Category Archives: Meditations

What Happens After the Election?

no-problem-can-be-solved-from-the-same-level-of-consciousness-that-created-it-albert-einsteinOur county’s going through a tough time. No matter which candidate you favor, or whether “none of the above,” is your preference, you would probably agree that the way forward looks bleak whoever wins next Tuesday. Bitterness is the residue of the quarrelsome public conversations that have left many of us feeling disrespected and discouraged. Parents and teachers are embarrassed that our children have witnessed grown-ups’ engaging in behavior we would not tolerate from them, – name-calling , bullying, attacking one another’s personalities. Whatever happened to the loyal opposition – respectful discussions between people who hold different points of view.

We like to feel that either the situation is hopeless but it isn’t serious or it’s serious but it isn’t hopeless. But when the situation feels both serious and hopeless, we fear for the survival of our democracy.

What is the way forward towards a resilient recovery, personally and as a nation? Since I’ve become a kind of expert in helping people get through tough stuff I plan to practice what I teach.

  • Keep an optimistic mindset, no matter the circumstances – Our right to vote was hard fought for by our ancestors and for many peoples around the globe, voting is still an allusive dream.
  • Give and get help. I’m walking my community on behalf of the candidates I support, every step a prayer that encourages and hopefully enables others who agree with me to cast their votes.
  • Take part in rituals that heal – Remembering what Einstein said that “no problem can be solved from the level of consciousness that created it,” on November 13th, I plan to join a national ceremonial Day of Healing and Reconciliation sponsored by the Meditation Museum in Washington DC. In the spirit of unity, forgiveness and solidarity there will be local events around the country.

Rituals are the way we heal. Join me in this national ritual that will allow us to step back for a broader perspective, identify our commonalities as human beings and come together in a container large enough to hold our differences. We owe this to our children and grandchildren coming after us. https://www.facebook.com/dayofhealingandreconciliation/?hc_ref=PAGES_TIMELINE

The Anatomy of a Massage

They say you never forget your first, and that’s held true for me. I can still remember in much detail my first massage. Part of its memorable nature involved the striking beauty of the place where it occurred, a hot springs along the shores of the Pacific Ocean in Big Sur California. 

 hotsprings3I had dragged my luggable computer to Esalen Institute, to assist one of my teachers, Ilana Rubenfeld, with a writing project. Ilana was on the Esalen Institute faculty, having invented a hands-on therapy, integrating psychotherapy, intuition, and bodywork. While on the retreat center campus I was able to participate not only in Ilana’s classes but I was able to experience my first massage. 

hotsprings5An Esalen massage begins at the edge of the Pacific, with a soak in several tubs fed by water from the underground hot mineral springs. And yes, people did not wear bathing suits, but there was no need to feel self-conscious. The scenery the wildflower-filled cliffside, in one direction and a spectacular seascape of rocky coastline and navy blue sky in the other, commanded all the attention. The massage rooms sit along side the ocean, so that although there’s music, the predominant sounds are of waves lapping against the rocky shore and wind soothing the pine trees.

As I go back to that place now in memory, what stands out is the effort I kept making to stay aware and awake for each delicious bodily sensation initiated by the therapist’s touch. I remember thinking I didn’t know my body could be this relaxed. At some point the relaxation became so deep that it took my mind to a space I’d never visited, even in my dreams.   

 During my most recent massage at a spa in Desert Hot Springs, California, my body taught me something else I didn’t know. In the thirty years since my first massage, I’ve become a better collaborator – bringing my breath and my full awareness to the point of contact between my body and the therapist’s hands. The aroma of the lotions, the music, the faint light, all conspire to encourage a letting go of excess tension in the muscles but the state of relaxation depends on the communication between the practitioner’s hands and my breath and intention. Together we give each of body part permission to let go of whatever is in excess, whatever is no longer needed.

 massage.spaAs the massage begins I notice the temperature of the room, a bit cooler than I’m used to. I notice the music, its repetitious rhythm and non-descript phrases, purposely arranged so as not to call attention to itself. I notice the feel of the lotion on my skin and that, in the desert air, my skin seems especially thirsty and grateful for the moisture it’s receiving.

