Tag Archives: meditation

God Says “Duh” To Me

Half a year after Richard died, I visited San Francisco for the first time with my sister, Gay, and our sister-in-law, Beth.  Gay was there for a conference.  Beth and I were there to stay at the Palace Hotel on someone else’s expense account.  Man, they have plush robes at that hotel. Nicest robe I ever almost stole.  Also a sauna, town cars at your disposal, a brunch buffet with everything from sushi to crepes, a concierge every 20 feet.  We were living high on the hog that week.  I don’t know how I’ll ever come back down to the Sleep Inn between the interstate and Sonic.

One morning, Gay had meetings to attend so Beth and I were on our own to navigate the city.  We decided to do some sight seeing up on Nob Hill (because you can’t get lost if you keep going uphill!).  My friend, Gleam, had a thing for labyrinths and had told me much about the labyrinths at Grace Cathedral atop Nob Hill.  

haringNow….I’m not normally one for church.  At least Grace is an Episcopal church–they don’t make me itch and twitch quite as severely.  I’m a church tourist, at best.  Grace, however, quickly became one of my most favorite spaces I’ve ever had the privilege of visiting.  I found real sanctuary there.  It’s a welcoming congregation.  The first chapel I stepped into remembered thousands of lives lost to AIDS.  The “Life of Christ” altar by Keith Haring is surrounded by symbols of many faiths and a simple circle for people like me.  This was Haring’s last piece of art.  He died two weeks later from complications of AIDS, in 1990.  

grace-2005

When we were there that October of 2005, the main aisle had been decorated with a genuinely soul-lifting art installation.  This tiny thumbnail is the only record of it that I could find (because 2005 is like the Jurassic Period of the Internet).  Translucent ribbons swooped from the ceiling, suspended by invisible wires.  Hues transformed from deepest red toward the altar to pale sunshine yellow down the aisle.   The floating fabric sculpture reminded me of a fiery spirit, 100 feet long.  The motion of it, the color, the space inside it–all took my breath away.  While Beth explored the side aisles, I slipped into a pew and sat quietly, just so I could share the same space with the fiery spirit.  That’s when I began to cry.  I missed Richard so deeply.  He and I had spent many an hour exploring the cathedrals of Europe.  Now I was learning to adventure on my own.  

Beth had been giving me my space, but we eventually came back together and talked about what to do next.  I felt like I was holding her back, but there was one thing left to do at Grace.  I trusted her enough to risk making a fool of myself.  As we stepped out into the afternoon light, I turned to her and confessed, “I want to walk the labyrinth.”  

She was game.  Beth’s not usually one for any kind of mumbo-jumbo–she was totally humoring me.  “You’re going to need to explain it to me.  I don’t want to screw it up.”  I told her what I knew of them from Gleam, who had made a pilgrimage to Chartres with the last of her strength.  Cancer took her the next year.   

Here are the instructions for the Grace Labyrinth:

The labyrinth has only one path so there are no tricks to it and no dead ends. The path winds throughout and becomes a mirror for where we are in our lives. It touches our sorrows and releases our joys. Walk it with an open mind and an open heart.

Three stages of the walk

  • Purgation (Releasing) ~ A releasing, a letting go of the details of your life. This is the act of shedding thoughts and distractions. A time to open the heart and quiet the mind.
  • Illumination (Receiving) ~ When you reach the center, stay there as long as you like. It is a place of meditation and prayer. Receive what is there for you to receive.
  • Union (Returning) ~ As you leave, following the same path out of the center as you came in, you enter the third stage, which is joining God, your Higher Power, or the healing forces at work in the world. Each time you walk the labyrinth you become more empowered to find and do the work for which you feel your soul is reaching.

Labyrinth-HorizBeth and I chose different starting points and began our walk.  We had the place to ourselves, which let me let go of some of my inhibitions about doing something so mystical in public.  I focused on the soles of my feet and the contact they shared with the ground, just like in Buddhist walking meditation.  I felt safe in the maze.  Not rushing, just doing.  The rhythm of my steps did help me let go of the details of my life.  I felt the grief slip away, the anxiety abate.  My quieting mind sloughed away the months of grief, the months of worry, winnowing it all down to the real question that weighed down my heart.  The question I wanted to ask of God when I got to the center of the labyrinth:

“Is Richard OK?”

I know he can’t be here.  I know he’s not here.  I know I can’t know where he is.  But…is he OK?  

That’s when God said DUH to me.  Not in a mean way, more in an “of course, sweetie, bless your heart” way.  It wasn’t a thunder thump of a DUH.  I was open to what was there for me to receive and the gift that I received was a simple, quiet knowledge that Richard was beyond all the hurt.  I was the one who was hurting, but I could set down my worry about him.  That’s the burden I left in the center of the labyrinth.  

On my exit journey, I did experience Union.  I felt empowered to do the work for which my soul was reaching.  Healing myself.  I smiled a lot on the way out.  

