Silent Sundays: Ode To The Lobes–Series Introduction

As a curious creature who feels compelled to investigate almost anything that I do not understand—or about which I seek a greater understanding—it was only a matter of time before I set my mind to… the mind. But with a mother in the depths of dementia, the curiosity became a necessity: how to accept our family’s heart-rending reality by venturing further into the arena of the challenge—the brain. And for many, certainly those between 45-70 or so, the state of their own brain health grows increasingly important. Therein lies the crux of the series to come.

For example, this Silent Sunday leads off with a short routine designed to activate and support the harmony between all regions of the brain. Future practices will address regions individually: In so doing, one can begin to discern physical, emotional, or mental areas that could use additional attention. Think of the series as an investigative tool: While offering your body and mind a novel experience, the routines will unearth information for you to apply to your personal needs.

First, a brief refresher course may be in order. When most of us think of “the brain,” we mean the cerebrum: It is the wrinkly organ under the skull bone that regulates, controls, communicates, moves, feels, and processes. The cerebrum is then divided into four lobes that comprise two hemispheres. Behind and below the cerebrum lie the cerebellum, medulla oblongata, and pons (Lat. “bridge,” i.e., connects brain to spinal cord). Each of these major regions has further divisions, but the series will focus on the main areas.

On this Silent Sunday, the first practice addresses whole-brain synchronization. Subsequent routines will focus on how specific brain areas and their associated functions can be stimulated. Along the way, I will offer insight about how these anatomical regions relate to movement and meditation, as well as to esoteric aspects of energy and consciousness. The intention is to add a new level of interest to the practices that I create and that you can enjoy.

To begin the exploration, find your way to the floor. As you do so, notice how, for the most part, you do not have to consciously conduct the movement: After countless trips down to the ground, your brain knows how to navigate the descent, which hand goes where, what needs support, etc. This “muscle memory” comes from the cerebellum. 

Once down, lie on your back, legs long, arms by the sides. Bring your attention to the breath. As you are, the medulla is in charge: breath rate, heart beat, blood pressure. The cerebrum can join the practice; it is responsible for the decision to alter the natural breath, to choose a pattern, and to control the technique. Here, begin to inhale deeply and steadily through the nose. Exhale long and slow for twice the amount of time as your inhalation. Repeat 4 more times.

Next, inhale to draw the right knee in toward the body. As you do so, lift the right arm up and over to rest on the floor behind you: Exhale to return the arm and leg to their original position. Inhale to draw the left knee in and the arm up and over; exhale to release. Alternate the unilateral arm and leg movement a total of 16 times (8 on each side). Remember that the right hemisphere of the brain controls the movement of the left side of the body, and the left hemisphere controls the right.

Now, extend the legs and arms straight up into the air. Inhale: As you exhale, lower the left leg and right arm to the floor (arm next to the body). Inhale them both up; exhale to lower the right leg and left arm. Repeat for a total of 12 alternations.

Special note: Feel free to modify this move by bending the legs to 90 degrees at the knee. As the opposite arm lowers, touch the toes to the floor, maintaining the angle of the bent leg. 

This type of cross-lateral movement requires both sides of the brain to work in harmony. If you find it challenging to create the move and to make it fluid, it may be beneficial to introduce more oppositional movement into your daily routine.

On that note: Once you have completed the above exercise, help yourself up to sit. Here, begin backward shoulder rolls, both at the same time, for 8 repetitions. Next, roll them forward 8 times. Now, begin to roll only the left shoulder back; repeat 6 times. Then, roll only the right shoulder back 6 times. Finish this portion with 4 shoulder rolls forward on the left, then the right.

Now, your brain will have to work: Inherently, your focus must increase, which is an initial portal into meditation. As you roll the left shoulder back, roll the right forward: Take as much time as you need to achieve ease with this move; once the movement is fluid, roll in opposition 4 times. Repeat the process as the left shoulder rolls forward and the right back.

After you have finished the “brain teaser,” sit quietly to resume natural breathing. Then, shift onto all fours for a breathing variation of Cat/Cow. (This move was introduced in the previous post, “Where You Are.”) Here—and anytime breath and movement synergizes intentionally—the move harnesses the functions of the hindbrain (motor control with autonomic nervous system); simultaneously, both hemispheres of the cerebrum are engaged with the creativity and organization of the movement.