As the massage progressed, some muscles relaxed easily, others with a surprisingly spastic jerk, and occasionally a sharp reflected pain accompanied some releases, subsiding as quickly as it came. While my muscles were engaged in these various releases, my mind surprised me by recreating some violent scenes from a movie I’d seen recently, “Ten Years a Slave.”  As this internal visualization occurred I noticed it and then brought my attention back to the point of contact with the therapist’s hands. After this continued for some time I had the realization, (or the sensation) that these images were being released from my body, as though they had been stored in my muscles since I first saw them.  

Speaking My Mind

As a writer with a new book out, I’m not turning down any invitations to read my work in front of an audience. I had the privilege last Sunday of participating in an outdoor literary event sponsored by the City of Asylum/Pittsburgh. http://www.cityofasylumpittsburgh.org/

CityAsylum-30

The provocative theme we writers were asked to respond to was “I Don’t Know What I’d Do if I Couldn’t Speak My Mind.” Every 10 minutes for six hours, a different writer read from their work while groups of people walked past, lingering a bit as they participated in the Mexican War Streets Annual Home Tour.  I read a short excerpt from Warrior Mother, and three short pieces inspired by the topic.

Speaking My Mind
Before I speak, my focus goes to stillness inside.
Before I speak, my ears listen for the sound of suffering
Before I speak, my heart decides, will this serve love?
Before I speak, my gut signals something must be done.
My hands speak as I type and text.

The tone of my voice speaks, revealing sorrow.
My muscles speak as I lift debris from the river.
The twinkle in my eyes speaks of a grandmother’s joy.
My arms speak as I churn the chocolate chip cookie batter.
demanding peace.

Speaking My Mind 2
My mind’s in my feet, like a choreographer taught me years ago. We were rehearsing a dance in a church, suspended high over the pews that the congregation would soon fill for the service. We danced on a ledge over the pulpit, perhaps illustrating a story from the bible, “And David danced before the Lord.”
There was no railing, nothing to catch us if we fell. “Keep your mind in your feet,” she called out from below. “That’s the only way to stay safe.”
That’s how it is for dancers, writers, musicians, spoken-word performers – people who insist on staying in touch with their souls. Having your mind in your feet means that your sole is in touch with the earth, a necessary connection as you move about on uneven surfaces, exploring the territory close to the edge.
To be an artist is to live there, on that edge, and though you become accustomed to dancing with your own fear, your witnesses, fanning themselves as they recline in comfortable cushioned seats, are both enlivened and terrified by the possibilities you present.

Speaking My Mind 3
People who know me as I am today might not believe it, but I haven’t always spoken my mind. On the surface of things you might say I’ve had the freedom to do so. But like other children of “The Silent Generation” I learned early not to disagree out loud with the adults around me.

As a young woman I followed the rules, even the stupid unwritten ones, like women must behave as proper ladies, and be careful not to threaten men. I finally found my voice to object to being paid less than men I supervised, to being given half my ex-husband’s debts but not his good credit score.

The Keys

It’s Sunday morning and I’m in a rental car on my way to Iowa City. A folk song special on NPR radio station is allowing me to sing along with Peter Seeger, and Arlo Guthrie, helping the miles go by more gracefully. My cell phone rings and it’s my husband who’s in Washington, DC with our dog Clancy, visiting his brother. With the time change and the fact that he had become involved in searching for his lost car keys, we hadn’t connected much over the weekend.

“Did you find your keys?“ I ask immediately. The answer is no. He is calling to run by me the three options he and his brother have come up with for him to be able to get back to Pittsburgh.

“I can have the car towed back to Pittsburgh. That will cost $500. The second option is to borrow Chuck’s car and drive home to get the keys. This will cost nothing except another day when I would have to drive it back to Washington to pick up my car. The third option would be to wait till Monday morning and have the dealer make a new key but that takes another day and costs $250. “

This puzzle distracts me from the potential boredom of acres of tilled and planted farmland, dotted with the quaint red barns and silos of family farms, interspersed by the sterile metal buildings of the corporate farms.

