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27 Beads: Even More Benefits of Quarter Malas January 30, 2024 20:14

Close up view of Quartz Quarter Mala

(Image: Quartz Quarter Mala with disco ball guru and dove gray sutra/tassel)

 If you prefer to listen to this month's blog article, please click HERE for the audio link. 

About eighteen months ago, I wrote a blog entitled “Less Is More: The Beauty and Benefits of Quarter Malas.” In it, I described a few practical benefits to using quarter malas.

Middle Moon Malas quarter malas include twenty-seven beads, plus a guru and tassel. These designs are hand-knotted, of course, and crafted with high-quality gemstones, just like the full malas I create. Lately, I have been creating quarter malas for an upcoming event in March. These little-but-mighty designs are very popular at in-person events, which is why I don’t typically add them to the online shop.

However, whenever I post photos of these mini-malas on Facebook or Instagram, people reach out and ask questions about them—and they want to know how they can purchase them, so I thought I’d go into more details about the benefits of quarter malas in this month’s offering, and encourage you to reach out if you’re interested in a design for yourself or a loved one.

Dzi Agate Quarter Mala with Garnet, Picture Jasper, and Dzi Agate beads and maroon sutra and tassel

(Image: Dzi Agate Quarter Mala with Picture Jasper, Dzi Agate, and Garnet beads with Dzi Agate guru and maroon sutra/tassel)

*Collaboration

One of my favorite aspects of creating mala designs is collaborating with clients. I love helping people curate malas that will support and enhance their own personal meditation and wellness practices. Quarter malas are ideal for this collaborative adventure because they are an affordable, low-pressure investment. Most of the quarter malas I create run between $40--$50, depending upon the beads that are in the designs. Also, because there are only 27 beads, it’s easier to explore and play with the colors, textures, and patterns of the beads as well as the colors for the sutra and tassel.

I will create layout designs and send photos to clients. Once they agree on their custom design, it doesn’t take long for me to create their one-of-a-kind quarter mala. It takes me a few days to create a full mala, but I can create a quarter mala in a few hours.

Recently, I had a client who requested a quarter mala for her beloved teacher. After listening to her and showing her photos of various beads, guru options, and sutra colors, we were able to collaborate and create a meaningful and thoughtful gift for someone very important to her.

Some clients are wanting a quarter mala for a specific practice or purpose. For example, I have made Lapis Lazuli quarter malas for Medicine Buddha recitations; Jade quarter malas for Tara sadhanas; Quartz Crystal quarter malas for Vajrasattva retreats.

Some clients have specific color or stone preferences—they want a purple quarter mala, or they really like Amethyst.

Not all of my quarter malas are custom designs. Sometimes, I like to play and experiment with textures, colors, shapes, and combinations of beads. If I really like the result, it may become the inspiration for a full mala design.

I recently created a quarter mala from Rhodochrosite and Cherry Quartz beads with a lovely pink lotus resin guru. This inspired the Pink Lotus Mala, a full mala that includes variations on a theme of these beads. This mala is currently available on the MMM online collection.

Pink Lotus Quarter Mala with Rhodochrosite, Cherry Quartz, and pink lotus guru

(Image: Pink Lotus Quarter Mala with Rhodochrosite and Cherry Quartz beads and pink lotus guru with variegated pink sutra/tassel) 

 

*Connection

Collaborating with clients also gives me an opportunity to connect with others and share meaningful conversations. Recently, a client (and former student) reached out because she was interested in a Quartz quarter mala that I had posted on FB. Because she is local, we decided to meet at a nearby coffee shop to chat and catch up, and I was able to deliver her design in person.

It was great to hear about her family, about what she’s doing now, and how much she has evolved and grown since her high school days. She also had questions about how to use her quarter mala, and being able to describe that process in person was more relevant than simply directing her to watch a video or reel that I’d posted.

It’s also nice to support another local small business. We met at Mocha Nut, an independently owned coffee shop in Southport.

I typically attend a few in-person events each year as a vendor, and, usually, these events are a bit crowded and noisy. At these events, there’s not much time to interact one-on-one with customers in a quiet space, so it’s nice to have more time to chat with individual customers in person. 

Red Rose Quarter Mala with Black and White Striped Agate, Faceted Onyx, and Matte Mother-of-Pearl beads and red rose guru with black and red tassel.

(Image: Red Rose Quarter Mala with Black and White Striped Agate, faceted Onyx, and matte Mother-of-Pearl beads with red rose guru and black/red variegated sutra/tassel)

*Commitment

Quarter malas are beautiful little reminders to practice, and they are intended to encourage practice. These quarter mala designs are not made to be worn on the wrist all day. I don’t use stretchy cord, and don’t make stretchy bracelets.  My designs are hand-knotted, and the same cord that runs through all of the beads also secures the tassel. Everything is connected and interconnected, after all.

Because quarter malas are portable and don’t take up much space, they are ideal for travel. Also, because they are affordable, it’s possible to keep one at home, one in the car, and one at work. So, if you’ve made a commitment to meditate or recite mantras every day, strategically (and respectfully) placed quarter malas are meaningful reminders to practice.

Having the visual reminder of a quarter mala can be a comforting motivator. Whenever you have a few minutes to practice, or even when challenges arise, they are right there waiting to support you, helping you to stay grounded and focused.

I recently had a conversation with someone at work, and this conversation brought up anxious emotions for me. This particular individual tends to have very strong opinions, and often presents his opinions as if they were facts. Usually, I can let his comments slide, but this time, his remarks were jarring and triggering for me. I could feel the uneasy pull of an anxiety spiral forming in my gut.

I didn’t contradict, challenge, or argue with him. Instead, I sat at my desk, held my mala in my hand, and completed a brief breath practice.

First Bead: inhale

Pause

Next Bead: exhale

Pause

All the way around the mala.

It took just a few minutes to calm my anxious thoughts. It also helped me detach and not take his comments personally. I was able to let it go and move on.

Elephant Jasper Quarter Mala with gold metal guru and autumn harvest variegated sutra and tassel.

(Image: Elephant Jasper Quarter Mala with gold metal textured guru and Autumn Harvest variegated sutra/tassel)

*****

I hope 2024 is treating you well so far! If you are interested in a Middle Moon Malas quarter mala, I would be happy to create a beautiful design that supports you and your practice.  Just send me an email via the Contact Us page to begin.


