April 24, 2010

Blueberry Bliss

My children and I went blueberry picking at a church in Franklin, Tennessee, last summer, and I found an unexpected surprise in the midst of a chaotic, messy out-building (in which fruit pickers leave money in a bucket to donate to the church in trade for the berries) that had a place of respite and meditation for anyone who wandered in . . . if they looked past the clutter and trash (yes, trash), and stacks of boxes. The area consisted simply of a shelf, the Apostle's Creed printed out on a piece of paper, a candle, matches, and prayers typed out to offer up to God, with a few pictures of Jesus hanging in small frames behind the shelf to offer focus to anyone who needed to have a visual of hope and promise. I, particularly, don't like looking at portrayals of Jesus, as I know they are all incorrect, so I rely on a bodily presence without features and an overall spiritual essence of who He is. Anyway, I wondered if I should use this meditation station, because I felt really drawn to it, and my kids were outside, happy just to stay and roam around the many-acred, blueberry-filled property. And let's face it, who in their right mind would want to leave the rolling acres of woods, sanctuary of the church property, and freedom to roam, even after we had picked more berries than we could ever hope to eat.

As I pondered if I should have a moment at the meditation station, I wondered if I was actually allowed to. Isn't that silly? But when a place of safety and rest is provided to us, at no cost and with no strings attached, we often feel undeserving at first, like we should hurry through the process and take "just a little", because it "really wasn't meant for us in the first place". I could have reasoned that the meditation corner was really for church members, and that I had come into a sacred place, unofficially, and uninvited . . . my only reason for being there was to pay for the berries and then exit the building. Or another way to put it would be that I had to earn or pay the price for even being allowed in the building. But I chose to allow myself the opportunity to have the experience I felt I needed. I lit the candle and became internally quiet. Then, staring at the candle, prayers flowed through my thoughts and the Apostle's Creed was quietly spoken. I felt that I was where I rightfully needed to be. Every once in a while I couldn't help but look around the large room, which encompassed a living area and kitchen, and was a little put off by the untidiness. I thought that if the church is going to offer a place of respite, then couldn't they at least work on the whole surroundings to enhance the beauty of the meditative/prayerful experience? But then I reminded myself that there is always beauty and calm to be found in the midst of chaos; there is always a place of safety in the disordered, messy, and untidy path we walk. Not sure that was the church's intention to show people, but it was what I needed to hear that afternoon nonetheless. Finally (and reluctantly, because I didn't want to leave), I blew out the candle, stacked the papers containing the Apostle's Creed and prayers, and threw away my match in the trash can to my left . . . only to see about ten or so burned out matches lying in the bottom of the trash from others before me who had come in to have their own experience of prayer and meditation. I smiled, because I had actually felt kinda alone and isolated during my experience, caught up in my thoughts and worries, and then I realized that we are all doing the same thing--bringing our attention to God, calming our souls through the words we offer Him, and finally, surrendering our chaos to Him as we end our meditative "moment" and carry on with our day. I ended up feeling not only united to God at that moment, but united to people in general--the people who seek Him--and especially those ten people who came before me with their prayers and left their burned-out match as reminder that I am not alone in my journey.

I walked past the bucket of donated berry money on my way out, noticing from the amount in it that quite a few people must have come inside the building on this day. I wondered if they had also seen the meditation spot toward the back corner, or had they felt single-minded, like they only had permission to enter, leave their offering, and exit promptly. I hoped more would linger and notice what I found, and leave not thinking of what money they had to give up, but what they could gladly leave behind (all that is surrendered in prayer) and gain (peace and welcoming).

April 18, 2010

Tibetan Singing Bowls

My birthday was last week, and my mom and sister gave me a very special present: an antique Tibetan singing bowl, dating back to the 18th century . . . just old enough to have accumulated some layers of use and history. My interest in Tibetan singing bowls began about two years ago, which prompted me to purchase a CD by Benjamin Iobst called Seven Metals: Singing Bowls of Tibet. After many repeat listenings to the calming sounds and varying tones of these bowls, I decided that I wanted to purchase my own bowl and came upon a great Web store that sells new and antique bowls: http://www.himalayanbowls.com/. On this site you can listen to different bowls to see which sound fits your style. Not many sites offer this feature. And if you are not familiar with the sound of singing bowls, I recommend you listen to a few just for fun. Very calming and centering.

