Charging my batteries

I have always been a morning person but recently it’s been taking me most of a morning  to get fully charged.

I start with coffee but Vic complains that I’ve been drinking more than I used to, i.e. more than my share. Yet I still drink a bit less than he does. Why is this a problem? Can’t we just make more coffee? Well, the system we’ve adopted to make our artisan pour-over, deliciously strong coffee makes no more than 700 g of coffee at a time. (Yes, we weigh it.) If one of us needs more than our established share, we have to make another pot or partial pot. That’s too much bother first thing in the morning.

But coffee is just the start. I’ve been needing more than my established share just to do the next parts of my charging routine. Continue reading

Wisdom of the stones

IMG_2973I reported a dream image yesterday to my friend Nina, who had been with me at Wisdom School. I did not understand the image at all.

I had a collection of small stones like the ones we have gathered from the beaches of the Great Lakes. I was supposed to eat them.

Nina immediately made the link to Logion 77 of the Gospel of Thomas, which was a main text for the Wisdom School: Continue reading

Meditation blues

I am alone in the house and nothing is pressing so why do I find it hard to meditate? I barely made it to 15 minutes before I gave up.

The 20-minute mark has always been my measure of an adequate meditation (I do centering prayer). Recently I have tried stretching it by a minute or two, setting my timer accordingly, but instead of meditating gradually longer I am often stopping earlier. Even when I feel the need to meditate I can’t maintain it. My mind shoots off somewhere or I am overcome with a huge impatience, like now. Continue reading

Twenty-minute miracle

DSC02633

I am needing something.

I sit in meditation and the need becomes so great that I want to jump up and run away from it. I want to fix it. I want to fix myself. I want to do something to make myself feel better. I want to fill up the great cave that opens in me.

With what. Self love? Food? Tea? A message from a friend? Plans for the day, the week, the next project? Clean laundry hanging on racks all over the house?

I let the need sit there, or rather, I make myself sit with the need. I have set my meditation timer for 20 minutes and, by God, I am going to sit it out.

By God, ten minutes in, the need identifies itself as the need of God. Big, real, impossible. The unfindable, undefinable, ineffable God. No less.

What can I do about that? Nothing. I can’t make God come to me. I can’t even make myself recognize that God is already there. I wait.

Seventeen minutes in, the phone rings. I jump up. Maybe God is calling.

It is Comcast Cable. I don’t answer.

I sit out the last three minutes. At the chime, twenty minutes elapsed, I jump up and check the dishwasher to see if the soap compartment has opened. It’s been acting up recently, and the thought was nagging me as the dishwasher swished background noise to my meditation.

The compartment is open. Things are working.

Somehow, I don’t know when, the need has shifted, dissolved. It no longer announces itself as impossibility, absolute aloneness. A great, neon “Vacancy” sign now flashes “No Vacancy.”

I make tea. I write. I email about my committee’s budget request for next year. The clothes washer sings its little song, announcing the end of the cycle. I hang up the laundry.

Angst and need are gone. Love has moved in.

 

First Things first

There are so many things I have to do first thing in the morning.

I have to have my tea.

I have to have my breakfast and take my meds.

I have to have my fire in winter and it is still winter.

I have to satisfy my curiosity about the world and my friends.

I have to meditate.

I have to journal.

I have to do my alignment exercises.

That last thing, the alignment exercises, is the newest First Thing I’ve introduced into my morning but I’ve noticed that recently it has fallen by the wayside.

There is no order to these things; it’s more like, I have to do each one of these things first. So many morning urgencies.

When I look at this list I understand why the new morning practice of exercises has gotten lost. Why do I think I have to do them first thing in the morning? Because the guy who wrote the book said I should. “Do these exercises first thing in the morning so you get the benefits all day.” Of course.

Same thing with the journaling. I subscribe to Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages theory, expounded in The Artist’s Way: that writing just after rolling out of bed gets your creative juices flowing and of course if you have had dreams that is the time to get them down.

And I also believe that the day should begin with God because (apologies to God and Coke) Things Go Better with God. So I do want to meditate for 20 minutes. First thing.

However, if I listen to my sleepy mind and spirit and my chilly body, I really want that hot tea and warm fire first. And I have to take a daily pill before I forget and it has to go with food so I make and eat breakfast while I’m at it. So that’s three First Things right there.

fire

If Hazel were here she would trump all First Things but she isn’t and Vic isn’t and so today I have only the fire.