Begin with a few rounds of traditional Cat/Cow: Inhale to extend (arch) the spine, exhale to flex (round). Pause for a moment, breathing in and out completely. Then, inhale to round the back; exhale to arch. Again, you may need a few rounds before the move flows seamlessly with the new breath pattern: Inhale to round, exhale to arch. Once you find a sense of flow, complete 6 rounds of the atypical movement.

Then, shift into Baby Pose for a few rounds of natural, but deep breathing through the nose. When you are ready, sit up, and come into your favorite seated posture for meditation. With the eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, bring the fingertips of each hand to touch their match on the opposite hand: The fingers are straight and apart from each other, and palms do not touch. Bring this Hakini Mudra just above the level of the Heart Center, a few inches in front of the body. This gesture coordinates and focuses the mind. Breathe into its centering power for 3 minutes. Then, if you like, find your way into Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Heavy Heart? Lighten the Load

Special note: Today’s meditation may be especially useful for those with a loved one struggling with a progressive or chronic condition. The practice is calming and centering: In that space, some light may shine…

On this post-Thanksgiving, pre-Winter-and-all-of-its-holidays Silent Sunday, I find myself somewhat encumbered: A heavy heart is slowing my stride, draining my reserves, and beckoning misguided thoughts.

About a week ago, after my daily morning conversation with my deep-dementia mother, I called my sister to, as I told her, “talk with someone whose voice I recognized.” As soon as I said it, I burst into tears.

A few days later, in response to a genuine “how are you” from a trusted friend, I again started to cry.

And just last night, while watching a not-especially-emotional program, the tears began to build.

In an effort to understand my leaden heart, I considered: Holiday blues? Nope, not a typical culprit for me. Loneliness? Recent loss or disappointment? No, to both. Response to less sunlight? I generally prefer the shorter days.

So, what could be the source of this weeping heart?

What I have discerned is that what I thought was a No to “Recent loss or disappointment?” is more of a Yes. The loss, however, is not recent, nor is it past; perhaps the ongoingness, itself, is the very weight hanging on my heart. 

And in writing that, I realize that that is true.

For as I think this and now write it, I know that the steady disappearance of my mother is an energy shift that reverberates profoundly throughout my Heart Center. Always close, perhaps to a detrimental degree at times, my mother and I made great strides over the past 15-20 years to establish “healthy boundaries.” I exalted in the times when I could stand my ground, or when she did not exert her will over my choices. I respected her past and path, and learned to separate my decisions from her desires. We had evolved, and in so doing, could enjoy a new relationship born of a deeper understanding.

Now, after about 5 years of wrangling with her dementia (and thinking that I had come to terms with New Mom), my Heart energy is sounding the alarm: I remain in grief over the loss of Old Mom. This is not a cut-and-dry end, however: I still talk to the woman—a Woman—every day. She remains in her house, has a daily routine, forms strong opinions, enjoys conversation, makes observations, and is in overall sound health. So where did Old Mom go?

When my sister and I discuss this issue, we typically land on: Deal with the Woman in front of us; honor the essence of the Mom we knew; and allow the sadness we feel.

Such has been our mantra, increasing in volume, over the course of the past several years. So why now am I experiencing a resurgence of grief?

It can be no coincidence that I recently heard an actor (Andrew Garfield) describe his grief over the passing of his mother. In speaking of it, he made the unusual pronouncement that he valued the feeling of grief: He regards it as “unexpressed love.” 

And for me, that is the key to the unexpected depth of my sadness. Psychologically, it makes sense that I would grieve the “loss” of my mom, the one who raised me, the one to whom I was so close, and the one from whom I healthily distanced. But that grief is ongoing, as she has yet to pass from this earth. Thus, each day is a reminder of the disappearance, and each day is a reminder that the Woman to whom I express my love does not necessarily know who I am.

So, if grief is “unexpressed love,” I am in a state of constant grief: Whatever love I express falls on ears that acknowledge the sweetness of my words or tone, but can not fathom its depth. This is a state of “incomplete grief.”

