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.