Tuesday, February 16, 2021

BREATHING AS ONE – A Meditation Greenhorn’s Epiphany

Ages ago Sally and I took a community-ed meditation class. About all I remember is something our instructor called a “cleansing breath.” And that I enjoyed some of his guided meditations.

So I’m far from a sophisticated meditator, but with that modest intro I’ve devised my own technique which works just fine. It helps me relax and keep things in perspective during these nightmarish times.

 

I usually start a session by watching the “shape” of my breathing—visualizing it not as two distinct movements—in, stop, out, stop—but as one continuous, elliptical cycle.

Once that rhythm is set I picture the inhalations bringing in good stuff, like positive energy, light, abundance, healing… and the exhalations expelling all the bad stuff: negativity, darkness, scarcity and illness/pain. It’s kind of like a pump…or better a conveyor belt; you grab things you want as it winds in, and dump your trash on it as it heads back out.

     All time, past and future, has swirled together
     into this little present-moment eddy.


A PRESENT-MOMENT EDDY
During this morning’s meditation I experienced something remarkable. I’d just gotten my breathing down when, suddenly, the space it occupied grew from arm’s-length scale to cosmic.

One second, I’m thinking of myself and my own respiration; the next, I have this profound sense that somehow my breath is commingling with other breaths, those of loved ones and ancestors, strangers on the other side of the world, and anyone who’s ever entered this sublime, out-of-body dimension.

I drift off magically through space and time, feeling deeply that everything under creation is connected, in me and of me. And that all time, past and future, has swirled together into this little present-moment eddy.

It’s not that I’ve never had this sense before, but usually it’s been more a fleeting glimpse, not there long enough to make the leap from the  intellectual to the emotional. This time it does though; it feels so powerful, so very real.

Curiously, as my soul soars like this, I’ve never felt more grounded, more centered.

A SILVER LINING
One of my fondest wishes during the pandemic and the other convulsions wracking our poor planet has been that something good will come of it all. Something transformational about how we treat each other and our precious planet.

If it were nothing else, I’d settle for a very deep, broad, cross-cultural sense that we’re all—we and all of Nature’s miracles—connected as one. And a contagion of empathy.


I think that connection is what I experienced this morning. I hope I can let it percolate through me, flavoring not just my rarefied reveries, but all my comings and goings.

And I pray it might find the light of day, too, in you and in everyone, everywhere…and soon.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

THANKS HALF A MILLION!

WOW! Half a million visits!

If I had a nickel for everyone who’s dropped in here at my One Man’s Wonder blog, I’d still be poor. But it’s not about the money; it’s about the sense of connection with people—from 77 countries so far—who share my passion for noticing and celebrating small wonders.

Keep checking out my occasional ramblings, and keep walking in your own ways of wonder.

Many thanks to all!


Friday, January 1, 2021

HOPE IN A SNOWFLAKE – A New Years Eve Reflection

One of the innumerable reasons I count myself such a lucky man is the warm, wise, witty group of friends Sally and I have been fortunate enough to celebrate New Year's Eve with for the past decade or so.

Tonight, I've got to admit, I wasn't so sure I could be fully present with anyone via Zoom. But the kindness, creativity and openness—the preciousness—of these particular people cut through all the "remote"-ness and touched my heart. Ruth, Dan, Marty, Gary, Kathy, Randy, thank you for a wonderful evening!

One of the highlights of our New Year's together was sharing our reflections on the evening's theme: hope. Each of us shared a very personal take on the topic, from the reflective to the musical to the challenging to the poetic.

Here is the piece I wrote for the occasion:

HOPE IN A SNOWFLAKE

What is hope? Is it anticipation? Expectation? And where’s it located? Is it all about something happening way off in the future? Must it always be about the future?

Spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle likes to say, because the past has already happened, and the future hasn’t yet, that neither exists. That the only time that’s real is now.

So, what does hope look like, not when it’s about some distant outcome, but closer to now?

Well, of course there’s the kind with a capital H, that big, existential kind that’s just out there somewhere. But the small-h, everyday kind—is grounded in the here and now, resting not as much in fate as in our own hands, heart and spirit.

It’s really a choice we make, like love or happiness. But more like surrender, cut of the same cloth as faith.

If big-H Hope is the distant glow at the end of the tunnel, small-h hope is lighting candles in the darkness.


In these discouraging times, we need all the hope we can get—both kinds. Big-H Hope to put out there in the Universe as our sacred intention for ourselves and the world.

