Spiritual Algorithm: A Prescription for This Age of Pandemic

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Navigating the murky waters of life is a job with tenure.  All the money and station in the world won’t reprieve us from the task.  Below are 9 simple practices that can mean the difference between the grind of life (or even the blunt interruption of that grind) and truly living.  Costs nothing.  Big Pharma has no equity in THIS medicine.

 

  1. Turn away from the anxiety-fueling news programs that litter television and the Internet.

Just refuse them.   They are designed for one agenda only —— to whip us into a distracted frenzy, and by virtue weaken us and our pocketbooks at the seams, because having an entire culture in panic mode is profitable, and is never about being in the public’s interest.  Find your news through more legitimate sources.  Do the homework needed to figure out who and what those are.  Information is valuable and crucial; hysteria never is.

 

  1. Read for pleasure.

As a writer I want to encourage books. I want to encourage good books.  I want to encourage literature.  But hey, read a magazine, just read —— for pure enjoyment and expansion.  And try as often as possible to do it outside the digital and electronic universe.  Kindle and iBooks are both fun and convenient, but don’t let them be your exclusive source for reading.  The brain needs a good chunk of quality time every day to be removed from electromagnetic energy and social media, and to be reminded of the world of imagination and connection that does exist beyond our digital screens.

 

  1. Meditate.  OR . . .

…at the very least find a way to simply be in silence and stillness for a few minutes every day.  The more minutes a day you can find in that quiet, the better able you will be to heed the inner voice, and the better everything will be.  Guaranteed!   Consider a wonderful memoir by Sara Maitland on her experiment of withdrawing from the world in pursuit of silence.  There is a whole world of discussion to be had on the topic and its impact on a society, and which is utterly fascinating.  For now, for this, simply allow yourself a few minutes each day to power everything down.   And listen.

 

  1. Connect with Higher Power.

This term has as wide a berth as the ocean, so even the most ardent atheist can find his or hers.  Something that is greater than your pedestrian self and has something to teach you, offer you, feed you. Maybe it’s the Collective Unconscious. Maybe it’s your own higher consciousness, which exists in every human, usually buried beneath all the traumas and dysfunctions, but there, just ripe and ready to guide us, if we’re keen to do some unearthing.  Maybe it’s nature.  Maybe it’s the source within.  Or a source out there. Maybe it’s simply goodness.  It will show up differently for every individual on the planet yet is that unquantifiable something that maneuvers us around the land mines and connects us to each other.  There is no need to affix a label; simply be with it.  Find yours, and plug in regularly.

 

  1. Create, even if you’re not an artist.

“Artist” is merely a label.  We all have creativity and imagination within us, and it can show up in the most unexpected cloak, which is usually how it works anyway.  Feed it. Allow it to feed you.  Have fun with it.  The benefits to soul are untold.  In this time of quarantine, and out.

 

  1. Be a child again (closely linked to the above, and which is not the same as being child-ISH).

There has been so much obligation, commitment, management, planning, and fortune-making that has governed our adult lives that we can easily allow it to collapse our spirits.  Easy to get so caught up in building the life of our dreams that we forget to actually live the life of our dreams.  These mandated lockdowns and Stay at Home orders have forced us to slow down, whether we’ve wanted to or not.  As a result, some truly profound epiphanies have been had from the many about the lives they’d been living before this pandemic.  So, every once in a while let it all go, and do what children do. Precisely because we are presently in the state of severance, throw Zoom parties. Live-stream living room performances for friends.  Stage social distancing drive-by parades. Play dress-up to come to the dinner table.  The ideas are endless.  The point, to play fiercely and with release and abandon.

The flipside of that same spirit … do nothing.  The Italians have a delicious term for it —— dolce far niente —— literally translated as the “sweetness of doing nothing.” They have raised it to an art, but in our ambition-worship culture we have stamped the label of shame onto it.  We do not need to be in the constant state of planning, producing, and consuming.  Precisely because of this pandemic, we are in trauma.  We are in grief.  You are okay to not be okay.  So, take the pressure off.  Smile at nothing.  Sit and gaze.  Daydream.  Decompress.  It is the crucial yin to our Everest-conquering yang.

