I promised to tell you how my daily meditation practice has changed me. Let me begin with a story.
Ten days ago, I had just finished up a fabulous week in Costa Rica at a Steve Perry Wildlife Photography workshop, then flown straight from San Jose to Salt Lake City (via Atlanta), arriving at midnight for a quick sleep before an early breakfast and 4 ½ hour drive (thank you, Jonathan, for doing most of it!) to Lander, Wyoming, to the wedding of dear friends.
Outdoors amongst the sage and mountains, the setting was perfect, as were the profusion of gathering clouds, until, just as the ceremony ended, the downpour began.
Hustling along the stony ground, we all made it back to the tent, dampened in clothing but not in spirit, and as the sun returned, a beautiful double rainbow graced this new marriage.
The next day, as we and our friends are wont to do, we went hiking. I was eager, despite the sore throat I had convinced myself the night before was just the dry air after the humidity of Costa Rica.
Off we strode into the blaze of the day into Sink Canyon, the Popo Agie river to our left, the mountains of the Wind River Range to our right. I let the younger folks go on ahead to chat, but when the newlyweds peeled off to drive back to Denver, I told my daughter, Helen, and Jonathan to go without me. I'd putter along and take photos.
In the past, I would have chastised myself for my weakness. My inability to keep up. My missed opportunity to see the waterfall ahead. But on this morning, I chose to simply be who I was that day: Someone thrilled to be out west again, but who needed to slow down. Way down.
Ending my yoga session with meditation and the yoga breathing practice of pranayama has taught me how to slow down. How to pay attention, to be mindful. To love myself and send Light and loving-kindness to others.
For example, I now regularly talk to those who often are overlooked, those who clean public bathrooms. I thank them for their important work, tell them how I appreciate what they do.
I see them. And in seeing them, I see myself, I see the world.
Truly, if I am completely present in my practice, meditation begins when I let the first clanging pulse of the singing bowl fill me, continuing with each breath…in…out…during my yoga flow of postures or asanas. Then, sitting in lotus, facing a lit candle, I focus fully on breath.
I sit, eyes closed, first, just breathing. I think of my family, holding each in the Light. Then I begin the first pranayam (pra-NI-um)--Surya Bhedana Pranaym, (surya=sun), holding my left nostril closed and breathing fully and deeply through my right several times. It's said this practice renews energy--certainly a plus for me. Then I close the right and blow out forcefully through the left, back and forth several times, ridding myself of any accumulated negativity.
I repeat this sequence on the other side, closing right, breathing through left, known as Chandra Bhedana Pranayam (chandra=moon), said to calm the mind and relax the body. A good balance with the first, bringing a sense of peace and harmony. Then switch and blow out through right.
Other prayamans follow, some I learned while in India from our guide, Sanjay, others from various videos, found in my earlier post, "How I Began a Daily Practice." My favorite pranayam is still Humming Bee or Bhramari Pranayam, closing ears, eyes and nostrils partially, then humming. I look forward to this every morning, the buzzing sensation through my core awakening me, filling me.
I end the pranayama in lotus, hands curled on knees, chanting Om,
feeling a connection with all people and creatures of the earth,
feeling as Wendell Berry does in his poem,
"The Peace of Wild Things," his last three lines being
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
I then send Light to specific people I know who need extra love and healing, then to those I do not know -- so many needing hope, a safe place to call home.
My final prayer is Chinook, said with palms together at my chest.
May all I say and all I think
be in harmony with Thee.
God within me
God beyond me
Maker of the trees.
In Wyoming, alone with the sun, the breeze, the rocks, and the river,
I felt that grace. I could close my eyes and just breathe.
I sat for long periods on rocky outcrops high above the river, listening to the rush of water blasting onto rounded boulders. I examined the multi-colored lichens. I felt the warmth of the rock.
Standing and beginning a slow walk (which I later likened to "not quite the pace of a crippled snail"), I put my nose close to the bark of firs to smell their sweet vanilla odor. I caressed the bumpy trunks of aspens.
I watched butterflies graze and glean. I felt drawn to the smallest things. To those minutiae of the earth we often overlook as we hike to a destination.
I took this self-portrait below, at first simply trying to get a photo of the stone in the trail, loving its heart-shape. But when I couldn’t get my noontime shadow out of the frame, I realized I actually was part of it.
And I felt I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing—
loving the earth, loving me, connecting.