Keeping current in wellness, in and out of the water
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Listening with full attention is an art and a skill. I believe one can listen to several layers of reality. I listen to music all day which I pipe into my environment on purpose. At the same time I read posts from all over the world making an effort to truly lend an ear to each point of view. I am sure I edit in favor of my own proclivities all the time. I hear what I want to hear, like all my fellow humans. The written word has less power over the brain to create action than the sound of the spoken voice. We can skim over either written or spoken words by drifting off with our attention. The question is, what do we hear when we distract ourselves from our own reality? Whose voice is creating our desires? Do we hear the voice of the universe, the voice of God?
Prayer and contemplation are designed to create an atmosphere in which we hear or know our purpose. Silent meditation is purposeful to teach the mind to shut up sometimes. Mystics and prophets have made contact with the Beloved by various means for all of history. Silence, and often seclusion, has been the path for many to attain mastery. Those who have not tried to be still and know might be very surprised how many internal voices have so much to say when one simply wants to quiet the mind to focus on the divine. These little chatterboxes are constantly yacking it up in our consciousness, a combo of memory, prejudice, and persona. They are the voices that make excuses for the ego. They are the smarty pants know-it-alls in our personas that are busy composing a response rather than paying full attention to a speaker. They think they are all that, but they are often confused. This does not indicate that we have split personalities, or are unusually fragmented. Everyone has to practice to be able to quiet the mind and keep it quiet. The phrase “a mind of its’ own” applies to your attention. Harnessing the full power of your own mind will be the greatest feat of patience you will ever achieve.
There is a long history of contemplative practice in Christianity. In the 1970’s three monks from Massachusetts created modern instructions for centering prayer. This form of meditation is close to Yoga Nidra. It teaches the mind to rise above the normal thoughts that inhabit our thinking. A jolly attitude is recommended toward the thought forms that casually intrude into one’s session. By gradually improving the ability to concentrate and fully focus on the selected subject or word, those pesky internal discussions cease and desist that constant chatter. All forms of meditation are aimed at this goal. If we have control over our thoughts we have control over our reality.
Lectio Divina is a way to use scriptures as the focus of the silent contemplation. Since journaling is a valuable way to amplify the lessons learned a company is producing lectio divina journals with recommended scriptures for each day with plenty of space to write down any impressions or ideas that spring from the session. These guys are monks, so they always use Christian texts, normally the Bible, for the inspiration. They refer to this as a centering prayer, which is a perfect way to describe the experience. Asking for divine inspiration at the outset is the way to invite holy blessings. Writing down journal impressions creates a bridge between the contemplation and everyday life. Insights gained are captured in the writing practice.
I think anyone can do this kind of meditation. You don’t need to use Christianity or any other specific religion to do it. Time spent quieting the mind and discovering the power of meditation and journaling is a wonderful way to simply deal with stress in the modern world. Simple Abundance, or gratitude journaling are secular ways to include contemplation and writing in our lives. There are many variations on this theme. I think now is the time to develop practices that increase our joy and comfort in the world. We are our own best medicine when we join forces with all that is. We will all drive ourselves mad without some well tended personal space and time dedicated to centering. I hope you will discover a method that soothes your soul and raises your happiness quotient. You don’t have to be a monk to like it.
Swimming is introduced to many of us when we are children. I was enrolled in the Red Cross swimming program, which I looked forward to attending each summer until I passed all the badge levels. I lived in Pittsburgh, so we had very little winter time swimming. We did occasionally go to a YMCA with an indoor pool that was open at night somewhere in the ‘burbs of the ‘Burgh. I remember my hair freezing after those sessions, but it did not bother me at all. My friends and I were big fans of the water, and our parents used going to the pool as the supreme bribe/reward.
When I was 30 I trained at the YMCA in Tucson to teach parent/infant swimming classes. After I was certified my friends with lots of kids asked me to teach at their private pools at home. I did this for many years, teaching groups organized around the convenience of the families. This very good deal for both the parents and for me finally ended against the wishes of some, but I was truly fried by the sun and ready to leave the pool deck. My skin and hair were begging me for a break.