Groundwork: Inviting the Shadow to Tea December 30, 2023 13:21

White teacup in shadow. The reflection of the handle creates a heart shaped image

If you prefer to listen to this month's offering, please click HERE for the audio link.

I’m currently reading a book by Rob Preece. He’s a Tibetan Buddhist as well as a therapist (with Jungian leanings). Preparing for Tantra focuses on Buddhist preliminary practices, but he frames them through the lens of a Western perspective. I’m enjoying his book very much, and it is helping me prepare for Sravasti Abbey’s Retreat from Afar starting in January.

One of the major points that Preece emphasizes in this book is the importance of shadow work. He defines the term Shadow as “aspects of human nature that are repressed and held in the unconscious.” According to Preece, acknowledging and integrating the Shadow can be synonymous with groundwork.

In Buddhism, groundwork, or preliminary practices, can be connected to (but not limited to) mantra recitations, prostrations, and water bowl offerings. These rituals prepare the body, speech, and mind for more advanced meditation practices and study.

However, this idea of connecting groundwork to facing one’s Shadow fascinates me. For years, I would joke that I must have gotten turned around and lost in the Bardo and wound up with the wrong family in this lifetime. After reading this book, I no longer believe that.

Shadow memories and dark times have been bubbling to the surface for me recently, which is not unusual given the time of year. Winter is often the season for reflection for many people.

I wasn’t a practicing Buddhist as a kid, but I did grow up with challenging circumstances. I grew up in a home with a severely mentally ill parent. My mother had been diagnosed with many labels and had been prescribed many more combinations of psychiatric meds over the course of her adult life, but through the changing diagnoses and medications, she consistently remained incredibly unmotivated and self-absorbed. She often used her illness as an excuse to not do anything or go anywhere. She also milked it for all it was worth to manipulate family members and to garner constant favors and requests. My stepdad was frequently going to the store for her after coming home from work because she was “too sick” to go herself—and she never went with him.

We all walked on eggshells around her. Her depression took the entire family hostage, and each of us handled the fallout in different ways.

My stepdad escaped through work; he worked long hours and took several business trips to Mexico and Japan during this time period.  My sister and I both took refuge in music; she played the piano, and I played the violin, but we didn’t play together. I also loved to read and enjoyed escaping to the safety of novels and biographies.

Unfortunately, my mother’s illness didn’t bring us together. Instead, it forced us apart. It also didn’t help that I was the odd duck in the family. I was the oldest, and a child from my mother’s previous marriage, so I never felt like I fit into this new family unit (not fitting in is a big part of my Shadow work).

I was bullied at home. My stepdad was extremely demanding and critical with me, and he could be quite condescending and emotionally cruel, especially when no one was around to witness his cruelty.

My sister and I were four years apart in age. Consequently, we attended different schools and had different circles of friends. When we were together, we often argued. She was my stepdad’s biological child (and darling), and he treated her differently—he was much kinder and more patient with her than he was with me.

Both of my parents were emotionally unavailable for me at this time, and I desperately needed loving, compassionate guidance. Unfortunately, I was often left to fend for myself—and honestly—I was a weird kid—awkward, shy, socially clumsy, and hopelessly insecure.

During this time, when I was attending junior high school, we lived in an apartment complex. Unfortunately, I wasn’t just bullied at home—I was also bullied at school, too, mainly at the bus stop and on the bus.

I loved school—it was my safe space—but I hated the ride there and back.

Every morning, I carried my books and violin to the bus stop at the front of the apartment complex. It was a large shelter framed with dark wooden fencing on three sides and a roof, and it was always packed with kids from the complex. Several kids smoked cigarettes in the crowded shelter, and there were some “stoners” who smoked marijuana. I had enough craziness going on in my life; I didn’t need that, so I waited for the bus by the main road, away from the shelter.

I stood outside, rain or shine, by myself. Several kids hooted and jeered at me every morning when I walked by. Some even made animal noises at me. I ignored them, but it was HARD! On the outside, I may have appeared unfazed by their daily taunts, which carried over on the bus ride to and from school—every day—for three years. On the inside, however, I was a mess—a hollow, confused, traumatized mess.

I stood up (and out) by staying quiet, minding my own business, and enduring the daily barrage of ridiculous taunts.

I didn’t know it at the time, but upon reflection, this was my groundwork. This was a significant preliminary practice for me. I was not in a good place physically or emotionally during these junior high years. I did not feel safe, and I was not understood, adequately cared for, or appreciated. These were very hard times—for me and for my family.

Fortunately, things improved when I attended high school (and we moved out of the apartment complex). I got a job at a nearby Dairy Queen, not far from our new house. Between work and school, I didn’t have much time to spend at home, so the bullying subsided there, too.

****

These painful experiences helped me tremendously and led me to discover Buddhism. They helped me develop empathy and compassion for others, especially after I graduated from college and started my teaching career.

I knew what it felt like to be excluded, so I went out of my way to ensure that my students’ voices were heard and acknowledged. I never taught a class without including journal writings. It was a great way for them to practice their writing skills, and to express their thoughts and feelings.

Groundwork is the foundation from which everything else grows. It is dark soil, rich with rocky potential that requires hard work, patience, and dedication.

When I think about these early years, I realize how far I’ve come and how much I’ve grown, despite how much I suffered. I was traveling on the path before I even knew the path existed.

These dark, awkward times motivated me to continue to read, study, and learn. They taught me the importance of kindness, generosity, empathy, compassion, and joy. They inspired me to embrace connection and understand the importance of interdependence.

This groundwork encouraged me not only to keep going, despite the hardship and loneliness, but it also encouraged me to surround myself with others who were ethical, supportive, and kind.

This groundwork encouraged me to be observant and mindful—to set healthy boundaries—and to communicate clearly about what is OK and what is not.

My life is far from perfect. I continue to falter and make ridiculously stupid mistakes. The good news is, I have a loving family, I feel safe in my home, I have supportive, warm-hearted friends, and I have a meaningful Dharma practice to rely on daily.

I enjoy reading books like Rob Preece’s, I enjoy listening to and attending Dharma talks, I enjoy making time to meditate, recite mantra, make offerings, and do prostrations.

