Meditation When You Can’t Sit Still – A Spiritual Reflection
Nancy Rones is an award-winning freelance writer and content contributor based in Charlotte, North Carolina. She writes on a range of topics for numerous national magazines and websites including Parents, The Knot, and Yoga Journal.
Over the past two weeks, we examined challenges to prayer from an ignatian perspective. Two weeks ago we examined “Distractions In Prayer.” Last week we looked at “Dryness and Boredom In Prayer.” This week we look at another challenge to prayer, business and the difficulty of sitting still. Nancy offers some thoughts on this challenge. Caveat: Some of this might come off as a bit “new-age-y” but hang with it. She presents solid ideas that, as you will see, are in concert with Catholic thought.
Many of us spend our days on a perpetual treadmill. Going from one thing to the next. The suggestion of slowing down to mindfully meditate might sound like an invitation to climb Everest. Note to inner self: it is worth the effort.
Mindfulness brings your awareness to the present moment and gives you pause to notice what’s happening inside and outside of yourself, says Jen Johnson, a mindfulness teacher and licensed professional counselor at Everyday Mindful in Wilmington, North Carolina. This “space” allows you to reflect before automatically reacting; you feel more capable of managing your responses to life’s circumstances, including the icky ones. And may also help alleviate anxiety, depression, pain, and stress.
In a formal mindfulness meditation practice, you’re quietly sitting and paying attention to the breath or sensations and feelings; whenever your attention drifts, you shift your awareness back to your focus. Too sedentary for you? With practice, everyone has the ability to sit still, says Johnson, who offers strategies below. An informal approach brings mindfulness to everyday activities (which may be more active). Notice smells, textures, or your frustration rising on the long checkout line. From showering to walking, any activity can be done more deliberately. Here are some easy ways to slip into mindfulness mode.
Becoming distracted and being constantly bombarded by a sense of urgency once you begin praying are typical according to Father William Barry, S.J. If you’re the restless type, Johnson suggests siting still for bite-size sessions by injecting two minutes of seated stillness into your day. As stillness becomes easier, add five minute increments to your sessions. “If you get caught up in thoughts like, ‘I don’t have time for this,’ notice that tendency to hurry,” says Johnson. “Say to yourself, ‘Oh, here’s that sense of urgency; what would happen if I took a deep breath to soften into this uncomfortable moment and just be still for another minute?’” Repeat this if the urge to flee arises again. By simply noticing what’s happening, those rushed feelings simmer down. Ultimately, you’ll figure out how much stillness works for you, but one study found increased resilience to stress after 25 minutes of mindfulness mediation, three days in a row.
I thought that another suggestion from Johnson could be based on St. Teresa of Avila’s “Kitchen Prayer” also known as “God of The Pots and Pans.”
O Lord of pots and pans and things,
Since I have no time to be a great saint by doing lovely things,
or watching late with Thee, or dreaming in the dawnlight,
or storming Heaven’s gates,
Make me a saint by getting meals, and washing up the plates.
Warm all the kitchen with Thy Love, and light it with Thy peace;
Forgive me all my worrying, and make my grumbling cease.
Thou who didst love to give men food in room, or by the sea,
Accept the service that I do – I do it unto Thee.
Johnson writes – Try this: Wash the dishes. When it’s your turn to clean the dinner plates, completely engaging your senses during the task may help quiet your internal (or obvious) grunting and suds away stress. In a recent study, students who approached dishwashing in a more thoughtful manner—they zeroed in on the scent of the soap, the temperature of the water, and the touch of the tableware—had a 27 percent decrease in nervousness and a 25 percent increase in feeling inspired.
Or color or paint. Considering the explosion of both businesses offering group painting classes and stylish coloring books geared toward grown-ups, it may be that many folks have already caught onto the calming effects of these activities. Finding ways to express ourselves creatively—dance, playing a musical instrument, or writing count too—sweeps away emotional stress, which paves our ability to focus on the present moment, says Dr. Susan B. Lord, a Massachusetts-based integrative family physician and executive director of The Center for Peace Through Culture.
When you eat, don’t just shovel the food into your mouth and swallow as fast as possible. Eat with intention. Since you eat multiple times a day, you have endless opportunities to take a crack at mindfulness. Plus, science says mindful eating may curb emotional eating and unhealthy choices. Catholic blogger Jen Fulweiler mused on the ways you can structure your lifestyle to make it more conducive to holiness (e.g. getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, not getting overcommitted, etc.). Johnson suggests to sitting down to meals without any distractions around; slowly chew, while concentrating on the texture and savoring the flavor of every bite. For beginners, adding an element of surprise to your usual meals can really awaken your mindfulness skills, says Dr. Lord. At breakfast, add zingy sirach to eggs and for lunch, tuck creamy avocado slice into your turkey sandwich. Going to the supermarket can even be a mindful experience, especially in the produce section where you can touch and smell all the fruits and veggies you’re grabbing.
Try this: Admire an Aquarium (NOW we’re talking! Or forget the aquarium – just go fly fishing… Fr. Zlock). Apparently, it’s no coincidence that fish tanks are in medical offices. Time spent in front of an aquarium tank may reduce our heart rate and lift our moods. According to scientists, people find natural environments restorative and part of the reason is our fascination with the setting. Vivid marine life effortlessly holds our attention, which makes mindfulness easy.
Try this: Get into a garden. We go to the garden for the pleasure of being there and to escape from it all, says Cheryl Wilfong, author of The Meditative Gardener. It’s a wonderful place for contemplation. This applies whether you’re simply enjoying the scene or working in the home garden. When planting, pruning, or pulling weeds alone, your attention isn’t often interrupted (never mind that garden snake). The repetitive motion and awareness involved in pulling weeds may also activate the relaxation response in the brain, which reduces physical and emotional responses to stress. The serene setting promotes mindfulness, which Wilfong points out, makes us aware of our mental weeds; once those are clear, happiness and tranquility can grow. (And if you have too much parsley, sage and thyme, bring it over so I can make the tomato-gravy. No basil! I have plenty of that … Fr. Zlock).