Grief is a sacred journey

Reclaiming Inner Peace in an Agitated World

Etty Hillesum (1914-1943, died at Auschwitz)

“Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.” ~Etty Hillesum

I wake up and roll over. My bed vibrates like a drum—thump, thump, thump. Willow’s thick tail bangs out a greeting from the floor. Thump. Thump. Thump. She moves closer. When I open my eyes, she gives my hand a gentle wet nudge.

I throw back the blankets and pull on sweats and a fleece. I open the shades to the south and welcome the frost, the bluebirds, the deer grazing in the field.

Next comes the moment of choice I face each morning. Do I hustle downstairs to begin another busy day, or do I pause to create a circle of inner quiet?

Mediation practice has been sporadic and often brief the last few months. Even though I’ve meditated since 1970, who wants to be mindful of a jumpy, jagged, agitated mind? It’s easy to blame the outer world, but blame won’t change the inner turmoil. I know what will.

Be with what is, as it is, without forcing anything. Just sit and breathe and accept my thoughts and feelings.

Ganesh, created by Ann Adams

I take a deep breath and choose to stay upstairs. Politics, my mother-in-law’s needs, and pressing writing projects can wait a few minutes. Peace is more important.

Anandamayi Ma (1896-1982)

I fill the altar cup with clean water as an offering and rearrange the images on my dresser top to make space for the exquisite Ganesh given to me by Ann Adams, a friend in North Carolina. Ann and I made heart contact at a family wedding in 2013. I’m grateful for the beauty of the image, but also that Ann remembered what I love.

I light a red beeswax candle and catch a faint scent of honey. I look deeply into the eyes of Anandamayi Ma whose gaze can hold the suffering of the world. I arrange my meditation cushions just so and sit. Willow sighs and returns to her bed. She knows the signals and doesn’t beg to go out or insist on food. She’s learned the art of waiting.

I look out the south windows and rest my eyes on the tallest white pine in the forest, the tree that rises above the canopy and reminds me I’m connected to both earth and sky. I remember the four directions, another way to ground my agitated energy. New beginnings in the east, light in the south, endings in the west, and darkness in the north.

I give thanks for this life and breathe. Usually breath deepens and slows as I sit, but sometimes I can only witness my tight chest, shallow breath, and wild thoughts–and try to love myself anyway.

Today, my breath relaxes and my belly softens. Random thoughts and worries slow a little. I sit within a protected circle of quiet and, for this moment, all feels right with the world.

How could I think there’s a better thing way to begin this sacred day? Chaos will crowd in soon enough. My mother-in-law will have a new crisis or another shocking political event will demand attention and action. Life will press in and challenge, the way it always does.

I hold this silence just a few minutes more so I can remember and take it with me. Even as I read about the latest political catastrophe, listen to a friend’s anguish about her dying mother, or take in another senseless tragedy, I recall this circle of stillness.

So, here I sit. Just a few minutes more. Rooted to the earth the way that white pine is rooted, even though we’re both temporary.

For now, I am here. Breathing in. Breathing out. Listening. Watching. Being.

***

Willow waiting

Do you have morning rituals that protect you throughout the day. Many read scripture. Others light candles, listen to sacred music, or simply sit with their morning coffee and watch the birds. Does your morning routine stay the same or does it change over time the way my altar changes? For other posts about creating inner calm, you might enjoy 10 Ways to Create Sacred Space Every Day or Tending the Spirit.

28 Comments
  1. I always meditate or do a yoga practice. I always have a focal point outside like your pine tree. A tree, branch, leaf, cloud etc

    • Wonderful, Patt. I know you’re serious about your peace practices. I didn’t know about the focal point outside, but I will remember. That can be done anywhere.

  2. Beautiful.
    Love,
    Myra

  3. Beautiful! Breathe in. Breathe out.

    • Thank you, Mark. Of course, I had to go through that moment of choice again this morning. Life beckoned with all its distraction and agitation. I said, “Wait,” until I sit and breathe in and out for a while.

  4. Thank you, Elaine. I needed to read this tonight. I will be sharing this and Etty’s quote above, because it goes so well with a conversation I was just having with a friend.

