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Sculpting Week 18: R&R: Rest and Review

Sculpting Week 18: R&R: Rest and ReviewOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Small steps over 18 weeks and I can see a new horizon. I am so grateful to report that other sculptors in our group are also establishing a new way to ‘be’.

Our sculpting projects, from historic and current Christian practices, are supported by research in Positive Psychology. They increase the well-being of our mind and body and therefore benefit everyone we relate to, as well.

Here is where we have been:

Project 1: Three Things (daily list three things you love.)
Project 2: Here and Now for 2-10 ( being in the present moment)
Project 3: The Jesus Prayer (mindful repetition)
Project 4: Slow Bites ( attention to eating)
Project 5: A Day of Kindness (1 day of kind actions)
Project 6: Breath (attention to breath)
Project 7: Flash Prayers ( prayer for others)
Project 8: Talking Back (disputing thoughts)

Week 18: Use this week for Rest and Review.

Revisit and Refine one of the eight previous projects.
Rest-up for a new project coming next week.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. Then secondly, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:30-31

Using our strength to sculpt our heart, soul, and mind to love God and our neighbor.


Sculpting Project Eight: Talking Back: Week 1

Sculpting Project Eight: Talking Back: Week 1    

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am out working in the fall garden and my mind is far away. It is trying make sense of a troubling situation. It has been trying to make sense of this situation for a number of hours and I am beginning to notice that I am circling back to earlier attempts at a solution. This is starting to look like rumination. Rumination: analyzing problems over and over without reaching a satisfactory conclusion. Analyzing can be very helpful, to a point that is. Endless circling attempts to solve difficulties can led into depression. And today’s problem is the kind that comes with a knot in my stomach which is not a helpful condition to prolong. So how can I break this cycle of rumination. Today the trick that works for me is an old one I learned from Evagrius a forth century monk. His method is called Talking Back.

Talking Back in a nut shell

We get a thought in our minds that is not helpful.
We use a phrase to talk back to this thought

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday I take a phrase from Scripture that feels like it relates to my struggle and I say the Scripture out loud. The rumination starts in again immediately so I Talk Back again with this Scripture. The ruminating pattern is so strong in my brain that I find it helpful to just repeat the Scripture over and over. After several minutes of repetition I take a break. My mind is quieter; for a minute or two and then the rumination rut is back. So I begin Talking Back until I gain some control of my thinking and some peace of mind.   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Two days later: Now I am working on pottery. Trimming finished pots and creating lids. The problem is not solved and my brain seems to feel obligated to keep dragging it up again. But no solution comes. My mind sometimes reminds me of an unruly two-year old. As I form the clay another Talking Back idea comes. The perfect word for this two-year old. “No.” As soon as my brain starts in again I simply say, “no”. My brain is startled. It pauses before it makes the next attempt at a solution. Kindly and firmly I say again “no”. “Really”, my brain asks, “ I can let this go for a while?” I begin to feel peaceful.

I use my Talking Back “no” throughout the day whenever I catch myself in the rumination rut. This is a very effective tool.

Sculpting Project summary: Watch our thoughts.

When we notice an unhelpful thought then:
We Talk Back using Scripture or another appropriate word.

Key verse: Take every thought captive to obey Christ. 2 Cor. 10:5b


Evagrius of Pontus (AD 345-399) wrote the book Talking Back to give monks a tool for their own soul sculpting. Aware of the power of thoughts, Evagrius encouraged the monks to keep a vigilant watch over each thought that entered their minds. In Talking Back Evagrius divided problematic thoughts into 8 categories (these are the origin of the seven deadly sins.) In each category he listed a typical thought and then provided a passage from Scripture to ‘Talk Back’ to this thought.

Evagrius listed 492 thoughts and Scriptures. Here is #71 in the Sadness(depression) section.

71. Against the soul’s thought that supposes that it is tested beyond its strength:

God is faithful, and He will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing He will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it (1 Cor. 10:13).

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. Then secondly, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:30-31

Using our strength to sculpt our heart, soul, and mind to love God and our neighbor.


Sculpting Project Seven: Flash Prayers: Week 2

Sculpting Project Seven: Flash Prayers: Week 2

Time is never my problem. Sculpting Projects don’t take time. OK, a little time, but so little it is barely measurable. The issue for me is not time, it is intention followed by choice. Choosing to sculpt takes grit.

Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals.

Grit, a new term I’m finding in psychology studies, is considered a helpful character trait.
Who has grit?

Consider the runner training for the Olympics. Perseverance and passion for long-term goals.
. . . let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus. . . Hebrews 12:1b-2a

Grit pays off. There is a prize.

Changes you can experience with regular sculpting:
An increased sense of connection with God.
A greater love for others.
Increased well-being in yourself.

Some thoughts from our Sculpting Group:

Sculpting is working! These practices are becoming part of daily life- without thinking about it! Kathy

I am so thankful for this group! I have incorporated our practices In my daily spiritual disciplines. I now automatically recite the Jesus prayer or a hymn phrase when I walk in the afternoons. Slow bites actually happened this afternoon with a rare Tootsie Pop. I practice slow breathing when I listen to the Psalm in the sung Compline each night before sleep. Three Things are also a part of my nighttime prayer. I am especially appreciating Flash Praying. It keeps me praying instead of judging. Marti

On Flash Prayers:
I love Flash praying. It is a great way to be simultaneously mindful and loving towards God and our neighbors. David

Some members have found Flash Prayers to be mood lifter. Why?

