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Issue 7-16

The Unbearable Brightness of Being

The all-too-familiar instinct kept nagging at me, Don't do it, Karen. Don't do it! You're trying to shove too much into the afternoon. You're going to greet your guests tonight with an aching back and hostess' anxiety.

But I did it anyway. Because I really wanted to attend the Naperville Art Festival, and because a friend really wanted me to spend some time with her, I crowded my Sunday afternoon. Ten people were coming for a "Bag Team" brainstorming dinner that evening. The table was set, guests were bringing parts of the meal, but I still had to pick up the special kluski noodles I use and some whipped cream at Jewel-Osco, and the homemade chicken noodle soup (that my family loves) was not in the pot yet!

Obviously, I was hurriedly making a choice that I was not carefully considering. Now I was on my way as my friend drove down Warrenville Road toward Naperville to see this remarkable exhibit of artists' works about which she had been so exultant. The time was 12:30. While stopped at a traffic light, I finally began to do the calculations. It would take a half-hour to get to Naperville: I would have to leave by 2:00, run to the store, get home, debone the chicken, make the soup, mix blackberry liqueur into the whipped cream and create a sauce for the blackberry buckle, the recipe taken from my Cooking French book. If I returned home by 3 o'clock, would I get everything done by the time people arrived?

I knew I was really in time trouble when my friend mentioned that she probably would have to park three to six blocks away. Was I OK with walking, or should she drop me off at the Festival and meet me? You're never going to make it, Karen. You know better than to crowd your days. The inward voice again.

Busy talking, I suddenly noticed we had been sitting at the light for an inordinately long time. A policewoman was holding up traffic, and she actually had what looked like a remote control in her car that was keeping our northbound/southbound traffic lights turned red. Only then did I notice that an apparently endless line of motorcycles was passing by going east, and when I looked west, as far as the eye could see, there were motorcycles after motorcycles after motorcycles. We had obviously bumped into a motorcycle rally, and they were not going to pause for us—no way!

After what seemed like ten minutes, with the motorcyclists still driving past, and some of them now circling back on the westbound lane, my friend and I turned to one another and said, "We're not going to make it to the Artists' Festival, are we?" "No, we are not!"

It was kind of the Lord to use about 500 motorcyclists to get my attention, wasn't it? Uh, Karen, you don't have enough time to do in this day all you want to do. Let me make it perfectly clear. Hey motorcycle guys and gals! Let's help this little lady out. Over here!

To attend—how hard I still work at this. To pay attention. To listen. To listen well.

I am on Chapter Six of Daniel Siegel's The Mindful Brain. It "happens" to be about what occurs in the neurology of the brain's circuits when we pay attention! Siegel recommends that we develop the capacity of not only of being aware but "mindfully aware." The difference between the two would be me saying, while stopped at the light on Warrenville Road, "Oh hey, they're a lot of motorcycles going past!" and "Why is this happening and what am I feeling at this moment and what is my response in the middle of all this?" Being mindfully aware has much to do with reading the meaning in the moment and with reading my own meaning as I am collecting data in the moment. This is called "metacognition"—being aware of awareness.

Siegel says that developing the habit of being aware of awareness leads to biological and psychological attunement, a being at home with ourselves in the world and at being in harmony with others. Research shows that people who train themselves to stop, look and listen develop a capacity of well-being. The impact of being aware in this way can be specifically measured by brain scientists. "We can actually focus our minds in a way that changes the structure and function of the brain throughout our lives. As a mindset, being aware of the present moment without grasping onto judgments offers a powerful path toward both compassion and inner well-being. This is what science verifies and what has been taught over thousands of years of practice." Certain areas of the brain thicken with mindful awareness, like muscles in the arms that have been exercised.

To be mindful when halted by the motorcycle rally means me saying:

  • Oh, my goodness! I am being interrupted in the hurtling projection of my life by an endless line of motorcycle hogs.
  • Didn't I choose to ignore that inward nudge: Don't think you're going to be able to do this?
  • Could it be possible that God orchestrated this whole encounter to delay me?
  • What am I feeling right now about this? Why, I am actually feeling relieved—and at the same time, I am also thinking this is very, very funny!
  • The psalmist writes in Psalm 49 (vv. 1,2):

    Listen to this, all you people!
    Pay attention, everyone in the world!
    High and low, rich and poor—listen!
    For my words are wise, and my thoughts are filled with insight.

    Last night I sat on a bench in the backyard to watch the light dimming and the sunset change from soft pink to a brilliant rosy-red. Suddenly! I caught a flicker of movement. Was it—could it possibly be a hummingbird come to the feeder that had been vacant all summer? Yes—yes—a hummingbird. No, two hummingbirds. Were they ruby-throated? Metallic green—yes, but I couldn't see the identifying red throat and black chin.

    The birds chased each other around the red plastic feeder, which was about five feet from me; then they zoomed two feet off above my shoulder with only one returning to feed and feed again. And the sky to the west shouted red, shouted glory to God, shouted anthems.

    I began to practice being aware of being aware.

    What was happening? The hummingbirds had come to the feeder.

    But what else was going on? Because I took the time to pause, I was being given a glimpse of the infinite creative presence of the Creator.

    What was going on in me? How was I responding? Oh, with awe, with praise to God, with tears and emotion.

    How did I feel? Lifted, stunned, privileged, filled with knowledge of the unbearable brightness of being.

