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Posted: November 24, 2006

Spiritual Caregiving

How Many Ways Can You Open Your Heart? -- Part 4

(Editor’s Note: The heart holds the keys to many aspects of life, not just physical but spiritual, emotional and directional. By listening to our own heart, we can gain the path to happiness, spiritual attainment and some say physical and mental health. This 4-part collection of offerings on the heart from Spirituality & Health readers individualizes the approach. What would you add to this collection?)

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Why Worry?

As the Quakers say, "The way will open."

Janet Howell

Amesbury, Massachusetts

Sing

There are several ways I sing. I sit down, close my eyes and just hum; long, solid breaths, and long buzzing hums on a single pitch are best. At the other extreme, I stand in front of a mirror, look myself right in the eyes and sing a song to myself. Music is the universal language. Whenever we sing, we have our finger in the divine socket!

Drew Minter

Stone Ridge, New York

Gesture

The little hand-on-heart gesture works for me, partly because words often fail and the wonders of God are gestures. The mind can drift, can forget what it's up to, but the hand on heart remains. Sometimes to avoid looking weird, I use just a fingertip.

Bill Cleary

Burlington, Vermont

The Muslim Prayer of the Heart

Zikr is one of three levels of prayer recognized by Muslim spirituality. It is what western tradition might call "contemplative prayer" and what Islam understands as the prayer of the heart.

To reach that heart, a simple form of zikr is commended by the Hadith (which is to the Koran as the Talmud is to Scripture): repetition of the hundred names of Allah ("the merciful," "the almighty," "the compassionate," "the omniscient," and so forth). Whoever recites these, says Hadith, is sure to enter Paradise. And in Sufism, the medieval Muslim mystical tradition, that entry happens sooner rather than later.

This path is open to anyone. Simply sit still, find your center by attending to your breath for a few moments, then call to mind every "name" or adjective or concept for God, the deity, or simply the transcendent that you can think of. You might begin with 10, but you will find that 100 is by no means difficult, as your awareness of the divine widens and deepens.

 Clair McPherson

Soak in Worship

I put on one of my favorite praise/worship CDs, sit back and close my eyes, wait in stillness of heart while I allow myself to be filled with love and praise of God, and then just simply "soak" in the presence of the One my soul loves.

Margaret M. Poloma

Akron, Ohio

See an Angel

I imagine an angel standing with his arm tenderly draped around another person's shoulder and softly saying, "He is someone made in the image of God."

Louis Schmier

Valdosta, Georgia

Dance

Every Wednesday night I attend a Life Dance class. In this completely free and non-judgmental environment, I experience, with and through my fellow dancers, a complete and loving connection with Spirit. My heart becomes open and peaceful and I am able to go through the days in between with the knowledge that we are all one.

Barb Gilroy

Calgary, Canada

Forgiveness and Boundaries

When I've felt hurt by someone, I do the following. I take deep breaths, calm myself, and then envision the person in their entirety: their good qualities as well as their action that hurt me. I take stock of what they bring to my life, and how I benefit from knowing them. I try to see them as human with clay feet, people who stumble as often as they soar -- as we all do. I feel for their own struggle to be good and how they've fallen short. And I open my heart to them. Often I'm able to embrace them with love and get past the hurt. On the occasions where I can't get past the hurt, I can still see them as full human beings -- but ones where I must draw the line between myself and them, as their behavior will continue to hurt me. Still, I'm able to pull away without acrimony, and having accepted their humanity and in understanding them, I preserve my own well-being by keeping my heart open for the future.

Toni Weingarten

Greenbrae, California

Push the Envelope of Christian Spirituality

Repeating verses of Psalms, coordinated with the breath and the pulse, was one of the colorful practices of the patriarchs and matriarchs of the desert.

It can be followed by anyone and in fact became common in Eastern Christianity and in the gentle Benedictine monasticism of the West. With their simple two-part verses, the Psalms lend themselves almost musically to this: as you inhale, you say "As the deer longs for the waters"; on the exhalation, "so my soul longs for you, my God" (Psalm 42:1).

