-woo here, you still with me?).

Don’t get hung up on the meaning of your sacred word. If it’s too emotionally charged, pick another one. The more neutral, the better.

You’re knocking on the door here, so to speak. But you’re not the one to open it. It’s locked from the inside and you’re on the outside. Your only role is to wait.

Guideline 3: Return

If you’re like me, about 2.765 seconds into your Centering Prayer session, you’ll become distracted and engaged in a thought. This is my favorite part of this form of prayer/meditation. When this happened with the other types of meditation I tried, I’d realize I was doing it wrong. I took on a violent attitude towards my thinking and struggled hard against them so as to keep them from coming up. As you know, this is futile and only leads to more thinking.

But here in Centering Prayer, when we find ourselves engaged in thinking, we see it as a divine opportunity. An opportunity to return to our sacred word and thereby giving consent to the action of the divine presence within.

Take note here that the sacred word isn’t meant to forcefully stop your thinking. It’s not a bulldozer. This is a totally nonviolent prayer. Thoughts are integral to this process because they’re coming from your unconscious. The emergence of them is a necessary part of the healing process. As Keating would put it, by allowing thoughts to surface, they can be healed by the holy spirit. Centering prayer involves the whole of life, not just the blissed-out, enlightened ones. All of it can, will, and should show up while you’re in prayer.

Return to the sacred word with the intention of consenting to the silence within and smile as they wander out of consciousness.

It’s like you’re talking to a friend when you hear a car wreck outside. You head to the window and stare at the wreckage for a minute (it was only a fender bender), and now the appropriate thing to do is turn your attention back to your friend that you’re having a sacred conversation with.

Guideline 4: Closing

At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes. You could say the Our Father really slowly if you’re into that kind of thing — it’s what I do. Or you could recite a favorite poem, quote, or even just sit there as you slowly come back into the room.

Now, try it yourself

Seriously, anyone can do this form of prayer. That’s why I like it so much. It doesn’t depend on me being a super spiritual and mindful person (which I’m truly not even though I seem like it on the internet).

All it depends on is the notion that God (who/whatever this is) swirling around inside you (as well as each and every one of us) and if we continually submit to its presence and action, we soon find that life takes on a new level of softness, quietude, brilliance, and grace that seems foreign to our previous life.

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Time for an air bath

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Benjamin Franklin used to take ‘air baths’…

This is where he used to sit in front of an open window on the first floor of his downtown London apartment… Naked.

Here’s what an article from the Smithsonian said about it…

And early most mornings, before he set to work, Franklin would sit, he wrote to a friend in France in 1768, “without any clothes whatever, half an hour or an hour, according to the season,” at his open, first-floor window, letting the air circulate over his, by then, considerable bulk. What the neighbors thought is apparently not recorded.

Got the visual of seeing ole’ Benny Franks sitting there sprawled out naked in his living room soaking in the breeze? Doesn’t seem very founding-fatherly in the puritanical sense, but ya know what — that man had it figured out.

Connecting with the physical world around us is something most of us don’t do very often today. We’re so caught up in our heads and in our electronic devices that we live a large percentage of our lives not… here.

I mean, forget about meditation in the technical sense. No need to pay a guru a couple grand for a mantra. Also, no need to take an air bath (although, if you’re bold enough and have the wherewithal to do so — take advantage).

Just set your timer for noon and 3pm (or pick whatever other times work best for you). When it goes off, stop what you’re doing (if you’re not driving or operating heavy machinery), look around, take a big abdominal breath, let it all out, feel the ground beneath your feet and soak in to the sensory smorgasbord your five senses provide you in every moment.

What are you smelling, seeing, hearing, tasting, and feeling against your skin?

We’re constantly walking on holy ground.

We’re so caught up in our thinking. So much chatter. So much distraction. So much judging of self and others. Our defense mechanisms are constantly triggered. It’s trade wars this and nuclear that.

Stop. Let the chatter do its thing. Pull back from it. And sink in to the world around you.

It’s still a little chilly here in Chicago for an air bath, but I’ll see what tomorrow holds. Me in my birthday suit with a cold beer, an open window, and the Masters on TV seems like a fantastic Sunday afternoon.

Not sure if my wife and daughter would agree, but that’s their problem, I suppose.

Wish me luck.

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Try to scare me

Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash

“Try to scare me, Dad…”

This is a fun little game that my daughter tries to play with me.

“You didn’t scare me… Try again.”

