Monday, 20 June 2011

you are what you treasure.

"We become what we think about all day long." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

"The more you focus on words that uplift you, the more you embody the ideas contained in those words." Oprah Winfrey

focus

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Matthew 6:19-21

There's an experience I had that reminds me of focus/treasure. I participated in a sweatlodge ceremony years ago in a native community near Winnipeg. It was a very moving and memorable experience. Our small Mennonite Central Committee group had been asked to join the circle for a youth who was on a vision quest to find his spiritual name. Elements of native spirituality and Christianity were woven together in a powerful ceremony.

We were told that if we didn't think we could "last" in the sweatlodge, to not join the circle from the beginning. If we would need to leave, this would break the circle, and there is power in the circle. So, once we committed, we were in it for the long haul.

I have no memory of how long the sweatlodge ceremony lasted. It felt like hours. When we entered the small dome structure, we squished together in a tight circle, sitting on mats, my skin touching the skin of the person right next to me. No room for personal space in there. In the middle of the lodge, hot rocks were occasionally spritzed with cedar water or showered with herbs: sage, sweetgrass, tobacco. The effect was a multi-sensory experience. As soon as all were inside, the flaps were lowered and it was completely dark, like being inside a womb. And it was immediately, oppressively hot. I wondered if I could keep breathing.

I knew I couldn't last. I had never felt that hot before, and it was incredibly uncomfortable.

But I'm stubborn, and I didn't want to break the circle. And my stubbornness led to a profound teaching for me.

Drumming seemed to be in the background the whole time, a steady beat the accompaniment to songs and prayers. And this is what I found: when I focused on myself and how hot I was, I felt awful and knew I'd have to leave the circle. But when I focused on the beat of the drum, I knew I'd be OK. I could do it. One breath at a time.

I've thought back to this lesson many times over the years. When I think inward and start to obsess about my own problems, big or small, it can seem oppressive and overwhelming. But when I focus on something outside of myself, something larger than myself - like that big Drumbeat of God - things are OK. I can breathe, I can last, I can complete the circle.

The things that I focus on, that I treasure, that I think about all day long, matter. And I want this focus to be opened up beyond me to God's bigger picture and puzzle for my life.

13 comments:

  1. Another beautiful inspiring post!

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  2. My husband I were just talking the other day about the affects of our internal dialogue and how we sometimes imagine conflict instead of peace. I'll be putting your first 2 quotes on my fridge for gentle a gentle reminder how to start each day!

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  3. i love this post.

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  4. Catherine and Kristen: thank you.

    Pam: I find it so easy to focus on the negative some days - like conflict or what's not working or what sucks. It's a challenge to change that focus, especially in situations of conflict!

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  5. What an amazing experience! Yes, I can get so focused on the discomforts of life that I miss out on good things. Like Pam also said, "imagining conflict instead of peace." Or fatigue instead of motivation :). Question: was it dark in there the WHOLE time!? How long did it really last!??

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  6. Yes - it was dark the whole time, but I remember being able to see things, like the drum, and someone throwing herbs on the rocks, and the people near me. Maybe my fellow participants remember how long it was. I really don't! Maybe it was 2 hours, maybe it was 20 minutes! There was a break half way through where we came out for air, and then went back in. I remember when it was over, coming out and just lying on the grass and breathing in the fresh air. It felt so good.

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  7. Carrie: I'm curious to know what you focused on to get through the triathlon. You mentioned a bit in the chatelaine post - your family, friends. I'd love to have a peek into the mental chatter that helped you finish!

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  8. I really loved this post. It reminds me a little of that story of the wolves inside of all of us. I'm sure you've heard it - but it goes something like this:
    A native elder was walking with his grandson, and he said "There are two fighting wolves inside the heart of every person - a negative wolf, and a positive wolf." The grandson then asked "Which one wins, grandfather?" and the elder replied: "The one you feed".

    It seems like you are always looking for food for your positive wolf, Rebecca.

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  9. This is a perfect story for this focusing idea, Rachel. This blog has been helping me to feed that positive wolf, for sure. Working through thoughts, hearing others' thoughts - all of it is food for that good wolf.

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  10. The two quotes you begin with are beautiful!

    And I will share this one that I ripped out of a magazine several years ago and has been on our fridge door ever since:
    "Plant a tree under whose shade you do not expect to sit." (- Source unknown)

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  11. love it, Mush. Long term focus.

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  12. Okay so that photo must be entered into some type of contest. Love.

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