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Meditation can help you cope with life

Life can come at you fast. It's bad enough with all the societal and self-imposed obligations we fill our days with, but this year Mother Nature had to get into the act and cram Lent into our lives the first week of February. If you wonder what Mother Nature has to do with this, Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after the first day of Spring. Lent starts 40 weekdays before that. So this year, Ash Wednesday hits us in the face while credit card bills from Christmas are still hitting our mailbox. Who needs stress like this?

But there are ways to get away from it all, at least for a little while. While the mood of Lent, a Christian observance, is that of reflection and meditation, all major religions recognize the benefits of quiet time. Even the public school system allows students and staff alike a moment of silence before they begin their day.

So, where can we go to get away? Probably the most familiar retreat center in the area is the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. The monastery offers formal retreats such as "Praying With the Scripture" and "Yoga for Christians," as well as private retreats in which you can just show up and chill out on your own (www.trappist.net).

Cedar Hill Woman's Enrichment Center in Dahlonega (www.cedarhillenrichment.org) invites people to spend time away in the mountains. Guests can experience ancient rituals like drum circles or just spend time alone getting into rhythm with nature. Cedar Hill President Nancy Amestoy of Snellville said, "This was organized as a women's spirituality center, but now more and more men are coming. They are longing for this type of deeper communion."

Right here in Gwinnett County, we have Simpsonwood Retreat Center in Norcross, an adult and family retreat center of the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church. Designed to harmonize with nature, highlights include 3 miles of wooded trails along the Chattahoochee River and a labyrinth, an ancient meditative walking path (www.simpsonwood.org ).

Of course, if life is just throwing so much at you that you can't get away for even a day, Gwinnett County offers other peaceful places where you can just drop in for a few moments. You can unwind by walking through the Gwinnett Medical Center's outdoor labyrinth. Recognizing the medical as well as spiritual benefits of walking a labyrinth, like lowering blood pressure and reducing chronic pain, GMC constructed the first hospital labyrinth in metro Atlanta in 2003.

If you're between carpool runs, you can soak up some stillness in the prayer room at Angel's Prayer Gift Shop in Lilburn. Or for a really awesome experience, bask in the splendor of the Hindu Temple on Rockbridge Road. The front of the temple is graced with a reflecting pool where people of any faith can rest, rejuvenate and, of course, reflect. And let's not forget all of our county parks that provide green getaways for everyone (www.gwinnett

county.com).

And yes, I know, even the simplest of these pleasures requires time to get there and time to park. Sometimes, it seems like it's not worth the hassle of even trying. But even in this case, there is still hope. Several friends have shared with me that when they are sitting at what seems like a ten-minute red light, rather than fuss and fume about it, they spend the time meditating. Some repeat simple prayers or mantras. Some practice deep breathing exercises.

This got me to thinking about all the traffic in the county and the fear of it getting worse with the Gwinnett Braves and other proposed developments. Studies have shown that meditation can increase intelligence and creativity, improve memory, reaction time, self-confidence, tolerance, job performance, job satisfaction - well, the list goes on and on. When life's coming at you fast, maybe a little time in traffic doesn't have to be all bad.

Susan Larson is a Lilburn resident. E-mail her at susanlarson4@yahoo.com.