How to make whole a thing that most people avoid? How to “complete” grief when the source of it is actually present? How to lighten the load of a heavy heart when the weight must be born each and every day?

This is the type of spiritual pain and effort that, ironically, fuels me. When I am able to identify the challenge, the load already is lessened. To that end, I suggest the following meditation to honor and bolster your Heart, however it may be feeling.

The power of Prayer Mudra (Anjali Mudra) can not be overstated, nor can the value of your breath and focus. To that end, find a version of Prayer Mudra that resonates with your current Heart energy: traditional palms together at Heart Center; backs of hands together (Reverse Prayer); fingers pointed up or down; mudra at Heart or Head or elsewhere. Allow this to be a choice guided by intuition: When we can surrender to a suggestion from the Universe, Truth responds to that reverence. As the Heart detects that devotion, its vibration strengthens.

Then, with eyes closed, gaze up to the Third Eye. This focus ushers in a vibration of Truth. Use your deep, steady inhale through the nose to guide the pulse of this energy deep within; exhale to send it back out for more. Inhale through the Third Eye; exhale into the Mudra, whatever variation you chose and wherever it lies. Then, take a breath in through the mudra, and exhale out through the Third Eye and beyond. In this way, you begin a cycle of renewal and understanding with the Universe and its eternal Truth. Immerse yourself in the process for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday… 

Yet Again–The Path Already Taken (Or: How Not to Trip on the Same Stones)

Now, at 3:47 a.m., I have been up for 2 hours and 14 minutes. And so it begins (again)…

The last month has been another challenging period in our family’s interminable travels with Mom’s dementia. Around this time two years ago, we faced similar concerns: Mom was unhappy and frustrated with her living situation, especially as she had stopped driving. Back then, we, her adult children, scrambled and fumbled and whirled ourselves into a state of anxiety over how to address Mom’s issues: We had become certain that the only recourse was to move her out of Home, and move her into a “home.” 

When nothing seemed to be a good fit, or obstacles and uncertainties caused us to spin faster and more wildly, we finally realized that there must be an alternative to how we were thinking and what we were doing. Thank goodness for my sister, who managed to rally a neighbor of my mom’s to provide help: Long story short, “L” stepped in and up, and provided our family with care for our mom, and time for us to regroup.

So it has been two years of a deep breath for all of us. As of this moment, however, we have returned to the thought that Mom needs a different environment and a deeper level of care. (To be clear, this current state of thinking originated with our mother’s demand and declaration that she must, she will move “back Home.” She can not express exactly what that looks like, or where it is, but she has spent a month packing furiously and often waiting for a “ride home.” Over and over again, we have had to thwart her aim: She already lives in the one and only home/house she has.)

Finally, last week, all of us—including “L,” her intrepid caregiver—simultaneously agreed that the time has come: Mom must be moved. Ironically, that is the granting of her wish; however, it is a wish that she can not visualize or describe. Said “wish,” in its fulfillment, may be the very thing that brings her to her knees. 

Anywhere we move her likely will not sate the feeling that she craves: peace and purpose.

So how do we accommodate her and our hopes? Where lies that accommodation? Here, I could launch into a diatribe about “peace within,” or the universal presence of a divine kingdom and its inner dwelling. In the distant, milky past, these are ideas that my mother and I would discuss for hours. But then the harshest of earthly realities strikes: My mother’s dementia does not allow her to grasp abstracts, or at least to retain them; and her cognitive challenges include decreased judgment and reasoning. Her mood swings are certain to occur, but we never know when or for how long.

To encourage that mind to look within, or to breathe deeply, or to be grateful for her lovely home and its nature-filled surroundings is a fool’s errand. She may understand the intention of such suggestions, but she will not remember them, nor would she be able to engage them.

Thus, here we are again. And here I am, watching my own mind try to retrace what we did in the previous version of this challenge two years ago, and how to do it differently. Thankfully, while Mom’s mind has shifted away from reasoned understanding, my own (by dint of sheer need) has acquired a greater ability to focus and direct intention. And as with distance healing for others’ physical concerns, one can stimulate and amplify a vibration of peace for others: So it shall be for my mother.

