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Posts Tagged ‘meditation’

Image source unknown.

As the world prepares for the solar eclipse, I am feeling like the main character in Corduroy Mansions:

Was anybody’s life straightforward, he wondered, or did one have to go into a monastery for that? To be a monk and keep bees and make wine for the abbot and lead a life of quiet order and contemplation. Was it still possible, he wondered, or had the world become too complicated, too frantic, to allow such peace of mind? – Alexander McCall Smith

Honestly, having the moon blot out the sun isn’t exactly making an already fraught time more restful, is it? I don’t feel completely comfortable about the special glasses I ordered from Amazon, either, even though they are approved by NASA and haven’t been hastily recalled and don’t seem to be scratched—but who can say? Is staring at the sun really such a good idea?

This is only one of the reasons why peace of mind feels elusive; other reasons are obvious if you read the news. So I am doing what I can to gather about me some bits and pieces of comfort, which won’t protect my eyes but may soothe my troubled spirit. I offer them here for anyone else who needs them.

***

First, I am pursuing meditation with a whole heart. I have learned that peace of mind is always available if we will only sit still and wait for it to catch up with us. The trick is to give it half a chance by not rushing around and doing things. So when my choice appears to be to either explode or start breathing into a paper bag, I turn to meditation. It is the simplest form of prayer. All that’s required is to focus your full attention on your breath as it goes in, and goes out. Since I began meditating daily about three months ago, my blood pressure has descended into much safer territory and Blue Cross/Blue Shield is excessively proud of me, at least judging from the messages they send me every time I log my blood pressure into their Healthy Outcomes website: “Congratulations, Vicki! You’ve got this!”

Meditation is like unplugging and powering down. Remember when Eric Clapton unplugged? “Layla” was my favorite song when I was in high school. I loved it so much that I called up radio stations and requested it all the time, that’s how much I wanted to hear it. (Evidently I didn’t want to hear it badly enough to buy the album; I only bought Fleetwood Mac and Elton John.) Anyway, decades later when Clapton performed the song on an acoustic guitar for the show “Unplugged,” I was appalled. What was “Layla” without the hot electric intro? Well, it was lovely. The unplugged version was as wonderful as the more frantic original, plus I understood the lyrics clearly for the first time. Being unplugged mentally is like that, too. Things are slower, clearer, and more meaningful. It’s the difference between watching a stone skip across a lake in silver flashes of light, as opposed to letting the stone drop into a deep, clear well and following its progress all the way down down down to the bottom. In fact, those exciting silver flashes of light may just be the warning signs of high blood pressure.

Of course, there are fancier ways of meditating, using guided meditation scripts and an app that allows you to listen to recorded scripts. Some time ago I printed a meditation script for compassion and placed it in a notebook where I tuck things that I want to keep, things like ridiculous news items, recipes, and e-mails that I print to read off-screen. Last week when I decided I needed to meditate on something more than my breath, and I pulled the meditation script out of the notebook, took a deep preliminary breath to relax, and read:

“Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.”

I had pulled out a recipe for tomato butter.

Cooking is a lot like meditation, though. Follow the steps with your full attention, and in the end you will gain peaceful acceptance, a jar of delicious tomato butter, or possibly both.

Here is Mary Oliver’s excellent guidance, from her poem “Praying.”

…just pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

***

Last week I received an e-mail from a dear friend in St. Louis:

Speaking of eclipse, how is it going to be out your way? Of course, Jefferson County and Southern IL are right in the path of the eclipse. They are expecting 300,000 people in IL and MO for it. I am taking the day off and spending it with my neighbor and Valerie at a winery that is not too far from my place. It is only 33 degrees off from being perfect. They are expecting 400 people that day and the fun will begin at 9 a.m. So now we just pray for a sunny day. 

I am praying for a sunny day and that Rachel’s special glasses are good ones and haven’t been scratched. But I can’t help being delighted to know that, as the moon travels across the sun, in the St. Louis area it will be only 33 degrees from perfect.

Speaking of eclipse glasses, which are occupying my thoughts constantly and stealing my peace of mind, my sister asked her younger son, Will, if he planned to view the eclipse in his part of the country (Denver, Colorado).

“I guess,” he said.

“Don’t look directly at the sun,” my sister warned.

“So how am I going to see it?”

I am now praying for Will, too.

***

Here is a quote that I saved and need to memorize for my own self-improvement.

We don’t set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people’s hearts. –Pema Chödrön

I will try in the future to wonder how other people are doing and to make sure that I’m not causing damage through my own words and actions. If we all did that and stuck to it, probably we could—slowly and with concentrated effort—move the world to about 33 degrees from perfect.

These fragments I have shored against my ruin.

Be safe out there.

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Icon

It’s not just an art; it’s a practice. Icon painters must stay close to their own inner presence; there are specific prayers used to accompany the craft. It requires an attention to breathing, quietness, stillness; a disciplined meditation where the attention converges on an effort to bring the Being of the subject into the present moment. The icon is meant to open a window between the viewer and the sacred, drawing them into an intimate and personal relationship not with the object, but with veneration itself.

Lee van Laer, “A Consonance of Feeling: Art by Chantal Heinegg–Painting Icons in a Modern World.”

This quote and the icon pictured above are from an article in the Spring 2013 issue of Parabola, a quarterly journal published by the Society for the Study of Myth and Tradition. Parabola describes itself like this:

A parabola is one of the most dynamic forms in nature. It is the curve of a bowl, the path of a ball soaring upward and down to earth again. The founder of this magazine decided it was a good name for a journal devoted to the search for meaning, which often goes outward, then back home again along a different path.

