Patience as a spiritual exercise; day 27 of Ramadan

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At times the above comic sums me up succinctly; I ask God for many a thing, including patience, and instead of waiting around on God I yell at her to hurry up the process! The thing is, as you probably know, patience is a process and it takes time to get there; both in being patient with ourselves as well as being patient with others.

My work demands quite a bit of patience given that I work with kids. One thing I’ve learned over the years with working with kids is they require a LOT of patience, but to a certain degree persistence as well. They also need to know your intentions in the matter, because it is very possible that in your patience and persistence they might think you’re doing it to be mean or that you’re coming across as being a harsh authoritarian.
I do push my students, but I know their limits through rapport built with them, and some can take on more and some can take on less, it varies (as with all of us) person to person. It helps that I work with nearly the same classroom on a daily basis, and so I am familiar in my ways and approaches with my students.

When it comes to patience in my life it’s usually in light of what is going on in my life, and while I tackled contentment the other day I need patience. Because there are times in my life I wish could be resolved in a blink of an eye, but while sometimes a lot of the time I cannot have it that way. I am still content throughout all of it, but I want it in an expedited manner. Yet life isn’t like that all that often, and sometimes it is through the trials of error we’ll figure out the reasons why, but even that is in limited supply because sometimes (as cliche as it sounds) the answer is that there is no answer.

In moments like that I am sometimes aloof, sometimes I am able to surrender to that truth, and other times I yell at God will all my might, hoping that she hears me and does something about it. And yet there are times where I hold the answer, sometimes I am the answer to my own prayers as well as others. All in all, patience needs to be carried out without having a mindset as to when will “x” come to fruition, because sometimes it comes to be and other times it doesn’t come at all and sometimes it comes in time but a time frame we might not align ourselves with.

So with all that being said, patience was my keyword on this 27th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God, the ever patient one, may we learn to be patient with ourselves and with others.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

Contentment as a spiritual exercise; day 26 of Ramadan

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Lately I have been thinking about my well being while I’ve meditated and several questions have popped up on the process: how am I doing? How am I being? What am I feeling? Am I okay with feeling what I feel? Am I honest to myself and to others? Am I content?
And lately I’ve been dwelling upon the last one, and after looking within to put something out to myself, to you the reader, to God, the universe, et al… Is that I am indeed content with what I have in my life right now. There’s always room for improvement or at the very least learning to live with less, but for all intensive purposes I am at a place where I am truly content.

I resonate with that last one, that “happiness comes after contentment” because I realize in my life that happiness is fleeting, happiness is fickle, happiness is so much and yet on its own it really isn’t all that sustainable. However when you are content, when happiness is added to that equation, it makes all the difference in the world and that happiness doesn’t seem all that trivial or wishy-washy, not that it is, but paired with contentment it seems to give it a backbone in which to support itself. I hope you don’t get me wrong, happiness IS a good thing, but I find that it needs to have something added to it to aid to its longevity and worth.

When I am vulnerable I let doubt and a scarcity mindset take over; I find myself doubting my capacities and strengths in nearly every facet of my life, I am also prone to thinking about what I don’t have and doing what I can to cover my ass if the proverbial shit hits the fan. God’s been doing a bit of open heart surgery upon me, and I am being freed from the scarcity mindset model that I’ve lived with, well, for my entire life! I find myself moving in a direction where I am truly able to live out and say out loud that all of this is a gift of God, I am a steward of what he has given me.
I do want a girlfriend, I do want to get married some day, I do want to have a few kids, but those are dreams I am striving to make reality and while I am content now that will only make me more content. Am I being hypocritical in my contentment, I don’t think so because these are things I know and God knows that I’ve always wanted for the last 21 years of my life.

So with all that being said, contentment was my keyword on this 26th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God who aids in our pursuits of wholeness and contentment. May we learn to be grateful and thankful for what we have rather than what we have not, may we learn to pursue our dreams and desires to the good of ourselves, God, and others, and may we offer up thanks for this life we’ve been given.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

Being present to death as a spiritual exercise; day 23 of Ramadan

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There’s no avoiding it, it’s inescapable, it’s inevitable, and some day we all will…die.

This week one of my students informed me that somehow (and I think I know how) a frog got into his room, and croaked (mea culpa for the bad pun). So I made my way to his room, looked about, and found the dead frog in question. I picked it up, offered it last rites (it didn’t answer so I proceeded) and I took care of it. I washed my hands, and that was that, the dead frog was no more than a brief hoppy memory.

