Category Archives: Strategies

Contemplation and Pseudo-Contemplation

There are so many things competing for our attention.

The makers of our devices are engaged in a kind-of arms race.  Instead of creating weapons of destruction, instead of having a goal of militaristic conquest, they are creating weapons of distraction.  The goal is not conquest, it is mindlessness.  But it is still an arms race.

They are very good at what they do.  And the goods and services they provide are not bad things in moderation.

But make no mistake: endlessly scrolling through a facebook feed only feels like meditation.

(And please, feel no judgement or shame here!  I am writing as much to myself as I am to you, dear reader!  These struggles are real!)

Further, meditating but being willing to be distracted…  Engaging in a spiritual exercise while having my facebook page open, so that I can take a little break if I get that endorphin-producing ‘ping’….  that is not really meditation.  That is wasting time while I am hoping that something interesting is going to happen on my social media feeds.

Part of the growth promised by these spiritual exercises is in facing down boredom.  More than just filling my time, the important thing is that I stop running from my fears about myself and the world.  This is why it is so valuable to commit to a length of time each day.  So much good will result when I don’t offer myself easy retreats out of this sometimes difficult work.

Let’s make a deal with each other, and with outselves.  Let’s agree that we might choose to engage in distractions: music to fill up the air, games as candy for our eyes, social media as a venue for our monkey mind to do a little dance.  But let’s be honest about it.  If we are going to do it, let’s make the conscious decision to do these things.  They are o.k. in moderation.  But let’s not pretend that we are meditating while really we are just looking for an excuse to engage those activities.

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Contemporary Traditions #2: More on Word-Based Prayer

In addition to using prompts meant to guide and deepen your word-based prayers, there are some ways to enhance the experience.  Consider the following:

  1. Bring an empty chair into your prayer space.  After centering yourself, envision that God is sitting there, across from you.  Speak the words that come into your heart to that empty chair. Speak them out loud if you can.
  2. There are good reasons for saying grace: a prayer before a meal.  There are many things connected to food: the systems which bring the food to you, the job which earns the money, the healthy body systems working to digest and excrete the food.  Grace is a time to thank God for these, and for the people who worked together to create and enjoy the food. So say grace before a meal today. Say it in your head, or better yet, out loud with people you love.
  3. Just as their are good reasons for the tradition of praying before a meal, there are also good reasons for praying before bed.  PErhaps you will go super old school and kneel by your bed if health permits. Look back over the day. Share the best and the worst of it, and everything in between.  Thank God for the people you enjoyed and for the people who you didn’t. Ask God for what you need. Look foreward to tomorrow in your prayers. Ask for sound sleep for you and yours.
  4. Early Christians followed their Jewish predeccors in comitting to a schedule of multiple prayers each day.   Praying the Hours is making a comittment to pray through out the day,  One modern pattern is to pray at dawn, 9 AM, noon, mid-afternoon, sundown, and bed time,  In our time, we have the advantafe of setting alarms on devices to help us keep track of this comittment.  As you decide how much to commit to this discipline, a related question is what will you pray? Perhaps you will merely check in with God.  Maybe you will make your way through the psalms. Perhaps you will say the same prayer each time.
  5. There is a tradition that adresses God in a formal way.  Sometimes we use archaic language, sometimes we dress in our very best for church,  Connecting with God in this way has both value and limitations. Some of us who might not observe these traditions might be hung up by God’s eternal wisdom and power.  It can be difficult to talk to God. Today, do your best to put thoughts of formality and eternity out of your mind, Talk to God as if you were speaking to a friend. Have a chat with him!  
  6. In the bible, Paul tells us to pray constantly.  Let that be your goal today. Don’t set aside a few minutes to talk with God seperately.  Rather, do your best to mantain an all-day dialogue with God. As you get ready, consider some ways that you can help yourself be focused on this.  It might mean asking for somebody to check in with you, setting up alarms, etc.
  7. We all have scripts; negative self talk that gets in our way.  Words, perhaps internalized from people around us in our childhood that can be destructive.  It can be a life’s work, to detect the scripts which constantly play within our own minds. However, a regular spiritual practice of contemplation can start to untangle this.  Making a conscious effort can help even more. Today, begin by centering and calming yourself. Then spend some time listening for the constant, negative statements that weigh you down.  Write down the words which you think you hear at the end of the contemplation time. We will use them over the next couple days. Try and be open all day to destructive thought patterns. Be ready to add to your list if need be.
  8. Get the list of negative statements you created yesterday.  After spending some time calming yourself, read them, one at a time.  Speak to God about these destructive statements. Talk to him about where they came from.  Hear God’s words about the impact they have. Ask God to take them up from you. But hold onto the list.  We are going to work with these one more day.
  9. Today is your last day with that terrible list of scripts we play in our head.  Your job today is to create a positive affirmation that negates each of these on a seperate sheet of paper.  For example, if you wrote down “I am not enough.” The negation is “I am enough.” If you wrote down “No one loves me.”  The negation is “I am loved” or “God loves me.” After you have written these down, stay with them. Give yourself at least a single breath of saying these words.  Maybe there are some that you should choose to affirm for the next several days or weeks. When you are done, you might wish to think about ritualistically releasing the list with the negatives; bury it or burn it or throw it away.  You might wish to take your affirmations and place them somewhere visible as a reminder.
  10. And let today be your day of confession.  None of us are perfect. All of us fall short.  To admit these short comings is a powerful thing.  Fully own your mistakes and the troubles that they have caused.  Ask God for forgiveness and assistance in not walking down that road again.
  11. The Jewish scriptures have a precedent for collective sin as well as individual ones.  Today, confess the sins of the groups that you belong to. Perhaps they are the result of privilige.  Consider your family, ethnic background, personal life, and work groups. Think about the groups you belong to today, and the groups you have belonged to in the past.  Ask God for guidance in how to be a more responsible member of this community.