 

  1. Be in nature.

Communing with creatures beyond our pets and other humans, moving among the wise old trees, strolling along a shore, recognizing the cruciality of taking care of the earth, this is what it means to be in nature.  For the time being, but not forever, our access to beaches and nature trails has been limited by the necessity for flattening the curve of this virus.  Even so, it is possible to snag ourselves a little bit of nature every day.  Put on your protective mask, walk outside your door, and you are in it.  Even in the city.  Just walk, and marvel at the sky (cleaner these days than ever before with fewer cars on the roads).  Equal parts meditation and exercise, being in the nature right outside our door can open the heart chakra and shift our receptor paradigm to receiving or, perhaps and more pointedly, feeling worthy of blessings.  It increases our ability to see that blessings are flying all around us like gnats.  And it’s not only the stuff that feels like blessings.  It’s even the stuff (or people) we consider the opposite, because every encounter serves as a teacher —— and may actually be where the real gold lies. Wait, what? All this from observing flowers and trees?  Oh, yes.  Until our beautiful beaches and glorious canyon trails can safely reopen, even the smallest patch of garden or that duck pond in the neighborhood can be that salve and conduit.  Nature is quite remarkable at showing up anywhere and opening the vessel within for our daily access.

 

  1. Create a daily gratitude ritual . . .

…particularly during this coronaspell of death, sickness, fear, and the loss of “normal,” when it’s harder to see blessings.  It can be a prayer, a journal log, a mantra, a meditation.  Even in the various periods of my life of not feeling especially grateful, I, for example, always found such beauty in the tradition of blessing one’s food.  What a lovely idea to express out loud our thankfulness for the bounty on our plates, and for not taking a meal for granted but cherishing it for what it gives us, especially considering how many don’t have this luxury. Now, imagine employing that gratitude practice with everything.  Just imagine.

 

And finally . . .

 

 

  1. Be of service.

From sewing and dispensing face masks, to surprise drop-offs of groceries at someone’s door, to making food for the homeless, to outreach calls, this Age of Pandemic has shown what people are made of, and that it isn’t only the front-liners who are able to be of service to the community.  We all have the ability to be there for others, whether an individual or our community at large.  Service is the most restorative unguent there is for self-absorption or for trying to find meaning in a world that often seems senseless and cruel, especially in these strange days.  Maybe you aren’t struggling with that.  Many are.  Pandemic or no, this might just be the single most potent go-to for establishing or recovering ourselves as persons of value on the planet…

and within.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of Bones, Aleatory on the Radio, Viscera, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and the 2018 North Street Book Prize-winner for Literary Fiction, Trading Fours. She has also produced several albums of music and meditation.  Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Goodreads, Amazon Author, & Bandcamp.

 

 

A Thanksgiving Meditation

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Dropping into my heart space today. And with that, the affirmation that I live in gratitude.

Every day that I awaken and breathe, I am thankful.

Every day that I think a thought, and feel my heart’s stirring, I am thankful.

Every day that I am upright and whole, I am thankful.

Every day that a creative and productive idea becomes solid matter, I am thankful.

Every day that I face that thing of which I am most afraid, I am thankful.

Every day that I am given awareness of the smallest of beauties, the most unsung of treasures, I am thankful.

Every day that I am enlightened, given insight, have an epiphany, I am thankful.

Every day that I exercise compassion, understanding, patience, empathy, I am thankful.

Every day that I encounter another living creature and engage, I am thankful.

Every day that I can have some time to myself, for quiet and reflection, I am thankful.

Every day that I am hugged, kissed, loved, I am thankful.

Every day that I laugh, or make someone else laugh, I am thankful.

Every day that the people I love are healthy and happy, I am thankful.

Every day that my friends do well in the world, I am thankful.

Every day that I change someone’s life, or someone changes mine, I am thankful.

Every day that love is evident in my life, I am thankful.

