Becoming More Mindful Through the Valley of Suck

Respect your elders.

It is an idea which has gone by the wayside.  I know for me, it was marked by how I addressed adults: “yes, sir” and “no, ma’am.”  While there might be a perception youth today don’t respect because those are not commonly heard, respecting elders has more to do with a mindset.  Respect also has to be earned.  Not surprisingly, many young people question whether some of their elders are deserving of unquestioning respect when those behaviors don’t warrant it.

My elders taught me to be respectful but they also taught me to ask questions...let me rephrase that, they taught me to ask good questions.

By that, I don’t mean they taught me to just blanket question everything out of some neurotic need to justify my place in the world or to be part of a movement to deconstruct systems and beliefs.  The model of questioning Jesus gives us is one, I think, calls us to explore not destroy and it requires listening as much as, or more so than it requires us to speak.  Matthew 5:17 records one of the most relevant statements of Jesus on this point when he said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”

I’ve written about elsewhere about the desert mothers and fathers of the early centuries of the church.  Dr. Roberta Bondi has been a true gift to the Church in helping recover their wisdom (see To Love as God Loves).  But more than that, she has been a mentor to me in learning to “respect my elders” and learn their ways.  One help in that has been reading from the Philokalia, a collection of the teachings of many of these writings and an important text for the Orthodox Traditions of the Church.

Journeying through the valley of suck, that place of struggle and pain many caregivers experience, is a place of soul searching.  Honestly, it takes you down into the darkest regions of your soul if you let it.  To offer your life to care for someone at the end of their life, especially a spouse, is a place where you come to question many of your own convictions and motivations.  It can be a very spiritual place to say the least.

The desert mothers and fathers wrote frequently for the Christian to be “mindful” and practice “watchfulness.”  They did not intend this to be some obsessive behavior either; not another “to-do list” of a pharisee lifestyle.  It comes out of love for God which pours out of our hearts - even our intellects - as we come to desire all God offers to us.  Of course, they also didn’t live in our fast food - made to order - microwaveable culture.  

We have little patience for...well, patience.

They encourage us to unceasing prayer, a “prayer that does not leave the soul day or night.  It consists not in what is outwardly perceived...but in our inner concentration on the intellect’s activities and on mindfulness of God born of unwavering compunction…” (Nikitas Stithatos, Philokalia, pg 101).  The Jesus Prayer is the foundational practice of these elders but any prayer issuing from our hearts desire for God would be acceptable as well.  

What is encouraged here is for us to begin actively participating in our faith; to listen and learn from the Spirit of God living within us.  Our tendency seems to be that of trusting only those we know - the popular, the current, those with a good marketing plan and slick graphic arts.  We listen to voices that sound like us without trusting our elders because, well, they're old...ancient even!  They use words unfamiliar to our vernacular.  Well, thank goodness there is Google!  Besides looking for new cat videos and pictures, you can look up some of those less common words and begin discovering what our elders really would like us to know.

I can say, as I have made the Jesus Prayer and breath prayers part of my life, I find mindfulness and watchfulness not a burden but habit and behavior far more easily practiced...almost like checking e-mails or Twitter.  There is LIFE in coming to respect our elders, in our true elders, those whose desire centuries ago was to pass on what they had learned.

May I Suggest? Take up praying this week's breath prayer at the top of the blog. Consider that by making any breath prayer a habit, it in fact, teaches you mindfulness. By calling on Jesus, we invite His presence to be more alert to the temptations with face AND the grace given to overcome.


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