Spiritual Algorithm: A Prescription for This Age of Pandemic

rockypeakblog

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

o-STYLISH-THANKSGIVING-facebook

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.

 

Inventory

Inventory Banner

I recently took inventory of all my spiritual “stuff.”  The list is quite impressive.

Mantra flash cards (I’ve collected lots of melodic, mineral rich Sanskrit chants from my time with a Kirtan ensemble and other spiritual pursuits).
Beautifully upholstered zafu & matching zabuton sets.
Mala prayer beads (including a set given to me by the Dalai Lama).
Incense.
Candles.
Crystals, healing stones, and heart rocks.
Essential oils.
Mandalas.
Tibetan singing bowls.
Trickling Zen fountains.
Bundles of roped sage for smudging and cleansing.
Mesmerizing music and recorded “om”s.
Stone works and wood carvings and figurines of the Buddha, Ganesha, Kwan Yin,
St. Francis, and my beloved om (I even have an om tattoo).
And finally, dog-eared stacks of all the most penetrating writings of Thich Nhat Hanh, and Pema Chodron, and Eckhardt Tolle, et al.

It all serves something for me.  Much of it helps me open a door that might’ve been otherwise stuck.  My visceral reaction to a certain symbol or image can powerfully operate as just the conduit needed.  What all of it legitimately does is generate an energy and environment of serenity, and a constant reminder of my path. And I’m grateful enough for that.

However, if I’m not careful, these props (the only word I can think of to call them) can also act as a crutch.  And this is where I find it’s time to take serious stock and inventory.

I have been a meditator for years now. And most recently a Kirtan chanter with a lovely group.  There is nothing more meaningful to me than participating in meditational rituals, such as the winter solstice labyrinth I walked this past winter with a group of like-minded seekers at the spiritual center I call home.   And the props can often be an integral part of ritual (chanting 108 repetitions of a mantra with the use of mala beads, or clanging 3 dings of the singing bowls in order to sign in and out of a practice.)

But I look at all the stuff, and I wonder if they aren’t merely being collected to cocoon me from the world, the harsh elements, the stings of life.

My stone Buddha that I bought at a statuary in Glendale two decades ago is so pretty.  So is the one I keep beneath my father’s easel. And the laughing one that sits on my bookshelf surrounded by Jack Kornfield books.  And the one I painted a flower on at Color Me Mine.  And the one that’s holding his hands in gyan mudra.  A couple of them were gifts from people who know my penchant, and I treasure them.  They exist in such quantity all around my modest apartment that they’ve sort of formed a club: Angela’s Guards at the Gate.

And my collection of mala prayer beads is quite something.  But how many of them do I actually use to meditate with?  My meditations are usually silent ones, so my beads really just lie around my apartment, beautifully draped on this or that, in order to create the funky, Zen, hippie-girl-flower-child ambience that is the reputation I most embrace.

And the heart rocks.  I’m always looking for them whenever I walk my nature trail.  I’ve amassed a little bit of a collection, along with every different shape and kind of crystal, and the garnet nugget (my birthstone) that I found encased but subtly peering out from sediment.  These beauties give me comfort.  And the illusion of safety.

I wear my brass Ganesha figurine in a medicine pouch (a beautiful velvet beaded one, of course) around my neck or in a pocket, because Ganesha is the remover of obstacles according to the Hindu religion.  He has never directly removed any of my obstacles, nor do I actually think there is wisdom in believing that all obstacles can be removed.  There is a divine design in obstacles.  Some are meant for us to clear, some not.  All are meant to provide a lesson, if we’re willing and open.  Nevertheless, I keep my sweet Ganesha close to my heart because he comforts.  The illusion of safety.

I imbue meaning on every prop, every trinket, because managing and navigating my life without that armor is maybe just a little too much to consider.

If I were to truly strip down my spiritual journey to its most basic element, I would have to say it’s about management. The buzz word in my spiritual community these days is mindfulness.  But mindfulness isn’t, as is often misunderstood, a state of perfect reaction. We’ll never be perfect reactors.  We’ll have our moments of groundedness interspersed with those other moments of knee-jerk responses, defensiveness, anger, even deceit. And we’ll consider the time when those start to be outweighed by Right Speech and Right Behavior as success! We’re practicing mindfulness!  When the truth is, we’ll always experience both, in probably fairly equal amounts, all throughout our lives. Mindfulness isn’t a banishment of those unskillful moments. Mindfulness is paying attention to all of it. Learning to identify the source of the less benevolent traits, and to offer them as much of our understanding, patience and goodwill as when we get it right.