Traditional Tibetan (or Himalayan) bowls are made from seven metals: gold, silver, mercury, copper, tin, lead, and iron. Sometimes iron would be replaced with meteorites found on the Himalayan mountaintops, often called "sky-iron" or "metal from the heavens". The combination of different metals is what makes them multiphonic instruments, which means they produce multiple harmonic overtones at the same time. Each metal produces its own overtone, resulting in a beautiful and sacred sound. As a singing bowl ages, it is gifted with richer tones and warmer, mellower sounds. The antique ones are worth spending more money on compared to the newer, cheaper, machine made varieties . . . which can sound good, but they lack the richness of sound that only time can produce--and they lack the hand-hammered, prayed-over qualities bestowed on by either monks or village craftsmen in days long gone.

The sound vibrations and harmonic frequencies of the bowls can stimulate the natural harmonic frequencies of different parts of the human body, putting physical, emotional, and spiritual energies back into alignment and providing a perfect environment for healing (a form of sound healing or sound therapy used by many holistic practitioners today). The multiple harmonic overtones have the ability to activate alpha brain waves, thus inducing relaxation, concentration, and meditation. The one simple goal, though, according to Tibetan monks, is to pay attention to what the bowl teaches you, through sound, about EMPTINESS (as the bowl is empty)--emptying our minds and going into our inner silence, the void, where our soul is waiting to reconnect with our whole being. Sound vibration affects not only the person using the singing bowl; it also affects the surrounding area, clearing negative energies and promoting inner wellness to those receptive to its teachings of emptiness. The sound and vibration carries far, even when we can't hear it anymore.

My bowl is only about five inches in diameter, but it has a beautiful sound. There are two ways to play it. One way is to just strike it on the rim or the inside with a wooden mallet or a wool covered mallet. The other way to play it is a true other-worldly experience: to circle the outer edge of the rim with the wood mallet in a steady rhythm until the sound starts to build, and then it resonates in a way that is so full and tonal, it envelopes your whole being and takes over your sense of sound for a moment. This way is called making the bowl "sing".

I guess I love this meditative experience because I love anything that involves heightened senses and subtleties. There is something so spiritual and sacred in this sound healing meditation that can only be understood through experience . . . even the CD does not do the bowls justice, though it is wonderful to listen to. Having a bowl to use is a beautiful ritual utilizing sound and vibrations to promote healing on so many levels. It's also special to use before prayer to help center yourself and rid the mind of the racing thoughts that often clutter our prayers.

March 18, 2010

Time for a Change

Over the past month I've been having dreams about my kids being toddler-young. The dreams are sweet, capturing memorable things about each one that I adored in them. My younger daughter was born with really big lips, still has them to this day, so her baby lips were featured in one of my dreams (odd, I know). In the dream were images of her snuggling up close to me, lips in my face, upset with something in that cute way only toddlers can get away with. (When you've seen adults try to pull anger and cuteness off at the same time, it really doesn't work!) The dreams of my older daughter have featured simply her nearness, which reminds me of years ago (ten, to be exact), being a new mom and getting used to having a new person to love who was ALWAYS there with me. Day in, day out. Exhausting--both mentally and physically, but in looking back, I see it as what jump-started my soul from merely existing to really being alive with passion. I was surprised at these dreams, because I don't usually dream about my children. Right now, life with them is still pretty simple and uncomplicated because they are only ten and seven. There's not much drama relating to them to work through in my dream state at this point. And then I realized that these dreams are not really about them; they are about me coming to terms with the fact that they have changed . . . are changing . . . will always be changing. I'm not okay with them getting older and growing out of those early years, because it means leaving behind a whole world, a whole pattern of living and interacting. But I have to learn to be okay with this inevitable change in them because it's unstoppable. It's all for good. The larger lesson for me in all this is to look around in other areas of my life where I've been fighting change within myself because I'm scared of letting go of old ways and patterns simply because I've gotten used to them, even though they don't serve me. Change always feels awkward and doesn't fit comfortably until you get into the flow of surrender and acceptance---where joy usually shows up.

Here are photos of my daughters standing against an old beech tree. The photos were taken exactly two years apart. Their physical changes are subtle yet dramatic at the same time. But the most important changes have taken place within each of them.

