When we were doing our course on ‘resilience’ they t0ld us the story of how roger Federer seems so unflappable. They measured his heart rate. During a contested point, it was very high, but between points, it went back to being very low. I have heard cricketers talk about this. They ‘turn off’ between balls, and then refocus for the next one.
The person running the course said that it was this ability to ‘let go’ and the re-focus’ that contributes to being able to handle stressful situations.
Thinking about this reminded me of a number of other practices and situations in life. Meditation is one of them. In meditation, the meditator is invited to choose a phrase or mantra, saying it over and over in rhythm with their breathing. When ones thoughts wander, or one gets distracted, the meditator is invited to simply notice the distraction without blaming ones self, and to return to the repeated phrase.
The action of the meditative practice is the action of noticing the turning away, and a return to the repeated phrase. This reminds me exactly of what the sports people are doing. Meditation is a practice which is designed to build resilience in that it is a practice of letting go of ‘something’ and a return’ to something else.
I am also reminded of the life of monastic communities. When I have visited them, I have been worried about the frequency of the prayer times. I was working with a monk in the dairy once. There is just so much to do during the day in running a herd of dairy cows, yet each time the bell went for prayers, the monk would leave off, and go to prayer. This happens during normal ‘working hours’ at midday prayers, and for evensong, so it does not get in the way of the tasks too much, but none the less, the working day is stopped for prayer.
I have read something about the monastic way of life which values this need to break what one is doing to answer the bell for prayer.
It reminds me too of the ‘resilience’ practice: that is the habit of being able to break off something in order to do something else.
I write all this because I think that this is something that I have difficulty with.
When I was 14 I was on holidays at the coast, and helping our friends to build their garage. We were cutting out notches for the studs in the walls. I loved it. Then they said ‘Time to stop.’ But I said ‘No, I want to finish the job!.’ So on I went. I still have the scar in my knee when, over tired, the chisel slipped and I cut my knee, occasioning four stitches. On that same holiday, I got sunburned because I ‘over did it’ on the first day! Again, an inability to ‘come away’; from a pleasurable activity had its price.
So now I am retired. I love working down in my shed, with the day punctuated by prayers at morning and evening. But I still have that difficulty in stopping. I want to finish the job, and some times, the work is done in a slap dash or less than adequate way, simply because I am ‘in the zone’ as it were.
I think I need to learn to stop in the middle of the day for meditation so that I can better learn the practice of resilience: of letting go and re-directing my thoughts to God.
At this stage, this reflection might apply to atheists as well as Christians and Buddhists. What I have described is a neutral kind of practice, that can fit into the framework of any human activity. But I like the idea of returning to the source of my life in God as the centre of a meditative practice . For me, this way of looking at things grounds the practice of change: turning from work, to turning toward something else in a recognition of the source of everything. That is a very good reason to stop. It is not just because I want to be resilient, but because in my deepest self, I want to p allow God in Jesus Christ to be the centre of my life, and that means the focus around which other things find their place. God
Your companion ‘on the Way’