Tempus per Annum (Ordinary Time)

I grew up in a Catholic family, attended Catholic schools at all levels including graduate school, and fully acknowledge that the better part of a lifetime immersed in Catholic traditions, liturgy and theology have left their indelible impressions.  As a child I looked forward to the great feasts of Christianity and their celebration in a Catholic context.  The solemn days of Lent followed by the glorious days of Eastertide, and of course the anticipation of Advent followed by the joyousness of the Christmas season.  And in between it all lay “Ordinary Time,” which to a Catholic schoolboy seemed like nothing more than the long days spent waiting for the more important days to reappear.

As an adult I became involved in my Catholic parish’s liturgical life, especially the process referred to as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, or RCIA.  For the better part of 17 years I taught scores of Catechumens preparing for their Baptism, including sponsorship of three, and led retreats that generally were held shortly before some liturgical rite of passage, including Baptism at the Easter Vigil.  It was in the context of helping to guide these people seeking conversion that I began to learn about and greatly appreciate Ordinary Time.

The Latin phrase used to denote Ordinary Time, Tempus per Annum, translates literally as “season through the year.”  During Ordinary Time the Christian is encouraged to consider the entire lifetime of Jesus, his teachings, the signs and miracles he performed, and the mystery of his death and resurrection.  During Ordinary Time one is called to absorb the lessons of Christianity, an act of contemplation (in Latin, theoria), and bring those lessons to life, an act of practice (in Latin, praxis).  Theoria is the work of bringing one’s awareness alive to the presence of God.  But contemplation absent praxis is empty, devoid of spiritual growth.  Christian theoria enlivens our hearts, but it is in praxis on that life of the heart that we draw nearer to God.

Today I choose to live outside of the boundaries of any organized form of religion.  As much as Catholic life formed me, and as permanent as that formation has proven to be, I’ve moved into a different spiritual way of being, seeking awareness to be alive to the presence of the hearts I encounter during the course of an ordinary day, throughout the seasons of the year that mark our shared ordinary time.  My practice has become meditative rather than ritualized, both in solitude and in my relationships.  Within the context of this new way of spiritual ordinary time I have found many occasions for feast and celebration, some of them associated with traditional religious or secular events, but more often in the pith and marrow of deep connections with other hearts.  As extraordinary as these connection events can be, I still find deep solace and peace in my newfound ordinary time.

Our mindfulness practices are celebrations of ordinary time.  Day to day we are called to be fully present to the emerging events that seem mundane, yet carry the crux of our enrichment.  A simple encounter at the grocery store, noticing some sadness in our neighbor, perhaps, responding with a smile or a word of kindness.  Walking mindfully down a crowded city street, noticing the feeling of the sun, even the cold sunshine of a wintry day, feeling joy arising in my chest.  Staying as fully present for my friend or acquaintance who is angry as I do for my young grandsons as they are curious and playful with me.  Every day is ordinary time, but it is in the ordinary moments that we find our satisfaction and contentment.

To the Buddhist enlightenment is not some far off land of Nirvana that we strive to reach.  Instead, to be enlightened is found in the moment in which we “have…seen and pierced through the surface and have got beyond the shadow and the disguise” (quote from The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton).  Again quoting Thomas Merton, “every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.”  Being mindful means being alive in each of these moments.  Each day is ordinary time, but that is when life is actually happening!  Are we present for life?  Do we recognize the source of our enlightenment in the eyes of each person we meet each day, including the antagonistic as well as the loving?

Cherish your ordinary time.  Wake up in each moment!  To be mindful means your heart is open, alive, and curious.  The feast days are grand, but those feast days are brackets around the full measure of your life.  Awakening happens now.

I’ll leave you with this lovely poem from Diana Faulds, “Awakening Now.”  She speaks with such eloquence, more than I can muster!

Peace,

Jim

Awakening Now by Danna Faulds

Why wait for your awakening?

The moment your eyes are open, seize the day.

Would you hold back when the Beloved beckons?

Would you deliver your litany of sins like a child’s collection of sea shells, prized and labeled?

“No, I can’t step across the threshold,” you say, eyes downcast.

“I’m not worthy” I’m afraid, and my motives aren’t pure.

