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…

Mother God

Marriage_at_Cana_by_Giotto

The Marriage at Cana, by Giotto

Sister Alma Rose Prays the Rosary and Other Snarfles of Information about Sister Alma Rose

I have decided to be Sister Alma Rose’s Boswell. Please do not snicker, it will make me very cross. Sister Alma Rose is an Exceedingly Remarkable Human Being, and almost everything she does is memorable, probably when she trims her nose hairs it is memorable, although (a) I do not know whether or not Sister Alma Rose has renegade nose hairs, and (b) if she does, I am not present when she trims or plucks or however one extracts nose hairs, and (c) I do not at all like the direction we are going here, enough about nose hairs.

Sister Alma Rose prays to Mary the Mother of Jesus

Rosary

Image via Wikipedia

Sister Alma Rose is not a Roman Catholic but she uses the Rosary in prayer, although not in the approved Roman Catholic fashion, which is very complicated and involves Mysteries (Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious, and Luminous). My friend Pablo is a Roman Catholic, and he goes to Confession as often as he needs to, even when he has ordinary sinful thoughts, such as, “I could just kill Yolanda,” who is his older sister, and who is so annoying that there are times when I could cheerfully strangle her with her own Rosary, though I believe that that is not an approved Roman Catholic use of the Rosary, and anyway, I only think about it, I would never do it, so how can it be so wrong?

Confessional

Confessional; image by celesteh via Flickr

I have asked God in my prayers to heal me of my antipathy toward Yolanda, who floats around in a miasma of piety and has been known to wear as many as three Rosaries and has consigned Pablo to hell for (a) saying “shit,” (b) refusing to make and serve lemonade for Yolanda and her equally annoying boy friend, Hans, (c) and so forth; but, as I have said, Pablo goes to Confession, and the priest, who undoubtedly knows Yolanda and sympathizes with Pablo, gives him, I don’t know, ten Hail Marys and ten Our Fathers as his penance, and Pablo, who knows more than the priest does of the depth of his loathing for Yolanda, doubles it.

Pablo and I suspect that Hans and Yolanda have had Carnal Knowledge of one another and we wonder if she has been forthcoming of this particular sin in Confession; I say no, Pablo says yes.

Hail, Mary, Full of Grace

An Our Father is the Lord’s Prayer, truncated; Catholics use trespasses instead of debts, and then they quit and start over, if they are praying the Rosary.

A Hail Mary is as follows:

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen

Madonna and Child, Pompeo Batoni, 1742

Madonna and Child, Pompeo Batoni, 1742

Sister Alma Rose prays the Our Father and the Hail Mary when she prays the Rosary, but the resemblance to Roman Catholic tradition ends there. As we all know, Sister Alma Rose’s spirituality is somewhat eclectic, and her praying of the Rosary includes a litany of her own devising. If there were any who dared criticize Sister Alma Rose, they would be strict and solemn religionists and Sister Alma Rose would not care.

Me, Fanny McElroy

Me, Fanny McElroy

Yolanda has been heard muttering words to the effect that Sister Alma Rose is profaning the Rosary, which is silly, because there are no Rosaries in the Bible and a Rosary is an inanimate object with only so much power as the pray-er invests it with.

Sister Alma Rose Q & A

Pablo and I sat with Sister Alma Rose on her wonderful porch one Saturday afternoon in October, drinking Mr. Truman LaFollette’s delectable dark chocolate cocoa with marshmallows because it was a bit cool for lemonade. I had my notepad and a Rollerball pen in turquoise, and I asked Sister Alma Rose some questions and she answered them.

Me: Why do you pray to Mary the Mother of Jesus?

Sister Alma Rose: Well, Miss Fanny, one of the reasons that the Roman Catholic Church has elevated Mary the Mother of Jesus almost to divine status is that many of the peoples whom the Church was trying to convert in the early days practiced goddess worship, often associating the goddess with the earth—and even today we speak of “Mother Nature.” Those long-ago Christian missionaries knew that the better they could weave pagan and Christian traditions, the more likely the pagans were to accept Christianity.

Pablo — consigned to Hell?

Pablo — consigned to Hell?

I believe that women, in particular, need a feminine presence to pray to, one who represents the feminine attributes of our Father-Mother God. Some people are reluctant to pray to God the Creator; he is too big, he is unknowable. So they pray to saints and angels, who have been blessed with intimate knowledge of God and who will carry the people’s prayers to heaven.

Me: Thank you, Sister Alma Rose. Now then, how do you use the Rosary in a way that is different from how Catholics use the Rosary?

Sister Alma Rose: Well, Miss Fanny, as you know, I pray Hail Marys and Our Fathers using the Rosary. The circle of beads and the repetitive prayers are a form of meditation, the Our Father or Hail Mary being a mantra.

I would not say that I go into a trance, precisely, but rather that I let go of everything, worries and regrets and anxieties, until I feel purified and made ready to present my prayers to God. Then each bead becomes a prayer, first of praise and thanksgiving, then of petition or intercession—prayers for individuals who are sick, who are in torment, who grieve for loved ones, et cetera—and for myself, to ask God that my endeavors be not willful or prideful but loving and pure. And then I offer prayers of thanksgiving, that God has answered my prayers, knowing my need even before it was presented to him.

Me: Do you feel that you are using the Rosary inappropriately?

Sister Alma Rose: Prayer is never inappropriate.

And thus endeth my interview with Sister Alma Rose, and she proceeds to place two packs of cards on the table because she has promised to teach us to play bridge, because Pablo’s parents and mine play bridge together, and we think it is very grown-up, and it must be fascinating and intense because during bridge is the only time my father smokes cigarettes and takes the Lord’s Name In Vain.

Miscellaneous Playing Cards

Image by incurable_hippie via Flickr

 

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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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