Consideration 3: What’s in a Name?

Names are important and powerful things.

Even in our everyday life, there is a weird thing that we bump into, when describing a person who is known by a different name or title to lots of different people.  For example, at a family gathering, a single person might be known simply by her first name to half the people present; she might be called ‘Auntie’ to some, and ‘mom’ to others.

When we tell a story about this person, we are faced with a number of equally unsatisfying choices.  We can choose one, and assume that everbody knows who we are talking about.  We can try to link them all together and create an awkward, hyphenated name-title that sounds only a bit familiar to everybody.  Or we can allude to her with vague words, pronouns mostly, that makes the whole thing seem vague, as if we don’t know who we specifically are referring to.

In contexts like The Faith-ing Project, there is a similiar problem.  There are many names for the object of our spiritual practices.  It might turn out that there are more fundamental differences between these various names than there are between the single person who is known as sister, aunt, or cousin.  Despite the idea that there might be more fundamental differences, there is some use in this metaphor, too.  Because the young children who call a person “Auntie” probably see a different side of the person than the adults who refer to her by her first name.  Similarly, all the people who refer to the divine by the name “God” are probably having a similiar experience.

Most of the time, I am using the term ‘God’ in these spiritual practices here.  This is the name most deeply to me.  I am not interested in convincing you that you should use that term.  If there is a name or title that connects with you, I hope that you will simply replace the word, each time you see it.  I believe that most of these exercises are relevant to most people, regardless of what word they chose to describe the highest power; I believe that there is a rich and wonderful diversity of beliefs out in the world, and I don’t think it is a viable end game to reduce all of these beautiful traditions into a single super-religion.  When it comes to spiritual exercises, though, I think there is a lot of valuable potential that most of us are disconnected from.   So my hope for you is that you will explore something a little outside your tradition, and consider whether it might inform and strengthen the tradition you are a part of.

 

Strategy #2: What’re You Listening To?

Should we listen to music while meditating?  Should we find some white noise while engaged in contemplative activities?  Should we try to create a perfectly silent sanctum for ourselves?

Out of all of our senses, it seems like hearing is the one we are most tempted to ask these questions about.  I suppose this is because it seems like sounds are the most likely intrusions on our contemplative times.  We can shut our eyes.  Tastes, and feelings and smells are unlikely so suddenly show up.  So we are left with the question: What should we do with these sounds that intrude?

I am not sure that sounds are always the intrustion they appear to be.  In this post, I want to spend a little bit of time exploring the question of whether we even want to cover  sounds.

I used to think that the objective during my contemplations was to get 100% in my thoughts.  I thought the end-game was to escape my body.  I thought I was going to find this mystical realm, beyond such mundane things as noises which might interrupt me.

Increasingly, I am learning that this is not generally what I want at all.  The growth happens in releasing the things that I don’t want or need.  The growth does not come from creating an environment where they don’t exist at all.

One interesting thing is that most of us are pretty inconsistent around what sounds create problems for us.  If we are praying outside, the distant ‘caw’ of a bird can seem rather wonderful.  But when we hear the ‘thump-thump-thump’ of someone’s blasting car radio, this can feel like the problem.

After I did some reflecting on this fact, I realized that I was willing to give a pass to the sounds which seem like they belong to the environment I am.  Things that seem natural are ones which I did not allow to distract me.

As I thought about this question, though, I realized that this is pretty arbitrary.  Which soounds belong?  What does ‘natural’ mean, anyway?

The thing is, all the sounds that happen are in some sense, natural.  One of the reasons I meditate is to embrace the fact that ‘everything belongs.’  Adjusting my feelings about the sounds I hear is probably a good place to start.

