An Open Heart

Missing Juliette

Chakra Goddess (www.intotheheart.org, from www.karunaarts.com)

Chakra Goddess (www.intotheheart.org, from http://www.karunaarts.com)

Almost nothing matters except how much love I can give and how much love there is in the world…. I can rededicate myself each day to the intelligence, grace, and mystery of a truly open heart. —Susan Piver, How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life: Opening Your Heart to Confidence, Intimacy, and Joy

Fourth Chakra (heart): Located at the center of our chest in the heart region, this energy-center is focused on opening to love, including the Divine manifestation of Love. intotheheart.org

Me, Fanny McElroy

Me, Fanny McElroy

Sister Alma Rose and I had gone to visit our friend Juliette. “I am missing Juliette,” Sister Alma Rose had said, as if she had misplaced Juliette and we should do a thorough search of the house and grounds.

I knew what she meant, though, because I was missing Juliette too. Juliette is all heart and wit and honesty. Plus I have sort of a crush on Juliette’s son, Ry, who is easy on the eyes and is kind and good and takes care of his mother. They take care of each other and of anyone nearby who needs them, and sometimes people not-so-nearby, all of which is a minor miracle, as you will see.

The Brawl in Montreal

Sugar Ray Leonard

Sugar Ray Leonard

Sister Alma Rose has a guilty secret: She enjoys boxing — as a spectator, of course, though I think she could defeat an opponent in the first second of the first round with one of her “don’t y’all be messing with Sister Alma Rose” looks. In 1980, she went all the way to Canada to see the famous “Brawl in Montreal,” the World Welterweight Championship fight in which Roberto Durán beat Sugar Ray Leonard in a 15-round unanimous decision. (I Googled welterweight, and there are actually several definitions having to do with horses and things, but in the above context, welterweight refers to a professional boxer who weighs between 141 and 147 pounds, which is not very big, my tiny mama weighed more than that when she was pregnant with me.)

Actually, being a boxing fan is not Sister Alma Rose’s guilty secret, it’s mine, by which I mean, I feel guilty for her. She will tell anyone who cares to listen that she adores a well-matched fight and prefers a good, decisive knockout to a decision.

This astonishes me. I cannot understand why anyone, especially someone who exudes peace and serenity as Sister Alma Rose does, would actually enjoy watching two people trying to beat each other to a bloody pulp.

1st Lt. Alan Singleton lays in the ropes as team officials rush to his aid following his knockout by Lance Cpl. Charles Davis in the final fight of the 2000 All-Marine Boxing Trials. (Wikipedia)

1st Lt. Alan Singleton lies in the ropes as team officials rush to his aid after his knockout by Lance Cpl. Charles Davis in the final fight of the 2000 All-Marine Boxing Trials (Wikipedia)

All Sister Alma Rose will say is this: “Fanny, y’all should watch a fight some time. It’s a lesson in the human condition. A fighter gets knocked down hard, and before y’all can say ‘Marquess of Queensbury rules,’ the fighter is back on his feet, a little weaker but still eager to fight. If he gets knocked down again pretty quick, he’s a little slower to get up, but if the fight ended right then he could probably go out for a few beers with his buddies, have a shower, maybe get a massage, go to bed, sleep twelve hours, wake up aching all over, take it easy for a couple days, bingo, he’s good as new.

“But if the fight hadn’t ended, if he keeps on getting knocked down before he regains his equilibrium, pretty soon he just can’t get up any more. He’s helpless, and if somebody don’t come in and take care of him, he’s still lying there on the mat. But maybe he makes a couple million dollars just for showing up, so he’s got folks on the payroll who’ll look out for him and probably see to it that he gets healed and gets his strength back so that he can show up for another fight down the road.”

Frontispiece of the 1605 printing (Q2) of *Hamlet*

Frontispiece of the 1605 printing (Q2) of *Hamlet*

To be, or not to be–that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep —
No more — 
and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep–
To sleep–perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.

Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III, scene i

Her heart shines like the sun

Sister Alma Rose says that “no mere mortal” can get punched in the gut over and over like Juliette, or be whomped repeatedly by “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” and remain standing “with an open heart,” which is why she is sure that Juliette is an angel from heaven, and Ry, too, who is technically, she says, an “angelino,” which, I don’t know what that means except possibly Ry is an apprentice angel, I’m just guessing, or maybe there’s an age limit and he’s not old enough. As I said, I don’t know.

The front entrance of the Tomb of the Prophet Job in the Druze Mountain region of Lebanon (El-Chouf). It marks the place where God healed all Job's wounds. (Wikipedia)

The front entrance of the Tomb of the Prophet Job in the Druze Mountain region of Lebanon (El-Chouf). It marks the place where God healed all Job's wounds (Wikipedia)

I will tell you one — just one — of the series of disasters that afflicted Juliette, the way God seemed to keep punishing Job according to the Bible. Juliette’s grown daughter, Adrienne, Ry’s sister, took her own life, something like ten years ago. Sister Alma Rose says that many people never heal from a blow like that. They turn inward, they get bitter, they protect themselves from other scary stuff that might be out there. Sister Alma Rose once knew a kind, gentle woman, a butterfly collector, whose husband, who was a county medical examiner, shot himself in the head, and his widow went home to her mama in Chicago and about a month later her mama found her dead in her car in the garage, of carbon monoxide poisoning, with a note that said she had gone to be with her husband.

From the Public Library of Science Journal, Oct. 17, 2006, published on Wikipedia

From the Public Library of Science Journal, Oct. 17, 2006, published on Wikipedia

Juliette, after getting blindsided for about the fifth time, almost caved. She stopped eating, more or less, until she literally could not stand up, and Ry found her helpless in her living room and hauled her off to the hospital, where she got rehydrated and “stabilized,” and then she spent a couple of months at a rehab center learning to walk again, and that’s been a year and a half ago, and even though she’s still not what you might call robust, her heart shines like the sun. She actively looks for ways to help her friends. She says, “I might not be able to do THIS, but I can do THAT,” and then she does it.

More accurately, the Juliette-and-Ry team do it. He’s big and strong, she’s tiny and still a bit frail, though she’s getting stronger every day; so she scouts around for what people need and together they accomplish it.

Open your heart

Human heart with coronary arteries (Yale University School of Medicine, published on Wikipedia)

Human heart with coronary arteries (Yale University School of Medicine, published on Wikipedia)

I asked Sister Alma Rose, when we were walking home from our visit with Juliette and Ry, what is meant by “an open heart” and where can I get one. She stopped and turned so that we were facing each other, and she said, “Look at how y’all are standing, Miss Fanny, with your shoulders back and your heart exposed, so to speak. People talk about ‘deep in my heart’ and ‘heartfelt admiration’ and they might not know it but opening their heart is a literal, physical thing.”

I’m thinking surgery and gore, and Sister Alma Rose seems to read my mind, because she says, as she has said many times before, quoting somebody-or-other, I can’t remember, “Things are metaphors for ideas, Fanny. If you want your heart to open up, and you gently ask it to, it will open up. If you ask it in the name of God to shine on the Somali pirates or on President Obama or on Jimmy Oakley, who has head lice, it will shine on them and the whole world will be that much brighter.”

Barry Manilow (2008 photo by Matt Becker, pub. on Wikipedia)

Barry Manilow (2008 photo by Matt Becker, pub. on Wikipedia)

Sister Alma Rose has taught me to meditate on opening the heart and to pray by casting the heart’s love-beams, which sounds like a dreadful pop ballad by someone like Barry Manilow, but which is a real thing, because Sister Alma Rose can actually see, with her physical eyes, the light that shines from one person to another, which goes from you to the person you are praying for, though I can only feel it a little bit, like when I am going into a room full of people I don’t know and instead of feeling threatened and being shy and inward, I tell my heart to shine on them, one by one or all together, depending, and it always, always makes me feel friendly and open instead of afraid that nobody will talk to me or that my pants will suddenly decide to fall down. Although one time my pants did fall down; but that is another story….

