Our Place in Creation

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Be Gentle with Yourself

Illuminata — A Return to Prayer, by Marianne Williamson

Illuminata — A Return to Prayer, by Marianne Williamson

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. —Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of a Course in Miracles

* * *

Dear Sister Alma Rose ~ Some time in my 50s I figured out that we spend the first half of life discovering that we’re not the center of the universe (“Don’t show off,” “Share your toys,” “Be a team player”) and the second half discovering that we ARE. Being a woman, I don’t know if this is QUITE as true for men, but I suspect it’s close.

A Return to Love, by Marianne Williamson

A Return to Love, by Marianne Williamson

In any case, for some of us this realization comes at the time when we’re no longer responsible for running the family… and it IS, of course, by the way, important for kids, during the “first half” of life, to learn to be attuned to other people’s needs, to make compromises without throwing themselves away or kicking the dog.

These days, all the New Age wisdom, which I study, along with lots of other wisdom, is about “being gentle with yourself” and “not beating yourself up” (I love Susan Piver on this in How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life: Opening Your Heart to Confidence, Intimacy, and Joy), and, necessarily, figuring out what you WANT, when your WANTS have been on the back burner, by choice or necessity.

Doing what you WANT is one of the compensations of middle age (unless you’re in an icky marriage or have grown children who are parasites) — THEN the first challenge is to realize that you have choices. I think the sudden freedom is too scary for many people; they like their lives to be structured around other people’s needs and wants… or, at least, that kind of life feels familiar and safe, and they don’t aspire to joy, self-discovery, a pair of wings….

We are conditioned to suppress our gifts… until we see them as GIFTS… and find ways to use them that give us great joy. When that happens, we are benefiting “humanity” in the way that is MEANT, speaking metaphysically; we have found “our place in Creation.”

How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life, by Susan Piver

How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life, by Susan Piver

Don’t you agree, Sister Alma Rose? Signed, Free in Fredericksburg

Dear Free—What y’all say is true and wise. But Sister Alma Rose believes that children can be raised to be independent and self-aware. So often, children are admonished to be “unselfish,” but as Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche has said in his marvelous book The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness, “Everybody wants to be happy.”  We just can’t help it. The difficulty is figuring out what balance of “selfish” and “selfless” acts and compromises will bring us the greatest satisfaction.

Every choice we make, regardless of our age, is the choice we believe will bring us closest to happiness. Sometimes we’re wrong. Children figure out pretty fast that if they hog all the toys, yes, they have all the toys, but nobody else will want to play with them.Rinpoche_The_Joy_of_Living

Take care of y’all’s self

Sister Alma Rose might not use the phrase “center of the universe,” as y’all did, but she understands what y’all mean. Lovely Cheryl Richardson has written a book called The Art of Extreme Self-Care: Transform Your Life One Month at a Time. Sister Alma Rose has not read this book, but she is inspired merely by the title (just as the brilliant book title Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and It’s All Small Stuff hardly makes it necessary to read the book).

Sister Alma Rose supposes — although, as mentioned, she has not read the book — that Cheryl Richardson advises her readers to refrain from guilt and worry, and to be aware of those times when y’all’s stress levels threaten to push y’all over the edge. Sister Alma Rose also supposes that taking a nice, long, relaxing bath with bath salts that smell like a summer flower garden, or, sometimes, cucumbers, is not the only antidote to dangerous stress that Cheryl Richardson recommends, if at all.

Sister Alma Rose believes it’s a damn shame that folks have to be reminded to stop doing the things that make them sick.

The Art of Extreme Self-Care, by Cheryl Richardson

The Art of Extreme Self-Care, by Cheryl Richardson

Find y’all’s balance

Sister Alma Rose has found, in her exceedingly long life, and this is just one of many (of Sister Alma Rose’s lives, that is), that y’all must always endeavor to have a life in balance, in which there is time for y’all to do what y’all love, even if y’all have nineteen children and a herd of pet llamas. And even children should learn to meditate, in order to find their true and genuine selves, which will unfailingly lead them to their dharma, their unique and particular path of joy and righteousness.

May God bless you, and when God shows y’all that path with neon signs and balloons and arrows and horns and whistles, as God is wont to do, may y’all be paying attention and not picking y’all’s nose or watching Gilligan’s Island reruns.

llama

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The_Rules_frontcover

Praying for Many

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Sister Alma Rose: How to Pray for Multitudes

cartoon_interracial_group

Sister Alma Rose Q & A

Dear Sister Alma Rose — I am on my church’s prayer chain, and people in the church make prayer requests, usually for loved ones who are sick, many of whom I know personally but more of whom I don’t. Some of the requests are for “the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan” or “the beleaguered and starving in Darfur.” I also pray daily for my own friends and family. I do not know how to pray, genuinely and with love, for so many people. Can you help? cartoon_group_2
—Signed, Baffled in Baltimore

Dear BIB — Sister Alma Rose understands y’all’s frustration. Sister Alma Rose, being Sister Alma Rose, is often asked to pray for multitudes. When she was young and naive, Sister Alma Rose wrote everybody’s request on a separate slip of paper, and she put all the pieces of paper in a “prayer box,” and then she prayed for the box, in a manner of speaking.

Or she would write the names on a list and then pray for all the requests in a bunch, but her heart wasn’t really in it and her thoughts would wander off to “Oh! The hyacinths are blooming” or “Oh! There’s a big stain on that cabinet; I need to remove it as soon as I finish off praying. Vinegar or ammonia, do you suppose?”

Then, as she became more devout, Sister Alma Rose thought she needed to pray very specifically for everybody, and she would ask God to remove so-and-so’s plantar wart or heal a difficult relationship, but midway through she would get very antsy, because she can’t sit still for long periods of time, and she would “surrender” the whole clump of requests to God and go to the kitchen and bake some bread.

cartoon_couple_making_listsSister Alma Rose does not know how prayer “works,” precisely, but she believes that there must be some kind of connection between the pray-er and the pray-ee through which the powerful energy of prayer travels, and since she does not know all of the people being prayed for and God does, and since God is the source of all energy, Sister Alma Rose finds that God is indispensable to prayer.

Bright blessing

Sometimes Sister Alma Rose gathers energy from God through meditation and then carries God’s blessing as a sort of shining angel. She floats with the sunrise to all parts of the world, and darts down, á la Tinkerbell, to embrace with light the person she is praying for. She holds an image in her mind, individually or in clumps, of those she doesn’t know personally.

At the River

Sometimes Sister Alma Rose visualizes those she is praying for being carried by angels to the Jordan River, or some other river, perhaps the Nile, where they (the pray-ees) are set down on the west bank to await the sunrise. Sister Alma Rose is there with them, and she sees them all. When the day dawns on the river, each person soaks up the healing rays sent from God, and the Holy Spirit carries all the pain and troubles away on a whirlwind, and thousands of birds sing for joy.

Lovingkindness meditation

Sometimes, after surrendering her own and everybody else’s burdens to God, Sister Alma Rose blesses her people (individually wherever possible, otherwise in clumps) using Susan Piver’s sweet, comforting lovingkindness meditation:how_not_to_be_afraid_of_your_own_life

May you be happy
May you be healthy
May you be peaceful
May you live with ease

—Susan Piver,  How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life: Opening Your Heart to Confidence, Intimacy, and Joy

Wafting Love and Warmth

Sister Alma Rose always, usually, when she remembers, turns worries into prayers. When she is fussed about something, she surrenders it (the “something”) to God. When she happens to think about someone, or when she sees an unhappy face in the throng, she calls upon God to empower her to send waves of love and light to that person. It is not at all unusual, after sending such blessings through the ether, for Sister Alma Rose to receive a letter, a phone call, or a visit from the pray-ee that very day.

Candle Prayer Ceremony

candles_boxedcandles_prayercandle_book-261x388As often as possible, Sister Alma Rose lights candles in the evening for the people and situations she is praying for. Not everybody gets his or her own individual candle, or else Sister Alma Rose’s entire house would be turned into a huge candle mob, and it would not be safe for her cats, Tim and Henry.

Alternatives

One could also divide up one’s prayer list and pray fervently for, say, five people a day. Sister Alma Rose does not find this satisfactory, but that doesn’t mean y’all shouldn’t try it if it appeals to y’all.

One can also, when praying the Lord’s prayer, specifically the part that says, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” use it as a vehicle for petitions and intercessions: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, in Patricia; thy kingdom come, thy will be done, in Ephraim”; and so forth.

Sister Alma Rose has also made strings of prayer beads, each bead representing a person or situation. She enjoys praying this way, as it engages several of the senses and Sister Alma Rose is less likely to become distracted.

The very intention to pray is itself a blessing, and as Sister Alma Rose’s dear friend the Rev. Bruce Hurley used to say, God sorts out our prayers. 

May God bless y’all, dear reader: May y’all be happy; may y’all be healthy; may y’all be peaceful; may y’all live with ease. Amen.

The_Rules_frontcover

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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

  

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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Make a Habit of It

The Chakras

The Chakras

Give them love.
Give all your love.
Every minute, every second of your life, love and demonstrate love.
Touch all the people who cross your path.
Touching passes energy.
Seeing passes power.
Smiling passes serenity.
Shining your light passes hope.
All your life will transform from that touch, that look, that smile, and that light.
The whole universe will change a little on account of your attitude.
The whole universe will change a little because you embrace the light.
The whole universe will change a little because you choose to love.
—Adapted from a
Care2 E-card

 

Sister Alma Rose Q & A

Dear Sister Alma Rose — I have sampled the guided meditations on LifeIsPoetry.net. Many of them are simple and satisfying. Some of the others intrigue me, but they seem to want me to do six impossible things at the same time. Like like when I took golf lessons [“Keep your head down. At the top of your swing, the club shaft should be parallel to the square root of the angle of the sun minus three degrees, and the clubhead should be pointed at the target. BUT DON’T LOOK! If you’re left-handed, your left arm should be straight and your right elbow should be bent at a 63-degree angle. DON’T LOCK YOUR KNEES! Now just unwind, fluidly and naturally. BUT DON’T MOVE YOUR HEAD!”]. 

The most complicated meditations also seem to be the ones where people talk in breathy, ethereal voices, unlike Susan Piver, who speaks with warmth and reassurance. Still, I wonder what I’m missing out on. Can you advise me? —Spooked in Spokane

Dear Spooked — Honey, Sister Alma Rose knows exactly what y’all mean. If y’all have to think real hard on how to do a meditation “right,” then y’all ain’t meditating, y’all are thinking.

Sister Alma Rose has cultivated some meditation habits over the years that help her get more out of practices like chakra clearing, for example. Y’all can form these habits, too, and you don’t have to be meditating to do so. Then, when y’all are meditating, these habits will be engrained and you won’t have to clutter your mind with them. Here are a few:
Breathe from the Diaphragm ("Human Respiratory System," drawn by Theresa Knott)

Breathe from the Diaphragm (

  • Inhale “navel to spine.” Use your diaphragm to draw in air. By breathing in this way all the time, y’all are actually drawing more air farther into your lungs and y’all are, in a manner of speaking, practicing a continuous relaxation exercise. You’re less likely to experience signs of unhealthy stress such as headaches and numbness in your hands than when your breathing is habitually shallow.
  • At least a few times a day, whatever y’all are doing, practice “inhaling the light.” Some people believe that there is an eighth chakra, in the form of a small sun above your head. Other meditators talk about breathing in the light from your own energy field, or aura. Yet another approach is to imagine that y’all are inhaling “the light from a thousand universes,” which is, in a sense, literally true. Your goal is to feel, without thinking about it, that every breath fills your body with light and energy.
        The sensation of exhaling has different purposes, depending on the meditation, so once you habitually start inhaling light, you can decide (or the meditation guide can instruct you) what to do with the out breath. Sometimes y’all will exhale dark thoughts, negativity, pain, sickness, fear…. Other times y’all use exhalation to “push” the light you’ve just inhaled throughout your body, or to a spot where there is pain or inflammation.
  • Whenever y’all listen to music that particularly pleases or stirs you, “tune” your body’s vibration to the music’s vibration. This is really easier than it sounds. The “Crystal Chakra Awakening” meditation (number 5 in the second set on page) is good practice for sympathetic vibration.
  • Practice self-acceptance all the time, even when y’all screw up — especially when y’all screw up. This doesn’t mean justifying the screwup. It’s more about having the humility to allow yourself to make mistakes. Beating yourself up is ego-centered, and it’s a waste of the time y’all could be spending getting on with life. 

Sister Alma Rose recommends that you start with Jack Kornfield’s soothing meditation instruction and then proceed to Susan Piver’s relaxation, breathing, and lovingkindness practices (numbers 9, 10, and 11, top set on page).

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Meditation: Where to Start

Sister Alma Rose Q & A: How to Meditate

A wise man once said, “God is the most obvious fact of human existence.”
You, Ruler of Creation, are so big we can’t see
around you, so
we think we can’t
see you. Be obvious to us today, O God. Amen

Q: Dear Sister Alma Rose—I want to start practicing prayer-meditation. There are so many websites, and books, and videos, and CDs, I don’t know where to start. Can you give me a quick tutorial on the basics?

Buddhist Gardens

Buddhist Gardens

A. Sister Alma Rose can, of course, do so. She will not, at this time, describe the differences between prayer and meditation, particularly so-called nonreligious meditation, an oxymoron at which Sister Alma Rose turns up her rather astonishing nose, if she do say so herself.

Meditation is like pure Christianity in several ways. Y’all are born again every time you choose to be. Y’all let go. Let go of the past, let go of the future. Give them to God. Everything is Right Here, Right Now, and it’s all okay, it’s all fine, because it’s the only way it can be, right here, right now.

Begin meditation at whatever pace suits y’all: one minute, several times a day; a half-hour, twice a day; whenever y’all can steal some time away from the hubbub and find a comfortable, quiet place.

Some meditation instructors will tell y’all to take a shower or a bath first, to clean up your mess, to create a “special” place for meditation, to sit in a certain way, and to not fall asleep. Sister Alma Rose says: That’s all well and good, if you want meditation to become just another project, like going to the gym, rather than a way of life, a way of being. If Sister Alma Rose followed all those rules, she’d meditate maybe every third leap year. Sister Alma Rose has a planet to run. She can meditate on a city bus during rush hour.

Meditation step by step

Sister Alma Rose recommends y’all start with a simple breathing meditation. This is as basic as it gets. Breathing.

Jack Kornfield (a Spirit Rock image)

Jack Kornfield (a Spirit Rock image)

  • Get as comfortable as possible, in as quiet a place as possible. If y’all can get comfortable sitting with your back straight on a pillow on the floor, or on a chair, not slouching, with y’all’s head tilted slightly down, why, that’s dandy. If y’all want to lie down, for Dirty Gertie’s sake lie down.
  • Relax. Just saying the word relax to yourself is immensely powerful.
  • Close your eyes. Don’t scrunch them closed. Just an easy-and-relaxed closed.
  • Inhale and exhale through your nose, comfortably, rhythmically.
  • Get in the habit of inhaling from y’all’s diaphragm (or abdomen), so that your in-breaths are deep and lung-filling. Abdominal breathing is, in itself, relaxing. (If y’all can’t get the hang of it, place your hand flat across your navel and inhale so that your hand moves outward.)
  • Y’all are in a sort of porous cocoon of pure white light. You can think of it as your “energy field.” Sister Alma Rose sees it as God’s loving, healing light. Breathe in the light.
  • The more senses y’all engage during your meditation, the less likely y’all will get distracted. See the healing light being inhaled. When y’all exhale, feel the healing light permeate your body with warmth, like a caress: to the tips of y’all’s fingers and toes and the top of y’all’s head; through your skin, muscle, bone, all the way to your internal organs and every cell in y’all’s body.* Smell and taste the light. Hear the ebb and flow of your breath, like an ocean tide.
  • If y’all can’t manage all that, just let your attention rest on your breath.
    • Meditation author and teacher Susan Piver
    • Meditation author and teacher Susan Piver
  • Don’t worry if your mind wanders. If a thought or a feeling intrudes, notice it, but don’t follow it. Jack Kornfield suggests y’all bow to it. If you do get tangled up in thoughts and emotions, gently bring your attention back to y’all’s breathing. As Susan Piver says, it doesn’t matter if it’s been ten seconds or an hour. Don’t beat yourself up. Show lovingkindness to yourself. Do not get discouraged. Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche reassures us that “the intention to meditate” is enough. If y’all genuinely intend to meditate, you can’t mess it up.
  • If y’all are distracted by pain or discomfort, let it be the focus of your meditation. Take your attention away from your breathing and settle it on your pain. Y’all do that, it’ll likely go away.
  • Try to meditate for a few minutes every day. Set a timer, if y’all want to. Gradually, steadily add to your time a bit, or to the number of times you meditate per day. But if a week goes by, or a month, without your meditating, y’all haven’t failed. Just start again. You get an eternity of second chances.

    The Joy of Living, by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

    The Joy of Living, by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

In a nutshell

  • Get comfortable and close y’all’s eyes. Relax.
  • Rest y’all’s  attention on the sensations of comfortable, rhythmic breathing, from the diaphragm, in and out through the nose.
  • If thoughts or emotions break in, notice them but try not to follow them. (Sister Alma Rose thinks of this process as a scuba diver’s watching through goggles as fish swim in and out of view.)
  • As soon as you notice that your mind has wandered, gently, lovingly bring your attention back to your breathing.
  • Always, in meditation, treat yourself with love and gentleness. When you are through meditating, the lovingkindness will remain, and you’ll be kinder to yourself and others.

Other ways to start meditating

* Warming your fingers and toes is actually a common form of do-it-yourself biofeedback for relaxation. Use an instant-read thermometer or an old-fashioned mercury thermometer. Hold it between y’all’s fingers for a while, until it reaches your body temperature. (An instant-read thermometer will do so immediately.) Then focus y’all’s attention on the fingers holding the thermometer. Y’all can try to warm your fingertips, or y’all can just “notice” them. Either should do the trick. You’ll feel a tingling in y’all’s fingers—that’s the blood flowing in. The temperature recorded on the thermometer will rise.

When you’re stressed, y’all’s system goes into “fight or flight” mode and the blood rushes to your heart. By consciously directing the blood away from y’all’s heart, toward your extremities, y’all’s heart slows down and y’all relax.

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Sister Alma Rose’s Thought for the Day: Breathing Is Enough

 

Author and meditation teacher Susan Piver, on her CD Freedom from Fear, leads a very simple, very effective breathing meditation that never fails to bring peace and gratitude.

At one point she invites the meditator to pause in the little space after the “out breath” and notice how the “in breath” spontaneously arises.

What she doesn’t say is how wonderful it feels to breathe.

I am about to say something that might sound preachy. If it does, please understand that I am preaching to myself as much as I am to anyone else who is experiencing discontent.

Breathing is enough.

That’s the beauty of a breathing meditation. When we are breathing consciously, then each breath is an affirmation, a choice to be alive. And it feels so good.

Whatever might be wrong with our lives, our relationships, our health – when the house is a mess or the spouse is messing around – when we should have had the promotion someone else was given, however unjustly – when (in the words of a song called The Merry Minuet, written by Sheldon Harnick and popularized by the Kingston Trio in the 1950s) “they’re rioting in Africa, they’re starving in Spain, there’s hurricanes in Florida, and Texas needs rain” – as long as we can breathe, we have a place to start.

It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed – by the laundry, by global warming, by the millions of messages that bombard us every day, by our own unreasonable demands on ourselves.

When I am flinging fragments of myself throughout the cosmos, trying to solve my own and everybody else’s problems, Susan Piver, in her low, soft, reassuring voice, inevitably helps me reassemble myself in the process often called ”centering.” When life is unmanageable, sometimes all you can do is, as Anne Lamott advises, remember to breathe.

When you can be grateful for breathing, then everything else – sunlight, shelter, warmth, coffee, leftover pizza – feels like abundance.

Health, a light body, freedom from cravings, a glowing skin, sonorous voice, fragrance of body: these signs indicate progress in the practice of meditation. —The Shvetashvatara Upanishad

Photo © Luc Viatour, GFDL/CC. Text from the forthcoming book Unfamiliar Territory, Volume 2: Meditations.
Unfamiliar Territory, Volume 1: Poems, Prayers, Meditations, and Household Hints is available at www.LifeIsPoetry.net.