I recently said to a friend, a fellow meditator, that I had all but abandoned my meditation practice because of some family stresses that were rather consuming, and that I hadn’t been able to get in gear with it. And I was saying it to him as a kind of self-indictment confession. His response to me was, “well, sure, cuz shit comes up. And when life is already feeling very full of it, sometimes the idea of more is too much.  That’s okay.”

And that’s the thing. Meditation isn’t meant to be a cushion (though it sometimes serves exactly that).  It is meant to strip down, to uncover, and to lay bare.  And all it takes is an agenda of NOTHING, and some silence.  That can be hard to do, but is just that simple.  So, all the trinkets, the doo-dads, the Buddhas, the beads, the oils, the crystals, ad infinitum …. perhaps as a way to that place of commitment?

Just be mindful of when practices of cocooning are present. No judgments. Just notice. Carry on.  

That’s the voice that speaks to me every time I feel the need to bring something new and shiny and pretty into my home “for meditation.”

Because truth time?   All the stuff is perfectly fine.  I love collecting beautiful and meaning things.  But naked.  Empty room.  Hard floor.  Stink from the nearby sewer system.  Noise from the neighbors.   No serene music.  No mesmerizing candlelight.  No cloak of protection.  Nothing.  Just breath.  And meditation is still possible.  Being present is still possible.  Living by spiritual principles is still possible.

Sit.

Be still.

Close my eyes.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Notice everything.

Accept every notice without judgment.

When judgment comes – and it will – notice that too.

Repeat.

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is a published author, a recipient of the Heritage Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums as a singer/songwriter, and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on INSTAGRAM & YOUTUBE.

The Sanctuary Project

“Every little thing is gonna be alright.” – Bob Marley

 

I recently spent several months with my iPhone camera amassing footage of my posing a simple question to people I encountered.  Some friends, some strangers.  I wasn’t exactly sure what I would find on this little journey, but I knew it could only be inspiring.  The desire to do this came upon me long before situations in my personal life became unexpectedly dire, and suddenly the project went from being fun to urgent.  Add to that a concerning world landscape presently in our midst, and there blossomed this resonant anchor to the question of where we go for our sense of sanctuary.

Take a look at some of the answers I was blessed to witness, and then take a moment, or several, to think about your own.  Never has there been a more crucial time to turn inward and build practices or rituals that help to assuage suffering.

Featuring a beautiful musical underscoring by my dear friend & composer Chris Hardin, and a diverse group of individuals (from a prison inmate to a Buddhist monk) bravely willing to open their hearts and share.  I invite you to enjoy The Sanctuary Project.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is a published author, a recipient of the Heritage Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums as a singer/songwriter, and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on INSTAGRAM & YOUTUBE.

 

Belligerent Romance : song. heart. bravery.

www.hqpixs.blogspot.com

“…the only answer is to recklessly discard more armor.”
― Eric Maisel

 

I re-post this every year.  An anniversary of sorts.  So, if you’ve been down this road, please bear with me.  If not, enjoy.

On this morning 8 years ago, I was awakened rudely by construction in the neighborhood. I fought it for a time, but eventually gave in and hastened my exercise gear on. I got myself outside for a good walking meditation, and couldn’t get Hans’ song out of my head.

Angela.

There are actually lots of songs with my name in the title. The music from the television show Taxi is actually called Angela’s Theme. There’s Helen Reddy’s Angie Baby. Of course, the Stones’ iconic Angie. The Bee Gees have a song. Even Motley Crue, stealing lines from Hendrix’s The Wind Cries Mary with their own “when the winds cry Angela” lyric.

It can be heady, this idea of your name inspiring song after song, but then again none of them were written for me. So, how heady can I really get?

Until Hans. I was to be giving him a kidney in just two more days. This anticipated event had dragged out for nine excruciating bureaucratic months. My best friend pointed out the symbolic time frame as indicative of a kind of birth. But now it was finally arriving, and both of us (Hans and I) were bouncing off the walls in our own way. Me, I’d been doing these walking meditations every day for a month solid in preparation. It was equal parts exercise (I really hoofed it) and opportunity to live with my own thoughts before my day officially began with and in the world; to level myself and clear out my brain for the big day. I chanted, I did mantras, I worked out problems, I talked myself down from ledges, I rationalized behavior, I asked for forgiveness, I defended myself in imaginary arguments, and I thanked the Forces That Be for everything.

But on the walk 8 years ago today, all that activity got shoved to the various corners and crannies of my obsessive brain to make room for memories of the night before, going to see Hans play his guitar in a coffee house, and open his set with Angela . . . written for me.

