Dolce far Niente – The Art of Doing Nothing

One of my favorite Italian sayings is “Dolce far Niente”, which means “the sweetness of doing nothing.” It does not mean being lazy, it is referring to the pleasure one gets from being idle. … Dolce far Niente is something Italians embrace and something they do very well.  Maybe this is why I LOVE Italy so much and hope to spend more time there in my retirement!  🙂

A friend posted an article from Elephant Journal recently and it reminded me of this saying.  You can check out their article here: Elephant Journal

The idea that “doing nothing,” is actually an event in and of itself. The idea that we no longer run on a treadmill of activity from getting the kids to and from activities, to staring at social media, to picking up dry cleaning, to working your job, to grocery shopping and cooking, to washing clothes and making beds, and the list goes on until we wake up and do it all over again.  The idea that our actions day to day become influenced by our intuition (listening to and honoring as best we can to that still small voice that is telling us what we need) and no longer by routines, have to’s, and musts.

This kind of relaxation exists within each of us and is ours for the taking if we’re willing to put in the effort.  The “la dolce far niente” relaxation can be cultivated. The sweetness of doing nothing and enjoying where we are in the present moment- is the greatest thanks we can give for the lives and blessing we have.

If you are a fan of Thoreau, as I am, in Walden, he said, “When I go out of the house for a walk, uncertain as yet whither I will bend my steps, and submit myself to my instinct to decide for me, I find, strange and whimsical as it may seem, that I finally and inevitably settle south-west, toward some particular wood or meadow or deserted pasture or hill in that direction.”

How different would your quality of life be if you made time throughout the day to experience la dolce far niente? Instead of using your free moments to catch up on what happened on Southern Charm or Housewives of _________________, instead of looking at your Instagram or Facebook page to count your LIKES over your latest post, instead of checking your email one last time to see if anyone else is needing you to do something, instead of using your free time to find mindless uninspiring distractions; What if you just did nothing?

For observant Jews they keep the Sabbath.  We all can take time, maybe not an entire day, but a small amount of time to carve out to honor the idea of doing nothing.  Buddha, Jesus, Mohammad, Moses, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and many more great saints and sages have all practiced the art of doing nothing.

Let’s all take a page from their books!  May you enjoy NOTHING!

 

Sermon On The Mat 4: The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness/ The Image and Likeness of God

I am in the middle of this beautiful book entitled, “The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness” by Rabbi Rami Shapiro.  I picked it up on the last night of my silent retreat at Mepkin Abbey and never got to read it through but I knew I had to spend time in this book so I ordered it as soon as I returned home.  Reading this book in the lexio devina style is taking me some time but I am getting so much out of Rabbi Shapiro’s words.

His first chapter is all about becoming the image and likeness of God and realizing the divinity of self and that of others.

Being the image of God means we are God manifest and as we are in the likeness of God, we have the potential to act in a godly manner. What I love about this idea of being the image and likeness of God is that we can greet each other and see each other across all lines of religious beliefs, political sides, races or genders with lovingkindness.

In Hebrew the name of God is Y-H-V-H (oyd-hey-vav-hey) and when written vertically it takes on the shape of a human body.  Rabbi Shapiro offers us the suggestion to see another person with the Name of God on them head to toe!  What a reminder to who we really are: God. Or as the Upanishads put it, “tat tvam assi” Thou art That.

Practice visualizing yourself with the incarnate Name of God written on your body maybe standing in front of a mirror and then seeing everyone else as well.  Then ask for your angel to come alongside you and to show you your true nature.  Listen in your daily meditation and quiet time. In time “you will break up the hard-packed soil of narrow mind and plant in it the seeds of lovingkindness  that will soon grow and awaken in your the spacious mind that is your holy and most true self.”

I will share more in other posts on the Thirteen Attributes of Lovingkindness and how they will shift our narrow mind to a spacious mind where we engage life from a place of interdependence and compassion. But I will end with a conversation between Philip and Jesus in John’s Gospel:

Philip said to him, ” Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father… Believe me   that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”

 

 

Sermon On The Mat #3 – Unexpected Gifts

The unexpected moment is always sweeter.  Wouldn’t you agree?  Life is always bringing unexpected gifts.

Yesterday a dear friend gave me a beautiful journal that she picked up.  She said that when she saw it, she thought of me. And that is how I became the proud owner of this gift.  This out of the blue, unexpected gift got me thinking of all the ways we share our gifts or can share our gifts every day.

Our gifts don’t always come wrapped in a pretty paper with a lovely bow on top.  Although those are nice, gifts of the heart can be just as sweet.  Here are a few ways we can share.

Greet the person you are next to with a warm smile and a compliment or greet them hello.

Offer to help someone.

Send a letter or card for no other reason than you thought about them.

Hug your spouse or significant other and offer a compliment. Let them know you appreciate them.

Let someone know you believe in them.

Extend a hand of friendship.

Kindness – right.  Show kindness.

Time is a great unexpected gift!

When we make even a small effort we can create a huge impact and the cost is FREE.  THAT is something we all can afford.

