Saturday, September 2, 2017


My morning walks are something like a meditation time. When I first starting walking regularly I would bring along an audio book or my French lessons and I found that I hated it — I couldn’t focus on the walk or the book. Instead I focus on the walk itself, and it’s much more pleasurable and relaxing that way.

First I focus on my feet, how I’m placing them. This will sound silly but it’s actually necessary for me. A couple of years ago the pain in my right foot became so bad that I finally went to a doctor and he put me in physical therapy for a few months. Turns out that the weeks I spent walking in a cast after breaking my foot when I was five years old caused me to develop bad habits, and the years of that gait caused damage to my foot, my ankle, my knees, hips, back, and neck! So the first thing I do is make sure that I’m planting that foot the way I should be and pushing off correctly.

Then I spend a bit of time noticing my hips and lower back, checking for correct posture and muscle usage. Then I move up to my upper back, neck, and shoulders, making sure they’re correct and relaxed, so that my chest is open and relaxed and I’m breathing properly. Then I cycle through again to make sure I haven’t lost anything along the way.

CS Lewis said, “When you put the feet right, everything else comes right.” 😀

This sounds time-consuming, and it was at first, but while I’m concentrating on my gait, posture, and breathing, I’m also taking in the look of the ground and noticing whether it shows signs of recent rain or wind. I’m smelling the air and feeling the temperatures. I’m listening to the birds and other animals and to the sound of the wind in the trees. I’m looking up at the sky and noticing the color and whether there are any clouds and what they’re like.

Nowadays focusing on my own body has become easy enough that it doesn’t take much attention or energy, so I have more of that for simply noticing the creation and letting my thoughts wander to whatever I want to think about.

There’s a specific technique that I had learned before all of this came up, and I think it’s why focusing on all those things came fairly easily for me. It’s counting your breaths. This sounds dumb, but it’s actually pretty hard.

Go sit or lie someplace quiet with no distractions. Then breathe in to a slow 3-count and out the same way. Count in your head, if possible, so you can keep your body as quiet and relaxed as possible. At the end of each cycle, count that as 1 breath (keeping count on my fingers works best for me). Try to get all the way to 10 without thinking of anything else. If any other thought intrudes itself, push it out and start over counting.

The goal is to be able to count to 100 (ten 10s) while maintaining that level of focus. It took me weeks and weeks to get there, but it’s worth it! Especially if you have an annoying dental procedure coming up and don’t like using the laughing gas. 😉

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

(This post was originally a comment at Joy’s blog.)

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Reading The Faerie Queen with children: handling allegory

The many generations who have read and re-read The Faerie Queene with delight paid very little attention to the historical allegory; the modern student, at his first reading, will be well advised to pay it none at all.
~C.S. Lewis’s essay “Edmund Spenser 1552-99,” in Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature

I’ve been very grateful to have Lewis as a mentor on our journey through The Faerie Queene, especially as we read Canto IX of Book V this morning. In the canto, Duessa, the arch-villainess through much of the story, has finally been captured and brought to trial at the court of the great queen Mercilla. In her defense come Pity, Regard of womanhood, Nobility, and Grief, among others, who plead her case so well that Prince Arthur is moved to feel sorry for her. But then the prosecutor, Zeal, makes his case and brings Strife, Murder, Sedition, Incontinence, Adultery, and Impiety to testify against her.

All which when as the Prince had heard and seen,
    His former fancy’s ruth he gan repent,
    And from her party eftsoons was drawn clean.
    But Artegall with constant firm intent,
    For zeal of Justice was against her bent.
    So was she guilty deemed of them all.
    Then Zeal began to urge her punishment,
    And to their Queen for judgement loudly call,
Unto Mercilla mild for Justice gainst the thrall.

But she, whose Princely breast was touched near
    With piteous ruth of her so wretched plight,
    Though plain she saw by all that she did hear,
    That she of death was guilty found by right,
    Yet would not let just vengeance on her light;
    But rather let in stead thereof to fall
    Few pearling drops from her fair lamps of light;
    The which she covering with her purple pall
Would have the passion hid, and up arose withall.

[Spellings updated]

The notes at the back of my copy of the book go to great lengths to describe the historical background – all the conflicts between Catholic and Protestant during the Reformation in England – and explain that in this scene Duessa is Mary Queen of Scots, and Mercilla is Queen Elizabeth.

I usually keep Lewis’s admonition in mind, but even though this is technically our first reading, we’ve already met this scene in a children’s version that we read before approaching Spenser himself, given my children’s ages – 14 and 16 – after we finished the canto I decided to address the historical background just a little. Mainly I pointed out that though there are historical parallels, this shouldn’t be taken as plain allegory. I thought it would be a good idea to start letting them know about literary criticism and analysis of the kind that might kill the joy of the piece if we take it too much to heart.

I can’t tell you how much we’re loving reading The Faerie Queene. I wish I’d read it with my older kids when they were still at home.

If you’re interested, here’s another post I wrote a few years ago with quotes from the same Lewis book I quoted above: C. S. Lewis on Spenser’s Faerie Queene.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Dear March, come in!

~Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Dear March, come in!
How glad I am!
I looked for you before.
Put down your hat—
You must have walked—
How out of breath you are!
Dear March, how are you?
And the rest?
Did you leave Nature well?
Oh, March, come right upstairs with me,
I have so much to tell!

I got your letter, and the birds’—
The maples never knew
That you were coming—I declare,
How red their faces grew!
But, March, forgive me—
And all those hills
You left for me to hue—
There was no purple suitable,
You took it all with you.

Who knocks? That April!
Lock the door!
I will not be pursued!
He stayed away a year, to call
When I am occupied.
But trifles look so trivial
As soon as you have come,
That blame is just as dear as praise
And praise as mere as blame.