Precious Autumn

“I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house. So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air.” Nathaniel Hawthorne

This week’s spiritual practice is to pause, notice, open to the beauty of autumn.  Last week there were some glorious fall days with azure skies and tangerine leaves, leaving me amazed and delighted as I walked the dog.  It was impossible not to see the intense colours, so strong and alive in the sunlight.

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Pause, Notice, Open is a simple practice that brings us into the moment.

Go out for a walk around your neighbourhood or a local park, during the day, in sunshine or not.

Pause, breath slowly and deeply.  Check in with yourself, stretch and relax. Shake out your body. Re-direct your thoughts to the present. How are you feeling? Take a few moments to sit with what ever emotion you might be experiencing.

Notice, after checking in with yourself, look outwards.  Look at the vegetation around you, at the trees and shrubs, even down at the ground. Try to keep your eyes “soft”, let your eyes roam about you and then return to whatever tree or shrub captures your attention.  Look more closely, study the leaves, look at the light.  Move around to see the tree from different angles. Take photos if it helps you focus.

Open:  Once you’re satisfied with the looking, stand still and breath deeply.  Look a little more, take the experience into your body, and offer some gratitude out in return – to the trees, to life, to God, whatever works for you.  Then take one more slow, deep breath and return to your walk.

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Looking for Blossoms

“More than anything, I must have flowers, always, always.”  Claude Monet

At this time of year we are surrounded by flowers, in public and private gardens, along roadsides, even in the cracks of the concrete sidewalk. Walking the dog in one short block I saw tubs of pansies, geraniums, and begonias. There are forget-me-nots, iris, peonies, columbine, poppies, periwinkles, and even a few dandelions gone to seed.

Living flowers aren’t the only flowers we see. Images of flowers abound in our society, from desktop backgrounds, to coasters, to paintings. I have a painting of sunflowers in my front room.

For our spiritual practice this week, flowers will be a cue to focus our attention on the world around us. Choosing a common object as a trigger for our attention expands our ability to be present in the here and now. It is a way to wake up our consciousness and sharpen our senses. This is a good spiritual practice for experiencing a sense of connection to the greater whole.

Using flowers as a trigger to awareness and presence offers an opportunity to slow down for a moment.

The directions are simple:  Pause, Notice, Open.

Pause:  When you notice a flower or an image or reproduction of a flower, pause and breath slowly and deeply. Check in with yourself, stretch and relax. Shake out your body. Re-direct your thoughts to the present. What are you feeling in this moment? Take some time to sit with what ever emotion you might be experiencing.

Notice:  Come into awareness of the flower.  What kind of flower is it? Look at its colours. Consider its petals and leaf formation. Breathe in. Does the flower have a scent? Touch the flower if you can.  How does it feel? Appreciate the flower’s beauty. Notice your response to the flower – how do you feel as you pay attention to the blooms?

Open:  After focusing on yourself and the flower, expand your attention. What else is around you? What is attracting your attention? Try to keep your eyes “soft”, don’t stare or focus too intently, let your eyes roam and gaze at what captures them. Open yourself to the environment surrounding you. Then take one more slow, deep breath and return to your activity.

Try it for a day this week: Pause, Notice, Open every time you encounter a flower.

Seeing Flowers

“If you pass by the color purple in a field and don’t notice it, God gets real pissed off.”  Alice Walker

In our final month of Unitarian Universalist spiritual practices (we take a break for July and August), we return to the practice of observation of a particular element, this time flowers. For UUs, flowers, which are part of one of our of annual rituals, symbolize our planet. Flowers represent the marvelous diversity and beauty of the earth, reminding us of how much there is to see and learn if only we pay attention. Each flower is unique yet part of the larger eco-system, just like people. We all belong.

So we will notice – not just the colour purple – but all the colours of the flowers.  By turning our awareness towards flowers, we might see the great beauty of this world.

Flower Gazing

This is a Unitarian style engaged meditation – bringing attention towards a single flower. This 10 -15 minute meditation could be done alone, in a small group, or with children. You might have a single flower that everyone considers, or have each person choose a flower.

Find a flower. Set up a space that allows you to have the flower at eye level. Put it on a coffee table and sit on a cushion on the floor, or pile some books on the table so that when you sit on a chair, the flower is high enough you don’t have to bend your head up or down to see it.

Once you have set up the space, get comfortable, close your eyes and take some deep breaths. Let your breathing slow down and your body relax.

Open your eyes and gaze at the flower. Try to keep your focus soft. Look at the flower, at the shape of its petals, at the stamen, at the stem and leaves. See how they fit together. Look at the colours.  Smell the air and see if there is a scent.

Keep bringing your focus back to the flower but try to allow your vision to be wide. See the flower in the context of the space, but keep the flower in the foreground.

If you would like to touch the flower, do so, but move your hand slowly and gently.

Take your time. When you feel you have seen as much as you can take in, thank the flower (through a nod, through words, through silent appreciation).

Close your eyes. Check in with your body, mind, and spirit.  How are you feeling? Think about what you saw and how you responded.

When you are ready, open your eyes and go about your day.

