With All Your Mind, Part 01: An Intolerable Experience

I experienced something akin to an emotional breaking point. Like all good crises, it seems to have forced the issue of change on me. Change is hard for me. I know it’s supposed to be hard for everyone, but still, it feels really hard for me.

I’ll tell you more about the crisis in a minute. It wasn’t an emergency, just more of an intolerable experience. It happened at the right time though, and for that, I am super grateful.

The results are the really important part. The intolerable experience that twisted my arm toward change pushed me to pursue nothing less than life transformation. I have started down a path with a dream. I dream of becoming a pioneer in my own soul, mind, and spirit. The point is to become healthy. I dream of finding mental, emotional, relational, spiritual, and even physical health in the frontier of my inner world.

I’m gathering my tools and equipment. I’m training. I’m gathering resources and making plans. All of this is for readiness to learn to be mindful, to pray, and to meditate.

Those are the means to my end. This is new territory for me, and I plan to document my journey. It may serve as both inspiration and map for those who come after me. Or it may only be a nostalgic record of that thing I tried one time. Either way, I believe it’s worth doing.

I have learned a lot and focused my energy in a lot of ways that have pointed me in the direction of setting these specific goals.

Reading several books, including a few by Daniel Siegel, showed me the importance and power of a healthy brain. Preparing for leading a discussion with my church community on resting in Christ and spiritual disciplines, mostly grounded in books by Richard Foster, reminded me of the depth, beauty, and import of a contemplative spiritual practice.

These things were the primers, and my crisis experience was the catalyst.

That day came about two weeks into my newly begun 4-year master’s degree program. I was still working full time, and I had managed to squeeze the whole week’s work for both my job and school into about four days because we were leaving town for a church retreat. That day had already begun badly. I was trying to get a school assignment completed and turned in that morning when a client called and needed to reschedule a later appointment for that morning because they were having their own crisis. Long story short, many stressful changes and issues came up, on top of circumstances at my agency that made that particular day challenging for receiving support from supervisors (normally, supporting us is one of their greatest strengths).

I finished the assignment and then returned to work. The original plan had been to arrive at the retreat before 6pm to be able to join everyone for dinner. Unfortunately I was just assigned a new case with a client that had a visit with her daughter from 4pm to 6pm. OK, no big deal. We would miss dinner. We would get there about 7:45 instead. The visit started badly and ended not only badly, but half an hour late because the client was being difficult. It was the most personally challenging visit of my entire tenure at my job.

As I was driving home, I experienced my crisis.

I had been experiencing real anger toward my client, boiling on the inside. By the time I left, the stress of the previous week being topped off by an even more stressful day and a moderately belligerent client who made me even later than before to my supposedly relaxing event was too much.

My stomach rumbled and roiled like a sack full of angry raccoons. I felt sick. I felt exhausted. I felt like giving up.

Tears in my eyes and face contorted with emotion, alone in my car with no one but God and the interstate as my confessors, I admitted aloud my doubt and fear: “I don’t know if I can do this.”

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Crouching Figure(Head in hands)Square Abstract by Josh Bowe http://www.artbyjoshbowe.com

 

“This” felt like an all-encompassing term at that point.

Chrissy was supportive when I got home, and I began to think about change. The retreat—unsurprisingly as I look back since it was themed on Sabbath rest—provided a forum for settling on decisions about change.

I settled on a regimented program for learning mindfulness in the form of a free, online Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course. I would take a Sabbath rest every Monday afternoon and practice mindfulness meditation exercises daily. Once I finished the 8-week course and had a foundation of mental discipline established, I would intentionally transform my mindfulness practice into a contemplative one.

The neuroscience was there. The wisdom of spiritual disciplines was there. The months of reading and learning, of teaching and praying had all prepared me for that weekend.

But of course, as it always is, that was only the beginning. The decision and clarity about the steps to take was just the first step, the one you take at the beginning of a long hike, noticing how the dirt crunches under your boots and the sunlight filters through the leaves and the feeling of the crisp, morning air filling your lungs. The journey ahead is beautiful and gratifying, but it can be steep and treacherous and take all the resources you have.

At the time of this writing, I have already been practicing for three weeks, and I keep learning new things and making more plans and devising more concrete ideas about how I’m going to keep taking that next step toward mental/social/spiritual health.

I get more excited each day, and I have already begun to feel some of the anticipated benefits. I also have a long way to go.

I plan to keep writing about how and where things go, and you’re invited to go with me. I plan to write more about why I chose MBSR and what I desire from contemplative practices. I plan to write more about what I mean when I use those terms and how I think they are compatible and how I plan to integrate them. I plan to muse on what the experiences mean to me and just exactly what I am experiencing.

These are purported to be highly transformative practices, and I thank God for that, because I need to be transformed. I hope to experience a renewal of my mind and a deepening of my experience of God. I anticipate becoming a stronger person, a more present person, and more fully who God intended me to be. I am excited to see how all that works out and what surprises I’ll find along the way.

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