We All Need a Little Space

Creating a Sacred Space for Spiritual Practice

What is a “sacred space?”

Sacred Spaces

Many people who meditate, do yoga, and embrace the holistic lifestyle have what they call “sacred spaces.” These are “sacred” not necessarily in a religious way, but in the word’s original sense: “set apart for special use.” Whether we’re part of a religous or spiritual tradition or not, we are all in some sense spiritual beings. We all seek the deeper meaning in our lives; we have our own highly personal way of connecting to other beings and our environment. Creating beautiful, calming physical surroundings can help us to connect with our better selves and enter a profoundly relaxed-yet-alert state of mind.

Such spaces can be indoors or out in a garden. They may be entire rooms, parts of rooms set off by soshi screens, or just corners of rooms. They often include an altar of sorts, decorated with flowers, statuary of inspirational people, and other aids to entering into a meditative state. If you’re building a home yoga and/or meditation practice, the physical space you use is important– it will either add to, or detract from, your practice. Here are some suggestions for creating your own, ideal sacred space.

1. Your sacred space should make you feel calm just by walking into it.

One of the reasons we practice yoga and meditate is to calm our bodies and minds so we can breathe mindfully, become clear-headed, and gain a sense of mastery in our lives. If your meditation space is disordered and full of distractions, you’re unlikely to achieve these things. Your sacred space is your own private sanctuary — or, if you live with other practitioners, a communal room devoted to spiritual practice. Decorate it carefully and simply, paying attention to details that will help you relax. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Is there a cushion or something like it where you can sit for up to 20 minutes comfortably?
  • Is the temperature fairly regulated? As much as you’re able, try to choose a room that won’t make you shiver or swelter.
  • Is the area more or less clutter-free? If the room looks like something out of Hoarders, your mind is apt to remain as cluttered as your environment. Think sparse and well-ordered when decorating this room or area.
  • Is there room for a yoga mat?
  • Does the room have a focal point where you can set up a small altar and display items that will help chill you out?

2. Speaking of altars, be creative and design a simple, beautiful one.

Your altar is something that expresses what’s sacred to you; it should also reflect the tranquil inner state you’re seeking. Depending on your taste and background, you may want to decorate it with any of the following:

  • Fresh-cut flowers
  • Statuary of leaders or teachers who inspire you.
  • A Tibetan Bell, a singing bowl, or similar “Zen-friendly” items.
  • Candles
  • Incense
  • Prayer flags
  • Fountains
  • Wind Chimes
  • Words that inspire you
  • Art or photography that helps you enter a reflective state
  • Wind chimes
  • Crystals, talismans, or rune stones

3. Find music that de-stresses you, and play it at low volume.

We all have highly personal musical tastes; what’s relaxing to one person may be a downer to another. Whatever you choose, it should be quiet and non-intrusive (unless you’re one of those rare individuals who finds loud music soothing!). There’s a whole subgenre of the music industry now devoted to providing background music for yoga, meditation and holistic living. Here are some sources of great meditation music:

Sacred spaces can greatly enhance your yoga routine, meditation and prayer, or other spiritual practices. They can change with the seasons of the year (and the seasons of your life), and will evolve alongside your practice. As Zen master Thich Nhat Hahn writes in his book Making Space: Creating a Home Meditation Practice,
“The key to creating a home meditation practice is to create a space where the busy-ness stops. When we stop and bring our mind back to our body, we can pay full attention to all that is happening in the present moment. We call this ‘mindfulness.’ To be mindful means to be here, fully present, and fully alive.” *

Enjoy creating your sacred space, and let it deeply nourish your peace of mind. Keep it simple, but allow it to evolve over time. Your spiritual practice will flourish, and you’ll be a more peaceful and tranquil person– the kind other people are naturally drawn to.

Namaste,

William K. Ferro

* Making Space: Creating a Home Meditation Practice by Thich Nhat Hanh, Parallax Press, Berkeley, California, 2011, www.parallax.org

 

The Brilliance of Interfaith Dialogue

interfaith“What unites us is much greater than what separates us … It is necessary … to rid ourselves of stereotypes, of old habits and above all, it is necessary to recognize the unity that already exists.”

