Smile to Your Heart Meditations
by Irmansyah (“Irman”) Effendi, M.Sc.
Review by Belinda Dunn
For decades, Oprah Winfrey has introduced countless viewers to a spiritual point of view. On a recent broadcast, she succinctly stated her definition of spirituality as an “open heart,” and “being able to love and accept the people of the world.” However, when we look upon the current state of affairs, we see a world at odds with itself, at war with others, and we wonder how to take this ideal and bring it into daily life. From ancient words of the wise, to hearts displayed on a variety of consumer goods, the search is not new. Each of us, in the depths of our being, instinctively know our heart holds the key to love, acceptance, and peace.
In his groundbreaking book, “Smile to Your Heart Meditations,” author Irmansyah Effendi takes the reader through simple, clear, step-by-step instructions to experience the natural feelings in your heart. With encouragement and clarity, he states, “How wonderful and exciting it is to know that peace, calmness, happiness, and other beautiful feelings are within us at this very moment. To be able to feel and enjoy these blessings, all we need to do is open and begin strengthening our heart.”
As a yoga instructor, I receive many questions from students on meditation. Repeatedly, I hear this comment in a variety of ways, “I would like to meditate, but it is difficult to sit still and quiet my mind.” Sincerity and willingness is there, but most people encounter this type of challenge. Apparently, as much as yoga has grown in popularity through recent decades, the serene joy on Buddha’s face seems to elude most students. Throughout the years, I have practiced and offered a variety of techniques, but they could only go so far. In fact, excessive mental activity was a major deterrent to my own practice. The reality is, from early childhood, we are taught to exalt the mind and develop the intellect, thus strengthening the brain.
Seven years ago, I was introduced to the simple techniques presented in “Smile to Your Heart Meditations.” Very quickly my thoughts settled down, and I began feeling a calming, peaceful happiness. What marks this outstanding difference? Instead of focusing on the brain, thus stimulating mental activity, emphasis is placed on the heart. When the heart is strengthened, open, and active, good feelings radiate from the heart. Excessive thinking automatically subsides as the brain is encompassed by feelings of love.
In this step-by-step owner’s manual for the heart, each chapter builds upon the last, explaining the difference between heart, brain, emotion, and feeling. In the chapter entitled “The Real Feeling,” Irman makes a clear distinction between emotion and feeling. Some examples of emotion are arrogance, hatred, resentment, jealousy, and irritation. He goes on to clarify, “I use the term “feeling”, by contrast, only to refer to the real feelings from our heart—which are the good and wonderful sensations that surface in our heart, and radiate out to the rest of our being.” Feelings are defined as love, calmness, beauty, joy and “any other feel-good and uplifting sentiment.”
This brings me to a very important aspect of our psychological make-up as human beings. We commonly refer to the heart when we hear or say, “my heart is heavy,” or “my heart is broken.” In contrast, there are times when we feel “lighthearted,” or remind ourselves to “lighten-up.” Clearly, the state of our heart condition is fundamental and essential to our well-being.
Increasingly, we live in a psychologically aware society. Your local bookstore has whole sections on personal growth, psychology, relationships, and health. Like many people, I have done my psychological homework by reading books and experimenting with various techniques to release emotional baggage and resolve the past.
Thankfully, lasting solutions for my emotional health have come by practicing the meditations offered in this book. As simple as it is, smiling to my heart has immeasurably improved all of my relationships. Each day I feel more present and able to enjoy daily life.
What makes the heart so special? Irman shares this essential truth, “For ages it has been said that we should follow our heart, that our heart knows the truth. Why? This is because our true self, the spark of Source within our heart, has its own consciousness. This consciousness is much higher than our brain consciousness, and it knows the real truth—what is best for us and others.”
Irman has been teaching about the heart for more than a decade, helping hundreds of thousands of people through workshops, healing clinics, non-profits, and business training programs throughout the world. While he has written more than twelve books on the subject, “Smile to Your Heart Meditations” is his first major English-language release. Until now, the material presented in this book has only been available in day-long workshops. When asked why he is publishing a book for the public now, he responds by saying, “It’s because everything is happening at such a fast rate during this spiritual awakening age.”
On Tuesday, June 21st (Summer Solstice!), the public has a rare opportunity to meet Irman at a book-signing event held at Malaprops bookstore, 55 Haywood Street, downtown Asheville, starting at 7 p.m. All the way from his home in Australia, Irman is here to share his heart, answer questions, and introduce you to the wonderful possibilities of living a heart-centered life. In closing, Irman says, “Opening, strengthening, and using your heart are beyond your wildest imagination and your deepest wish in living a peaceful and joyful life. It is as real as can be.” Let this be your personal invitation, and feel free to invite friends and family. See you there!
The author has donated all proceeds from book sales to Heart Sanctuary, a local non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public about the heart as key to happiness and joy.
You are invited to join us for community gatherings each Tuesday evening at 7 p.m., 5 Covington Street, Asheville. For more information, check us out on the web: heartsanctuary.org; smiletoyourheartmeditations.com; openheartworkshops.com; or by phone 888-341-HEART.
A “Y” For All
I’m a girl and it’s wonderful
It fills my life with joy
But sometimes, yes sometimes
I wish I were a boy!
Wouldn’t it be cool if we could swap genders whenever the mood hit us— Instead of simply changing clothes, we could don a penis or swell our breasts in order to really experience how the other half lives.
I’d really like to be a man when I’m running my mini brush hog. Today as I tried to push the damn thing back up the hill after it chewed down a monstrous fen of bittersweet, poison ivy, and locust tree suckers, the machine careened down the ridge like a voracious beast. I got it turned around, but pushing it was only accomplished after grunting, cursing, and literal mopping of my brow. Interestingly, when I finally put the behemoth away, I caught myself strutting, chest out, legs apart, like some little macho Napoleon. Is it possible that cursing and grunting produce testosterone?