The Ancients, Part 1 — Daddy Pete

  

I’m Walkin’

fatsdomino1992concertfrancerolandgodefroyphotog

Fats Domino, performing in Normandy, 1992; photo by Roland Godefroy

Walking Meditation and a Little Bit of Rock-and-Roll History 

Do y’all remember Fats Domino’s 1957 hit “I’m Walkin'”?* No, of course y’all don’t. Y’all are ages younger than Sister Alma Rose… though there was a revival of interest in the song, and the singer, when 2005’s Hurricane Katrina destroyed Fats Domino’s house in New Orleans.

Here’s a priceless and poignant video of an “I’m Walkin'” duet featuring Fats Domino and Ricky Nelson

…poignant, in that this was one of Nelson’s last recorded performances. He was killed in a 1985 plane crash at age 45. (There’s no truth to the rumor that a fire in the cabin, supposedly ignited by Nelson and others while freebasing, caused the crash.) And poignant, in that Nelson’s cover of Domino’s “I’m Walkin'” was Nelson’s debut single. **

The young Nelson family, late 1940s (top to bottom -- Ozzie, Harriet, David, and Ricky)

The young Nelson family, late 1940s (top to bottom -- Ozzie, Harriet, David, and Ricky)

(Notice, in the video, how Nelson vocally defers to Domino. Ricky’s just singing harmony. His voice and his body language are both saying, this is Fats Domino’s song.)

Making a virtue of necessity

Sister Alma Rose ran out of baking soda this morning. She was mildly annoyed, on account of she was baking, and baking soda was needed for both the baking and the cleaning-up afterward.

Normally, Sister Alma Rose enjoys walking to the town of Hilltop and back up to Hilltop Farm, but it was cold this morning and the sky was spitting and there was no one to go with her for company, Cousin Dulcie being away and Fanny McElroy at school. Sister Alma Rose, however, always endeavors to make a virtue of necessity, and so she decided to undertake her trek as a Walking Meditation, in which “each footprint is an impression of the peace and love you feel for the universe.”

Before she begins a walking meditation, Sister Alma Rose prays fervently for several people she knows who’d gleefully give up all their worldly goods for the ability to walk at all, even to Hilltop and back in the wind and sleet.

WalkingThe way Sister Alma Rose practices walking meditation is much like the way she does breathing meditation, except that she focuses on the sensation of encountering the edge of the earth with the soles of her feet. (For you chakra aficionados, this can be a form of grounding meditation in that one foot or the other is always on the ground, Mother Earth nourishing the root chakra.) It is the repetitive, rhythmic intersection of self and surface that induces the meditative state, rather than the cycle of inhaling and exhaling… with the additional benefit of motion. Y’all are headed toward a destination, though the place is irrelevant and should not be allowed to intrude on the meditation.

Some folks do their walking meditation in a pastoral or parklike setting, with acute awareness of birdcalls and flowers and foliage. Others let these external stimuli float in and out of their awareness, returning their focus always to the metrical sensation of walking… of the tangent of physical body with physical planet.

Elvis Presley, early in his career

Elvis Presley, early in his career

Sister Alma Rose would offer y’all two cautions if y’all are beginning a walking meditation:

  1. Leave space in y’all’s outer awareness for some of the more aggressive “external stimuli” — automobiles, rampaging elephants, and the like.
  2. Don’t forget to buy the baking soda.

* * *

* Sister Alma Rose heard, on the public-radio program American Routes (November 28, 2007), an account of the transition from rhythm & blues, once called “black music” or “race music,” to rock & roll — an amalgamation of gospel, folk music, country music, blues (especially jump blues), swing, boogie-woogie, and, of course, R&B, according to Wikipedia. Prominent performers during and after this transition were Bo DiddleyBuddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, and Little Richard — among many others.

During the mid-1950s, entrepreneurial music pioneers saw a vast potential audience for a slightly blander variety of “black music” among white teenagers. There was a particularly fascinating bit of audio in the American Routes broadcast in which Little Richard is being coached to alter the signature R&B syncopation by singing on the down beat (I think the song was “Lucille“… or it might have been “Slippin’ and Slidin’“) — dumbing the music down, in a sense, so that white kids could dance to it. The segment was brief — but long enough to capture a few false starts on Little Richard’s part before he got the hang of it.

