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Growing Roots: A grounding meditation to connect to the Earth

GroundingMeditationWhen things start to feel out of control or unsettled, I spend a few minutes practicing a simple, grounding meditation. Seated firmly on the floor or, even better, outside, I settle into my breath, then imagine growing roots.

To get you started, I recorded this simple grounding meditation to help you visualize your own roots. Once you get the idea, you can practice growing roots whenever you need to feel more settled and stable.

Thanks to Mark Piper, a talented local musician and awesome friend (and my guitar teacher), for the background music.

An Earth Day meditation: connecting to your animal guide

I wrote this guided meditation for an Earth Hour ritual and thought it would be good to share it today in honor of Earth Day. Enjoy the recording, or borrow the script and share the experience with your nature-loving tribe.

Guided Meditation for Earth Hour

Close your eyes and allow your breath to flow naturally. With each breath, feel your body become more relaxed.

Imagine you are standing on a gravel road at the edge of a forest. In front of you are five stone steps down to a path that leads into the trees. You start down the steps. At the first step your body becomes completely relaxed. At the second step your mind quiets. On the third step you feel peace flowing through you. At the fourth step you know you are in a safe place. As you step onto the fifth and final step your vision becomes sharp and clear and the light seems brighter and the colors more vivid.

You follow the path into the trees, fully taking in everything that you see. You notice each subtle hue of the green leaves and the brown dirt. Here and there a yellow leaf left over from the fall catches your eye. The light filters through the treetops and dapples the path in front of you. You look up and see bits of blue sky between the tall trees. You see the varying textures of the tree bark, some smooth and some gnarled, knotted and rough. You notice tiny flowers on delicate stalks nestled against the root of one tree and you wonder how they came to grow there. Twigs and pebbles crunch under your feet. You feel a slight, cool breeze that rustles the leaves. You become aware of mossy smells and the singing of birds high above you and the buzzing of insects around you. You can feel life here.

You continue down the path, stepping carefully to avoid the small green plants which have sprung up between rocks. As you move deeper into the forest the light fades and the air becomes damp and musty. The path becomes softer beneath your feet. Moving on, you notice the sound of running water ahead and walk down the path toward the sound. Suddenly you step into brighter light and find yourself on the bank of a wide stream. You can see the sun overhead here and the sunlight reflects on the water. The stream is rocky and the water tumbles over the worn stones in a series of small waterfalls. The spring sun is melting snow at higher elevations and the water runs quickly by, carrying leaves, small twigs and a few water bugs over the rocks.

You sit on the damp, cool moss on the bank and watch the water flow by. As you watch, a small green lizard scampers onto a rock, then you move slightly and he disappears between the rocks. The sun is warm despite the breeze. You are filled with peace just being in this place.

A rustling in the trees on the opposite bank catches your attention, and you look up to see an animal emerge from the trees. What kind of animal is it? Let it be whatever first comes to mind. It sees you and moves cautiously toward the stream. You catch its eyes and it stops, watching you. You know you are safe here and do not feel fear, just awe at being this close to this animal. You have a clear, unobstructed view and can see it in detail. You can see the shape of its body, muscle and bone. You can see the shape of its feet, its tail, its jaw. You know there is power in that body, the power it needs to survive in the forest. You notice its texture – fur or scales or feathers or skin. You imagine what it would feel like if you could touch the animal. You can see its colors – not just the body colors but the color of its eyes. And you look into those eyes and feel a connection, and know this animal has a message for you. What is it telling you? What would this animal have to say? Perhaps it is just a message of mutual respect, perhaps it is something else. Let the message come to you. Trust that whatever message you hear is the right one.

You repeat the message to yourself a few times, wanting to remember it. Then you look down, breaking eye contact, and the animal turns and wanders back into the trees. You watch it go, grateful for the opportunity to see it so close and for the message it shared with you. Knowing your time here is done, you stand, turn away from the stream and walk back along the forest path, through the darkness under the thick trees. A few more steps brings you back to the place where patches of light illuminate the path ahead and before long you can see the stone steps.