The beech tree as well has undergone dramatic change throughout its centuries in the earth. But the day-to-day physical changes are almost imperceivable. If the tree resisted its growth, though, its natural tendency to reach upward for height and yet also reach deep in the soil to remain anchored and stable would keep it a sapling, just a mere stick of what it could become if it accepted the changes in itself along the way. Change calls forth movement, uncertainty, transformation, discomfort, awkwardness, stops and starts, decision-making, and most important . . . FAITH. Faith in what could be, or hopefully will be. But it's all unknown.
Author Caroline Myss reflects on how life challenges us to move forward instead of remaining in an unyielding, mental mind-set: "Seen symbolically, our life crises tell us that we need to break free of beliefs that no longer serve our personal development. These points at which we must choose to change or to stagnate are our greatest challenges. Every new crossroads means we enter into a new cycle of change . . . . And change inevitably means letting go . . . and moving on to another stage of life."

February 22, 2010

Ice Crisis

It's February . . . still. January felt long as well, with cold, icy, dark days that felt longer than their allotted twenty-four hours. But February is the final month that ends the bleak winter days (at least in the area I live), so the anticipation of March and spring just weeks away makes me want to move quickly through February. Sometimes I think it would be nice if humans could just collectively hibernate right about now. Just shut down, regain our strength, and avoid the feelings of bleakness that this season can bring. Then we could wake up as the warmth settles around us and the natural world comes to life with buds and flowers, inviting us once again to the world of renewal and hope and life. But the more I think about it, if humans could hibernate, we would miss out on many experiences that the "winter" months could teach us, if you look at the winter months symbolically . . . as times of tribulation. Read the following quote from author Caroline Myss in her book Invisible Acts of Power:

"Many of the crisis in our lives are divinely scheduled to get us to head in another direction. No one gets off a comfortable couch. We need stress, often an enormous amount of it, to muster up the willpower finally to try something new with our lives. As . . . Scott Peck writes, '. . . our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.' "

Everyone gets challenged by a crisis. But what usually happens with me is that I become paralyzed, useless, and unable to find my center. I generally don't take any action, even though my thoughts are spinning. A good word to describe my reaction during these times would be frozen . . . in a metaphorical winter ice crisis. When ice and snow come upon a landscape, it really cements things in place for a time. Small twigs are not likely to blow away until the ice releases its hold; rocks are almost impossible to dislodge from a frozen forest floor; and, on a lighter note, I've even had my daughter's jump rope become frozen under the ice, only to be rescued when the warm sun shines on it days later. When it snows here in Tennessee, life basically shuts down because no one is prepared to move fluidly along the roads, since our driving skills in icy conditions are lacking and the city rarely salts the roads thoroughly in preparation. So, I've had my fair share of days through the years in Tennessee of simply being stuck in one place for a few days because of the snow and ice. But recently, I've begun to take a new perspective on the benefits of the various internal "ice crises" I've found myself frozen in.

For example, if I reword being "stuck" and "frozen" during a difficult time with being "still" and "receptive", then my attitude can change and the end result moves to a positive. Being still and receptive while moving through a difficulty also echoes of silence and meditation, waiting on God to reveal the next step, discernment, and rehabilitating the self through patience and gentleness.
I searched the Bible for references to snow, and I did not find anything negative associated with that word. In fact, the purity and renewal of snow was reiterated again and again. And it's true. Snow and ice can represent a new start, acting like a blanket, covering over the old decay of the past season. When it thaws, the water is set free, affirming life by allowing new growth to take root and established trees and plants to keep thriving. Can you see the need for stillness and patience as we learn to wait on God to move us through the difficulties? Help will come to us, but shutting down and becoming paralyzed by fear shuts down our ability to perceive God around us. He is always there, but we have to look and listen through our STILLNESS without letting our feelings of being frozen and stuck get the better of us. The crisis we are going through will "thaw", and the new growth that takes place when the Living Water runs through us only makes our souls more beautiful.
Note: The above picture is a brachiopod fossil half, filled with tiny crystals, sitting in the snow.

February 6, 2010

The Prayer of My Child

This past September my sister gave my youngest daughter, age seven, a crucifix for her birthday. No, neither my sister nor I are Catholic, but we both respect other denominations and often intermingle various religious customs in our own to enhance our spirituality. The crucifix she picked out was silver with pink beads, and it came stored in a sweet little ceramic dish in the shape of a bed with a child sleeping in it, holding a bunny. Very child-friendly. She felt that this gift was appropriate for my daughter because she has displayed an ease at talking with God and "connecting" to Him through prayer and the songs she writes . . . ("Heart of Gold" topping the list as my favorite.) When she opened the gift, she kinda knew what it was, but my sister explained more fully what a crucifix was and its use during prayer. She then gave her a simplified way to use it with prayer: just hold it while praying and use it to help feel closer to God. Simple enough . . . even though some Catholics might be in an uproar by now at this modified usage!

