Serenity

Riverside Lookout

This is one of my favorite contemplation spots

Editor’s note: I’ve been trying for weeks to use Typekit fonts, with zero success, but I don’t get frustrated. No, indeed. I nip frustration in the Sister Alma Rosebud. I SO Am Mindful! Omigosh! I am radiant with mindfulness and only a little peeved at the Typekit people, whose instructions are, to say the least, pitiful

Mindfulness Is the Real Deal

My grandmother once said of a friend of hers, Mrs. McPhail, that she “rolled with the punches.” I liked that metaphor. When I was a really little kid, I did NOT roll with the punches. I got knocked out, bruised, and bloodied. A LOT, not literally, I just did not play well with others, and my parents disciplined me for throwing toy trucks at kids and for being “oppositional” with them. And I screamed bloody murder every time.

Pretty teenaged redheaded girl

Moi, Fanny

Then Sister Alma Rose taught me a form of meditation — I was maybe 7 or 8 — that mainly focused on not taking stuff personally (even when it was personal), like getting teased about my hair — certain people taunted me with “Orangehead!” — or about my name (“Fanny is a butthead” was the least offensive phrase flung in my direction for a time) — or being excluded from Mary Louise Hobbs’s birthday bash, which was an ice-skating party and I was a good ice-skater, which is probably why I wasn’t invited, but it didn’t matter, because I didn’t take it personally, because people learn pretty fast that it’s no fun to be mean to other people who don’t react, and the bonus is they sort of open up to you and you get to know their other qualities.

The Church of What’s Happening Now

Kids love Mr. Tim's toys

If you have been paying attention, you know about poor Mrs. Ana and Mr. Tim. Mrs. Ana is still in the hospital, in a coma, and Mr. Tim has no memory of getting snockered and bashing her in the head or of someone else coming into the toy shop and clocking that dear woman. The current theory is that Mr. Tim was “set up,” because no one wants to think ill of kindly, softhearted Mr. Tim, who makes custom toys just exactly the way children want them. Please. Mr. Tim and Mrs. Ana were CPAs in a previous life, and they were successful and prosperous but they didn’t engage in nefarious practices like cheating their clients or “offing” their rivals, which, as far as they know, they didn’t have any, so it remains a lovely little mystery for people to wonder and theorize about, although it would be MORE lovely if Mrs. Ana would wake up and tell the world what happened that bizarre morning, though THAT would ruin the fun of the wonderers and theorizers.

[Sister Alma Rose has pulled the plug on the rumors that (a) Mr. Tim has a “side dish” in La Mesa who got drunk with Mr. Tim until he passed out and then broke an entire shelf of Hall pottery on her head, and (b) Mr. Tim has a brain-wasting disease — Dr. Deirdre, however, did have her neurologist friend come over from La Mesa and examine Mr. Tim for dementia, and he, the neurologist, concluded that Mr. Tim’s mind is clear as a bell. Now, what does that mean? “Clear as a bell”? Why not “clear as a cloudless sky”? Please.]

RAISED BY FOREST FAIRIES. Father Dooley and Dr. Deirdre and I were sitting in comfy grass-green rattan chairs with floral cushions on Sister Alma Rose’s magical grass-green wrap-around porch just yesterday, in the afternoon, which, I’ll do some research but I’m sure it was the most splendid afternoon in history. (Splendid is an odd word, isn’t it? You hear it a lot on the Ridge among the Ancients, I suppose because some of them might have arrived straight from the 1930s, at least that’s my guess.)

Fairies in Victorian art

The Forest Fairies

A glass of Mr. Truman LaFollette’s incomparable lemonade was sitting on the table in front of me, and it must have got there by magic because Mr. Truman LaFollette is off chasing his fey fairy-child, Portia, who could be anywhere, though she feels most at home in the forest. Portia is not like the rest of us. Oh, I suppose there are other Portias out there, God help us, but Portia was born without inhibitions and lacking any sense of danger, and she has wandered more or less at will since she learned to walk — not that Mr. Truman LaFollette hasn’t tried to keep her at home, but she always escapes and cannot be found, and I am almost convinced that the Forest Fairies look out for her and feed her and protect her from being devoured by wolves, because the last time I saw her — every once in a while she wanders back our way — she was rosy-cheeked and voluptuous and displayed no wolf-bite marks, but Mr. LaFollette is frantically searching for her right now because he doesn’t want her to get pregnant. Again.

