‘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.”

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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