Thursday, March 25, 2010

Reap the Benefits of Stillness

From the Yoga Journal email newsletter. This one seems particularly appropriate for Lent or any contemplative season. 
In yoga, stillness is as much a state of mind as a lack of movement. Most of us don't spend much time thinking about the material nature of human consciousness, but in classical yoga, consciousness is at the heart of the practice.  According to Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, the so-called contents of our consciousness—perceptions, thoughts, emotions, memories, fantasies, even dreams—have a kind of material existence (though, of course, the matter is a lot subtler than that of a tree or a rock). Furthermore, these contents are in constant fluctuation. The word Patanjali uses in sutra I.2 to aptly describe this movement is vritti (pronounced VRIT-tee), which means "to revolve" or "to whirl about." While we can't physically touch the vrittis, or fluctuations of mind, we can easily experience them. Close your eyes and, for a few minutes, direct your awareness away from the outer world. If you're a contemplative person, you've probably done this many times before. It's possible to consciously step away from the contents of your mind and observe them more or less "objectively," at least briefly.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What is Love?

Another tid-bit from my Yoga Journal email newsletter.

Most of us have been confused about love all of our lives. In fact, we often begin the inner life as a search—conscious or unconscious—for a source of love that can't be taken away. We may have grown up feeling unloved or believing we had to perform heroic feats to deserve love. Our parents, the movies we see, our cultural and religious milieu give us ideas about love that go on influencing us long after we have forgotten their source. When we read spiritual books and encounter teachers, our understanding about love can get even more complicated, because depending on what we read or whom we study with, we get slightly different takes on what love means in spiritual life. Some teachers tell us that our essence is love; others say love is a passion, an emotion that leads to addiction and clinging. If we're on a devotional path like bhakti yoga, Sufism, or mystical Christianity, we're often taught that the way to enlightenment is to fall in love with God and let that love grow until it engulfs us and we become one with the Beloved. If we're on a more knowledge-based yogic path, we may be taught to look askance at the feelings of bliss and love that arise in practice, because, we're told, the spaciousness that is our goal is beyond such feelings.

For more on this topic, there is a great article here on the Yoga Journal website. 

My Lenten Quiet Day: Following God's Lead

I was very lucky this past weekend to participate in a Quiet Day at our church, something they only offer once during Lent and once during Advent. I've wanted to attend a Quiet Day for some time now, but it seemed like life was always trying to get in the way (which is especially ironic because the whole purpose of a quiet day is to take time away from life to be with God in silence... but whatever). During the last Advent Quiet Day, I spent the entire morning trying to return a pair of stray dogs to their family.. which I did, and they were VERY grateful for it. The experience itself was quite rewarding, even if I did miss the Advent meditations and the chance to spend the day in prayer. The Lenten Quiet day before that, I was taking my MCAT, the entrance exam used for medical school applications. I could have used a quiet day because I got a flat tire while driving to another city to take the exam and almost didn't make it to the testing center in time. I raced in with about two minutes to spare. If you check in late, you don't get to take the test. And the MCAT costs $210 each time you take it. But that story is for another time.

I don't remember the reasons I didn't attend the quiet days before that, but the point is that something always came up and I just never could make it. Since we're moving for the military to another state this summer, I knew this would be my last chance. So I told my husband that I would be going this year even if the house burnt down, to which he sarcastically remarked that I would probably need a quiet day if the house burnt down. Ha. Ha. 

So I went. As I walked up to the church doors, there was a sign posted that read "Quiet Day. Please observe silence." Silence? As in, I'm not allowed to talk to anyone all day long?? Uh oh. I may be in trouble with that. I went inside and went to sit in the right transept where a few chairs had been set up for us. There were only a few people who came, maybe six in all, so it was a very intimate atmosphere despite the grand size of our worship space. Our associate rector, Mother Jill, came in and explained how the day would go. She would be reading to us from "Cross-Shattered Christ: Meditations on the Seven Last Words" by Stanley Hauerwas throughout the day. She would read the first two meditations, then we'd have an hour or so of personal prayer time, then the second two, then another hour of prayer, then lunch in the fellowship hall in silence, then the third two, an hour of prayer, the last meditation, an hour of prayer, then we'd celebrate the Eucharist and go home. I was a little overwhelmed with how much "empty" time there would be between meditations. I wasn't sure I was prepared for that. But then, what did I expect? It was a gloriously beautiful day (temperature in the low 70s with a bright blue sky) so she suggested that we spend some time outside in the memorial garden during our personal prayer time. What happened next was more than I'd expected.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Wooden and Stone Prayer Chaplet