THE MIDDLE WAY. And that’s what we were talking about when Dr. Deirdre mentioned mindfulness. People who are well schooled in mindfulness do not become frantic, she commented, “and Mr. Truman LaFollette is one of the Ancients and ought to trust in Providence and practice detachment.” Dr. Deirdre is a serious meditator and also a Methodist.. “walking,” as she explains, “the Middle Way.” I simply adore her.

Father Dooley mentioned J. Krisnamurti, the famous sage who was always unruffled and serene because, as he put it, “I don’t mind what happens,” and Father Dooley said that he was “not ready, spiritually, to be quite THAT detached” and he was profoundly grateful for the Buddha’s wisdom in allowing the Middle Way. Dr. Deirdre replied that she has to practice detachment because almost all her patients are people whom she knows well and she could not do her job if she were pulled into their suffering, but she is exceedingly attached to the St. Louis Cardinals and has a baseball signed by Stan Musial in a Plexiglas cube in her office.

“But I no longer let the St. Louis Cardinals’ wins and losses fling me from joy to despair,” she said with a little laugh, “just as I don’t allow my nephew’s struggle with addiction make my heart pound and drive me to drugs… prescribed tranquilizers, I mean, though I always carry my little bottle of Rescue Remedy.

That's Dr. Deirdre--the woman on the left, of course, wearing the mask

“When I’m meditating and worry intrudes, instead of clutching, instead of fighting it off, it becomes my mantra. I turn my compassionate attention away from my breathing toward my mental state, which is worrying, and I look at it and silently repeat ‘worrying, worrying, worrying,” for as long as I need to. That way it doesn’t grab me by the throat and have me creating dire scenarios for the future. And you can learn to function this way, you see, not just during the time you are meditating but all the time.”

Thanksgiving? No, thanks

“Last November,” she said, “I was supposed to prepare and serve Thanksgiving dinner for fourteen people in my home. The house was a mess. I mean it was a disaster. It should have been condemned. I’d had emergency after emergency during the time I’d set aside to clean, and, I’m telling you, I was stepping over dog poop Thanksgiving morning. Poor Jerry. There was no one home to let him out.

Puppy under a blanket

Poor Jerry

“And staying down the street at the bed-and-breakfast were all those aunts and uncles and cousins expecting a royal feast, and I hadn’t even bought a turkey, and there were clothes growing mold in the washing machine and dog poop on the floor and maybe a can of sardines in the cupboard, and I’m thinking, I am NOT Jesus Christ and I canNOT feed fourteen people on one can of sardines and half of a soggy cantaloupe.

“So I panicked, and I actually picked up the phone to call the inn and have Marlene, the owner, you know, tell my family that I had some dreadful and highly contagious viral infection and no one could come near me, because, of course, I wasn’t sick, really, but it would be a horrible thing if my relatives came to my house and it weren’t spotless and the meal weren’t perfect, and the REASON it would be so horrible was… and I couldn’t think of a reason. I could, in fact, clean up the dog poop, rewash the laundry and put it in the dryer, and serve turkey TV dinners, and we’d still all enjoy each other, unless I spoiled it by being embarrassed or upset.”

Window, tulips in vase, white lace curtains

...at the bed-and-breakfast...

“Is that what you did?” asked Father Dooley, impressed. “Serve turkey TV dinners?”

