As a Birthing From Within instructor, I taught a series of innovative pain coping techniques developed by founder Pam England, drawn from her meditation practice. Most involved variations on mindfulness, and as incentive to really develop the habit of using them, expectant parents practiced these techniques in class while holding ice cubes in their hand. One of my favorites, called “Non-Focused Awareness” encourages you to notice the full spectrum of whatever experience you’re in, rather than focusing narrowly on only one aspect. In labor, this means being aware of all sensations and stimuli, not only the pain. You just name them internally without any judgment. The woman might notice the sound of a CD playing, feel the touch of massage on her back, the taste of juice, etc. It sounds simple, but you have to practice to be able to summon the concentration needed to use this technique in a highly stressful situation like labor. Happily, opportunities are everywhere – in line at the grocery store, while stuck in traffic, in the dentist’s chair – and I continue to find Non-Focused Awareness a calming practice.
I was in anguish about the new Roman Missal’s coming implementation when I began this blog nearly a year ago. I wondered if I could remain Catholic with such stilted wording in the liturgy, if anger at the oppressive process that led to it would drive me away. Last week at mass, we sang the new Holy, Holy and Mystery of Faith for the first time, and my own lack of reaction surprised me. I even kind of liked the tune. Today, singing these responses again, I realized that I had been blessed with an unconscious, gradual process of Non-Focused Awareness in relation to the church. More and more I notice other things besides the words of the liturgy that mean a lot to me in the parish – the dearly familiar faces of people I’ve been worshiping with for years, a new generation of young ones toddling around the narthex, the dedicated work of our St. Vincent de Paul conference and other ministry groups to alleviate suffering nearby and around the globe.
Beyond my parish, this new, wider awareness encompasses attending neighborhood prayer services and engaging with an online monastic community, the Abbey of the Arts. Christine Valters Paintner, the abbess, is a writer, artist, retreat director, spiritual director and teacher. She offers online and live classes on contemplative practice, especially combined with expressive arts. This week I signed up for her free 7-day e-course that’s an introduction to contemplative practice in daily life, The Monk in the World. Each daily e-mail provides an image, quotes and suggestions for reflection. Today’s e-mail concluded with this lovely prayer by Christine.
Holy Giver of Silence
Sustain me in these sacred spaces
and embrace me with your presence.
I pause each day to listen to your whisperings
which call me to a deepened way of being.
I enter the quiet and ask for the courage to respond
to what I discover in that tabernacle of time.
Photo courtesy of AlicePopkorn2 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license