by Linda Ross Swanson, M.A., C.T. on October 12th, 2013

Dr. Joan Borysenko, in one of the selections in her lovely day book, A Pocketful of Miracles, suggests we spend time in gratitude for all the labor, effort, and industry it takes to bring food to our plates. Acting on her directive, one day, I decide this will be my before meal prayer. I’ll imagine how the food actually ended up in front of me—from the tilling of the soil, to the harvesting and bringing to market. I decide to thank everyone. And, so, my prayer began.
              Dear God, I thank the farmer for tilling the soil, for planting the seeds, for irrigating the fields. I thank the harvesters and the machinery makers, the engineers and equipment designers, the mechanics, the oil drillers, the tankers, service station owners and attendants. Oh, and the truck drivers, and the architects that design the stores, and the builders, electricians, plumbers, tile workers, framers, roofers, window installers, stockers lining the shelves, grocery clerks, floor sweepers, parking lot creators, security folks. I can’t forget the food packers, and the people making the packaging and designers of the labels, and the people operating the machinery to label the cans and packaging. I forgot the cannery workers…Holy crap! I’ll never eat lunch if I continue this prayer.
            Somewhere in the development of my tome, the focal point--food is lost! You try it and see how far you get!
I end my prayer by acknowledging that God knows how many people it takes to bring sustenance to my plate. I thank them all en masse and said Amen.
               The type of prayer I intentioned before eating lunch might work best as a chanting meditation after a meal.  Much like saying a Catholic Rosary, there’s something sweet and innocent about tiny, everyday gratitudes.
I’m reminded of Barbara, a lady camper outside of St. Andre’s Church who taught everyone within hearing distance how to pray. Her litanies were for and about everyone and everything. She’d finger the beads on a rosary, each one a prayerful thanksgiving. Expressing her gratitude, she prayed for peace, for children, for safety, for smiles, for chickens, for gloves, for hot coffee, for socks, for dry weather, for bathrooms, for toothpicks. There were no exclusions.
                My suggestion, if you don’t already have some,  purchase a set of prayer beads. Use each bead as a singular gratitude or joy no matter how minuscule. Be creative. I found a website called   www.BeadHereNow. They sell gem-like meditation beads. Or, you can craft your own by stringing beads together, crocheting or knitting strings of knots. If you’re in a pinch, give the Divine a smile--string some macaroni together. Prayers on pasta work as well as anything traditional. The idea is to chant your awe about dinky things in your world. Start with macaroni. Bring yourself to present moment awareness by your gratitudes big and small.

by Linda Ross Swanson on September 22nd, 2013

            My father quit school in 7th grade because he was ashamed of his holey shoes and shabby clothing. In spite of his meager education, Papa rose in the ranks at Bonneville Power Administration. He became a supervisor at the converter station in The Dalles, Oregon.
            Papa worked out-of-town all week, coming home on weekends. Every Friday and Saturday night before going to bed, I’d spy Papa on our front porch staring, first at our gigantic maple tree, then, altering his gaze toward the night sky. Outwardly, Papa wasn’t a spiritual man; laughingly labeling himself a heathen. However, he spent an inordinate amount of time standing on the front porch those weekend nights, deep in contemplation with the maple tree and the stars. I believe it is there he found inspiration and consolation, solved problems and found peace of mind.  I’ve been thinking lately about the difference between Papa’s contemplation and my meditation.
            For me, contemplation is concentrating on something, spiritual or not, such as a solution to a dilemma. It’s about listening to conversations in my head, and seeking the responses from my higher self, or listening for the Still Small Voice of God. I’m seeking assistance, help.
 In meditation, I attempt to clear my mind of all thought. When I find myself employing a mind full of monkey, vine-leaping thoughts, I use my mantra to bring me back.
            For me both contemplation and meditation are acts of solitude both attempting otherworldly access, both seeking Divine inspiration.
Next time you’re filled with worry or concern, sit in silence and bring it along. Close your eyes and listen to your breathing. Pay attention to the inhales and exhales. The space between the two. Then, listen as you wrestle with the issue. Invite the Divine to enter the conversation. Create a master-mind group on the other-side, angels, guides, deceased loved ones and friends. Access the collective unconscious in this way. Tap into the Akashic records. Have a pen and paper handy to jot down ideas and thoughts so you won’t forget them. You’ll be surprised at the inspiration that comes, just like it came to my father gazing at the maple tree and stars.

Dr. Joan Borysenko calls meditation a form of “mental martial arts.” She suggests instead of resisting thoughts, just let them come and go. Watch them as if they were leaves floating on a stream. Don’t pick them up an examine them, just observe them floating by.
Some people use a special word, or mantra. In Transcendental Meditation a Sanskrit word is assigned to each student, but you can choose one of our own such as “love,” “peace,” “Jesus,” “Allah,” or even a phrase like “I am Peace.” When thoughts intrude, go back to the mantra. The same is true of Centering Prayer popularized by Fr. Thomas Keating. It is the Roman Catholic equivalent to meditation. He describes it as a state of divine union.
Twenty to thirty minutes of daily meditation or centering prayer will bring you to an interior silence. It takes that long. But, start by practicing 5 minutes at a time. Soon you will yearn for more. Witness how your daily life settles down as you learn to still the mind.

