Focus? Or Naming the Demons?

A couple of weeks ago we caught most of an NPR NOW (sirius radio 122) broadcast of “Relaxed Focus” with David Allen ( as we drove down I-81 (through the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia). He had some interesting ideas.

Perhaps I can get better at organizing stuff, deciding what needs to be done with something and then letting go until I am in a place to deal with it. Sounds good. Sounds even better to decide whether I want to keep getting email from certain lists that require my attention or should I just unsubscribe and be done with it. It sounds good to get control of “stuff” that can clog the brain/mind and free up the mind to be present in the moment.

As I listened, I found myself thinking how nice it is when I get things cleaned up, named, organized, and put out of my mind. I thought of the times in my life when I felt overwhelmed and immobilized because I couldn’t even decide what action I wanted to take. My mind would race all night. I would wake up and be unable to quiet my mind. One technique that helped was to drag out rosary beads. As I started a decade, instead of meditating on a prescribed mystery, I would name one of the issues that wouldn’t leave me alone and hand it over to Mary or Jesus or God (depended on how I felt); by the end of a decade, I could often let go of that one thing; then, I repeat the process with the next thought/problem that was racing through my head; over and over until I could sleep for a bit. Using rosary beads freed me up from any kind of counting — just repeat Hail Mary until my fingers told me I was done with the particular thought.

And so, I do understand the joy of organizing things, deciding on an action and relying on a system to tell me when I was done, or ready to move to the next thing. This frees me up to deal with other, larger, issues. But, it’s not just letting go that helps. Naming the problem/issue/desire means that I no longer let it control me. There is a certain release in a “tag and bag” approach to those mundane things that have to be done.

Now, it’s been well over a week since I listened to that radio show and this week I find myself in Nike mode: Just Do It! That applies to little things like sweeping the hall, mopping the foyer, pitching the mail. Not big stuff, but getting it decided on and done certainly helps make room for more serious or intense thought. I think I’ll try to stick with it.





When I grow up…

Listening to NPR this afternoon on the way home from Birmingham, I caught the story by Raolh Eubanks about how the Bookmobile influenced his life (see this article).  Impressive, because the librarian (in Missisippi in the 60’s) followed the law instead of ignoring it, and brought the book mobile by his home… as a black kid, he wouldn’t have been allowed in the public library at the time.

I was reminded of a bit of blue-skying I was involved in a while back. The scene involves several folks discussing the job they want. Mind you, most of these folks have high tech/computer/IT jobs currently.

Me — think I’d like to be a carpenter when I grow up. Do something I can touch.

One of the guys I worked with ( a good programmer & manager) wants to cook pancakes at the IHOP. He doesn’t want to eat pancakes, just make them.

There’s the University MIS prof who wants to be the greeter at Walmart.

Or, the internal consultant wizard at Itty Bitty Machines that thinks that driving the bookmobile would be the best job ever.

The list goes on, and on.

But, today, when Ralph Eubanks talked about the Bookmobile, I thought of our “ideal jobs” and the effect they might have. Who knew that driving a bookmobile could have such a powerful influence? And maybe the Walmart greeter is the only smile someone might get all day. A well made pancake, served piping hot with butter and maple syrup can be sheer bliss. And who knows — a carpenter might be just the ticket for helping someone get into the home they want/need.

I smile, and remember all the times when things went wrong with a server or an application and I had to remind myself that that job wasn’t brain surgery — folks might think they will die when things go wrong, but get real – they won’t. But, what a difference the bookmobile driver and the Walmart greeter can make in day to day life.

So — what will you be when you grow up?

Not “From a Distance”

The priest at Christmas Eve mass struck a chord with me. He began by reflecting on the first men on the moon — seeing the earth “as it really is” from a distance. He spoke about them looking back at earth and seeing it as a distant, beautiful blue and green globe. He progressed to Bette Midler’s “From a Distance” with God watching us from a distance. The good in this view is that we can see that we are all so very alike — all so very human. But, he and I agree – Christmas proclaims a very different reality. God is with us. God is not watching from a distance.

God may very well be able to step back and get some distance. We humans all need to do that at times… get some distance. But, the reality is that God is with us. God is in the midst of the messiness of our lives. God is present in birth and death and every experience in between. God is present in the joy of a new child, the frustration of a father who is struggling to make a decent life for that child and in an inn keeper who is out of resources and doesn’t have room. God is so very present that he took on our flesh, walked in our bones, felt all of our emotions, loved up close.

Christmas reminds me of this. If God loves me enough to take on my form of existence and walk with me, then I am called to do the same with others — and not stay at a distance. That’s not really what I think of as easy — I do separate myself. I am unwilling to share all too often even with those I am physically close to.

Little Child — help me to be willing to live not at a distance from You or our brothers and sisters.

Oh – and Merry Christmas!

Mixed Tenses

My husband lost another aunt last winter. She was, I believe, the last surviving civilian WWII POW (Philippines) in the state of Maine. There were lots of stories there that took decades to become tellable. We are here in her old stomping grounds, visiting and sharing meals with family that was close to her and I notice something about the conversation. There are times when Jackie is still referred to in the present temse. “Jackie really likes this” or “She wants you to have this.” We even having dinner to celebrate her birthday this week. All the while, this is co-mingled with talk of the continuing disposition of her things… things that are precious to keep and things that can finally be passed on or gotten rid of.

It brings to mind the Easter Season and Pentecost. Jesus is gone, but He is still around. What do we remember? What is he still telling us? He’s gone, but no! he’s still here. It’s been several months, but only now is it becoming clear — We are the ones to carry on.

I can only hope that we will be remember with as much love as she is.

What you say and read

Advertising is targeted — it’s really obvious if you pay any attention at all to the ads that show up in the sidebar of a google account or a Facebook page or have every bought anything from Amazon and get on their mailing lists. Some of our other utilities try to figure out what we will like – It seems that Tivo will try to figure out by the shows you record what it thinks you might like to watch and can record things for you. It seems that programs — just like people — can draw some very odd conclusions.

There’s a story about a guy who had a Tivo that thought he was gay. When he tried to make it change its mind, by recording lots of war movies (“guy stuff”) it decided he was a crazy who wanted to see everything about Nazi bigwigs. I have ordered books from Amazon so I get email because they want to sell me everything Mary Daley and Sue Monk Kidd have every written… and watches, fancy lotions and camera equipment. Facebook sure seems to think I want desparately to lose weight and get rid wrinkles while studying photography. And just this morning, as I read my email from The Daily Gospel I found ads for The American Monk (Accelerate your spiritual growth…), Speaking in tongues today, Dr. Oz’s Real Age Test (???) and the Gnostic Bookstore. But, the ones that intrigued me the most were the learn more about the Easter Bunny and Kindergarten Sightwords.

Kind of scary, huh? I find it to be a warning to me. As one human in a community of humans, I hope that I do better at seeing the whole, real person underneath these external expressions. But, I probably don’t. We all make two mistakes — we observe through the particular focus of our own eyes, and we so often see only the things that we are keyed in to see (keyword searching, anyone?). It might be all I CAN do — so just be aware: I’m only slightly better at judging you than Google Adsense… and therefore I shall attempt to leave that judgement to God.