The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. -- Psalm 23:1-3a
I've been thinking about stress a lot the last few days -- because I am feeling stressed-out, and I don't like it! Usually when I am stressed-out, I am unaware of just how stressed-out I am. Do you know what I mean? I'm too much in the thick of things. But this time around I am very much aware of how my body is reacting to the stress I'm under. I can almost feel my blood pressure rising. I keep waking up at 1 a.m., feeling angry and frustrated, obsessing over things beyond my control.
Now, waking up in the middle of the night is not unusual for me. Whenever I am very much in my head, this usually happens. I've gotten used to it. And usually it doesn't bother me. I just get up, write my thoughts down in my journal, and spend some time reading, and gaining some insight or solace into what I'm thinking about.
But this time, the lack of sleep is just making me feel even more stressed. It's making me feel even more irritated, which I am not doing a very good job of controlling. The resulting bad behavior on my part is further contributing to my stress. It's a merry-go-round that is making me feel ill.
Something has to change, but what? What am I doing wrong? Why can I not find some relief from my usual devotions?
I wondered if maybe I need some other way to relieve stress. And since I have been reading about Taoism, I thought of meditation. A few days ago, I re-read the words from my last posting: "Bide in silence, and the radiance of the spirit shall come in and make its home." These words resonated with me for days.
One of the things Taoism teaches is detachment. When I first read about this, I thought that in this regard Taoism and Christianity are different from each other. For I would never describe Jesus as detached. Quite the opposite, in fact. But now I'm thinking that a little detachment would be a good thing. It would be helpful if I could release my ill-feelings, let them go completely. If meditation can help me with that, then I need to learn to meditate.
At the same time, I've been thinking about music, about making music. Music is one of the things that really moves my soul. But I am not a musician. I'm not even sure that I can carry a tune. But still, I keep thinking that I should sit down at our keyboard and loose myself in the sound of the keys. I wonder if maybe I could meditate this way. I don't do this, however, because it just seems like a really odd thing to do.
During Bible Study last night, the words above resonated with my recent experiences, they reminded me again of meditation. Maybe this is the "still water" that I need to sit beside. Maybe this is how God will "restore my soul" and bring me peace of mind. When I shared this with my study mates, one friend recommended that I get a meditation bowl. I know what she is talking about.
I said, "Oh, I have one of those. But I never use it. Well... I use it to hold stuff."
And suddenly I realize that that is exactly my problem.
A Tibetan meditation bowl is meant to be empty. It symbolizes being open and available to whatever comes into your life. A meditation bowl will make a single, beautiful, resonating note, when it is empty, held gently in the palm of one hand, and slowly but firmly rubbed along its edge. My bowl is being used as a storage container.
My bowl is like my soul. It is so full of "stuff" that I cannot find the rest I need. I need to empty my bowl. And then maybe I will be able to hear the music it can make.
This morning I read the words of Susan Quinn, the author of "The Deepest Spiritual Life: The Art of Combining Personal Spiritual Practice with Religious Community:
"The focus of my personal evening prayers is on forgiveness, because inevitably I have acted in ways that have been detrimental to others and I desire forgiveness, or others have acted in ways that have disappointed or hurt me, and I have the opportunity to forgive them. Forgiveness is difficult for many of us, because it is so much easier to be angry with others, to be self-righteous about our disappointments in others or remorseful about our own failings. But when we don't forgive, we create barriers not only between ourselves and others, but between ourselves and the Divine. There is little room or energy for love, gratitude and compassion, and for connecting with God, when we are preoccupied with our anger, hurt, disillusionment or fear. ... to forgive is to honor the struggles I share with others..." (pg 45).
I feel as if Susan Quinn is holding up a mirror. The last line especially hits home. I certainly am not perfect. I don't have to look very far to see this. So why do I expect other people to be perfect?
The words of Jesus have also come to mind lately: Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. I had always thought that Jesus was telling his leading disciples to judge between right and wrong behavior. But now I see it differently. Now I wonder if Jesus was holding up a mirror: whatever you hold onto, will stay with you forever; whatever you let go of, will be let go of forever. It is my choice to bind and loosen. And that will reflect itself in my life.
The more negativity I hold onto and the more junk there is in my soul, then the less room there is for God to come in and teach me what I need to know. Just like I must keep my meditation bowl empty in order to hear the music it plays, so too I must empty myself occasionally so that God can feed my soul.
In this Sunday's readings are the following words of Paul: For he [Jesus] is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace... (Ephesians 2:14-16)
Hostility or peace. Now what would I rather hold onto? It's not a hard question to answer -- is it?
Dear God, you are my Shepherd. Thank you once again for loving me so well, and for being so patient with me. I am humbled and grateful. Love always, Pam