Sweet Body: Anchor of the Soul

img_83464637943705As a teenager, I found mindfulness a little insulting.  One book on the subject instructed me to take a shower as if it were the only activity in the world, to feel all the lather and the hot water and to focus on every swipe of the washcloth; to breathe in the steam and to “be” the shower. Frankly, it seemed limiting and kind of sad.

How could I pretend that a shower is everything, I thought, when there is so much more in the world, when I have a complex mind and emotions and my life is so complicated?  Why, it makes me sound like nothing more than an animal!  It reduces me to less than a human being, and denies my spirit and puts me in a box that reads “this is all life is”. Is this all we can hope to attain: the enjoyment of a good shower?  It seemed small and silly.

But years later, I often find myself caught up in tiring, circling thoughts that lead nowhere.  I feel resentment about my past and anxiety about my future.  I feel like I’m floating aimlessly, with nothing to anchor me to  life, nothing to make me solid and whole.

Yet I find that I am happy when I slip into nature.  The warm breezes and shimmering leaves speak to me and settle my spirit in wordless silence.  And I have moments of conversation with friends when we stand side by side, breathing together, laughing, and I feel a deep connection that I can’t explain.  We are like trees in the sun, warmed and rooted to the earth, as we sink into each other’s physical presence; lost in the moment, and found there, as well.

I begin to see that these moments felt deep in my body anchor me to life, give me a place from which to connect and know.  God gave me a physical body for a reason.  I am not a formless, floating spirit.  Well, maybe I actually am, on some level, but this spirit has its current home in a physical body; a body crafted to experience one moment at a time, one step at a time, one breath at a time.

The irony, I am learning, is that the more deeply I go into my body — my physical presence right here, right now — the more I connect to my spirit and its shining joy.  I feel the solidness of my back and stomach as I sit in this chair, I feel the openness of my beating heart and the light that pours into it and moves into my eyes and ears, and I relish all the sights and sounds that flow through me and feed my spirit and move back out into the world.  I am spirit tethered to a body that is a world of wonders, a gateway into all connection within and without.   And I am awed and comforted.

The journey continues…

Breath

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My Own Little Bed

When I was 5 years old, my parents divorced and I was sent to live with my grandparents. I was not happy about this. My grandparents lived in a rambling house with many strange, drafty rooms and I, small and lonely, did not belong there.

I wanted my parents, my mom’s kind eyes and warm hand on my cheek; my dad lifting me on his shoulders, calling me Jenny.

But they lived apart now, and I was in this drafty old house until everything was sorted out, and then, I was told, I would live with my mom in a new place. I did not want a new place. I wanted things the way they were before.

But there were cats in this house; two Siamese cats. I liked cats, and sometimes they would let me pet them if I sat very still.

And I liked the little bed that my grandparents put in their own big room just for me. Their bed was huge and usually empty. They always came to bed after me and got up much earlier than me.

But my bed was small and cozy with lots of soft blankets, and about the same size as me. Sometimes as I snuggled in it at night, I could hear a freight train rumble past on the hill behind the house. I wondered where it was going. I was glad I was in my safe bed, and not out there in the cold night. As I drifted off, the house nestled around me, and I felt loved.

Childhood Revisited

In Praise of Sitting

When I was younger, I never sat. Or let me say more accurately, I never rested. I always had an agenda.

Young people can be terribly hard on themselves. In my twenties, I wanted to change the world, be an important writer, really make a difference. Nothing wrong with that. But it made it hard, sometimes, to enjoy a meandering conversation in front of the TV, or a relaxed cup of tea with my husband at the kitchen table.

I was always pushing myself. In my 30’s and 40’s, when my goals seemed less idealistic, I was still chasing a to-do list. Make that new Indian dish, finish my stack of library books, write that letter to the editor, work on my garden, and go for a couple of runs – all before work on Monday.

My goals changed through the years, but never the energy behind them. I was a young, healthy force in motion, staying in motion.

I reflected a little, but it was always with the goal of improving myself, being better, a winner in the game of life. Some might blame my unsettled childhood: making up for lack of friends and stability and self-esteem. Who knows? But I had to cross that imaginary finish line first every time, even in the most mundane arenas.

Then, one day, somewhere in my mid-40’s, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t just go and go all day. I tired easily and developed insomnia. I couldn’t exercise as much I once had. I started reading books about aging and stress and hormones, and became a little depressed. I wanted my old self back, someone I thought I knew.

I learned I had to push myself less and rest more. I wasn’t happy about it at first, but I took the opportunity to learn some meditation, learn to sit in a room and do nothing.

And I really liked it. In fact, I loved it. As I sat, I glimpsed the bright recesses of my being, I found a core of love and peace, something that didn’t need fixing, just a little compassionate attention.

About 5 years have passed, and I still rest between tasks and take some down time every day.  My health has returned and I don’t take my strength and energy for granted anymore.  I have learned that stress will take it’s toll on all of us eventually, if we don’t make time to live off the clock sometimes:  to laugh and love and relax without an agenda.

Now in my early 50’s, I am looking forward to the adventures ahead. I have found a new normal: a place that honors the goals I have for myself, but also appreciates the stillness, the beingness that has no goal but love. I now seek a mixture of work and play, striving and rest, with time to reflect on the person within and all that she is.

Young At Heart

Can I Accept Myself As a Baha’i?

I am a Baha’i, a lover of mankind, but it’s not always easy, because I am an introvert. My faith is about world peace and world unity, yet I don’t want to leave my house sometimes. I love my fluffy red robe a little too much on the weekends. Is this a contradiction?  I’m not sure.

Yet when I do go out, I have a friendly word for everyone I meet. And when I pray, I wish love and compassion for all, and feel myself connected to all things.

I think the real issue is whether I accept my introverted nature as a valid temperament created by God, or whether I feel the need to be someone different than who I am.

I chose the former.  Why?  Because it is very difficult to change ourselves, and because I chose the belief that I am a unique flower in God’s garden of humanity.   Every flower is different and adds to the beauty and diversity of the whole.  I will live as a self-affirming person and glory in my individuality, a unique part, connected to all in love.

And I will vow to change out of my robe by noon.

Un/Faithful