Every day that I act out of anger, impatience, frustration, a broken heart, I am thankful. For each affliction offers an opportunity to learn about myself, and my fellow seeker.

Every day that brings me a challenge that tests my spirit, I am thankful.

Every day that I am humbled by a mistake of my own doing, I am thankful. Why else do our mistakes exist?

Every day that I am faced with seemingly unbearable odds, unrelenting trials, I am thankful. For the lessons learned, and the spirit strengthened by them, are more valuable to me than if I were living an effortless life.

Every day that I try, I am thankful.

Every day that I try again, I am thankful.

And when they ask me what’s new? I will answer, every single day.  Because every single day that arrives brings a sun, a moon, a breath, a surprise, a blessing, a song, whether sung or heard, and the spiritual ear to hear it, a world of love at my fingertips, a capacity for hope, a reason to smile, an opportunity to repair, restore, renew, and a heart full of gratitude.

And may my most powerful prayer from this day forward be … NOT … “Dear God, please give me …” But two words, and two words only:   THANK YOU.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

A Glimpse of Grace

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Last year at Thanksgiving I published an article about the song Amazing Grace, which seemed fitting for a holiday meant to honor gratitude.   This year, as we prepare our tables, I offer you a remembrance from one of my own Thanksgivings past.   A consummate illustration of grace.  And which, in whatever form, is always amazing.

Autumn, 1978.  The Jonestown massacre had just splashed across the nation’s newspapers, and my mother protectively drew her family into her bosom in an almost hysterical way.  She was due to be the keynote speaker at a conference in Atlanta just a few days after the coming Thanksgiving.  She often traveled for business, leaving us to hold down the fort, but this time decided that the whole family would go with her, take off early, and make a little vacation out of it.  On Thanksgiving morning, we piled into a roomy, rented twenty-six-footer RV mobile home, and headed east on Interstate 10.  I had just gotten my driver’s license, and my stepfather promised that I could have a try behind the wheel of the behemoth, probably somewhere out in the desert, where there would be fewer other cars for me to endanger.

My mother and her best friend Dolores (whose kids were with their father for the holiday, so she was joining) had packed the RV with all that would be needed to prepare a turkey feast, and with Dad at the wheel the women immediately commenced to cooking in the small kitchenette of the RV.  The plan was that wherever we were by the time dinner was ready was where we’d stop and have our Thanksgiving dinner.  The two of them took up the whole middle section, which included the kitchenette on one side of the RV and a large table for eating on the other, against a huge picture window, and which immediately got covered with all the food preparation.  My sister Pam, brother Mike, and I were mainly relegated to the back, an area that was much like a large restaurant booth and table, around which we sat with our many board games, and stared out of the large back window onto the vista of road behind us.  Above us were pull-out bunks for sleeping.  Mike ran back and forth between the stern to riding shotgun with Dad.  The women kept begging him find a spot and sit still.  Yeah, good luck with that.

The whole way across California, and by the time we hit the Colorado River, Mike and I had just about exhausted the adults with our impressions of bits from our favorite TV shows and hit songs, and I even shared some of my teen-angst poetry with Dolores, who seemed genuinely interested in it, though I’m pretty sure none of it was very good.  She was just great that way.  Pam had her head buried in a book, a constant place for my bookworm sister.

My stepdad was a bit of a video recording fanatic, so from the moment he invested in his new camera our family wasn’t given much peace or privacy.  On this trip Mike was in charge of the camera whenever Dad was doing the driving.  And while Dolores would shy away any time Mike aimed the camera her way, my mother was in her Norma Desmond element, always ready for her close-up.  Pam and I hammed it up whenever Mike aimed the lens our way, and Dad couldn’t help micro-managing Mike’s shooting technique from the driver’s seat.

“You’re not doing it right. Here, let me show you.”

Mike ended up being responsible for lots of accidental vérité-like shots, but then, frankly, so did my stepfather, who often forgot that the camera was still on when he’d lay it on its side to go do something else.  The shot would be a thrilling twenty-minute study of an ant crawling across the sideways table.  Andy Warhol would’ve been proud.