And small-h hope, which is often just putting one foot in front of the other. It’s there in the smallest details, minutia that might slip right past us if we’re less than fully present to call it what it is.

What is hope?
It’s a rustling in the brush along the bank of Peasley’s Slough
A glint of light through the forest ahead promising the end of the portage
Kneeling down to check the thickness of the ice
Swiping on a little blue kicker over your glide coat
Casting into that deep eddy just downstream from a rock point
Sticking out your tongue for a snowflake

It’s walking out with your choir onto the stage
Composing that exotic, dream itinerary
Readying your craft space with papers, scissors and glue
Checking how many students have shown up in your Zoom waiting room
Wrapping your finished lampshade arc around the rings
And it’s watching the garage door open and wanting so much for your partner’s car to be there.

There is hope in all these things, all of them signs of wonders about to happen.

So, as we face a new year, still groping our way through this tunnel of fear and uncertainty, may we take comfort in the glow we see at the end, and light those little candles. 

May we seek and find hope everywhere. Yes, up in the sky, in the big picture of what might lie ahead for us. But let us also find it in the moment, in the common, the constant. In each small wonder, each fleeting thought, each precious moment of 2021.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

 I wish all my visitors and loyal followers from all over the world—76 countries
so far—the very best of this season. For us Christians, that means MERRY CHRISTMAS! (para mis amigos hispanohablantes, ¡FELIZ NAVIDAD!) For my Jewish friends, it's HAPPY HANUKKAH! For all of us here in the northern hemisphere, it's HAPPY WINTER SOLSTICE! 

Whatever your celebration, may these days be kind to you, your families and your loved ones. May they bring you new awareness, wonder and gratitude!

Thursday, December 17, 2020

SMELLS LIKE BLUE – And Other Cross-Sensory Interplay

This morning, walking along East River Parkway, I found myself in a pleasant space of clarity I rarely occupy within my own thoughts. It was like a meditation on everything at once: my steps; the feeble mid-December sunshine; the coziness of being nearly encapsulated inside my jacket, hoodie and mask. It all connected.

Providing the digital sound track of my reverie was the great jazz guitarist Pat Metheny. The interplay of his etherial electric guitar, some piano, lots of tinkly symbols and clear, wordless tenor vocals got me thinking What is it about Metheny that’s stood the test of time so well with my ears since way back in the late 70s?

And I came up with a word to describe the sound: shimmering.


Isn’t it funny, I thought, using such a visual descriptor to depict a sound? Truth is, though, that we cross sensory boundaries with our vocabulary all the time and don’t even notice.

Haven’t you ever described a taste as sharp? How about Uncle Duane’s garish ties. Loud, right? Bright flavors. Screaming pain. Sticky situations.

     They open the door not just to Polyhymnia,
     the muse of grammar, but to those of love,
     music, dance and, yes, poetry.


WRITING IN 3D
As a writer, of course I’m eager to sharpen my powers of description. It’s entirely possible to recount an observation or an experience using language that’s precise but not very interesting. Just direct, literal sensory terms. The designer employed earth tones for Bob’s new man cave.

Acceptable, but pretty dry, right. (See, I’ve just done it again!)

But introduce a metaphor that lifts off of one sensory plane and into another and the description takes on new dimension. The language turns from descriptive to evocative. The designer dished a savory stew of burnt oranges, ochres and umbers for Bob’s man cave.


You see, it’s like the difference between a flat image and 3D.

Delicious texture. Smooth flavor. Thin voice. White noise. The possibilities open the door not just to Polyhymnia, the muse of grammar, but to those of love, music, dance and, yes, poetry.

USE IT OR LOSE IT
This device enriches not just how I write about sensing, but how I actually do sensing. It’s like putting your faculties through a team-building challenge, pushing them to both sharpen their skills and work together.

Your taste buds help your eyes to “see” flavors. And your eyes might return the favor by “tasting” colors (as I’d hope the reader would do with my designer example above). How about “hearing” images? Or “touching” sounds? 

The long-standing notion that we humans actually use just ten percent of our brain power has been debunked by magnetic resonance imaging. But it just might be true for how we use our senses.

I’m afraid it’s a matter of use it or lose it. And if we fail to use our amazing senses—all of them—well, let’s just say I can smell the handwriting on the wall. ;-)

Monday, December 14, 2020

DOUBLE TAKES – How to Second-guess Regret

 I wish I could claim this bit of wisdom as my own, but it’s inspired by a sweet little romantic comedy Sally and I watched tonight: About Time.


