Black and White Lights the Way: Glass Challenge and Paperwhite Reminder

Looking at full moon  through lights

Looking at full moon through lights

Christmas lights and Full Moon reflected in window

Christmas lights and Full Moon reflected in window

An Unexpected Ornament
Last year as we finished putting up the lights we noticed the moon had risen and was caught in the lights as well as looking like a star over the house in the window…

Three Glass Ornaments

Last winter I said I would remind some of you to start your Paperwhites it’s not too late for Christmas or New Years if you start NOW and start them in the dark.

Paperwhite waits in the window to bloom

Paperwhite brought into the light waits in the window to bloom

What lights your way as we near the shortest darkest time of the year?

 

Cee’s Black and White Challenge

Joy and Peace in the Temple of Your Senses: How To Meditate

Meditation Resolution Blooming

First flower of The Year

First flower of The NewYear. The Paper whites I planted in November. May anchor attention for meditation.

For Presence
Awaken to the mystery of being here
and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence.
Have joy and peace in the temple of your senses.
Receive encouragement when new frontiers beckon.
Respond to the call of your gift and the courage to
follow its path.
John O’Donohue’s poem andRick Hanson’s Just One Thing  were back to back in my email this morning both helpful reminders and useful information for the path I am setting my foot upon for 2013. I hope they  might be of use to you too.
photo-42

Just One Thing

Why?

Meditation is to the mind what aerobic exercise is to the body. Like exercise, there are many good ways to do it and you can find the one that suits you best.

Studies have shown that regular meditation promotes mindfulness (sustained observing awareness), whose benefits include decreased stress-related cortisol, insomnia, symptoms of autoimmune illnesses, PMS, asthma, falling back into depression, general emotional distress, anxiety, and panic, and increased immune system factors, control of blood sugar in type 2 diabetes, detachment from reactions, self-understanding, and general well-being.

In your brain, regular meditation increases gray matter (neuronal cell bodies and synapses) in the:

  • Insula – Handles interoception (sense of your own body); self-awareness in general; empathy for the emotions of others
  • Hippocampus – Key role in personal recollections, visual-spatial memory, establishing the context of events, and calming down both the amygdala (the alarm bell of the brain) and production of stress hormones like cortisol
  • Prefrontal cortex (PFC) – Supports the executive functions, self-control, and guiding attention

Regular meditation also:

  • Increases activation in left PFC, which lifts mood
  • Increases the power and reach of very fast, gamma range brainwaves, which promotes learning
  • [in a three month retreat] Preserves the length of telomeres, the caps at the ends of DNA molecules; longer telomeres are associated with fewer age-related diseases
  • Reduces cortical thinning due to aging in the insula and PFC

Meditation is the quintessential training of attention. Since attention is like a vacuum cleaner – sucking its contents into your brain through what’s called “experience-dependent neuroplasticity” – getting better control of your attention is the foundation of changing your brain, and thus your life, for the better. (For more information, see my slide set for psychiatrists that summarizes research on meditation and mindfulness; also see the references.)
The research summarized above just scratches the surface of the benefits of meditation. It is you saying to the world (and yourself): I’m going to step off the hamster wheel now. This time is for me. It is a way to center in being rather than doing (what a relief!). And a way to see the mind streaming along, transient and insubstantial, an unreliable basis for lasting happiness, not worth chasing after or struggling with.

The minutes I spend meditating are usually the best ones of my day. They feel like coming home. It’s good to be home.

How?

The best meditation of all is . . . the one you will do. So find what you like and will stick with. There are tons of books, talks, even videos about meditating, plus great teachers all over the place. Here I’ll offer a summary.

Relax. Rest. Intend to meditate. Come into a sense of presence with yourself. Know whether you are meditating in relationship to something transcendental (such as in prayer) or not. (I’ll describe a “secular” meditation here.)

Find something to anchor attention, such as the sensations of breathing, a word or phrase (e.g., “peace”), or an image. Use an anchor that is stimulating enough to keep yourself present; feel free to do walking meditation or use an audio program to guide you. Meditating with others can also help you stay focused.

Start by giving attention fully to the anchor, letting go of everything else. Center in it, becoming absorbed in it, even for just a few breaths or few minutes.

Then, with an ongoing awareness of your anchor, let your attention widen to include your body . . . thoughts . . . feelings . . . wants . . . and overall mental atmosphere. You’re not trying to make your mind blank. Let things come and go, just don’t jump on board of them. Without stress or strain, gently open to relaxing and quieting, and to an increasingly stable presence as experiencing, being a body breathing in peace.

Meditate for as long as you like. Even one minute is good – and ten, twenty, or even forty-five minutes could be even better. I suggest you join me in being committed to meditating every day for at least one minute.

Toward the end of meditation, let the benefits sink into you.

If you tend toward dissociation or getting flooded with painful feelings when you relax into yourself, then you may need to build up more inner resources before meditating. Also, try to not be self-critical; this is not a performance test! Meditation is a skill and like any other, you’ll get better at it over time, and its benefits for you will grow.

Most of all, find the enjoyment in meditation. Follow that enjoyment home.

Favorites

Awakening Joy
Healthy Minds
Greater Good
NASA picture
Skillful Means wiki
Spirit Rock

Growing Paperwhites: A Holiday Craft that Keeps on Giving

Growing Paperwhites is an easy holiday craft that is also an act of faith like all gardening.

A flock of Paper Whites waiting to grow into great gifts “planted 11/24”

Each year  the weekend after thanksgiving a friend and I start about a dozen Narcissus bulbs or (paperwhites).  Our hope is that they will have sprouted into sturdy plants by the middle of December to be sold at our churches Christmas Crafts fundraiser,

You need to start this with narcissus bulbs we buy at a local nursery. Some years we shop for interesting containers for  at thrift  stores. We support our local nursery Flowerland on shop locally Saturday, where we get a chance to examine beautiful examples of what we can expect from our efforts in just a few weeks.

Watering bulb nestled in a bed of stones

According to the Paperwhite handout: “They may be grown in a dish of pebbles. Select a shallow dish with no drain holes  fill it with pebbles or colored stones . Nestle the bulbs into the pebbles. Then add water keeping the water level below the bulbs. Place dish in dark place for a week or two until roosts begin to grow.”

 

“When the roots begin to grow move the dish in to bright light and watch for foliage and flowers to emerge. Remember to add water periodically. Cool temperatures keep the flowers fresh longer.” I like to add colored ribbons and sprigs of holly to make the gifts even more festive.  Folk lore about paperwhites says to add vodka to the water to keep them from growing too tall! ?

January 2nd 2012 I posted this image of  Paperwhites started last Thanksgiving

Oh my that seems so long ago!

Day 2 Paperwhite Reflections

I could choose a well behaved photo of the plants on the South facing window sill, but this one speaks the truth of the blinding low afternoon sunlight that only hangs around for a few days in mid winter. This is the only this time of year I get prism rainbow flashes in my kitchen.

These Christmas cactus and the narcissus, also show us of the dark earth they come from, while another old cactus  has cracked open its pot in his urge to grow. Day  2 of the New Year brings messages of growth, and dare I say, hope?