Calm Chowder

(Meditative Soup for the Happy Soul)

Clam Chowder

You haven’t heard from me for a couple of weeks for a simple, ineluctable reason. It is simply this: despite all the intricate plans my mind was making, my body decided to shut down for a week or so. Chills. 103-degree fever. Chills again. More fever. Extreme lethargy. Extreme fatigue. Headaches. Dizziness on rising. Loss of appetite. When the fourth day of fever began, I called the doctor. I went in and was diagnosed with “walking” pneumonia. I barely coughed at all, but there it was. An x-ray had revealed an infection on my lung. Antibiotics were prescribed. I gobbled them down for a week, drinking insane amounts of water. After many hours of Netflix movies and soreness on both hips from being in bed all day, I gingerly ventured out for a little longer each day, until I finally started to feel, well, “normal.”

I’m really glad I was sick. I wasn’t glad while it was happening to me, but I think illness is a time when your delirious mind has a chance to reorganize itself, put everything into perspective, and make you focus on the essentials in your life. I ate very little, but when I did get my appetite back, it was only for small quantities of healthy foods. The very thought of junk food was repulsive. I lost 10 pounds.

I also cut out the futile luxuries of perfectionism and anxiety, in which my mind had been indulging when it had more energy. All the focus was on resting, being kind to myself, and feeling better. Everything else was on indefinite hold.

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The Labyrinth

The labyrinth at Chartres CathedralFeet feel cool stone floor through socks. Mind takes in view of long, curving paths, convoluted like smoothed, stylized intestines. I remember what the white-haired reverend said as he handed me the brochure: “Just give up your thoughts and let go as you enter…”

Aware, peripherally, of the handful of cathedral sight-seers. The lines take me on an unexpected trajectory–I thought I was in this quadrant; now, not having completed that section, I’m in the one to the right. They are all interconnected. Rational mind on the outskirts knows they will all resolve in the end: there is only one exit, which is also the entrance. I ponder this conundrum, which reassures me.

Still, I watch my feet, become aware of my gait. Less agile than I thought I would be, with the weight of years and the world belying my youthful mind. I take the turns less gracefully than expected, so quickly do they double on themselves.

Stay on the path. Remember to breathe. “Breathing is the only autonomic system we can control.” Am I in control of my destiny or is it in control of me? We are one. There is only one path. My mind wanders as my eyes stray upward and meet those of a young bald man in a wheelchair, watching my progress from a corner near the entrance. I break contact, returning concentration to the path. “This is ‘practice,’” I think. Religion is practice: the physical act that allows the spirit to think–or be. No need for endless liturgies or indoctrinations. No one judging. We’re all here for the same thing. My mind returns to my feet. Am I coming back out yet?

I don’t know how I got all the way over here. My mind is a tourist in a strange land, not familiar with the streets. The breath feels restricted, I work hard to slow it down. I remind myself that I will be coming out at the starting point. I seem to be on the outer rim. But wait–I am now heading for the center! That’s right–I haven’t been there yet. How like life, I reflect. We are confused, distracted, not sure where we are headed. But in the labyrinth there is only one way to go: forward.  As the radio talk-show career guru had said, “Don’t look back; just go forward, one baby step at a time.”

Finally, I am in the center of the labyrinth. A big circle with small petal-like motifs on the edges. I feel a sense of accomplishment. I deserve a pause and a bit of “beingness.” I close my eyes, aware of the high-arching limestone pillars all around me, the patches of color thrown on the floor by the sun through the windows. I calm my brain, grateful for an empty mind and the brief inner peace I have achieved.

I am more confident about the journey back, having achieved its complement. I have lost track of time and my place in the journey when I hear the sudden peal of bells. I feel the leonine grumble as each of the twelve bells bongs.

Moments after the last bong, I am aware of the ingress of people through the high door. I feel a sense of urgency to complete my walk, hoping not to interfere with services. The people float past me, engulfed by the cavernous arches, and settle in the pews. My presence is not unwelcome; just a normal part of everyday life that was noted and dismissed. Just as I am wondering how and when I will reach the end, I do.

Silently and reverently, I walk around the outside of the labyrinth to the back pew, where I retrieve my shoes and jacket.