In the Craziness of this Holiday Season, Come to the Quiet
This coming Saturday, December 13, I will be leading a workshop called “Come to the Quiet,” at Oceans of Grace Spiritual Life Center, East Greenwich, RI. It is a workshop on “guided meditation and mindfulness,” or contemplative prayer. Yesterday I went around our community putting up fliers about this workshop. At the Health Food Store, there was another flier about a meditation workshop, listing the leader’s credentials. I did not even think to list my “credentials.” I have been practicing meditation daily for the past thirty-three years. When I looked on -line, mindfulness classes are now a big industry. Classes cost in the $500-600 range. My workshop is free. I realize that many who follow this blog live too far away to come to this workshop, so this week’s blog and next week’s will give you some ideas for how to practice meditation or mindfulness in your daily lives, particularly during stressful times such as the holiday season.
Almost every faith tradition has a spiritual practice of meditation, although it is called different names in different traditions: prayer, contemplation, meditation, zen, mindfulness, awareness, centering prayer, etc. Essentially it is all the same thing. In my workshop I will focus on four different kinds of meditation: meditating with our breath, walking meditation, mindful eating, and meditation with a sacred text (also called lectio divine in some traditions). This week I will focus on the first two practices: meditating with our breath and walking meditation.
In every language I know, in every religious tradition I know, the same word for Spirit also means “breath.” (For example, in Hebrew the word for Spirit/breath is Ruach (feminine!); in Greek Pneuma (neuter); in Chinese Chi; in Sanskrit Prana.) It makes sense, therefore, that in every religious tradition, the first, simplest, most basic form of meditation begins with our breath. Often, we close our eyes, to block out any distractions, and focus simply on our breath. Breathing in, we imagine the Spirit/Breath of Life entering our being; breathing out, we imagine the Spirit/Breath of Life going forth from us into the world. We breathe in, then out, slowly, focusing only on the rhythm of our breath, knowing the Spirit lives within us and all living things, as close to us as our next breath. Every breath in, we ask the Spirit to fill us; every breath out, we ask the Spirit to go forth from us to everyone and everything around us, bringing peace. Medical studies have revealed that those who practice even just this simple breathing meditation for approximately fifteen minutes a day lower their heart rates. You will notice as you do this breathing meditation, that your breath will become slower, deeper, and more relaxed.
As a yoga instructor, I spend the first part of every yoga class I teach doing breath work. If you have ever taken a yoga class, this is why it always begins with breath work. Here in the United States we think of yoga as something athletic, as a work out, or as a way to lose weight. Yoga began as a form of prayer or meditation. It is praying with our whole bodies, The different asanas, or poses, began as a way of keeping the body limber and comfortable, so the practitioner could sit for a long period of time in meditation. To think of yoga as an athletic work out is to miss the whole point of why it was invented some 4000 years ago. Breath work should be included in every yoga practice. Breathing is the heart of yoga. The word yoga means “yoking,” or balancing the two parts of ourselves, our sun and moon, or masculine and feminine sides. When we breathe we should try to make our inhale and our exhale of equal duration. If we breathe in deeply, and only do a short exhale, we are out of balance. We are taking in more than our share, and not sharing enough with the world. If we take too shallow a breath in, and too long a breath out, we are out of balance. We are not filling ourselves with enough energy to match what we are giving to the world, and so become depleted. This is why we should always begin our meditation practice by simply focusing on our breath.
Last year, when I did a meditation workshop with Thich Nhat Hanh, the famous Vietnamese Buddhist Monk and Teacher, we practiced several kinds of meditation. The workshop was in downtown Boston. We began with simple breathing meditations. Then we did a walking meditation. A walking meditation is an excellent form of meditation for those who are active. As with breathing meditation, we need to slow down. In this crazy Holiday season, so many are rushing around at a frenetic pace. When doing a walking meditation, you walk slowly, breathing in peace, breathing out peace. Breathing in Spirit, breathing out Spirit’s blessing. Last September, approximately 2000 of us did this walking meditation in downtown Boston, very close to the spot where the Boston Marathon bombings had taken place. I did not think a walking meditation would work with 2000 people, but it did. I had thought people would be noisy or chatty, but when we left the Park Plaza Hotel ballroom, where we gathered, everyone was completely silent. A group of about 40-50 Buddhist monks and nuns, in their traditional robes, and straw hats, walked with us. The Boston police stopped all of the traffic. Amazingly, cars did not honk their horns. Amazingly, pedestrians did not rush by. Everyone stopped and watched in silence. I think the Spirit of peace is contagious because many onlookers joined us. We walked slowly, silently past the site of so much violence and pain, and held that pain in our hearts, breathing comfort, praying peace. We gathered in the center of the Boston Common, and sat, and continued our meditation, sitting. Then after about thirty minutes, we rose, and walked slowly back to the ballroom, again, 2000 people in perfect, united Quiet.
Every day, alone or with others, we can do a walking meditation on our way to work, or during our lunch hour. Everywhere we go, we can slow down, and breathe in peace, and breathe out peace. Breathe in healing/wholeness (the same root word), breathe out healing/wholeness. Breathe in blessing, breathe out blessing. Riding the subway, driving, everywhere we go, we can be agents of peace.
So, friends, this is just the beginning of the practice of meditation or mindfulness. Next week we will focus on two other ways of meditating.
In the midst of this crazy, stressful, chaotic season,
may these practices bring you to a place of Quiet,
of Calm, of deep, inner peace.
May you see the Sacred in all you encounter,
and may you reflect the Sacred to all you encounter.
Linda Forsberg, Copyright December 8, 2014
Photos: Linda in Nova Scotia; Ted in Newport during Hurricane Sandy;Charlene at yoga class; Linda at ancient spa in Turkey, where they would dispose of those who were not healed; Linda in Newport; Linda and Sylvie