And if I open my computer to journal, how can I avoid checking email, news headlines, and Facebook? This is just normal human curiosity. Maybe this is why Cameron was pretty adamant about Morning Pages being written by hand. But The Artist’s Way was written pre-Facebook. She just thought creativity demanded handwriting. Not for me. I’ve been journaling on the computer for 15 years. This is especially important now because if I start journaling something cool I can ease right into writing a blog post, which is what I am doing right now.

So blogging inserts itself as yet another First Thing today. Plus, I really intended to carry the laundry basket down to the basement and start a load of laundry First Thing so it could dry on the racks during the day but by the time I’d pulled my clothes on and remembered to put in my hearing aids (another First Thing) I forgot the laundry.

laundry

Just as well because yet another First Thing was calling me as I looked out the window and saw yet another lake-effect snow decorating the landscape on this First Day of Spring and I just had to get that picture on Facebook First Thing, before anyone else did.

snow

And while I was taking pictures I noticed my iPad had captured a nice view of my kilim that didn’t show the dirt.

kilim

But before posting to FB I had to check if anyone else had posted the snow and they hadn’t, but I read what they had posted including some articles. And of course I checked email.

But before that I did make the tea and my breakfast smoothie (recipe below) and the fire so I could be warm and cozy and optimistic while I held my warm Mac on my lap, surfing and writing. And I shared a tiny bit of milk with the cat (whole milk for my tea is my daily deviation from my Lenten vegan diet).

So I have been up for a couple of hours and still have a number of First Things to do, including meditate.

Fortunately I don’t have to go to work anywhere or get any kids ready for school or walk down to a river to get water or any of the other First Things my sisters around the world have to do.

African

Photo by Kongo Lisolo

But I think I need to find another slot in the day for those alignment exercises. It’s almost lunchtime.

First Thing in the Morning Smoothie Which Tastes Better Than You Think

Blend in the food processor:

1 cup raw oatmeal

2 T ground flax or whatever healthy additives you are into (I add a green veggie energy powder which makes this smoothie ugly brown)

1 orange

a handful of berries (I like frozen blueberries)

some applesauce or a banana

a splash of whatever milk you are into, or unsweetened yogurt

This serves two, or you for two days. The oatmeal gets even thicker by Day Two.

Centering Prayer meets Tree

tree

I was annoyed. My back was still giving me angry twinges despite everything I had done for it over the past weeks—pampering it, not pampering it, ignoring it, talking to it, medicating, hocus-pocusing, stretching, relaxing, strengthening. And then my sewing machine was acting up, turning a creative project of making doll clothes into a chore.

It was midafternoon and I realized that I had not yet done my daily Centering Prayer meditation. Rather than sit at my desk, as I have been doing since I started the practice two months ago, I made myself get up and walk into the woods to my special tree. My mood improves whenever I spend time with the tree, though for some reason I am always reluctant to test this proposition. I had not paid a visit to the tree for several months.

Rather than sit on the cold ground at the base of the tree I perched on the branch scar that juts from the trunk several inches off the ground. Immediately my mind became a blank slate.

I don’t know how to draw the line between excessive self-awareness, which nullifies the point of Centering Prayer, and true appreciation of the experience that this kind of meditation can bring. The prayer is an opening, an invitation, and sometimes things happen because of that opening.

Up to now the happenings have been subtle changes in my daily life and how I respond to events: an emerging sense of both purpose and contentment with the present and what comes, a deeper patience with myself and with other people. I haven’t experienced much, or expected much experience, during the meditation itself. The point is to be open, to train yourself to let go of everything the mind brings up, including expectations. The only palpable result I have noticed during the meditation has been an easy, calm, blank peace.

For a number of years, as I have written before, I have experienced this particular tree as a prayer companion, a meditation preparer, an energy field that somehow connects with me. But I had not been to the tree since starting a Centering Prayer practice. The difference this time was palpable.

What happened that afternoon at the tree was too powerful to ignore. The sense of peace was so strong that it vibrated in my core. The interval between distracting thoughts was so long it was as if the thought-manufacturing part of my mind did not exist. My earlier irritation not only dropped away; it receded so far that it seemed as if I would never feel that way again. After 20 minutes I walked back to the house elated and refreshed.