In terms of my spiritual practice, a few years ago, I always listened to music, white noise, or other tones of my choosing when I meditated.  As the years have moved on, I am shifting.  The practice of returning to myself after surprise is a good practice.   Living the reality that all the sounds belong is an important thing to do.

Much more than half the time, this is enough.  This change in attitude is really all that need.  My challenge to you today is to give a try to meditating, praying, and contemplating with out something covering up the sounds in your environment.  I hope that most of the time, you won’t need anything.

Occasionally, a little something extra, a sound designed to cover up other sounds, is worth finding.  In the next strategy, we will explore just what that sound might seem be.

 

Consideration #2: Personal, Impersonal, Transpersonal

Perhaps some of the broad strokes of my journey will sound a bit like yours.

The first faith comittment I made was awfully focused on the personal nature of God.  The creator of the universe has a human-ness, even a gender.

There were very good things about looking at it this way.

During the time I drifted away from Evangelical Christianity, it was easy to see the very bad things about looking at things this way.  Like many people, I call this stage my deconstruction.

This was the time I fell in love with contemplative practices.  This is the time I rediscovered meditation. Many of these practices helped me get in touch with God’s transcendence.  I suspect they were suppressed by modern Evangelical Christianity precisely for that reason: they did not fit well with this picture of God as fellow human.

This fueled my resentment.  It motivated me to develop a robust spiritual practice.  The most obvious intuitions this practice fed were intuitions about God’s otherness, God’s distance, God’s hugeness.

But it put, I hope, on a path forward truth.  I began to get reminders: God is both here and there, human an other, transcendent and immanent.

The point at which I began to trust these ideas again, that I orvercame my prejudice against these ideas, is the point at which I went from deconstruction to the early stages of reconstruction.  (I think. Maybe in time I will see this differently.)

My time embracing contemplative practices has prepared me for this sort of non-dualistic, both/and thinking.   A simple way to think about is perhaps this: in Evangelical Christianity I proclaimed my belief in a personal God.  During my deconstruction I interacted with I God I saw as impersonal. Now, I think I would say that God is transpersonal.

And so, this corner of the Faith-ing Project is devoted to practices that some of us might do well to refresh ourselves in.  This area includes prompts for word-based prayers and journaling, lenses to read scripture through, and other traditions to consider.  To explore these traditions, click here.

 

Consideration #1: What’s the End Game, Here, Anyway?

I would hope that The Faith-ing Project is something that helps you…  For a while.

However, I want to tell you that I worry a little bit.  I don’t think, across a pattern of years and decades, that rotating across a huge number of spiritual practices is a particularly wise idea.  My best understanding is that significant spiritual growth occurs when we settle down and submit ourselves to a small number of practices.  Doing the same thing, day and in day out, is difficult.  And I think that is part of the point.  The idea of submission and discipline have been horrifically abused.  But I believe that they are good things.

Look at it this way:  I believe that eventually settling down, into a monogamous relationship is a good thing for many people.  I believe there are lessons we learn in that act of submission to another person, in the discipline it takes to stay comitted, that we can’t learn anywhere else.

However, if it’s going to work, it’s wise to choose a partner carefully.  One way to choose a partner is to date lots of people and see what works.  When you have something good, commit to that!

So consider The faith-ing Project like a dating website for your soul.  Play the field for a while.  Try out an exclusive relationship, when that feels right.  If it doesn’t work out with your chosen practices, we will be here, waiting with some more.

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You can help in turning The Faith-ing Project into a fully functioning community.  You can do this in several ways:

  • Share your thoughts, feelings, and criticism below in the comments.
  • email otherjeffcampbell7@gmail.com to share something directly with the Project’s Director, to join our next email campaign, or to ask to be placed on the mailing list.
  • Access exclusive content and help The Faithing Project continue to deliver this conetent to a world in need: become a Patron.
  • follow @faithingproject on twitter.

Strategy 1: Time, Time, Time See What’s Become of Me…

Often, when I meditate, I do it for “a while.”  I sit until I am uncomfortable.  And then I stop.

Can I tell you something?  I am not really accomplishing much.

Very close to every intense spiritual experience I have ever had, while engaged in spiritual exercises, happened after I wanted to be done for the day.  The unfortunate truth is this: when I am uncomfortable is when growth happens.

When I decide to just pray for a while, or engage this contemplative activity for a bit, as soon as things begin to stir deeply within me, I find a reason to be done.  This is good work.  It is powerful work.  It is not easy.  There are lots of parts of me that want to run away from it.

Timers are incredibly helpful.  Some, like the insight meditation timer integrate features like white noise, music, and data about how consistently we have been practicing.  So my suggestion is that you decide how long would be comfortable.  And then, add a little bit.  Try to get yourself –just a little bit–into the uncomfortable range.