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INSPIRATIONS:  What To Do With Thy Wandering Thoughts.

(The information on this page does not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of all Friends of Humboldt Friends Meeting.  All resources are taken from Quaker Sources.).

From the earliest times of Quaker practice, worshippers fought against wandering thoughts arising in Meeting for Worship (and prayer and meditation). We know this because George Fox warned against it happening. Unfortunately, neither he nor any other early Friends gave instructions about what to do about it. But many Quakers throughout the years have written about their experiences,  and their own personal attempts to harness their minds during worship and prayer . mtk

Classic Quaker Writing 

"Take heed of being hurried with many thoughts, but live in that which goes over them all."  George Fox


"Be Cool and Still" by Paulette Meier from quote of George Fox's.

Selected Quaker Video on What To Do With Your Wandering Thoughts

First-Day Thoughts by John Greenleaf Whittier 

IN calm and cool and silence, once again

I find my old accustomed place among

My brethren, where, perchance, no human tongue

Shall utter words; where never hymn is sung,

Nor deep-toned organ blown, nor censer swung,

Nor dim light falling through the pictured pane!

There, syllabled by silence, let me hear

The still small voice which reached the prophet’s ear;

Read in my heart a still diviner law

Than Israel’s leader on his tables saw!

There let me strive with each besetting sin,

Recall my wandering fancies, and restrain

The sore disquiet of a restless brain;

And, as the path of duty is made plain,

May grace be given that I may walk therein,

Not like the hireling, for his selfish gain,

With backward glances and reluctant tread,

Making a merit of his coward dread,

But, cheerful, in the light around me thrown,

Walking as one to pleasant service led;

Doing God’s will as if it were my own,

Yet trusting not in mine, but in His strength alone!



Selected Quaker Writings on What to Do about Our Wandering Thoughts

ROBERT BARCLAY: Such is the evident certainty of that divine strength that is communicated by thus meeting together, and waiting in silence upon God, that sometimes when one hath come in that hath been unwatchful and wandering in his mind, or suddenly out of the hurry of outward business, and so not inwardly gathered with the rest, so soon as he retires himself inwardly, this power being in a good measure raised in the whole meeting, will suddenly lay hold upon his spirit, and wonderfully help to raise up the good in him, and beget him into the sense of the same power, to the melting and warming of his heart; even as the warmth would take hold upon a man that is cold coming in to a stove, or as a flame will lay hold upon some little combustible matter being near unto it. (EDITED by Editor). Robert Barclay, "Barclay on Worship ( annotated by Victor Thuronyi) condensed version of Barclay's An Apology for the True Christian Divinity The Eleventh Proposition; Concerning Worship online edition Quaker Heritage Press: 1678. (ATCD)

PATRICIA LORING: - We may need to learn to be much less controlling of what arises, much less quick to label something a distraction. Instead, we may learn to draw it intentionally into the Light in order to see it whole and clearly, to feel whether it may be a nudge into prayer or change. This relinquishment of our own agenda and our own criteria for what is and is not a distraction can be the beginning of allowing the unexpected to arise. It may permit us to be guided in directions we had not planned for ourselves . . . . - To remain "fixed in the Light" , to maintain such an intentionality, such a directedness of being, requires a focusing and refocusing of attention and of the heart. It is not unlike a time of individual meditation in which, without fuss, we simply come back to the Center each time we find we have wandered. Some feel that the refocusing itself is of central importance in worship. The repeated inner choice to come back to God, the practice of returning again and again to the Center, the iterated affirmation of the desire to listen in faithfulness, can form a habit of the heart that we can carry out of the time of worship. It can bring worship into the dailiness of all life, erasing the distinction between the secular and the sacred." Patricia Loring in Listening Spirituality Volume II. Corporate Spiritual Practice Among Friends under the "Our response to God's work in worship" (LSII) pp 22-23.