And all the while, the women cooked.

Cooking was a calling for my mother.  If she was in the kitchen, we knew an old-fashioned jubilee was about to happen.  At home I had often watched her when she’d make her monkey bread.  And sometimes she’d even try to teach me a few things.  It would be an all-day affair.  Learning to scald milk, which is a delicate procedure that requires precise timing and a hands-on skill.  Feeling the yeast between my fingers and dipping it in the lukewarm water.  Adding just a pinch of sugar to the softened paste, then watching it dissolve.  Separating the egg whites from their yokes, and adding them to the yeast paste.  Watching the miraculous alchemy of flour and milk and yeast and eggs become dough, dusted then kneaded.  The sensual nature of my mother’s hands to the sticky white mixture, and the way she’d dip her fingers into the velvety flour in order to handle the doughy mound, was artful.  She never rushed it.

The soft mound was then left in a glass bowl to rise.  She would always declare the watched pot never boils edict to me whenever I wanted to stare at it while it rose, but all I wanted to do was stare at it while it rose.  And once it was ready to be brought back out to the wooden block, perhaps an hour later, she would knead it some more.  A rolling pin would lay it out large and flat, and the flick of her wrist was something to see.

Next would come that part of the ritual in which the whole family was encouraged to participate.  We’d each take a diamond-shaped cookie cutter, several of which she’d collected over the years, and carve out squares that we would then dip individually into a pot of melted butter, and place in a Bundt pan.

Layer upon layer of little buttered squares would fill up the pan, which would then be placed in the oven, until some forty-five minutes later the bubbling brown masterpiece, with the molten jigsaw puzzle resemblance, would be a most aromatic table centerpiece quickly devoured.

This age-old Southern-tradition side dish is called monkey bread because when it’s turned over and released from the Bundt pan onto a bread platter it merely needs to be pulled apart with one’s fingers, not cut with a knife, and that was an especially enticing notion for us kids.  My mother made a pretty spectacular monkey bread.

I loved watching her stand back and enjoy satisfying her family’s bellies, and I knew that this, for her, was a kind of sacred meditation.

So, though we were all having a ball driving through town after town, on this holiday mobile-home odyssey, singing songs, telling jokes, and either ducking or mugging for the video camera, my mother never lost her stride or focus in preparing our food.  Dolores was equal to the task with her revered soul-food pigs feet and hot-water cornbread, but it was my mother whom I’d watched and studied for more years than I’d ever put into homework, so her talent was palpable for me.

Before long, the RV cabin started to fill up with the aroma of turkey and oyster stuffing, and yams laden with marshmallows and brown sugar, and sweet potato pie, and collard greens and cabbage, and macaroni and cheese, and lima bean casserole, and the famous monkey bread (which was actually prepared at home, and brought with).  It was insane and inexplicable how Martha and Dolores had managed to accomplish all of this culinary breadth in the tiny kitchen of this moving tin-can.  And that fact was only a testament to their cooking prowess.

It was still daylight but inching toward dusk by the time dinner was called, and we were in the middle of the desert somewhere in Arizona.  I’d finally been given my turn to do the driving.  I hadn’t killed us, or anyone else, but I had made a few precarious lane changes that had my mother and Dolores yelling at me, for almost losing a bowl or a dish to the ground.

“Sorry!” I would yell, while secretly giggling and feeling my oats.

Dad filmed the whole thing, laughing at my cowgirl driving and Martha and Dolores trying to hold onto the pots and pans.

I continued to drive only until we spotted a rest stop with a cluster of picnic tables off the highway.  I parked.  We all stepped outside.  The air was cold and crisp.  Colder than we Angelenos were accustomed to.  We bundled up in our various parkas.   There was no one in sight.   Because who plans picnics at the threshold of winter?  In the middle of the desert?  On Thanksgiving?

