The Space Between

Be of good cheer...

Be of good cheer...

In the world ye shall have tribulation:
but be of good cheer;
I have overcome the world, (John 16:33)

For Edie, Karen, and Margie…

There is magic in a molecule…
there is music in the wind…
and the raindrops—dazzling jewels,
if we have the eyes to see them,
and if we have ears to hear
the melodies that Heaven sends
when breezes whisper, “Peace. Be
still. Watch now, and listen….”

Every breath is affirmation:
every inhalation, life and energy;
and we exhale what we no longer need,
and nature breathes it in
and makes it pure again, as surely
as the wheel turns with the season.

But perhaps it is the space between
the breathing in and breathing out,
the quiet time, however small,
when what we nudge aside as
“supernatural” is, rather, undeniable
in clarity—self-evident, and tangible,
and everything is possible.

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Meditation: Where to Start

Sister Alma Rose Q & A: How to Meditate

A wise man once said, “God is the most obvious fact of human existence.”
You, Ruler of Creation, are so big we can’t see
around you, so
we think we can’t
see you. Be obvious to us today, O God. Amen

Q: Dear Sister Alma Rose—I want to start practicing prayer-meditation. There are so many websites, and books, and videos, and CDs, I don’t know where to start. Can you give me a quick tutorial on the basics?

Buddhist Gardens

Buddhist Gardens

A. Sister Alma Rose can, of course, do so. She will not, at this time, describe the differences between prayer and meditation, particularly so-called nonreligious meditation, an oxymoron at which Sister Alma Rose turns up her rather astonishing nose, if she do say so herself.

Meditation is like pure Christianity in several ways. Y’all are born again every time you choose to be. Y’all let go. Let go of the past, let go of the future. Give them to God. Everything is Right Here, Right Now, and it’s all okay, it’s all fine, because it’s the only way it can be, right here, right now.

Begin meditation at whatever pace suits y’all: one minute, several times a day; a half-hour, twice a day; whenever y’all can steal some time away from the hubbub and find a comfortable, quiet place.

Some meditation instructors will tell y’all to take a shower or a bath first, to clean up your mess, to create a “special” place for meditation, to sit in a certain way, and to not fall asleep. Sister Alma Rose says: That’s all well and good, if you want meditation to become just another project, like going to the gym, rather than a way of life, a way of being. If Sister Alma Rose followed all those rules, she’d meditate maybe every third leap year. Sister Alma Rose has a planet to run. She can meditate on a city bus during rush hour.

Meditation step by step

Sister Alma Rose recommends y’all start with a simple breathing meditation. This is as basic as it gets. Breathing.

Jack Kornfield (a Spirit Rock image)

Jack Kornfield (a Spirit Rock image)

  • Get as comfortable as possible, in as quiet a place as possible. If y’all can get comfortable sitting with your back straight on a pillow on the floor, or on a chair, not slouching, with y’all’s head tilted slightly down, why, that’s dandy. If y’all want to lie down, for Dirty Gertie’s sake lie down.
  • Relax. Just saying the word relax to yourself is immensely powerful.
  • Close your eyes. Don’t scrunch them closed. Just an easy-and-relaxed closed.
  • Inhale and exhale through your nose, comfortably, rhythmically.
  • Get in the habit of inhaling from y’all’s diaphragm (or abdomen), so that your in-breaths are deep and lung-filling. Abdominal breathing is, in itself, relaxing. (If y’all can’t get the hang of it, place your hand flat across your navel and inhale so that your hand moves outward.)
  • Y’all are in a sort of porous cocoon of pure white light. You can think of it as your “energy field.” Sister Alma Rose sees it as God’s loving, healing light. Breathe in the light.
  • The more senses y’all engage during your meditation, the less likely y’all will get distracted. See the healing light being inhaled. When y’all exhale, feel the healing light permeate your body with warmth, like a caress: to the tips of y’all’s fingers and toes and the top of y’all’s head; through your skin, muscle, bone, all the way to your internal organs and every cell in y’all’s body.* Smell and taste the light. Hear the ebb and flow of your breath, like an ocean tide.
  • If y’all can’t manage all that, just let your attention rest on your breath.
    • Meditation author and teacher Susan Piver
    • Meditation author and teacher Susan Piver
  • Don’t worry if your mind wanders. If a thought or a feeling intrudes, notice it, but don’t follow it. Jack Kornfield suggests y’all bow to it. If you do get tangled up in thoughts and emotions, gently bring your attention back to y’all’s breathing. As Susan Piver says, it doesn’t matter if it’s been ten seconds or an hour. Don’t beat yourself up. Show lovingkindness to yourself. Do not get discouraged. Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche reassures us that “the intention to meditate” is enough. If y’all genuinely intend to meditate, you can’t mess it up.
  • If y’all are distracted by pain or discomfort, let it be the focus of your meditation. Take your attention away from your breathing and settle it on your pain. Y’all do that, it’ll likely go away.
  • Try to meditate for a few minutes every day. Set a timer, if y’all want to. Gradually, steadily add to your time a bit, or to the number of times you meditate per day. But if a week goes by, or a month, without your meditating, y’all haven’t failed. Just start again. You get an eternity of second chances.

