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.

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