Interestingly enough, almost all of the romantic relationships I’ve ever had have been with musicians and composers, and yet none of them has ever written a song for me. It is either a great poetic juxtaposition, or a really unsettling indication of the impact I have on the people I’m involved with. Of course, I’m also a songwriter, and I’ve never written a song for any one of them either. So, okay, maybe all it indicates is that every one of us is jaded and crusty and we’ve lost all sense of romance and inspiration.

Picasso painted every woman he ever fell for. What has happened to that kind of belligerent romance? The terrible compulsion to celebrate another human being?

So, hearing this song, sung by teenager Hans and his girlfriend and the drummer in his band, was a moment that had left me speechless and tearful. A moment that had made me realize that inspiration and romance do still exist…. they’re just hiding among the young. And if we still want to be touched by it, then the young are who we need to surround ourselves with.

So there I was, walking my regular route in the neighborhood, and trying to chant my daily mantra, which usually began with “Love, reign over me…” (I have tended to find much more prayerful intention in rock songs than I’ve ever found from anything biblical.) “ . . . make me mindful . . . give me grace . . . deliver me from need . . . fill me with wonder . . . ” etc. Sometimes I chanted for winning the lottery, but I do get that that’s not really how it works, and so those requests always came with tongue firmly planted in cheek. But on that morning I didn’t care about money or enlightenment.

On that morning, I was intoxicated by having had a song written for me, for the first time in my life. I felt like Marie-Thérèse, or Anaïs Nin, or Beethoven’s “immortal beloved”; women who have been painted, written about, composed for, dedicated symphonies. I highly recommend it. Being someone’s muse. It’s a high like no other.

As I walked, I completely tuned out the music that was blasting through the iPod buds wedged in my ear. Explanation: It’s easier for me to do my mantras against music; it’s a deliberate sensory overload; somehow things just stick themselves deeper in the subconscious when they’re too overloaded to have surface impact. It didn’t matter that day anyway; I had abandoned my Pete Townsend-inspired mantra and my downloaded pop tunes, to be flooded with Hans’ song. Or rather, the idea of Hans’ song.

A complete stranger who was walking my way held her palm up, and shouted “high five” as we passed each other. I obliged. First time I’d ever been accosted in that way. And I thought of this woman’s completely loopy bravery. Just to infiltrate a perfect stranger’s sphere, for a split second, and engage. What if I had refused her? Treated her the way we treat the bag ladies who pass us by? I wouldn’t be brave enough to throw my loopiness out there in that way; too afraid of rejection, of having someone look at me like I was nuts. And then I thought of the oddly shaped angle that I was practically on the eve of having surgeons cut me open and pull a kidney out of my body, yet here I was assured that I would’ve been too afraid to be silly on the street with a passing stranger. Which one really takes more bravery?

It takes a special kind of bravery to write a song for somebody. It takes letting down one’s cool guard and daring to show a little vulnerability. Letting the world peek into your opened and exposed heart. And most especially, letting the person for whom the song is written peek into your heart, daring to let them know that you feel, and that they have impacted your life enough to inspire public song.

I once had a boyfriend, a brilliant composer, who, with me, was one day listening to a song written by a friend of ours with a woman’s name in the title. He said, “I don’t think I could write a song with some woman’s name in the title.” He said this with a kind of pride in the claim. I felt sad for him. And sad for myself, as well, because I think that claim was my truth too. We’re all just too cool. Vulnerability is not attractive.

Leonard Bernstein’s Maria, from “Westside Story”, a song of truly loopy and delirious love.

Tom Waits’ Martha, an invocation of sweet, melancholy reminiscence.

The Beatles’ Michelle.

Elton John’s Daniel.

Brian’s Song.

Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair.

The list goes on, and on, and encouragingly on. Who knows which of these is based on an actual person, or is merely the playground of fiction? And who cares? Either one still requires a level of unadulterated celebration, and a willingness to abandon cool, which makes someone ultra-cool in my book.

Hans is brave. He is brave to be a musician, going out there in the world for the scrutiny of the jaded. He is brave to have withstood years of debilitating dialysis, countless surgeries, stem cell experiments, catheters and fistulas implanted beneath his skin, and finally a transplant. But perhaps the bravest act of all was his daring to expose his great heart in so many ways, only one tiny example of which was the writing of a song entitled Angela.

 

(Two days later, on July 22, 2008, I successfully donated my kidney to Hans San Juan, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, in Los Angeles, and Hans has been healthy ever since.)

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is a published author, a recipient of the Heritage Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums as a singer/songwriter, and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on INSTAGRAM & YOUTUBE.

Ommmmmm


She was not allowed to hurt anymore today.

 

 

 

 
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.

 

Yes, Said She

Yes, said she

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.