Remembering the dark times helps me to appreciate all that I have now. Those junior high days seem like many lifetimes ago, but I wouldn’t be who I am now if I hadn’t endured those challenges and struggles.

I have invited my Shadow to tea with this blog post, and I realize now that I did not get turned around in the Bardo and wind up in the wrong family. I ended up exactly where I was supposed to be, and I worked hard to cultivate a meaningful life for myself and others. I continue to do that work even now.

We are all works in progress, we all suffer in samsara, and we are all on the path helping each other learn, grow, and thrive, whether we realize it or not.

I hope 2024 treats you well. May you continue to learn, grow, practice, and thrive in the coming New Year. Please visit the current Middle Moon Malas online collection of hand-knotted malas. May they support and inspire your own personal practice. Know that you are always welcome to reach out via the Contact Us page for custom design requests as well.

Thanks for taking the time to read or listen to this month’s offering. Happy New Year!

 

Warmly,

 

Teresa

.Photo Credit: Luca N from Unsplash

 

 

    

 

 


Slow Down: Savoring the Practice of Pausing November 30, 2023 10:00

Silhouette of me holding a cup of tea while looking at the November calendar. 

 If you prefer to listen to this month's offering, click HERE for the audio link.

 

At various times throughout this month, I have received several nudges from the universe to slow down. For example, as I was driving home from school a couple weeks ago, I slowed down while entering a roundabout. I heard a car horn beeping behind me, and from my side mirror, I saw a small blue car. Inside, a cranky man was shaking his fist at me, urging me to go-go-go.

Apparently, he didn’t notice the giant “YIELD” sign to our right—or the three cars whipping around the circle from the left, which motivated me to slow down and pause.

 

I gestured toward the fast-moving cars—but cranky man just shook his head in frustration. When it was safe, I entered the circle. Cranky man in the little blue car buzzed by me, irritated, agitated, and totally unaware that I was not just looking out for myself, but I was looking out for him and others as well.

***

Another nudge from the universe came in the form of a poem that I came across by one of my all-time favorite poets, Naomi Shihab Nye. This poem, “Every Day,” is from her collection A Maze Me: Poems for Girls, published in 2005.

  

Every Day

My hundred-year-old, next-door neighbor told me:

Every day is a good day, if you have it.

I had to think about that a minute.

She said, Every day is a present

someone left at your birthday place at the table.

Trust me! It may not feel like that,

but it’s true. When you’re my age,

you’ll know. Twelve is a treasure.

And it’s up to you

to unwrap the package gently,

lifting out the gleaming hours

wrapped in tissue,

don’t miss the bottom of the box.

 

Busyness is a habit of mind, and it can be an indication of an agitated nervous system. We are encouraged in American society to go-go-go, do-do-do, hurry-hurry-hurry, constantly chasing the mind as it leaps ahead into the future, leaving the body behind in a state of rattled confusion. The mind screams, “Look how busy I am! I am soooooo important!!!”

 

Right. I get it! I have certainly been caught up in this cycle. When I taught high school English, there were times when I was hyper-aware of the clock on the wall, and my days were measured in fifty-five-minute intervals, with ringing bells and five-minute passing periods. I remember the constant cycle of planning lessons and grading essays. I remember times when I was so focused on being prepared for anything that I was rarely focused on “what is” and present with my students sitting right in front of me. In other words, I was missing the bottom of the box.

 

Ironically, running around from task to task, obligation to obligation is just another form of laziness. According to Venerable Thubten Chodron, abbess of Sravasti Abbey in Washington state, “Being super-busy in a worldly way is another kind of laziness because it keeps us from our practice.”

***

A go-go-go, do-do-do, hurry-hurry-hurry mindset is a limiting one…and an exhausting one. It distracts us from what is most meaningful, and it prevents us from seeing the bigger picture.

Paradoxically, the most meaningful, big-picture moments, often involve taking the time to slow down, notice, and contemplate the small things:

*the rhythm and flow of the breath

*the syncopated sounds of rain on the roof

*a passage from a book or line from a poem that makes you stop, underline it, and read it again

*the sound of a child’s laughter in a grocery store

*watching leaves flutter to the ground

*watching the full moon shift and rise through bare branches

Small things, for me, are my portals to deep awareness.  Small things encourage me to slow down—to pause—to do less and enjoy more—and to notice, really notice, what’s going on around me.

 

I’ve also noticed that making time for consistent, daily practices (for me, that includes meditation, mantra recitations, and Feldenkrais lessons) increases the likelihood that I’ll notice and appreciate the small things with big-picture potential—these tiny portals of awareness.

***

The biggest nudge from the universe came the other morning when I made time to visit a dear friend and former colleague. She has survived more than one stroke, has experienced slow, but steady cognitive decline, and is currently recovering from a recent heart attack.

The hospital where she is staying is close to the school where I work as a part-time tutor, and I was able to spend time with her between student sessions.

 

When I walked into her room, she was sleeping. I talked to her while she rested, describing the view outside her window. I told her about the large, billowy clouds and the streaks of sunlight shining through them. I told her about the air traffic control tower that I could see from the nearby airport, and every few minutes, an airplane would rise up and disappear into the billowy clouds streaked with sunshine.

 

She was surrounded by gently beeping monitors and was covered with a fleece blanket with turkeys and pumpkins on it. A muted National Geographic program about Egyptian art was playing on the television.

 

A friend had visited her the day before and brought her a green stuffed rabbit. She hugged it close to her as she slept. The color made me think of Green Tara, and I softly sang the mantra to her like a lullabye: Om Tare Tutarre Ture Soha, Om Tare Tutarre Ture Soha, Om Tare Tutarre Ture Soha, Om Tare Tutarre Ture Soha…

I told her how grateful I was for her friendship over the years, how her mentorship was extremely helpful when I first started teaching.

I thought about all the places she’d traveled with her family, all the stories she’d shared about her adventures, and how much her students admired her.

I didn’t know if she would awaken while I was there, so I made the most of the time I had with her. I was fully present with her.

 

Fortunately, she did wake up after a short while, and we had time to chat. Her eyes lit up when she saw me; she was delighted to have someone waiting to talk with her when she woke up. She struggled to find words at times, and her mind would catch in cognitive loops, bringing the conversation around to the same topics or questions. She confused me for other friends at times, or one of her daughters, but it didn’t matter. I was happy to have time to see her and to talk with her.