I’m not perfect, and surely I haven’t practiced nearly enough.

My meditation isn’t deep, and my prayers are sometimes insincere.

I still chew my fingernails, and the refrigerator isn’t clean.

“Do you value your reasons for staying small more than the light shining through the open door?

Forgive yourself.

Now is the only time you have to be whole.

Now is the sole moment that exists to live in the light of your true Self.

Perfection is not a prerequisite for anything but pain.

Please, oh please, don’t continue to believe in your disbelief.

This is the day of your awakening.

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Mindfulness, Raisins, and Contentment

This post was originally distributed as the January 2018 (1) Newsletter from GIFT, a non-profit dedicated to providing Mindfulness training to underserved populations, and supporting efforts to create a more Mindful world.  More information about GIFT can be found at More Mindful World.

In my work with people who are suffering from the disease of addiction I have learned that willpower will only get you so far.  An addicted person may use willpower to begin the recovery period, frequently energized by very bad experiences (e.g. “hitting bottom”) and the desire to get back into right relations with friends, family, and loved ones.  But I have also learned that recovery is rarely maintained over a long period of time without the suffering soul finding contentment, some measure of serenity in life that provides a new platform from which to see the world and choose one’s course.  In his play King Henry VI, Part 3, Shakespeare has his title character state that “My crown is in my heart, not on my head; not decked with diamonds and Indian stones, nor to be seen: my crown is called contentment, a crown it is that seldom kings enjoy.”

I met with the residents at Limen House (Limen House) in Wilmington again this week, something I get to do two or three times every month.  Limen House serves people who have experienced addiction and, frequently, homelessness.  Limen House gives its residents a long-term safe and healthy recovery environment.   Sitting in the men’s house a conversation about the nature of contentment arose, and we all came to realize that gratitude, compassion, and healthy pride all contribute to this “crown…that seldom kings enjoy.”  Then we did a favorite meditation: “Raisin Mind.”  If you are unfamiliar the Raisin Mind meditation is often used to introduce mindfulness.  It involves laying a raisin or two in your palm, feeling its wrinkles and texture with your fingertips, allowing its subtle but sweet aroma to touch your sense of smell, and finally resting a raisin gently on your tongue, noticing the sensations in your mouth and how the desire to chew builds.  Finally the raisin is chewed slowly and mindfully, and you remain aware of all of these sensations and witness the exquisite coordination between your tongue and your teeth, leading to a swallow and a final residue of taste and aroma.

When we completed this meditation there were many comments about the process and surprise about the magnitude of flavor in one little raisin.  Our group members noted how peaceful it felt to keep their minds focused in such a simple way, and how pleasant the process of eating could be.  All seemed persuaded to eat mindfully, certainly a sound and healthy practice.  But one response to this exercise in particular caught my attention.  One meditator, stating his general distaste for raisins, told us that the raisin in his palm seemed very large to him as he felt it gently in his fingertips with his eyes closed.  Then when he gazed downward at the raisin in his palm he was surprised to see how small it actually was, compared to his anticipation of what he would find.  He stated that in his life he has struggled with anticipation, always dreading outcomes, leading to debilitating anxiety and addiction.  “Most of the time,” he said, “it turns out that what I am most afraid will happen never does, or it’s not nearly as bad as I thought it would be.  It turns out that our worst fears are really just raisins, and that’s what I’ve learned today.”

As we enter this new year of 2018 let us remember that our commitment to practicing mindfulness is not just about stress reduction. Each time I sit and bring my attention to my breath, my body, and the activities of my mind I once again open the door to wisdom, finding the insights that my body/mind/breath have for me.  This week, this recoverer needed to find the insight that his fears turn out to be metaphorical raisins.  And by turning his mind attentively and gently to his own inner experience his wisdom was waiting for him.

So if you make no other New Years’ Resolutions perhaps you can make this one: bring mindfulness to your life every day this year.  Take a few minutes to sit, lay, walk, and/or do yoga mindfully in a formal way.  Stop and check in frequently every day, noticing body/mind/breath and smile to yourself, practicing acceptance, finding wisdom and compassion in such simple moments as well.

Peace,

Jim