For some, Flash Prayers help change focus. “They get me out of myself.”
For some, Flash Prayers change a critical attitude about others to a caring one.
Any other thoughts on this?

Share what you are discovering. Good discoveries and not so good ones welcomed.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. Then secondly, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:30-31

Using our strength to sculpt our heart, soul, and mind to love God and our neighbor.

Sculpting Project Two: Here and Now for 2-10, Week 1

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASecond Sculpting Project Week 1

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. Then secondly, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:30-31

Using our strength to sculpt our heart, soul, and mind to love God and our neighbor.

So, here I am; sitting at my window desk in the yellow room watching tree branches sway in the wind. I’ve been here about three minutes. I can feel my muscles relaxing. I’m here, my room is here, the trees are here, surprisingly no animals are here, but most importantly God is here. I’ve stopped my activities to become aware of all that is here. Because I like to get things done, going and doing seems to be my natural inclination. Stopping to establish myself in this moment, with God, is not my natural choice. But when I do choose to stop and become aware of my surroundings remembering that God is surrounding me as well, my day becomes richer.

Our project for the next two weeks is based on an exercise developed by Archbishop Anthony Bloom. Bloom said that as we learn to pray we must learn to ‘establish ourselves in the present’, our here and now. We do this because our present here and now is where we can actually met God. (Beginning to Pray, Anthony Bloom, Paulist Press)

Here and Now for Two to Ten

In this project we will take between 2 to 10 minutes a day to become aware of our surroundings and God’s presence, here and now.
I’ve found this project to be effective using two different approaches: the ten minute and the two minute.
Ten minute: I began doing this exercise last summer by taking ten minutes right before bed and going outside to look at the stars and listen to the night noises. It was an excellent way to end the day. I noticed it often felt like one of the richest parts of the day.

Two minute: In this version I’m zooming around, weeding the garden, washing dishes, hauling rocks, when I become aware that I am tired. Ah ha. That is my reminder. When I am tired I take a two minute (or so) break. I sit down on the porch swing and look around. I watch the bees moving in the Russian Sage blossoms. I notice cloud formations. Oddly I often become aware of my feet. I sense them becoming grounded again. And I remind myself that God is here with me.
The reason I stop for two minutes rather than ten is that even when I am tired I dislike stopping. I want to keep doing. So I tell myself. “This is just a “Here and Now for two little minutes. It will be OK to stop for that long.” Often I will go for longer than the two minutes because once I get started I find it so refreshing that I want to be here with God a bit longer. Other times I just take my two minutes and get back at it. I often do this short two minute exercise 2-3 times a day.

The rules: No beating yourself up. No worrying. No planning. No prayer lists.
The only allowed topic for this two to ten minutes is your present experience of yourself, your surroundings and God. The trees swaying in the wind is an allowed topic to ponder. The fact that you should prune that dead branch is not allowed. Noticing your shoulder muscles relaxing is allowed. Grumbling at yourself for being so tense is not allowed.

You have 23 hours and 50+ minutes a day to worry, grumble, plan, pray for others, etc. This time is for being Here and Now with God.

Trouble shooting:
What to do when topics other than Here and Now come to mind?

Notice them and send them to Jesus. When they come back to your mind send them right back to Jesus and put your attention on here and now. Even noble topics, like praying for others, are not appropriate for this sculpting time. By all means pray for others. But do so at another time. When prayer concerns come in the midst of your two to ten minutes send them to Jesus to hold until you finish. Sending your thoughts to Jesus and returning to the here and now is an important part of this project.

How do we remember a 2-10 minute project?
Connect it to some regular part of your day: after a meal, right before you go to bed, before you begin washing dishes . . ..

If you choose a 10 minute sit you may want to add a cup of tea, or lemonade to your time.

Picking a place that has interesting things to notice can be helpful: A garden, a busy street

Benefits you might experience after two weeks of Here and Now, 2-10
Richer relationship with God
Improved control of mind and emotions
A sense of slowing the racing of time
Pleasurable moments/memories

Key Verse:
(Martha had invited Jesus and his friends to dinner. As soon as Jesus arrived, Mary, Martha’s sister, sat down right in front of Jesus, riveted on his every word. Martha was distracted by the dinner preparations and irritated that Mary wasn’t helping.)

Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about so many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42
(So what did Martha do then? In my dreams she sat down right by Mary and the miracle of the dinner party feeding happened.) Moral: don’t get distracted from sitting with Jesus; it may be the best part of your day.

The Second Sculpting Project Summary

Part 1: Each day sit or walk for 2 to 10 minutes paying attention to the here and now.
Notice yourself, notice your surroundings, notice that God is right here with you. When your mind leaves the Here and Now with worries, plans, etc. send the thoughts to Jesus and return to the here and now. You can talk with God about what you notice, or just sit quietly with Him.
Each day write down where you are when you do your 2 to 10 Here and Now.
Part 2: Three Things becomes One Thing
Each day write one thing that you love. A gift from God.
Part 3: Each week communicate with group members about your project joys and woos. Facebook group, blog comments, notes in my box at church, conversations.
Writing thins down can feel like an unnecessary step. But it is your tool to make your sculpting concrete. So keep a written record somewhere.
What to do when you forget to do your project for a day or more?

It happens to everyone.

Don’t kick yourself.

Just get back on your horse, give her the kick and get going again.