The story of the labyrinth came back to me this week because every time I’ve tried to write a word about anything, my mouth is filled with ashes and grief for my friend, Chris.  Last week, Chris’ beloved daughter died suddenly, leaving two beautiful and bright children whose hearts could be broken forever by this.  I worry for Chris because no parent should have to lose a child and Chris has had this happen to her twice.  Both of her daughters have gone before her and that’s not fair.  There are no words for what it is.  

In the autumn of 2005, when I was sunk in grief and learning to live in the world again, I got back from San Francisco and began to plan my solo trip to Paris.  Chris, Gleam, and the rest of our writer bunch cheered me on.  The week before my trip, we gathered together for my bon voyage dinner.  Chris presented me with a soft blue beret and scarf to keep me warm in Paris.  She had knitted it from the leftover yarn from her grandson’s blanket.  The son of the mother who is gone now.  The blanket, the beret, the boy–they’re here.  The beloved is gone.  

I hope that grief, even a grief this abysmal, can be like the labyrinth.  A path we all walk, in our way, that teaches us to receive what we need to receive and empowers us to continue the work for which our souls reach.  

If you pray, pray for Chris and Wayne and Amy and Charlie and Emma.  May they find some peace on this journey.  

There Must Be a Better Word for That

Today I spent the whole day dragged down and wrapped up in words like

governance
guidelines
script
apology
inconvenience
infection
deadline
remorse
exit
notify
meh
necessary
error message
 

My day was shaping up into a depressive haiku.

squirrelAbout 5:15, I gave up (or as I call it “threw my f*ck it flag) and left the office.  Walking back to my car, I passed a patch of tea olives and the scent tapped me on the shoulder. “Pardon me?  Miss?  The world is lovely and it’s right here.”  

A new word popped into my head:  waft.

I smiled…just a little.  The tense muscles around my face rearranged themselves gladly.  More words:  smirk, moue, whimsy.  

The sun pattering down through the oak canopy warmed my cheeks and I thought of another word:  dappled.  

A sleek squirrel scampered across the pebbled path.  We locked eyes–gazed–for a fleeting moment, then he was off.

I stopped there on the path and filled my mind with better words…

aroma
dawdle
meander
respite
breeze
soar
lilt
lark
arc
swoop
horizon
rooted
heady
 

Then I continued on my way.  Rejuvenated.  Replenished.  Refreshed.  Hopeful.  Satisfied.  

What’s the most beautiful word you know?  The most peaceful?  The word that makes you stand still?  The one that gets you going?

Sleep, Baby, Sleep

When it’s time to go to bed, I can’t walk past my children’s bedrooms without stopping in to check on them while they sleep.  Tonight, I took an extra moment to sit still beside them.  I rested my hand on Vivi’s chest and felt her heart tapping along beneath my palm.  Peace.  In Carlos’ room, I pushed the sweaty curls off his brow.  He stirred then sighed.  I put my hand over his heart and breathed in the quiet in his dark little haven.

There is no faster path to the present moment than feeling my child’s heart beating.

Léon Bazille Perrault [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Léon Bazille Perrault “A Mother With Her Sleeping Child,” via Wikimedia Commons

Six Word Mantra

Yoga-Ohm

Do you have a mantra?

The word “mantra” comes from Buddhism and Hinduism.  It means a word or phrase that you repeat during meditation to aid your concentration or focus.  Like “Ohm.”  (That’s that symbol you see on a lot of yoga tank tops.)  Sometimes we use “mantra” to refer to our words to live by or essential wisdom.

I tried having a mantra once, back when Fartbuster was hanging out at the Buddhist Center in town.  I was learning how to meditate so instead of starting out like a normal person with five or ten minutes for a few days a week, I signed myself up for a four-hour session on a Saturday morning.  Yeahhhhhh…For my mantra, I chose “Breathe in, breathe out.”  The first three minutes were bliss, but in the fourth minute into the four hours I got that Bush song “Machinehead” stuck in my head because the chorus goes “Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out.  Got a machine head, it’s better than the rest.  GOT A MACHINEHEAD!”  And so on.  

That was my last meditation retreat.  

In Tibetan Buddhism, an important part of spiritual practice is reciting the Six Word Mantra:  “Om Ma Ni Pad Me Hum.”  At one of the sessions I attended at BlogHer, the leader was a yogi who encouraged each of us to write and share our own six-word mantra.  These six words our focus and concentration on our writing.  

I distilled mine from a famous quote from Dag Hammarskjold, a Swedish diplomat who served as the second Secretary-General of the United Nations.  

“For all that has been–Thanks.  For all that will be–Yes.”  

These are the two lessons I have learned in my life:  gratitude for the story I have lived and enthusiasm for the stories that lie ahead of me.

So my six-word mantra was:  WHAT WAS?  THANKS.  WHAT COMES?  YES!  

What’s your six-word mantra?  

Peace Be With You

After Fartbuster and I separated, I had trouble falling asleep most nights.  Too much going on in my head once life grew still around me.  On nights like that, I would close my eyes and imagine myself cradled in a large strong pair of hands, like one of the Anne Geddes baby portraits that were popular at the time.  Curled up safe, free to slip away into dreams.  Like this…

sleeping deer

What’s your favorite meditation when you want to find peace?