I still taught aquatics and swimming at spas, but to adults. The adult swimming lesson becomes a greater challenge than the children’s class. If a person has not learned to swim by a certain age, it becomes a greater obstacle with every passing year. Some people were directly frightened by a water incident at some time they remember. Most don’t recall a specific reason, but have been afraid of water since they were young.
It is appropriate to fear water if one does not have the skills needed to survive in it. Of particular danger are natural bodies of water with currents, undertow, or strong surf. Even strong swimmers are subject to injury or death in torrential flash flood conditions. Caution is always a good idea in or around water. Being a good lifeguard for yourself and others is all about prevention. It is not a good idea to swim alone. Get out of the water during a lightning storm. Use common sense to keep everyone from falling or slipping around the edge of the pool.
Learning to swim well enough to swim laps for exercise has multiple benefits:
I believe the last one is the best. Nobody can interrupt you, call you, ask you for anything during your lap swim. Especially if you learn to flip turn, your obvious determination to move across the water will be respected. Nobody will mess with you until you are finished. When your goggles and your fins fit just right, and you groove into the sound of your own exhalation under the water, all is bliss. Once a good level of competence is achieved it is easy to increase stamina in the pool without risking injury. In fact, I can think of no negative side effects associated with learning to swim. Are you a strong swimmer, gentle reader? How did you learn?
The sun has just entered Pisces for a month. I am working on clearing my desk and finishing my tax preparation, which always happens this time of year. I am particularly interested in clearing my space as well as my body and mind of the past this month. Cleaning up and getting rid of useless garbage always brings me great joy and a feeling of moving forward with everything. This year I am giving the Pisces month full attention because I see a metaphor for better health through karmic cleansing of beliefs. In my own natal chart I have three planets in Pisces, most significantly my north node is the twelfth house. I am a relative amateur in astrology but am learning more as I investigate and read. I follow a few good astrologers all the time. One of my favorites is Dr. Loretta Stanley who also created my most recent chart. She has urged karmic cleansing of the past during the Pisces month in preparation for a new life this spring. Physical and mental as well as belief cleaning is what she recommends during this time. Sounds reasonable to me. I am sure I hold at least a few beliefs that no longer serve my best interests.
My own needs coincide with karmic cleansing and attention to the mystical, magical powers of Pisces for several reasons. Pisces rules the feet, and I am slowly recovering from a nagging chronic foot pain that has plagued me now for a couple of years. It is definitely on the mend, but still causes a bit of pain. I have acupuncture once a week which is very effective in reducing the swelling and discomfort. I am back on the walking path and functioning well, but I have a feeling the injury/chronic issue has an emotional component. Everything always does. There is a powerful metaphor about stepping forward without pain that I believe is soon to be opening a happy new pathway in my life.
Pisces rules the 12th house of karma or self-undoing. It is a very emotional, mystical, spiritual and intuitive sign. The 12th house is the end of the line for astrology, the last house. It represents the unconscious, and therefore transformation. Our unconscious minds are powerful guides that process the unknown and unseen parts of our lives. The symbolism of the 12th house is the deep understanding, both spiritual and physical, that will decide how we move forward. I have applied many remedies and treatments to my foot disorder to find a cure. It makes sense to take this month to take a deeper look at what my gait is trying to say to me. The little limp on the left represents a deeper issue, I think. I plan to use this month to meditate, clear, clean, and simplify my spiritual practices. I believe (the motto of Pisces) the answer will be found deep in my subconscious.
Tomorrow is the last day of the annual Ikebana event at Yume Japanese Gardens of Tucson. This delightful addition to the garden’s peaceful atmosphere is wonderfully worth a visit. The works are displayed in all parts of the gardens as well as in two interior galleries. There are well defined spaces that allow contemplation or mindfulness practice at Yume any time you visit. To see these adorned with Ikebana is a real invitation to deep meditation. The work itself is done as a meditative practice, finding the best way to use the plant materials to express art. The relatively short life of the materials is an element of the contemplative experience for me. Like sand mandala they will be discarded in the future, with less ceremony.
