Friday, June 24, 2011

The Spirituality of Play

Remember what it was like to be a kid, pumping legs, the swing going higher and higher, until that trailing through dirt. The merry-go-round, being dizzy as a friend pushed harder and harder, finally jumping on when the legs couldn't go any faster. Freeze tag, toilet tag, redlight greenlight... As a child most of our everyday stress was released on the playground, hanging upside down on the monkey bars. What happens when we hit that magic age, the stress of high school weighs heavy? We lose our release, our escape from reality, or maybe we just gain access to that part in us that is free and unrestrained, that can allow pleasure just for pleasure's sake. As adults we eat and smoke and drink and work and rage. As children, we play. As children we allow. As adults we restrain. I think we need a return to play as a tool to deal with our lives. Balance must be struck, yes bills need to be paid, but we must also allow ourselves the release of a good play. Yogis will tell you that hanging upside down recirculates blood, I tell you that crossing the monkey bars builds upper body strength, and swinging...swinging is just plain fun.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

McDreamy Revisited

I admit it, I am now completely powerless over "Grey's Anatomy" and my life has become unmanageable. At least I waited to watch this series until after I completed my final semester of school. The most dangerous words as of late are "next episode." Thank you Netflix for being my pusher. What sucks me into a series? Drama, love and relationships, characters "getting together. " I remember, sitting in front of the computer screen, watching episode after episode of "Gilmore Girls," waiting ever so impatiently for Lorelai and Luke to finally hook up, and I won't tell you the rest. Seven seasons later I was in the Optometrist's office getting my eyes adjusted. I have dabbled in series since then, was disappointed when NBC pulled the plug on "Lipstick Jungle" and got a little bored after a few seasons of "Monarch of the Glenn." Which leads me to today, GG was my gateway drug, and I now am pondering how long it will take to write this post, as I need to find out what happens with Meredith and McDreamy. Television is a perfect release from reality, writers create a world in which problems are solved in thirty minutes as opposed to my three month stint with unemployment. Time is compressed and reality is two dimensional. I live vicariously through my favorite characters, experiencing on the screen what it must be like to be the girlfriend of a beautiful surgeon with amazing floppy hair. Although in this dream, I have completed years of medical school, working on becoming a doctor, a career I am not at all suited for. I have a house and roommates who are there for me, and a beautiful boyfriend who breaks my heart and puts it back together. I am living a comfortable life although working hard, a Stanford graduate maybe, I can't remember as I slowly drift back to reality, to the words on the screen, the sound of my fingers on the keys, to my life that is, although not glamorous and filled with internal organs, filled with all I could ever dream of having, a partner who loves me, a beautiful son and apartment with a fireplace. I have a newly printed degree and a family that supports my endeavors. I have a vast network of amazing friends and a relationship with God, cats that wake me in the morning and dogs that are always happy to see me (if I have been gone for over an hour). McDreamy be damned, I am grateful. I can go another few hours without finding out what happened to Denny or Burke.

That where there is error, I may bring truth

Tricky, especially since I am always right, but just who am I to say that there is an error? Where there is error within me, then and only then can I bring truth, and only internally. There is nothing that gets my juices flowing more than a good debate, especially with fundamentalists. The problem with this adrenaline high is that there is no give and take. I don't believe what they do or say and it is highly unlikely that I will change my mind, even though I am the devil incarnate and will be roasting over open flames for eternity. As long as Satan has chocolate and graham crackers I think I am fine with that. But who is to say that what they preach isn't truth? When it comes to answers about God, there is no hard truth, that is where Faith comes in. What do I believe as the Truth, my truth. Maybe there are many different truths and we all just have to muddle through and find our own personalized version. Maybe there is a higher Truth written on stone tablets by a guy with a beard, I don't know. I think the game is about the processe of finding what rings true. Today my path is narrower than it was even a year ago. Things I used to do are no longer ok, I am growing each time I reach out and invite my Creator in, each time my truth changes. Maybe I will save the error for the math equations, lots of wrong to be fixed in that department, and just allow myself to look for the truth, my truth. After all, 2 + 3 can always equal 4. Ask any Philosophy Major.

