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Breathe in. Breathe out.

A deep inhale, longer exhale; an awareness; a letting go. That is how all my contemplative practices begin. Feeling a cushion under my bottom. The weight of me held up by its softness. Maybe I can release my preferred job of holding everything, everyone together (perfectly) for these moments while I sit silently, returning again and again to my breath and awareness of the Sacred within and all around. My personal practice began during my spiritual direction program. Like this.

Each morning of September that first year, I ferried my three girls to school then dropped into my grandmother’s gold chair by my bed, sat up straight and put my feet flat on the ground to practice Breath Prayer. I breathed in five counts and exhaled ten. I focused on my breath for five minutes. After a week, I worked up to ten minutes. The next week I lasted fifteen. But I felt crazy. Do I believe I can be in, connect to the presence of the Mystery? Really? It seemed ludicrous as I sat in my chair by my bed at nine a.m. What is It anyway? Still, I practiced.

The next month I learned Centering Prayer. On my golden chair, I breathed and let a word rise in me. Jesus; Mother; open; love. I used it to bring me back to inner silence and awareness of Presence when my thoughts strayed. One day, I stayed quiet for twenty minutes then journaled about my gratefulness. For stillness, quiet and the blue Texas fall sky. For breathing in and out, the aliveness of the tingling, cool in-breath and the warmth of compassion I exhaled back out into the world. My word stayed with me throughout the day, taking me back to stillness. But when I sat down to practice a few days later, it felt like the first time I’d even attempted contemplative prayer. I forgot to surrender to silence a thousand times, remembered, then followed a flitting thought or memory across the field of my mind and twirled back again. What am I doing? Opening and emptying? Sitting still and straight; just being. How is that not a waste of time? What is happening in me? To me? I wasn’t at all sure. Still, I practiced.

I noticed my mind’s relentless chatter. One morning I lay under a cotton wood tree as it danced with the wind. I looked through the branches into the expansive, cerulean sky. And my mind WOULD NOT SHUT UP. Cortisol rushed through me. I felt helpless but looked for the compassionate observer inside I’d been learning about. Just notice, no judgement. I was getting to know her.

The quiet, the Presence, permeated me even when my meditation was distracted and frustrating. It nurtured love in me—an answer to a prayer I’d written: There is so little I know. Love. That is the whole thing, I think. Love God. Love neighbors. May I love more and better. May my children one day say, ‘She was crazy and made lots of mistakes, but she loved God, she loved us and she loved people.’

This is one of the gifts my children gave me through the chaos and confusion of our life before we knew about neurodiversity and accommodations. The challenges drove me to find new ways to be resilient. There are so many. When I returned from 24 hours of silence during those years, my oldest, Clare would said, “Mommy, you’re so much nicer now.” Yes. Yes, I was.


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