It is simple, but challenging. Set aside 10 minutes for it; sit upright, and find your center. Then attend to the breath, enjoying it, noticing what is usually unconscious. Gently add the words of a Psalm, half-line by half-line, to the cycle of your breath. It is like adding lyrics to music: the tempo of love songs is exactly that of the human heart. Then add the heartbeat: three heartbeats per inhalation, for example, while inwardly reciting the Psalm verse: "come let us sing to the Lord; / let us shout with joy to the rock of our rescue" (Psalm 95). This is adding a counterpoint to the words and the melody.

Any sacred song -- a line from the Upanishads, a Christian hymn, a favorite poem -- will also work. But I believe the Psalms transcend their ethnic and religious origins by far, and belong to the common spiritual treasury of humankind.

C.M.

 The Scale of 1 to 10

When I feel myself on edge and far from Spirit, I remember that I paid a huge price to be alive. I am a cancer survivor. I stop and ask myself: On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being a day at the hospital for chemotherapy, where does this problem/annoyance fall? It's never on the charts, and peace is restored to my heart as gratitude engulfs me.

Regina Leeds

Toluca Lake, California

Inner Smile

I close my eyes for a moment and smile . . . not the "smile for others to see" but a smile that begins behind my eyes and is directed first toward myself, a smile only I can feel. That smile is like a comforting hand, a warm blanket, a long-lost friend . . . a blessing. After that I am able to refocus and direct that same gentle smile toward others.

Kay Williams

Grand Forks, North Dakota

Imagine Yourself as the Buddha

One simple, highly effective Tantric Buddhist meditation involves simply sitting quietly and imagining oneself as the Buddha, or as a Bodhisattva. What would it feel like to be enlightened? To transcend the evils and pains of this world? To achieve charity and compassion? The practice is open to anyone of any, or no, faith tradition. Spend 15 minutes each day for a week imagining what it would be like to be anyone whose spiritual nature you admire, respect, even revere. The more startling, and seemingly presumptuous, the better -- Abraham or Moses or Christ or Mohammed, St. Francis, Maimonides, one of the Apostles, one of the Prophets. The idea is to assume their identity -- and vicariously discover what they experienced.

C.M.

Breathe

I breathe in the beautiful, warm, golden sunlight as love into my heart, then, exhaling, deliver the warmth of love to every cell of my being. When my being is penetrated with this golden light (two minutes . . . five minutes . . . whatever it takes), I let it expand to the space that surrounds me. If another person or situation is involved, I let that loving light reach out to them as well. Even if the person is not one I look on with fondness, I send them loving light to soften their hearts, too.

Sue Niedzielski

Brooklyn, Michigan

Weave in Your Mind

When my buttons are pushed, I know they are being triggered by old hurts. So I imagine a tapestry with woven pieces, and I slowly and mentally weave frayed ends together again.

Liza Rhodes Reese

Palm Desert, California

Be Nobody

For a long time I did not consciously "practice" opening my heart. I thought it was stupid to make myself feel something that I wasn't feeling spontaneously, and I categorically dismissed all of these exercises "to better yourself." Then, one day, I found myself in a situation that opened both my heart and my mind. Now, in pivotal moments, I remember exactly what happened and I relive it: I push aside all that defines me -- my name, my work, my thoughts at that moment. I slow my breathing and feel what it is like to be simply human. This is a humbling state, but one filled with tremendous power: power to overcome doubts and fears, power to reconnect to faith and trust, and power to feel love and compassion toward others and myself. And for me this works best when I have no name.

Monika Rice

Woodbridge, Virginia

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(Click here to read Part 1 in this series, click here for Part 2, and click here for Part 3.)


This article originally appeared in Spirituality & Health magazine, www.SpiritualityHealth.com. For subscriptions call 1-800-876-8202 or see www.SpiritualityHealth.com/subs. Editor Stephen Kiesling and his staff contribute weekly columns, features and articles published every Friday as "Spiritual Caregiving" at www.caregivershome.com. Contact staff directly via email at ASKspirituality@spiritualityhealth.com.

© 2006 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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