 

This visit with my friend did not make me feel sad. Instead, I felt joyful and relieved to have a chance to thank her for all of her helpful advice and friendship over the years. I had time to hold space and be present with her while she slept and while she was awake.

 

Slowing down means savoring the present moment, accepting what is with grace and dignity.

Listening to nudges from the universe, taking in these small moments, and appreciating the joy of pausing—these are the “gleaming hours/ wrapped in tissue.” Paying deep attention to these portals of awareness: this, too, is practice.

 

I hope you all are finding joy during this Holiday Season. May you be able to slow down and appreciate your own portals of awareness during this time. Please know that I have added several new designs to the Middle Moon Malas online collection, and they make thoughtful gifts for loved ones who have a meditation practice, or for yourself. Please consider purchasing a hand-knotted mala design to inspire meaningful practice and to support a small business. Much gratitude!

Warmly,

 Teresa


Change Is Fantastic! Reframing Unexpected Surprises, Detours, and Obstacles October 30, 2023 18:15

 Close up view of golden yellow gingko leaves on a branch. Fallen leaves are scattered in the background on green grass.

 If you prefer to listen to this month's blog offering, please click HERE for the audio link.

 

I was driving in the car, headed to a dental appointment a few weeks ago. I was half-listening to an NPR interview with a scientist. I was taking an alternate route due to a massive construction project on I-465 and was laser-beam focused on driving. However, I heard a phrase that made me stop, literally, and pay attention.

The scientist being interviewed said, “Change is fantastic!”

My first thought was, that would make an excellent mantra! What a wonderful way to reframe unexpected surprises, detours, and obstacles.

Hearing this woman’s words changed (for the better) the rest of my commute. I was no longer thinking about the extra time that this alternate route was taking. Instead, I was able to appreciate the light traffic and fall scenery. My trip felt more like an adventure and an exploration than an inconvenience.

Not only did I arrive a few minutes early for my appointment, but I also discovered a new route in the process.

***

Most of us find change to be an unnerving, annoying inconvenience—sometimes, change can even seem terrifying. We often have a negative reaction to change, especially if we have expectations or attachments connected to the situation.

 We leave for work only to discover our car has a flat tire.

We spill coffee on our laptop.

The power goes out in the middle of our Zoom meeting.

 These unexpected twists and turns can, and do, happen at times, but humans are resilient. We are designed to adapt because we live in a world where change is a constant, unpredictable companion.

The good news is, the more we practice reframing unexpected changes with the mantra, “Change is fantastic!” the more effectively we can navigate even more serious changes like illness, death, natural disasters, and war.

***

The natural world is a beautiful reminder of the perpetual and cyclic nature of change.

At this time of year, deciduous trees in my town are bursting with color, and I love watching their leaves flutter to the ground. Soon, the air will be cold, and their branches will be bare—there is beauty in bare branches, too.

Change is Fantastic!

Flocks of birds are migrating south. Collectively, they undulate in waves across darkening skies streaked with the bold colors of autumn sunsets.

Change is Fantastic!

The squirrels in my yard are busy collecting and hiding acorns for the upcoming winter months. They, too, are preparing for fantastic changes.

***

Granted, some changes are easier to appreciate than others.

Celebrating birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and graduations are just a few examples. It’s easy to recognize and rejoice the fantastic nature of these milestones.

I’ve worked in a high school setting for over three decades, and while most seniors look forward to graduation at the end of the school year, each year there are a few who dread it. These students have grown attached and accustomed to school life—the structure, the expectations, the routines and schedules. Even though they may complain about the workload (or the food in the cafeteria), school for them is predictable, familiar, and safe.

Some students are so resistant to change that they sabotage their own future success by failing key classes so they can’t graduate. For them, moving forward into new situations, opportunities, and circumstances is too uncomfortable or frightening. They believe that if they don’t graduate, their lives won’t have to change. Self-sabotage and stubborn stagnation are not effective coping mechanisms for navigating growth and progress. Unfortunately, these heart-breaking strategies aren’t just limited to seniors in high school.

***

Life is change!

While some changes are more comfortable to experience than others, even the lessons that devastating changes bring can be meaningful and profound.

Changes such as dealing with an illness, a sudden death, violent crime, war, or a devastating earthquake, flood, or wildfire—these are truly fantastic changes—but they don’t feel very fantastic. Instead, they can be overwhelming and traumatic.

These larger-than-life changes are formidable reminders of the importance of compassion and interdependence. Often, during profoundly difficult times, people come together to offer aid, support, and comfort. This interconnection enables us to see that what we do matters, and that our actions ripple and reach, creating an intricate tapestry of connections.

Such dramatic and jarring changes can also lead to equally dramatic realizations, understanding, and the motivation to act and respond in resourceful, beneficial ways. Big changes help us to see the bigger picture and the longer view.

Human beings are both fragile and resilient—vulnerable and strong. By accepting that change will be our constant companion throughout our lives, and by welcoming small changes with a light-hearted, open-minded attitude, these strategies can help us enjoy our current journey and prepare for bigger obstacles that may lie ahead.

***

As I was walking from the parking lot into school this morning, I noticed that the temperature had dropped by twenty degrees during my commute. The jacket that I was wearing wasn’t quite warm enough for this environmental change. However, the walk from my car to the front door was a short one, and I had a mantra that was just perfect for this situation: “Change is fantastic!”

 

Thank you for reading or listening to this month's offering. If you would like to embrace the upcoming, fantastic changes in your life with the help of a new mala, feel free to visit the latest MMM collection while you're here. I've added several new designs since Wellbeing Fest. 


Generosity, Stinginess, and Over-Giving: Intention Determines What's Too Much, Not Enough, or Just Right September 28, 2023 08:53

An open hand reaches for trees and patches of blue sky in the distance

If you prefer to listen to this month’s article, please click HERE for the audio link.

In general, most people would agree that generosity is an important quality to cultivate, practice, and encourage in mainstream society. I also think that most people recognize that selfishness and stinginess are polar opposites to generosity. I would add, though, that over-giving is just as counterproductive as miserliness. Whenever giving and receiving are out of whack, stinginess and over-giving can rise to the surface and pollute the pond of generosity.