Many cultures and spiritual traditions believe that men and women have distinct energies and should celebrate their difference. Yet all of us share both male and female traits and inclinations. For example, men have celebrated cross-dressing for centuries. From male Kabuki actors perfecting their female characterizations, to Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot, men have found countless excuses to don a skirt and eye shadow.
When I am standing by the door, coat on, tapping my foot because my husband Ron is perfecting his coif, I ask myself, “OK, who’s the girl here?”
Ron has often admired the shiny silk of my blouse and murmured how unfair fashion is to relegate male clothing to the plain and rugged.
Of course it wasn’t always like this. There have been exuberant periods of history, as recently as the 1960’s, when men’s clothing was extravagant, colorful, and even sensuous. It used to be men who wore sexy tunics and tights to show off their legs. In fact, men even wore calf “shapers” under their tights to enhance their appeal. (Never mind about the additional codpieces.)
So why can’t men wear cocktail dresses when they feel like it? Any woman, if she chooses to, can wear a tux to an event. But men need a really special occasion. On a recent trip to Mexico, we happened on a small town celebrating a fiesta. While it was mostly carnival rides and tacky souvenir vendors, there was also a community program. The mayor gave a speech and presented some awards. Then a bizarre ritual was enacted. Several pall-bearers brought in a small coffin. The emcee announced the death of the
“Carnival King.” Suddenly about a dozen teenage boys dressed in black cocktail dresses, high heels and makeup burst into the circle, ran to the coffin and began hurling themselves at it, humping it and rolling on the ground and moaning.
I asked one of the locals, a venerable old man leaning on a cane what this meant. He nodded sagely and said, “Ah, those are the widows of the carnival king.”
Before I could say, “Huh?” there was a loud explosion. The boys ran away and the coffin burst into flames. “Does this happen every year?” I asked.
“Oh, yes,” the old man said, as if one would be mad to think otherwise.
When I was a naughty little cabaret performer in the sassy 70’s, one of my signature pieces was called Penis Envy. I would be innocently walking in place on stage, when suddenly, I discovered I had developed my own personal male appendage, an imaginary Mr. Happy that suddenly grew to several feet in length. At first it was fun, wearing it like a shawl and swinging it like a lasso, but eventually it became a burden—the weight of gender identity keeping me from moving ahead.
In the musical Hair, a woman sings:
There is a peculiar notion
That elegant plumage
And long hair are not
Proper for the male
That is the way things are
In most species.
She then opens her raincoat, revealing herself as a man wearing outrageously flamboyant boxer shorts.
In June Singer’s book, Androgyny, she describes humanity’s epochs by gender. The Matriarchal age, when humanity was in its infancy, was a blissful time where women ruled, men were servants of the Great Mother, and life was simple. I’m guessing at some point the Great Mother, or her representatives, got oppressive. Humanity moved into rebellious adolescence, the Y chromosome prevailed. Like a child who suddenly realizes he is stronger than his mother, men rose up and shoved us into the Patriarchal era.
As we approach a new eon, Singer proposes an age she calls the Age of
Androgyny: equality among the sexes and a blurring of gender roles and taboos.
There are species that can change their sex based on need. Of course most of those needs relate to reproduction. But wouldn’t it be cool if we had the ability to be what we needed/wanted to be at will? Surely many a man has wished he could just have a meltdown darn it, ask for a hug, or just wear pink on occasion. I have certainly longed for enough male hormone to wield a chainsaw or drive the posthole digger into the ground. More than once, I’ve had the urge to pop open a brewskie and chug the whole thing after an hour of lawn mowing.
I admit, at first it might be confusing to folks who hate change and like to live with limitations. And choosing what to wear every day would require a more creative response. But think of the problems solved! No more transgender discrimination, because we’d all be transgendering all the time.
No more controversy over same sex couples, because we could all be whatever we want, whenever we want. We’d no longer have to wait for our first female president because the president would be both. And the whole issue of women’s rights would be moot.
Imagine the upswing in empathy as men begin to truly understand what it’s like to walk a mile in another’s high heels. Women would no longer berate their spouses for bringing home a grocery bag filled with Doritos and jerky (but no eggs) from the supermarket because the minute a man enters the supermarket he is the wife. When a woman didn’t feel like doing the dishes, she could suddenly remember that a big game was on.
Now, all I need is a magic wand. And to decide whether I’m a fairy godmother or a wizard.
This summer, Lavinia is sporting a skort as she works to integrate her masculine and feminine sides. You can integrate your skeleton, nervous system, and more by experiencing her teaching at Asheville Movement Center. [ laviniaplonka.com ]
COMMON SENSE HEALTH
Maureen McDonnell, RN
I know what you’re thinking: why am I asking such a question? No one wants to talk or think about yeast! But I’m not just referring to vaginal yeast infections or the “fungus among us” in our toenails, I’m talking about the overgrowth of yeast that can take place throughout our bodies and cause or contribute to symptoms such as fatigue, bloating, poor digestion, headaches, foggy thinking, poor concentration, mood swings, irritable bowel syndrome, weakened immunity, and depression.
For the most part, yeast is considered a natural part of human flora and they live in harmony with our bodies. However, when we experience unfavorable conditions and the normal defenses of our immune system are not functioning properly, these opportunistic organisms tend to “overgrow” or proliferate, and that is when they can cause problems.
It’s true that yeast organisms (also called Candida) can and do cause uncomfortable vaginal infections and fungal toes, but they can also be a culprit in a whole host of symptoms and chronic ailments. In these modern times with our high stress level, hormone imbalances, overuse of antibiotics, and excessive consumption of sugar-laden and processed food, yeast overgrowth is a concern of many in the natural or integrative health community.