“No,” said Dr. Deirdre. “Actually, I literally wept with relief after I made arrangements with Marlene to buy Thanksgiving dinner for everyone at the inn. Around two o’clock I walked down to the inn, ate a delicious, traditional Thanksgiving dinner that I didn’t have to cook or clean up after, which I enjoy when there’s no dog poop on the floor, and I had a wonderful time with my family, except for Uncle Skinny, who chews and farts and leers… and then, after dinner and one glass of wine, I went home, meditated, cleaned the house (my mantra was “cleaning, cleaning, cleaning…”), and had everyone over on the Friday, the next day, you know, to watch college football games and eat cheese and crackers and drink this wine punch I make that’s mostly fruit juice and just a little wine.

Hansel and Gretel lost in the woods

...murky future...

“The point is, you can see what happens when you let a thought or a feeling attach itself to you and pull you away from the present and into this murky future where something just awful is surely going to happen related to that thought or feeling, which is just, after all, one of the gazillions of thoughts and feelings that are part of life rolling by.”

to be continued…

‘Get a Life, Amanda Groom’

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Sister Alma Rose Teaches Meditation

meditator_istock

Sister Alma Rose is teaching me to meditate. Nothing could be easier, really… and there are many ways to meditate, including the labyrinth for people who can’t sit or lie still.

Medieval labyrinth

Medieval labyrinth

As you know, Sister Alma Rose sometimes does lying-down meditations, which are really, I think, screening her real purpose, which is to nap. But I could be wrong.

She has taught me to meditate in a position similar to that of the woman in the photo above, except I don’t have gorgeous collarbones as she does, nor do I want to sit in a puddle. Also, Sister Alma Rose would never instruct her students to hold their heads in that unnatural “heads back” position, but, rather, our necks are straight and held comfortably, chins tucked in just a bit.

Here is the point…

Me, Fanny McElroy

Me, Fanny McElroy

The body is a metaphor for the spirit. The position of the woman’s hands, extended, resting on her knees, indicates a willingness to freely accept God’s gifts, which are grace.

She is sitting with an “open heart,” her shoulders back, her heart exposed, concealing nothing and eager to enfold others, whether their hearts be whole or damaged.

The body scan

Sometimes Sister Alma Rose has me begin meditation with a body scan. You consciously relax every muscle, every bone, every organ, every cell in your body, beginning with the toes and working your way up to the “crown” — the top of the head.

When you do a body scan, you might find some areas of discomfort. Often, the pain will disappear in a few minutes just by your allowing your attention to rest in the uncomfortable areas.

happydancer1_istockAfter you are finished with the body scan and with your meditation, think about the areas of discomfort that you noticed. Discomfort and pain mean that your body is trying to tell you something.

The body doesn’t lie

For example,  Sister Alma Rose says that if your eyes are burning and itching, there is probably something going on in your life that you refuse to “see.”  If the pain is in your abdomen, you have a “gut feeling” about something… a decision you’ve made or a situation you’re in. “Go with your gut,” Sister Alma Rose almost always advises.

If you have a persistent headache, you could be overanalyzing something that might benefit from an intuitive approach. Not every problem can be solved solely by the intellect.

And — pardon me — if you are constipated, it might be because you are “holding in” feelings that need to be expressed. If you are angry with someone, it is best to express your feelings in a civil way. Don’t worry if the person you’re mad at doesn’t “change.” Don’t sigh and complain, “I tell him and I tell him, and it doesn’t do any good.” Of course it does some good, to bring your feelings out in the open instead of hiding them and letting them fester and forgetting about them until they turn on you in some awful way.

happydancer4_istockSomeone once said, “The only reason to tell someone what you feel is to tell someone what you feel.” You are giving information. What the other person does with that information is up to him or her.

Sometimes people can be annoying

Now — There will always be people in your life who irritate you and who offer you no way of escaping because THEY ARE YOUR RELATIVES. My own parents are perfect, but if I were to marry Pablo in ten years I would have to deal with his sister’s snide comments and his mother’s overprotectiveness. I’m sure Pablo’s mamacita would feel that anything I did for Pablo would be flawed because I would not be doing it HER way. (But anyway, I am never going to marry Pablo. He is just my best friend.)

