Some Small Thoughts on Meditation

A lovely woman I know wants to learn more about meditation, and that has me thinking about my own practice. I thought I'd share some of the bits and pieces that I've cobbled together over the years. It doesn't make up a totally orthodox whole of any kind, but it's valuable to me. Some parts I've gotten from books, others from classes and teachers, and still others simply through the practice itself.
  • Meditation (or "quiet time" as I call mine, given that it's a generally a blend of meditation and prayer) is hard. It looks like doing nothing, but it's unfamiliar. Most of us are unaccustomed to silence. Some of us (most? all?) are afraid of what might arise in us when we sit down without distractions. If only in this one area, this is the place to be gentle and patient with ourselves.
  • It helps to start small. Whether starting for the first time, or picking back up after a long hiatus, it's nice to start with about 5 minutes. One can always add more time. This is exactly the kind of thing where being respectful of where I really am in my life, instead of where I wish I was is important.
  • I learned very early on that it can be very difficult for me to take quiet time for myself when there are other people home. This tends to be true for women, for caretakers, and for extroverts. I also learned that a parked car by a lake or stream can be a great alternative.
  • I like to set a timer. I'm pretty compulsive about time, and this helps me to let go of the need to check up on myself. If it's the kind that ticks, I put it in a drawer or cupboard so that I only hear the "Ding!"
  • I sit either in a comfortable chair, with both feet on the ground, or else on the floor, with my legs crossed in front of me. I like to hold my hands palms-up, as I discovered in yoga that it's a more open position than hands-down. (A little secret: I do this when I'm listening to people, too. It helps me remember to be open to them, and to let myself be open.)
  • Breathing is so simple that, like much of what happens during quiet time, it's easy to underestimate. Just noticing breath, paying attention to it, helps us to be present (which is what we hope for-- present to ourselves, present to the divine).
  • I store up emotions in all kinds of places. When I'm angry but feel powerless, my arms tingle. When I'm scared, I often tuck my thumbs into my fists. When I feel very peaceful, my hips feel heavy, like they're rooted in the floor. When I sit down for quiet time, I like to mentally scan my body, looking for tension and relaxing where I find it. I start at the top of my head, and work down slowly to my feet. Clenched places for me tend to be my forehead, my shoulders, my arms, my tongue. This varies for everyone.
  • Once I've done a body scan and am paying attention to my breathing, other thoughts will come to mind. That's OK, of course that happens! But it's good to be able to let those thoughts drift by, floating past like a cloud, or a leaf in a stream. If they're worries, we can address them later (provided the house isn't on fire!). This time is a special gift where there's no need to "fix" anything. (I know I'm guilty of thinking that by investing the energy of worry, I'm "fixing" things. It's not true, but it's taking me a long time to unlearn.)
  • Sometimes thoughts of clarity or insight come during quiet time, but it's good to let those drift by, too. If I need them, I remember them. I don't need to scurry like a squirrel, hoarding wisdom for winter.
  • In addition to focusing on breath, sometimes I sit with a word, a small phrase, or an image. I often think of God's love as a particular color of light, and I'll sit for my time, picturing myself surrounded by that light. Other times, if someone has been on my mind, I'll picture them in that light. Any word can be used-- "peace" or "love" are often suggested, but I've found that the word I'm led to sit with can be surprising. It's good to trust God and myself enough to sit with an unexpected word. There have been times I use one word on my inhale, and another on my exhale-- "worry" out and "trust" in is a pair I often return to.
  • In the beginning, I needed solitude and NO DISTRACTIONS for quiet time. Now, I find myself taking it in odd places-- in the doctor's waiting room, in a long line at the grocery store. I've found so much joy in being present in those common places.
  • One last point-- it's not always going to "work." I have to respect where I am, and not try to wrestle myself to get quiet. For me, it's best to let go before frustration takes over, and return to try again later.
I'm sure I've left things out--these are just some initial thoughts.


Short Love Stories

I'm re-reading Robert Fulghum's Uh-Oh, and there's a brief chapter on "Short Love Stories." I'm such a sucker for this kind of thing. You know what I mean-- a brief connection in a coffee shop with a stranger, a shared laugh in the produce aisle. They're the "ships passing in the night" moments. They don't undermine our real relationships, they just make life a little sweeter. We can't always tell these stories, and there are some people who don't understand that they're simultaneously precious and innocuous. Here are some wee examples of my own:
  • I moved to Bethesda, MD in January of my junior year of high school. I walked through downtown each morning on my way to school, using saying hello to the people I passed. On Valentine's Day that winter, a young man was waiting on a corner with a flower. We'd said hello a couple of times, and it turned out he was waiting for ME! Of course, we quickly sorted out that he was in college and I was 16, but it was a charming introduction to my new home.
  • The sweet middle school saxophone player who said I looked like a gypsy. (To my 8th grade self, that was a compliment.)
  • The handsome toll booth worker who laughed and teased me about getting lost, and showed me where to make a U-turn.
There's a whole subcatagory of country music about this-- my favorite being Conway Twitty's "Tight-Fittin' Jeans," but there are many.

Can I hear your little love stories?


Prayer Request Wednesday: Lighthearted Edition

Today is Administrative Professionals Day, and I am thrilled by that. I was a terrible secretary, and I am truly giving thanks not to be one anymore.

