So much of what I do…I do…even while I am thinking of something else. Frequently, for example, I’ll rush through a warm shower at dawn because I am thinking about all those things I must do, as well as the conversations I must have later that day…so I’m thinking about the things that I will say…the things the other will say in return, and then, what I’ll say to what they’ve said…and, so forth.
I know better than any of this. No conversation ever unfolds the way I imagine it beforehand. What these means, therefore, is this: As I am doing one thing and anxiously thinking about something else, I am actually only succeeding in living mind-less-ly, not mindfully.
There is a difference.
Mindfulness is a discipline – and, anyone who thinks it does not take practice is thoroughly mindless – for mindfulness is the bringing of one’s MIND – into the – FULLNESS, hence, “mind-fullness” of whatever it is you are doing right now, not what you are going to do later.
This is prayer, too. Real prayer. It is the ceaseless kind of praying St. Paul said we are to seek. He wrote in his letter to the Thessalonians, “Never stop praying” (1 Thess. 5:17).
How does anyone do this? Even a monk in a monastery does not spend all day and night in prayer.
Who does this, too? Just monks? Well, some monks do devote their lives to this. But Paul is writing to all followers, not simply to a gathering of monks at the Abbey of St. Francis.
Maybe this is the way Jesus did things. Like the time he went up into the mountains. It was, interestingly, after another feast time, and one not entirely unlike the one we just enjoyed with family and friends yesterday.
The Gospel of Matthew records the story. “And after Jesus had sent them home, he went up into the mountains by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. (Matt. 14:23).
You will notice we are not told what he prayed. Nor how he prayed although, for most of my life, I have imagined him in some kind of kneeling position. I pictured him offering up his prayers like we sometimes do in church with bended knee resting on kneelers, bulletin in hand with our written prayers and…well…you know the drill.
Meeting the Almighty on the Mountaintop
I don’t think this anymore. I imagine Jesus instead walking alone through the hills, observing nature, entering the dusk and then the darkness. I can only imagine how dark it must have been – there were no street lights, especially in the mountains. I picture him strolling along…strolling alone…and reflecting, and perhaps on occasion even voicing a few words in prayer; or, better, reclining, maybe even sleeping a little, much like I did last night, off-and-on. But not too well. I’m still scared of the dark. I’d fall asleep through the night and then wake up, walk about the house, pee, and think a while, and then recline back in bed, quietly so as not to wake Pam, and, somewhere in the thinking…in the darkness and in the aloneness, I would go back to sleep…
But my suspicion is, when Jesus took this particular journey into the dark night of his should, he practiced being completely there…completely alone but inside his alone-ness…aware of his dark side. Present, though, and not thinking about what he was going to do later.
Know what this is like? To be alone, I mean, instead of rushing toward the crowd to avoid being alone or racing about like we do on Black Friday, bitching about the crowd but glad there’s one around…anybody to avoid being with nobody…
No, maybe you don’t know what this is like.
I don’t. I am frightened at being “alone.” The thought of getting inside my alone…stepping into my own darkness? Well, frankly, I prefer crowds.
But not this Jesus whom I’d like to think I follow. I see him strolling about the mountain and into the darkness, and he’s with anyone but a crowd. No, his is alone. So alone Matthew had to tell readers twice to make sure they didn’t miss it.
I’m pretty sure, therefore, what I’m getting ready to tell you is going to sound a little weird to some of you. But here goes.
I tried something this morning I have not tried in a long while. Pam had to go off to work. Some people do have to work on Black Friday – which is why you should always be nice to the clerks. I told Pam as she walked out the door that I’d clean up the house and the residue of Thanksgiving you could see here and there and especially on the hardwoods. Yes…yes…laugh, if you’d like. But there are times I do clean and I know how to mop floors. So I said I’d mop the hardwoods and hang the Christmas lights outside.
In other words, after sending the crowds away last night and kissing Pam good-bye this morning, I took a mop and made a little journey of my own to the mountains. I have been all alone all morning.
As I filled the bucket with hot water and poured in a little vinegar, I decided I would practice doing the mopping, but not like I do most other mundane chores. Instead of rushing about here and there, like Black Friday shoppers from store to store…or like I do most mornings while showering and shaving…I decided instead to enter as fully as I could into each push of the mop across the hardwoods.
I cannot remember whether it was in the dining rooming or somewhere in the hallway between where we gather to eat and where we prepare the “eats”…but, somewhere, in the middle of the mopping, I met God.
Meeting Almighty, Mopping Floors
I gave him a new name, too. I called him, “Alone.”
Oh, yes, I know it has been daylight all morning. But I thought of the darkness…and I tried to feel it, along with the loneliness in my soul…the scary parts, too, while hanging and testing the holiday lights. They worked. This worked.
Now, did I not say this would all sound a little weird? Well, don’t act so surprised.
Besides, I made a wonderful discovery this morning. I’d like to keep it to myself, however. As much as I can anyway. If Pam reads this, as she likely will, I can hear her now, “Well, since mopping is taking you to the mountaintop of spiritual bliss, try doing it more often!”
Strange and weird. It is, isn’t it? The places, I mean, where we meet God. Where we meet Alone. Where we meet and greet ourselves…and our darkness.
But then, maybe this only seems weird to those who are like I am most of the time…always in a hurry to get to the mall across town…or, you know, to the really important things…things more important than mundane mopping.
Dr. Steve McSwain is an author and speaker, counselor to non-profits and congregations, an advocate in the fields of self-development, interfaith cooperation, and spiritual growth. His blogs at BeliefNet.com, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website (www.SteveMcSwain.com) inspire countless followers. Dr. McSwain’s interfaith pendants are widely sought and worn by those who share his vision of creating a more conscious, compassionate, and charitable world. Visit his website for more information or to book him for an inspirational talk on happiness, inner peace, interfaith and diversity respect, or charitable living (www.SteveMcSwain.com).