According to Venerable Thubten Chodron, Abbess of Sravasti Abbey, generosity is linked with wisdom and bodhichitta, and our far-reaching attitude or motivation behind giving to others is extremely important. “The mind is not really giving, if generosity is linked with pride,” she says.


If we give to others and then regret it later, if we give to those who won’t appreciate or need what we have to offer, or if we give in order to flaunt status or to dominate others, our gifts become tainted transactions. Not only do these gifts lose significance and meaning, but they also destroy any possibility of merit because our motivation wasn’t grounded in sincerity, respect, and humility.


When it comes to generosity, everything hinges on intention, and intentions aren’t always obvious or easy to detect from the perspective of the casual observer.


***
I grew up among family members who had serious baggage around generosity and sincere giving. For example, when I was a kid, it wasn’t uncommon for my mom to give a gift to my sister or me—only to take it back later. Usually, these were small things—a framed photograph, a pair of earrings, a book or a record—but, still—the taking back, usually motivated by regret or attachment on my mom’s part, felt like an “ungiving” as well as a covert power play.


A strange variation on a theme of this occurred many years later after Jim and I were married. My grandmother (my mom’s mom) had died, and my mother gave me a beautiful crystal candy dish. I was led to believe that it had belonged to my grandmother, and my mom gave it to me as a remembrance or keepsake of her mom.


I found out later that this same candy dish was actually a wedding gift that my aunt Christine (my mom’s sister) had given to Jim and me soon after we were married. Aunt Christine lived several states away, and she sent this gift to my mom’s address with the understanding that my mom would give it to us after our wedding.


Instead, my mom kept the crystal candy dish for herself, and then gave it to me several years later (out of consolation, or guilt). She never mentioned that Aunt Christine had given it to us many years beforehand. I discovered this many years later (from my aunt Christine)—and graciously thanked her for her generosity.


***
When I was a kid, gifts were transactional during the holidays. They were carefully counted, measured, and weighed. Often, my sister and I were given identical gifts to prevent any feelings of jealousy. Consequently, exchanging gifts in my family wasn’t open-hearted, generous, or even sincere. It was often an obligation laced with manipulation.

Withholding gifts and taking gifts back are forms of stinginess, selfishness, and emotional manipulation.


***
As a result, it took me a while to find a healthy balance between giving and receiving. Early on in my teaching career, for example, I made a habit of over-giving my time, effort, and resources, and I was exhausted and depleted as a result. Giving and doing so much for others while neglecting my own needs was not healthy or helpful.


Over-giving can also be a manipulative power play and a form of attention-seeking behavior. For example, I attended a dinner a few years ago with several friends. We met for a wonderful meal and an evening of camaraderie and connection. At the end of the evening, one of our friends volunteered to pay for everyone’s dinner. He sat at the head of the table and waved the waiter over with a flourish as he whipped out his credit card.


We had had gathered as individuals and as equals around a table, but my friend’s act of generosity struck me as just that—an act. I felt grateful, but I also felt uncomfortable. I wondered what his motivation was—was this an offering of sincere generosity? Was he flaunting his status? Was he claiming some sort of authority? Did he struggle with receiving? Was I being paranoid?


Clearly, I had a lot of questions, and it motivated me to consider my own intentions whenever I give to others. It also motivated me to consider HOW I give to others. For example, I’m a big fan of anonymous blessings and quiet contributions as opposed to showy public displays of generosity. I also prefer to give sincere, occasional compliments as opposed to over-the-top, gish-galloping geysers of flattery on the daily.

For me, one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned is that generosity doesn’t have to be material possessions or money. Time and attention are valuable gifts. Teaching is a generous offering. A meaningful conversation—a heart-felt card, letter, phone call, or text—a genuine smile and warm greeting—all of these can be sincere, generous gifts. What matters most is the intention—if the intention is respectful, kind, and compassionate—and devoid of desires or
agendas, then it is pure, it is valid, and it is more than enough.


***
According to the Psychology Today article, “Are You an Over-Giver?” Karen Kleiman, MSW, LCSW, asserts that over-giving is not a symptom of ultimate selflessness. Rather, it “essentially comes from an inability to receive.” Over-giving, like stinginess, is an indication that the balance of give and receive are out of alignment. Kleiman claims, “If you are unable to take in love, attention, or help from others and accept it completely, you are giving from an empty heart.” 


In over-giving, the gift is more about the giver than the recipient. In this article, Kleiman also includes a list of common indications that over-giving, rather than generosity, may be present:


1. It’s important for you to be the giver rather than the receiver in relationships.
2. It’s common for you to feel guilty when someone gives to you.
3. You tend to put the needs of others first and neglect your own.
4. You tend to apologize about not being able to give in the way that you’d like.
5. You are unable or uncomfortable about asking for help.
6. Your own insecurities are at the root of your tendency to over-give.
7. You over-give in order to feel loved, respected, valued, or admired.

***
In other words, over-giving fulfills unmet needs or serves an agenda, as opposed to generosity, which flows from sincerity, humility, and kind-heartedness.


I have certainly been guilty of both stinginess and over-giving many times in my life. I’ve experienced the tight pinch of restrictive stinginess, of not giving enough time, attention, or resources to others in need.

I have also experienced the expansive, controlling gluttony of over-giving: showering gifts or compliments to those who didn’t want, appreciate, or need my excessive offerings. 


Stinginess and over-giving are limited and limiting, and I am mindfully on the lookout for them in my own interactions with others.


Generosity is an important virtue—it’s one of the six perfections, and it’s usually first on the list! At the heart of healthy generosity is openness, kindness, and clarity. What is given is given (for keeps) with the sincere wish to benefit others in a humble, respectful, and appropriate way.



Thank you for taking the time to read or listen to this month’s offering. Please visit the Middle Moon Malas collection. Several new malas have been recently added. These malas make generous gifts for others and for yourself. May they be of benefit.

Photo Credit: Rui Silvestre courtesy of Unsplash


Indiana State Fair 2023: A Celebration of Interdependence August 31, 2023 13:02

Jim and I walking hand in hand at the Indiana State Fair

If you prefer to listen to this month's blog article, please click HERE for the audio link (11 minute listen).