So wrote Pope John Paul II of Christian/Buddhist dialogue in his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope. This call to ecumenism went a long way toward establishing an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect between Catholics and Buddhists, as well as other world religions.

Catholic/Buddhist dialogue has a rich history; the fact a Roman Pontiff would refer to “the unity that already exists” between the two religions speaks to this legacy. International summits devoted to inter-religious dialogue have occurred all over the world during the past thirty years or so. These summits have featured representatives of Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism; more recently, members of earth religions such as Wicca and Neo-Paganism have been included.

In 1969, Catholic leaders joined together with Jewish rabbis to found the Interreligious Council of Southern California. Two years later, Buddhist leaders led their communities to join their Catholic and Jewish neighbors, making southern California an American “hotspot” of ecumenical dialogue. This fledgling organization expanded quickly; by 1974, it had evolved into the Commission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

One thing that makes conversations between Christians and Buddhists so interesting is that the metaphysical views of the two religions are diametrically opposed in significant ways. One teaches resurrection; the other, reincarnation. Christian doctrine teaches that the universe was created by an eternally existing God; Buddhism posits no creator deity, and one of its most essential core premises is impermanence.

All these differences aside, compassion — especially for people on society’s fringes — is central to both traditions. Catholic charities are established on the same foundation as Engaged Buddhism: the critical importance of compassion for all.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama said,

“Whether you believe in God or not does not matter so much, whether you believe in Buddha or not does not matter so much; as a Buddhist, whether you believe in reincarnation or not does not matter so much. You must lead a good life. And a good life does not mean just good food, good clothes, good shelter. These are not sufficient. A good motivation is what is needed: compassion, without dogmatism, without complicated philosophy; just understanding that others are human brothers and sisters and respecting their rights and human dignity.”

Well said indeed, Your Holiness!

Best regards,

William

Image from yogachicago.com

Wake up to Spring

yawn

It has been a very long winter, but the sun is finally shining.  For some of you the grass is peeking through the winter blanket and their may be even a few flowers blooming. Spring is finally, here.   Winter is a time for holding things in; in a sense both our mind and bodies have been hibernating).  This winter was particularly long, and so now as the warm air is beckoning you may feel a release both emotional and physically.  Our bodies and minds are aching for activity.  In addition, we yearn to cleanse, it’s not coincidental that the term is “spring cleaning”).  Last week, I encouraged you to leap into spring preparing both your homes and your body. This week, I wanted to provide you with a spring routine that will help waken up your bodies and release the tension (both emotional and physical) that you may be holding in .  Enjoy.

1) Fire Log Pose: Let’s start today’s practice in fire log pose.  Fire log pose is a wonderful hip opener, while also releasing excess tension in your groin.   While in the pose, take in some deep breaths (breath in for 5, breath out for five),  while gradually try to work your breathing up to a count in ten. Breathe in that wonderful oxygen.

2) Reach your arms forward, into a small seated forward bend.  Give your spine a beautiful stretch. Continue to breath.

3)With your arms on the ground, gently move into table top position, and prepare for our first cat/cow poses.

4) Cat/cow pose: This pose combination is fantastic for your core and spine.  Allow your body to become fluid, flowing back and forth between the two poses.

5) Downward Dog: Push up into downward dog.  Be playful in this position.  Move your feet up and down (often called walking your dog), make small circles with your hips.  Enjoy moving your entire body. If you would like, try lifting one leg up  and then the other. Pay attention to how your body feels in this position.

6) Move into our mountain pose (Tadasana) and prepare for your first Sun Salutation.  I would encourage you to try at least 3 sun salutations in a row.  However, for those of you that are feeling practically sluggish, do more.

7) From the last child’s pose, gently move onto your knees into Camel pose. This heart opener is both energizing and will revitalize your body.  Take your time in this pose and be conscious of how your neck and spine are feeling, only move as far as your body will allow you.  It is now time for your body to begin to rest. Move into a prone position.

8) Reclining twists:  Twists are perhaps my favourite poses in spring.  Our bodies are in desperate need to release the tensions, and feel once again refreshed and energized. Enjoy this pose on both side before relaxing in the final posture Savasana.

9) Savasana: Relax in this resting pose and allow all of the beautiful movement to integrate into your body.