Posted on September 14th, 2013

       I’m reading Aldous Huxley's, the Doors of Perception. In referencing his experiment with mescaline in the early 1950’s, he beckons, even in his drug-induced state, a deeper peering into the beauty befalling everything.
With this in mind, I embark upon the Arboretum’s paths for a morning hike. Huxley calls forth operatic metaphors, speaks of our entering heightened states of consciousness through meditation rather than mescaline or LSD.  We too, he guarantees, can observe the luminosity of all things with “constant and unstrained alertness.”
I attempt his dare; chanting my mantra, mesmerized by footfalls on the path, squirrels scolding--robins and chickadees, and nuthatches, throaty with song. Does walking meditation count? I don’t see a holographic universe when spying pine needles or verdant pointy-leafed ivy close up. Not even the sumptuous, blossoming, Magnolia tree cracks open electric. Even so, Huxley’s captures my attention and focuses me on present-moment-awareness. With practice something’s sure to go ablaze.

The Divine carouses in everything. What luminous, numinous experience will you create today? One moment of deep concentration and total focus might bring ten thousand things aglow. Peer into a puddle of water. Marvel at the shiny rocks aside the road. Sneak a determined peek at the moisture on your teacup, or your upper lip after sipping soup. According to Huxley, everything is alive with meaning and connectedness both animate and inanimate. He speaks of eternity in a flower and infinity in four legs of a chair. What a marvelous daily endeavor this luminosity seeking.


Posted on March 23rd, 2013

Everyone who knows me, knows that I love walking and recommend it not only to my grief clients but to anyone who will listen. Walking is one form of exercise that we can engage in all of our lives, as long as we have mobility and are lucid. It doesn't require equipment, gasoline, fancy clothing--it just requires us to put on our tennis shoes and open the front door.

There is a wonderful article from about walking and health that I want to share with you:

which could cut rates of heart disease, diabetes, colon
cancer, and Alzheimer’s by at least 40 percent
and save Americans over $100 billion a year — comes from a place
you’d least expect. On your block. In the park. At the
mall. Everywhere.

So what’s this amazing treatment, which also happens
to be easy, enjoyable and virtually free? It’s as simple as
taking a walk.“Walking is like medicine for my patients,” Dr. Bob
Sallis — a Kaiser Permanente family practitioner from
Fontana, California — told a group of health, business,
education, transportation and government leaders
who came together in Washington, D.C. in December
to advance a national walking movement. Dr. Sallis
described the “linear relationship” between how much
time his patients spend walking and their overall health
after he prescribes regular walks. “If walking was a pill or
surgical procedure, it would be on
60 Minutes.”

“Being physically active is one of the most important
things people of all ages can do for their health,”
declared Joan Dorn of the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention (CDC), noting that walking is rated as
American adults’ favorite physical activity and that doing
it for as little as 30 minutes a day is one way to achieve
significant health benefits.US Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin used the
meeting to announce she will issue a “Call to Action on Walking”
aimed at helping Americans improve their
health by walking more. Dr. Benjamin explained, “Walking
is safe, simple and doesn’t require practice or fancy gear.”
A number of people compared her announcement to the
historic 1964 Surgeon General’s report on the dangers
of tobacco, which sparked a national movement that
reduced smoking from 50 percent of adults at that time
to less than 20 percent today."

So, lace up those tennies and let's get walking. :)

Posted on March 21st, 2013

Death Cafe, a growing movement that started in Europe, brings adults together to discuss death, dying and anything relating to them over coffee. The goal is to raise death awareness with the view of helping people make the most of their lives. Nothing about death is too taboo for discussion. Wondering if cremation is better than burial? Ask. Struggling with an illness? Share your experiences. Even theological discussions are okay.

The people who attend 'death cafes' aren't obsessed with dying, they just want to meet up and talk about something which, let's face it, will happen to us all. We want to create an environment where talking about death is natural and comfortable. When people talk about death and dying, all their pretenses disappear. You see people's authenticity and honesty among strangers. It might sound really weird and wonderful to say you attend a death café, but it can feel very normal. Join me Sunday, April 28th at Bijous Café 132 SW 3rd Ave. at Pine Street, Portland, Oregon from 4-5:30 pm. Please arrive at 3:45pm. There is metered parking on the street.

I've found that facing the fact that we all die enhances my living in the moment, adding appreciation to the little things. I find myself not sweating over all the small stuff, since that's all there is anyway, and it is easier for me to let go of petty resentments and focus on the positive. Death gives us perspective and deepens us in ways that nothing else can.

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