The Indiana State Fair is an annual, month-long summer event in Indianapolis that includes concerts, livestock, rides, games, an assortment of fried foods, and family fun.

I’m not going to lie, it’s not an event that typically appeals to me. I’m generally not jazzed about tractor pulls, midway rides, and large crowds in the unbearable summer heat and humidity of the Hoosier state.

This year, however, my daughter was working at the Newfields booth during an afternoon shift on the last Friday of this year’s fair schedule, so Jim and I decided to meet her there for dinner after her shift ended and to experience some family fun, first-hand.

Our first (and really only) obstacle was navigating rush hour traffic and finding a parking spot once we arrived. On our way there, a semi nearly missed plowing into our vehicle on I-65. The driver hadn’t been paying attention and didn’t notice that traffic was slowing.

Fortunately, we lived through that close call only to wait in line for 45 minutes as we inched our way toward a parking spot at the far end of the sandy infield of the fairgrounds.

We arrived just in time to see the fair parade, led by the famous Clydesdale horses and Budweiser carriage, followed by a marching band and several tractors pulling hordes of waving sponsors, farmers, and fair princesses with glittery pink sashes.

Clydesdale horses pulling Budweiser carriage in parade at Indiana State Fair 2023

Elise had wandered into the parade line and met us near the grandstand. We waited in line for ears of fresh buttered sweet corn. Elise enjoyed deep fried Oreos, I chose chocolate-covered cheesecake on a stick, and Jim selected pork riblets with a Lemon Shake-up.

The weather was perfect! It was breezy and slightly cool with very low humidity, which is extremely rare for this time of year.

After “dinner,” we wandered into various livestock buildings and visited sheep, goats, alpacas, horses, and pigs.

I'm connecting with an adorable goat in the petting zoo

 

A large goat is vying for Elise's attention while we chat with a little goat

beautiful Belgian horse in one of the livestock buildings at the Indiana State Fair 2023

We sat in plastic Adirondack chairs and listened to an up-and-coming local band. The band members couldn’t have been any older than the high school students I currently tutor.

We circled around the fairgrounds on a shuttle pulled by a large tractor. The long bench seats allowed for easy access on and off during the various stops.

What does all of this have to do with meditation practice? Well, the old me (the version of myself before I dedicated time to a daily practice) would have been very anxious in a crowd full of strangers, disgusted by the mingled scents of exhaust fumes, fair food, and livestock manure. The old me would have worried about the time, even on a Friday night. Honestly, the old me would have never made it to the fair to begin with—she would have insisted that the near miss with the semi was “a sign from the Universe” to just go on home.

The present me, however, was just that—present.

Jim was a little antsy as we inched our way to the infield parking lot, but I was calm and content. We had the windows rolled down and could hear the sounds of cicadas along with the gleeful shrieks coming from people on the midway rides.

The present me wasn’t worried about being late—or the time at all. I enjoyed spending time with my family and taking in all the sights and sounds without judgment, worry, or fear.

I enjoyed interacting and connecting with the animals in the livestock barns. From patting the bellies of the milk-drunk piglets to stroking the soft noses of the sheep, goats, and horses, connecting with the animals was soothing, and being with my family was comforting.

The present me even found connecting with strangers to be enjoyable. I was relaxed and at ease in the crowd. At one point, as we were walking near the midway, I met eyes with an elderly woman in a wheelchair. I smiled, said, “Hello.” Her eyes were bright and welcoming.  I didn’t know her, but I felt connected to her, nonetheless. I felt connected—and interconnected with the thousands of others who were milling all around us, sharing the sights and sounds and space of this beautiful summer night.

The present me appreciated the efforts of all the hearts and hands of all ages, races, and backgrounds who came together to make this event possible: from those directing traffic in the parking lot, those preparing and serving food, those maintaining and monitoring the grounds and rides, those driving the tractor shuttles, those making public announcements, those tending to animals, and, of course, the animals. This evening was a celebration of interdependence.

My practice has changed me for the better, and it’s events like these that most clearly reveal and showcase some of these positive changes:

  • Remain open and receptive to new opportunities
  • See the familiar with a fresh set of eyes
  • Set aside past associations and perceptions
  • Remain calm and relaxed—even under pressure
  • Release tension after danger has passed
  • Prevent unexpected obstacles from spoiling the rest of the evening
  • Remain content and patient while waiting
  • Enjoy the company of loved ones and strangers
  • Feel genuine love, compassion, and joy for others
  • Remain focused, alert, and present without expectations
  • Cultivate gratitude for others’ skills, gifts, and efforts

 

This is what daily practice has done for me. Over time, it has enabled me to allow, appreciate, and enjoy this precious human life.

Do I feel this connected all the time? No. However, I do feel like this more frequently than I did a decade ago. My practice has improved the overall quality of my life, and, by proxy, it has improved the lives of others around me.

 

I’m reflecting on this topic at a time when yet another mass shooting has occurred in our country—this time, in Jacksonville, Florida. The contrast of these two events: an enjoyable evening with my family at the fair, and yet another tragic shooting motivated by hate, ignorance, and racism—is jarring and unsettling.

 

One of the biggest benefits of my personal practice is that it helps me to navigate this paradox—and it motivates me to continue to practice without being discouraged by the hatred and anger of others.  I can’t change other people, and I won’t allow the destructive actions of others to deter and distract me from appreciating moments of connection and presence. Despite others’ choices and actions that intensify suffering and despair, compassion, connection, interdependence, and gratitude—these are the necessary antidotes that a daily practice fosters.

I firmly believe that when enough people cultivate compassion and connection for others, meaningful change can, and will, occur. However, it must begin with individuals before the ripple effects can reach, progress, and improve society.

The Indiana State Fair may have come and gone for this year, but there will be many more opportunities to celebrate and practice interdependence by this time next summer.

Jim, Elise, and I on the tractor shuttle at the Indiana State Fair 2023

 

*** 

My hope is that this article inspires and supports you and your own practice in some way.

May you be well. May you be happy. And most importantly, may you continue to practice…

 While you're here, don't forget to visit the Middle Moon Malas home page to view the current collection of hand-knotted malas and quarter malas.

 

 


Sudden Storms: Navigating Whirlwinds of Change with Daily Practice July 28, 2023 17:10

Dark storm clouds swirl and churn in a form in turbulent sky

If you prefer to listen to this month's blog article, please click HERE for the audio link.

