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With a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction degree (Goucher College, August 2014), I am looking at a new phase in my life. From 1992 to 2009, I served as Founding Executive Director of Miriam's House, a residence for homeless women living with AIDS. I left this position when Chronic Migraine Disease overtook my ability to do my job. Now I hope that a writing career will both accommodate the migraines and give me a creative, productive outlet. And soon, September 4, I will launch my Inkshares author page in a bid to hit the 1,000 pre-order goal in 90  days. The book I want to publish is "Nowhere Else I Want to Be," a memoir of ten of my years at Miriam's House.

23 July 2010

27July - Presence to God, Part 2

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Today's Post:
* Methods for Practicing Presence
* Resources

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Methods for Practicing Presence

I'd like to share some practices I have developed, partly in the hope that you will use the comment section below to share your own practices for presence in God / Allah / the Divine / the Now / whatever name you use.

BREATH
We all breathe all the time - that makes the breath a perfect tool for practicing presence.
* I quietly turn my attention to my breathing, to the release of my diaphragm at the start of the inhalation, or its feel on the back of my throat.

* Counting the breath helps me, and there are different ways to do this.
- Taking three slow, deep breaths is both a way to relax and a reminder of the quiet calm of my daily practice when I am in the midst of a difficult situation or conversation.
- Ten breaths - [inhale] and ... [exhale] one ... [inhale] and ... [exhale] two ... etc.

* Mantras are also helpful and can be more traditional ones (from scripture, prayers, sacred literature and historical practices) or of my own choosing or creation. I use a mantra in conjunction with the breath, similar to the 10-breath counting sequence above: [inhale] God is ... [exhale] Love ...etc.

If I have made my breathing practice an integral part of my regular quiet time, then it becomes an accessible tool for daily life, like when I become impatient in a traffic jam, or find myself in a challenging situation or conversation. Or, when I am on the bus and simply want to center.

BODY

We all have a body and we are in it all the time, so that makes the body a helpful tool for practicing presence.
* During my regular quiet times, I always place my hands in the same, relaxed open way on my lap. This becomes a cue to my body, so that when I place my hands that way during any other time, my body recognizes the cue and begins to relax. This response becomes stronger with time, as long as I continue to use it during my regular quiet times so that the gesture is associated physically with the quiet calm of my daily practice.

* Another cue that works in the same way: during meditation, I allow my lips to form a small, peaceful smile.

Similar to the breathing practices (above), these small habits become reminders in the moment to relax and maintain a quiet, peaceful presence. Even more powerful is associating the smile and hand placement with a deep, slow inhalation.

DEEP RELAXATION

I won't try to recreate a deep relaxation session when there are so many resources available for learning it. See Resources, below.

I began deep relaxation when the migraines worsened and I learned that the relaxation response (as it is also termed) is taught at pain clinics. I have found it helpful when I am in pain - not that the pain goes away, but that my relationship to it changes. After a while, I noticed that the process of relaxing my body helped my meditation practice, which was a wonderful gift.

MEDITATAION

Again, I won't try to recreate a meditation session here when there is such a variety out there of published ways to learn meditation. See Resources, below.

I use the word meditation rather loosely. For Zen Buddhists, meditation is tantamount to emptying oneself completely. For other Bhuddists, meditation is associated with reflection (vipasana) or is grounded in breathing (anapanasati), or in mindfulness (sati). I find myself practicing any of these at any one time, not necessarily because they have been taught to me, but mostly because that is how my practice has evolved over time.

That last statement is important to me as it is the reason that I do not espouse a particular kind of meditation, let alone a particular religion or doctrine. It has to do with following the shape and direction of my spiritual journey, which has left me with no desire to tell anyone else what to do or how to do it.


PRAYER PRACTICES

Similar to meditation, there are a number of ways to pray (see Resources). I'll simply list a few that are most often part of my quiet times.
* Centering Prayer seems to me to be the Christian term for meditation.

* Lectio Divina

* Saying the Rosary or other prayer beads

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RESOURCES
Deep Relaxation
* The relaxation response - I like this source best because the instructions (you'll click on the phrase "eliciting the relaxation response" to get to them) include relaxing your muscles, which you have learned at:

* Deep(or Progressive) Muscle Relaxation

* Breath Relaxation

Meditation
* Some definitions

* An introduction to meditation

* A meditation video

Prayers
* Centering Prayer - this site goes into wonderful and helpful detail without proseletyzing, as do some other sites

* Lectio Divina

* Consciousness Examen - this is an Ignation practice (St. Ignatius, who wrote the Spiritual Exercises)

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I'd love to hear from you about your own prayer or meditation practices: please click on Comment (below) or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com

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