Tag Archives: meditation

Does Prayer Matter? Sending Help to Nepal

Prayer flags    earthquake Kathmandu. Photo by Luca Galuzzi. www.galuzzi.it

Prayer flags flying before the earthquake in Kathmandu. Photo by Luca Galuzzi. http://www.galuzzi.it

Immediately before dying by firing squad in Indonesia, eight men convicted of drug trafficking sang Amazing Grace. On the same day, across the globe in Baltimore, Maryland, a large crowd gathered in the riot-torn streets of their city to also sing Amazing Grace. I was moved to learn about these simultaneous events and particular struck by their media coverage on BBC news.

These past days, I have been praying for the Nepalese people caught under rubble, trenched by rain and hovering in makeshift tents in the middle of Kathmandu, fearful every time another aftershock unrattles their trust in the earth under their feet. Last Christmas a good friend who just returned from Nepal on business brought me a stream of colorful prayer flags. Since then, these prayer flags have hung across my terrace roof tagging along with the white grape vine that is just starting to burst with leaves.

I imagine my prayers leaping off my lips onto these colorful square pieces of cloth and then flying home to Nepal. In the Tibetan tradition, prayer flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom. The flags do not carry prayers to gods, but rather the prayers are blown by the wind to spread good will and compassion to all.

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Living a Symbolic Life

Orthodox Baptristy Jesus

Ravenna is cold in February, but the sun still manages to warm the ancient stone archways. I place my cheek against a rough granite surface and feel the heat and energy collected over time. I have just spent the morning sitting in the Orthodox Baptistery, staring up at mosaics so carefully placed in the ceiling during the 4th and 5th centuries. The apostles march in procession above us, each carrying a triumphal laurel. In the center, John the Baptist is pouring the water from the River Jordan over the head of Jesus, who stands naked in the rippled pool. The Holy Spirit in the form of a dove dives into the blessing held aloft by John. To one side stands the pagan water god with a reed in one hand and a garment in another.

While admiring the intricate images, we are joined by two groups of Italian children. One school excursion after another quietly fills the domed building as a teacher explains the history and imagery that envelopes us. The octagonal room is relatively small and the space intimate. At one point a teacher asks, “Why did they use so many symbols in their art at that time?” Her answer: “Because the symbols conveyed la saggezza, the wisdom of that age.”

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Intuition and the Angel Highway

Most of us felt some relief saying goodbye to 2014; the news never seemed worse. Now barely two weeks into 2015, the news seems even grimmer. We can easily fall into despair about the state of the world. But recently I listened to a discussion about the physics of angels, and, to balance the horrors we see everyday in the news, I want to bring angels into the conversation.

Two Islamic angels write in the Book of Life, suggesting angels' ongoing and attentive interest in human affairs (1280 A.D., Iraq)

Two Islamic angels write in the Book of Life, suggesting angels’ ongoing and attentive interest in human affairs (1280 A.D., Iraq)

During the month of Advent, I decided to paint angels that are connected with the Christmas story. I believe they do exist and are waiting for us to listen to them. The name angel derives from the Greek angelos meaning “messenger.” Angels are agents ready to guide, creatively inspire, aid, and teach us, and they have stirred the imagination of artists, writers, mystics, and ordinary persons throughout the ages, across cultures and belief. More than 80% of Americans believe in angels.

Angels approach us through dreams, visions, and meditative states and can appear in the form of voices, human or animal shapes, as male or female or androgynous beings, or as stars or light. Beings without matter, their wings are a symbol of their great spiritual energy. We delight in their cherub cuteness, but, in reality, they can also be fierce and terrifying.

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Hurry Up and Slow Down!

rushingWho isn’t in a hurry, trying to cross off impossibly long To Do Lists? The other day I was struggling with the feeling of anxiety, running from the post office to the supermarket and pharmacy, home to make dinner, check my emails, finish an editing job. Oh yes! And if I have time, clean the bathroom and kitchen floor. It would also be nice if I could do two loads of laundry …call my mother, a friend, and wash my hair.

Finally I grabbed a hold of myself. This wasn’t easy, as I felt myself rushing past me to move onto the next task! Whoa! Hold on! Why do you feel so anxious? These things will get done in time. Now take your time. With some effort, I was able to pull myself back into what I was actually doing, standing in line at the post office, waiting to send off Christmas gifts back home. Come on, I said to myself. You are now at the post office about to accomplish one of the tasks on your list. You are doing the best you can. Take time to be in line. Then you can move onto the next task. But for now, this is what you are doing, so just breath, relax and enjoy it!