Still it begs the question; how prepared am I / are YOU / are WE when it comes to dying? Whether it’s our own death or the death of others, is it something that’s present in our mind or something we hide away in our mental closet only to remove it when needed be. Death, the big D, can be unnerving as it seems…mostly…that it happens when we least expect it and we’re either left with regret for what we should’ve said or done with the deceased individual or we’re filled with memories and nostalgia for our time spent with that person, and perhaps at times we feel both.

I personally am not worried about death, well except when I start thinking about what I haven’t done with my life and what I want to accomplish (mainly be a husband to my June and a father to Nathanael Danger Jr., Savannah Grace, Amalia Faith, and Mark Shalom).
Then and only do I worry about dying, but all the more it drives me to take life as it comes and make the most of the days / weeks / months / years I might have, because again, I don’t know when I’ll shuffle off this mortal coil.

Yet when it comes to those who have passed away, eh, I can be-or-miss in being present to death inasmuch being present to those faced with the loss of life. I was able to be present at the time one of my former clients passed away but I found it too difficult to be present with one of my former youth ministry student’s and his family as they mourned the passing of their brother and son respectively. I think sometimes what keeps me from coming to wakes and funerals is that I sometimes talk myself out of it, sometimes I dwell too much upon myself and how I’m handling and not enough on the individual who has passed and their loved ones, and so my selfishness and ego get in the way. Oh and if you’re someone I know in real life and I haven’t been there for you in this way, let me know, I owe you an apology in real life.

Death leaves us with many questions, answered as well as unanswered, and for some people the main question is about the passing from this life (“here”) with the expectation of an unknown destination (“there”). Now I personally don’t know what awaits us collectively when we pass away, and while I align myself with views along the lines of Red Letter Christ-centric Universalism my perspectives in regards to heaven and hell are held with an open handed nuanced I-could-be-wrong posture. Heaven ideally for me would be one of all of humanity reunited with God and one another, having fun and BEing together for all of eternity, enjoying [after] life with one another in dynamic non-static ways.

I also hold a view of conditional heaven, and by that I mean that I as an employed white male in the western world who has the means to pay his bills and still live quite comfortably does not need a heaven but I still would like to be in the presence of my creator and all of humanity, but if it doesn’t exist I am okay with that.
But consider the life of a 7 year old working in a sweatshop in China, a kid busting his butt to help his family make ends meet, he needs a better place than what he has, I would hope there’s a heaven for him because he needs it more than I do! This is why I also hold a conditional view of heaven. But with that being said I could be wrong, and I am okay with that.

When it comes to hell, I believe we create hells for ourselves and others, but none in the afterlife sense exist. I also don’t believe in the existence of the devil or demons for that matter. But I also hold an early church view that said the fires of hell didn’t burn people for all of eternity (consciously or unconsciously) but were part of the process of redeeming others, that it stripped away the dross of humanity until we got to a place where we could go to heaven…but again, even when it comes to my views of hell, I could be wrong.

Death doesn’t have to be scary, and personally speaking I rather be ready for it than be in a place that avoids it. So live the life you’re living and strive to be the best possible version of you that you can be! It’s never too late to start a new chapter, it’s never too late to go back to school, it’s never too late to open up the restaurant with the ideas cooked up inside your head, because this life is the only one you’ll get. Make the most of it, make choices, live with the mistakes you make and strive to try try again! Because time and this one life you’ve been given is a gift, so treat it with care and live as though you were dying because that day will come eventually. Let this life be your drive to make the most of every situation and not your burden. I believe in you and so does God!

So with all that being said, being present to death were my keywords on the 23rd day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God, The Giver of Life, who puts our life in motion but lets us make our own choices. May we embrace this life we’re given, moving forward but not being opposed to going backward if needed be, may we live life to the fullest but being mindful of others and helping to move others into their own direction of fulfillment.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

Commitment as a spiritual exercise; day 22 of Ramadan

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When you’re surrounded by people who share a passionate commitment around a common purpose, anything is possible.” – Howard Schultz
Earlier today I was hanging out with my bro Mark and we spent a good deal of time being and talking amongst ourselves. One of the things we discussed at length is the nature of commitment and how it seems that sometimes in our culture we sometimes have a reluctance to remain committed to a person, an organization, a place we worship in, and so on.
Commitment to someone or something is a good thing, it causes us to remain faithful and keeps us in check for the long haul. Because it is very easy to stick with something or someone in the good times, but what about the difficult and trying parts of life? Are we going to leave simply because we or it or they are going through a rough season of life? Would we want that to happen to US if we were in their shoes? Probably not and that’s why I think it is so vital to stick to something through all seasons of life- ours as well as theirs!