I believe the best gifts are not the ones we get wrapped in paper and bows but the memories we make with people we love!

I love my friend dearly.  She means so much to me and I have enjoyed watching our friendship grow over the years.  The unexpected surprise and joy of my journal is now a part of my journal and my memories!

Sermon On the Mat #2: Joy

2 John 1:12 I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

So what is Joy?

I asked a few people and found some other ideas from other people who have asked.  Here are some answers I found.

A Hindu friend defined Joy as something we can sense through our five senses: sight (a beautiful flower), hearing (a melodious music), taste (a piece of cake), smell (a special perfume), and feeling (a feather touch).  She further believed that Joy can be acquired or achieved through our spiritual discipline or efforts – citing YOGA as an example. In other words, she sees Joy as both sensual and spiritual.
A Muslim friend said this: Perfect happiness will only be available to us if we spend life everlasting in Paradise.
A young agnostic whom I do not know believes:
If you want happiness for an hour — take a nap.
If you want happiness for a day — go fishing.
If you want happiness for a year — inherit a fortune.
If you want happiness for a lifetime — help someone else.
A professor cited: In the fifth century, Boethius – a Roman Senator and philosopher – could claim that “God is happiness itself”. But by the middle of the 19th century, the formula was reversed to read “Happiness is God.” Earthly happiness emerged as the idol of idols, the central meaning in modern life, the source of human aspiration, the purpose of existence. Materialism relocated God to the shopping mall.
A Christian friend replied: I find Joy in Jesus.
So as you see there are so many ways to internalize Joy.  As a Christian, the idea that Joy is found in Jesus speaks to me.  Christian Joy is not the seeking of pleasure: quite the opposite. It is a curious paradox of life that the more we seek to be happy the more miserable we become. A famous writer (Eric Hoffer) once said: “The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness.”  Joy is God’s gift. It is not something to be pursued.
Joy should be three-dimensional- towards God, within us and towards others.
Joy should be resting on five grace-filled pillars: Faith, Hope, Love, Contentment and Gratitude.
Joy should grow in spite of circumstances.
Joy in found in scripture
Joy is complete only in Christ.
Then there is the idea of joy as an attitude. I think it’s something that we can develop and it’s something that affects not only ourselves experiencing it but others as well. Think about this; the differentiation between happiness and joy, happiness as an emotion and joy as an attitude.
Joy then seems so much more lasting and has more staying power than happiness in the long run. So I am going to choose to focus more on Joy and being joy-full over the idea of happiness because by having joy we ultimately are happy!

In closing, I, like John, prefer personal, face to face communication over writing if I can. To me, there is joy in fellowship.  Paul used three thoughts that describe true Christian fellowship: I have you in my mind (Phil. 1:3-6), I have you in my heart (Phil. 1:7-8), and I have you in my prayers (Phil. 1:9-11). This fellowship goes beyond our “Christian” brothers and sisters to all people.

“I have you in my mind … in my heart …  in my prayers.”

Let me close with a one-line prayer.
Lord, let me be a pencil to add JOY to the life of somebody or at least let me be an eraser to remove somebody’s sadness. Amen
Cool prayer!  I wish I knew who came up with it  but THANK YOU

 

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Sermon On the Mat #1: Abundance

Sermon From the Mat #1 ABUNDANCE
John 10:10 says “I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly”
Having an abundance mindset affords us the opportunity to live life in its fullness of joy, gratitude and strength in body, mind and spirit. Achieving an abundance mindset can be cultivated through:
giving and receiving words of appreciation and gratitude
realizing your potential and believing there is more than enough
spending time in reflection and meditation
dream and alter your mindset
give more of what you want
choose to see opportunity
and remember that the opposite of abundance is lack, emptiness and dissatisfaction so when you feel these creeping into your thoughts and inner dialogue, pause and change your channel!
May you find abundance in your day today!
Lea

Encountering Silence – My Mepkin Abbey Retreat

This past weekend I had the pleasure and privilege of spending three days at the beautiful Mepkin Abbey in Moncks Corner, South Carolina, with a group of amazing people from all over the east coast to hear thoughts on Encountering Silence from Carl McColman.  Carl not only is a prolific author on the subject of silence, he also has a podcast which can be heard at encounteringsilence.com.

Spending three days experiencing, discussing and embracing silence was a moving and powerful experience for me and I encourage anyone who wants to deepen their spiritual path to explore this idea of seeking silence.  To share all that I learned would take pages and pages here so I will try to break down some of the key points for you.

With my feet in both Eastern and Western religious practices, I was excited to learn more of the roots of the Christian contemplatives.  The word contemplation had a specific meaning for the first 16 centuries of the Christian era. St. Gregory the Great summed up this meaning at the end of the 6th century as “the knowledge of God that is impregnated with love.” For Gregory, contemplation was both the fruit of reflecting on the Word of God in scripture and a precious gift of God. He referred to contemplation as “resting in God.” In this “resting,” the mind and heart are not so much seeking God, as beginning to experience what they have been seeking. This state is not the suspension of all activity, but the reduction of many acts and reflections to a single act or thought in order to sustain one’s consent to God’s presence and action.  Contemplative prayer is a process of interior transformation. It is a relationship initiated by God and leading, if one consents, to divine union.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, the Jesuits and other religious orders, have shared the practice with laypeople (people other than priests and monks). In addition, several monks, such as Fathers Thomas Keating and John Main, have pioneered efforts to answer the call of Vatican II to return to the Gospels and to biblical theology as the primary sources of Catholic spirituality. The product of these initiatives is a myriad of modern prayer practices based on historical contemplative teachings. You can find information on Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina practices, which are two such practices in most Christian Churches.

