Sunday, June 28, 2009

Spirituality, Imagination and the Healing Power of Art

By Sr. Mary Lonergan

“Yours to drive a new furrow

Nor sow any longer among the briars.” -- Jer. 4:3

We can define spirituality in many ways: in terms of integration, of self-transcendence, of growth in our relationship with God, of the activity of the Spirit within us.

Brian O’Leary, Spirituality Professor and an outstanding spiritual director at National University of Ireland’s Milltown Institute, says that no matter which definition is preferred, we are always dealing with a process – a process facilitated by our capacity to understand, to feel, to act, but mostly by our capacity to imagine. It is through imagination that we reach understanding, have our feelings engaged and are energized into action.

Imagination, Brian says, mediates reality to us and allows us to discover meaning, to weave together the strands of our reality that we name as past, present, future. It affects the way we experience these strands, interpret them and find meaning in them. More importantly, it can give us the power to change them.

Imagination allows us to re-imagine and heal old hurts and wounds. It allows us to be creative with our future, to play with multiple possibilities, to dream great dreams, release our creative energies and, ultimately, give focus to our hopes. It helps us see clearly that present is not separate from past and future. Healthy imagination enhances our lives and helps make us well integrated and whole.

And what does all this have to do with suffering and healing? M. Scott Peck begins The Road Less Traveled with the stark sentence: “Life is difficult.” We know that suffering, universal suffering, is an enormous challenge to the faith and belief in a loving, capable God. Extreme suffering diminishes the self, destroys the ability to communicate, paralyzes the deepest and innermost strivings and hinders the achievement of human wholeness. Unrelieved suffering brings Winter to the soul. It becomes hard to believe in a God who cares. In fact, it is hard to believe in God.

There is no easy answer to suffering, no easy path to wellness, mental, physical or spiritual. Ultimately, we want to believe that healing comes from God in and through the recuperative power of body, mind and spirit. (Our faith-filled grandmothers might say, “God heals those who try to heal themselves.”)

Not having my grandmother’s wisdom, and, like Julian of Norwich, being somewhat “unskilled” in art and medicine, I nevertheless truly believe that art, in all its forms -- music and movement, painting and poetry, dream and dance, sculpture and song and story -- can aid us in discovering the meaning and the mystery of God in our lived experience. I believe art can arrest life and make it available for contemplation, capturing the eternal in the everyday. Artistic images, whether we are creating or contemplating, can embody feelings, thoughts, desires, hopes, despairs. Art can unlock the doors of sorrow never opened, never expressed; can unearth hope turned to stone; can conquer grief never owned.

Carl Jung would have us believe that each person has a vast soulscape waiting to be explored, and that the creative arts can become the channels into the imaginative world, confirming the presence of a healing power within us, ready to be set free. In the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas we read, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.”

I believe that when artist and mystic unite, art becomes prayer made visible, and we can expect nothing less than a radical transformation of how we view and relate to our world. We can transcend suffering and plough a new furrow toward a better horizon – no longer lost “among the briars.”

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

An Introduction to Spring Forest Qigong

By Sr. Emma Holdener, OSF LMT

Dear Friends, Namaste’ Peace, Joy and Hope to fill your Being

During my last blog, I promised to share all about Spring Forest Qigong with you. It was in April of 2007 that I first learned about Spring Forest Qigong and Master Chunyi Lin’s gift to us and to the whole world: this easy-to-follow program for Health and Healing.
What is Spring Forest Qigong (pronounced chee gong)? It is a simple, efficient, and effective method for
  • helping you experience your optimal health, wellness, and happiness;
  • helping you heal physical and emotional pain; and
  • enhancing the quality of your life and the lives of others.
SFQ is comprised of four parts that work together:
  • Breathing
  • Gentle movements
  • Mental focus
  • Sound
At this point I’d like to introduce you to the SFQ web site:

On the HOME page you will meet Chunyi Lin and see his book, Born A Healer. He also shares two active exercises that you can experience: the Breathing of the Universe and Moving of Yin and Yang.

Check the side bar and there you will find a 15 minute meditation called Open Your Heart, Change Your World — a gift from Chunyi to you. Also at the side bar you can go to Master Lin’s FACEBOOK to see his messages and those of his friends.
You may find the most helpful information in the drop-down section of YOUR HEALING POWER:

Understanding SFQ
How SFQ Works
Getting Started (check all the states where SFQ Level One is taught)

Learning to Heal

Transforming Your Energy

and much more……

Do check on the four shaded words: balance energy movement empowerment to get a short explanation of each as they relate to Spring Forest Qigong.
The FAQ drop down under ABOUT US answers the questions most folks have about SFQ. I especially appreciated Chunyi’s answer to the question, ”Is there religion involved?”

Here at our Center we just enjoyed our final Active Exercises and Meditation session for the summer. We will meet again on the first and third Thursdays of each month beginning with Sept. 17 through December.

It is my prayer that you will come to love SFQ and find much benefit for your own health and healing as well as those of your loved ones and even of your pets! Until next time, NAMASTE’ Peace, Joy, Love -- Sr. Emma

Friday, June 5, 2009

What, In This Moment, Is Lacking?

By Marilyn Kirvin

Insecurity and fear are all part of the human condition -- perhaps heightened by the current economic downturn, but in truth they have always been with us. Though we are created with a basic core of Goodness, our True Selves, which are not separate from God, in our day to day experience we often don’t feel an ongoing sense of being in union with the Divine. Rather, we feel separate and alone, and we struggle to trust that God is with us.

I recently read something that has helped me to understand this phenomenon better from the perspective of brain science. Life Coach Martha Beck, in her book Steering By Starlight, writes that research shows that there is a neural structure that is wrapped around the cortex of our brains that evolved from the earliest vertebrates -- she calls it “Lizard Brain.” The purpose of this structure is to send signals to us about our survival fears. Martha writes, “The entire purpose of your reptile brain is to continually broadcast survival fears -- alarm reactions that keep animals alive in the wild. These fears fall into two different categories: lack, and attack. On one hand, our reptile brains are convinced that we lack everything we need: we don’t have enough time, money, everything. On the other hand, something terrible is about to happen.”

She goes on to say that while this mechanism is very helpful out in the wild, it is not so great for we humans who can lie in bed at night and conjure up fears of things that may never happen that can feel far worse than the actual crisis itself. That lizard voice is the one that can shake our foundations by telling us, “No one will ever love me,” or “I’m going to die homeless on the streets,” or “Can I really believe God cares about me?”

Once, after I had recited a litany of my own favorite lizard fears, my spiritual director said to me, “You are living out in the future, and God is not in the future. God is only here, right now, with you in this moment . . . so reel it back in.” His encouragement to me to live in the present was like the message of the Zen teacher Suzuki Roshi, who would ask his students, “What, in this moment, is lacking?” It is what Jesus meant when he said, in Matthew 6, “Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life?” And we see it in the commitment St. Francis made to a life of evangelical poverty – of not storing up riches, but trusting that what was needed for each day would be given.

We can cultivate our “present moment awareness” with spiritual practices that will help us to still our anxiety, and tap into the deep interior wisdom that shows us the next step to take, the next loving thing to do. These include Centering Prayer; meditation; breathwork; Bioenergetic Focusing; as well as The Presence Process, by Michael Brown. And, we can go to the many places in the Scriptures that remind us of God’s presence and care for us, such as Psalm 23: O God, you are my shepherd, there is nothing I lack…. Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side; your rod and staff give me courage.