I chose to write about this subject because, during my 33 years as an RN and health educator, I’ve seen hundreds of people (including children) improve when a yeast overgrowth problem was identified and properly treated.
What is Yeast? Yeast is a family of very small single-cell organisms that have co-evolved with humans. Candida Albicans is the name of one of 70 different species of yeast When a person is in good health it grows actively in the human bowel and is considered part of the normal bowel flora. It also is present in the mouth, throat, intestines and urinary track in small amounts.
What causes an overgrowth? The most common culprit is antibiotics. These don’t just kill the bad bacteria that are causing the infection. Antibiotics also “knock out” friendly organisms (with names like acidophilus and bifidus) that have the role of keeping yeast and other nasty organisms in check. So when these good guys are gone, yeast—well, they start having a party and grow wild.
Why would an overgrowth of yeast cause a problem? When left unchecked, yeast can change from a fungal form to a form that has long root-like components that are able to pierce the walls of the digestive tract. You may have heard this referred to as “leaky gut” or gut permeability1. When this occurs, it allows undigested food and other allergens to enter blood circulation causing an immune response2. The damage to the gut wall often results in poor absorption of nutrients (vitamins and minerals.)
Yeast also creates waste products called Acetaldehyde. Believe it or not, this is the same chemical that causes many of the toxic effects from alcohol. I’ve worked with patients over the years with high yeast levels (especially children) and they can actually appear as if they’ve been drinking (they giggle inappropriately and seem to be in a fog). As a matter of fact, the most common statement I’ve heard from people I’ve helped get their yeast under control is, “I feel like a fog has been lifted.”
Yeast can also slip through weakened spots in the gut lining and migrate to different areas of the body, causing a systemic problem—which weakens the immune system even further.
Where did this notion of yeast overgrowth causing chronic health problems come from?
Most physicians recognize and treat the serious and life-threatening form of yeast overgrowth (such as those that accompany the final stages of AIDS), but many are hesitant to acknowledge that yeast overgrowth can also cause or contribute to less serious, chronic health problems.
In the 1970s, Orion Truss, MD, a graduate of Cornell Medical School, Chief of Cardiology and Assistant Chief of Medicine at the US Air Force Hospital, and an Instructor in Medicine at Cornell, suggested that yeast may be more than a cause of serious life-threatening issues and/or acute problems (Thrush and vaginal infections); he wrote in a series of published articles and in his book, The Missing Diagnosis, that it could also cause, or make worse many chronic health problems.
After reading and learning all he could about Dr. Truss’s work, Billy Crook , MD, a physician from Tennessee, began applying some of these principles. Patients with this problem were started on yeast-free diets, and prescribed Mystatin or other antifungals. He was astounded to see scores of his patients improve. Dr. Billy Crook (who was one of the sweetest southern gentleman you’d ever want to meet) went on to write the book many of us have heard about or read, called The Yeast Connection.
In 1985 Dr. Crook and Dr. Truss established The International Health Foundation to increase credibility for these theories and practices, and to help thousands who identified with this condition get the help they needed. Unfortunately, both of these medical pioneers have passed away. However, Dr. Joseph Mercola, MD, was fascinated with their work and still discusses it on his website and daily newsletter that is read by hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. [ mercola.com ]
Obviously there are many medical conditions that can cause people to experience the symptoms listed below, so that working with a qualified physician to identify and treat the underlying conditions is wise. However, if you have a history of overusing antibiotics, excessive sugar cravings, multiple courses of cortisone, or chronic stress—and after exhaustive testing your doctor is still left scratching his or her head as to why you might have symptoms—you may want to consider investigating candida as a culprit. Should this be the case, a yeast-free diet combined with proper nutrient support and natural and or pharmaceutical anti-fungals can prove quite helpful.
Common Symptoms often associated with yeast overgrowth:
> Difficulty concentrating
> Feeling of being “spaced out”
> Extreme sensitivity to tobacco smoke and chemical fumes
> Cravings for sweets
> Chronic vaginitis or chronic prostatitis
> Anal itching
> Frequent bladder infections
> Burning on urination
> Arthritis, joint pain
> Fibromyalgia muscle aches
> Bad breath
> Migraine headaches
> Eczema and other skin rashes
> Athlete’s foot and or Jock Itch
Common Causes of Yeast Overgrowth
>Repeated doses of broad-spectrum Antibiotics (remember a high percentage of antibiotics we receive indirectly—through those given to livestock via their feed)
> Diets rich in carbohydrates (yeasty breads, alcoholic beverages)
> Birth control pills: the theory here (and it is only a theory) is that continual unnatural stimulation of hormonal system leads to imbalances in GI tract
What is a yeast-free Diet?
This is not an extensive list, but rather a short overview to give you a general idea of what dietary changes are necessary on a yeast-free diet. There are plenty of foods that are allowed on a yeast-free diet such as organic vegetables, grass fed organic beef, chicken, fish, turkey, eggs, some fruit and some nuts. Filtered water and lots of it (6-8 glasses per day) is encouraged.
Some foods to avoid on a yeast free diet are: Any food high in sugar (> 4 gms per serving). Moldy foods like leftovers. Fruits that have a moldy skin or are difficult to peel, like grapes, berries, and cantelope. No dried fruit. Avoid any fruit juices and only drink vegetable juices that are fresh made.
Dr, Renee Tocco, the founder of the organization Hope for Autism and a chiropractor in Charleston, suggests these meal ideas.
