Breathing, Part II: In the pulpit

So, breathing meditation helps with fear.  How about anger?

Maybe you don’t get angry – but probably, you do.  And at inappropriate times and places.  Maybe certain issues push you over the edge and your heart is racing and your palms are sweaty and your breathing is shallow and fast.  Maybe you too can go from peaceful to raging in less than 6 seconds.

One recent Sunday afternoon found me in the pulpit of a funeral home, leading a very eclectic memorial service for a friend’s sister and brother-in-law who had died in a climbing accident.  American-born Koreans, first generation Koreans, and Koreans who just flew in for this service and didn’t speak English were joined by the yoga community to honor these two beloved people.  I was trying to hold together a multitude of world-views, traditions, faiths, and spiritual practices, and I’d be lying to say I wasn’t a tiny bit nervous and self-conscious.  We would recite the comforting 23rd Psalm along with a responsive reading from the Bhagavad Gita.  “Nothing in life or in death can separate us from the Love of the Divine,” from Paul’s letter to the Romans would be joined by chanting in sanskrit.  Then 20 minutes before the service was to begin, I was told that the pastor from a local, large, well-known non-denominational church had been invited to say a few words – Could I find a time in the service to have him speak?  Yikes.  I was not a happy camper.

My anger started to build.  I don’t much care for non-denominational pastors.  I am too Presbyterian, too connectional.  I believe pastors need outside accountability.  I believe churches need to be less pastor-centered.  Such churches present as liberal when they are anything but.  They tend to have very narrow interpretations of scripture.  They easily become all about the personality of the pastor.  But mostly, I firmly, passionately believe God calls women to ordained ministry, and take it extremely personally when told otherwise.

It’s now one minute before the service is to begin and in he walks, and I am now very ticked.  I had worked hard on this service; I was anxious; I really did not want to have Jesus shoved down people’s throats as this time, as I assumed he would.  In retrospect, I realize I did not want my Christian faith represented by him.  After introducing myself, I invited him to stand up and speak.  And my blood started boiling.  All my buttons were getting pushed – It wasn’t his fault, I just have issues with (usually men) establishing their credentials in the pulpit  – Naming his church, how long he had been there, how he knew just what people needed to hear at times like these, how Jesus loved them, how the week before he had been leading his own mother’s funeral service.  I unkindly thought, this isn’t about you, Mister!

Thankfully he spoke long enough I had plenty of time to breathe.  Deeply.  Over and over and over.  Inhale – this isn’t about me – Exhale – It still isn’t about me.  Inhale – what does it matter what he thinks about me – Exhale – It still isn’t about me.  Inhale – de-personalize.  Exhale – trust the Spirit is at work.  Inhale – I am here to help this family – Exhale – it will all be okay.  Over and over and over.  Inhale – who cares how long he’s served  – Exhale – I too am called by God.

And finally, my self-righteous anger subsided. Never mind how inappropriate or poorly timed.  When we’re angry, we’re angry, and denying we are can just make it worse.  But letting the beast be in control isn’t the way of compassion; in fact it’s downright selfish.  And so I breathed.  And so my nervous system found a balance.  And so I was able to lead the rest of the service from a place of calm and compassion.

Yep, guess I’d better keep on meditating.  Give it a try – maybe it will help you through some of your own tough times when your own less-than-best self shows up.

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Let’s talk some dope (amine)

Remember the Pythagorean Theorem?  Yeah, me neither, until mathematician April reminded us in Sunday School class.  It’s the set-in-stone mathematical law that if you add up the angles of a triangle, it always equals 180.  (The angles are where two legs of the triangle meet – how close or far apart they are.  A circle = 360.)  You learned this in school, trust me, and you learned it as an absolute.  Every triangle’s angles add up to 180.  

And then, April blew my mind.  Se told us this never-to-be-disputed mathematical law only works on a flat surface.  If you draw a triangle on the surface of the earth, the angles will add up to more than 180 degrees.  WHAT?  Yep, context matters.  What I’ve believed my entire life.  What a thrill to hear my sense of the world confirmed by a mathematical theorem!

But this is not a blog about math.  No, this is a blog about my brain, and how this new idea  sent a surge of dopamine straight through my neural pathways, making me feel excited and happy.  Okay, this also reveals the nerd I am – that a new exciting idea is my form of a drug rush.

But here’s the question:  What gives you a rush of dopamine?  What excites you?  Do you even know anymore?

Daniel Siegel in his latest book, “Brainstorm:  The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain” suggests our (adult) frustrations with teens come in part from our envy of their passion.  The resting level of dopamine drops in adolescence, but is much more easily spiked.  Hence, their passions are easily excited, and we see that, and as adults, we miss that for ourselves.

In the book “Overwhelmed: Work, love, and play when no one has the time” by Brigid Schulte, she presents all the research on the importance of playtime not for children, but for adults.  If we want to be creative – and let’s face it, our lives demand creative problem solving at home, at work, in our relationships – We need to play.  And she rightly points out how hard it is for adults to play, yet how crucial it is.  

So why don’t we?  Well, who has the time?  The research says playing makes us more productive and creative.  Obviously we’d be happier and better off if we played.

But for those of us living a life faith in this culture, our every minute is measured by our immediate productivity.  “Playing time” looks like “wasting time.”    What will people say?  That we’re lazy, frivolous, childish.  

Plus for those of us who are Christian, our Puritan heritage immediately puts a stop to play.  Consciously or not, we think we must “Come, labor on – Who dares stand idle” as the (awful!) Protestant hymn suggests.  O, we’ll play, sure, – once the list is done.  Once all our responsibilities are fulfilled.  Except the list, and our responsibilities, by their very nature, never will get done.  

Instead:  The research on work, on how our brains are wired, on adolescents, on mental health all agree:  We must play.  And for Christians, we can drown out the “Come, Labor On” message by turning to the God of the hymn, “Morning Has Broken:” which says, “God’s re-creation of the new day.” If we are to be about God’s work in the world, well then, we are called to participate in “re-creation,” that is, “recreation.” 

So, when was the last time you had a dopamine rush?  Do you remember what caused it?  Have you gone seeking it by trying new adventures, going outside your comfort zone, pushing against your edges?  And in spite how exciting I found the limitations of the Pythagorean Theorem, all the research says the dopamine rushes that restore us involve our whole being – Not just our mind – but our bodies, too.  Which is play.  Image