Monday, June 20, 2011

That where there is discord, I may bring harmony

The other translated line of this prayer reads "unity" instead of harmony. I will stick with the version of the prayer I have been using until this point. The word "discord" has multiple meanings according to the dictionary, a lack of agreement between people or ideas, quarreling, or in musical terns, dissonance, or lack of harmony. This English major loves it when phrases are open for interpretation, people are unique, what's wrong with individual interpretations of literature? To digress for a moment with a story, I had an English Professor that insisted that his interpretation of a short story to be the author's intended meaning. I had another reading and was curious, so I wrote the writer, who answered me promptly. The professor was wrong. Which brings me to my concept of internal discord. Why, years later, do I delight in the fact that this pompous man was wrong? Clearly I have a wee bit of internal discord. See a previous entry for my attempts at forgiveness. Saint Francis, 1182 - 1226, was a monk who founded the order of Franciscans, and whose basilica stands today at Assisi, in Umbria Italy. For a great book on the life of Saint Francis, read Valerie Martin's Salvation: Scenes from the Life of St. Francis. He is believed to have studied with the Troubadours (a composer and performer of Occitan lyric poetry in the High Middle Ages.) Saint Francis loved to sing and it is fitting that one of the most famous images of the monk is a scene of the Preaching to the Birds. In musical terms the prayer might ask for harmony where one finds dissonance. This might be the answer to a complex issue, that of, how can we as individuals bring harmony to a world filled with chaos, cruelty and abuse? I cannot end world hunger, stop wars, or cure disease. It is hard for me to hold my temper during high volume traffic let alone bring peace to warn torn countries. Maybe the answer is to add a little music to one's life, a little harmony, something to uplift the spirit. Certain studies have shown that certain types of music actually alter the cells in our bodies, making them healthier, music such as Pachelbel Canon in D for instance. Stop, breathe, listen, and bring harmony where there has been discord, just for today, just for you.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

That where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness

Forgiveness is hard. Period. I don't think that it is something I can think my way into either, it needs to come from the heart. I am good at lying to myself, and when I just think I am over a "wrong" done to me, the resentment will pop up someplace else in my life. It is tourist season here in the Berkshires, a good time to flex my forgiveness muscles as I attempt to drive through my little town on the weekend. Instantly forgiving the New Jersey Lexus driver for almost killing me in the crosswalk is a good place to start. That happened last year, and I need to get over it, let it go. Just how does one "let it go?" Prayer helps, but I find that I also have to physically move the resentment out of my body, either through intense activity (my well - used punching bag) or writing it down on a post-it and placing it in my God box. I also need to practice compassion toward all tourists that invade my little hometown, even those SUVs that take up two lanes and attempt to parallel park on Main Street. These are little things, just a daily practice to prepare me for the bigger areas of life, the friend who lets me down, the ex who pops up, the person who has physically or emotionally harmed me. If I can't forgive Mr. Wealthy New Jersey, how can I let go of serious infractions from my past? Forgiveness comes from the heart, and in order to access my heart I need to be in contact with my Creator, God, Higher Power or Self. I need to realize that I am connected to Mr. Wealthy New Jersey whether I like it or not. We are a part of the whole, and in order to forgive myself I need to be able to forgive others. Tall order, but I might just be up for the challenge. Just for today, I'll start with 5lbs.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

That where there is hatred, I may bring love

Easier said than done. Hatred seems a strong word; irritation, dislike, animosity, loathing, disgust and abhorrence are the synonyms though, and I can see myself indulging in any one of those. St. Francis held a high standard, but it came a sense of peace that those around him felt. I ask myself: am I a maniac when I try to drive through town in the middle of the high season? Just how loving am I toward those with NY or NJ plates, driving slowly as I, the most important person in the Universe, am trying to get to Dunkin before my caffeine high wears off? That is why this prayer is an ideal, with values that we can work toward with practice. We have very few role models for this spiritual practice, Mother Theresa, Jesus, the Dalai Lama to name a few. Many times in our culture, hatred is glorified, patriotic. I was abhorred (yes, not exactly a loving emotion) when my fellow citizens cheered the death of Osama Bin Laden. Now I know the guy isn't the most loving himself, he was brutal, a murderer. But reveling in his death brought us as a nation down to his depth. We were imitating him. We were him, with our hatred in tact, flaunting it as we cheered. Jimi Hendrix said, "When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace." When I am sitting in traffic, powerless over movement, when I read about people who have raped or killed, I am powerless. But the hatred becomes a power to be reckoned with. It takes my body and stuffs me down, until it has a life of its own. If I choose to love the person, rather than the act, I stand a chance of not becoming a victim of my own anger. Saint Francis set the bar high. Maybe I will start with the next out of state license plate and try to practice compassion there. I can move on to bigger things once I have mastered  that difficult. task.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Lord, make me a channel of thy peace

What does it mean to become a channel of peace? It sounds as if it could be a wee bit new ageish. I think, writing in the 13th century however, Saint Francis wasn't going for the psychic medium angle. In order to become a channel one must first clear away the debris, the violent thoughts and actions that clutter my day, in order to allow a sense of peace to enter. I am proud to say that I don't watch the news or read papers online or in print. I am not aware of much of the violence that pervades the world these days. That might be and has been considered to be ignorant and selfish on my part, but I know that I need to stay within my community, help those in need in my area. The world is a huge place and our primate brains might not be ready to know all that happens on the planet. We were meant, during cave person days, to tend to our villages. cave girls did not surf the web and look at pictures of bombed areas. There is so much information, messages and media bombarding the human psyche today. I wonder if the increase in addictions might stem from the fact that our bodies just cannot handle all of this information? I digress. Our little area was hit by major storms this past week, trees down all over the place, and a little tornado had touched down in a neighboring town. Clean up crews have been working over the last week to clear the wreckage. Fast forward to last night. I was on the couch as my boyfriend's daughter watched a movie, the earth was dying, tornadoes, ice, screaming, noise, and death. My senses were overloaded. I know it is a movie, but I was aware of my body's reaction to the stimuli. "Make me a channel of thy peace." Not while watching that movie, or reading the newspaper, or discussing politics or religion with others. Today I am making a pact with myself. I want to experience peace and I know that in order to do so I must take my news diet a little farther. I need to ignore political messages on Facebook. Even when I am joking I get pulled into an argument where I want to be right. My irritation spikes and I am not peaceful. I turn into a lunatic bitch. Well maybe not that bad, but I don't like myself when I get into the fight. For today I will pay attention to my local politics, I will meditate and pray for peace, and I will abstain from negative media. I will in hopes of becoming a channel of peace. Or at least a commercial break.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Prayer of Saint Francis