    Listen to this, all you Soulish Food readers!
    Pay attention, everyone in the world!
    High and low, rich and poor—listen.
    His words are wise, either nudging our souls inwardly,
    Or displaying His creation lavishly—
    His writing in the world and in our hearts is filled with insight.

    Karen Mains

    GOAL: 600 Global Bag Ladies Project shopping bags
    to be sold

     600 bags @ an average of $20 margin each = an estimated $12,000
    -134 bags already sold = $1,495 toward our goal.                                       
    Goal to Go: 466 bags = $10,505 (!)

    Have you considered giving GBLP tote bags as gifts? One of these shopping bags was recently purchased "in honor of" a person being celebrated, who really appreciated the donation in their name and the purpose of the GBLP bag. Other suggestions have been to fill a GBLP tote bag with shower gift items for an upcoming wedding, give these bags as Christmas gifts, or purchase several as favors for a women's retreat.

    To receive your own Global Bag Ladies Project tote bags, click on this GBLP Purchase Order, print it off, fill it out and send it with a check made out to Hungry Souls/GBLP for $20-$50 to Box 30, Wheaton, IL 60187.

    Annual Advent 24-hour Retreat of Silence
    Wednesday and Thursday
    December 3-4
    Bishop Lane Retreat Center in Rockford, IL
    (for details, click this link)
    The Theme Is: Fear Not

    Partly because Valerie Bell and I will leave for France with a total of 15 pilgrims October 24 to return on November 4, we are encouraging early registration for the Advent Retreat. If you register in the next two weeks, the fee for early registration is $100. After October 1, the normal fee will be $120. However, if you bring new people to the Advent Retreat, the welcome fee for any new attendees (and for you) will be $90. The cutoff date for registrations is November 25. Contact our volunteer registrar Melodee Cook ( ) for more details.

    A New Listening Group Cycle for 2008-2009
    Begins Week of October 13-18, 2008
    We meet once a month in groups of three to four
    for two and a half hours.
    The groups will continue for eight months to June 2009.

    If you are in the Chicago area and would like to be part of a Listening Group for the purpose of spiritual growth, register with . These groups are built upon the amazing discoveries science is making about what happens biologically in the brain when people feel heard, listened to and really understood. One actual result is that new “social circuitries” begin to be formed in the brain. Listeners and listenees (new word!) experience what the social scientists term “attunement”—a peaceful, wholesome, deeper communion with themselves, with one another, and with God. Listening prayer is the spiritual practice around which we have built the architecture of the Hungry Souls Listening Groups.

    I’ve interviewed almost all of the members of the last Listening Group cycle. Unbelievably, many said in one way or another, “The Listening Groups changed my life.” These positive results seem to be disproportionate to the small amount of time allotted to listening to one another and to silent prayer: We meet once a month for about two-and-a-half hours. Most of us do not know one, nor do we see one another between monthly meetings. If you are being nudged inwardly, I strongly challenge you to join a Listening Group. You may be ready for a remarkable journey

    We are establishing the parameters for a qualitative research project under the supervision of Dr. Tom Altepeter, a Ph.D. clinical psychologist. To make this research project viable, we need 50 to 80 people to join (12 to 20 groups). Any one who has been in a previous group is welcome to start again. We also will need 12.5 (!) to 20 group leaders. If you want to start a group in your neighborhood, among friends, or in your church, Hungry Souls will be conducting a two-hour leaders training Saturday morning, October 11. Contact me at if you are interested. We have about six leaders who have gone through listening groups ready to lead their own groups; so we need six to 14 more leaders.

    For those of you who are outside the Chicago area, I will be happy to set up teleconference training for group leaders. And for all leaders, in Chicago or across the country, I will be more than happy to be available for consultation and supervision.

    A Meeting of Women’s Minds:
    A Microenterprise Journey to Kenya in March 2009

    The details and day matrix for the Kenyan Microenterprise Journey are complete! I am terribly excited about this trip. We will be meeting and dialoguing with many Kenyan women who are working to solve their own problems. The purpose of this journey will be to discover ways we can collaborate in these solving-problem ventures. United Nations and WHO (World Health Organization) studies have shown that the most successful grassroots projects in Africa, ones that are sustainable and effective, are organized and run by women.

    We will be leaving the States March 25 and returning April 6. Interested?
    I need to know by October 31 if you are intending to join us.
    Follow this link for more details and costs.


    The Soulish Food e-mails are being posted bi-weekly on the Hungry Souls Web site. Newcomers can look that over and decide if they want to register on the Web site to receive the bi-weekly newsletter. You might want to recommend this to friends also. They can go to

    Karen Mains

    Karen Mains

    "It was kind of the Lord to use about 500 motorcyclists to get my attention, wasn't it?"
    The Mindful Brain

    The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being
    by Daniel J. Siegel

    Siegel, co-director of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Center, blends personal experience with scientific research, attempting to capture the spiritual as well as the physiological phenomenon of "mindfulness".

    “The Mindful Brain marks a major landmark in the emerging field of contemplative neuroscience. Daniel Siegel offers a provocative, highly original, and brilliant theory integrating mindfulness meditation with brain research, one that will shape thinking in the field for years to come. This is a must-read for anyone interested in the science of mind and mindfulness.”
    Daniel Goleman, author of
    Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships

    From the back cover copy.

    Buy from Amazon

    Copyright 2006-2008 Mainstay Ministries. All rights reserved.

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