Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Be still

Last night I sat for an hour in silence on a little red cushion, with my legs crossed in front of me, my hands on my legs, palms facing up.

There were candles lit and the scent of incense burning and the silence began with the gonging of a bell. I sat among 15 or so others, trying to follow my breath as my abdomen filled and emptied. Whenever a thought entered my head I said 'thinking' to myself, then focused again on my stomach and the incoming breath.

I was at a Shambhala meditation centre participating in a free 'sitting' practice.

I was inspired to attend this session after a fascinating interview with Tim and Gina Gort last week. Tim and Gina live in Grand Rapids, Mich. with their three daughters: Gwendolyn, 8, Violet, 2 and Eliza, 1. Gwen and Eliza have cerebral palsy. The girls use g-tubes and Gwen has a tracheotomy for breathing problems. Both children require round-the-clock care. The Gorts are the focus of an interview about respite care in our June print issue.

If you've been following them on their blog, you know that each parent has taken at least a week or more of respite, on their own. Gina went to a convent for 10 days. There she met with a spiritual guide and did meditation, yoga, reading, writing and reflection. Tim spent a week climbing the Smoky Mountains. While one parent is on retreat, the Gorts have nursing help during the day, but at night time the remaining parent supports the children alone.

"As Gwen got older, and then Eliza came along, I realized respite needed to be more than a break -- it needed to be a way of life," Gina says. In addition to annual individual retreats, the Gorts have weekly date nights -- when a nurse and a babysitter watch their children -- and Gina works meditation and writing into her days.

"This is new for us and it's taken us a long time to get to this point," she says. "I have to go away to not only get a break and get rejuvenated, but to come back with tools and ways to be in my situation and be okay with it."

The Gorts have me thinking about 'time away' in a new way -- as a way to sustain yourself over the long-term. But they emphasize that we should start small. So I'm starting with my red cushion. What about you?


Mindfulness meditation has saved my life.

I went again last night and tonight. Tonight it was a sitting meditation for 25 minutes, then 3 minutes walking, then 25 minutes sitting. There was a wonderful talk afterwards by a senior teacher (who happened to be blind) about why we meditate. He talked about 'peaceful abiding,' which is a state we can enter into when our minds are at rest and not muddied with the constant chatter of thoughts -- often self-critical. There we can find peacefulness and sanity and discover our basic goodness :)