What I return to (which took me a while to access last time) is the mantra “Sat Kartar,” or, “God is the Doer and the Truth.” One could also say, “Let go, let God;” or, “What is meant to be, shall be.”

All such mantras reroute a wayward mind, one that attempts to juggle, analyze, or fix too much. When yoked to God’s will, one’s own will can ease up on the reins. When anchored in God’s wisdom, one’s own mind can discern and dismiss irrelevant or misguided choices. When one consciously breathes into the vast void that is paradoxically the eternal entirety and wholeness, one can temper the demands of this earthbound existence.

With the mantra—or whatever mantra “appears” on any given day—I also have returned to the most fundamental of breathing techniques: “in for 4; out for 8.” Typically, after a few rounds, the counts become closer to 6 and 12. And I find that I breathe in through the nose, and exhale through the nose, eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye. Sometimes a groan or sad sigh emerges: Whatever is imprisoned within is given the opportunity to escape. Usually, after 5 minutes, I begin to play with the calmed, deeper breath: whistle in, whistle out; or, in through pursed lips, and out through the mouth with tongue extended.

This is a case when the body knows more than the mind: Let the physical need guide the remedy. And such is the case of the spiritual need and remedy: God knows, the Universe knows—let them lead the way. 

Onward…

Homestead Series–Part Two: Creativity and Its Expression (With a Nod to Dementia)

My mother, aka Old Mom: whole-hearted listener, warm hugger, cookie lover, art appreciator, helper of all helpers, poet.

My mother with dementia, aka New Mom: curious listener, warm hugger, cookie monster, mystified observer, determined participant, wordless warrior.

Two days ago, my mother with dementia became reacquainted with the original—New Mom met Old Mom.

Lest you wonder if I was adopted or have a step-mother, allow me to clarify: The two mothers I describe are the same woman—one body, one heart, one mind, one soul, one poet, one intrepid doer of Life. As are many whose loved one has for whatever reason shifted in their cognitive abilities and psychological states, I am bewildered by the changes in my mother: At this point in her nearly 10 years of waning, altered mental capacity, I think of this woman as New Mom. 

Old Mom was younger; New Mom is old. 

Old Mom could spar or speak without a beat; New Mom shrilly rants or goes silent, watching an invisible ticker tape of vocabulary rise up before her inner eye, then tangle, fade, and disappear.

Old Mom wrote poetry; New Mom reads her old poetry.

Which is what she did the other day.

During our daily phone call, she asked, “Do you have a minute?” She then proceeded to explain that she had written a book: Did I know that? When I assured her that yes, I knew all about the letters and memories of her father that she had compiled nearly 30 years ago, she seemed relieved, albeit somewhat surprised that I knew such a thing about her. She does not always know that this person with whom she speaks on the phone each morning is one of her two daughters. 

I do not mind. I used to, but that was when I thought Old Mom could or would rally and return. That was before New Mom stole my heart, and I became a more-than-willing accomplice to the theft.

And yesterday, when she was eager to share her writings with me, I listened with joy, with soft sadness, and with my head and heart silently thanking God as Mom spoke. I could hear the pride and pleasure in her voice as she read the deeply considered and impeccably chosen words that she had written. That she realized that they had come from her; that they sparked a connection between her remembered past and misty present; that she could discuss without frustration her Old Brain and New Brain… these wonders fed both of us with an abundance of peace and gratitude.

Ironically, the New Mom who no longer can hold a thought or find a word is the Mom who produces the greatest insight into what it means to think, to feel, and to create. New Mom’s “deficits” give Old Mom’s advantages a run for their money: With the loss of vocabulary and short-term memory comes the intriguingly pointed question, “What happens to Creativity when dementia enters the arena?”

That the ability to dream, to connect, and to usher in new modes of Creativity does not die with dementia is ferociously disarming: If one can not decide to create—motivate to create—how, then, does one engage creative energy?

And that is where my own tune changes: Is To Create the same as Being Creative? Does Creation exist without Expression?