 

“O, I have suffered with those that I saw suffer.”

                                    Miranda from Shakespeare’s  The Tempest

This summer has been a whirlwind of activity—literally and figuratively. In late June, a pop-up tornado ripped through our neighborhood. It uprooted giant trees, tore off roofs, obliterated detached garages, barns, and fences.

We weren’t given much warning that it was coming. Storm sirens in our area had sounded earlier in the afternoon, but had stopped. It wasn’t raining or hailing at the time, and television meteorologists were focusing on areas to the north and south of us.

The first indication that something wasn’t quite right was our cable went out, and our TVs were blasting loud static on snowy screens. I was going upstairs to turn off the TV when Jim yelled from downstairs, “Get down here, NOW!”

I looked up at the skylight in time to see limbs of trees blowing sideways.

I hurried downstairs, closed the front door, and headed toward the bathroom in the interior hall. By the time I’d reached the bathroom, the storm had already blown past us, and we stepped outside to assess the damage.

Fortunately, our damage was minimal. We lost a cherry tree that had fallen across our driveway and some large limbs from a walnut tree in the backyard. We also had debris from various neighbors’ properties strewn all over our yard. Our house was intact; our barn was not damaged; our two big oak trees had not fallen over (and I was very grateful for that).

However, nearby telephone poles and lines were down. One pole had broken in half and was lying across a two-lane street at an odd, unstable angle. I thought it would be days before our power would be restored, but within eighteen hours, the power was back up and running.

Our neighbors behind us lost three vehicles due to fallen trees. Our neighbor to the south of us lost every single tree standing in his backyard. The damage all around us was devastating, and our community sustained a tremendous amount of damage in the span of 90 seconds. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt, thank goodness.

Jim cut up the cherry tree that had fallen across our driveway with a chainsaw, and then he went to our neighbor’s house to help with their roof.

Neighbors helped us pull their mangled trampoline out of our pine trees, and all of us spent hours picking up limbs, sticks, and branches, carting them into burn piles or dragging them to the ends of driveways for pickup.

This storm was so unexpected and fast-moving, we didn’t have time to be scared.

Neighbors did make time to come out and help each other, asking if everyone was OK.

While Jim was helping out our neighbor with his roof, I picked up sticks, branches, and debris in our yard, and used it as an opportunity for practice.

I chanted, “Om Mani Padme Hum” for hours while I worked. I thought about our neighbors who has sustained far more damage than we had—who lost beautiful trees, who sustained roof damage, broken windows, crushed vehicles, mangled fences, garages, and barns.

I picked up sticks and branches, whispering, “Om Mani Padme Hum.”

Coiled springs from our neighbor’s trampoline—“Om Mani Padme Hum.”

Shingles from a nearby barn—“Om Mani Padme Hum.”

A book cover (Love Story) from someone’s patio table—“Om Mani Padme Hum.”

Arm floaties and bits of pool noodles—“Om Mani Padme Hum.”

Pieces of plastic and siding scraps—“Om Mani Padme Hum.”

We worked for hours, each of us doing our part to clean up the debris and patch things up in the best way we knew how.

We eventually settled into our dark, quiet homes, some of us with candles and flashlights, a few of us with generators.

We rested…and waited for morning.

I’m not going to lie, I had trouble sleeping that night. My body was tired and sore, and my mind was racing with “what if” scenarios—a post traumatic response and an indication of a dysregulated nervous system.

Another opportunity to practice had presented itself. This time, I mentally recited “The Heart Sutra” in Sanskrit (see below for video link).*  It’s something I practice daily, whether there’s a tornado or not. It took me three years to memorize it, and about seven minutes to recite it each day. It’s an important part of my practice, and I’m really glad I took the time to commit it to memory. In this instance, it really helped me to calm down and relax the tight muscles in my jaw, shoulders, back, and legs.

I was also able to steady my restless thoughts and drift off to sleep. Our house was so dark and quiet. The stillness and this practice helped me find much-needed relief.

This is one of the most useful benefits of a daily mantra practice, and I don’t have to be sitting on a cushion or holding a mala for it to be effective. In this case, I was moving slowly around the yard, sweaty, dirty, and sticky from picking up sticks and debris in the heat. I had been focused on what was right in front of me—this stick—this branch—this broken board, etc. On a daily basis, these recitations keep me grounded and prevent me from spiraling into my own storm clouds of “what if” and worry. This practice offers the comfort of “do what you can…from right where you are.”

 *******

As I’m writing this today, it has been a month since this storm blew through our neighborhood.

Today, I can hear the sounds of cicada songs, lawn mowers, along with the echoes of hammering from roofers replacing shingles on nearby homes.

Trees have been cut down and cleared away. Small, brightly-colored flags in yards mark where new fence posts will be installed. Many of us have very different views from our porches, patios, and driveways. We can see more of the sky and more of each other’s homes.

I still pick up small bits of debris—pieces of tarp or scraps of shingles—as I walk down our long driveway to get the mail.

Each piece is a reminder of what we endured—and they are also reminders for us to be kind, to be tender with each other.

We all weather storms of various kinds and with varying degrees of severity. Some are visible and create tangible damage; others are hidden and create emotional chaos.

Regardless, this experience has reinforced that finding time to practice daily (before an emergency strikes) not only helps me to regulate my nervous system when obstacles do arise, it also reminds me of the importance to be compassionate toward others--to be aware of the suffering of others—to offer empathy and aid whenever possible—and to be grateful for this precious life.

 I hope you are happy and well—and staying cool in this blistering summer heat. If you haven’t viewed the current collection of malas and quarter malas in a while, I invite you to click the Middle Moon Malas link here to see what’s new or what might speak to you in order to support and inspire your own practice.

  * Here's the link to "The Heart Sutra" video that I listened to many, many times until I finally memorized it. Vidhya Rao has a lovely voice, and listening to it may benefit your practice, too. 

 Photo credit: Egor Yakushkin courtesy of Unsplash


The Heart of the Practice: Spiritual and Health Benefits of Mantra Recitations June 24, 2023 17:05

Photo of myself standing in front of a brick wall in a colorful dress. I am peeking through the heart shape with my hands and wearing a quarter mala on my left wrist.