> Omelet—Egg, cheese, vegetables, natural breakfast meat
> Cottage Cheese and sliced tomatoes
> Rice or hemp protein powder smoothies made with unsweetened coconut milk
> Lunch and Dinner:
> Roll natural lunch meat, veggies and cheese into a large piece of romaine lettuce and dip into natural dressings.
> Hamburger or turkey burger without the bun
> Sauteed meat and veggies stir-fry
The Good News About Yeast:
When you work to control yeast, your symptoms will subside, the fog will lift, and your vitality will return. This involves working with a practitioner who has extensive experience with Candida, making the above dietary changes, being certain to have good daily bowel movements, taking probiotics (friendly bacteria such as Acidophilus and Bifidus), using herbs and other natural and anti-fungal pharmaceuticals.
Maureen McDonnell has been a registered nurse for 33 years (in the fields of: childbirth education, labor and delivery, clinical nutrition, and pediatrics.) She provides private health consultations at her office in Weaverville, NC and can be reached via email for an appointment (MauraHealth@aol.com). Maureen is the former national coordinator of the Defeat Autism Now! Conferences and is the co-founder of children’s green health expos: Saving Our Kids, Healing Our Planet. Her published articles on autism and general health can be found at www.SOKHOP.com. In addition to writing a monthly column Common Sense Approaches to Women’s Health for WNC Woman Magazine, she is the owner of Nutritionist’s Choice multi vitamin: www. NutritionistsChoice.com. Maureen, and her husband H. Hanson have five grandkids and feel blessed to be living in the beautiful mountains of WNC.
The Missing Diagnosis, Orion Truss, MD
The Yeast Connection, William Crook, MD
1.Ventura MT, “Intestinal permeability in patients with adverse reactions to food.” Dig Liver Dis 2006 Oct; 38(10): 732-6
2.Brandtzaeg PE, “Current understanding of gastrointestinal immunoregulation and its relation to food allergy” Ann N Y Acad Sci; 964:13-45, 2002 May
SERENA by Ron Rash
A Review by Mary Ickes
To offset admiration for the Captains of Industry in 1878, pundits utilized a Middle Ages’ term for barons extorting enormous fees to travel the Rhine River: robber barons. Under the guise of turning the United States into an industrial world power, American industrialists exploited political, natural, and human resources to fill their own coffers. In robber baron legend and lore Andrew Carnegie, J. P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, and Cornelius Vanderbilt overshadow thousands of equally mercenary and greedy robber barons, including North Carolina’s lumber barons. Serena, set in a lumber camp more authentic than fictitious, scrutinizes the lumber industry.
George Pemberton, along with his partners Buchanan and Wilke, established the Boston Lumber Company in Haywood County, North Carolina. By 1929, crews have clear cut over 7,000 of their 34,000 acres of prime forests. The novel opens with Pemberton returning from Boston with Serena, his bride. Along with Abe Harmon and Rachel, his daughter (pregnant with Pemberton’s baby), Buchanan, Wilkie, and many of their employees meet the train in Waynesville.
Partners and employees alike are smitten with Serena’s beauty and poise until she and George brutally dispatch the Harmons.
Before their wedding, Serena revealed little about her background except that her parents (Colorado lumber barons) and her siblings died in the flu epidemic. Besotted by Serena’s elegance and astonished by her knowledge of the lumber industry, Pemberton marries her, defying the advice of Boston society matrons. Pemberton considers Serena’s subsequent announcement that her timbering goal is Brazil, with “Virgin forests of mahogany and no law but nature’s law a silly whim.” As a result, he is no more prepared than his partners and employees for Serena’s ride, figuratively and literally, through their midst “. . . astride the great horse, erect and square-shouldered, not looking anywhere but straight ahead . . . She and that gelding would go right over whoever got in their way and not give the least notice they’d trampled someone into the dirt.”
The morning after her arrival, Pemberton introduces Serena to his hundred employees, announcing, “Her orders are to be followed the same as mine.” Employees still doubting, even after the Harmon episode, change their minds when she viciously rebukes Bilded, the only man who scorned her introduction.
Thereafter, employee perspective is voiced through Snipes and his crew: Stewart, an ineffective foreman relieved when ordered to trade places with Snipes; Dunlap, the youngest at 19; McIntyre, a religious fanatic who refers to Serena as the whore of Babylon because she wears pants; and Ross, who has lost all hope for a better life. Individually, they exemplify the many facets of a lumber camp’s employees. Collectively they personify fear, innate to all timber workers. Through their observations, often witty and mordant, readers follow Serena’s campaign for company control—beginning, unfortunately, with the workers.
Though demanding bosses, Pemberton, Buchanan, and Wilke respected the skills of individual men as company assets to be protected with safety measures. Serena reduces the men to a natural resource infinitely less valuable than her timber, and easily replaced by the hordes of men driven to their offices by the Great Depression.
The partners never ordered crews into exceptionally dangerous sites, especially not for “. . . a few yellow poplars . . . sycamore and birch and hemlock . . . “ bordering a narrow creek where “. . . theyíd be working in close proximity to one another.” Risking his job, Snipes argues for his crewís safety, but Pemberton remains adamant. After two close calls, Snipes permits a break, because he “. . . figured fifteen minutes would cost the Pemberton Lumber Company less than the time it’d take to haul an injured man back to camp.” Despite his cautions, a widow-maker—a sharp limb falling from high above like a javelin—impales one of his men. As death and injury escalate, Ross quips,
“I expect before long theyíll be fittin’ us for coffins ahead of time. You’ll be planted in the ground before you’ve got a chance to stiffen up good.”