    The Joy of Living, by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

    The Joy of Living, by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

In a nutshell

  • Get comfortable and close y’all’s eyes. Relax.
  • Rest y’all’s  attention on the sensations of comfortable, rhythmic breathing, from the diaphragm, in and out through the nose.
  • If thoughts or emotions break in, notice them but try not to follow them. (Sister Alma Rose thinks of this process as a scuba diver’s watching through goggles as fish swim in and out of view.)
  • As soon as you notice that your mind has wandered, gently, lovingly bring your attention back to your breathing.
  • Always, in meditation, treat yourself with love and gentleness. When you are through meditating, the lovingkindness will remain, and you’ll be kinder to yourself and others.

Other ways to start meditating

* Warming your fingers and toes is actually a common form of do-it-yourself biofeedback for relaxation. Use an instant-read thermometer or an old-fashioned mercury thermometer. Hold it between y’all’s fingers for a while, until it reaches your body temperature. (An instant-read thermometer will do so immediately.) Then focus y’all’s attention on the fingers holding the thermometer. Y’all can try to warm your fingertips, or y’all can just “notice” them. Either should do the trick. You’ll feel a tingling in y’all’s fingers—that’s the blood flowing in. The temperature recorded on the thermometer will rise.

When you’re stressed, y’all’s system goes into “fight or flight” mode and the blood rushes to your heart. By consciously directing the blood away from y’all’s heart, toward your extremities, y’all’s heart slows down and y’all relax.

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Lunchtime Meditation

Sister Alma Rose Glows

Visualization can be a form of meditation. Y’all know what it means to visualize, right? It’s a bit like imagining, but it’s more like pretending.

Here’s what Sister Alma Rose is trying to say: When you ”visualize yourself as a ray of light,” don’t stand a ways off and look at a ray of light and imagine it’s you. Y’all got to be that ray of light. Crawl inside it and soak it up until you are the ray of light.

Here’s the easiest meditation-visualization practice in the world:

Glow.

Glowing is especially useful when you’re in an uncomfortable social situation. Sister Alma Rose’s little friend Noreen occasionally has to travel with her boss, usually by car. They don’t have a lot to say to each other. The silences used to make Noreen uneasy, and she’d grope around for things to talk about. Now, whenever silence settles between them, she just… well, she glows. From her toes and fingertips to her face and the top of her head.

Sometimes she visualizes a warm, golden light entering through her crown, the middle of her forehead, or her heart. Other times, she feels the warmth and radiance emerge from inside.

Easy does it

One of the problems with a lot of guided visualizations is that they don’t make sense. A popular and generally helpful healing CD has y’all floating on a pink cloud, which then deposits y’all on a beach, where you bask in the sun for a while, and then you walk uphill and discover you’re carrying a big bag of rocks. In another meditation, called the Daisy Pond, y’all are supposed to walk down some steps, down a hall, through a door, and out into a lovely natural setting where there’s a giant daisy in the middle of a pond, into which y’all are supposed to propel yourself and get cozy. Sister Alma Rose just can’t feature it. Daisies are too fragile. A big red rose might work, but not a daisy.

In the lunchtime meditation, Sister Alma Rose is going to ask y’all to inhale a healing white light. Sister Alma Rose has experimented with different ways of doing this. Sometimes she’s in the Valley of the Sunrise and she’s breathing-in the first rays of dawn. Sometimes she’s in a kind of light-cocoon. Sometimes she’s a star.

If Sister Alma Rose is in a chilly place, like outside on her porch when there’s a cool breeze, she feels the light entering from above, like a thin shining stream.

Do what works for you. If you have a headache, it might help to feel the light entering where the pain is sharpest. If you’re grieving, you may want to feel the light coming into your heart.

Sit or lie down comfortably, where y’all can be undisturbed for ten minutes or so. Close your eyes and begin breathing easily from your diaphragm. As you inhale, feel the healing white light enter. Feel the warmth and a bit of tingling where the light enters your body.

Float in the rhythm of your breathing for a minute or two. Then feel the light penetrate and massage every part of your body. Lean into it, relax in it, surrender to it. Every inhalation brings in new, clean light; every exhalation sends the light surging through skin, muscle, bone, heart, lungs, stomach, down to your very cells. If y’all have pain, send the light to where the pain is, surrounding it with love and compassion. Don’t fight it. Just let the light do its work.

If your mind wanders, acknowledge the thoughts or feelings but don’t follow them. Gently, compassionately, return your attention to breathing-in the light. Don’t scold yourself. As one of the Masters says, the intention to meditate is enough for now.

This type of meditation is like a warm bath. It surrounds y’all and fills you with warmth and comfort. It cleanses and heals. It reassures you that right now, right here, everything is as it needs to be. And it is. Oh, yes, it is.

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Sister Alma Rose: Ride the Sky

Editor’s note: More than twenty years ago, I learned to counteract the stress-induced “fight-or-flight response,” which causes your blood to rush to your heart and which, if unrelieved, raises your pulse rate and creates tension or anxiety.