This experience was not qualitatively different from what has happened to me at the tree before. The difference was quantitative. I was far more sensitive and receptive to it than I had been before practicing Centering Prayer. The daily meditation had trained my sensibilities, opened me to this visceral experience of an unseen and indescribable reality, this tree—these trees—and my connection to them. It was as clear a before-and-after experiment as I could have engineered if I had thought about it (my tree experiences before the Centering Prayer practice and now). I didn’t think about it. I didn’t expect it. And it was therefore all the more remarkable.

And then, just as I was thinking this kind of experience was particular to the tree, something similar happened in church yesterday. I was more present, more aware, more moved by everything that unfurled in the worship service and my encounters with the community. In the beauty of a sanctuary adorned for Advent, my attention was riveted, my sensors tuned high. It was like church in HD.

A central purpose of Centering Prayer, as Cynthia Bourgeault describes it in Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, is to learn to use “those more subtle perceptivities of spiritual awareness—the “spiritual senses,” as they’re known—to see and taste the presence of the divine as it moves fully in and out of everything.”  I think it’s working.

Compassion for my left side

Today while I was meditating (and thus not supposed to be noticing anything) I noticed that every time I started pursuing a thought my left shoulder tensed up. Releasing the thought required releasing my left shoulder. What is this about? I wondered. And I released the thought, and my left shoulder.

After the meditation I began journaling, which I do on my computer. And I noticed, not for the first time, that my left arm and shoulder tensed up while I was typing while my right arm and shoulder stayed relaxed. My right hand danced over the keys. My left hand was not dancing. It was trying to but it felt clunky, as if it might step on its partner’s toes at any moment.

I am right handed. Everything is easier for my right hand. But certain tasks, like typing, which I do sometimes for hours every day, require equal performance from my left hand. My poor left hand has to scramble to keep up. The extra effort causes tension.

My left side is the not-so-talented twin trying to measure up to the standards of her more gifted sister. In so doing she acquires a residue of tension that never really goes away. It extends to my left leg, which currently carries the remains of a knee injury that happened months ago. Every time I do yoga balancing poses I am reminded of the inferiority of my left side. It is weaker, less coordinated. I topple over much more quickly when I am standing on my left leg.

This has been happening all my life. I have known it but I have never paid attention to it. I have been dismissive about it. I have not paid true attention, which requires receptive curiosity and even compassion.

This thought (which I have just pursued as the tension builds in my left shoulder) brought me to the question of whether something more than actual inferiority of function is involved. Could it be that my left side has an inferiority complex?

That is, the constant, inevitable comparison with my right side causes my left side to expect itself to fail to measure up. It expects to have to try harder and thus experiences a kind of neurotic desperation. It can’t relax because it is always ready to spring into action. Even when I am meditating, as the thought process starts up the left shoulder tenses in the expectation that it will have to perform in some way.

I know some people like that. Sometimes I am like that.

Poor, dear left side. I will try to pay compassionate attention to you for a while and make amends for criticizing you, dismissing you, expecting things of you without appreciating the extra effort they require. What do you require?

By the way, if you suspect that writing about my left side, boring car trips, and losing weight indicates that my life is pretty quiet right now, you are right. Not much happening. You could call these posts, How to Write a Blog out of Nothing, which may have a certain appeal, given that my most popular post of all time is one called How to Make a Meal out of Nothing.

But I would really like to know what my next big thing will be. I have some ideas but they haven’t come together yet.

Download silence

It is hard to believe my meditation practice is only 10 days old. Already I can’t do without it. It is a necessary part of my day.

It is not easier and easier to do, however. In fact, it continues to be difficult to empty my mind of everything for more than a few seconds at a time. But the difficulty is also a delight, as Cynthia Bourgeault, author of Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, suggests, because each act of letting go brings a tiny tingling of the tummy, the opening-out of the solar plexus that signals rightness, ease, harmony. This is a way of knowing that the active mind can block out.

The catch is that if I focus on that reward or any other experience of the meditation—the swirling blues and greens that I eventually see when my eyes are shut and I have sunk to the place of no words; the ease of deep breath; or any other sense of myself—I am already back to nonmeditating mind. In Centering Prayer one must let go of these experiences, too. But the rhythm of experiencing and releasing is a kind of breathing; the knowing and the not-knowing, in and out like waves on the beach.

At the end, indeed, I feel washed, washed up like driftwood with all its rough edges worn away; smooth, easy, able to move through the day with fewer stops and starts and resistances and reactions.