You walk to the steps, taking one last look at the trees behind you, then put your foot down on the first step and start to climb. On the next step you become aware of your breath. On the next step you feel your body. On the next step you become aware of the room. As you reach the top of the steps you are back in the present, bringing with you the animal’s message and the sense of peace you found in the forest. Take a few deep breaths before you move back into your day.

* * *

I’ve done this guided visualization a number of times and have noticed that I am drawn to certain animals during times of stress, other animals when I am feeling introspective or down, and still others when I am happy. What animal came to you? Did it’s message surprise you? I’d love it if you’d comment and share your experience.

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Calling Ganesha: Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha

clay image of the hindu deity Ganesha

clay image of the hindu deity Ganesha (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, my meditation practice morphed into a mantra practice. I didn’t sit with the intention of chanting “So Hum” the whole time I was meditating. It just happened.

Afterward, it felt like it had been the right thing to do. I repeated it the following day, and the days after that.

Last Saturday, Lisa Devi, during a visit to the Adirondacks, led our New Moon Circle. She welcomed Ganesha, the Hindu elephant-headed god, with the chant “Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha.” Ganesha is called at the beginnings of things, perfect for the new moon, to clear obstacles from the path ahead.

Yesterday, instead of “So Hum,” my chant was “Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha.” Again, I didn’t intend it. It just came out. And, again, it felt right, so I repeated the chant today.

The Sanskrit phrase “Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha” means, basically, “Salutations to the remover of obstacles.” “Ganapatayei” is another name for the widely-worshipped Ganesha. In addition to removing obstacles, Ganesha is known as a patron of the arts and sciences, and as the deity of intellect and wisdom.

Why do I feel compelled to ask Ganesha to help me past the obstacles in my life? Perhaps this is part of the letting go I’ve been doing lately. I’m in the habit of doing too many things, taking on too much, and never asking for help because that felt like weakness. Putting those things that are holding me back into the hands of a deity with four arms and an elephant’s head is a small step towards allowing myself some weakness, towards admitting I can’t do everything myself. Giving your problems to God, to Ganesha, to the universe, or to whatever your sense of the divine, is the first step in twelve-step programs for good reason. It’s very freeing to put obstacles in the hands of a higher power.

I’ll send salutations to Ganesha until a new mantra arises or silence returns to my meditation practice. Meanwhile, thanks to Ganesha moving roadblocks from my path.

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Connect with Fire: Candle Gazing Meditation

English: A candle flame.

A candle flame. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In honor of the summer solstice, we rebuilt and improved our backyard fire pit, then lit a big bonfire to honor the sun at its peak. Gazing into the fire, watching the flames dance and jump, reminded me of this simple candle-gazing meditation, which can be done anywhere you can safely stand a candle holder.

Find a place where you can sit undisturbed for a few minutes, either on a cushion or blanket on the floor or in a sturdy chair with your feet on the floor. Using a table or other props (yoga blocks or a stack of hardcover books work nicely) position a lit taper or pillar candle in a holder so the flame will be at eye level. You’ll want to use a holder which will support the base of the candle and catch any dripping wax, but which won’t block your view of the flame.

Find a comfortable seated position and close your eyes for a few moments. Bring your awareness to your breath. Breathe through your nose and lengthen your breath. Notice your thoughts, then let them float away. Notice when you feel centered and present to the flow of your breath.

Gently open your eyes and gaze at the candle flame. Focus your awareness fully on the flame, letting other thoughts drop away. If your attention wavers, bring it back without judgment. Begin to notice all the qualities of the candle flame. Notice the colors. Notice the movement. Become fully absorbed in watching the flame. Blink whenever it is necessary.

With your awareness steady on the flame, notice the thoughts flickering in your mind. Acknowledge any thoughts or feelings that arise, then let them go as you bring your attention back to the flame. Sit with the flame for five minutes, or as long as you are comfortable. Enjoy your connection to the flame.

When your meditation is complete, blink a couple of times, then close your eyes and notice your breath. Take four or five slow, deep breaths, then allow your awareness to return to the room. Open your eyes and return to your day. Be sure to blow out your candle!

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Turtles and Stardust: Experiencing a Shamanic Journey

Photo of a Florida Box Turtle (Terrapene carol...

