BREAKING NEWS: Now is the Time for Deep Inner Listening

Have the words BREAKING NEWS now become like a broken neon sign that blinks all the time and reads more like MORE BAD NEWS?  It doesn’t matter if BREAKING NEWS is viewed on television or heard via radio or read in print, it feels the same. Underneath the heightened anxiety is the thought, “Can it get any worse?”  Yet this season of panic and woe offers many blessings.  Among them—It is a time for deep inner listening.

I gave up watching weekday television for Lent.  I noticed that I was watching too much.  I compassionately observed myself one week and discovered that my daily schedule revolved around television programs. I tuned in to an early morning show and it became my company for breakfast. Next I would arrange lunch for around 2:00 pm so I could watch Daily Blast, the show whose tag line is “We’re talking about what you’re talking about.”  Clearly, all of that chatter should have served as an omen.  Typically, dinner was accompanied by the news with a dose of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah or some comedic program to soften the tumult of nightly news.  Later I might top off the evening with light drama like Grey’s Anatomy, This is Us, or Cherish the Day which often overflowed into bedtime.  Granted, I could have recorded most of the shows for viewing anytime but TV determined my daily routine.

I found TV to be distracting. Unfortunately, it sapped my productivity as well.  And if I watched something particularly stark or disturbing in the evenings, the content seeped into my dreams.  Why was I dreaming about the horrific Coronavirus Icon, face masks, DonaldTrump, KobeGiggi Bryant, MeaganMarkleHarry, NBA, NCCA, pandemic, not enough tests, stay in the house, rainy weather, talking heads, stock market red, retirement plans, cases rising, is there enough food, quarantine?  Television was not only keeping me from my loves (e.g., sewing, reading, writing, crocheting, gardening) but it cluttered up my mind to an almost unbearable state. Most importantly, TV was keeping me from hearing the Voice of God.

I didn’t realize until Lent, how kind, gentle, and nurturing the silence is in my home. I was missing the sweet stillness heard in the chirping of the birds outside.  Who can hear the Guidance when as my niece, Liz told me last night, “There are a thousand thoughts twirling through my mind and I don’t know how I can survive the stress of all of this?”  I knew it was time to return to the discipline of quiet listening from within.

I understand what it feels like to be freaked out.  About 27 years ago, I became totally discombobulatedwhen they first told me I was going to need a heart transplant.  Similarly, I experienced a partial meltdown when during a rejection episode the doctor informed me the transplant team would be able to save my heart but would need to kill my kidneys, later leading to dialysis and a kidney transplant. I came home and cried when they said I would need more surgery to replace the tricuspid valve of my dear sweet transplanted heart. Yes, I’ve become hysterical and screamed to anyone who would listen, got underneath the bed covers and boohooed with my teddy bear and tissues. But at a certain time in the midst of it, I would hear a soft inner Voice say, “Okay.  Time to get up and do something else. This too will pass.” Impermanence is the permanent in our lives. So how do we adapt? Here are some of the ways I utilize inner listening during a time such as this.

1) I truly believe that during trauma, crisis and challenge rather than being finely tuned into the fear, panic, anxiety and chaos of the world, I am better served by “Centering Down’” a term that Howard Thurman, Thomas Kelly, and Rufus Jones all recommended as a way to access wisdom instead of terror. I grew weary of feeling anything but peaceful. Thus, I take time each morning and evening and on the hour when I am available to PAUSE. I stop ruminating about the latest statistics and seek the Peace that I know lies deep inside. I continue to practice controlling my thoughts instead of allowing them to control me. Once I feel the deep peace that inner listening brings, I refuse to settle for less.

2) For those who possess runaway minds like mine and especially during a calamity, mantras and chants are a saving grace. Among my favorites, “Peace be still,” “The Lord is my Shepard and I shall not want,” “I am as God Created me,” or any parts of “Be still/and know/that I am God.”  What a mantra does is slow down and in some cases eliminates the out of control thoughts that lead to panic, fear, anxiety, and anxiousness. But you must practice. Next time you feel your mood shift as though you are being pulled into the vortex of alarm and terror, start chanting your selected inspirational phrase over and over and over until you feel a shift. The result:  a tranquil mind, a semblance of peace. Ahhhhh now doesn’t the thought of inner peace sound good?

3) Another method that I have used in workshops and retreats recently, and shared with Liz last night is the heart exercise.  Some form of this I learned on the Math-Heart Institute website (HeartMath Tools) to encourage people to live from and through their hearts. It is important to locate a quiet spot (even if it’s the bathroom) and comfortable chair or cushion. Sit in a relaxed position, close your eyes and take three deep breaths (inhale through the nose and exhale out of the mouth). Then relax and notice your heart beating. Next park yourself in your heart. Yes, sit in your heart for few minutes. Feel the peace, the stillness and the joy. Listen. What are you being guided to do next?  Do you need to engage in a creative activity with yourself or your family, go outside and get some fresh air or enjoy some emerging spring flowers, watch a movie or read a great book? You may need to turn off your television, radio, or stop checking social media about the latest outrage or panic-stricken comment. Periodically stepping out of the whirlwind can be healing.  

