Monday Meditation II

Stop+breathe+and+think+appDuring a recent CREDO conference (Clergy Reflection, Education, Discernment Opportunity) I recognized in myself symptoms of stress. That recognition led me to listen for strategies to maintain physical and emotional health. One particular afternoon, I heard a faculty member and several colleagues describe various meditation practices that had been helpful to them.

As I listened, I realized that a personal prejudice was being challenged. While spiritual disciplines like daily Bible reading and guided prayer have been part of my life since I was a young adult, I’ve always been skeptical about the value of anything that has the feel or flavor of pop psychology. Every day I see evidence of sinfulness in myself and others. I’m too much of an Augustinian-Calvinist to believe that the power of positive thinking is going to save me from life’s messiness. Still, the conversations made me realize some of my minister friends were in a river of thought and practice I had not visited, so I began to collect suggestions for places to enter the stream.

So far, the resource I have used the most is “Stop, Breathe & Think.” You can visit the website (http://stopbreathethink.org). But I access it through the app on my smartphone. Each session, there’s a check-in procedure that prompts me to sit still, take a deep breath, and record how I feel.

One guided exercise is a “body scan” that draws my focus away from mental tinkering with a problem and toward the feelings in various parts of my body. There are mornings when I have not recognized that I have a sinus headache, or that my lower back aches, until I’m prompted to feel what’s going on from head to toe. This exercise has helped me realize that I can do something about my symptoms only after I recognize they exist.

I’ve learned to skip over certain exercises that don’t work for me. There’s one, for instance, that tells me to imagine I’m on the world’s highest mountain, firmly grounded, breathing in the air. But I’ve read a couple books on Mount Everest, and know about the avalanches and bodies. I know that mountaineers call the oxygen-deprived atmosphere at high altitude “the death zone.” So when the guided-exercise voice tells me to relax and let my thoughts go, I think “I’ve got to stay alert and get off this mountain before I die!”

The exercises I like most are in the category of mindful breathing. Narration about breathing out the bad, and breathing in the good, reminds me of the practice of spiritual breathing to which I was introduced during my student days in Campus Crusade for Christ. Bill Bright, founder of CCC, compared the phenomenon of physical breathing to the spiritual discipline of confession. If we start with the theological premise that God in Christ has forgiven our sins, past, present, and future (Colossians 2:13-15; 1 John 1; 2:1-3; Hebrews 10:1-17), then, said Bright, the way to maintain a proper relationship with God is through regularly

  • “breathing out,” i.e. confessing our sins, admitting our frailties and faults, telling the truth about who we are, and
  • “breathing in,” asking God to fill us with the Holy Spirit, under whose influence and direction we are empowered for faithful living.

Six weeks later, I still experience insomnia after days of especially full or poignant ministry activity. Often, my pulse rate is a little on the high side of normal. But I believe the tension in my muscles has been reduced, and that my practice of meditation is making a positive difference. I’m not just a soul riding along in a body that can be overused without consequences, but rather a mind-soul-body creation of God that requires proper care and stewardship.

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~ by JohnH1962 on November 16, 2015.