If a tree falls in the forest…

In the framework of Old Mom/New Mom, organized mind versus dementia, Creativity oddly leaps to the fore. New Mom’s creativity now manifests as imaginary friends and visitors; as vivid observances of color and shape; and of acute experience of emotion. In some ways, New Mom’s creative essence shines brighter—by megawatts—than Old Mom’s consciously arranged and edited creative productions. 

Creativity can be unconscious; To Create is not. One may be creative without words or forethought or analysis; to become Creation, though, requires a facilitator—Expression.

Creativity exists without thought, and therefore without our bidding. What one often regards as Creativity is, instead, Expression. Creativity thrives despite our conscious awareness of its activity; it becomes Creation when we attach our intention to its release.

For the purposes of this series of practices, then, Creativity must be linked to Expression, actively and consciously. In sum, the Second Chakra must align with the Fifth: Stoke the generative fires, and usher them through the expressive stacks.

The first phase of the practice energizes and coordinates the partnership of the Second and Fifth chakras. The sequence begins on your back, knees bent, feet flat and hip-width apart. Allow the arms to rest on the ground naturally. As you inhale, tip the pelvis forward, creating a slight arch in the lower spine. Simultaneously, let the chin move gently down toward the chest. Upon exhale, roll the pelvis toward you (thereby slightly rounding the low back), as you let the head tip back, opening the front of the neck. 

These movements require focus, as the tucked chin with inhale and pelvic tip forward initially may seem counter-intuitive (as may the curled tail and open throat upon exhale). Stick with it, repeating the inhale/exhale combinations 12 times.

Next, interlace the fingers behind the neck; bring the elbows as close to the floor as possible. Inhale deeply through the nose; exhale powerfully through the mouth, creating a sounded expulsion of air. As you exhale and cleanse the throat, pull the low belly in strongly. Repeat 12 times.

Now, extend both legs into the air, arms resting back down by the sides. Inhale through the nose; exhale to push the pointed feet straight up, lifting the hips slightly. This move thoroughly engages the low-belly muscles: Try not to let the legs swing toward you as the hips push up; rather, push the toes up, as if to pierce the air straight above. Repeat 12 times.

Repeat the entire 3-part sequence (each move with 12 repetitions) 2 more times, for a total of 3.

Then, help yourself into any comfortable seated position. Place both hands on the low belly, one atop the other: Let the thumb of the bottom hand rest in (or on) the navel. With your mind’s eye, trace the following line of the breath. As you inhale fully through the nose, imagine energy moving from the belly button downward into the palms on the belly; exhale slowly through the nose, and guide the breath down between the legs, to the perineum, and back up into the lower spine, behind the navel. 

Continue the long, steady exhale as the breath splits: Send it around to the left and right waists, and allow it to circle all the way back to the initial point of the navel. Inhale to begin again, drawing the breath into the Dan Tien (where the hands rest); exhale calmly and steadily to push this breath through its long journey back to start. Breathe this way 8 times.

Special note: This visualization and breath meditation also soothes moderate lower-back ache. 

Next, place the thumb and index finger of the right hand on the right and left sides of the throat, respectively. With a firm, slow motion, stroke down from the jaw to the collar bone. As the right hand reaches the collar bone, bring the left hand up to continue the downward stroke (left index finger on right side of throat; left thumb on left side). Move the hands in a seamless round, in order to create a continual stimulation of the Throat Chakra.

Finally, rest both hands in the lap, palms up, one nested inside the other, thumb tips touching. As you inhale deeply through the nose, allow the jaw to fall open; simultaneously visualize the breath coming in and down to the Second Chakra. The exhale becomes the mantra, “Aum.”

Special note: Often, this is written as “Om”: However, the threes letter of Aum convey the desired 3-part sounding—Ah/Oh/Mm.

As you exhale, chant, “Aum,” slowly dissecting the mantra into 3 parts. By the end of the third sound (“mm”), the mouth will be gently closed. Inhale to gently drop the jaw and send the breath into the Creative energy center of the Second Chakra; exhale to chant slowly and steadily, feeling the vibration through the expressive Throat Chakra as the mouth closes softly. Continue for 3 minutes. If you like, settle into Svasana for a few minutes of rest and integration of energy.

Next Time: Homestead—Part 3: Solar-Powered and Heart-Centered