    Much peace,

    Jenna

    • Jenna, thank you for sharing this. I read your note about it on FB. I’m curious. I wrote this for myself as much as anyone else–to remind myself that I need to claim moments of peace in this decidedly unpeaceful world. Also to remind myself that I know how to do that. I also hope our little moments of peace matter in a much larger way. Same principle as the butterfly flapping its wings in Mexico and changing the weather pattern in upstate NY.

  5. Thank you, Elaine. What an inspiring reminder! I could feel my own breath calming as I read what you had written.

    • I love hearing that, Dale. Thank you. A response I hoped for–from others and from me. I have to make a choice each morning and strengthen the daily meditation pattern I followed for so many years. It’s a good way to begin the day and remind myself what matters, but that jumpy ego has to be convinced over and over again.

  6. Your post reads like a serenity prayer.

    My morning ritual included writing in my gratitude book, reading scripture, and prayer. With coffee. I don’t light a candle. Sunshine would drown out the candle light with rays coming from the southeast, especially in the summer time. When I go to PA, as I have lately, I listen to sacred music before the chaos begins. That way, my sisters benefit too.

    What I wrote in my gratitude book yesterday: The cashier at the grocery store asked, “Did you find everything okay today?” When I mentioned I couldn’t find Kalamati olives, a customer in line with me gave me her jar explaining that she had taken the last one off the shelf. Besides, she mentioned she had 3-4 more in her pantry at home anyway. Stunned and grateful, I told her, “I’ll pay it forward.”

    I like your reference to Willow waiting. A dog that knows how to meditate!

    • What a wonderful thing to say, Marian. I’m honored. When I mentioned reading scripture in questions at the end, I was thinking of you. I remember you read the Bible in the morning–and I love when you share verses with me. I’ve often read before meditation–a quote from a spiritual teacher or text or an inspiring poem. Right now, it seems most important to feel grounded on the earth (Meniere’s Disease is physically disorienting) and also to remember life’s beauty and the things I can count on such as seasonal and daily cycles. Also important to connect to the Sacred. I miss music so much. For many, many years, sacred music was the way Vic and I began meditation–and my meditation teacher of 17 years always played sacred music before meditation.

      I love the Kalamati olive story. Who would have thought a few years ago that we’d need Kalamati olives? I didn’t know they existed, along with hummus and a few other staples. Finally, sweet Willow. She loves to run and chase sticks (and rabbits), but she knows that when I sit on my cushions, there is no action for her until I get off them. She’s always quiet and goes back to her bed until I’m done.

  7. Dear Elaine, Thank you so much for sharing more of your reflective, Crone wisdom. I love the idea of creating that circle of inner quiet … nature holds dear such circles! Yesterday I was reminded of a wonderful quote, “If you want peace, work for justice” and this works not only outwardly, communally, but on the inside too … and what does inner justice look like?

    For me it is a place where love and mercy meet within, where justice is found to be rolling up her sleeves, in order to wash clean the soul. The poet, artist and writer must learn to steady her pen, her brushes, and commune with her creative spirit … much like Willow, she needs to learn the art of pausing … until equilibrium is wholly realised in mind, body, spirit and soul.

    I agree with Patt, a focal point outside works beautifully. For whenever I’m fearful I remember, “Helleveyn” the wonderful mountain in Cumbria, UK … where one hot day, I sat and wrote my fears down onto a sheet of paper, rolled it up and deeply embedded it in the wall behind the seating area on the summit. Ah! I say to myself on such days, I’ve left my fears at the top. Blessings always, Deborah.

    • Wonderful quote, Deborah. For me, justice is about inner soul work, but also about worldly work–as long as I have the strength to do that. Standing up peacefully against our government and the mostly men in power on behalf of human suffering and the decimation of the environment. Even my beloved hospice is concerned about funding cuts–and we already count on huge fund-raising efforts to supplement care for those whose insurance won’t pay. Won’t pay to help people have a gentle death? Sigh…

      It’s not easy for me to reach an ideal inner equilibrium, even though I’ve been practicing for so many years with help from many teachers. I’m grateful for another sort of equilibrium where I simply sit with what is and accept what is, including my own inner mess. Mindfulness meditation is helpful in articulating that approach. And Pema Chodron who always speaks to my deepest core.

      My tall pine goes with me wherever I am–either outside my window when I’m home or within me when I’m away or it’s too foggy to see the forest from the house. I love how you left your fears in the stone wall at the top. I’ve buried some of mine, including little clay statues under the roots of mammoth CA trees and under stones on my property. You remind me to keep burying. I just found one of those worried notes when I cleaned my altar. I have a basket there where I leave them sometimes, but you remind me to do that more often. Sending blessings and gratitude back to you.

