I apologize in advance for what will likely be the rambling and lengthy nature of this post. I'll try to edit, but the facts are these. I'm probably not really sorry and I don't feel too much like editing. I feel like typing and hitting publish. It's a crossover from my journaling this morning. I just kept going on and on and on and never feeling like I finished saying what I had to say. Cathartic. At least it feels like it sometimes.
This post has been germinating for a little while and I had a post for Ten on Tuesday that, while it included red, it wouldn't be ten things. I'll probably write that post as well, maybe tomorrow.
So, I try to incorporate meditation practices into my daily life. There are long stretches of time when I let it go and the unfortunate by-product of that is obvious to those close to me and especially TO me. There are lots of things can be considered meditative and many ways to practice them and usually one leads to another and then another and all of the practices seem to intertwine and have some impact on each other. There are reasons that this is true and it is at the same time complicated and not so complicated to explain or understand and this post would get reeeaaalllly long if I attempted to do all of that now. Let's just say in the shortest and simplest way possible that meditation works on the brain. Neural pathways are opened and in some practices you can become aware of underlying beliefs and patterns that do not serve you and in a way, shut them down. There is a ton of science and writing about this, I've read a bit, but that is a different post that I'm not sure I am qualified to write, although I love talking about it.
Some of the things I practice each day: In the morning I have a devotional that I read with some bible reading followed by journaling and prayer and then quiet meditation. I don't find focusing my mind all that easy in the morning, but it does set me up for the rest of the daily practices if I do it, so I sit there watching my mind wander and bringing it back to focus over and over and over again. If the only thing I get from this is the ability to recognize my mind wandering to places it shouldn't go during the day and bringing it back to mindfulness of the moment I'm in, then that practice alone is worth it. (An aside:not all meditation is necessarily 'emptying the mind', but a practice of awareness and focus. Once you embrace that and practice it in quiet time you can apply this to other moments in your day. We have been gifted with free will and we can choose where the mind is at any time, so why not keep it out of trouble? Why not practice observing thoughts and the places your unmonitored mind goes, noticing without judgement and letting them go? You don't have to relive that argument or experience you had this morning or last week or ten years ago, our bodies experience all of it exactly as if it is happening in the moment which releases a torrent of stress hormones into the blood stream and the resulting negative stress reactions on inflammation and makes platelets sticky which leads to plaque build up...... WHOA! see what I mean? Rambling. You can do the research, but let me say that you can decide where your mind is and even if that memory is stubborn and it takes 567 tries to get rid of it, practice makes perfect. Or at least better. Instead of lingering in stress that you were not intended to relive for hours or years, choose a different thought, focus on your hands in the soapy dishwater or on each draft of the fiber at the spinning wheel or each foot fall on your run. Every moment has the potential for meditative practice if you are mindful of what you are doing and where your mind is) (That was a big aside, wasn't it?) Anyway, then there is the mindfulness practice of awareness, which I just went on and on about. I also try to stop and take 10-20 deep breaths about once an hour. This practice works great on its own, you become aware of any tension in your body, if you are breathing deeply enough or if any stress is causing shallow breathing and if only in those breaths you relax, your body gets a break which has both physical and mental benefits. If you are practicing other relaxation techniques (yoga, meditation, body scans), then this practice becomes even more beneficial because your body responds even more quickly to the break. On most days I get a second sitting meditation in and at the end of the day I quickly journal some appreciations or gratitudes or thanksgivings, whatever works.
