Do you pray?
Might you find time daily to stop doing and just sit for a few moments and listen?
First, you listen to your thoughts…all the things you should be doing, how stupid it is to stop doing all that because you are so busy and momentum counts and how could you even have time to stop, why even when you are on the toilet you are reading something edifying or you are reading your email on your phone so even pooping is productive…you listen to those thoughts. Then, after a few breaths, you slow down a little and notice that your shoulders are tucked up under your ears, your jaw is jammed shut and tight and your eyes are dry. So, you take a few more breaths.
Then you hear a bird outside.
The sound delights you. So you listen a little more closely.
And while a chickadee call to it’s mate, a thought floats to the surface of your consciousness, a good idea perhaps, and you think about that for a while.
Then you remember that you were supposed to be sitting here, praying, but you got on to that good solution to the carpool problem, a really good idea and yes, you could jump up and call three people, text four people and email five other lucky souls, but instead, you sit, again, and notice that your belly gets tight when you think of all that email.
So, you breathe again. Your belly quiets.
Your jaw loosens and you can feel saliva in your mouth.
So you swallow. And this makes you notice that you have been holding your breath up under your clavicle, that your breaths haven’t even reached your heart yet.
You breathe a little more.
And as you do, as you bring your breath down in to your heart area, the space over your left breast, the space where you have pledged allegiance all those years in grade school but no one does this anymore unless you are at a ball game and the players do this with their hats over their chests though no one in the stands really knows the words anymore, but now, just now, you consider this Pledge is really a prayer and putting your flannel baseball hat over your heart, or perhaps, placing your warm hands over your heart and
Outhaling, my daughter used to say,
yes, you outhale, you soften your jaw, your ribs relax and what do you know, your
eyes fill with tears.
And you thought this was about praying.
Now it seems you are going to cry.
But, since you have softened your heart space a little, those tears can tumble down your cheeks without judgment. They are heart water, loosening the soil of your emotions, loosening the ground around your resolve, those tears are even wetting the place where you long ago buried forgiveness of yourself for never praying or taking time to meditate or where you buried the feelings of not being enough of what you think you ought to be, you just barreled on doing your level best to survive and withstand the challenges that appeared in your life and so you haven’t cried for years, except at movies and always maybe a little too much for the movie crowd, which embarrassed you and maybe this made your movie going friend a little uncomfortable so they leaned away from you as tears poured in to your popcorn cup and so you stopped yourself. You tightened that jaw and tamped those feelings down.
But. Lo. This moment, when you sat down to pray, supposedly, and now, because you have taken more than a few slow breaths and had a good thought and are crying, softly, you lean over, grab a tissue and blow your nose.
Just this act of shedding a bit of mucus helps because when you settle back to sit and pray, your shoulders are relaxed and your whole body feels slightly more alive and awake.
So, you breathe some more and listen, the birds are quieter now and your mind has backed off pushing you to the next thing on your too-long list and what do you know? That prayer you learned in yoga class surfaces in your memory.
You hear your teacher, who sat so lovingly on her black pillow at the front of class with her hands crossed over her heart and if you looked closely, tears running down her cheeks and she said these words:
May you be safe from all danger
May you be held in the arms of God
May you be strong in spirit and body
May you be true to your heart and your mind.
There she is, your teacher who you haven’t thought of in months since you are too busy for yoga, there she is with this prayer and she nudges your memory and you, now, with clear sinuses and soft shoulders can sit and murmur these words
as you feel the warmth of your own hands over your heart.
In the moments after you have said these words, you repeat them using your son’s name. Then again with your daughter’s name. And then, you realize you could put in the name of the friend who totally pissed you off yesterday, so you do. And you notice that you don’t even get mad all over again. You see that friend in the soft light you are beginning to notice is flowing out of your heart. Towards that person even. So, you decide to go big and you start putting Obama’s name in the prayer, “May you, Barack, be safe from all danger…” and then, what do you know, you put the whole alienated mess of Congress in that prayer and things are feeling really good because you discover that this little act of praying can shed a tidbit of warmth over all the topics you have been nagged by all day….the person you don’t want to call back because you fear having to tell your truth- you pray for them. Your mom, who died a few years ago, you realize her name fits in there and you pray for her.
After a while, you slow down the praying and just sit.
You have settled yourself so well, that your whole being just feels the sweetness of this sacred simplicity and you’ve lost track of time and it feels like a good thing and so you sit, just a few minutes more before you bound up and off to the races.
And while you are there, in that quiet, another thought floats to the surface, a deeper thought, something that feels like a gift. In fact, you realize, it is the gift of why you sat down here in the first place.
And so, now you give thanks.
You say, “Thank you for this prayer time. Thank you for my life. Thank you for the challenges that have taught me so well. Thank you for the leaves filling my yard giving me a chance to get outside. Thank you for this day.”
And, you slowly gather your self, you open your eyes and you see it has only really been 15 minutes of you sitting, crying, blowing your nose and praying a little bit.
That wasn’t so hard, was it?
You get up.
Your legs are a little stiff, so you stretch. Under your bed you notice the thing you thought was lost and there you go, another gift of this time has shown up.
And so your day continues, more gifts.
More space in your mind.
More of a feeling that if you replace the minutes you worry, say, about your son away at college, with time sitting like this with your hands over your heart and breathing, things may just get a little easier. And your mind may be free to have some deeper thoughts. That creative solutions to problems may arise which you never considered before.
You sense that you, yourself, are a deeper well than you realized.
And so, you contemplate doing this again.
Same spot on the floor.
Just grab a pillow and sit down.
Breath. Blow. Repeat.
PS I learned this prayer, called the Metta Meditation by some people, from my friend Jan Phillips who just lost a soul mate, her friend Annie O’Flaherty. If you, while you pray, insert Jan’s name in to your list, I would surely appreciate it. Let me know who of your people I can pray for and I will. Just leave me a comment.