In it the wise old dad—with just weeks to live—shares with his son one of his secrets of happiness: to live each day twice. The first time, you let it pass with all the cluelessness and distraction most of us abide most days.

The second time, you live that same day, but with the benefit of hindsight. This time you do it right: noticing and celebrating small wonders; making room for joy; fearing less and loving more; and showing that love to those you may assume already know it.

And then, you commit that second take to reality and pretend the first one never happened.

Well, that’s not so hard if you have the gift of time travel as both these characters do. But what about the rest of us?

I'm thinking the trick is you live both days at the same time. For each significant moment, you anticipate the second take as you start living the first. And hope it spares you at least a few of your regrets.

Does anyone else just love this concept?

Monday, December 7, 2020

AS IF FOR THE FIRST TIME: YAWNING

HO-HUM HUMDRUM
Yawning’s an amazing and mysterious thing. It crosses all geographic and cultural boundaries. Humans of all ages do it—even those in utero. Nearly all vertebrates do it, including fish and birds, but with the exception, it’s said, of giraffes and whales.


It’s one of those bodily functions that’s so ubiquitous that, like blinking or breathing, it usually comes and goes without our slightest notice. But have you
ever felt a yawn coming on, stopped what you were doing and allowed yourself
to be fully present with the experience?

Here’s what it feels like for me: it starts, subtly, deep inside my head. It’s like my whole cranium, or at least some compartment or sac within it, is about to expand. Then in my ears I feel some kind of passages opening up; it sounds like the two sides, coated with earwax, start out pressed together and then pull stickily apart.

My mouth starts to open, not the way it does when I talk or eat, but from the back, as if the jaw hinges themselves were separating—like the way a python unhinges its jaws to consume large prey.

           The experience, much like farting, 
           is much more satisfying when you 
           really open up and let it rip.

Then the rumbling starts. Again, it seems to come from somewhere deep inside my ears. It's loud, but somehow doesn’t drown out the music and other ambient sound here in my studio.

By this time my eyes close reflexively. I notice I can keep them open if I try (something I’ve never been able to do while sneezing). I start salivating and my eyes water.

Sometimes I keep my lips closed while yawning—usually when I think someone might be looking—but the experience, much like farting, is much more satisfying when you really open up and let it rip. Same with that universal little non-verbal vocalization that always wants to accompany a good yawn.

For me, there’s a distinct tipping point in a yawn. Somewhat like a sneeze or an orgasm, it starts with an impulse, builds in tension, crests and then, inexorably, releases. Occasionally, it doesn’t quite reach that crest and fizzles disappointingly.
_______________________________________________________

AWARENESS CHECK: I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but chances are you’ve yawned at least once just since you started reading this. See if you can be aware of the next one coming on. I decided to log my yawns when I started writing this, and in the hour or so it’s taken me to this point, I’ve done it no fewer than nineteen times!

_______________________________________________________

MONKEY SEE…

There are many theories as to why we vertebrates yawn. The most popular seem
to be: that it’s the body’s need for a rush of oxygen; that it’s a muscle-stretching process (which might explain why it’s so often accompanied by the urge to stretch the arms, legs and back); that it triggers a surge of alertness when the brain senses we’re asleep on the job (this one seems counter-intuitive to me); and that it somehow helps regulate the temperature of the brain.

None of these theories enjoys common agreement; in fact, most have been debunked in one study or another. All I know is my own experience with yawning. Yes, like just about everyone, I yawn when I’m tired and bored. But, more curiously, I also catch myself yawning when I’m nervous or anxious. How about you? When do you yawn?

        Simply writing about yawning makes 
        me yawn (doing it now, as we speak).

One of the most fascinating characteristics of yawning is its contagiousness. Among all the causal theories, none disputes this, although several possible reasons are suggested. Almost everyone agrees that it’s an empathetic response, one wired into the circuits of earliest man, perhaps to demonstrate our ferocity (as in don’t mess with me!) or even as a pre-verbal signal for a group to change activities.


Whatever the reason, this power of suggestion is undeniable. We don’t even have
to see someone yawning; we can simply hear them yawn over the telephone. And
I can tell you from my current experience that simply writing about yawning makes me yawn (doing it now, as we speak)—not just now and then, but repeatedly and often. (Since the awareness check, above, I've done it at least five more times.)

Are you aware of what triggers your yawns? Has reading this post, along with the inspirational photos, unleashed the ho-hum monster in you? Do you have a favorite memory or a trick involving yawning? We’d love to hear of your jaw-dropping experiences!