Sunday, March 11, 2012

Children of God

My Facebook status currently has a link to a video about "Spread the Word to End the Word," a campaign asking people, teens and young adults especially, to take a pledge not to use the "r-word." The r-word is retard, and the idea is that using it to deprecate someone else, or even oneself, deprecates the people who have been diagnosed with mental retardation. Using it to describe dumb behavior is saying, gosh, horrors, I don't want to be like one of those people living with a label that to many makes them less than fully human. The videos on the Spread the Word Facebook site, made and shared by families and friends of people with intellectual disabilities, show people with Down syndrome and autism and other disorders as great people, laughing, smiling, working, loving.

This afternoon I attended a forum on immigration reform, where several individuals told their stories and other advocates and organizers talked about what we can do to help. Educate others. Write your representatives. Care for those caught up in the detention system. And stop using the word "illegal." It dehumanizes people. It allows us to dismiss them as less than what they are--people who laugh, work, love and suffer under a taxpayer-supported system that is inhumane, ungodly and fearfully complicated.

Spreading the word to end this i-word would be much more difficult than getting "retard" out of the mouths of middle-schoolers. Undocumented residents of the U.S. are thought to be responsible for their own legal difficulties, though often they were brought here as children, not by their own choice, and this country is the only home they know. Their parents came here in order to be able to feed and care for their families. To stop using the word illegal we have to acknowledge all these back stories, and see ourselves, our love for family, our passion for work, our desire for security in all people, not just the ones who look like us.

"We are all children of God." More than one speaker said this today. What more thrilling thing is there to be called than "child of God"? There have been times in my life when being reminded that I am a child of God opened heaven for me.

There were so many children of God that I encountered today. A tiny baby, so new that she seemed to still be part of her mother's arms, the arms that cradled her all through church. Children of God whom we prayed for today because they have died or because they are grieving or ill. Another child of God going through yet another really rough time. There are the college kids sitting around the fire in my backyard, so different from who they were just a year ago as high school seniors. My daughter and her friends, disabled, but lively contributors to a community that marches in parades and supports one another when one of their own dies. Me, child of God, sitting by a candle flickering fast in the draft in the front windows.

I remember with those words--"child of God""--that the God of galaxies and sunsets and giant sequoias is here in my life, in a still small voice and the stuff of everyday life.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Twenty-eight days

I have just completed twenty-eight days of a spiritual practice.

My health insurance plan offers monetary incentives to complete healthy behavior-changing activities. Do stuff, track yourself and you earn points that become money in your account to help cover the deductible on medical expenses. To my own amazement I earned all of my possible points in 2011. So I set out to earn them again this year.

Twenty-eight days of practicing centering prayer or mindful movement was one of the options, presented in a program titled "Slow Down."

I chose mindful movement as my practice--the yoga I've been doing on and off for a dozen years--with a few minutes of meditation (or centering prayer) at the end. The program did not ask for much time--five minutes of movement, working up to ten or more over time; or just a minute of meditation to begin, working up to five minutes or more. That promise that it won't take long gets me off the couch or away from the desk. But once I get going I stay with it for fifteen or twenty minutes, and come away with a quiet, more comfortable body.

I also come away with a mind that is quieter and centered in my breath, in my body, not my head. I'm not sure what I mean by that--something like my brain and all its activity stays focused within me and doesn't go bopping off to fret over things I can't change or to obsess about stuff that doesn't matter anyway. Not that I don't think about those things--thoughts about work and other pesky subjects float through my mind all the time. But in this time, with the work of Triangle Pose or hamstring stretching I can't focus on them. This is a huge relief. It's kinda like not caring, but without the not-caring part. I still care. I just don't have to tie my whole being into knots.

Buddhists, I've read, say to avoid extremes of emotion--extremes of happiness as well as sadness. Those literary or artistic types burning the candle brightly and passionately at both ends, living life to its fullest and fighting every step of the way will not find contentment. Don't be like them. Accept what is enough for today.

One of the things that draws me to yoga is that it's not about how far down you bend or how long you hold the pose. It's about the fine adjustments you make, recognizing that each action has an opposing action, that you can reach higher to the heavens by grounding yourself more firmly in the earth, that you can balance better by opening up. You also move carefully and in good form, so that you don't hurt yourself. You accept your limits. As the instructor on the DVD says, this is your pose for today.

After twenty-eight days of practicing something or another you have to take an online survey to get credit for your experience. The last question was a curious one: do you understand "Slow Down" to be a healthy activity, like healthy eating, exercise, getting enough sleep, etc., or do you understand it to be a faith-based practice. I had to think a bit before answering that. I went with the faith answer, since the material about the program was pretty clear about the spiritual intent and about becoming more aware of God's presence. But I really wanted to check both boxes. Bringing together the spiritual and the physical is what makes this work.

And it did work for me. After seven or eight days I was more calm and this sense of freedom grew over the next week and stays with me. I'm aware of how busy my mind is but if I can't shut it off, I can at least tune it out, like kids in the back seat of the car. I stand up straighter, which makes everything else better.

Will I stay with it? After years of hearing yoga instructors say, it really helps to do something every day, even if it's just twenty minutes, or ten, I finally believe them. I'm going to try.