The camp doctor snidely reports to Serena that, “. . . the men are getting killed at a rather prodigious rate these last few weeks,” but she and Pemberton blame heavy rains and steeper inclines. She cannot relent, because John D. Rockefeller, Jr., in 1926, set in motion political and financial forces for purchasing land for the Smoky Mountain National Forest, including the Boston Lumber Company. Intending to sell only after the last tree falls, Serena keeps them at bay by stalling meetings and arguing about the price. Threatened with seizure by eminent domain, Serena intends to finish timbering the land and head for Brazil while Rockefeller’s forces are mired in red tape.
From the lofty heights of her noble steed and her arrogance, Serena identifies another block on her path to Brazil—her husband. Awed by her business acumen and beguiled by her promises of glorious success —”The world lies all before us, Pemberton”—he carries out her ruthless commands. Betraying his partners and watching his men needlessly die eventually sends Pemberton to the brink of madness, which he tries to drown in alcohol. Adding to his guilt is a longing to help Rachel for his son’s sake and to protect them from Serena’s vengeance. After a near disaster that clarifies his priorities, Pemberton chooses to follow Serena on her ruthless ride. Relieved to allay his doubts and fears, Pemberton forgets that Serena must also choose.
The novel ends with Snipes and his crew cutting the last tree on Noland Mountain before moving to the next timbering site: “When a thirty-foot hickory succumbed to Ross and Henryson’s cross-cut saw, the valley and ridges resembled the skinned hide of some large animal.” The metaphor also describes the human suffering and carnage in Serena’s wake as she rides to the new site. Snipes and his crew have been there before her to visit the new camp’s first grave.
As fiction, I couldn’t read Serena fast enough to discover the limits of her ruthlessness. Your most outlandish guesses, Reading Friend, won’t even be close. As literary satire, Mr. Rash is to be commended for placing North Carolina’s lumber barons right where they belong in the legend and lore of American robber barons.
Mary Ickes lives in Hendersonville with her husband Roy where they are proudly owned by felines Tilly, Russell, Fezziwig, and Buddy. A voracious reader, she would like to hear from other women whose brains have been turned by reading (Louisa May Alcott). Her e-mail is email@example.com
HANGING OUT WITH GOD
How to Pray Without Ceasing
Friends asked me where I’d been. “I’ve been hanging out with God,” I casually replied. Some looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. Others weren’t surprised. My house is filled with crucifixes, religious art, and a priest’s robe. One bravely said, “Tell me more.”
A year ago I wrote a book, The Inspired Life, which suggests that connection to your self, others, and your higher power—along with contribution—creates richer, more meaningful lives. Since writing the book, I’ve worked hard to walk my talk. While recently studying how to strengthen my connection with my higher power, I rediscovered the phrase “pray without ceasing.” I became obsessed.
I love the concept of creating a continuous connection with God, but is it even possible, and if so—how? I decided to find out.
I didn’t remember much about the Bible, but I did remember that the phrase “pray without ceasing” comes from Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:17). When I was a kid my mother used to read me the Bible every morning before school while I waited for the carpool. In the course of one year, we read all of Paul’s letters.
When Paul commanded that we pray without ceasing, I assume he wasn’t suggesting that we go through the day with head bowed and on bended knee; instead, he was referring to having a continuous conversation with God. To do this I would have to maintain a split focus; I’d have to keep one eye on God, and the other on the world. Otherwise, how could I get through the day?
I had a good idea of what Paul meant by praying without ceasing. Now I wanted to know how to do it, but before I could explore I had to answer two crucial questions:
1. What is my concept of God or divinity? (If I’m going to pray without ceasing, just what or who am I praying to?)
2. How do I experience God? (In order to be in union with the Divine, I needed to identify how I experience the God.)
It stands to reason that much of our relationship with God hinges on how we perceive Him-Her-We-It. So what is my concept of God or divinity? This was a tough question to answer.
Sometimes my god is Zeus-like; at other times he’s the Sunday school benevolent Father with a flowing white beard perched on a puffy white cloud. In other versions, God becomes bosomy Mother Earth or the all-powerful Great Goddess. And sometimes, God is the wind or the love I feel when a beloved friend walks into the room.
I believe my divinity resides within, but that’s not its exclusive domain. Divinity is everywhere—in all the people I encounter, and in the physical world I live in. It permeates everything and everyone. It’s in all I feel, hear, smell, taste, and see. Everything is energy, and all energy is God. But God is so much more than energy. God is mystery.
My theology isn’t crystal clear. The best I’ve been able to come up with so far is based on Ken Wilbur’s work. Wilbur talks about the three faces of God. I believe the three faces are: I-Am, I-Thou, and We-Are.
The “I-Am God” is the god within each of us, or our highest self. The “I-Thou God” is the god “up or out there.” He’s the benevolent Father, Divine Order, or the collective unconscious. Finally, the “We-Are God” is the energy that forms everything. It’s the web of life, and it personifies the universal truth that “we are all one.”
Now that I’d articulated my concept of the Divine, I was ready to answer the second question, “How do I experience God?”
I’m learning that we experience God differently. One article I read suggested that we experience God in one of five ways:
Contemplative Style. The Apostle John, Brother Lawrence, and Henri Nouwen exemplified this choice. People choosing this style enjoy silence and solitude. They spend a lot of time in prayer, worship, and meditation.
Intellectual Style. The Apostle Paul, Martin Luther, and C. S. Lewis most likely subscribed to this style. People like them enjoy reading and studying God’s word. They seek “substance” and theology.
Serving Style. Mother Teresa, John Wesley, and William Booth (The Salvation Army) were examples of those who prefer this style. Individuals who embrace this style feel closest to God through service. They are people of action.
Relational Style. Billy and Franklin Graham may be examples of the relationship style. People who follow this style prefer to worship in community.
