Rocking Chair Meditation

I rock. Everyday. Sometimes twice a day — every time I get a chance. I particularly like to rock in the dark, before bedtime, as it works better than sleeping pills. My rocking chair has become my favorite place to read, to dream, to chat with a friend, to listen to music, to drink tea – carefully — and yes, to meditate. I rock away stress, bad news, obsessive thoughts, back pain, and the despair of this world.

After rocking for only a few weeks in my Amish-made wooden rocker, I am convinced that the humble rocking chair may just be one of the most enjoyable ways to love the body, refresh the spirit, and calm the excessive anxiety in these difficult times.

Rocking with God

Of course, the rocking chair has sterling reviews from health experts for improving the three M’s: mind, muscles, and mood. As a theologian and spiritual practitioner, I find that the rocking chair can aid in three more M’s: meditation, metaphor, and meaning.

According to Alfred North Whitehead, God “dwells in the tender elements in the world, which slowly and in quietness operate by love.” The rocking chair is the perfect place to meditate on God’s tenderness and love. If we understand God as creative, unconditional, nurturing Love, then what could be more appropriate for a spiritual practice than allowing ourselves moments that touch on those feelings? Think of yourself as an infant being cradled, rocked, and calmed. Such cradling Love whispers to us: You are loved. You are cherished. You are cared for.

We all need this reassurance, especially in times of fear, transition, and loss. Sometimes we just need it for no reason other than countering the years of shadowy, unloving voices in our heads that whisper: I’m not worthy of love; I’m not enough

Rocking reminds me that there is more than gun violence and climate change and insane politics. There is always a place of refreshment and peace within. Even hope. The movement of the rocking chair renews my faith in the openness of the future – “the creative advance into novelty” (Whitehead).

With the infant’s cradle as a picture of God’s tenderness, the gentle to-and-fro rhythm of the rocker can be a place of peace and refuge. All of us yearn to be tucked into the cradle of divine love!

When I rock, I am also reminded of the meaning of my life: a co-creator with God, unfolding in love and wisdom and beauty for the sake of the world. We often say something or someone “rocked my world.”  That’s because it moves us, gets us out of our static sense of ourselves, changes us, gives life meaning and purpose. I loved to be rocked: rocked by the dazzle of the universe as seen in the Webb photos from space, rocked by kindness, rocked by new ideas, rocked by beauty. What meaning rocks your world?

Co-Rockers in a Rocking Universe

In a rocking chair, we are not rocking on our own power alone; nor are we being rocked passively. In every gentle rock, we join the Divine to-and-fro rhythm of receiving/creating, receiving/creating. With our feet pushing us up into the arc of motion, we let go to the gentle flow of life unfolding in the sweet rhythm of a lullaby. Gentle movement carries us safely backward and forward again. Each lift of the heel is a Yes! to the ongoing flow of life.

As in walking meditation, rocking meditation asks us to pay attention to movement. But here the feet lift gently to create the regular rhythm that keeps our minds focused. 

Every repetition seems to be exactly like the last one, but it is different, each one. Like occasions of experience unfolding, one after the other, the window of the soul opens to the flow of fresh offerings. Like the gentle rock of a boat on a river, our rocking can take us into deeper depths of love. 

Hard Rock, Soft Rock

When we rock hard – big motions and feet off the floor — we sense joy flooding through our body as the blood circulates and muscles strengthen. When we rock soft and small with the gentlest of movement, we can sense the rhythm of a heartbeat — much like our mother’s heartbeat in the womb.

This heartbeat rhythm reminds us that we are inside God as much as God is inside us. The womb of God is filled with the steady heartbeat that moves through Universe, creating stars and immortal music, bringing lovers together in union, and giving song to the blackbird. 

Rocking Meditation Practice

Now find a comfortable rocking chair, sit down, and begin rocking. Take some deep breaths, close your eyes, and notice the rhythm of your rock. Do you choose “hard rock” or “soft rock”? Try some of both. Finally choose a comfortable rhythm and focus your attention on the forward/back motion, letting all thoughts gently fall away as you keep your attention on the motion and rhythm of your rock. Now try a few of your favorite spiritual affirmations. You might want to include these:

I am cradled in Divine Love.

I am safe.

I am loved.

I am cared for.

I move with the Spirit.

I am unfolding, moment by moment.

My heart beats with all the creatures of the world.

My heart beats with the heart of God.

I am deeply connected to everything in the Universe.

Now, if you find comfort in singing, why not sing yourself a lullaby? If you don’t like to sing, listen to lullabies with headphones, especially if the child within you is hurting and scared.

Keep Rocking On

If we are sad or suffering, we can preface our affirmations with: “Even though I feel sad, I am cradled in Divine Love,” and so on.

We know that in this relational world of free will and shared power, suffering is never God’s doing—or allowance; on the contrary, God’s heart breaks over the broken shards of unnecessary violence and needless suffering; But we also know that God’s heart is big enough to hold not only heartache but healing, too — and transformation and resurrection and fresh possibilities beyond our imagination.