I was very lucky to be invited to the arranging pre party where I met artists and teachers working on the show. The universe of Ikebana was unknown to me, but it took a very enjoyable guided tour. It was clear to me that in the group situation some found it more difficult than others to be immersed in the creative process. I asked questions but did not want to get carried away and become a big distraction. Once I tuned in to what was happening it reminded me of yoga. The teacher comes around and gives assistance and guidance to to student while the work is in progress. There is a reverent attitude toward the plant materials, and quiet concentration. When I saw all the finished pieces in the show I was impressed with the work in all of them. They caught a seasonal natural harvest in whimsical harmony with the moment in which it was created. The curation of the show is done so that every piece looks natural and harmonious with the surroundings. For this Thanksgiving weekend Yume, which means dream, is one big flower arrangement containing many arrangements. It is the perfect place to be one with nature right in the center of the city of Tucson.
Make sure you take a look around all the corners because there are arrangements tucked into the gardens like a treasure hunt. The indoor galleries are also very well curated to show a range of styles. I am a happy newcomer to this exciting form of art and meditation.
Life can throw challenging circumstances and people into the mix at any time. Our own composure and resilience is our biggest investment because the quality of our time is tied to it. The sayings on tee shirts about keeping calm then doing something are not only comical but are also practical. We can hardly accomplish our best work if we are flipping out about something. Remaining calm in the face of tense situations is an accomplishment. We need personal tool boxes ready to employ when stress becomes hard to handle. Although many practices work, the tools must be tailored to the individual. What lifts my mood might not be fun for you, so this takes some discernment. Packing the right tools for the job requires concentration as well as honesty. You need to know not only what will work for you but also what you will actually practice.
Meditation takes many forms, not all of which require sitting still. Walking meditation and mindfulness training are both active ways to keep moving while training the mind to focus and stay clear. Mantras, chanting and other sounds are excellent tools to anchor the mind. Formal training is wonderful, but we don’t need to wait to start a practice. Artistic expression provides simple straightforward access to the unconscious. Making art requires a special sensibility, a focus on creativity that is strong. Tapping into the inner artist is a way to train the mind and liberate the soul.
Here are a few ways I find inner peace and concentration through art:
I have no professional aspirations as an artist, yet I consider myself artistic. I am not meditative 100% of the time I engage in the above activities, but frequently they lead to a calmer happier state of mind. I believe each of us has essential creative gifts to offer which we have the option to develop. Finding time to immerse ourselves in our own creative juices can be a path to peace and happiness.
Angels were common before Jesus was born. There were happy spirits protecting humans all over the pre-Christian world. Some people today debate the powers and presence attributed to angels because we know them through story and legend. Their existence is a rhetorical belief, but there has been no empirical evidence that proves they are here with us. December is a very popular time to display angels and even dress up and portray them in live nativity scenes. In the darkest month of the Northern Hemisphere’s year, angels usher in the light. They often wear white, have white wings and a bright body halo. They are messengers, beings of light, that assist humans on both sides of the grave. They intercede for the benefit of humans.
December is the right time to settle into a hot herbal bath, light a candle, and put out the do not disturb sign for the human element. Around the winter solstice have a conversation with angels. If this is easy and natural for you, pray and get in touch with the angelic realm. If you need some help getting used to the idea of being surrounded by beings of light, do some meditating. Soak in the aromas of your scented tub, breathing deeply and leave thought behind. Have a conversation, out loud or in your mind, with the spirit guardians of your life. Imagining the presence of another dimension, allow yourself to say what is in your heart and ask for help that you know you need. You can do it with eyes open our closed. Using this method is a formula to make wishes come true. Belief in our angels is belief in supernatural powers at work on our behalf. Speaking to angels has been done by all kinds of people without shame or embarrassment for a very long time. The time is right to tell your deepest wishes to the angels, Gentle Readers.