She doesn’t understand that this game almost never works, so she gets frustrated.. I’m hardly ever successful in scaring her when she prompts me to.

(Yes, if I escalate my scare tactics, I can get a bit of a jump from her. But not much.)

It’s a universal truth…

When you’re expecting it, you’re essentially unscarable.

(Now, I have to say, the best horror films are really good at scaring the sh*t out of you even when you know someone’s going to jump out from behind the GAHHH!)

Maybe this is the ‘service’ our fears provide. If we’re expecting something horrible, it can’t scare us very bad. So we live expecting the worst (so that, if/when it happens, we’ll be less shocked).

Only thing is, meanwhile, we work and live in a fearful and defensive inner world.

Oh, the client won’t like that. They’re going to tell me how horrible I am, so I may as well round the edges and make this thing mediocre now.

I’m never gonna get hired doing that thing I’ve dreamed about since 9th grade. It’s probably a path littered with disappointment and poverty and despair. I’ll just get this here job doing what I always have until I get that call one day out of the blue.

I really want to tell her how much I appreciate her, but she’ll probably just see it as patronizing and inauthentic.

You gotta let yourself be scared. Stop prepping yourself for the imaginary man lurking in the shadows.

If he jumps out, deal with him.

But until then, don’t let the illusion of him determine your path.

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Your superpowers are often found in the middle of your insecurities

Photo by Dino Reichmuth on Unsplash

I’m easily confused. I’ve always been a bit ‘slow’. When I was a kid, I was often labeled in my progress reports as ‘absent minded’ (and I quote).

Sometimes, when I’m caught up in my thoughts, this can translate to thinking I’m dumb.

But when I diffuse from that thought, I can see how being an easily confused person has made me a decent writer (if I do say so myself). Because here’s the thing…

I don’t — can’t — put anything down on the page until it’s either super clear to me, strikes a strong emotional chord, or makes me laugh. Because if I don’t get it (and there’s a lot I don’t get), it isn’t making it out there for your eyes. And I think that’s been of benefit to me in this crazy writing life.

The key point for today:

If you could step outside of your personal thinking around your insecurities, you might just find your superpower in the middle of your self-doubt.

One of my greatest creative assets has come from one of my most deepest insecurities. My self-dialogue (without me even knowing it) was, “Damn, why am I so slow?” Or, “Why can’t I stay awake during this class?” Now it’s, “This sh*t doesn’t make any sense — how can it be more clear?” Or, “This sh*t is boring, let’s make it more bold.”

It’s worth at least a look under the hood to see what you’re making up about yourself (or have accepted as reality from others).

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On creating more space between your life and your social media feed

Photo by Rachael Crowe on Unsplash

Earlier this year, I took a short break from social media — mainly Instagram (Facebook, I’d already been broken up with for months).

I wanted to enjoy my moments more. I wanted less brain space taken up with concerns about social approval. I wanted to stop posting photos of my daughter so much (it’s getting to the point where she’s a little person and I felt I was taking advantage — plus, internet weirdos are a thing, or so I heard).

It was so difficult at first. So difficult.

And then, it was awesome. I had all this new space in my psyche to read books or write more or just… Be bored (this was huge — more on this soon).

But then, I was ready to get back. I didn’t miss Facebook at all, but I missed Instagram. When I scroll through Instagram, I’m good. It’s not nearly as toxic as Facebook. However, I wanted to do Insta in a more mindful fashion this time around. Yes, I wanted to play in the sandbox again. But I didn’t want the sandbox consuming my mind.

So, here’s the rule I instituted for myself…

Take the photo now. But don’t post until tomorrow.

It’s the age-old wisdom of writing the angry letter now but not sending it until our heads cool off. (Usually, what happens is that the letter ends up in the trash.)

Even though what you’re about to post might not be an angry letter, I’m guessing it’s coming from an unconscious place. Maybe it’s a knee-jerk reaction. Maybe it’s a subconscious one-upping of someone you saw earlier. Maybe it’s a blatant promotion that’s rushed to get clients in the door. Or maybe it’s just a way to kill some time.

See, for me, the scenario was often this:

I’d be out somewhere with my family and the perfect Instagrammable moment would arise. Suddenly, my mind would shift into how I could frame said moment in the best way for my friends on social media. I’d take the photo. Then, I’d ponder what caption and clever hashtags I could use for several minutes. All the while, I’d be missing the moment. I’d consciously be absent from my life until I hit that ‘publish’ button.

Not now. Now, I just snap the photo (takes 5 seconds) and put the phone back in my pocket. Then I go back to enjoying my day.