 

A psychologist taught me this simple biofeedback exercise: You simply hold a small thermometer between your fingers and wait a few minutes until the mercury reaches your current temperature; then you purposefully raise the temperature. It’s easier than it might seem. Resting your attention on a part of your body can induce the blood to flow there, and away from the heart. It doesn’t take much practice to feel the blood flowing into your fingers, to feel them warming and tingling. Pretty soon you can toss the thermometer.

 

This exercise calms you in at least two ways: by relieving the pressure of blood in the chest and by making you focus on something other than the source of stress. Variations of this technique are used in many forms of meditation.

 

In guided meditation, you’re often instructed to focus on your breathing and to feel your breath circulate throughout your body. I’ve done this for years, and I’ve found it especially useful in relieving headaches and muscle pain. Today, however, I practiced this technique while listening to music through a particularly good set of earphones. The music, called “Meditative Music Collection,” was composed by Kevin MacLeod, and I found it at theChristianMeditator.com.

 

“White bread” was my initial response to the music. “Hypnotic” is more accurate, I now realize. I’m hooked. Listening to this music, breathing from the diaphragm in rhythm with it, and feeling my breath flow from the center of my forehead to the tips of my fingers and toes—it was a magic-carpet ride. I never wanted it to end. It seemed a bit like cheating—Is meditation supposed to feel better than sex? And this was pure hedonism. But maybe the reason so many of us need so desperately to meditate is that we take ourselves and our responsibilities too seriously. We all need to lighten up.

 

I’ve done the best I could to translate the experience into words, but I highly recommend that you not take my “words” for it. Try it. You’ll like it.

Transported by the Music of the Ancients

I’m not sure exactly where I’ve been, but I can
hardly wait to go again—I, the one who lightly
treads because the brittle crust of earth might
shatter at my step, who hesitates to breathe, in
case I use more than my share of precious air—
just now that very I, the same, leaned back
against the sky, and what a ride, oh, what a
ride, it gave me. Such a glutton I became for
earth and air and light. Why, I inhaled a
hundred million stars, I do believe, and felt
them penetrate the scaly cells within that I’ve
maltreated through the years and in a shudder
of vibration make them smooth and firm and
youthful once again… oh, healing river,
sweet rejuvenation, current running through
the wires, and then I know the motion isn’t just
inside… at first a cradle sways, then by a
chariot I’m borne, and suddenly I’m like a
mermaid gliding in the warm, clear sea, where
I can breathe, I find, and I don’t mind the near
proximity of squid or shark, or fear what might
be hidden in the dark. The rhythm’s
irresistible, the sense of being borne to safety,
safe in transit, pure contentment mixed with
longing for unspecified delights, and I can
wait, because the song is getting stronger, I
can’t steer it with my breath or bones, and yet I
have no fear: I’m not alone; the wind that
carries me and whispers in my ear is wiser far
than I, the spirit is benign, and I am satisfied;
the destination doesn’t matter—I’m already
home.

 

Submit prayer requests, pray for others at http://www.zgravweb.net/59prayer_requests.html.

Sister Alma Rose’s Thought for the Day: Breathing Is Enough

 

Author and meditation teacher Susan Piver, on her CD Freedom from Fear, leads a very simple, very effective breathing meditation that never fails to bring peace and gratitude.

At one point she invites the meditator to pause in the little space after the “out breath” and notice how the “in breath” spontaneously arises.

What she doesn’t say is how wonderful it feels to breathe.

I am about to say something that might sound preachy. If it does, please understand that I am preaching to myself as much as I am to anyone else who is experiencing discontent.

Breathing is enough.

That’s the beauty of a breathing meditation. When we are breathing consciously, then each breath is an affirmation, a choice to be alive. And it feels so good.

Whatever might be wrong with our lives, our relationships, our health – when the house is a mess or the spouse is messing around – when we should have had the promotion someone else was given, however unjustly – when (in the words of a song called The Merry Minuet, written by Sheldon Harnick and popularized by the Kingston Trio in the 1950s) “they’re rioting in Africa, they’re starving in Spain, there’s hurricanes in Florida, and Texas needs rain” – as long as we can breathe, we have a place to start.

It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed – by the laundry, by global warming, by the millions of messages that bombard us every day, by our own unreasonable demands on ourselves.

When I am flinging fragments of myself throughout the cosmos, trying to solve my own and everybody else’s problems, Susan Piver, in her low, soft, reassuring voice, inevitably helps me reassemble myself in the process often called ”centering.” When life is unmanageable, sometimes all you can do is, as Anne Lamott advises, remember to breathe.

When you can be grateful for breathing, then everything else – sunlight, shelter, warmth, coffee, leftover pizza – feels like abundance.

Health, a light body, freedom from cravings, a glowing skin, sonorous voice, fragrance of body: these signs indicate progress in the practice of meditation. —The Shvetashvatara Upanishad

Photo © Luc Viatour, GFDL/CC. Text from the forthcoming book Unfamiliar Territory, Volume 2: Meditations.
Unfamiliar Territory, Volume 1: Poems, Prayers, Meditations, and Household Hints is available at www.LifeIsPoetry.net.