Namaste.

photo by: ytang3

Four Simple Steps: The Way of Mindfulness Meditation

Meditation on the Beach

Step One: Stop.

Step Two: Sit.

Step Three: Breathe.

Step Four: Be aware.

These are the simple steps involved in meditation. The first step, stopping, is essential. Our very survival depends on our ability to stop: to stop polluting the air, water and soil; to stop ingesting carcinogens; to stop engaging in hostile international actions in an age of apocalyptic weaponry. Enlightenment also requires a pause. To reach it, we need to cease our constant running from activity to activity, to give ourselves a brief opportunity to simply be. We need to temporarily stop our constant whirlwind of activity and give our minds a break from the never-ending sources of stimulation that assault our senses day and night. Stopping is the first, and most essential, step in meditation.

The second step is sitting. There is nothing more liberating than allowing ourselves to sit quietly in simple awareness for awhile. We can sit in any comfortable position: in a chair, on a cushion, in the half-lotus or full-lotus position. Our minds follow our bodies, and our bodies follow our minds. When we allow ourselves to sit comfortably with no agenda, our minds take their cue from our bodies.

The third step is breathing. Of course, we are always breathing (no breath, no life!), but I’m talking about conscious breathing: awareness of our in-breath and out-breath. As we become aware of this phenomenon that enables our living, it reveals itself as the miracle it truly is. We gradually become aware of our respiration becoming deeper, smoother, and more pliant. And speaking of awareness…

…The fourth step is being aware. Mindfulness meditation can be defined as sitting in awareness of what’s going on within us and around us. It’s not an escape from life, but a wholehearted embrace of it. As we sit in simple awareness of our in- and out-breaths, we become more cognizant of our own mental states. Self-understanding at a profound level becomes possible. What we should and should not do in response to our environment becomes clear. It’s like placing a glass of sediment-filled water on a table and watching it for 20 minutes or so: the sediment gradually sinks to the bottom of the glass and the water becomes clear.

The clarity we achieve through meditation works in the same way. The sediment — unresolved issues, troubled mental formations and tension — all fall away and we are left with a mind like clear, still water.

 

Best regards,

William 

 

Post-Operative Cognitive Dysfunction

post-cog

I’ve recently learned about a disorder I’ve never heard of, but which was clearly in evidence in someone I care about. I share the following with YFL readers in the hope that it may relieve some of the stress they’ll experience in caring for aging parents and other elderly relatives and friends.

Post-Operative Cognitive Dysfunction (POCD) is a not-atypical condition affecting elderly patients following major surgery. The patient displays no signs of dementia or other Alzheimer’s symptoms prior to surgery; afterwards, he or she is confused, incoherent, and presenting very much like an Alzheimer’s patient. The condition is sometimes referred to as “hospital delirium.” Approximately 10% of patients over 60 experience it; after age 80, it affects as many as one in three. It’s generally thought to be mainly a function of the mix of anesthesia and the highly psychoactive pain medications administered following surgery, and it’s usually temporary.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Sometimes the dementia persists and contributes to a general downward spiral in the patient. One aspect of this syndrome that surprised me when researching it is the suicidal ideation sometimes accompanies it. The patient may retain sufficient self-awareness — and moments of near-complete clarity — that make him aware he is not himself, that some essential part of himself has been lost. This awareness may cause the patient to sink into a deep depression that may present in suicidal ideation and speech.

As alarming as this may be to the patient’s loved ones, there is cause for hope. Major strides in antidepressant medications have been made recently; the judicial use of these — along with some kind of mild anti-anxiety meds — can contain or even eradicate these thoughts. It’s critically important that the doctor carefully follow the patient’s progress and watch for side effects, some of which can be particularly dangerous for elderly patients. Please see the links below for further information on POCD and related ailments. They may prove helpful should you suddenly find yourself encountering a family member or friend who is “not himself/herself” following an operation.

Best regards,

William

http://ceaccp.oxfordjournals.org/content/6/1/37.full

http://bja.oxfordjournals.org/content/103/suppl_1/i41.full

http://psychcentral.com/lib/depression-new-medications-on-the-horizon/0005794

Image from rootcanaldocs.com