Writing and sending a blog on wonder, stillness, and play in December was my plan. I had led a workshop at St. Stephen’s Episcopal. We discussed where we find wonder as I shared the idea in Celtic spirituality of “thin places” where the veil between this world and the next is translucent. Call it a sacred moment, a break from busy doing, an opening for grateful wakefulness. This super group needed no further prompting and took off with terrific insights. Nature, music, and worship were among the many answers. I discussed that stillness comes from cultivating that internal relationship with our own deep- down goodness. That essential dimension of ourselves is always with us ‘though often neglected. Finally, as we find a refuge for ourselves, we can offer refuge to others. And then we practiced yoga with a playful, curious spirit.
Then, I regretfully turned off my sense of wonder and stillness, and maybe play for that matter, cranking up for the arrival of my beloved out of town daughters and son-in-law. Meal planning, grocery shopping, online buying, phone calls, emails, text messages, flight status updates – all leading up to the holiday itself. It was a glorious and busy time of sharing meals, playing games, watching movies, swapping cars, attending Christmas eve service, gathering with extended family– it was lovely to have the house full and alive with conversation. It was exhilarating. It was heartwarming. It was even tense at times when I gave uninvited advice or my facial expression betrayed my feelings. Isn’t that the stuff of family life? There was play, a lot of love, very little stillness.
Everyone’s gone now and we’ve put away Christmas, resumed a steady news diet (ick), opened my 2019 planner, and am charging into the new year. So when will I get back to wonder, stillness, and play?
Am I kidding myself? Can life find time for pausing for gratefulness and residing in that dimension of what makes you, you? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Brother David Steindl-Rast puts a spiritual spin on life in fullness as grateful wakefulness. He writes encouraging, “the child within us to look with the eyes of the heart, to combine concentration with wonderment, and to pray without ceasing.” And he’s absolutely convinced that living with gratefulness transforms the world, i.e., addresses many of society’s most pressing problems. And let’s face it. Things are a mess.
From a scientific angle, neuroscientist Dr. Richard Davidson contends that our well-being is a skill we can work on. And just as we acknowledge that playing a musical instrument or a sport requires practice, practice, and practice, so does experiencing well-being. We have to work at it. Specifically, scientists have found neuroplasticity, changes in the brain we like, when we become skillful in four areas:
Outlook – looking for the good in others and savoring our experiences
Attention – being fully present to others and your own reactive self
Generosity – altruistic giving of your time and resources
Resilience – how quickly we rebound from setbacks (the hardest one to change)
The ancient text, the Bhagavad Gita, describes yoga as “skill in action”. The practice of meditation cultivates a thread of awareness about how the mind works. Breathing is a natural focus for “taming the wild horses of the mind” as described by Sakyong Mipham. Self-study or awareness helps us to see things as they are and seek to respond rather than react. The physical practice may be the least consequential ‘though incredibly rewarding, relaxing, and strengthening.
So as I breathe deeply with full awareness that I may lose my focus at times, I resolve to practice these skills in 2019 and invite you to join me.