Sister Alma Rose suggests two different way to deal with people who annoy you, if you can’t avoid them altogether:

(1) Stop focusing exclusively on the words or the actions of the irritating person. Instead see the whole person, and project love and light from your heart to that person. Breathe in, to capture the light that shines from above and is always around you. Breathe out, to embrace the other person in the light.

(2) Silently repeat this mantra:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. —Psalm 51:10

happydancer3_istockIf the other person is at all toxic, this meditation will protect your heart from the other’s poison and will allow you to be clean and new, free of “baggage,” at any time you choose. Even before Sister Alma Rose began teaching me to meditate, I always liked to repeat this verse from Psalms to remind me to claim my innocence and state of grace. “Restore in me the joy of your salvation,” the Psalm goes on to say, “and uphold me with your free spirit.”

“Never,” says Sister Alma Rose, “never allow anyone to steal your joy.”

Sister Alma Rose Is Steamin’

Sister Alma Rose does not always practice what she preaches. Mrs. Groom, the wife of the Presbyterian pastor in Hilltop, appeared uninvited on Sister Alma Rose’s wonderful, spacious, grass-green porch one day, while Sister Alma Rose and Pablo and I were playing UNO, and she, Mrs. Groom, I mean, proceeded to lecture Sister Alma Rose about Portia, who is Cousin Dulcie’s daughter, which means, I think, that Portia is Sister Alma Rose’s first cousin once removed. In any case, there is no controlling Portia. She is part wood nymph, part bright redbird, and I have seen her fly, and I am not making that up. (I am almost sure she is one of the Ancients.)

pp_manwomanAfter listening calmly to Mrs. Groom for about five minutes, which was when Mrs. Groom ran out of breath, Sister Alma Rose poked her index finger, which is large, just like the rest of Sister Alma Rose, into the area of Mrs. Groom’s solar plexus, and Sister Alma Rose stood very close to her and said, “Amanda Groom, y’all are and always have been an interfering old busybody, and nobody in or around Hilltop has ever mended his or her ways because of y’all’s scolding, and Portia harms no one, and I want y’all off my property this minute or I shall call Sheriff Dunleavy and have y’all’s fat wiggly ass hauled to the county jail.”

Mrs. Groom stalked off the porch and down the drive, and she was about halfway to the road when Sister Alma Rose called after her: “Amanda Groom!”

Mrs. Groom turned and fixed a cold stare upon Sister Alma Rose.

“Amanda Groom,” Sister Alma Rose repeated, “get a life.”

bicycle-156x96

The_Rules_frontcover
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War and Peace

Sister Alma Rose Q & A

Dear Sister Alma Rose — How do y’all feel about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? —Signed, Gnawing Her Nails in Nashville

Dear Nashville — Oh, Sister Alma Rose is nuts about them wars. She, herself, can think of nothing she’d rather do than crawl around on rocks, in 130-degree heat, being shot at or looking for somebody to shoot at. She often considers, oh, my, what a thrill it must be, driving a vehicle from here to there and wondering whether somewhere between there and here might be a roadside bomb just primed to blow Sister Alma Rose to smithereens, with pieces of Sister Alma Rose propelled sky-high and floating back to earth in, say, Lapland.

Sister Alma Rose is not troubled by death, because she believes that everyone who dies is reborn as a innocent child. (See “Sister Alma Rose: Beyond the Grave.” ) What saddens Sister Alma Rose is the certain knowledge that every Big War is a clashing-and-clanging manifestation of the Little Conflicts within each and every one of us. We are all like small children afraid of the monster under the bed, and we look for some Power to protect us from that monster, when, the fact is, the monster and the Power are inside of us the whole time. And the Power is very great, and the monster is all bark and no bite. But we don’t know that.

No, Honey, we don’t know that, so we try to destroy the monster under the bed, and every time we do away with a monster, three more pops up in its place, and they have the faces of our husband or wife or child or brother-in-law or people who don’t look like us, and even people who do but who live a few blocks away and that makes them the enemy.