It was a pivotal time in the evolution of American popular music, when white performers (most notably Elvis Presley) emulated black musicians, and black performers (the great gospel artist Sam Cooke among them) were being urged to sing “whiter,” and crooners such as Frank Sinatra and onetime barber Perry Como still managed to churn out a few hits. During the 1960s, the Rolling Stones would be among the British bands to revive “black music’s” blues rhythms in the U.S., helping pave the way for the raw vocals of Aretha Franklin and James Brown.

Sam Cooke (photo by Frank Driggs) was only 33 when he was shot and killed, under mysterious circumstances, in 1964

Sam Cooke (photo by Frank Driggs) was only 33 when he was shot and killed, under mysterious circumstances, in 1964

** Ricky Nelson became a “teen idol” when he started singing and playing the guitar on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, featuring his real-life parents, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, and his brother, David. Ozzie Nelson was best known as a bandleader in the 1930s and 1940s. The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet aired on the radio from 1944 to 1954 and on television from 1952 to 1966.

Serious critics underestimated Ricky’s musicianship, as they had Elvis Presley’s, from the first. It seems that when a singer or a band is enormously popular (as was true of the Everly Brothers, the Beach Boys, and the BeeGees), their innovations and other contributions to the genre are ignored, except in retrospect. Ricky Nelson, influenced by Carl Perkins, eventually found his niche in rockabilly, after his “chart career came to a dramatic halt in the wake of the British Invasion…. In the mid-1960s, Nelson began to move toward country music, becoming a pioneer in the country-rock genre. He was one of the early influences of the so-called California Sound (which would include singers like Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt and bands like the Eagles). Yet Nelson himself did not reach the Top 40 again until 1970, when he recorded Bob Dylan‘s ‘She Belongs to Me’ with the Stone Canyon Band.” —Wikipedia

* * *

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Grounded

There are resources and sustaining energies that are available to all of us when we align our bodies with the earth. Knowledgeable healers have an understanding of the great value of being grounded is to each of us in our overall health and well being….. A common practice that is used by healers to assist clients who tend to be “spacey” to become more grounded is to guide them through a simple guided visualization. The healer will ask the client to imagine being a tree. By imagination of extending his roots into the ground the client’s anxieties are lessened and they are better able to draw healing energies from the earth source. —About.com Holistic Healing

The Buddha sat in serene and humble dignity on the ground, with the sky above him and around him, as if to show us that in meditation you sit with an open, skylike attitude of mind, yet remain present, earthed, and grounded. The sky is our absolute nature, which has no barriers and is boundless, and the ground is our reality, our relative, ordinary condition. The posture we take when we meditate signifies that we are linking absolute and relative, sky and ground, heaven and earth, like two wings of a bird, integrating the skylike deathless nature of a mind and the ground of our transient, mortal nature. —Sogyal Rinpoche, Meditation

Sister Alma Rose, Recumbent

Sister Alma Rose likes to meditate lying down.

Most experienced meditators believe that posture is exceedingly important in meditation. Sister Alma Rose don’t quarrel with that. She would adore to sit like the nubile white girl in the photo. Several lifetimes ago, she rather looked like the nubile white girl in the photo, with them picturesque collarbones and dancer’s legs.

The idea is to sit comfortably, in a chair or on the floor or the ground, perhaps on a cushion, such that it is easy to envision a golden cord connecting the meditator with the sky, the chakras aligned, and a “root” extending from the root chakra to the center of the earth.

Sister Alma Rose has a bony butt

Sister Alma Rose is exceedingly comfortable in her skin, and she has ample amounts of skin in which to be comfortable. Sister Alma Rose has a lap in which small children can hide from their predators, and a bosom formed to serve as a cozy anchor for the babies who like to splay themselves across her naturally padded shoulders. Sister Alma Rose’s buns, however, are inexplicably skinny. Sometimes she sits on a cushion to meditate, oftimes on her bed, leaning against pillows lest her back or her bony butt complain before her meditation is satisfyingly concluded.

