This weekly pastoral message by the Interim Ministry Team comes out on Wednesdays. Rev. Meg, Rev. Terri and Arif will take turns writing or recording a video.
How are you doing, dear friends? We will ask this again and again because it can be easy to forget, easy to check out, easy to get caught in the swirl of doing or the weight of unease that are these days and weeks and months. So in this moment, pause before going further and ask yourself … how are you feeling, what is your body telling you, what about the tenor of your voice, the edge it may hold, the exhaustion you may feel, the autopilot you may have engaged, the getting it done mode, or the letting it go. How are you doing? How are you feeling? How are you?
This pausing and paying attention is mindfulness, a word that has become common in a diverse range of both secular and spiritual spaces. It is used by therapists, educators, business people and others. The intentional act of being more mindful is ultimately an entry into noticing and reducing reactivity or reactive patterns. When mindfulness is done as a spiritual practice, the experience can offer deeper insight into how things really are — the impermanence of life and existence — and the compassion we can bring to ourselves and others in light of this understanding.
Being mindful is a state of attention we can apply (or attempt to apply) throughout our day in all of our activities and thoughts. A classic example of this comes from the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk: “While washing the dishes, one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes.” You are not thinking ahead to what will happen after the dishes are washed or the fact that you left a huge mound of dishes in the first place. While washing dishes, wash dishes.
Dedicating time to meditation is another form of mindfulness. We do this each Sunday when we pause for the breathing meditation, noticing our breath and inviting ourselves to breathe in peace and breathe out love.
I personally find that I am better able to bring myself back to mindful attentiveness throughout each day when I ground myself with even a few minutes of meditation. During this pandemic, I’ve noticed that my meditation practice has really fallen off and I can feel that reactivity and sharpness much more at the surface. In that noticing, I’m finding I need to return again to the practice of metta, also known as loving-kindness. In the early Buddhist texts, loving-kindness was taught as an antidote for fear. We recognize that we ourselves — and all other beings — want, at the heart of things, to be safe and to be happy.
In the practice of metta, start by bringing your attention inward and recite these words using “I” knowing with full truth that “I am worthy of love and compassion” and that love and compassion must start with one’s self. Do subsequent rounds bringing your attention to loved ones, then acquaintances or strangers, then (as you are able) to people you may struggle with, and finally to all beings and creatures.
You can find many different phrases online or you can craft your own. One of my teachers, Patrice Koelsch, shared the following versions that she uses regularly. Perhaps they will have resonance for you as well.
In this moment, oh precious moment, may you be safe and know peace and love.
May I/you be safe and protected in all ways.
May no inner or outer harm come to me/you.
May I/you find strength.
May I/you find peace.
May I/you accept myself/yourself completely and with great kindness, just as I am/you are right now.
Version 2: This loving-kindness practice was originally composed in response to 9/11 by a member of the New York Insight Meditation Society.
May I/we be well, safe, and peaceful.
May I/we be free from the suffering caused by fear, anger, and ill-will.
May I/we find forgiveness for the inevitable harms we bring to one another.
May I/we cultivate loving-kindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity*.
May I/we live in peace and harmony with all beings.
May my/our families and friends be well, safe, and peaceful.
May my/our families and friends be free from the suffering caused by fear, anger, and ill-will.
May my/our families and friends find forgiveness for the inevitable harms we bring to one another.
May my/our families and friends cultivate loving-kindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity.
May my/our families and friends live in peace and harmony with all beings.
May all persons everywhere be well, safe, and peaceful.
May all persons everywhere be free from the suffering caused by fear, anger, and ill-will.
May all persons everywhere find forgiveness for the inevitable harms we bring to one another.
May all persons everywhere cultivate loving-kindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity.
May all persons everywhere live in peace and harmony with all beings.
*equanimity is a state of unshakeable stability and balance