Can I pass on any of your gratitude, as well? Or offer any other prayers on your behalf?


Wednesday Prayer Requests: Separation

I'm leaving in about an hour to head for Ohio for a couple of days. As much as I'm looking forward to seeing people I love (and even to having wonderful time on my own on the road), I know that when bedtime comes, I'll really miss having Mr. M next to me (how else am I going to jabber myself to sleep?!). It's just a short trip, though, so I'll be fine.

Actually, I have to confess to you that whenever I'm away from a loved one (Mr. M, my mom, even the cats), I worry that Something Bad Will Happen to them while I'm gone. Eventually, that will be true, of course, because that's how life is. In the meantime, the fear isn't productive, and I hope to have a sense that even when Something Bad Happens, God will still be with me (and with those I love). So, peace during my travels is my prayer request today. What's yours?

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. -Romans 8:38-39


Saturday Prayer: Wonder

Almighty and everlasting God, you made the universe with all its marvelous order, its atoms, worlds, and galaxies, and all the infinite complexity of living creatures: Grant that, as we prove the mysteries of your creation, we may come to know you more truly, and more surely fulfill our role in your eternal purpose; in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
-BCP p. 827

We're in DC this weekend, enjoying many things, but especially Mr. M's birthday. As I contemplate the "infinite complexity" of my wonderful husband, I have to celebrate his Creator as well.


April is Alcohol Awareness Month

A good friend made this point on Facebook, and provided a link with helpful information.

I'd like to put my two cents in, too. A lot of people are familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous, but I'm not sure that Al-Anon, the support group for friends and family of alcoholics, is quite as famous. Al-Anon is a great group to help you grow, regardless of whether or not the alcoholic in your life is drinking. When we live with or regularly deal with alcoholics, when we were raised by them, when we're attached to them in any way, we learn behaviors that aren't healthy. Those are our behaviors. Even if the alcoholic gets sober and makes better choices, we still have to learn new, healthy behaviors for ourselves. And we need love, support, and guidance to do it. Al-Anon is a great place for that.

And in fact, you don't always have to live with the alcoholic directly. My father is, as I understand things, a practicing alcoholic. My maternal grandfather is dry, though probably not actually in recovery. I don't live with either of them. I haven't lived with my father since I was 5-- but here's my point: the coping mechanisms that people use to get by in an alcoholic home are no longer useful outside of it-- but they still get passed on. Sometimes the things that save you in a crisis handicap you in "normal" life. And even though I didn't grow up around someone who was abusing alcohol, I still learned the crisis behaviors. I am IMMENSELY GRATEFUL, for wonderful women in Al-Anon who befriended me when I was a teenager. I think they gave me the best parts of my life. They confirmed that some family behavior was crazy, they were my cheerleaders, and they really saved my life-- the great life I have today. Without them, I would have had an entirely different life-- one that I don't particularly like to think about. When I think about God's hand in my life, I see their faces.

Also, I'd like to pass this on. Mr. Craig Ferguson, who won my undying love when he interviewed Archbishop Tutu, has shared a little about his experience with alcohol here:


Wednesday Prayers: Rent-Free Space

So, I guess there are going to be Wednesday prayers and Saturday ones. That's a good thing.

Today I'm thinking of a phrase from Roger Ebert, ""Resentment is allowing someone to live rent-free in a room in your head." I think that's true anytime we choose to meditate (because what else is it when we turn things over and over in our minds?) on things we can't control. I'd rather meditate of God, and on love, and on hope.

This week, my prayer is to let go, and to understand how to keep letting go. (That is so often my prayer-- though also not often enough, because if I were focusing on that I wouldn't have the energy and attention to focus on the things I can't control!) I'll level with you: I have a family member who's suffered from mental illness for a long time, and I'm trying to figure out how on earth to let go of some of that situation. It's been so good to know that loved ones have carried me in their prayers; I still really need it.

How about you? What's rattling around in your prayers this week?


From the Tomb

A couple of years ago, at Lancaster Theological Seminary's Summer Academy, I took a Liturgical Art class. That, combined with the Lectio Divina I've been doing lately, has created a new practice for me. I'm calling it Lectio Embroidery.

My first piece I took from Matthew 28, and ended up focused specifically on verses 1 and 6:
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb...He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. I sat and I prayed, and then I took out a pad and some colored pencils, and began to sketch.

At dawn
on the first day of the week.
Come and see the place where he lay.

Come and see the place where he lay? Go into the tomb? And as I prayed, I meditated on Easter morning from within the tomb. It's a completely new perspective for me.

Jesus, looking out at a new day, looking out from the tomb, experiencing resurrection!

The women, in the fresh light, experiencing resurrection!

And also me, looking for hope that must come from God, anticipating resurrection.
All of us, buried with Christ in baptism
, looking out from the tomb.

The Lord is risen, dear ones.


Holy Saturday Prayers

As we wait for Easter:

In times of despair, O God, rain showers of gentleness upon us, that we may be kindly to one another and also to ourselves. Renew in us the spirit of hope. Even in the depths of the darkness, may we hear the approach of the One who harrows hell and greets even Judas with a kiss. -Jim Cotter

How can I pray for you during the darkness?


Wednesday has moved!

To Saturday. I should have let you know before Wednesday came and went, but prayers on now on Saturdays.