Sunday, January 10, 2016

Hope in the Locker Room at the YMCA

Many religious traditions suggest meditation, sitting for moments in silence, using steady breathing as a way to center and focus on a divine presence, named differently based on the faith. The benefits of meditation include:

         - stress relief
         - reduced anxiety
         - increased ability to appreciate life more fully
         - improved brain function
         - increased attention
         - increased immunity to fight disease

For years I've tried to sit on the floor and meditate without success. Guided meditation, timed meditation, focused attention on the breath, mindful meditation - I've tried them all and nothing works. Although I have the desire to meditate, the basic problem is I have difficulty sitting still for even short periods.

Brain Waves and Swimming

One day last summer I got out of the outdoor pool of the Jordan YMCA on the far north side of Indianapolis. An elderly gentleman next to me who finished at the same time turned to me and said, "You know brain waves change when you swim."

This new thought, awakened my curiosity as he quickly wrapped himself in a towel and headed for the locker room on that chilly 65 degree day in mid-June.

Driving home, I realized how swimming laps over the past forty-one years has been a time of prayer, silence and reflection as I move through the water. I imagine a scripture in John 5 where an angel stirred the water at the pool of Bethesda. The first person to enter the pool after the water was stirred was healed from whatever disease he or she had.

God comes to me consistently when I swim and immediately afterwards. I consider swimming meditation. Maybe I am not sitting still, nor am I physically still as I complete laps, but God is revealed in some new way every time I get in the water.

When I returned home I went to the computer and Googled, "brain waves when swimming." According to my source, our brains produce six different types of waves. Beta waves occur when an individual is awake, alert, and concentrating. Alpha waves happen when you are falling asleep, just waking up or during moments of relaxation. Alpha waves are always produced during a meditative state or when swimming.

Unconventional Meditation Works

I realized I can officially count my time in the water as meditation! I don't need to worry about trying to sit still for ten minutes or more again. I can swim for forty or more minutes and get the same benefit, even more!

On Saturday, November 7, I completed 3/4 of a mile at the Fishers YMCA where I live, north of Indianapolis. I got out of the pool and went to shower. Finishing, I reached for my towel and felt my heart fill with hope. I stopped for a moment, experiencing such fullness it seemed like hope was stretching the inside of my chest.

Like Mary, who replied to the angel announcing her pregnancy, I wondered, "How can this be? I was washing my hair, rinsing the chlorine off my body, and my heart fills with hope!"

I wasn't in a church or talking to a pastor or sitting on a cushion for thirty minutes, but doing something completely ordinary, and God filled my heart!

After drying my hair, and heading to my car, I carried my full-heart home. Although I went to check my email, I decided to stop, sit in the fullness of hope, and absorb every moment until it went away. So I did. I sat on the floor of my office and rested in hope that filled my heart, not for a particular desire or circumstance or event - just pure hope, stretching my heart.

No longer discouraged, I see now the way God comes to me in every day life and in unexpected places. I no longer needed to "beat myself" for not being able to sit still and focus on God.

Prayer: God, you know each of your children so well as you created us in many ways. You bring holiness to me in the simplest places where I go every day. Come to all of us like you did to Mary and Joseph and the shepherds, in ordinary places, with extraordinary holiness. Amen.

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