We may not have had formal training in meditation as children, but we probably had profound spiritual experiences as a natural part of childhood. Contemplation is a normal activity. When life is undisturbed we contemplate our surroundings, our connection to the universe, and more. If you scan your past for times during which you felt connected, in a state of grace, or full of bliss you will find them. By bringing back the feeling of spontaneous enlightening experiences we might be able to recreate that magic today. Our conscious minds often cling to our problems, our challenges, and our individual specialty suffering, keeping these wounds close to the surface. Through practice we can train the mind to hold on to the positive, unexplained flashes of light and insight, treating them as our natural state. Bringing contemplation and spacious states of mind into our practice is liberating. The long term benefits can be compared to physical strength or agility in the body. We don’t know what demands the future will put on that preparation. We can only learn when an event challenges that strength. We know we will encounter stressful situations and loss in our lives. A meditative state of mind is the very best investment/tool to cope with adversity that can be acquired.
There are many forms of meditation. A qualified teacher is not always available, but can show the student how to create the transition into mindfulness. If you believe that you have never meditated, let your memory go over the special times of youth that stand out in your memory today. You will probably be able to identify a few enchanted, enlightened times that brought you a glimpse into eternity. That lightness is a state that is available to you always. What is required is a steady practice. Walking, chanting, sitting….the style does not matter as long as it suits the user. The pure state of bliss meditation brings the practitioner is the armor that protects the mind from stress and worry. It is the true fountain of youth.
Wisdom springs from meditation;
without meditation wisdom wanes.
Having known these two paths of progress and decline,
let one so conduct oneself that one’s wisdom may increase.
Meditation can take many forms, but it has been confused with nihilism. Emptiness is a holy state leading to enlightenment. Nothingness is not the same as nothing. Jeff Zlotnik gives a simple demonstration of an easy breath following meditation technique in this video. Calm, peace, and a sense of spaciousness are the results of time spent practicing meditation. Thinking and reacting, compelled to control, we slip farther away from health and well being. Doing nothing without freaking out is a skill to cultivate, no matter which style you choose to practice. Breath is usually a component, but walking, painting, writing poetry, chanting, and archery can be formats for meditative practice as well. Find a form that feels right to your physical and mental constitution, then practice.
“You don’t just integrate your “shadow.” It’s not an aspect of personality but a mysterious element in the human condition.” – Thomas Moore’s tweet of the day today. @thomasmooreSoul is on twitter, like @Pontifex. They both know Latin, liturgy, and the Holy Ghost. Their twitter streams could not possibly be more different. Thomas Moore tweets a dab of darshan daily to his small following. Nobody tweets crass insulting things to him, like they do to the Pope. It is a quiet, one way stream, like the Tao itself..bringing us closer to the truth every day. The truth is always downhill, and flow always involves removal of obstructions. Today he is tweeting about the much misunderstood Jungian theory of the shadow. Shadow can very well be the prime obstruction to living a happy full life. So, where is this mighty shadow, anyhow?
The shadow is the part of your self, or your society, of which you are unaware. It is hidden by your extreme belief in what you are fed by your ego. The ego is the weakest link to reality, in a way, because it only wants to confirm and uphold status quo as it prefers it. Meditation, contemplation, or artistic endeavors bring perspective needed to see this shadow. It is the reason you are in whatever rut you occupy. The rut is like a bunker maintained by your self image. Like a city with big buildings, no shadow is cast down in the bunker, except maybe at noon for a while. In the “reality bunker” the ego rules and keeps other aspects in the belief system you know as your rut.
With Groundhog Day fast approaching, consider celebration this year by leaving your thought bunker to risk seeing your shadow. How might a gentle reader do such a thing? Silence is the threshold. Meditation is the key. Mandala is the map. Wisdom is the reward. Walking a labyrinth is a wonderful way to begin.