Now I realize that we all live self-defined busy lives and obviously we cannot commit to all things, which is why I propose we take the time to examine what’s on our plate of things we do and start clearing it; while it might all be good, it’s prudent to find the great and commit to that.

Why some and not all you might ask, very simply; time management and personal health. We are not defined by our jobs, our labels, our doings as well as our beings. And subsequently the multitude of things we might undertake feed into a false sense of who we are. Plus everyone who lives is given 168 hours of life per week, and if we’re fully committed to a LOT of things where’s the time we can call our own?

We should want to give of our time and our lives to others and causes we align ourselves with, but we also need to find space within all that to recharge our batteries lest we fall prey to compassion fatigue.
I work a job in the behavioral health field and I see compassion fatigue all around me, and if I am honest with myself I am in the throes of it myself, but I have learned (and relearned) over the years to detach myself from it all when I am not there.

Otherwise I am prone to think that my coworkers aren’t able to do as good of a job as I can and that shit will hit the proverbial fan in my absence. This is unhealthy to my coworkers and residents alike, and it fuels my ego in the most perverse of ways. So when I am not at work, I am not at work period! Life will go on without me, and all I can do is hope that all is well and if it’s not it will be rectified by those who are working when I am not.

So examine your life, your plate, and start the process of clearing it. Figure out what are the good things in your life and weed them out and commit to those great things instead! It might be frustrating to get to the place of identifying and pursuing the great things in life, but trust me it is well worth it to get to that place in life.
So with all that being said, commitment is my keyword on this 22nd day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God, The Committed One, who is faithful and loving and compassionate to all of mankind. May we take time to figure out what’s worth committing to in our lives, to our personal benefit as well as to the benefit of others.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

Living life as a spiritual exercise; day 18 of Ramadan

Every man dies. Not every man really lives.” – William Wallace (Braveheart)
How terribly sad it was that people are made in such a way that they get used to something as extraordinary as living.” – Jostein Gaarder

Yesterday was my 31st birthday, the start of my 31st year of life, and so I decided that I would go to Lake Geneva Wisconsin. Lake Geneva Wisconsin is a place I have been going to nearly my entire life, and even on my mother’s side of the family they’ve been going there for a long time.From where I live to where Lake Geneva is is about 70 miles. So I loaded up some stuff (no food mind you!) and I headed there for a day of swimming, relaxing, having fun, and being at Lake Geneva…


I knew I wouldn’t be the only there; gorgeous weather paired with Independence Day falling on the weekend, yeah it was quite crowded. But still I was able to find a spot for my stuff, and once I we as settled I jumped into the water.
Now the thing about bodies of water and I is this- I will not tiptoe, go slow, gradually get in…but I will run full force head on into the water. And so, I did! It was cold but not unbearably so, and once my body grew acclimated to it I had a fun just floating and swimming around, being tossed about by the little waves.

As I floated in the serenity of it all I found myself offering up thank-you’s to God; thank you for another year of life, thank you for the capacity to work and do what I love, thank you for the opportunity to go swimming, thank you for the ability to swim, thank you for warm summer days, thank you for little glimpses of heaven found in nature, thank you…and so on, and had I not been swimming I could’ve been sleeping as the ebb and flow was calming to me, calming all the way to the center of my being.

After several hours of swimming, I dried off and made my way to town. Not a shopper, but as a reprieve to my feet for the time spent swimming as well as the time spent driving back to my apartment. Another facet to why I like Lake Geneva Wisconsin so much is there’s a good deal of design architectually-speaking as well as manicured gardens. My apartment isn’t anything fancy, so to see good examples of architecture and gardens whets my appetite for when I am to have some resemblance of the “American Dream”.



