Right Here, Right Now*

I am not a patient person. But there I sat, bumper to bumper, in rush hour traffic, heading into the District for a 7 pm Thursday night dinner. The meeting was important to my husband’s volunteer work, and I did not want to be late. Who knew traffic was going to be this heavy going into DC? I had left what I thought was plenty of time. But traffic was simply not moving.

The Lyft driver was pretty sharp and was using her Google app, which should give us the best route. Time passed. I had already checked both work and home e-mails on my iPhone; looked at the latest grandchild pictures on PhotoCircle; and run through my errands for the next day. So, I decided to try out Amy Oden’s two-minute mindfulness practice:

  • Attentive Breathing (30 seconds). Just breathe for 30 seconds, noticing how your chest rises and falls. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Take your time, and pay attention. God gives us the breath of life each day! Be attentive to how you breathe deeply.
  • Attentive Embodiment (30 seconds). As you continue slowly breathing in and out, in and out, visualize breathing with your whole body. What rises to your attention: feelings, a tightness here or there, a sore muscle, or other sensations? Just notice. You do not need to fix or analyze or ponder. Since Christ became “embodied flesh,” we as Christians believe that the body is good. God meets us in our bodies, “right here, right now” as Amy Oden says (50).
  • Attentive Acknowledgment (30 seconds). Now, acknowledge what is arising in your attentive breathing and embodiment. Acknowledge whatever you are feeling or thinking or sensing. Let go of the need to judge or “stuff back” or ignore what your body is telling you. But do not stay with or focus on whatever arises. One technique is to visualize the feeling or thought as a boat on a river; acknowledge the boat, and let it drift on down the river. Naming it is what is important. This step is paying “prayerful attention,” letting God share in whatever is arising within you.
  • Discovery (30 seconds). Holding whatever has arisen in God’s presence, what do you discover? Continue to resist the desire to analyze, judge, or process. Simply be present and notice. John Wesley calls this “being watchful” in God’s presence. (Oden, 49-53).

A little more chill, I started chatting with the Lyft driver. Maybe if we abandoned trying to get on the Beltway to the American Legion bridge, and went to Chain Bridge…maybe that would work? She was game.

Things looked quite hopeful for a while: traffic moved swiftly past the CIA building. We skirted the folks getting on to the GW Parkway south…but then, another parking lot! My frustration grew.

I have been reading Amy Oden’s recent book, Right Here, Right Now. She writes about how the popular culture has gone crazy over secular forms of “mindfulness.” (I even have a friend who makes good money teaching high-powered executives how to use mindfulness in their work lives!) Oden argues that Christian mindfulness is an ancient practice that we have forgotten, but need badly. Chapter 3 of her book is full of concrete examples of different practical ways to bring and practice the “presence of God” into busy, anxious lives.

Going nowhere fast, I tried again:

  • Attentive Breathing (30 seconds).
  • Attentive Embodiment (30 seconds).
  • Attentive Acknowledgment (30 seconds).
  • Discovery (30 seconds).

The driver and I chatted some more. She was young, African American, and from Anacostia. We live in different worlds. But we began to problem solve together. Maybe Google was wrong. Maybe we should try Chain Bridge even if Google said to go further east and south to Key Bridge. We explored; we debated; we laughed; we pondered. With 15 minutes left to get to dinner on time, we ignored Google and took the plunge across Chain Bridge. I arrived three minutes early. What would normally have been 87 minutes of pure torture had become a reasonably pleasant drive, making a connection with a stranger.

In the days and weeks since, I have been “practicing the presence of God” through Amy’s mindfulness exercises at odd moments throughout the day. I try to do the two-minute exercise as I get up in the morning, as I drive, when I journal and upon going to bed at night. I have a long way to go. Often I forget. But, I am finding that the Holy Spirit is bringing me more “fruits of the Spirit” through this new practice.

Over my renewal leave (6/18-9/17), I will be deepening my practice of Christian mindfulness using Amy’s book as my guide. She even has instructions for how to be mindful before engaging in social action: so these practices are for “active people” as well as for “contemplatives.” If you experience anxiety, fear, and frustration in your life, I invite you to join with me in practicing Christian mindfulness.

PS: For those of you who would like to experience Amy Oden in person, she will be teaching at the Academy for Spiritual Formation, 10/14-10/19 at the Roslyn Retreat Center in Richmond. The retreat is for both laity and clergy. Amy is, perhaps, the best teacher I have ever had.

*Resource: Right Here, Right Now: The Practice of Christian Mindfulness, by Amy Oden.