Practicing the Righting Reflex

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, October 23, 2016

Notice our choice of words in the English language: to keep our balance or to lose our balance.  This implies that balance is something we can find and then also something we might easily lose control of or misplace.  Much as we may try to always remain upright and in harmony with our surroundings, the reality is that we will, at some time, lose our footing and tumble to the ground.  Clearly, we’re not always in control of standing upright, but we know that returning to a state of balance is important at any age.

If falling is ultimately going to come into our lives, soon or eventually, might it be of some importance to learn how to fall correctly and then return to a state of balance?  Athletes, actors, stuntmen and stuntwomen, dancers, ice skaters, gymnasts, people with mobility issues, all learn the proper way to fall so they can avoid preventable injuries, spare themselves further damage, and return to a sense of wholeness and well-being.

The animal kingdom may have something to teach us about righting ourselves after a fall.  Ever notice a squirrel scampering effortlessly across a thin telephone wire?  We’re not fooled by the squirrel’s seeming inattention to its perilous path; there is focus in every step.  How about a cat’s amazing ability to land on its feet after a fall from the heights?  Like cats, some other small animals possess what’s called the “righting reflex,” an amazing, innate ability to orient themselves as they fall in order to land on their feet.  What’s important to note here is that cats are not immune to falling.  Like all of us, they fall.  What they’re exceptional at is orienting themselves, being fully aware of their surroundings in the present moment, and quickly returning to a state of equilibrium after they fall.

falling-leaf-singleSo what might we learn about falling well that we can transfer and apply to the life of the spirit?  Perhaps, flawed and limited as we are, it’s accepting the inevitability of falling and losing our balance.  And then, with God’s grace, getting up and working and praying our way back to a place of being centered.

Here are a few helps for maintaining a steady grounding and also for restoring balance and wholeness once we’ve slipped in some way.

Go barefoot.
Take off your shoes, literally or figuratively, and spend time in the created world.  Take this “barefoot time” outside, if possible, for a closer look.  Notice how your sisters and brothers of the natural world maintain a spirit of harmony and balance and observe what they do to restore and heal themselves.  Take in with gratitude the beauty of the world around you.

Learn how to roll.
A safety roll allows gymnasts and other athletes to roll in the direction of their fall instead of trying to immediately stop their momentum, which could cause more severe injuries.  Accept the reality of your imperfect, human condition.  Grow in your awareness of where you are and how you are as you enter each moment or situation.

Breathe.
At every moment of your life, you’re inhaling and exhaling.  When you’re anxious and concerned, your breath may be shallow and rapid.  When you’re bone-tired or shouldering a heavy burden, your breath may appear as a long, drawn-out sigh.  When you’re in a space of peace and contentment, your breath may be calm, slow, and even.

Why not make your breathing a practice of attending to the present moment, connecting with where you’re aware of God’s presence, and paying attention?  Practice breathprayer by silently praying with each inhale and exhale, or by praying with simple words, e.g., Breathing in: I breathe in Your peace.  Breathing out: I breathe peace to our world.

Pause.
In the monastic tradition, there’s a practice called statio.  It’s often connected to the tradition of prayer throughout the hours of any given day. It’s a moment of quiet, a brief standing still.  Statio is the pause you take between ending one activity and moving on to the next.  You end one phone conversation and pause before dialing the next number.  You complete one piece of work and pause before taking up the next.  You pass through the doorway of one room and embrace what lies in the next.  Statio is a practice of contemplative consciousness that acknowledges the sacredness of what you’ve just finished and the sacredness of what you’re about to do next.

Dwell in Mystery.
In the aptly titled, Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life, Philip Simmons, a 35-fallingleaveslargeheartyear-old husband and father of two small children, was diagnosed with ALS and given, at best, a few years to live.  He chose to learn to live richly in the face of loss, the work that he called “learning to fall.”  He wrote of falling as a figure of speech: we fall on our faces, we fall for a joke, we fall for someone, we fall in love.  We fall away from ego and our carefully constructed identities, our reputations, our ambition.  And we fall into compassion, into oneness with forces larger than ourselves, into oneness with others who are likewise falling.  “We fall, at last, into the presence of the sacred,” he wrote, “into godliness, into mystery, into our better, diviner natures.”