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Listen with the Ear of Your Heart

Ear of the HeartListen carefully. Obsculta is the first word of guidance written by St. Benedict, the 6th century mystic and Father of western monasticism. His Rules for Monks is still used today to direct the lives in Benedictine communities. St. Benedict immediately qualifies what kind of listening they, and we, need to do. Obsculta inclina aurem cordis tui – “Listen by inclining the ear of your heart.” What could he possibly mean? Our hearts have ears? If that is true, then how do they work?

St. Benedict’s poetic language is asking us to listen, not just with our ears, but with our hearts to all that comes our way. While we might hear the words with our actual ears, with our hearts we can deeply reflect, discern, and take action if necessary.

When we are an embryo, the sound perceiving mechanism of the ear is the first organ we develop. During the same time, our heart also starts to develop (5 weeks after conception). Imagine! At 18 weeks in the womb, one of our first sensations of life is the inner sound of our own and our mother’s heartbeat. Studies have shown that a baby will become agitated if its mother’s heartbeat beats faster than normal, suggesting its mother is under stress. We also begin life listening to the rise and fall of our mother’s breath, our parents’ muffled voices, the world outside.

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Celebrating and Redeeming Flesh

baby with muscles

I am writing on a warm morning in early autumn. The oak branches are full and alive, corn fields lean with their ripeness, and rabbits graze in the filtered light. As the days grow shorter, I am trying to embrace autumn (and then the long winter) that will soon descend on Northern Europe. To do this, I have been collecting the yellow birch leaves that strew my path, acorns fallen from the night winds, and chestnuts that are still encased in their prickly green shells.

To fully participate in the beauty we find in nature, perhaps we need to start with appreciating our own living nature, beginning with our bodies. Autumn is autumn with all the decline and loss it might evoke, and all its shimmering colors, low filtered sunlight, and the fervent calling of wild geese overhead. This is true of who we are as well. We are who we are … wondrous and onerous, fragile and strong, light and dark.

This time of year also seems to be mirroring my own aging process. Lately, I have experienced a number of what I call OPTs (Old Person Things). I leave the kitchen, walk down the steps into the cellar, and stand bemused as I try to remember what I came down for. I take my wallet out of my purse and put it back without removing the bills that I need. I search for glasses, shoes, jackets and even credit cards that are sitting right in front of me. I watch (horrified at times) as my cognitive skills slow to a near standstill, yet at the same time I can feel myself grow more open, grounded, and at peace.

Take a moment now to wonder about your own body — to find your body wonderful! Your body contains a hundred times more cells than there are stars in the galaxy. Everyday, your heart, on average, does the daily work of lifting 1000 kilos from the ground up to the top of a five-story building. We have 656 muscles throughout the body. Our senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch, breathing, thinking, and speech bring us powerful revelations and gifts.

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Radiate Like a Living, Walking Billboard

Billboards

I often wish I had loads of money so I could buy up space on billboards all over the world. On each road sign, I would advertise a higher quality reminding people that such energy does exist – in life, inside them, inside everyone. Why not write or draw your own billboard of a quality you long to have? Here’s how:

  1. Sit quietly. Breath deeply.
  2. Then choose a higher quality that you would like to develop or come more in touch with. Here are just some suggestions:
    Evocative Words
  3. Once you have selected a quality (try to stick with one at a time), reflect quietly on the meaning of the word. What is its nature? What is its meaning? Take your time. If an image or idea comes to you, hold onto that image. Try not to censor any images.
  4. Try to “feel” the quality that the word embodies. Let it permeate your being. Allow the word and feeling to take you to a time and place in the past when you felt the feeling. Try now to feel it.
  5. Realize the value of this quality. Recognize its purpose and use, especially in this turbulent world. Praise it in your mind. Desire it.
  6. Allow the quality to express itself on your face.
  7. Now take a card and write the word. Elsewhere, record your thoughts and images. You might want to draw your image on the card.
  8. Place the card where you will easily notice it during the day. Where it will easily catch your eye – at your bedside, on your bathroom mirror, on your desk.
  9. Notice your dreams that night.
  10. Throughout the next month, look at your card. Close your eyes and then open yourself to the inner quality your desire.
  11. Resolve as much as you can to be a living example of this quality. Radiate it! Become a living walking billboard of it!