So, it seems, we are always looking for people for us to be more powerful than them, and when we find those people we blast them to bits and then we wonder why we don’t feel any safer.

Even Sister Alma Rose can’t stop all the fighting, but she can find peace within herself, which is One Big Step; and she can pray, and there’s Big Power there; and she can do the metta (lovingkindness) meditation, which is as follows:

Metta (Lovingkindness) Meditation *

May be done individually or in a group

Begin by sitting in a comfortable position, closing y’all’s eyes. Sit with your back straight but not rigid. Take a few deep breaths, relaxing a little more with each exhalation. Feel your energy settle into y’alls body and into the moment.

This practice involves what might be considered a mantra. It includes a series of phrases that begin with y’all and extend to include, ultimately, all beings.

Classical phrases include…

May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I live in safety.
May I live with ease.

  1. Y’all can gently repeat these phrases over and over again. Allow your mind to rest in the phrases. Y’all’s attention will wander. The mind is always thinking. Acknowledge your thoughts but don’t follow them; let them drift by. When y’all become lost in thought, don’t become frustrated. Whenever y’all realize that your attention has wandered and you’ve lost touch with the moment, simply, gently let go and begin again: May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I live in safety. May I live with ease.
  2. Call to mind someone who fills y’all with warmth and makes your heart bloom open — a child, a dear friend, even a pet. Visualize that person (or pet), summon a feeling for his or her presence, and then direct the phrases of lovingkindness to him or her: May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live in safety. May you live with ease.
  3. Repeat the mantra while thinking of someone y’all know who’s having a difficult time right now. Say the phrases to that person, as if he or she were sitting beside y’all: May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live in safety. May you live with ease.
  4. Repeat the practice with a stranger, someone for whom y’all have no particular feeling one way or another: a woman who walks her dog in your neighborhood, someone you’ve just “seen around” at church or at the grocery store: May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live in safety. May you live with ease.
  5. Now repeat the practice with someone y’all dislike or have trouble getting along with — a relative, a boss or colleague — or a public or historical figure: May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live in safety. May you live with ease.
  6. When we connect into these phrases, aiming the heart in this way, we’re opening ourselves to the possibility of including rather than excluding, of connecting rather than overlooking, of caring rather than being indifferent… of recognizing that the soul-candle that burns within one burns within all. And ultimately, we open in this way to all beings everywhere, without distinction, without separation.
    May all beings everywhere be happy, be healthy, live in safety, live with ease… all people, all animals, all creatures, all those in existence, near and far, known to us and unknown to us… all beings on the earth, in the air, in the water… those being born, those dying… those who have entered other planes of existence. Y’all can feel the energy of this aspiration extending infinitely in front of you, to either side, behind y’all, above and below, as the heart extends in a boundless way, excluding no one.
  7. And when y’all feel ready, open your eyes and carry this energy with y’all throughout the day.

* Adapted from Beliefnet, accessed 3/15/08, and the meditation practices of Sharon Salzberg, a cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society; and Susan Piver, author of How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life

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Good Vibrations

http://www.echoes.org/graphics/Kitaro.jpg
http://www.echoes.org/graphics/Kitaro.jpg

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The essence of meditation is also the essence of art. —Claudio Naranjo

Meditation and music cannot be separated.Sri Chinmoy

The essence of sound healing is the re-tuning of the human instrument, correcting at whatever level those frequencies, which have become weakened or gone out of tune. This is done on the basis of resonance, be it sympathetic vibrations or the power of forced resonance. Basically, whatever part of us that is ailing can be awakened by harmonious sound sources and remember at what frequency it should be vibrating. This can occur at the physical level (from cells to muscles to organs), the subtle level (changing negative psychology), and the causal level (create permanent positive changes in one’s nature). James D’Angelo, in “Healing Vibrations”

Meditate with Frequency

Dear Sister Alma Rose – My meditation teacher says that we should not listen to music while meditating. Yet there are hundreds of “meditation music” CDs out there. I do not have a quiet place to meditate – I live in a noisy part of a noisy city – so I like to listen to music when I meditate. What do you think? -Musically Inclined in Muskegon

Dear MIM – Sister Alma Rose has found that meditation, with all its meanings and misleadings, can seem exceedingly complicated. But it is very simple, actually. When y’all meditate, y’all are surrendering yourself to the flow of the river of life, the waters from the divine Source.

