Mary and Mindfulness
I am trying to teach my children mindfulness. In my tireless effort to teach them to “mind” me, this would seem an exercise in futility. Yet this powerful and simple connection of noticing one’s breath – one’s life force, Spirit indwelling, is the lesson I most want them to learn. To listen deeply to themselves and the great love within. To God within. Incarnation. To “come home” to themselves. And, like any good teacher learns with much practice and difficulty, one must be on the same learning path as the student; in this case, my wildly creative and precocious children.
So, we simply ring a meditation bell. A primitive wooden mallet strikes the small brass bowl, and the bell hums. We are learning to stop when we hear the bell and breathe deep, re-membering our thoughts and intentions. This is the “coming home” of this Advent I most long for. Moments will build upon moments. Three breaths will become ten and eventually a different lens with which to experience the “monkey mind” of the world that surrounds us.
I, like Mary, was great with child one Advent season. My son was delivered about a month and several thousand years after hers, and during those first years of small babies, then sweet and bumbling toddlers, I learned to know a very different Mary than the woman I had encountered in my youth. This Mary, like me, ambled slowly in the late months of the year, and when her son arrived, felt overwhelmed about what to do with this new little human (and, let’s be honest, probably a lot more overwhelmed than me given the circumstances of his conception…) As her son grew and other siblings joined the brood, she, like me, became overwhelmed with the chaos in the hut and asked the older children to go outside and play or to go see if Joseph needed any help over in the workshop.
And then, one blustery day, Mary must have discovered her own meditation bell, some way of helping the noise of the house cease upon a word or sound and slow for a few moments. She invited everyone to “come home” and feel the light radiating within. I know this must have happened, because the son that grew up to become a Rabbi was a master at producing calm in a crowd. He could quiet stormy seas, demons, the multitudes. One can’t preach what one doesn’t practice. We know from the Bible that Jesus sometimes went away, alone, to pray. The most famous prolonged recorded experience of this is just before Jesus began his public ministry, when he went into the desert to face himself.
If you’ve ever gone on a retreat, alone, for a few days, or even spent a few hours alone during the time of life when you may be surrounded by many children and their various activities, you may have experienced something similar to me: at first relief, brief contentment, then a sort of dull panic. What do I do with this time? How do I spend this time with myself? Who am I really? Who, or What is God? It doesn’t take long to get to those essential and hugely intimidating questions of life, the ones for which adventurers and seekers are often said to be climbing mountains to find gurus to provide answers.
Jesus was one of the bravest and most radical souls all those millennia ago. He walked out into the desert, into the stark quiet to face himself. He couldn’t have done that without growing up in Mary’s household. All those years spent as an infant, then child, then teenager in her Nazareth cottage led to that moment when he walked out into the wilderness alone and came back ready and on fire to love fiercely and change the world. Mary’s prayers, Mary’s meditation bells, Mary’s understanding that you have to “come home” to yourself before you can provide freedom for others.
So this Advent season, we will wait with anticipation the two comings of Christ and we will practice, in our own small and simple ways, that same coming moment by moment in each day as we come home to ourselves when we remember to breathe and stop when we hear the full, round hum of our bell. Amen.
Kristin Carroccino is a writer, editor and photographer who lives in Seattle with her husband, two children , small dog, and various snails that her daughter collects as “pets.” She volunteers for the Mustard Seed Associates and is doing her best to carve out time to sit on a meditation cushion more often. More of her writing can be found at www.boatswithoutoars.blogspot.com, a joint blog with her husband chronicling their 15,000 mile road trip in the summer of 2012 studying Episcopal churches.