Going into the weekend with a pretty decent meditation practice in place, I was looking forward to exploring this further to make my meditation and prayer life stronger.

So if you look at the Western traditions, you can think of seated meditation and utilizing the breath and mantras to center you as you practice being silent and still.  In the Eastern tradition, perhaps thinking of substituting silence for breath and the mantra can be a word or scripture verse or any number of God centered thoughts.  Visualization is also a practice shared on both sides of the aisle.

I love the idea of God breathing life into everything.  That our breath is the first and last thing we will do as humans.  And that each breath in the chain embraces our whole life.  The idea of each breath being a gift God has given to us leads to each breath become its own prayer.  To think in those terms then turns our life into a prayer or as Paul tells us, “pray without ceasing.”

Carl quoted many old and new contemplative writers and poets throughout the weekend.  We were given time to read, pray, walk, worship and write.  Using Lectio Divina or devine reading practice, I had fun creating some poetry from quotes by Christian Mystics and Contemplatives and using scripture passages on silence.

Here is one:

In Silence

Dive deep to the Source, the heart.

Let words be left like pebbles dropped in the stream

Give ourselves and find eternity in the silence

The unnecessary dissolves when our silence is preserved

In silence we find Mother, the voice of God, friend

There is no opposite in one expression of eternity

We become quieter, worthier, deeper, more perfect in prayer

Believing and knowing all things are infinitely possible in silence

1/19/19 Lea Austen

Seek Silence!

Go in Peace

 

 

 

Suicide: No More Hiding

Do you know someone who feels hopeless? lost? profoundly sad?

Can you find compassion toward them or do you stay away when they begin that journey down the rabbit hole?

Today we lost another celebrity life to suicide.  Anthony Bourdain’s life, Kate Spade’s life, along with countless others who’s lives we have known personally or are one of the many souls living among us, have lived many long and painful days and nights with a terrible secret.  Because their journey on earth took them to international recognition perhaps they and many who came before (Robin Williams, Marilyn Monroe, Ernest Hemmingway), can help to open up a new and stronger concern and awareness for depression, addition, and mental illness. There is not enough dialogue, not enough honesty and not enough systems in place to catch these souls.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline number is Call 1-800-273-8255.  Keep it somewhere easy to share. Ask questions!

What is this secret these people walking among us have? Why do they hold it so close to their chest that it goes unrecognized and undetected until it’s too late? It begins with a seed planted deep in their heart. It grows over time and then one day when they can’t take the suffocating and choking and darkness this overgrown, over cultivated lie has done to them, they search for relief.  This can be poison to “kill it” like drugs and alcohol.  It can be a pursuit of some goal that turns into an obsession which to others looks like fame and fortune and glory only to hid and try and run from it. This seed does not care who you are or where you live.  It seeks the rich and the poor, young and old.  It finds the crack and buries itself there to root and grow.

The seed also has a voice.  The voice tells them they are not worthy, not good enough, undeserving and alone.  How is it you can be in a room full of people yet feel completely alone? How is it you can have all the money in the world yet feel worthless? How is it you can achieve greatness yet feel not good enough? This is the voice they hear.  This is the voice those of us who have never heard and some who have but have managed to not succumb fully to its power need to rise up against.

Our friends, our loved ones, our neighbors and those who we cross path with daily need our attention.  An open heart of love from us shining into their darkness.  We can reach out.  We can ask the questions we may be too uncomfortable or afraid to ask and then we must wait and listen for them to answer.  Our listening is so important!  Our next steps may be alongside them to find help.

As family members, friends, and confidants, we have a responsibility to assist the people we care about. For people who have never seriously contemplated ending their own lives, it is challenging to understand the mind-set of an individual with suicidal thoughts. As the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, understanding where suicidal thoughts come from is necessary if we want to help individuals contemplating suicide.

Suicide Prevention Strategies You Can Use

If a family member or friend expresses suicidal thoughts, do not ignore them. They might desperately need your help. Here are a few tactful steps you can take to help a loved one at risk for suicide:

  • Ask questions in a mild and sincere manner.
  • Explain why you are asking questions.
  • Express that your loved one is not alone. Tell them you are there for them and will continue to be there.
  • If the individual is not comfortable speaking with you, suggest a qualified third party such as a therapist, spiritual leader, or doctor.
  • Do not passively tell the person to just call a hotline; lead the person to helpful resources such as suicide hotlines and local mental health associations.
  • Help the person schedule and keep appointments with a mental health professional, even if the individual no longer feels suicidal.

 

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