Shaving through Lent: A Practice of Everyday Mindfulness

This is the column I wrote for the March 2017 of the First Church Simsbury newsletter, The Cornerstone.

shave

Lent is the season in the church year that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends forty days later (not counting Sundays) on the Saturday before Easter. The forty days represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness. We can think of Lent as a time for us to cultivate an awareness of and be present with the desert experiences of our lives, those places that are, metaphorically speaking, dry, harsh, rocky and inhospitable. During Lent we are invited to attend to our soul through spiritual practices such as fasting (giving something up), praying, or meditating. Meditation, sometimes called mindfulness, is a method to quiet our heart’s yearning and mind’s churning. By meditating, we learn that we can simply “be” in life’s desert places without restlessness, anxiety or fear.

Meditation might bring to mind a Buddhist monk, sitting perfectly still on a cushion, a picture of peace and enlightenment. I have meditated in this way periodically over the years, sitting quietly, watching my breath, in… and out… in… and out. And though this practice has been, at times, richly rewarding, I have found it difficult to maintain for more than a few months. But sitting quietly isn’t the only way to cultivate mindfulness; there are everyday practices that can function in the same way.

I share one such everyday practice that centers me, with the hope that you might also find a day-to-day activity that can help ground you in the dry, rocky, desert times of your life.

One day last fall I was complaining to Rev. Kev about the exorbitant price of cartridge razors. In response he revealed that he shaves with an old-fashioned, double-edged safety razor. I was intrigued, so around Thanksgiving off I went to Target where such a razor can be had for less than $20. Upon using it the next morning, I was hooked! Not only am I saving a boatload of money (each blade costs ten cents!), I love the ritual of using a shaving brush and soap, and the old-timey feel of the razor in my hand.

At first I didn’t recognize shaving as a mindfulness practice. But over the past few months I have realized that shaving with a double-edged razor requires the same gentle attention as watching my breath. Like meditating, it requires one to slow down and gently let go of thoughts as they arise. Hurrying, using too heavy a hand, or letting my mind wander while shaving will result in nicks and cuts, not to mention a poor shave.

And shaving, like meditating, is a sensory rich experience. When I quiet my mind in meditation I notice the chill in the air and hear the birds singing. Similarly, when I shave there is the smell of the shaving soap, the feel of the warm lather and soft brush, even the sound the razor makes when I pull it across my face. Giving attention to these helps quiet my mind; and should my thoughts again begin to wander, I gently return my attention to the movement of the razor across my face. I experience that same calm, centered, contented feeling after my morning shave that I would feel after meditating.

Though there are still things that make me feel anxious, my morning shave grounds me in a way that makes me better able to respond to the day’s challenges.

So, this is my invitation to you. During this season of Lent, identify an everyday activity that may function as a spiritual practice for you. It could be walking, taking a bath or shower, doing the laundry, or cooking. Slow down, cultivate an awareness of the sights, sounds, and feel in each moment. Any of these, and many other activities, when done with intention and attention, can quiet heart and mind and allow us to simply be present with God, even in those barren, rocky, wilderness places in our lives.
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