  8. Hi Elaine. Good as always to connect with you and your words. I imagine a romp with Sweet Willow and funny Jak. He will be nuetered next week. So maybe that romp will have to wait. Much love flying your way so gently.

    • Yes, let’s plan a dog romp. Thank you for your love and I send it back to you. I’ve finally landed after my week in NC. I just unpacked the last items in the suitcase. Spring is touching the land with green and spots of color. The stream is full and beautiful. What a relief it is to have spring flowers outside.

  9. Beautiful Elaine. You chose serenity, if only for a short time to recharge for what lies ahead in the day. Maybe we should all just make that special timeout time for ourselves. And I thought it was so cute how Willow knows what you’re up to and makes no demands. 🙂

    • The world would be a better place if we all learned to pause and find a little inner peace, especially those in power. I’m imagining a new project called Meditation for Politicians–and I promise not to send any email asking you to sign petitions or give a donation. (I don’t know how it is in Canada, but my email inbox is flooded with political messages.)

      • It’s no different here Elaine. Mine is flooded too. I think we must be spied on when posting certain articles on social media, then searched to send related emails. 🙂

  10. Putting aside all the noise of the outer world and reconnecting with ourselves and with our surroundings. You are quite right: certain things will unavoidably happen… The world moves so fast!. The attitude toward things (good or bad ones) could make a difference. But for that we need a peaceful mind. Perspective is the key, too. You brought some very relevant points here and for that I thank you, dear Elaine. Have a beautiful weekend. Love & best wishes across the miles. 😀

    • I’m fortunate to be surrounded by silence in my home, but the world still rushes in through the internet or my chaotic feelings or the tragedies of this world. I need to remind myself to practice cultivating a peaceful mind every day. That glimpse of peace matters more than my little ego thinks (judges) it does. Thank you for reading and taking time to comment. This weekend, I’m watching bluebirds build a nest when I’m not working on a piece I’m writing. Sending love and blessings back your way.

  11. Thank you for this Elaine. I’ve been meditating for a long time now, also from the 1970’s when TM hit the scene here in SA. Usually firth thing in the morning when I wakeup. Not absolutely always, but usually. It sets the tone. I like putting fresh flowers every other day or so on a small table in my study on which are on a few precious items. There is something calming abut this as I recall why I am doing tis – ie to take a few seconds to make something lovely and meaningful.

    • I love to put flowers on my altar, but usually do that in the summer. When there are no flowers in the yard, I rearrange, tidy up, add water, change, and add new things such as the Ganesh given to me by a friend. Part of the process of calming down and finding inner peace is creating beauty and order. It takes focus for me to stop hurrying on to the next thing. Sometimes my house is a wreck, but the altars and images are always tended and changing. Thanks for your rich comment and the meaningful topics on your blog.

  12. Thanks so much for your post Elaine. I can see what you mean by the eyes of Anandamayi Ma. Usually I start my morning ritual with contemplating about an archetype. Sounds crazy, i know but i started doing that ever since Sherry Purecelli wrote a guest blog about it for Mindfunda (https://mindfunda.com/healing/). I have this inner notion that archetypes are the natural order of the brain: they speak to us in dreams, in poetry and in the stories we cherish.

    • We do whatever brings us a sense of hope and inner peace, Susanne. What that is can shift in time, or at least it has for me. I have to avoid being cerebral, but instead make sure I’m firmly planted on the earth and in breath. Your thoughts about archetypes are interesting. I’ve never thought of them as the natural order of the brain. Becoming a mother was what I needed to know what the term meant. I’d studied Jung a few years before I gave birth to my first child, but the idea of archetype felt illusive. “Ah, this is an archetype,” I thought (and probably said to Vic), “this outpouring of milk and love with the desire to protect a tiny stranger and hold him to my heart.”

  13. Getting to the circle of stillness and keeping it with you throughout the day. What else could you ask for? Beautiful.

    • Thanks for reading and taking time to comment, John. I couldn’t ask for anything more. Then why, I wonder, does part of me want to skip through that circle of peace and become agitated by turning on the computer or reading a newspaper? I have to remind myself every day that the world can wait. Balance is a demanding practice.

Leave a Reply