Checking the time

face-to-faceNow once again I’m in one of my favourite places – on a train with a cup of tea, Kitkat and a crisps (smokey bacon crisps with real East Anglian flavouring 😉 ), feeling first class, with time to indulge a meditative mood. The train I am now on as I write this was a few minutes late and seems to be going at a very leisurely pace but though I hope it will catch up with its time eventually, I’m on holiday and feeling relaxed and don’t really mind if it’s late as I’ve no connections to make. While I was waiting on the platform for it in London I was just going to get out the phone and check the time and I checked myself thinking, why? I won’t make the train come any faster by knowing what time it is. I began thinking about why it is that we need so badly to ‘pace’ ourselves and know about how long we have to wait for things, and that we never just sit and wait, until it happens, whatever it is that we’re waiting for. I don’t think it’s anxiety over whether it is coming at all, or whether we’re waiting in the right place, it’s simply anxiety to have an idea of how long we’ve got to wait, even though knowing will serve no other useful purpose. When I wait for a bride it can serve a good purpose to know how long she will be – I know whether I’ve got time for a cup of tea, or to check another email, but on the station with no café on the particular platform where I am, what purpose is served? Why, when I know I’m in the right place and before the awaited event, can’t I just give up my need to know the time and just wait? Well I can, and I did, and the moment I withdrew my hand from my pocket and set myself to just wait, a different mindset came over me, not dissimilar to the experience I have when I redirect my mobile phone at the beginning of my day off each week and leave the phone out of reach. With the phone there is an element of release that I am no longer ‘on call’, but with the phone and the waiting for the train there is the shared element of giving up control. I prefer to manage my life mostly, but it’s quite relaxing to let go of that and let the world go on as it pleases.  Being alert for the train I’m waiting for, but not seeking to manage the waiting time, I watch the passing passengers and trains with simple detached enjoyment. Brain in neutral for a little, with the remembrance of the presence of God a constant practice, I look and drink it in. It’s lovely to have the leisure to do this. Make some time in your life for space – timetable in some untimetabled time, plan in some time for not having a plan. You may come face to face with yourself, which can be scary for some, but with God present, you will be safe. You may come face to face with a world you haven’t seen before, the world you live in, and with God present, well, you will find something good.


A meditational start

PICT1395January 2nd, time to return to Dubai. A few days in Norwich mooching around has been great. After the big airports of London and Dubai, Norwich Aiport is a delight – when I arrived it was only 25 minutes from touchdown to entering my own home front door. On the way out of course you still have to arrive at check in 2 hours early so you can wait and watch the plane taxi right up to the departure lounge, and in my case make good use of a Bacon and Brie Panini with good English cuppa. Lovely! What a contrast that was to the Airport Park and Ride bus driver who could not have shown less sympathy or more disdain for a potential customer with not enough small change. ‘You’ll ‘ave to get change from the Newsagents mate’, and promptly drove off without me.  I’m not his problem after all. To think it’s people like that we have to try and win over with the gospel! Mind you, from his point of view, it’s daft bats like me who are trying to win him.

So there I am turning my mind towards Dubai, reading in the Holland Herald (supertrendyDutchalistic!) about the Brain drain – Nicholas Carr (The Shallows) saying that the internet and other digital media discourages, and is stealing from us ‘the ability to engage in calmer, more attentive ways of thinking, the kind of thinking that requires us to screen out distractions rather than indulging them’. You only have to my phone go off in a meeting to see that – my eyes glaze over trying to look like I’m still on your topic while the brain wonders who it is that sent a message? Sometimes I may even answer the darn thing – obviously more important than you eh?! It’s a fight indeed. Internet and digital media encourages us to click here, there, there, and there, for more and more information – we have to have it – what does that newly arrived text on my phone say? I have to know, NOW. We want, and get, instant information, but lose contemplative and reflective kinds of thinking in the process. Nicholas says we’re very good at adapting to the tools we use (and there’s me thinking we adapt our tools to what we want to do) but being wise to how this adaptation is influencing us is important to know and, if bad, to counteract that influence.

A few pages later is an article on Mindfulness – the practice of being fully aware in the present moment through the practice of meditation, often focussing on breathing. Jon Kabat-Zin defines it as ‘Just paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally, to the unfolding of experience, moment to moment’, ‘tuning your instrument (your mind) before you take it out on the road’. A lot of the descriptions of mindfulness in practice sound like prayer to me. It seems it reduces stress and depression, boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure and reduces pain.

I wonder what sort of spirituality would be formed by someone whose brain was drained by the internet. Perhaps a service with lots of different sources of input: lively fast moving songs, welcome leaflet, pew sheet, Bible, colouring sheet for kids with FIVE children’s classes to choose from, two slide shows on the wall at once so you can flick between them left and right, different people to interact with: chaplain, readers, intercessors, choir, and sharing the peace, a hectic round of how many hands you can shake in one minute! NO! It should not be that. But I recognise our Friday morning service 9.30am.

I wonder what sort of spirituality would be formed by someone skilled in mindfulness. Well of course there’s our Sunday evenings at 7.30pm.

But what if you wanted to practice and improve your contemplative and reflective kinds of thinking processes? What if you wanted to be calmer and more attentive and STOP that brain drain, giving a good go at mindfulness? Well I would suggest you go for a desert retreat. You could wait for a suitable week such as the beginning of Lent when our readings show that Jesus too had a desert retreat. Of course here you’d start it with some dune bashing – I’m sure that Jesus had fun in the desert too. But then after the meal, round  a camp fire perhaps, you’d have some practice of meditation around some Old Testament passages led by a visiting English clergyman. Afternoon, evening, camping overnight, and walking through that Jesus in the desert story all morning until lunch. You could leave behind any internet connection, including your smart phone, from 3pm untill after lunch next day. You’d not take any books at all – even bibles! (Can you not remember enough of it to meditate on it for 24 hours without it?). Perhaps fasting would be a bit much so you’d have three meals provided, transport to and from the campsite, and tents, sleeping bags and all other needs catered for. The price would work out at about Dhs 450. What do you think?

The priest’s name is Revd. Murray Brown from Sheffield in the UK. The date is Feb. 15th -16th with a prelude on Ash Wednesday (13th). More information to be revealed soon but book early. Come to church and ask more details. Fridays 9.30am (for the Brain drained?), Sundays 7.30pm (for the mindful)