My newest creation, a ten bead prayer chaplet. The larger beads are wood and the smaller beads are made of tiger's eye stone. The dove charm is a little treasure I found at Ten Thousand Villages, made out of olive wood and hand carved in Jerusalem. 


Ahimsa in Action

The following is from Daily Insight, the email newsletter from Yoga Journal.

The Yoga Sutra is not presented in an attempt to control behavior based on moral imperatives. The sutras don't imply that we are "bad" or "good" based upon our behavior, but rather that if we choose certain behavior we get certain results. If you steal, for example, not only will you harm others, but you will suffer as well.

The first yama is perhaps the most famous one: ahimsa, usually translated as "nonviolence." This refers not only to physical violence, but also to the violence of words or thoughts. What we think about ourselves or others can be as powerful as any physical attempt to harm. To practice ahimsa is to be constantly vigilant, to observe ourselves in interaction with others and to notice our thoughts and intentions. Try practicing ahimsa by observing your thoughts when a smoker sits next to you. Your thoughts may be just as damaging to you as his cigarette is to him.

It is often said that if one can perfect the practice of ahimsa, one need learn no other practice of yoga, for all the other practices are subsumed in it. Whatever practices we do after the yamas must include ahimsa as well. Practicing breathing or postures without ahimsa, for example, negates the benefits these practices offer.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

March Adoption Update

I don't know if there's much point to sharing this, because our overall status hasn't changed, but I'm going to do it anyway. Last month I updated everyone that our profile had been sent out to two birthmothers during the month of January. Well obviously we haven't heard anything back and we haven't been matched yet because this blog post would have a much different tone. I spoke with our agency again a few days ago to get another update and find out how things are going. She told me that two more hard copies of our profile had gone out during February, and that doesn't include the copies that were sent out via fax or email (which they don't keep numbers of), but still no more information. This is both exciting and disheartening at the same time. Our agent explained to me that many of the birthmothers who contact their agency for information and profiles simply never contact them again. They either decide to parent the baby themselves or end up working with a different adoption agency. Then in other cases, as I mentioned in my last update, they're simply taking their time going through all the paperwork because they aren't very far along in their pregnancies and aren't in any rush to make a decision.

It's a frustrating place for us to be. Having been matched so quickly the first time around, this waiting period is utterly agonizing. Throw on top of that the fact that we were matched for so long before our previous birthmother changed her mind and I begin to realize that we have been doing this for over eight months. I keep hearing stories about other adoptive families who were matched for only a few weeks before their disruption only to be rematched within DAYS and bringing home their baby within two or three WEEKS. I'm happy for those couples, but I really can't stand to hear their stories anymore. You have no idea what it's like to go through an experience like ours if your tragic loss came and went so quickly. It just isn't the same. I had months to get myself attached to the idea of bringing home that little girl, and I've had to live with a fully furnished and empty nursery for nearly six months now.

And those of you who were able to get pregnant the very first time you tried, or before you were even trying at all, please don't complain about how hard your pregnancy has been when I'm around to hear you. None of you are on bed rest or hospitalized, so keep your petty complaints to yourself. Perhaps you should focus your energy on how lucky and blessed you are instead. A little gratitude for how easy you have it would be appreciated. I don't want to sound like it's all about me, because it's not, but a friend should be more sensitive to the fact that we're still grieving at our house. I can only handle so much baby-related stuff with friends in a given day. And some days I can't handle it at all. Sometimes the sight of you or your Facebook status about junior doing this-or-that-adorable-thing makes me burst into tears and damages my sense of self-worth for days. Is it your fault? Of course not. But that doesn't make things any easier for me. A little consideration for my feelings once in a while, though, would assuage the blow.