The thing about that last one is not just to write them down. It is a start, but big payoff comes in what you do with it and it can put you in a great place right before bed. It is part of the choosing thing. Jot the things down, you don't need a lot of words, you are the only one who needs to know the details, but this is the money shot: Spend about 30 seconds reliving one or more of the things you wrote. They can be personal things about your day or global things or observations, just something in your day that was worth appreciating or thanking someone for. I have heard that studies show it takes about 17 seconds for a relaxation response when you relive positive emotions. To add to that, imagine going to sleep after releasing the good hormones into your blood stream. I'll bet you dream better and sleep easier. Just think of how great it could be to send yourself off to sleep while reliving that moment when you got home from wherever and were greeted by a super happy dog and you were hugging your dog, and his tail was wagging, and he was drowning you in slobbery kisses, and giving you unconditional love...... (Well, that is just an example that maybe you get, I don't have a dog and slobbery kisses-from dogs-don't really do anything for ME, but you need to pick your thing).
Remember: this all takes practice, but your body will respond and it won't take long.
Anyway, that is the long way around saying that each of these practices is enhanced by and builds on each other and opens the neural pathways in your brain, the ones that living in a stress response closes up.
Which brings me to one night last week when I wrote that I was thankful that I could read. It was on a list of other things about my day and the world at large and I didn't really think much of it except that I had read some good stuff that day, but when I went to meditate for a minute on what reading meant to me my mind opened up in a torrent of memories and emotion that brought me to tears and had me grabbing my pen and journal to get it all down. In that moment of open receptivity I saw my mother reading to us as kids. That memory was so strong, it was Peter Pan out of a collection of books with Disney stories in them. There were four books, each binding was a different color. (I found it!) When she got to the end of the chapter and started to close the book we begged for her to continue, but she wisely turned out the light. It is probable that she just wanted out, but learning to love stories and have patience and anticipation came from those moments. The rest of that I'll put in list form because that is how I journaled them:
- Phonics workbooks
- learning to write and read
- SRA. Remember SRA? The Reading Laboratory. Did public schools have it? Those cards that you took out of the box and read and then the comprehension quiz you took after and there was a personal chart that you marked off your progress? And they built on your skills? I loved the order of it. I loved those SRA cards.
- Picture books.
- Story time on mats in kindergarten.
- The Scholastic book order. Oh how I LOVED that thing! Remember how it came all stapled up and the teacher would sometimes let a student take them apart and pass them out? They haven't changed much. I would just spend hours with it, circling the books I was interested in and culling my list because my parents (also a very wise lesson to learn) would limit how many books I could get in one order.
- The stack of books on my desk, elastic around it with my order form on the top. Best.school day.EVER!
- The wonderfully high pile of books that Santa left every year. I'm sure that my mother thought they would last me a while, how irritating it must have been to find that I had read them all by the end of Christmas break
- Bookshelves. We had them in nearly every room in our house (maybe not the dining room). There were books everywhere and the bookshelves in all the rooms gave them significance. We were to gather them, collect them (Nancy Drew, Bobsey Twins, Cherry Ames....),take care of them, re-use them and honor what reading is.
- The memory of the books on those shelves that I couldn't wait to read when I grew up.
- The library and the Book Mobile. We didn't live near the library in my city and over the summer the librarian in the Book Mobile was my connection to more stories. That woman was so good to me! She would recommend novels and authors and I could pick up books, leave her a list and she would come again the next week with my requests and new worlds to explore.
- Magazines everywhere. And book clubs. My mom belonged to a Time-Life cook book club, each set of volumes were of cooking around the world and I loved reading about other cultures. The magazines! Time, National Geographic, Family Circle, Reader's Digest, Seventeen, the knitting and sewing magazines, the newspapers....
- My parents who read always. I remember sitting in their laps and hearing stories and seeing them with books and magazines. The connection was made. This was important and something to enjoy.
- The teachers who, through their training, were able to guide me as a student and teach me the basics.
- Losing myself in books as I grew up. My attachment and absorption in stories was legend. My mom would call and call and call and I wouldn't hear a thing. That ability to become completely engrossed followed me into adulthood and while some brain injury has made reading a little more difficult, I am so lucky that I have audio books and wonderful narrators to keep me connected.
- Crying at the end of a book only because it was over. I had become part of that imaginary world and missed it and my new friends as soon as I read the last word.