Night is a different story, however. The practice has revved up my dream life, which had been literally dormant for some time. The dreams have not been poetic; they have been scatological. I have dreamed for several nights running about excrement. Maybe that, too, is about cleansing. It may also be, as the Jungians would suggest, about creativity. Shit is the human being’s first and most basic product. Whatever it signifies, I accept the Dreamgiver’s sense of humor.

Here is something I learned after my first few sessions of Centering Prayer: you need a timer. No sense guessing when 20 minutes might be up or depending on how you feel to decide when to stop. That invites normal-mind activity, which is what you want to get away from

I debated setting the microwave timer but that didn’t seem very spiritual. I thought, I need something that sounds like chimes or a Tibetan bowl. Surely some spiritual marketer has thought of this?

Enso Asari Meditation Timer/Travel Alarm, $59

Well of course they have. I went online and searched “meditation timer.” You can buy timers with chimes, gongs, and singing-bowl tones. You can spend a lot of money on timers shaped like pyramids, circles, spirals, and portable alarm clocks. Practical mystic that I am, I was taken with one of the cheaper ones—at $59!—that doubles as a travel clock and alarm. I’d like it in Sage Green, please.

But here is another option. You can go to a couple of sites and download timed silence. This one  gives you a choice of audio files that consist of various lengths of silence. A bell is rung once at the start and three times at the end.

It’s free, as silence should be. Download some now for yourself.

Centering Prayer

I am beginning a regular meditation practice. I have circled around meditation for a long time, like a cat looking for just the right napping position. Now I have settled on something. I should have asked for help before on doing this but perhaps not. The right teacher comes along at the right time.

My way of asking for help on this, not just meditation but spiritual practice in general, was to sign on with a spiritual director. Spiritual direction, too, is something I’ve considered before, but I wasn’t ready for it. I don’t know why. I wasn’t ready and now suddenly I am ready, with urgency and hunger. In our first session, my spiritual director, proving herself to be the right teacher at the right time, directed me to a meditation practice and a book that describes it. I sped through the book in a few sittings. Sometimes the right book comes along, like the right teacher. This week the book has also been my teacher.

The book is Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bourgeault (Cowley 2004). There is a whole Centering Prayer movement but I had only a vague notion of what Centering Prayer might be (wrong, it turned out).

I find that I already know much of this. I’ve learned it on my own, from other sources and my own experience. At the same time I have so much to learn and unlearn that it’s funny. I’ve tried to write about a lot of stuff that I have only vaguely understood and here I find Bourgeault calmly explaining everything and putting it together. The right book at the right time makes sense of something you recognize but haven’t fully understood.

Here is what I have experienced before.

  1. There are different kinds of meditation but the only kind I have been drawn to has been a quest for the state of emptiness, a kind of dreamy state of not holding on to thoughts and feelings.
  2. In dealing with psychological pain, anger, and fears—as well as the vicissitudes of life—I have experienced the profound power of letting go.
  3. I have noticed a feeling in my body, right around the solar plexus, that signals that somehow I am on the right track, whether it is in meditation or my daily life.
  4. I’m regrounding in Christianity and increasingly relating my spirituality to Jesus as well as the Christian community.

With these four kinds of experiences as background, I am taking to Centering Prayer like a duck to water because it puts them all together. The method is simple: 20 minutes of clearing your mind and opening to the Divine. You use a word to gently bring yourself back to center every time your attention gets hooked on a thought or emotion. It’s an exercise in repeatedly letting go.

Simple but not easy, but I won’t explain how or why just yet. I have, after all, done it (under that name) only half a dozen times! And really, Bourgeault is the very readable, scholarly authority.

If you are not familiar with Centering Prayer you may suspect, as I did, that it is called prayer instead of meditation so Christians will think it is ok, not borrowed from some other tradition. I don’t mind such borrowing at all but Bourgeault makes a good case that this particular form of meditation embodies the spirit of Jesus’s instructions on the self-emptying life, of being in God as God is in us. The theology is intriguing, a theology of the heart, not the head. That is, you don’t have to “believe” in Jesus or a “Christian God” in order to set out on this path. Just like you don’t have to be a Buddhist to practice Zen meditation. You just set out and see where Spirit takes you.

I may report now and then on what happens in my life as a result of this practice although—of course!—the practice is not oriented to results. Results are just another thing that you get to release.

Still. May I hope for transformation?

Archives for this blog  February 2011–September 2012 are located here.