Kobe Bryant — In a Zone

Kobe Bryant — In a Zone

Whatever the reason for meditating – to relax, to reduce blood pressure, to quit smoking or using strong drink – the meditation itself is supposed to be done without expectation. Y’all are not to be thinking, oh, goody, I’m lowering my blood pressure, I’m making myself healthier, and et cetera. In meditation, we let go of all thought, and simply ride on the breath; or, in some traditions, we watch our thoughts and feelings drift by, observe them, and know that they are not us. They are, as Eckhart Tolle explains, “content,” not “essence,” and deep meditation reveals to us the secret, essential self, the soul, the inner light.

Y’all’s meditation teacher might suggest that y’all get yourself some of them fancy headphones that block out sound or play “white noise,” or that y’all listen to recorded nature sounds (rain, birdsong, the surf, and et cetera) while meditating.

There is some music whose purveyors claim is scientifically engineered to produce alpha brain waves. The alpha state “is the state of brain activity characterized by waves ranging from 8 to 13 cycles per second. Resembling a light trance, it is the condition one experiences during meditation, daydreaming, just prior to sleep (hypnagogic), and just after waking (hypnopompic).” (New Age Glossary)

Alpha state brainwaves are slower then beta (our active state) and the frequency ranges from 8 to 14 cycles per second. It is a state of “aware relaxation” and it brings numerous advantages:

  • calms your body and mind while it maintains alertness
  • stimulates imagination, intuition and higher awareness
  • creates detachment from the outcome and increases dowsing accuracy
  • improves your mental processes – concentration, clarity of thinking, decision making, memory
  • frees up more of your potential and helps you achieve your goals in life
  • allows you to sleep better, fall asleep easily, stay asleep right through the night
    DiviningMind.com

Some meditation practitioners, in the Buddhist lineages particularly, might say that listening to music is antithetical to meditation… that music induces an “artificial” sense of well-being, freeing us from the need to peel off the layers of “content” to reach the “essence.”

So let’s not listen to them.

Buddhist Gardens

Buddhist Gardens

Sister Alma Rose is not saying that they are wrong. In fact, meditation is a means of being “present,” of “living in the moment,” that at some point becomes a way of life, so that y’all are at peace in any situation, and not all situations evolve in the presence of soul-stirring music. Sister Alma Rose is sure that Kobe Bryant is utterly and completely “present” — “in the zone,” Sister Alma Rose believes is the expression —when he is hitting three-pointers with ease and grace, but Kobe Bryant does not demonstrate ease and grace in every circumstance.

It was hypothesized, at one time, that LSD was a viable shortcut to ecstasy. Look how well that worked out. On the other hand,

peyote [has been] used for 10,000 years as an Indian religious sacrament.

Peyote–officially known to botanists as Lophophora williamsii–grows naturally only in… four counties [in Texas]…. For non-Indians, possession is illegal and punishable by stiff narcotics laws. But the religious use of peyote is allowed for members of the Native American Church, a pan-tribal religion derived from the practices of native peoples who inhabited what is now southern Texas and northern Mexico.