The next day, if the thing is still novel, it’s post-worthy. If not (and typically, it’s not), I either delete it or leave it for my family/personal scrapbook.

Create more space between your life and your social media feed.

You deserve — and your friends and loved ones deserve — your full presence in your life. Be there.

Live first. Post second (if at all).

P.S. After I wrote this, I did some searching and noticed that the NY Times has a fantastic article on this point titled, The Lost Art of the Unsent Angry Letter. Check it out here, if you’re interested.

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On letting go of trying to predict the outcome

Photo by Caleb Jones on Unsplash

There are so many stories we hold true (at least, I don’t think I’m talking to myself here) that hold us back from our inherent good.

You know the stories I’m talking about, right? A lot of them are rooted in predictions.

Nah, I don’t want to create that workshop. I doubt if anyone will sign up…

Nah, I don’t want to write about that idea because then someone else will steal it and make a bunch of money from it…

Nah, I don’t want to get a job at Starbucks to float me while I focus on my screenplay (I mean, what will my father think of me?)…

Nah, I don’t want to take out that jargon from my website — all of my clients will leave and I’ll die broke and alone.

Any of these sound familiar?

Here’s the three-step process where elated hope is followed up by immediate disappointment, thusly resulting in mediocrity…

Step One

We get a clear signal that something awesome wants to be created through us. It feels incredible. Wow. We’re flying high on the possibility of this new idea.

Step Two

Our head takes this holy moment and effectively shits all over it using past data (usually from the biggest, scariest failure it can find) to predict the outcome.

Step Three

Rationalization kicks in to make us seem ‘reasonable’ for accepting the murder of our dream.

Well, here are a couple mighty questions that have been helping me kick these stories to the curb where they belong.

I’ll start with the biggest one…

Can I let go of the idea that I can predict the outcome of my life?

Can I rest in the truth that there might be more in store for me than any prediction can show me?

Does past performance always indicate future results?

We need to stop playing so much defense.

Less predicting.
More trusting.
Amen.

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Minimalism of mind

Image: Nikolas Behrendt

Minimalism is often seen in purely physical terms. It’s tied to ‘stuff’. Physical stuff. And getting rid of a lot of it.

Aaaaand, it is. But the getting-rid-of-the stuff is only an effect of a deeper cause. Shedding the stuff is a byproduct of first shedding the erroneous thoughts that lead to the purchasing of the stuff.

Minimalism begins in the mind.

Ready for a divine dichotomy?

Spiritual growth as all about removing, not adding, things to the mind. We don’t have anything to learn. Only to unlearn. So we can remember our true nature.

(Does this stuff make your head hurt too?…)

This is the minimalism that interests me. I want to chuck out the objects in my mind that block the connection with my greater good. I want to set fire to the thought-forms that keep me enslaved to my ego and to the effects of this world.

Yes, absolutely, get rid of your old magazines, clothes, furniture, Tupperware, and VHS tapes (you still have those?). But until you notice and release the erroneous thoughts that unconsciously cling to the material world for worth and meaning, I’m afraid they’ll end up back in your shopping cart.

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Write like nobody’s watching

Photo by Peter Kleinau

It’s been less than two weeks since I stopped blogging daily. Prior to then, I’d been hitting ‘publish’ daily for almost three years.

I have to say, this whole not-blogging thing has been a bizarre experience. For a few days, I was in a haze. My family and friends were concerned.

What?! You stopped daily blogging?! Are you okay? Can we help?

And they were serious.

I miss posting daily. I really do. And I may be back to it at some point.

But I’m also enjoying this season of kicking back with my journal and being mindful about where I take this writing life of mine in the new year. I want to be intentional about it. And I’m glad I pumped the brakes a bit.

Which takes me to you…

Are you shipping, shipping, shipping these days?

Because yes, there’s value in getting work out to the world on a regular basis. I get it. But what I’ve learned through experience is this…

Too much shipping can easily lead to deadness in creativity.

You have to replenish the well. I mean, think about it…

Bodybuilders have ample gym time between competitions. Actors and musicians have rehearsal between shows. Martial artists have their dojo practice between matches.

Yes, there’s a time to ship. No, there’s nothing wrong with shipping every day. But if all you do is ship, you will get depleted. I promise.

When our work is always public, our ideas are constantly censored. Every word comes out under the scrutiny of the internal editor.

Some of us dance better with the internal editor than others. I got pretty good at it. But I’m fortunate.

