Grace: an elegance, body movements that are flowing and flexible, a shower of blessing, a giving of blessing, appearing radiant. Longevity: living a long life, perseverance, in touch with the infinite. In my mind, grace and longevity are concepts that belong together. It seems to me that the more I know about grace, the happier and more flowing my life will be no matter how many physical years it lasts. Grace and the infinite are connected.
Grace is a beautiful word and one that runs in my family. Five generations of women are named Grace, my great grandmother, grandmother, and mother are Grace Marie. My sister is Mary Grace. My sister’s granddaughter is Scottie Grace.
When I first thought of the title for this blog, I didn’t consciously consider the familial implications. I was more focused on the benefits of practicing yoga, qigong and meditation. However, here it is. This first entry comes at the end of a visit with my mother Grace, who is 96 years old. I realized that an important lesson was just given to me about Grace and longevity. The title of the lesson is, “Live in a connected universe.” It starts with my reflections of my visit.
Mom looks at me with big moon eyes. Her left a bit cloudy and unfocused. They search my face to make a connection. Her smile is sweet and expectant. What can we talk about? Are you here with me, they seem to say. I feel tears well up as I write. She is so available to me, much more than she ever was before. But our roles are reversed, and her faculties are declining.
She starts the prayer she likes best in a singing voice. Thank you for the birds that sing. Thank you God for everything. Sometimes it goes, thank you for the birds that fly, thank you for the big blue sky, thank you for the food we eat, thank you God for everything. Sometimes I add a few lines like, thank you for the flowers that bloom, thank you for the trees so green. . . She likes them all. Then she continues, thank you Jesus for your blessings, even the ones we don’t know about.
She then moves seamlessly into the familiar nighttime prayer of my childhood: Angel of God, my guardian dear, for whom God’s love commits thee here. Ever this day be at my side to light to guard to rule and guide, amen. As I repeat this familiar nighttime prayer from my childhood my eyes being to water. Past and present merge. She is so focused on her personal connection with spirit. I close my eyes and feel into the moment. It seems I see and feel strong and beautiful beings of light, gracing us with spiritual presence.
My mother’s connection with God, as she envisions him/her, is an anchor that calms her and alleviates fear. She can accept what has seemed unacceptable just minutes before. Her face and demeanor soften, and she becomes more herself, even in her present diminished state.
In my youth I had a strong rebellious streak. I saw my mother’s devotional spirit as repressive and patriarchal. I felt superior in my choice of yoga and meditation, from both India and China (qigong) as a worldview that made more sense to me. It didn’t seem to have the baggage of a personal version of God yet taught me about the interconnection of all things.
Today, as I embrace a humbler mindset, I ask myself what I am being asked to learn. The answer seems to be about experiencing life as connection. Connection to self, to family, to community, to nature, to God and the universe in the way we experience him/her/it. The stronger the feeling of connection, the more grace, presence, and love seem to abound. So, our lesson for this entry on grace and longevity is experience life as connection.
Help from Qigong practice: Universe Breathing
Qigong is a healing practice that originated in China in ancient times. It uses meditative movement coordinated with the breath, as well as visualization and meditation to relax tension in body and mind and balance the energy flows of the body. In these blogs I will share little qigong practices that give you easy ways to release stress and feel more connected and present.
Breathing is so common for us that we hardly pay attention to it. However, breathing has connected us to life since birth, and will continuously do so until we die. We are like fish in air. When we breathe in and out we exchange life force with the universe. Breath and food sustain our energy.
Meditative breathing has been used to calm and focus the mind and relax the body since ancient times. We usually think of breathing in and out through the nose and with the lungs. In Chinese medicine the lungs are related to the skin. Skin is the biggest organ we have and is often called the third lung. The pores on the skin open and close to protect us and to maintain water and heat balance, as in sweating.
In this meditation we begin breathing in and out through the nose and proceed to imagine and feel that we breath in and out through every cell in our skin and indeed every cell in our bodies. Every cell is a portal for connection. As you inhale your entire being gently expands. As you exhale all of yourself can gently give back. Feel the touch of the air on your skin. After a while you can imagine that the universe is breathing you. Use this meditation when you feel disconnected, lonely or out of sorts, and see what happens. Your feedback is always welcome.