Charismatic Style. Those religious leaders who consider themselves “healers” are members of the charismatic style. Edgar Cayce, Saint Theresa, and Saint Catherine are examples. This group experiences God through supernatural experiences including prophecy, visions and dreams, speaking in tongues, or miraculous healings.
I found no shortage of theories and models on how we experience God. One expert, Peter Tufts Richardson, even linked the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator to four spiritual types.
Regardless of which theory or model we choose, we can have more than one style. As a trainer and coach, I identify with the contemplative and serving styles.
My friend Kathy favors the charismatic styles. For the past nine months, she has been spending time each morning in what she calls “God time.” While in intense prayer and deep meditation, Kathy has experienced the extraordinary, including visions and unusual body sensations. I’m a little envious.
Burning Bush Wanted
Although I know intellectually that no one way of relating to God is better than another, I long for a more dramatic way to experience God.
One day, I decided to journal about it in the form of a dialogue with my higher power.
Author Neale Donald Walsch made this practice popular when he wrote nine books, Conversations with God, as a dialogue in which he asked God questions and God answered.
When I dialogue, I write or type as fast as I can, and I’m careful not to edit my thinking. Whatever pops into my head goes on the paper. When I am finished, I’m often surprised at the wisdom I find.
Here’s how my dialogue went:
R: I’ve been seeking a supernatural experience. I’ve been looking for a burning bush.
Higher Power (HP): You’ve been seeking proof because you are in your head. The only proof you need is in your heart. Do you believe that what you’re writing is from me?
HP: Then you have no need for a sign. Faith doesn’t require it. Even if I were to send a sign, you would rationalize it away. Randy, I’ve sent signs—many of them, in fact—and you’ve just rationalized them away. Now, faith is called for. Do you have faith?
R: Yes, but I guess what I really want is to be singled out. I want to be special. Not everyone gets to see a burning bush.
HP: All of humanity is called, but only those who heed the call are singled out. They will be of service.
R: I’ve got goosebumps.
HP: That’s because it’s a truth. (Laughs) Goosebumps? Could that be a sign? Find faith,
Randy. Be open.
The dialogue was over. I am learning that I never have to go far in search of God. He-She-We-It is always there. I only have to become open.
“The process of opening up is essential to any notion of a spiritual life,” writes journalist and author Jon Katz. “You open and open and open…then you open again. To love. To friendship. To teachers and learning. To safety. To new experience. To growth and to change. To the reality of your life, and your place in the world. To changing the story of your life, if necessary. To trust. To safety. To faith. To intimacy. To responsibility.”
I shared my new insight with Kathy. Her response surprised me.
Ordinary Becomes Extraordinary
“With the visions and sensory experiences, I’ve found that I have incredible highs, but I also have incredible lows,” she shared. “These ecstatic experiences can be like a drug—it’s easy to get hooked on the high. An ecstatic experience is no better than a quiet, gentle, or calm one. Anyone can feel connected to God when having a vision, but few can find communion with the Divine when doing something as simple as driving to work.”
She continued. “The real revelation has been that when I’m infused with God the ordinary becomes extraordinary.”
I knew just what she meant. I, too, found that during the times I was an open channel with the Divine—from having coffee with a dear friend to walking in my neighborhood—everything became special. The ordinary became extraordinary, because at those times I became filled with intense emotions such as gratitude, joy, awe, and love.
I was ready to tackle the third and biggest question: How do I pray without ceasing?
How to Pray without Ceasing
Once again, I picked up my journal and began to dialogue with my higher power. The dialogue went like this:
R: How do I pray without ceasing?
HP: It’s not that difficult. You simply have to tune into the right station. You need to put your focus on me.
R: I get so busy I forget.
HP: Yes, you are human. Let me ask you this: how do you know that you are connected with the Divine?
R: I get goosebumps.
HP: You experienced that just a few minutes ago, didn’t you?
HP: What were you doing?
R: I was just being present—present to Presence. Is it that simple?
HP: Most great truths are. Love, awe, and gratitude are pathways to the Divine, but know this: I am available to you every moment of every day. You don’t have to do anything special, only be present to Presence. Every time you are in the moment—truly in the moment—I am here.
With this, the dialogue ended.
I am learning that there are many pathways to the Divine, including love, awe, gratitude, peace, even pain. These pathways also amplify my connection to God. But of all the ways to access God, I’ve found none stronger than simply becoming present. When I am present, I am in the “Presence.” The reverse is also true: when I am in the “Presence,” I am present.
When I am present, I am in communication with God, but how can I stay in continuous communication? That seems like a tall order. I ask myself: What are things I do without ceasing? I breathe, think, and feel. This means that when I become present to Presence, every breath, thought, and sensation has the potential to become a prayer. What a lovely thought. When I pray without ceasing, my life becomes a prayer.
Life as a Prayer
I’ve been wondering what it would be like to live life as a prayer. If I stayed in uninterrupted conversation with God, how different would life be? My priorities would shift. I would operate from my highest intentions. I would be kinder and more considerate and generous. I would be constantly grateful. My mind would rest; my heart would be at peace. I’d become one with the river of love that flows through every living thing.
I began another dialogue with my higher power.
R: If life was a prayer, you’d be with me always.
HP: And what makes you think that I’m not? I am with you now. I am with you always. I am you, and you are me.
R: If my life was a prayer, I’d be my best self; I’d live my best life.
HP: Some days you would; others you would not. You’d stand on the mountain top and lie in the valley.
If your life was a prayer, you might leave this world; your feet may not be firmly planted on the ground.
You’d not be with others; your heart might never expand.
If your life was a prayer, where would service be? Action must have its place.
Lift your hands to the heavens, but plant your feet solidly on the ground.
Be with others and be of service, but above all stop, be silent, and be still.
Be still and know I am.
Be still and know you are.
Be still and know we are here together.