But Sister Alma Rose is most comfortable meditating when she is lying on her side in the bed. Comfort is exceedingly important in meditation. Indeed, some forms of meditation are meant to be practiced lying down. But oftimes, when she is engaged in a meditation practice for which it is recommended that the meditator be sitting, Sister Alma Rose cheats and lies on her back or, if she is very tired, on her side. Occasionally, but not usually, Sister Alma Rose falls asleep while meditating. What better frame of mind in which to rest?

Sister Alma Rose believes that the “golden cord” is not a “cast-iron cord” for a good reason, and she knows that roots bend and snake their way to their sources of water and nutrients in the earth. If meditating is uncomfortable — if y’all are fighting with your body during y’all’s meditation — why, then, meditating becomes a chore instead of a folding of oneself into the timeless embrace of the Creator. Sister Alma Rose often meditates several times a day, and she has reaped the many blessings that accrue from the consistent practice of meditation. (See “Why Meditate? The Beautiful Benefits of Meditation.”)

Sister Alma Rose suspects that people with disabilities that prevent them from sitting on a chair or cross-legged on a cushion are not denied access to meditation practices that are windows opened to heaven. If y’all want to meditate standing on y’all’s head or dancing naked in the creek (practitioner discretion advised), by all means do so. Many pathways lead to God, and they are not all at a 90-degree angle to the surface of the planet.

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Ch’i Whiz

The Holy Spirit descending as a dove, from a 15th-century illumination

Sister Alma Rose Q & A

Q. Do you believe in ch’i?

A. Honey, everybody believes in ch’i except certain donkeys in the “medical community.” These misguided but well-meaning souls, whom Sister Alma Rose believes to be late-evolvers, yank up their snouts at anything they can’t bottle and peer at, which is to say, they disdain anything remotely metaphysical.

Human imagination and intuition have gotten ahead of science again, is all. Quantum physics is huffing and puffing to catch up, but most (by no means all) of the smarty scientists take a swift detour when they come up against the purported dead end of the Divine.

Ch’i is not necessarily a religious concept (nor is meditation necessarily a religious practice, although Sister Alma Rose figures nonreligious meditation is an oxymoron). Y’all can talk about a “life force” and in the same breath say you don’t believe in God. You can also say y’all don’t believe in elephants and then wander off to find the pachyderms.

A ch’i primer

Translations of ch’i or qi
(alternatively gi): Jyutping hei;
Japanese ki; Korean gi; also Common
Greek πνε.

Spelling and pronunciation: In
English, ch’i is pronounced CHEE,
hereinafter spelled CHI.

Sometimes used synonymously:
Natural energy of the universe
Subtle energy
Energy flow
Vitalism
Life breath

The idea of chi underlies most forms
of meditation, whether or not the
word chi is actually used.

Chi is believed to be the life force
or spiritual energy that sustains all
living things and permeates the
spaces in which they exist.

Chi is
usually considered an Asian
concept, but since the dawn of
history, chi has had its counterpart
in every culture—prana in the Yogic
tradition, for example, and, more loosely,
the Holy Spirit in Christianity.

The word chi and its cognates
in most languages derive from roots
that allude to air, breath, spirit, or
wind. The Chinese philosopher
Zhuang Zhou (Zhuang Zi or Master
Zhuang, 370-301 BCE) described
wind as “the qi of the earth.”

Chi is central to traditional Chinese
medicine; qigong, tai chi chuan, and
other martial arts; and feng shui
(pronounced FUNG SHWAY). In the
healthy human body, chi moves
smoothly through the meridian
channels, or energy centers. (There
is some similarity in concept to
energy flow through the seven
chakras. There are twelve standard
meridians, however, and they are
located on the arms and legs.)

Balancing chi and removing
blockages can restore harmony to
the body. The practices of
acupuncture, acupressure, reiki,
tong ren, and other nontraditional
healing techniques all seek to
balance chi and allow it to flow
freely. The same principle applies to
spaces—homes, gardens, offices—
and the goal of feng shui is to
arrange the environment in a way
that is harmonious and healthful. 

Sources, accessed 7/25/08: Wise Geek, Wikipedia, The Skeptic’s Dictionary

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