Now is the time for deep INNER listening. We are in the midst of a “Holy Interruption!”  Embrace it and discover all that you have been yearning for but haven’t pursued because you’ve been too busy running from one activity to another. They are canceled. Can you shift your focus from fear to the love, from panic to peace? What brings you joy and makes your heart sing? Who can you call to check on or offer some comfort to?  

Know that Guidance goes with you wherever you are. Cease looking outside of yourself for the Answers. I promise, if you engage in this ancient tradition of quieting the mind and stilling the heart, you will feel more of the peace and joy that lies within you. You will discover a Connection that has never been broken. The Living Presence patiently awaits your attention and awareness.

Have You Ever Communicated With Your Heart?

Read about how I survived a heart transplant 24 years ago by talking with and listening to my heart.

This book is now available online at blackrosewriting.com, charisbooksandmore.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million and can also be ordered through your favorite independent book seller.

What people are saying about this book:

“Lerita Coleman Brown gave me both a unique biographical thriller and valuable psychological and spiritual insights in this book. The “thriller” is not knowing what will happen next as she took me step by step through her experience of receiving a heart transplant, and its impact on her life.  The insights come from her honest and sometimes humorous dialogues with both her old and her new heart, leading to her advocacy for the reader to pause daily and listen to the deep wisdom and love that our hearts can show us. That listening helps to free us from the dominance of our ego-centered emotions, such as anger, resentment, depression, anxiety, jealousy and fear. The reflection questions along the way gave me an opportunity to examine my own psychological and spiritual experience. I think many readers will find this book both a delight and a helpful guide to truer and fuller personal living.”

Rev. Tilden Edwards, PhD, Founder and Senior Fellow, Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, author of numerous books.

“In When the Heart Speaks, Listen, Lerita Coleman Brown has given us a rare gift indeed for she has allowed us to join her on a spiritual journey that is both fraught with danger and, ultimately, thoroughly transformative.  Both figuratively and literally, Brown had to let go of her old heart and find a way to accept and to live with a new one.  This intimate and innovative memoir about what constitutes true holistic healing will leave one moved, enlightened and profoundly inspired.”

Jan Willis,  Ph.D., Professor Emerita of Religious Studies, Wesleyan University and  author of Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist and Buddhist

Lerita is courageous–literally.  Her willingness to share these conversations with her hearts–both of them–left me awestruck.  I read this book through tears as my own heart vibrated at the lessons I need to learn in my own life.  There is Truth in this book.  Be prepared.  You will be transformed.

Rev. Dr. Stuart Higginbotham, Rector, Grace Episcopal Church and co-editor of the upcoming book, Contemplation and Community.

“Down through the ages, philosophers, mystics and psychologists have proposed any number of conceptualizations of the elaborate interconnections between the human mind, body and spirit.  For Dr. Lerita Coleman Brown, however, these dynamic interconnections are beyond theoretical; they are vibrantly real.   Dr. Brown has facilitated regular conversations between her own mind, body and soul throughout her 24-year experience as an organ transplant survivor.  The result has taken her beyond mere survival to the construction of a beautifully spiritual and meaningful life.  In When the Heart Speaks, Listen she shares her remarkable and unique experience with all of us. What a wonderful gift!”

Arthur C. Jones, Ph.D., Clinical psychologist, professor, author of “Wade in the Water: The Wisdom of the Spirituals and Founder of the Spirituals Project.

“Captivating!!  In speaking from the heart, Lerita Coleman Brown provides readers with a gift: the roadmap for how to open your heart. She shares her inspiring story of triumph over adversity and all odds, to source true meaning, divine purpose, love, and heartfelt connection.”

Beth Darnall, Ph.D., Clinical Professor, Stanford University School of Medicine, author ofThe Opioid-Free Pain Relief Kit, Less Pain, Fewer Pills,  and Psychological Treatment for Chronic Pain.

Howard Thurman and the 2017 Presidential Inauguration

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Lately I’ve been pondering what my historical mentor and spiritual guide, Howard Thurman might say as we inaugurate the 45th President of the United States.  I suspect he would not be on Twitter or any other social media platform.  I don’t think, like me, he would be blogging about it either.  But I believe he would have an opinion and perhaps some recommendations about how to live in the current social and political atmosphere.