Do this and you’ll pray without ceasing.
The dialogue ended.
Thanks to research, introspection, and dialogues, I have a better understanding of what it means to pray without ceasing—and yet I know I have much to learn. I’ve been putting what I’ve learned to work, and I have to admit that I slip a good bit. I get absorbed in a project, or my mind shifts from the present to the future or past. But when I’m successful, I’m the happiest. I am filled with peace, awe, gratitude, and love. The ordinary becomes extraordinary. I know that if I stick with it, I will get better, and I’ll forge an even stronger relationship with my god.
Randy Siegel helps individuals “stand in their power” by discovering their power, passion, and purpose. Visit his website at http://www.YourInternalGPS.com and subscribe to his complementary monthly e-Newsletter.
I Am From
I am from black cast iron
from and cured by coal fires stoked across an Appalachian morning.
I am from the two hundred white oaks felled, stripped, and squared by the heart of a lanky, warring Scot who drew broad blades and adze.
I am from Maggie’s yellow yams roasted, mashed, and crusted, harvested, bushelled atop the red-dirt cellar ledge.
I am from the woodlander’s iris, the western poppy, the blue ridge tendril of a pink southern dogwood. The red October maple whose long gone limbs I remember as if they were my own.
I’m from and of the Eastern band of dark eyes, swapped lore, ruby lipped, full hipped, babe rocking song of a hollow lark, Mary Panther,
from and painted A NI WO DI.
I’m from and prayer, part matrilineal chant and from steeples rising beyond the ridge field of wheat.
I’m from and destroyed by angels sailing on the Charming Nancy
and the young Dorothea, buried now at sea.
I‘m from pure brown sorghum, boiled and skimmed until frog eyes form and the molasses fills the mason jar.
I”m from Portola’s expedition, the gold rush, and the unearthing of the man from Arlington springs
and buttermilk and sweet ovarian corn.
Gentle, final, delivered late and last, named by a midwife calling, carrying blooms wrapped by the fronds of daybreak pulled at the creek run of the little broad.
The one who centered, who remembered, who floated when she moved, who danced late night silks in Bakersfield, who rolled trousers to fish alongside my father’s shoulders at the Santee Cooper dam, who sewed long into the night, deliberate, exacting a century in her perfect stitches.
The one whose adolescent scarlet beat leaked mitral damage, repaired by civic rural response and Boston legend Dwight Emary Harken, America’s finest surgeon of the heart.
George Ella Lyon wrote a poem titled Where I Am From that has been used extensively as a writing assignment in schools. Try it yourself!
MUSIC BROTHERS AND SONS
What a stupendous opportunity this Y chromosome issue is for me to boast about the brothers and sons I”ve had the extreme pleasure to befriend and partner with over these almost nine years as a professional musician working in the Asheville area. I’ve been anticipating writing a feature for this issue because it satisfies my desire and excitement to acquaint you with all of them—if youíre not already.
Gentle Giant, Duane Simpson
“Where did you learn to play like that?” is the question I constantly hear people asking Duane Simpson. He credits his father and hero Joe Simpson, for teaching and guiding him and encouraging him to practice from the time he was seven years old. That work ethic has stuck, and from where I stand, is taking him (and will continue to take him) far beyond these WNC mountains. If he’s not a name in your household, I guarantee he will be eventually.
Having just turned 29, Duane’s prowess, readiness, and tasteful delivery—every single time he hits the stage—is something Asheville musicians and music lovers know they’ll find at his performances.
For the past four years, Duane and I have worked together in several different capacities. His approach to original music (as well as the cover blues and jazz tunes we’ve been playing together for so long) is consistently fresh and impeccable. Performing with this staggeringly proficient guitarist and warm-hearted true friend has been seriously satisfying.
When I invited local celebrity and steel drums phenom, Jonathan Scales to participate in our weekly Blues Night at Tressa’s Downtown Jazz & Blues, I foolishly didn’t anticipate him wooing Duane into his then-newly-forming Fourchestra. But I experienced an “I-couldíve-had-a-V8!” moment. Who wouldn’t want Duane part of anything creative, especially the complex melodic intricacies over metrically juxtaposed rhythmic foundations that define Jonathan Scales Fourchestra? Joshua Singleton, local and truly under-recognized singer/songwriter and harmonicist also realizes the value and pleasure of working with this 6’7” gentle giant.
Duane has some exciting performances coming up. Check out these venues:
most Thursdays (with me) at Tressa’s Blues Night, 28 Broadway, nine to midnight.
Wednesday June 1st (with me) at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, 6pm.
Wednesday June 8th at Harrah’s Casino again, with Joshua Singleton and me, 6pm.
Friday June 10th and 17th at Vincenzo’s Ristorante, 10 Market Street, 7pm-11pm.
Saturday June 11th (with Peggy Ratusz and The Daddy LongLegs) for the Brews Blues & Cruise Festival at Pisgah Brewing Company, 150 Eastside Drive, Black Mountain, 6-645pm.
Saturday June 11th (later that same evening) with Jonathan Scales Fourchestra at Asheville Music Hall (formerly Stella Blue).
Friday July 15th at Hannah Flanagan’s Irish Pub, 28 Biltmore Avenue, 9:30pm.
www.myspace.com/duanesimpson, www.jonscales.com, www.joshuasingleton.com
All Day Joey K
Controversial, passionate, compassionate, master musician Joey K is hands down the most exciting drummer I’ve ever shared the stage with. He leads, he follows, he creates, he simmers, and he boils ‘n’ burns. How the singer sings the song and how the musicians play it, are in the hefty, instinctual, and capable hands of this 36-year-old Los Angeles transplant. Those of us lucky enough to partake in music alongside and in front of Joey and his array of kits (that thankfully don’t outnumber his snare drum collection—13 and counting), feel fortunate that he now loves, lives, and plays in Asheville.
