Archive for July 2013
One of the things that differentiates most Europeans and Americans, I’ve noticed, is how we feel about walking. Europeans walk as a means of transportation – it would seem silly to most Europeans to drive someplace a mile or two away from home. Americans walk for exercise—they walk to get their hearts pumping and their muscles working, and often work hard to increase their distances or shave minutes off their times.
Both, however, stress walking as a means to an end: whether it gets you from one place to another without having to pay the parking garage or is a method of increasing your fitness level, it has a purpose.
I remember when people used the expression out for a “stroll.” Now that’s a word you don’t hear much anymore! It brings images of meandering, and pausing to notice flowers, and stopping to chat with neighbors. When you stroll, you aren’t trying to get someplace else, nor are you trying to sneak in some cardio. You just are. Walking and looking. Walking and listening.
Last week I shared a mini-retreat with you. This week I would like to share another practice that is perfect for summer: the practice of Walking Meditation. It is kind of like taking a spiritual stroll!
For some, walking is a challenge. If you use a cane or a walker, just taking a few steps is enough to experience walking meditation. Again, it is not about where we go, or how far, or how fast, but how aware we are as we walk. (By the way, this practice can also be done inside. I’ve known people who do this on their way to meetings between offices or buildings. It’s all about intention.)
Some of the following suggestions are taken from the book “Walking Meditation,” by Nguyen Anh-Huong and Thich Nhat Hand. While their particular tradition is Buddhist, the format they describe is very consonant with Jesus’ invitation to “consider the lilies of the field” as a way of approaching God.
*Set your intention. Dedicate this time, however brief, to God.
*Practice walking slowly. If you have a hard time with that, visualize a tiger walking through the grass – majestically. Do not rush.
*Notice what is around you. If something draws your eye, stop and look at it. Smell a rose. Touch a pussy willow. Give thanks for what you see.
*Listen to the sounds. Some will be from nature – the birds, the breeze. Others will be human generated – the sounds of traffic, or children, or nearby construction. Let each noise float by. No noise is unwelcome, for each connects us to the larger web of our world.
*Feel the air, the sun, the wind. Feel the ground (or floor) beneath your feet. Give thanks for your body, God’s gift to you.
*Savor it all.
*Complete your walk with a simple prayer, such as: “God of Love, thank you for all that I have seen and heard and felt – your good gifts. Refresh and renew me through your grace. Amen.”
I hope you are finding ways this season to be more deeply nourished in your soul. May we open the doorways of our hearts just a little wider, and let the holy inside. Thanks be to God!
Kim(our next group Prayer and Meditation Walk at Mercy Center will be Tuesday, August 27, at 10:00. We will meet at the office.)
My first spiritual retreat happened in 1977, when a friend took me to a beautiful monastery in the canyon near Abiqui, New Mexico. Christ in the Desert, a Benedictine monastery bounded by red rocks on one side and a river on the other, is made up of a few simple adobe buildings and one beautiful chapel. It is situated 13 miles off the main highway on a dirt road, and still takes a rather hardy vehicle (and stomach) to get there. My friend introduced me to the community, and we spent a couple of days hiking the grounds, reading under trees, and listening to the monks sing their prayers. It was my first experience of taking time away from my everyday life for the express purpose of feeding my spiritual life.
I was thinking about that summer recently. As valuable as that time was for me, and as much as I love getting away to beautiful places, I have discovered over time that I don’t need to actually leave in order to go on retreat: if I have a day or a few hours, or even a few minutes, I can tap into that place of stillness and lean into God’s love, and it’s as if I have received the gift of a much longer time.
So, while we are wending our way through this lovely summer season, I would like to offer you a simple format for making your own retreat, in your own time and place. All you need is the desire and the willingness to spend some dedicated time with God.