- Learning. Everything I can do is because I can read. Words taught me to knit. Words taught me to sew. Words taught me to cook. Words gave me new ways of parenting, having babies, opened up a world of choices.
- Reading has enhanced every single part of my life. There just aren't words to quantify and there is not space for the list of things that has been impacted by books or articles or adding to my experience of them.
- New worlds, real and imagined. If you read, you get it.
I love my Let It Snow collection!
Fast forward in my mind (and this all happened much faster that you can read it) to only one of the ways I've paid it forward, so to speak:
- The books read to my girls starting as infants. I mean, Gillian probably had more adult books read as she was nestled at the breast or in my arms, but the warm connection was being made and then as I read to her while I nursed and cuddled her sisters, they all learned that books and reading equaled love, a positive connection.
- Jim Trelease's The Read Aloud Handbook.
- "Another?!" from the toddler who has realized that I have just sat down to nurse her sister and I'm captive to the stack of books she is dragging over.
- Becoming the one that is being begged for "ONE MORE CHAPTER!" and making them wait (partly because I needed the break and in turn teaching them patience and positive anticipation...) (Oh, and Harry Potter came along at a perfect time for my girls, I coudn't have planned it better, they each grew up with Harry, Hermione and Ron and as the books became more complicated and the stories more intense my girls had each matured enough to handle them.)
- Intuitively passing on the habits, having books everywhere, magazine subscriptions for the girls (did any of you get Ladybug and the others? We loved those!)
- Finding someone who was supposed to be sleeping hiding under the covers with a flashlight. And a book.
- The joy in watching and encouraging emergent readers.
- The celebration when they read their first book to me. "Your world has opened up! You can do anything and everything if you can read!"
- Watching the olders read to the youngers. Or their dolls or stuffed animals.
- Introducing the girls to the books I loved as a child.
- Scholastic Book Order! Limiting what they could order and seeing those shiny new books come out of the book bags.
- Sharing books with the young women the girls have become. Looking forward to the next book in a series or discussing the themes in a book we have both (or all) read.
And as it happens I was reminded also of what my life would not have been if not for those teachers and wonderful examples I was so fortunate to have. There are many people who are certainly smarter than I am who weren't given the gift of reading. I cannot imagine growing up without words and I am entirely appreciative and grateful for the having them.
To bring it back to the beginning of this post: Had I not been practicing meditation, which changes our malleable brains for the better and opening the positive neural pathways and building the skills of quiet attention and relaxation I am pretty sure that all of those memories and connections would not have been made. I'm not saying this happens every night, but the possibility is always there.
And now! I am looking forward to being a part of the reading legacy of my grandchildren! I'm quite sure I've passed on a passionate love for books and stories and it will be natural for my girls to do the same, but I look forward to reading with them and gifting them with books and stories and love. Reading is love.
To that end, there is one book that my girls responded to as they were learning language and I would so love to have for the baby on the way. It is out of print and I have been checking every used book store and ebay hoping that I come across it, but it has been a long time. It is The Little Red Car (Chunky Tales) by K. K. Ross, illustrated by R.W. Alley
Have you seen it? Will you look for it? I'll knit for you, trade yarn, buy it from you, whatever, but we have such good memories connected to this book that I would love to have continue to another generation.
Nine. The memory of books can also take you right back to the child that is still alive and well and living in your soul. Last night Gillian went to see the Broadway show Matilda and shared this today on facebook:
Last night at Matilda, Mr. Wormwood asked all of the grown ups in the audience to raise their hand if they had ever read a book. I sat there watching all of those "grown ups" around me raising their hands -- until about 20 seconds later, I remembered I am part of the "grown ups" group.
Imagine sitting there with the memories of the book as you read it and the movie as you saw it, all as NOT an adult and being so totally immersed in that experience that you forget!!! you are one of the adults. What a wonderful experience! Bring up one of those memories before you fall asleep tonight and dream as you did when you were a child!