DAVID JOHNSON: The Quaker advice is inwardly to 'stand still in the Light'. This is initially difficult to understand, for the first Friends left no specific manual though many advices related to prayer are in their writings. One specific advice, upon noticing thoughts, is to look at the Light that illuminates them. Lift the inner gaze toward that Light and its joy, not to the intrusive thoughts. The next advice is to 'mind the Light', that is to pay attention to it, and the final advice is to 'love the light', welcoming its message since it is illuminating a matter to make us purer in the heart. David Johnson Surrendering Into Silence. p. 3:

HOWARD BRINTON: Fox's admonition "take heed of being hurried with many thoughts, but live in that which goes over them all" (Ep. 95, 1655) is not easy to carry out at once. It takes time for the mind to settle. Fox does not tell us to eliminate the many thoughts, but to live in that which goes over them. The writer of the Cloud of Unknowing suggests in regard to intrusive thoughts that we "look over their shoulder." True worship consists not in the absences of the lower, but in the presence of the higher. We must not tear out an important part of our mental structure. . .We may accept the lower and at the same time concentrate attention on the higher. The lower will not be forced out, but it may recede into the background. At the frontier of consciousness there may then emerge the higher world of the Spirit which will mingle with and uplift the lower. Friends for 300 Years p77

J. BRENT BILL & GRETCHEN HAYNES: As you take time for silence throughout the day, note the distractions you experience, both human-made and nature-made. Come to terms with these by asking yourself: • What might Spirit have to teach me or remind me of through the noisy annoyances? • How can I take the distractions into the silence with me and use them as way to center into communion with the Inner Light? • How can I turn the disturbances into blessings -– blessings of connection with nature, with other people, and with God? Spiritual Deepening Library Silence and Expectant Waiting Credits: Brent Bill (WYM) and Gretchen Haynes (SCYM), SPIRITUAL DEEPENING fromBrent Bill: Silence and Expectant Waiting. Silence Distractions and Lessons. FGC website.

TRANSITION QUAKER BLOG: . . For the rest of us, whose minds struggle against the stillness and continually wander into thoughts and daydreams, the disciplined attentiveness of our fellow worshippers is invaluable. The 18th century Quaker Isaac Pennington described this process of mutual strengthening in worship as 'like an heap of fresh and living coals, warming one another, insomuch as a great strength, freshness, and vigour [sic] of life flows into all.' (A brief account concerning silent meetings, 1761). Transition Quaker blog.

DONALD W. MCCORMICK: - To clear your mind and become “spiritually focused,” you have to learn to concentrate what George Fox called “thy wandering mind.” Unfortunately, many Quaker writings don’t specify a way to develop this concentration. - But concentration is a central part of mindfulness, and the literature on mindfulness contains a lot of advice about learning to concentrate. Most of it boils down to repeatedly focusing your attention on your breath or some other aspect of your experience. Whenever you notice that your mind is wandering, you return to your original focus—again and again. Each time you return your attention, it strengthens your ability to concentrate – like the way lifting weights strengthens your muscles. Because I don’t get distracted nearly so much, it’s easier to clear my mind and become “spiritually focused.” Other Quakers have told me that mindfulness helps them. Donald W. McCormick. "Mindfulness and Quaker Worship," Western Friend: Quaker Plain Speech and Spirit in the West. Found under articles. (WF)

SAN DIEGO MONTHLY MEETING: - Tell God the things that are worrying you, and lose them in the silence. Bring to the meeting thoughts you have been pondering and release them in to the silence. Keeping your mind and body still, let your spirit reach out toward the spirit of God. When your thoughts wander, don't worry. Draw them back quietly and happily. (SDFM website)

THOMAS GREEN: - - The mind wanders and the will falters again and again… But it is foolish to allow failures in concentration to plunge us into profitless self-condemnation. A mother does not condemn her child who is struggling with many a failure to learn how to walk, but rather she is pleased by each successful effort… I like to believe that God is similarly pleased with our efforts and understanding of our many failures. What matters is whether or not the will, like a compass needle when deflected, is so pivoted that it can swing back to the true direction. - St Francis de Sales is reassuring: "When your heart is wandering and distracted, bring it back quickly to its point, restore it tenderly to its Master’s side, and if you did nothing else the whole of your hour but bring back your heart patiently and put it near our Lord again, and every time you put it back it turned away again, your hour would be well-employed."Thomas F. Green. (1952). Quaker Faith and Practice Online 5th edition. The book of Christian discipline of the Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain. under topic (QF&PO Britain). "Meeting for Worship.

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