It, as my coworker is quick to prompt students and staff, was a great day to be alive! I recognize within my being that sometimes I let the world go by me as if I was stuck on autopilot, stuck in cruise control, and if I am not mindful of time passing I will be passed up by time.
I don’t want to live that kind of life, and so I need to fight against the current that tries to drag me back to a place of complacency, a place that says ‘why fight it? Just do nothing and you’ll won’t have so many hardships.’ But it’s not true, to me doing nothing means not living, not living means merely existing, merely existing means I will never enjoy life to the fullest because the time I am allotted to has become a countdown timer until I have shuffled off my mortal coil. I want to live life, not merely exist!

So with all that being said, living life were my keywords on the 18th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God who the giver and sustainer of all life. May we be mindful of the time given to us because none of us really know how long we’re going to be alive. And may we be alive than simply exist, may we give in to rejoicing than rambling, may we share the life we’ve been given with others.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

Being present as a spiritual exercise; day 16 of Ramadan

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“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” – Thích Nhất Hạnh

All too often in my life I am constantly on the go without truly being aware of what I am doing in the now, and a good deal of the time I am able to dial back into myself and be present, this act is known as mindfulness.

I first learned about mindfulness as I helped assist in a Dialectical Behavior Therapy with some of my former residents. We discussed as a group the power of presence, and to a certain extent being aware of the here and now all while being present. So for instance, I am in my kitchen in my apartment typing up this post. I am slightly chilled because I went swimming earlier and my central air has done its job at keeping my house cool for the summer. I am smiling because I’ve had a good day spent mostly outdoors enjoying the Independence Day parade in my hometown…and so on. This act, which I do think of being a spiritual exercise, helps me keeps things in perspective, and so I practice mindfulness frequently and add it to my style[s] of praying as well.

Being present has helped me become more intuitive, that after a period of go go go, I am able to start filtering out what’s been said and what has really been said. Because, and not all the times mind you, this is actually about that; the reason someone became upset and stormed may have been this thing, but perhaps what led up to that one thing setting them off was finding out their mother wasn’t doing well, that they have a quarterly review coming up, etc. And so we get a part of the story but not all of it, and those individuals need grace just like we all do.

So with all that being said, mindfulness was my keyword on the 16th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God who is ever present in all our lives! May we learn to take things at a slower pace so that we might become more in tune with ourselves and with each other and what the will of God looks like in our lives.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

P.S. 5 Steps for Being Present

Time management as a spiritual exercise; day 15 of Ramadan

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“Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.” – Groucho Marx

If you think about it, time is essentially all we have. Because when we have shed our mortal coils, that’s it, game over, fin, adios, sayonara, goodbye… But if we’re wise we can make the most of our time rather than wonder at the end of the day “where the heck did this day go?”
Perhaps the best way to begin with time management is finding out what consumes the most amount of your time during the week and then building around that. In my case I have a Monday through Friday 7am to 3pm job, and while I don’t plan for much before hand apart from getting ready to go, after 3pm is up to me to make the most of it.

From there figure out what activities you’re involved with and/or activities you want to be involved with, add that to your time management but also add on time getting to and from said activities as well as prep time (if needed) in doing the activities. From there allow room for leisure; I bring this up because sometimes in the busyness of every day we don’t allow ourselves time to take things easy. In fact, some of us actually feel guilty to have time spent doing nothing productive but hey, if you’re this kind of person I give you permission to be lazy every now and then.

Incorporate time to spend with friends and family; their time is limited inasmuch as yours is and because of the temporal nature of time this time might be the last time. I don’t mean to be morbid, I am just conscientiously aware of how quickly time goes by.

If you’re the adventurous outdoorsy type, I recommend using some time to go outside into the great outdoors and just be. Not everyone can handle being in the outdoors, but if you can, do it! Allow room to go shopping for needs and wants, allow room to cook food and enjoy it at a gradual non-rushed pace, go biking, be mindful of time spent online / Facebook / watching television because these activities in moderation are good but they can certainly be time sappers and if you’re not careful the day can be that much closer to the end because you spent too much time doing these activities.

And lastly if you’re of a faith tradition, take time to engage God in your synagogue / church / mosque / temple / etc. or if you need a break from the community that can be found in places, take time to engage God on your own terms in your own way (I like spending time with God in the great outdoors or swimming in Lake Michigan).

So with all that being said, time management was my keyword on this 15th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God for giving us the time we have on our earth. May we invest it wisely and not waste the precious minutes / hours / days / months / years we’ve been given.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael