Nirvana

Krisha with the goddess Radha (18th-century painting)

Krisha with the goddess Radha (18th-century painting)

Sister Alma Rose’s Prescription for a Sore Throat

Sister Alma Rose is advancing my “meditation education.” Yesterday, I had a sore throat, and she had me lie still in her wonderful pink attic bedroom and listen to readings by Dr. Deepak Chopra from the Bhagavad-Gita [Sacred Verses, Healing Sounds, Volumes I and II: The Bhagavad Gita, Hymns of the Rig Veda (Chopra, Deepak)].

Sister Alma Rose said I would find these readings to be “very healing.” What I found them to be was “very confusing.” They were all about a conversation between Krishna, who, I think, represents God, and a guy named Arjuna, who is about to go into a battle, and among his enemies are his cousins, people he cares about. Krishna tells him that the souls of the people who die on the battlefield will live on — I think he means that they will be reincarnated or else they will go into the Supreme Realm.

Arjuna is not buying it, so Krishna goes on to explain about the paths of yoga, which doesn’t mean the postures and exercises that Mrs. McCallister teaches on Tuesdays and Thursdays down at the library, it means harmony, union, integration, and balance. Anyway, these paths are (1) unselfish service devoted to God, (2) action without being concerned about “fruitage,” which means you’re not supposed to be “attached to” the outcomes of your actions, (3) meditation, and (4) knowledge — which comes from “transcending the ego, or ‘false self,’ and discovering the soul, the ‘true self,’” which is called Atman, which sounds like a superhero, and in a way I guess it is.

Krishna with Arjun

Krishna with Arjuna

Okay, so first of all I have to tell you, my sore throat went away, and I don’t know if it had anything to do with the Bhagavad-Gita or not. But then, since my throat didn’t hurt any more, I pestered Sister Alma Rose with a bunch of questions, which mainly amounted to, What’s In It for Me? I thought I was supposed to love myself, not lose myself. Sister Alma Rose has told me before that I can’t truly love others unless I first love myself.

The joy of unity and the pain of separation

So here’s what Sister Alma Rose said yesterday, in summary, and I’m still trying to sort it out, but I think it makes sense:

Arjuna and his fourth wife, Subhadra

Arjuna and his fourth wife, Subhadra

My ego, or false self, is limited by what I and other people believe about it, whereas the true self, the soul, experiences unlimited potential. The soul can’t help but share itself, because it’s where love resides in us mortals — it has a direct connection to God — and we become spontaneously loving when we experience our true selves. Love, and “action” that springs from love, is its own reward.

She reminded me of experiences I have had with the joy of unity and the pain of separation. Once I sang with a large regional chorus in a performance of Franz Joseph Haydn’s Creation oratorio, and it was such a beautiful thing that I got lost in it and totally forgot about whether I messed up the notes, which I knew I wouldn’t anyway because we had practiced it a thousand-million times. I felt, at the same time, completely and personally joyful and completely one with the chorus and orchestra and audience. That, Sister Alma Rose said, was a fleeting experience of the “perfect peace” of Nirvana — where everyone is totally in unity and totally their “authentic selves.” I am quoting Sister Alma Rose here, who also reminded me of how I felt when my daddy was in a bad car accident and how lost I felt when I thought he was going to die, because I loved him so much. Real love, says Sister Alma Rose, comes from the soul, and in the soul we can never be separated from another.

I thought about a woman who came to see Sister Alma Rose one summer afternoon, and in the warm breeze in the shade of Sister Alma Rose’s grass-green porch, on a halcyon day that just makes you want to run and shout for the joy of being in the world, this woman was weeping because her son was a heroin addict, and she said she would gladly die if it would mean her son could have been spared the torment he was going through. I got a little glimpse of “selflessness” then, and I thought of all the promises I had made to God about how good I would be, even mucking out the barn and other stuff I hate, if my daddy could get well after his accident, though I don’t think that actually dying was on the list of sacrifices I was willing to make.

Me, Fanny McElroy

Me, Fanny McElroy

Sister Alma Rose said that our false selves take a lot of beating up before we realize how fragile and undependable they are, and that it can require many lifetimes before a person evolves to the place where she is willing to surrender her ego and embrace God, but that when you’re ready, you’re ready, and then you find indestructible happiness in harmony with the universe.

She said that people who go around “doing good” because it’s, like, a rule, don’t have their hearts in it, but that we all will evolve to where “good” is all we want to do, it flows from us like a river. And I thought about all the stuff I’m attached to, stuff that seems to be necessary to my happiness, and I said, that’s okay, I can wait. And Sister Alma Rose gave me a big suffocating hug and told me I had a beautiful aura that shines like the sun.

* * *

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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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