The peyote church, as it is sometimes called, began to spread through Indian country in the late 1870s. Adherents eat peyote in a powdery form or drink it in tea during communal sessions that last from evening until dawn. Members of the 400,000-member church do not report feeling a high–pharmacologists say actual hallucinations are uncommon–but rather a period of intense inward reflection. “To me it’s a medicine,” says Earl Arkinson, the church president, a Chippewa-Cree Indian from Montana who is a police chief in his other life. “It’s a spiritual feeling.”peyote.com

Peyote cactus in the wild

Peyote cactus in the wild

Sister Alma Rose is not – let’s be crystal clear, here – not advocating the use of LSD, peyote (members of the Native American Church excepted), or any other drug – natural or synthetic, legal or illegal. With LSD, y’all are more likely to see y’all’s eyeballs in the sink than to find peace and serenity. Sister Alma Rose knows of what she speaks. In fact, Sister Alma Rose has digressed egregiously from the original point, which was the use of music in meditation.

Sister Alma Rose agrees with James D’Angelo when he says that “if the universe is [a]… finely tuned multitude of vibration frequencies, then using the principle of ‘as above, so below,’ each of us is the same…. The essence of sound healing is the re-tuning of the human instrument, correcting at whatever level those frequencies which have become weakened or gone out of tune.”

So let us say that listening to certain types of music in a meditative way is form of meditation or an alternative to meditation. Sister Alma Rose enjoys meditating to the music of two composers in particular: Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla and Kitarō.

  • Get y’alls self comfortable and relax thoroughly. Sister Alma Rose relaxes her skin, muscles, internal organs, and bones, bit by bit, from the scalp down by imagining that she is lying in the sun and her body is like warm butter. This metaphor may bring to mind the Wicked Witch of the West after Dorothy throws water on her in the Wizard of Oz movie – “I’m melting, I’m melting.” Please do not think of Sister Alma Rose in those terms. Sister Alma Rose will know, and she will send flying monkeys after y’all.
  • Meditate in silence for a few minutes, focusing on your breathing and relaxing a little more with every “out” breath.
  • Turn on your music – Sister Alma Rose uses headphones – and tune y’all’s body to its vibrations. (See “Make a Habit of It.”)
  • Imagine y’all’s body as a big symphony hall, or, better yet, an outdoor amphitheater, that “contains” the music. Ideally, y’all will have a sense of your body expanding and growing lighter as the music fills it and merges with the “vibration frequencies” of the universe.
  • …Or simply inhale the harmony and beauty, and exhale discord….
Y’all might find that y’all have a tendency to breathe in rhythm with the music. If the music is very fast, y’all could just about hyperventilate, and if it’s too slow, y’all might turn blue. So choose music that isn’t veryveryfast or v-e-r-y s-l-o-w, and breathe naturally.

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Why Meditate? The Beautiful Benefits of Meditation

Blackeyed Susans along a Nebraska Road
Meditation is – can be – so many things. There are meditations to relax you or to energize you; meditations for visualization and manifestation; meditations to empty your mind or to focus it. The more entrepreneurial among us have made meditation a commodity designed to cure the ills of a selected audience, which is a nice way of saying that some meditation resources are sham.

Meditation, at its most basic, is resting the mind. Most of us garden-variety meditators can’t empty the mind completely, but we can, at least for a few minutes, give it a respite.

Everybody has problems. The mind is usually engaged in solving those problems, and the problem-solving process often entails stress, anxiety, regret, maybe some guilt, maybe even depression and hopelessness if we lack the resources we believe will solve the problems: health, energy, money, ideas, courage, influence, whatever.

Stress, anxiety, regret, guilt, and depression weigh on us. They sap our energy and cloud our thinking, becoming fuel for more stress, anxiety, regret, and so forth. They are colloquially and aptly called “baggage.”

Nebraska Sunset; Geese flying north over Lake McConaughy

 

Meditation sets the baggage aside

In 1976, my daughter, Marian, and I were rushing through Washington’s Union Station, hurrying to catch the Broadway Limited, which was departing early. We were loaded down with suitcases and Christmas presents for our visit to our family in Omaha.

Marian was eight years old and was carrying everything she could manage, but I had the heavy stuff, both arms straining until I had to stop and give my muscles a break. After thirty seconds or so, I could pick the bags and packages up again and forge ahead, and then my arms would insist on being rested again. My arms were very vocal about it, and they refused to accommodate me until I let them have their little reprieve.