She doesn't use it very much, but it sits in its ceramic dish on her nightstand day after day, a sort of zen spot amid the cluttered mess of her extremely disorganized room. One night, though, I walked in to say goodnight and tell her that her Daddy would be in soon to say prayers with her (as is the nightly ritual), when I noticed she had her crucifix out and cradled in her hand, in the dark. She asked me to sit down and tell her of any prayer requests I had. I was a little thrown off, since I had never heard her say the words "prayer requests" before, but I sat down and smiled, knowing that my heart was in fact a bit troubled by a particular issue that day in which I had not yet prayed for help. For a moment I was tickled at the situation; it felt as if I was going into a Catholic confessional, and she was there to listen in the cloak of darkness, as if I was one of many people who would be passing through her room that night seeking peace and redemption. But I quickly reminded myself that God had simply stirred in her heart, and without her questioning it, she asked me to tell her my requests, so I did . . . to my child . . . but really to God (while we both touched the rosary): "I pray that my body feels better very soon and that I stop worrying about it." That was all I said; then I asked her for a prayer request, and she chirpily replied, "Oh, I don't really have any. I just wanted you to say one." Well, well, well, was I caught off-guard. That was the whole purpose . . . my prayer for myself, with my daughter (the power of two or more). Children are so open to the divine when it calls. And she, unknowingly, answered the calling of God to specifically ask to pray with me and for me.

I thank God every day for the blessings of my children! Amen!

January 17, 2010

Into the Light

My mother gave me this heart rock today. Usually I'm the one who finds the heart rocks, so this was an unexpected gift. It was not found by her, though. It was found by my great grandfather on my father's side, Charles, whom I never met . . . he died before I was born. In the early 1900s he collected arrowheads, along with a few other interesting rocks. My mother came over today to hand over half of his collection to me (and the other half will go to my sister). The collection includes petrified wood, arrowheads, clear quartz, calcite, carnelian, and many other types of stones. But, of course, my eyes went straight to this small heart rock, and I had to smile at the generational link between us. For even though we never knew each other, we both obviously appreciated treasures in the natural world.

Now let me explain why this picture above is so very important to me, because it represents right where I'm at spiritually. First, notice that there is so much darkness in the photo. I did that on purpose . . . I could have cropped it away, but metaphorically it captures the darkness that has surrounded me during a recent time of struggle in my life. As much as I wanted to immediately push away the darkness and pretend that it was not there, it could not be denied. It had to be acknowledged. As Neal Donald Walsh states in his book Conversations with God, "What we resist persists. What we look at goes away." So, with much reluctance I accepted that I was in a dark period. After a while I started to understand that the dark time was a sort of slowing down time, a time for contemplation and refining, although much fear was felt at this stage as well, because darkness always seems to arouse fear in me. After all, I can't see things clearly. I don't trust that walking through the dark with my hands outstretched will lead me safely into God's arms. I'm more afraid that I'll end up farther away, in more darkness, unable to return to any sense of safety. My tendency is to panic in the dark moments, which highlights my lack of faith. This refining period proved to be painful, yet productive. Empty, yet full of beauty the more I stopped running and started looking at what God had to teach me.

Now notice the red flower in the photo, rising up out of the dark, soft and encapsulating. It seems to be suspended in the dark, thriving amidst its bleak surroundings. This represents hope, safety, and rescue . . . or, simply put, God. Even through my struggle in the "dark", I was never alone. I was always resting in the soft layers of spiritual divinity, nestled in His promise of rescue, enlightenment, and refinement.

Obviously, in the photo, the heart rock represents me, being gently supported by the velvety petals of God's love. The heart rock's colors also represent me as well: darkness and light swirling together, making a beautiful, although not perfect, design. But the light that seems to pop from this rock is what matters most; it represents my spiritual light. The fact that there is any light at all in me proves that He is doing His work in me. I'm still not perfect; therefore the dark veins still course through me, but the light always shines through, pushing the darkness away, ultimately triumphing. The darkness within myself serves a purpose, though. It keeps me real, allows me to approach others with my brokenness, and reminds me that He has more work to do in me. So the next time I'm refined, hopefully I won't resist it or fear it as much as I did this time around.
"Learn the alchemy true human beings know.
The moment you accept what troubles you've been given,
the door will open."
"And the time came when the risk to remain tight in a bud
was more painful than the risk it took
to blossom."
~Anais Nin~