His personal journey could have been much different if it hadn’t been for music. I think Joey would be the first to admit that its facility took him down for the count—then ended up lifting him back up and saving his life. He rehabbed from drugging and drinking four years ago; met the love of his life here in Asheville.
Though he could drop names, the only ones he does are his friends’. Once you get past the superlatives he barks at the audience, demanding tips from his stage throne, you’ll find an enormously humble and self-effacing king. Crowds either see through that tough exterior or they’re intimidated; the amount of money in the jar reflects that he’s moved ‘em one way or the other. They erupt in spontaneous applause for his heady and provocative solos. He takes it in stride, never one to gloat, but pretty much expects greatness of himself. He’s the first to squelch lament if one of us whines that our performance might have been less than stellar. I’ve not found a more forthcoming, respectful, and caring friend than my champion, Joey K.
Greasy Rob Geisler
Prolific and punctual in life and in music, a better electric bass player you will not find within thousands of miles. The level of technical ability, combined with his emotional investment, stimulates and elevates every tune and every player. The superior skill Rob Geisler brings to the bandstand and into the studio has created national buzz. A dedicated father of two, he is as reliable as rain in the Amazon, both musically and personally. Listening is his strong suit and even though he’s also got something to play, he does it with the perfect amount of complementary musicality and rhythm; waiting his turn, engrossed in the melodic conversation. He’s a musical bottom-feeder and his tone evokes what St. Michael the Archangel’s voice might sound like.
The role of bass player is lonely for some; but not for Robby Baby. He’s an integral band member who solos like a jazz singer scatting like a horn player. If you listen close enough, you’ll hear him doing just that; almost fallin’ off his stool from all the grease.
Rob plays with me on Thursdays at Tressa’s Blues Night, 28 Broadway from 9pm to midnight.
Rob and Joey K will be playing with Peggy Ratusz & Daddy LongLegs at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino on Wednesday June 15th from 6pm to 10pm.
Rob plays with old school R & B band, The Business Friday June 3rd, 10th and 17th at The Grove Park Inn Great Hall, 290 Macon Avenue starting at 8p. www.thebusinessmusic.com
Jonathan “JP’ Pearlman
Where do I begin to tell you about the astoundingly talented guitarist and one of my best buds, Jonathan Pearlman? I’ll start by conveying his versatility, then his outstanding and intuitive chops. He and I do intimate performances together (and it’s amusing to witness musicians young and old who stare at his fingers with their mouths a gape). He’s oblivious to the admiration. Give him a compliment and watch him squirm a little.
This dude was born gracious and kind-hearted. Jonathan can play any genre of music. He is truly tremendous. The colors and emotions he brings to jazz, blues, indie pop, rock, and his originals (penned and published under the name Alien Music Club) are infinite. His latest CD release show will be held at Mo Daddy’s, 77 Biltmore Ave on Friday, June 17th and will feature a variable who’s who list of Asheville’s finest musicians performing some of JP’s most stunning, funky, soulful, and intricate original material. The party starts at 10pm. www.alienmusicclub.com
The rhythm section of my swing band, Peggy & the Swing Daddies consists of two guys who are great contradictions. Michael Hynes is a boisterous upright and electric bass player who provides technical sound engineering and leadership skills as well as comedic relief. Shy guy and top-shelf jazz drummer Justin Watt forms the other half. Opposites absolutely attract. This impressive rhythm section and I, along with Duane Simpson on guitar, will be playing at 11 on Grove for Swing Asheville on Tuesday May 31st and Tuesday July 18th, starting at 8:30pm and at Jack of the Wood, 90 Patton Avenue on Saturday, July 2nd at 9:30pm.
I sound like a broken record, but let me say at least 1000 more times that I’m honored to be able to dip into the cream of the Asheville crop. Testimony to this is my latest studio release Infused with the Blues which includes 24 different friends who play or sing in and out of 13 tracks. Take Jim Arrendell for instance: A brilliant arranger, a fantastic drummer, a thrilling and electric front man and vocalist for The Business, who has helped me and countless other artists grow their confidence. He’s a counselor, a networker, a gentleman and a scholar.
The fill-in musicians I call on, know who they are and are too numerous to mention for sure. An impressive and accomplished pianist, composer, and teacher, Patrick Boland was my first Asheville music partner and someone I’ve had the extreme pleasure to recently re-connect with on that basis after many years. The hardest working Mr. Mom and one of the best upright players in the Southeast, Zack Paige is a generous, big-hearted mentor who is sought after and performs with many fantastic local groups. Jake Wolf, solo acoustic and electric bassist extraordinaire, is another fine example of what this area has to offer in the way of incredible talent. I had my first real gig with the infamous upright bassist to the stars, Mike Holstein—and what an education it is playing with that guy! And let me just mention a few more if I may: Brilliant piano player and keyboardist Brian Turner, guitar god Mike Barnes, funky-as-all-get-out electric bassist Mike Rothacker, unbelievably versatile upright and electric bassist Shannon Hoover, drummers Ryan Lassiter, Phil Bronson, Leo Moore, Jeff Rudolph, and Chip Lundsford; guitarist Chris Morgan, pianist Aaron Price.
I haven’t forgotten you even if you’re not listed here.
While I sit and chit-chat with my girlfriends about how it’s a man’s world, but it wouldnít mean nothin’ without a woman or a girl, for me personally it wouldnít mean nothin’ without these guys; my friends, my brothers, my sons. Being able to share music with them brings me incredible joy and I love them all.
Peggy Ratusz is a songstress, writer, and vocal coach [ firstname.lastname@example.org ]