These last few weeks, having gone back to the private pages of my journal, I’ve already experienced a massive recharge of creative juice. I’m in contact with my muse again.

Yes, this is totally magical thinking — unabashedly so (more on this coming soon). Because it IS magical. When we sit with our inner narrative and shamelessly express the words that live in the depths of our being, we find our truth in the moment. And that sh*t is powerful.

This is where strong writing comes from: a deep connection with self.

No ‘marketing hacks’ ebook or ‘growth blueprint’ can teach you that.

Take some time away from shipping. 
Breathe.

Write for you, uncensored.

Give yourself to proverbially scream into your pillow through your journal. 
Write badly. Horribly. Boldly.

Create in a place of raw, untethered humanity before one of forced perfection.

No, you can’t fake this. You can’t go into a journaling session with the idea that you’re going to turn your private work into public work. It has to genuinely be for you, only.

This passage from one of my favorite humans in history has long been a favorite of mine and is my guiding light now (too bad I abandoned it when I started blogging daily)…

We must reserve a back shop all of our own, entirely free, in which to establish our real liberty and our principal retreat and solitude. Here our ordinary conversation must be between us and ourselves, and so private that no outside association or communication can find a place...

Michel De Montaigne

Have you reserved your ‘back shop’ yet?

Write like nobody’s watching. 
Even if you’re not shipping, I promise you, it’ll be worth it.

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Soulful individualism

Here’s the crux of the problem (as well as the profound blessing that’s at hand)…

This might sound really woo-woo, but hang with me for a couple minutes…

Many poets and mystics have pointed to the notion that you and I are individualized expressions in the creative consciousness of the divine.

This universal creative mind flows through us. Our thought is creative by nature, not by individual will.

The idea is that we are individual points of expression of this infinite divine power — at birth. I know through hanging out with my daughter that when we’re children, we know this at a deep level. It’s not conceptualized, it’s known.

But then we grow up. As we do, we get hammered by our cultural environment that we are stupid little individual thinkers left to our own devices in this big world.

So what do we do? We take our innately creative mind and make an inner world that fits that model so we can feel safe living within it. We build sturdy artificial defense mechanisms. We put our faith on the egoic fortresses built by ourselves and others to keep us safe.

Some of us make it quite far doing this. We become ‘high powered’ people with all the trappings of a ‘successful’ life. But all the while, that God-given universally creative mind is yearning for expression in the only way that we can individually express it.

We get glimpses of it, but we get terrified. Because we make up the idea that if we listen to it, we might lose everything we’ve built. We might hurt people and let them down. And then what?

So we trudge on. 
But the urges come back. 
They always do. 
Calling us back home.
Back to ourselves.

And that’s the super short snapshot of the problem: By nature, we are innately united with this universal divine mind that seeks expression through us. We are, in a sense, ‘being thunk’.

It’s when we start trying to think from the place of our deserted ego on this imaginative island that we get stuck. Because from this place we do all kinds of stupid stuff that only muddies the connection with this divine source. We build our entire lives on this illusory notion. And we wonder why we end up miserable.

Note: It’s nothing personal — it’s how we’re biologically designed. This is the evolutionary dance between the newly formed prefrontal cortex and the lizard brain (amygdala). Far more smarterer people than I have written about this.

If we could just get the little individualized voices in our heads quiet, we wouldn’t be brain dead like our ego fears we would be. We’d actually find newness in life. We’d be profoundly connected with our God-given soulful individualism as opposed to the man-made individualism we’ve been cursed with from well-intentioned societal norms.

I’d take the former any day.

I just wish they’d have told me this at church when I was a kid instead of me having to figure this out on my own after years of study and stumbling down proverbial flights of existential stairs.

I probably wouldn’t have listened, though:) 
Silly little me.

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Mundane Grace

Photo by Ina Vikøren

I want to share a little snippet of my day the other day with you. Although it’s from a specific instance, this story describes what happens quite frequently. Maybe you can relate.

Picture me walking the dog... Moments earlier, I got an email. You know, one of those emails. I was pissed. It had to do with work and money and lack and stress and pressure and disappointment and all of it. I won’t belabor you with the details, but you may have been there a time or two.

The best I can signify my feeling state in that moment is with a red-face-of-anger emoji 😡. Actually, more fitting would be the purple-horned-devil one 👿.

Because in that moment, I was straight up Satanic. 
Possessed.