No matter what is happening in our lives, may we continue to learn how to fall into the faithful, loving heart of God.

Takeaway

Reflect on a memory of falling in your life.  What learnings might you take from that experience?

How did you heal after that fall?

What restores you to wholeness?

My deep thanks for your prayer for last week’s retreat with the Sisters of St. Dominic at St. Catherine’s Health Care Center, Caldwell, NJ.  It was a delight and a grace to spend time praying and reflecting with those holy women.

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Good Vibrations

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, October 9, 2016

We drink it.  We bathe in it.  We wash dishes, clothing and so many other items in it.  We swim with delight in it on a humid summer day.  We fish in it from a dock or a boat.  We cook with it.  With all our everyday connections to water, might we also learn something from it?

Masaru Emoto, a Japanese scientist and author of The Hidden Messages in Water, believes there are many lessons water can teach us.  He discovered that, just as we human beings are affected by the thoughts, words, and feelings of others, so are molecules of water.  He notes that this makes sense, for from a physical perspective, the average human body is 70% water.  As fetuses, we are about 99% water.  When we are born, we are 90% water.  If rhythmswavewe reach adulthood, we will be 70% water.  And if we live to old age, we will still be at least 50% water.  He concluded that throughout our lives, we exist mostly as water.  Naturally curious, he began to conduct a series of scientific experiments with water.

Dr. Emoto was struck by the fact that no two snow crystals are alike and deduced that if he froze water and looked at the crystals, each one would appear totally unique.  Then began a long journey of trial and error as he tried to find a way to capture the frozen crystals and photograph them.  Eventually, he succeeded.

One day his research assistant wondered aloud what would happen if water were exposed to music.  What effect might the vibrations of music have on water?  So together they placed a bottle of water on a table between two speakers and exposed it to classical music, Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, Mozart’s 40th Symphony, Chopin’s Etude in E, as well as other types of music.  The water exposed to gentleness and beauty resulted in crystals that were well-formed, with distinct characteristics.  The water exposed to loud music with vulgar lyrics resulted in crystals that were fragmented and malformed.

The scientists then wondered what would happen if water were exposed to positive and negative words, since words are also vibrations.  They wrote phrases with positive connotations–“Thank you”, “I love you”, in a variety of languages–on pieces of paper wrapped around bottles of water with the words facing in towards the bottle.  At a later time, they also invited children to speak these words aloud to the water.  They did the same with negative words—“Fool!”  “You make me sick!”  In these experiments, water exposed to gentle, loving words resulted in beautiful, shapely crystals.  Water exposed to hateful, negative words produced crystals that were malformed and fragmented.

Dr. Emoto summarized the learnings from these experiments as illustrating the power ofblue-coast-copy words on both water and human consciousness.  Water, he believes, teaches us in a very clear way how we must live our lives.  It helps us to see ourselves and our universe differently.  “The vibration of good words has a positive effect on our world,” Dr. Emoto noted, “whereas the vibration from negative words has the power to destroy.”  One has only to enter a room full of strangers in conversation to notice that some people are vibrating in ways that feel joyful or content, whereas others may move through the room carrying and vibrating messages of sadness or anger.

There is so much more contained in The Hidden Messages of Water, and I invite you to explore its riches, especially as it relates to the healing power of love and gratitude.  The questions these experiments raise ultimately become, “How can I grow in awareness?  How can I positively impact the Earth? How do I wish to vibrate for the life of the world?”

 Takeaway

At the end of the day, begin an Examen of sorts by entering into quiet prayer and reflection, and ask yourself,

Was I giving off good vibrations?
Was I a positive presence in anyone’s life today?
With what, with whom did I resonate?
How did I affect the quality of this day?

Offer a prayer of thanks for God’s presence with you.  Commit to vibrate the same loving presence to the people you meet.

 

Thank you for your prayerful support of two events I offered in the past two weeks: “Doorways to the Holy: Opening Together into the Heart of God”, a morning of presentation, reflection, and process for the IHM Sister-Associate Conference; and “Tenderly, in the Tangle of Our Minds,” a workshop on discernment for the Scranton Diocesan Congress.   

Please hold in your prayer an upcoming week of guided retreat I’m offering for the Sisters of St. Dominic, St. Catherine’s Infirmary, Caldwell, NJ.  My deep thanks for all your support!

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