Dr. Howard Washington Thurman experienced great social transitions in his lifetime.  Born in 1899 in Daytona Beach, Florida, Thurman lived through the severity of Jim Crow legal segregation, state sponsored domestic terrorism, and a host of racial insults and indignities.  He spoke of the time when he had been invited to give a talk at a major meeting only to learn that hotel would not serve him lunch in its main dining room.  Thurman was so enraged that he decided to forego eating and walk through the city instead.  I sense that during the walk he heard some of what he would later talk and write about in his classic book, Jesus and the Disinherited.  This same book inspired Dr. Martin Luther KingJr., to begin his civil rights work and he carried Jesus and the Disinherited whenever he marched.

In preparing to live through the Inaugural weekend and the days to follow, Howard Thurman would likely advise us to; 1) use our outrage constructively, to better someone else’s lot rather than become bitter.  2) He would discourage the use of violence and instead admonish us to use our energy to educate and enlighten, and to wake up those who sleep in the fog of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, classism, and materialism.  3) Thurman never thought that changes in laws and social policies meant much if they did not change people’s hearts.  He would want sustained, regular exchanges between people who are different because he felt this would create the Beloved Community that he and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., dreamed of.

Howard Thurman knew from spending time with his grandmother, Nancy Ambrose, a former slave, that what sustains people through challenging, difficult and sometimes horrendous conditions is their internalized knowledge that they are holy children of God.  He believed this spiritual self is what Jesus was trying to awaken in his own oppressed Jewish people in the hostile Roman society they lived in.  Clearly right now in 2017, there are so many who need such an awakening, a shift in personal identity that includes an exploration of a deeper spiritual nature, especially among those who perceive themselves to be powerful as well as those who think of themselves as powerless.

If I were fortunate enough to have lunch today with Howard Thurman, I think he would suggest a few antidotes to the media circus, confusion, and chaos of actual news, fake news, and tweets in lieu of actual conversation.  I imagine Thurman would smile and instruct me to be still.  Take some pause pockets so I can create a deep, peaceful sanctuary within my mind and heart.  Create my own inner retreat, a sacred space that I can return to again and again and again to dim the lights and lower the volume on the cacophony of the outer world.

Next, Thurman would sit back and quietly suggest that I go outside and commune with nature.  Certainly walking along a beach, taking in its quiet calm, and watching the birds glide across the azure sky with billowing clouds, or observing how gently snowflakes float to the ground would engender some peace.   Feeling the cool breeze and watching the trees sway in the wind, noting their strength even in the midst of storms is how Thurman sensed a Oneness with everything.  This connection with the All helped him most when the “tempests of life” as he called them blustered through.

Finally, after finishing a luscious dessert, I suspect Howard Thurman would lean in and remind me to increase my practice of inner authority.  Inner authority is just another manifestation of living from a sense of authentic Self; the one God created and a Self deeply embedded in the Presence.  Mastery of this principle is vital for people who suffer any form of discrimination, particularly individuals from visible stigmatized groups, because although a body may be assaulted or a mind temporarily disturbed, “The inner sanctuary cannot be breached without consent.”  It is only by our own inner authority that we allow it to be disturbed.   By being rooted in and living from the Spirit of God, whether that Presence is within us or in nature, one can develop the “authority” to move against oppressive forces in one’s life.*  Thurman portrays it best in this short excerpt from his book, Meditations of the Heart.

The Inward Sea

There is in every person an inward sea, and in that

sea there is an island and on that island there is an

altar and standing guard before that altar is the “angel

with the flaming sword.”  Nothing can get by that

angel to be placed upon that altar unless it has the

mark of your inner authority.  Nothing passes “the

angel with the flaming sword” to be placed upon your

altar unless it be a part of “the fluid area of your consent.”

This is your crucial link with the Eternal. (p. 15)

In summary, Howard Thurman would believe that contemporary times are ostensibly no different from the times he lived in—just the players on the stage have shifted.  Even if laws or policies are altered, a real change won’t occur until hearts soften and we learn to embrace each other—enemies and friends—with love and compassion.  He would certainly admonish me to pay attention to my thinking, because that determines what I see in the world, and to cultivate a greater rootedness in God rather than putting my faith and power in elected officials.

Howard Thurman would also remind me

 to be still and listen each day for what my role is

in the change I wish to see in the world.

I am certain he would know that quiet, inner listening

brings more peace and joy to the heart.

 

If  you would like to spend some solitary and contemplative time, listening and learning about Howard Thurman, visit the Howard Thurman Retreat Day (available online until March 31, 2017), sponsored by the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation.  For more information and to register, visit the Shalem website, shalem.org.

*Lerita Coleman Brown, An Ordinary Mystic: Contemplation, Inner Authority, and Spiritual Direction in the Life and Work of Howard Thurman.  Presence: An International Journal of Spiritual Direction, 18, 14-22, 2012.