I decide there are more than three options, so I head off down that path. “What about having Sue get into our house, get my keys from where they’re hanging on the key rack in the kitchen, and overnight them to you?

We discuss how Sue would get in the house; the code to the garage door, the extra key I’ve stashed under the Serenity rock in the flower garden. He decides to think about this suggestion and call me back. Then I realize we didn’t even mention the dog and whether he had gotten the test results from the vet on Friday.

After we hang up, in my mind’s eye, I see the keys in a jacket pocket. I use my siri assistant to text him this suggestion. “Look in your pockets again.”

The next day his brother called to say he found the keys. They were in a pocket of the jacket my husband borrowed from him when he needed one to get into a private club.

A Meditation for Grieving

In a situation where we are experiencing loss or the threat of loss, there is a strong need to change our state of consciousness, to spend some time in an altered state of consciousness. Don’t worry if you do not have a formal meditation practice. I’d like to share with you a simple process that I have used. Take it and make your own variations. There really is no right or wrong way to do it.

Start by creating a space that indigenous people would call a “sacred space.” Candles or stones can help to delineate this space, perhaps a circle, and it can be anywhere, in your living room or bedroom, in a hotel room, or in a park. You may bring a picture of someone you are concerned about, and give it a place of honor in the space.

Sit inside this circle that you have defined. Focus on your breath and allow whatever thoughts and feelings that might arise.

Listen. Notice any sensations that become prominent in your body. Send your breath to those places that seem to call to you.

Always come back to the breath, to the present moment.

You may experiment with walking with awareness of each step on the outside of the circle, accompanying your steps to the rhythm of your breath.

Then step into the center of the circle and stand in stillness. If it feels right, you may hold the picture of the person you are concerned about and carry it with you as you exit the circle and walk around the circle in the opposite direction from where you began.

And after a few minutes, thank yourself for taking this time to tune in to your deepest self.   

A Self-Caring Meditation

Harmony

A number of years ago, when I was in the process of writing a book  about our most important responsibility, that of taking care of ourselves, I visited an art gallery in Texas. My best friend Rose had been there ahead of me, and she was most enthusiastic about the limited edition etchings of an Austin artist, Valerie Kneeland. Valerie had been inspired by her Native American teacher to use motifs from that culture. Standing in front of the picture she calls “Harmony” I recognized Valerie had captured in her image what I was trying to write about. In service to the notion that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” I bought a copy of the picture and placed it above my computer in my office. It inspired me to finish my book, and Valerie graciously allowed me to use the image on its cover.

Listen to the audio of Harmony

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Look now at Valerie’s picture on the cover of “Stillpoint, The Dance of Selfcaring, Selfhealing” (in right-hand sidebar).

The central image is of a woman centered in herself and connected to the earth. Her body, reminiscent of the skull of a steer, is outlined with a river of red blood and puddles of what could be blue water.  Imagine yourself as this woman, your own body centered and grounded as hers, surrounded by all that you need to nourish yourself.

Notice the geometric Native American motif placed vertically in the center of her body, in the place of her spine. Imagine that balanced design in the center of your own body. Valerie told me native peoples believe no harm can come to a person who wears this reminder to stand tall and balanced.

Notice the triangular-shaped shield she wears around her neck. This object protects her voice as she speaks her truth. Imagine yourself experiencing this protection.

Notice her hair standing out dramatically to her sides, covering her shoulders. Rather than the cultural requirement for women to cover their heads, this woman’s hair appears energetic and magnetic. Imagining yourself as this woman, celebrate yourself and the value of all that comes from you.

Notice the branches in the upper left hand corner of the picture. As in the changing seasons of nature and our lives, one is flourishing with leaves, the other barren. Recognize and honor this season of your life. Pledge to care deeply for yourself as you have cared for others.