Lord, make me a channel of thy peace;
that where there is hatred, I may bring love;
that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness;
that where there is discord, I may bring harmony;
that where there is error, I may bring truth;
that where there is doubt, I may bring faith;
that where there is despair, I may bring hope;
that where there are shadows, I may bring light;
that where there is sadness, I may bring joy.
Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted;
to understand, than to be understood;
to love, than to be loved.
For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.
It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Spiritual Anorexia

I gave myself a gift the other day and went to Kripalu Yoga Center for their Retreat and Renewal Program. One day, one luxurious stress-free day filled with healthy vegetarian food, yoga, meditation and writing. As I sat writing in the sun room overlooking the Berkshire Hills and Stockbridge Bowl, I realized that although I have regular contact with my Creator, taking time to pray everyday, I really only allow myself the bare minimum of what God can offer. A sort of spiritual anorexia, so to speak. I had been starving my soul of much needed quiet reflection, and had been starving my creative self of the tactile experience of writing on paper, notebook and pen meeting in the quiet, the room devoid of the click of computer keys and the jumble of icons and excess stuff.

My life has become crowded with stuff, an inbox filled with old emails, dog hair, empty soda bottles, books, and files, just stuff that lurks in the background, creating noise. Rarely have I time to meditate, to absorb the quiet and the emptiness which is really where I find my God. So I took my first Vinyasa yoga class in over two years and felt my muscles burn and my body sweat. I sat in the dining room alone and ate my food without conversation.  My body was starving and I inhaled the rhythmic pattern of my footsteps as I walked the labyrinth. On this flower - lined path I turned within, the way twisting and turning. Just when you think you are close to the center a twist in the path leads to to the outside, seemingly losing ground, but closer to the center with every step. Once you have arrived it is easier to find the way back to the beginning, one is no longer advancing to get someplace, one is just walking. Experience is a teacher in the labyrinth.

I finished the day with a gentle yoga class, feeling all aches and pains I had been ignoring for the last few years. I allowed myself to feel compassion for a body that wasn't as limber as a few years before, that held large amounts of stress and anxiety deep within the tissue, a body that really wanted to be pushing for the moderate class and elevated heart rate, a body that just really needed noise to hide what was. The present is always the hardest place to be. I think that is why I fill my life with noise, with clutter, chemicals and with technology. Being connected to Source brings peace. I need to feed my anorexic soul, not by binging, but by gently adding a few nurturing practices to my day. Unemployment is a perfect time to begin. I could pick up my old practice of morning journaling as I listen to the songbird symphony outside my window. I might allow myself the gift of a weekly yoga class. I could spend brief moments throughout the day finding silence and listening. I can feed myself and let it be ok. I'll let you know how it goes, my email is calling me!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Eclipsed by the Knight

The knight in shining armor, dream of many a small girl, and many a full grown girl. We yearn for the fairy tale, the glass slipper, the beast that turns handsome, or Richard Gere climbing a fire escape to whisk us from a life of poverty. A few nights ago I watched the latest Twilight movie, Eclipse. In this movie, for those of you who don't know, Edward and Jake are both fighting for the attentions of beautiful Bella. Both men, although one a vampire and one a werewolf, have only Bella's well being in mind (possibly some other things too!) They both want to protect her from other bloodthirsty vampires that are out to kill her. As preposterous as it may sound, being courted by a dog and the undead, all Twilight  fans have their own opinion, and join team Edward or team Jake. Is it culturally ingrained that we of the female persuasion (I do not speak for all, but if there is a market there must be a problem) must crave a man for protection and support? I will be the first to proclaim myself a feminist, but I also dream of the one kneed proposal, the man whisking me away, saving me from myself and my outlandish rent payments. The dichotomy is strong. I can support myself, I am a strong, independent woman, putting myself through a challenging college while raising a teenager without child support. But I grow giddy when Edward saves Bella from the dastardly vampire Victoria (sorry, team Edward here.) I root for wealthy Richard as he climbs the fire escape to ask Vivian, a prostitute to marry him. Disney and Hollywood perpetuate the myth, but it really started long ago in France. Chr├ętien de Troyes first introduced us to the character of Lancelot in the 12th century in "Erec and Enide." At this time in Medieval France knights were young unmarried men who would terrorize the countryside, raping and pillaging. The knight in Shining Armor was created as a marketing ploy. And a very good one at that. I have fallen for it.  I don't think I am the only one. Twilight grossed 392 million dollars worldwide.