So there I was, walking along my beautifully quiet street on a Sunday morning murmuring in tongues of anger and insecurity. I started tying it back to my late father (because who doesn’t love dad issues) and how I’m going down the same path of disappointment, blah, blah, blah.

This was the narrative. 
I was inundated. 
Flooded with emotion.

The thing was, as someone who’s in this work of spiritual development, I knew it. I fully called myself on it in the moment.

That still small voice knew better. (Always does.)
It whispered, wait
I could hear it.

But it didn’t help. This feeling was still alive. The mood was upon me like a lead blanket. I felt justified this time.

After my walk, I walked up to my apartment and went on about my day. I got distracted. I did some chores around the house. Played with Rory. Chatted with Alex. Had some food.

Soon, I noticed the clouds had parted. 
Like they do every time.

This is mundane grace.

God didn’t appear in the sky with a scroll. Butterflies and birds didn’t flock to me as a choir rang out Oh, Happy Day.

Mundane grace shows up when we get out of our heads just long enough for something new to appear in mind.

The thing about this phenomena is that it’s 100% reliable, but 98% unpredictable. We have no idea when God shows up, we just know she does.

God doesn’t live in the head. She speaks a different language. She speaks the language of the heart. When that rambling voice(s) in our heads can quiet down, then we find communion. We find grace.

When we drop out of our heads into our hearts, grace appears.

When I brought my attention back to the situation, I saw it from a much calmer, more centered place. Did I still want to do something about it? Sure.

But what I decided to do under grace was far more effective than the ‘solution’ that had shown up just a few hours earlier.

Meditation

I know that divine grace is present in every moment. It’s mundane, not epic. It’s infinite in nature and can never be wasted.

Even when I’m caught up in my story, I know that as soon as my personal thinking dies down, it will tire itself out and get replaced with something new when I step aside and allow it to.

I know that, as a human, I will write narratives of my own. Narratives of dragons and evil spirits and devious schemes from others. Without those things, it’s hard to be a hero.

But there’s always a greater narrative than my ego’s own epic tale. One that doesn’t seem so exciting for the ego, but always provides a higher view. One that understands the hero and loves it into submission.

Finding myself in the middle of my own narrative isn’t a bad thing. I’m human. I feel my thinking moment to moment. Nothing is wrong with me when I find myself in the eye of a thought storm that I’ve written. The emotions I experience are only an indicator that I’ve gotten so caught up in it that I’ve drifted away from home. That I’ve loaded up my headspace with too much fear, doubt, and worry.

The next time, I’ll know that I loaded up on these thoughts because I thought they’d protect me. But I see clearly now that they’re only drowning me.

As soon as I surrender them, I can float.

Ahhhhhhh…. Mundane grace is an inextinguishable blessing that never leaves.

And so it is.

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The subtleness of insight

I used to think that insights come as giant-sized, earth shattering, life-altering events.

I thought that, after reaching a certain ‘tipping point’ of spiritual attainment, my entire world would suddenly come into full color, answers would appear brightly before my eyes, and God would emerge from the sky with a golden tablet that provided all of my life’s answers.

But I now see that insight doesn’t work that way…

In the words of Michael Neill, most insight is more of a ‘Homer Simpson insight’ than an epic insight.

Most insight is more, “Duh…” than, “Woah!!”

In my experience of working with people to facilitate insight of their own, when it does show up, it shows up as the overlooked obvious. Like, oh, duh, right?!

This is my favorite part of what I do. When something shows up in the conversation from nowhere, becomes spoken, and there’s a loooong silence… A silence that’s not blank, but full. Like the sound of a gear after it’s solidly clicked into place.

Seconds — sometimes minutes — later, the other person comes back with something like…

“Wow… How did I not see this before?”

This is the Homer Simpson insight. The duh (or ‘doh’, if you’re like Homer) insight.

Insight is almost always subtle.

Meditation

As I settle into the knowingness of spirit, I see that insight is subtle, not epic.

There’s no such thing as a difficult problem for God. If I find myself striving for answers and wrestling over issues, I know that I’ve permitted my ego to run the show.

The only thing that my ego can do is get in the way. The job on my end is ego management. If I can keep my ego in the back seat, I can let my soul do the work. When my soul takes an active role, I become ripe for this insight to happen. When it does, I’ll have the clear vision to accept it.

When I’m in tune with the divine, solutions show up as obvious. I know that it’s not up to me when they show up and that all I can do is remain open to them.

If I can do this, I can catch them.
When I catch them, they can transform me.
If I let them.

And so it is.

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