The following Mid-Summer (mini) Retreat can be done in your home, in your workplace, or outside. The basic format can take as little as 15 minutes, but I am adding on some options that could extend your retreat for an hour or more. Adapt these suggestions to fit your own situation and setting, of course, but don’t get too hung up about “doing it right.” Just slow down, set your intention, and lean into God.
Find a place that you want to be: a comfortable chair or a shady spot work just fine.
Dedicate this time to God with a simple prayer, such as: “God, I give you this time, fully and completely.
Calm my spirit and open my heart.”
Notice your breathing:
on your in-breaths, say “Calm spirit,”
and on the out-breaths, “Open heart.”
Repeat, slowly, 5 times.
If you are able, extend your hands and arms over your head. Stretch up and out. Imagine a beautiful light, flowing down through your fingertips, infusing your body, inch by inch. “I am the Light of the World.” Let your body relax as the light flows through you. If there are anxious or tired or sad places in your body, imagine that they are being bathed in this healing light.
Let the names and faces of people in your life come to you. Offer them the light of God’s love.
Ask God: what is it that you want me to hear, see, or feel right now? With an open heart, use your senses to help guide you. “Look around. What is being offered for your eyes to feast upon? Listen. What is being offered for your ears to resound with? What is being offered for your taste buds to savor…your nose to inhale? What is being offered for you to embrace? What is being whispered into your heart?” (Louden). Sit with these questions for as long as you would like – a few minutes or an hour!
Repeat the breath prayer from #3:
“Calm spirit/ Open heart.” 3x
Offer thanks for this sacred time.
Of course, there are many other things you can do to extend your retreat: find a poem or reading from the bible to contemplate, light a candle, gather flowers or stones to help connect you to the beauty around you, listen to a favorite piece of music to help center you. But the main idea is to just make a space in your day. Give yourself the gift of time with God.
“This is the day that the Lord has made – let us rejoice and be glad in it!”
(a wonderful resource of various retreats is this book by Jennifer Louden:
The Woman’s Retreat Book, Harper San Francisco, 1997)
On my desk at home sat a pile of mail to be sorted, in my dryer lay a load of laundry to be folded, and, yes, in the world there were an infinite number of needs to be met. Yet there I sat, on my deck, watching the day turn into early evening, and listening to the peals of laughter coming from the yard next door. It was the kind of laughter that makes you stop and listen, smile, and finally just laugh out loud yourself. We have a three year old living over our fence, and she was “hosting” several other little girls (with their requisite adults, I’m sure). Shouts and giggles and squeals punctuated the air, and even the neighborhood squirrels seemed to be chuckling as they scampered along the wires above our heads, finishing up their busy days.
There were so many things crowding my mind when I walked out my back door just a few minutes before. A heartbreaking trial and verdict rocking the nation. The struggles of people I love. And wars that seem to be impossible, somehow, to bring to an end. But I let myself feel the laughter next door, resisted the impulse to go back inside for my phone (“just in case” – of what?), and I felt something easing up inside. A tightness in my chest I didn’t even realize I was feeling, relaxed, and my breathing slowed down. I put the burden aside for awhile, and remembered that it is not mine to carry alone. It was enough, just then, to listen to the delight of a summer evening, and rest. I let myself lean into God, and trust that the world is being held in Love, no matter how effective or ineffective I am. God is. God loves. Breathe.
There is much to be delighted with in this world.
So, I don’t know what it is that reminds you of that. Maybe your dog does something goofy, or the UPS guy tells you a joke. Or maybe, like me, you’re a sucker for a laughing child, a kid giggling so hard she literally falls down in the grass because she can’t contain it. Whatever it is that connects you with joy, and lightness, and fun, grab it with both hands this summer. And wherever you are, remember to listen for the laughter ringing over the fence. That, too, is God speaking — still.
~ Kim“Rest and laughter are the most spiritual and subversive acts of all.” Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith
Redwood City, CA
(Shared driveway with Smart & Final ~
We are at the far end of the second parking lot)
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