 

 

Life is All Around

“I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance that I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.” Henry David Thoreau

This week, go for a SpiritWalk in nature. Be aware of all the creatures that live around you. Go quietly and slowly, looking around you. Stand still for a few minutes. Birds and animals that shy away at people’s normal pace may come out when you go slow or even stand still. Few of us will be as privileged as Thoreau, but you might be surprised by some of your bird or animal neighbours. Blue jays, cardinals, voles, mice, squirrels, robins, chickadees, rabbits, raccoons, merlin hawks, bats, seagulls, ducks, snails, ants, and one fall, wild turkeys, lived in my old uptown neighbourhood in Waterloo.  When I sat quietly in the backyard, there would be so much life going on around me. Birds flitting and chirping, rabbits tentatively hopping out in the early evening, unafraid if I sat still.  I felt refreshed by the reminder that life goes on all around me.

If you feel like you aren’t noticing any creatures, take a good look down at the ground. You might see spiders, ants, beetles, and snails busy going about their lives.

As always with this spiritual practice, centre yourself before going on the walk.

Be still and take some deep breaths, let out any tension from the day, shake out your arms and legs, stretch your neck, and straighten your spine.  When you feel quieter and calmer, take one last breath before you go.

When looking for the wildlife that lives in urban spaces, I suggest not taking a camera, at least the first time you try this SpiritWalk. If you want to remember the creature, take the time to tell yourself some of its details like colour, shape, sound. Careful observation will help you remember the details, and make it easier for you to identify the animal next time.

Walking into Day

“It is not talking but walking that will bring us to heaven.” Matthew Henry

This week’s SpiritWalk is about seeing your home place in a new light. Go for a slow mindful walk at a time of day that you aren’t usually outside. That may be early in the morning, as dawn breaks, or late at night under the stars. It may even be at noon; instead of running errands at lunch time, take fifteen minutes to explore the area around your workplace. Bring fresh eyes to this everyday area. How is it different at this new time of day?

SpiritWalk Practice

Before leaving, sit quietly with your eyes closed and your feet firmly on the floor. Breathe deeply and slowly.

Feel your feet on the floor.

Get up, in silence, and go outside.

Walk slowly, glance around you, up above, down below.  If something catches your eye, stop and examine it.

Look at the sky. Notice the clouds, or the stars, or the colour of the sky.

Look at the ground. Notice the sidewalk, the cracks in the concrete. Notice any green life that is growing.

Take your time to see all that is around you. Pay attention.

When you return inside, sit quietly for a few minutes in reflection.

 

Creatures of Air

“I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance that I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.”   Henry David Thoreau

This week we consider the element of air through the beautiful songs of birds. Air is the home place for many creatures – birds and insects and bats.  I have heard that the Haudenosaunee people say that songbirds sing about the place they live in, if we pay attention, we can learn their knowledge. Learning the language of birds is a life long process, it requires time and patience to be outside and to hear, identify and understand bird calls. Birds have several different types of call, and songs vary by time of day, weather and change of season.

Bird Observation

If you live in an area with birds, plan to spend 10 minutes outside listening to birdsong. Find a sheltered place where you will be undisturbed. Sit comfortably, close your eyes, breathe deeply, and listen for the birds. Do you recognize any species by their song? How would you describe their songs – are they alarm calls or mating calls or something else? Can you locate them and identify them by sight? Watch how they fly and follow the air currents. Let your mind wander over any questions without trying too hard to find the answers. If you don’t know the name of the bird, simply make one up. Don’t worry about figuring anything out, just listen to the birdsong, breathe and wonder.

You may wish to check a bird identification book after the observation time, but don’t bring it outside with you. Simply sit with your wonderings.

For those of you with limited access to the outdoors, this video offers a variety of North American birdsong.

 

Every breath is a sacrament…

“Air is a matrix which joins all life together”, says scientist David Suzuki. “It is constantly changing as life and geophysical forces add and subtract constituents to the composition of air, and yet over vast stretches of time the basic composition of air has remained in dynamic equilibrium. The longer each of us lives, the greater the likelihood that we will absorb atoms that were once part of Joan of Arc and Jesus Christ, of Neanderthal people and woolly mammoths. As we have breathed in our forebears, so our grandchildren and their grandchildren will take us in with their breath. We are bound up inseparably with the past and the future by the spirit we share.

Every breath is a sacrament, an affirmation of our connection with all other living things…”   from The Sacred Balance, p.38

Breathing Gratitude

This simple breathing meditation is an exercise in thankfulness. Find a quiet place and sit comfortably, either on the floor or on a chair, with your hands lying loosely on your knees. Close your eyes.

Breathe in with gratitude for your parents, grand-parents, great-grand parents all the way back to your early ancestors.  The air rushing into your lungs was their air too.

Breathe out with love, a gift to all the children of the planet, those with us now and those still to arrive. The air leaving your lungs will be their air too.

Breathe in with gratitude, breathe out with love.

Remember that each breath connects you to all has lived, is living, and will ever live.

Breathe in with gratitude, breathe out with love.

Sit with this meditation for five to fifteen minutes.