We all unloaded the many suitcases that my mother had packed into the undercarriage of the RV, and dragged the heavy things out to one of the picnic tables.  While Mike and I immediately commenced to chasing jackrabbits, and while my stepfather found his challenge in keeping up with a camera perpetually glued to his eye, my mother, with Pam’s and Dolores’ assistance, began to unearth from the suitcases her prized Dutch linen table cloth, the eight matching napkins, her silk Damask table runner, crystal water goblets that had been carefully bubble-wrapped, silver place-settings and napkin rings, china, candles, and an ornate candelabrum.  I mean, this thing could rival anything that ever sat on Liberace’s grand piano.  It was like watching a magician pull the kitchen sink out of his top hat.  And she proceeded to transform the prickly, cactus-surrounded dust bowl of rough and tumble nature that we’d claimed as ours for the afternoon into a dining experience for kings.  And thought nothing of the peculiarity in the whole affair.

My stepfather managed to capture all of her nutty splendor on tape (though it is fairly heartbreaking that some nearly 40 years later that cherished video footage has been lost).

She then yelled for Mike and me to stop chasing rabbits unless we intended on capturing one to go with dinner, which had us screaming in mock horror, and she bade us help her unload the RV of the many hot platters and fragrant casserole dishes and steaming pots and containers, and we took them, in several trips, over to the finely dressed table.

And right there in the middle of endless Arizona horizon and desert stillness, save for the periodic lizard or tumbleweed that might scamper by, and as the sun began to set, leaving us with only a dusted dusk and my mother’s candlelight, we bundled up in our coats, we sat to a king’s spread, we bowed our heads, and we held hands as Martha prayed, “Thank you for blessing this food that we are about to receive, for the nourishment of our bodies, and for the love and communing of family.  Amen.”  We raised our glasses to toast the feast, dug in to ridiculously mouthwatering fare, and absolutely loved the crazy novelty of it all.

Grace was not a word often associated with my audacious mother.  But like catching a shooting star in one’s periphery, I would see, just here and there in my growing up, brilliant evidence of it.  Sometimes in only tiny, fleeting swatches.  At other times still, as with our never-to-be-forgotten wilderness Thanksgiving, it would scream out in bold strokes of wild color, like a magnificent comet.

 

 

From the upcoming “Fiercely Sweetly”
© 2014 angela carole brown

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

A November Thought

Gratitude Flower

i live in gratitude

i live in gratiude

i live in gratitude

every day that i awaken and breathe

i am grateful

every day that i think a thought

and feel my heart’s stirring

i am grateful

every day that i am upright and whole

i am grateful

every day that a creative idea becomes solid matter

i am grateful

every day that i face that thing of which i am most afraid

i am grateful

every day that i am given awareness of the smallest of beauties

the most unsung of treasures

i am grateful

every day that i am enlightened

given insight

have an epiphany

i am grateful

every day that i exercise compassion

understanding

patience

i am grateful

every day that i encounter another living creature and engage

i am grateful

every day that i am hugged

kissed

loved

i am grateful

every day that i laugh

or make someone laugh

i am grateful

every day that my family is healthy and happy

i am grateful

every day that my friends do well in the world

i am grateful

every day that i change someone’s life

or someone changes mine

i am grateful

every day that love is evident in my life

i am grateful

every day that i act out of anger

impatience

frustration

a broken heart

i am grateful

for each affliction offers an opportunity

to learn about myself and my fellow man

every day that brings me a challenge that tests my spirit

i am grateful

every day that i am humbled by a mistake

i am grateful

why else do our mistakes exist?

every day that i am faced with seemingly unbearable odds

i am grateful

for the lessons learned

and the spirit toughened and strengthened by it

are more valuable to me than if i were living an effortless life

every day that i try

i am grateful

every day that i try again

i am grateful

every day that i can have some time to myself

for quiet and reflection

i am grateful

and when they ask me what’s new?

i will answer every single day

because every single day that arrives

brings a sun

a moon

a breath

a surprise

a blessing

a song

whether sung or heard

and the ear to hear it

a world of love at our fingertips

a capacity for hope

a reason to smile

and a heart full of gratitude

so when they ask me what’s new?

i will answer everything

at every single moment

and for that

i am grateful

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.