Our psyches don’t complain as clearly as our muscles. Headaches, backaches, stomach aches we can ignore or medicate. But if we keep going on overload, mentally or emotionally, something’s gotta give.

Meditation, like restful sleep, is a way of setting the baggage aside and giving our psyches a break. During the time we’re meditating, there’s no past to regret; there’s no future to worry about; there’s only now, and right now, everything is all right.

There’s no such thing as meditating badly

The only “bad meditation” is one that carries unrealistic expectations, so don’t go out and buy a “meditation kit,” CD, or book that promises wealth, romance, or power. Meditation is good for you—for body, mind, and spirit; for relationships and work and problem-solving and achieving your goals. But your life won’t change overnight, and anyway, expectations are about the future, and meditation is about this moment.

If you’re new to meditation, you may find it difficult at first to interrupt your churning thoughts, but there are some excellent and simple techniques to deal with them. For now, I’ll just give you three axioms to hold on to:

1.      The intention to meditate is a giant step in the right direction.

2.      Thirty seconds of meditation is better than no meditation at all.

3.      It’s not how often your mind wanders that’s important, it’s how many times you return to the meditation, gently and without beating yourself up. It is, as Jack Kornfield says, like training a puppy. You don’t yell or scold; you just keep at it, patiently and compassionately.

When I worked at the University of Arizona, our department invited one of the trainers from the wellness center to give a presentation on “becoming fit.” The presentation was excellent and inspiring. It was especially motivational for me because the presenter emphasized “starting where you are.” If you want to walk or run on a treadmill, she said, and you can only manage two minutes, do the two minutes.

 

I had recently had a baby, and I wanted to start riding my bicycle to work—a five-mile journey that sloped gently uphill most of the way. So for a few days I rode my bike around the neighborhood, which was very flat. One morning I decided that I’d start for work on my bicycle, ride as far as I could manage, then lock the bike to a lamppost or something and take the bus the rest of the way. To my surprise, the five-mile trip was relatively easy and I locked my bike to the bike rack outside the Administration Building. My legs were spaghetti, but I felt an enormous sense of accomplishment, coupled with the knowledge that the trip home would be all downhill.

So just start. Begin with thirty seconds. Try to add a little time each day. Be patient. Don’t scold yourself if you miss a day, or a week. One of the purposes of meditation is to learn compassion for yourself and, by extension, for others.

The benefits of meditation

The potential benefits are almost too numerous to mention, and to some extent they depend on what form of meditation you adopt. But – again, we’re talking about very basic meditation here – a regular meditation practice can significantly reduce the negative effects of stress, including heart rate and blood pressure. It can be a vacation from emotional turmoil, and you can learn to make that “vacation” into a way of life, making the attitudes you cultivate during meditation into a habitual way of being.

Meditation cultivates compassion, the ability to love, and acceptance: of yourself, of other people, of your circumstances. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever try to change your circumstances. Acceptance doesn’t mean rolling over. But through meditation you can learn to be at peace wherever you are even when you’d rather be somewhere else.

It might seem paradoxical, but through meditation you can become both (a) your best self, genuine, unique, distinctive, and (b) in harmony with your environment, however you define it: your family, your friends, your colleagues, your home, your neighborhood, trees, buildings, stars, the universe. You can, at the same time, know your limitations and continually test them.

There are “nonreligious” forms of meditation, but I believe that meditation is intrinsically spiritual. It requires a leap of faith to part with your ego, and that is exactly what meditation requires. Whether you’re practicing Christian meditation, Jewish meditation (Kabbalah, perhaps), Sufi meditation, Buddhist meditation, Transcendental Meditation, or the Meditation of Not Being in a Plummeting Aircraft, the movement is always out of Matter into Spirit. For me, in any case, meditation is communion with the Divine.

Find hours of music for meditation and relaxation, nature sounds, meditation instruction, and other meditation resources at Zero Gravity’s website, www.LifeIsPoetry.net