We might even learn through the steady rhythm of rocking that our own hearts are bigger than we think: stronger and more resilient than we imagined, and even able move forward with hope amid sadness and discouragement.

When we spend a few moments in rocking meditation, we are ready to offer this same love and reassurance to those around us; we become a new creation, ready to rock the world with who we are and what we have to give.

Come what may, we keep rocking on.

Also published in Spirituality & Practice and Open Horizons

Why Not Paint Your Dream?

Over two centuries ago, a 19-year-old man left France to follow his dream of joining the fight for freedom in the American Revolution. Against the will of the French King, the Marquis de Lafayette procured his own sailing ship to take him to America. Some called him foolish, but soon he was called a hero, and eventually he brought France into the war. Without him, it is unlikely we would have won our independence.

If we could ask Lafayette, “Why did you come to help us?” he would probably tell us that his passion for the cause of freedom was galvanized by the motto emblazoned on his family crest: Cur Non, Latin for “Why Not?”

Today, Cur Non is the proud philosophy of Layfette College in Eastman, Pennsylvania, which challenges its students to move beyond the familiar, the comfortable, the easy. “We dare them to become thinkers and leaders themselves. We offer them opportunities to jump into the thick of things, to take risks, to care deeply. . . . Why not? Why not you? Why not here? Why not now?”

Two hundred years after the American Revolution, Robert Kennedy resurrected the spirit of Cur Non in one of his famous speeches, when he quoted George Bernard Shaw: “Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream of things that never were and say why not.”

Here’s an idea: What if we adopted the courage and daring imagination of Cur Non into our spiritual life? Would we be less hesitant to follow our dreams? Would we finally pull out the canvas and paint brushes we’ve been secretly holding back? Would we dare to speak out for those being crushed by the powerful and greedy? Would we have the courage to follow the “lure of God” as we say in process theology? Could we galvanize our imagination to look beyond the world of “what is” to the world of “what can be”?

What if the motto Cur Non could be ours? Why not? Great thinkers and artists embed this motto into their creative work all the time. It’s what makes them great.

Van Gogh once wrote, “I dream of painting and I paint my dream.” Such is the spirit of Cur Non. After years of struggle over his vocation, when he finally said, “why not?” to his dream of being an artist, out poured over 2,000 luminous works of art in the span of 10 years. Martin Luther King had a dream, too, and he began painting it with bold, vivid colors, leaving us to pick up that dream and continue to paint justice. Why not dream? Why not create? Why not, against the naysayers, set sail for a revolution of mind and spirit?

Don’t just dream, whispers Cur Non, but paint your dream. Step out of your plushy comfort zone and say “Yes!” to the gladness waiting to rush out in a stampede of purpose and meaning. Simply take one step forward — one step, one breath, one stroke of the brush, and see how it feels. Why not? No one else will do it for you. The clock is ticking. What else have you got to do?

We have dreams tucked away in the drawers of our souls, and these dreams are precious. But we are born on this earth to do more than dream; the spirit of Cur Non beckons us to paint our dreams on canvas, in words, in brave acts that some will call folly; but, if driven by love, will leave an indelible impression on the whole planet so that it spins with just a little more gladness.

Lafeyette dreamed of a world of human dignity and freedom and dared to actualize that dream, fulfilling his family motto of Cur Non. But such stories can be intimidating. These giant figures of history remind us of how small and insignificant our own dreams are in comparison; our efforts wouldn’t make much difference anyway, we think. It would be risky, too. We might as well not try; better to be safe than sorry.

And we would be wrong.

We are all divinely imbued with the motto, Cur Non, “Why Not?” It is emblazoned on the hearts of those yearning for the freshness of adventure; it reaches to the heavens of novel possibility — and then boldly proclaims, Yes!

Our dreams don’t have to be big and flashy, and they are not just for the young and hardy. We can paint them at any age, on a canvas of any size we wish. If we could make our corner of world just a tad more beautiful, slightly more just, and fleetingly more kind, then, why not? Why not paint outside the lines of what is to the world of what can be? Why not now? Why not here? Why not you?

e pluribus unum

“And that’s why it is so important today that we reaffirm our character as a nation — a people drawn from every corner of the world, every color, every religion, every background — bound by a creed as old as our founding, e pluribus unum. Out of many, we are one. For we know that our diversity — our patchwork heritage — is not a weakness; it is still, and always will be, one of our greatest strengths.”
                                                           — President Barack Obama, September 11, 2016

Shortly after I moved back to the United States after living abroad for five years, I began seeing bumper stickers with the motto, “In God We Trust.” It seemed to hold a special significance for some of my neighbors. But why? After a little research and reorientation into my home culture, I realized that for many, this motto serves as a counterpoint — and even a rebuff — to our founding fathers’ 1782 motto, e pluribus unum, “out of many, one.”

If you study any coin from your pocket closely, you can see “In God We Trust” on one side and e pluribus unum on the otherThe social context of each motto is telling. . . . (to continue reading, click here to read my post “U is for Unity“).