I plan to approach my next writing project with the attention, stillness, and disciplined meditation necessary to create something iconic. My material will be local things:  the Saxapahaw General Store, a tin-topped pie basket. and a peculiar pillowcase. For I spent today going outward, and I came back home along a different path.  I don’t know that I gained meaning on this journey, but I certainly enjoyed it. And I did gain a really nice pie basket.

(Parabola itself is a sort of icon–a window to the sacred. If you can’t find copies in your local bookstore, try the library.)

IMG_1402

Mandala - or possibly a pie - on tin top of pie basket.

Mandala – or possibly a pie – on tin top of pie basket.

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“Wilson’s Bird of Paradise,” by Diana Sudyka (2007).

“Here is an entry from my journal that fell off my desk and landed on my lap and opened to this page.”

This quote is from an article (“Prayer, Poverty, and Creativity”) by Brother Paul Quenon in Parabola’s Spring 2012 issue. The quote had been pulled out and featured in a largish text box, so it was impossible to miss. And since I’ve been having trouble figuring out what to write about, I took it as a sign and used it as a writing prompt: I would randomly choose a page from my own online journal and use it as a jumping-off point for a blog post.

This was a risky move. Brother Paul’s journal entry was a meaningful and beautifully written meditation on prayer; he used it as the foundation of a piece about contemplation and creativity. He wove in some lovely poetry by Thomas Merton and Emily Dickinson. Altogether it was so wonderful I could hardly stand it.

But I randomly opened one of the journals I keep on the computer and landed on a passage that was quite colorful and referenced an original poem of my own—a bonus. I dug the poem out of the archives to include as decoration and make my post more like Brother Paul’s piece. Not that I am presenting my journal entry + poem as comparable to Brother Paul’s—far from it.

(In fact, as I tried to jot down some notes about the article so I wouldn’t forget them, I found that my pen sputtered and spit in a really aggravating way. It’s my favorite pen, mind you. Usually it writes very smoothly and is a pleasure to use, but once in a while it becomes cantankerous, distributing ink unevenly or not at all. It seems to like only the finest paper, and performs well only at a certain temperature. This led me to contemplate that I am exactly the same, myself. Once in a while I am able to write clearly and say precisely what I wish; other times I have a devil of a time getting anything down at all, or it comes out in such an unholy mess that it makes me stamp around and sulk.)

The journal entry that fell open (though not on my lap) was about just such a day. So without further ado, here it is, with a poem in the middle:

I have started a story, but it’s not going well.  I got distracted and had to write a poem for Will’s birthday, because I forgot his birthday until several days after it had passed.  Lateness required that I write him a poem to make up for it….  Funny thing is, last year I wrote him a birthday poem because he whined for one, and I ended up writing about the Florida wildfires. I got up this morning and there it was on the news:  more Florida wildfires.  There must be a connection between Will’s birthday and conflagration. 

William’s birthday?
No, it’s not!
(Yes, it was.
I just forgot.)
My perfect record
Has a blot
His birthday passed,
And I forgot.
Blame it on
A wicked plot!
Faulty calendars!
Advanced brain-rot!
Blame on, blame on,
It matters not—
The simple truth is
I forgot.
But William, here’s
A worn ten-spot.
Is all forgiven…
…and forgot?

A couple of nights ago we watched “Attenborough in Paradise” on PBS. David Attenborough went deep into the jungles of New Guinea to film birds of paradise. They are really amazing things, with brightly colored feathers that shoot out in all directions like fireworks.  My personal favorite was the Wilson’s Bird of Paradise.  The little curled tail-feathers are precious, and the Carolina-blue helmet is nice, too.  I found the most adorable painting of this bird at The Tiny Aviary blog, and the artist, Diana Sudyka, wrote underneath it: “I swear I did not make this bird up.”  It does look like a made-up bird.

Speaking of birds, last night on “Bizarre Foods” Andrew Zimmern was in Spain. He traveled out into the countryside and stopped at a restaurant where the chef prepared sautéed rooster combs and served them with rice. Andrew tried one and said, “Oh, they just melt in your mouth.”  Here’s what he wrote about it on his blog:  “A rooster crest really is the zigzag crown that sits on top of a rooster’s head. They are braised, peeled, and then some of the crests are chopped and stirred into the risotto, while several others are napped with a chicken glacé and perched atop the finished dish. If you love chicken feet, imagine all the gelatinous delight of those morsels multiplied by a factor of 100.”

The next day, Ernesto was still talking about his suddenly urgent desire to go to Barcelona, stay in the country, and eat delicious cheeses and ham.  “And rooster combs,” I reminded him.
“Rooster combs?” he said. “Oh, no. No, no, no.”
“Why not? Andrew says they melt in your mouth.”
Ernesto considered this.  “They will have to melt somewhere else,” he said.

Now that I’ve pieced together my journal entry and poem, illustrated it with Diana Sudyka’s wonderful painting (used with permission), and have run out of ink, as it were, I’m going to go back to Brother Paul’s article and pull out the essence of what he had to say about creativity:

True creativity does not need an excuse. It is its own motivation. It is spontaneous. It need not win public recognition, and its aim is not success.

Success is not the goal of creativity. Success can be a threat to creativity and become an end to itself. As Merton said, “If you have learned only how to be a success, your life has probably been wasted.” Creativity, as life itself, is grounded in and shares in the sacred. … St. Benedict’s Rule for Monasteries opens with an appeal: Listen. … Listen, obaudire, also means obey. In listening, something new can emerge, something beyond my own assumptions, control and agenda.

I hear you, Brother Paul. I hear you.

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