Photo of a Florida Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri). Taken in Jacksonville, Florida, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Despite my endless exploration of all things spiritual, I had not, as of last Saturday morning, experienced a shamanic journey. I’m not sure how I avoided it for so long, considering that I’ve been in the company of shamans a number of times. I really wasn’t trying to avoid the practice; there was just never a good time to try.

True North Yoga hosted a shamanic journeying workshop last weekend, so I finally got my chance. While being led on two journeys I experienced intense physical sensations, including floating, falling and dancing. And I saw turtles.

When I first got my Medicine Cards I pulled my seven totem animals. Turtle was the first card I pulled out of the deck, and is my totem in the East, or the guide to my spiritual challenges. But I haven’t seen the turtle card for quite awhile.

Turtle represents Mother Earth in the cards and in a number of cultures. Hindu and Chinese mythology (and Terry Prachett‘s Discworld series) describe the world as being supported by elephants standing on the back of a turtle. Native Americans call North America “Turtle Island.” I wasn’t surprised to find turtle in a vision in which I was guided to connect to the earth.

Besides representing earth, turtles might also represent the lunar cycle, protection, perseverance and longevity. Turtles have been around 200 million years or so. They are wise old souls.

In my vision, turtle was stepping deliberately, to the drumbeat, and stirring up stardust.

I’ve had a couple of days to consider what turtle means for me, besides the obvious earth connection. A few web authors suggested a need to slow down, to practice patience. Others point to turtle’s ability to withdraw, to hide in its protective shell. Both explanations are fitting, but neither feels complete.

Turtle pose adaptation.

Turtle pose adaptation.

This morning I led my yoga class into turtle pose (a preparatory adaptation of Kurmasana) and as we were holding the posture I thought about turtle’s ability to draw inward. It seemed to me it wasn’t so much about fear as withdrawing into perfect stillness, which sounds like Pratyahara, or the withdrawal of the senses, the fifth of the eight limbs of yoga. Perhaps this is something I’m being called to practice.

Sitting on my desk is a wax turtle, meant to be a candle but unlikely to ever be burned. It was sent to me by an internet newsgroup acquaintance, someone I never knew in real life. If you remember newsgroups, you know I’ve had this turtle candle a long time. (If you don’t remember newsgroups, just know that I accessed the newsgroup with a computer that had dual floppy drives to accommodate both sizes of floppy disks. If you don’t know what a floppy disk is, please don’t tell me. It makes me feel old.) I received this turtle because the person felt I should have it. It has represented earth on my personal altar many, many times. I don’t remember how the turtle candle came to be on my desk today, or how long it’s been sitting there, but I’ve decided it can stay. It seems to belong there now.

Now if I could just find some stardust…

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Awake in the Outdoors

Chalis Pond, North Hudson, NY

Chalis Pond, North Hudson, NY

We are finally seeing spring in the Adirondacks. When my son and I went for a hike today the temperature was sneaking past 70 degrees and the sky was bright blue. We followed a short trail into a pond, then sat at the edge and watched tadpoles and baby fish play in the water.

My son is starting to experiment with creative writing, and is often trying to imagine settings for his made-up stories. While we sat by the water, I suggested he try noticing as much as he could about the place where we were, to get an idea of the details that make a setting imaginable for others. So we sat, and we looked, and we listened. We even smelled and felt.

How often do we get lost in our thoughts and overlook all the small details of where we are? How much do we miss? What would life be like if we took the time to stop and notice? What if we were truly awake to every moment?

Sitting by the edge of the pond, we woke up. We watched the water ripple in the breeze. We saw the bigger ripples left by surfacing fish and the V’s left by water bugs skating by. We watched the light dance in the leaves of the trees. We saw birds and clouds above and below, reflections in the water. We took in the frayed edges of tiny leaves just uncurling from their buds.

We heard the songs of birds, some melodious, some chattering. We heard the muffled voices of two fishermen floating in canoes across the pond. We heard the splash when a fish jumped.

We felt the warmth of the sun and the cool of the breeze. I smelled pine and decaying leaves. My son smelled my deodorant. (I suppose that could have been worse.)

I struggle to meditate with my eyes closed, focusing on my breath. My mind wanders. But out there by the pond, open-eyed, I found the calm awareness that I look for on my meditation cushion. My meditation is to become fully awake, in the outdoors.

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