If you prefer to listen to this month's blog article, click HERE for the audio link.

Did you know that reciting mantras can be good for your heart?

I love it when I can find science-based articles that support concrete benefits to a regular meditation practice, and I found an article that addressed the benefits of mantra recitations, specifically.

I recently read an interesting article from an online medical journal (National Library of Medicine). It concluded that reciting mantras can have a positive effect on heart health and respiration.

This article, by Luciano Bernardi, an associate professor of medicine, along with several other researchers, physicians, and professors, conducted an experiment that analyzed the heart rates and breathing patterns of twenty-three healthy adults during periods of free talking compared to sessions of reciting the Ave Maria prayer in Latin and the Om Mani Padme Hum mantra.

The title of this article is “Effect of Rosary Prayer and Mantras on Autonomic Cardiovascular Rhythms.” Feel free to read the details of this study, if you like.

Ultimately, what these researchers found is that reciting the prayer and mantra slowed the respiration rate to six breaths per minute. Recitations also enhanced heart rate variability and baroreflex sensitivity.

Apparently, a slow respiratory rate has favorable effects on cardiovascular and respiratory function. It increases the oxygenation of blood in the body, it increases a sense of calm and wellbeing, and it improves irregular breathing patterns.

This study also concluded that reciting the rosary or a mantra is not only an important spiritual practice; it is also a beneficial health practice.

Additionally, Bernardi, et al, happened to mention in this article an important historical connection between the prayer and the mantra.

According to the article, the rosary was introduced to “Europe by the crusaders, who took it from the Arabs, who in turn took it from Tibetan monks and the yoga masters of India. This supports the hypothesis that the similar characteristics and effects of these mantras and of the rosary may not be a simple coincidence.”

This detail points to another relevant benefit of a daily recitation practice—one that fosters a sense of interconnection and community with others.

I attend weekly Dharma teachings at TMBCC in Bloomington. Typically, before the Dharma talk begins, we chant prayers together, and after the talk, we chant dedication prayers. It’s the only time during the week where I have the opportunity to chant with others. The rest of the time, I’m on my own with my personal practice.

Even though these prayers are relatively brief and take just a few minutes to recite, having an opportunity to share a collective mantra/prayer practice with others fosters a sense of interconnection and community with other sangha members.

It’s a soothing, calming, shared experience, and it’s a beautiful way to frame Geshe Kunga’s teachings.

Compared to the monasteries that we visited in India, our temple is very small. Our voices may not echo and reverberate in vast temples with high ceilings and polished marble floors, but we are joining together in a communal, shared practice—reciting, reading, and breathing together in a shared, sacred space.

Some of us are very familiar with this weekly practice, and some may be first-time visitors, but all are welcome as we recite these prayers together.

I’m grateful to be able to travel to Bloomington for these weekly teachings. I’m also grateful to have been able to travel to India a few months ago where we visited beautiful monasteries with high ceilings and polished marble floors (Drepung Gomang Monastery in South India, and Namgyal Monastery in North India).

Listening to hundreds of monks chanting together, filling these beautiful spaces with cadences and rhythms of sacred sound in Tibetan and Sanskrit was an amazing, meaningful opportunity. Their voices lulled us into a peaceful, tranquil state and fostered a strong sense of connection, interconnection, and community.

 If you don't have a daily mantra practice yet, I highly recommend it. A daily recitation practice will not only benefit your physical health, but it will also benefit your spiritual and emotional wellbeing. Om Mani Padme Hum is a wonderful mantra to recite on the daily, and if you need a mala, I have several  to choose from in the current Middle Moon Malas collection.

I hope you are enjoying this beautiful summer season, and I hope this month's  article was beneficial in some way. I look forward to sharing another article with you next month.

 

Take Care-- 

Teresa


Suffering and Happiness: A Tangled Interconnection May 29, 2023 08:57

Mama bird with baby birds in a nest build inside a yellow caution traffic light

If you prefer to listen to this month's blog article, click HERE for the audio link.

 During a recent meditation class, my teacher, Geshe Kunga, said something that has stuck with me, and I have been mulling it over for several days.

He said that happiness and suffering are interdependent and interconnected. For example, we appreciate food more if we have ever experienced hunger first hand. If we've ever lived in a country where water was a scarce and precious resource, we are more careful about how we use water--even if we're in a place where it is plentiful.

The suffering and lack of resources stimulates an appreciation and a strong sense of responsibility. This is the relationship between suffering and happiness.

Suffering, like everything else, is impermanent--and, so is happiness. Consequently, our lives are a blend of both--just like the beads on a mala. The beads themselves represent the beautiful aspects of life. The knots between the beads represent the hardships and obstacles. A meaningful life includes a balance of both.

Since January of this year, I have been practicing Lam Rim meditations with an online group connected with Sravasti Abbey. I enjoy the daily sessions--the familiarity of the mantra recitations, the visualizations, and the analytical contemplations that comprise this daily practice.

However, there's a part of the practice that I struggle with a bit, and it makes me bristle and cringe. As we begin the Shakyamuni Buddha sadhana, we visualize our birth mother on our left and our biological father on our right as we imagine leading them, along with other sentient beings, in this practice of gratitude and appreciation.

Both of my birth parents were challenging for me in many ways. They divorced when I was very young, so I didn't really know my father. What I did know wasn't good--he was a misogynist, a bigot, and a literal card-carrying member of the KKK.

My mother survived a serious car accident when she was a teenager. She slammed through the windshield...twice...and sustained serious head trauma at sixteen when she was riding in a car with friends. 

As a result, she suffered with mental health issues ever since I can remember and even up until the time she died. When I was growing up, she took various combinations of medications over the course of decades ranging from anti-depressants to anti-psychotics. She worked with several therapists over the years, she was hospitalized several times, and she even endured shock-therapy treatments.

Looking back, I really think that she may have been misdiagnosed, and I believe that working with a therapist who specialized in trauma would have benefited her. However, I don't know if there were many specialists like that in the 70s.

Living with her when I was growing up, I remember that she was extremely self-absorbed, withdrawn, emotionally unavailable toward others, and needy. She was able to work for a while, but when she stopped working, she spent most of her time lying on the couch with her eyes closed--or staying in her room with the door closed.

She was very intelligent and bright...cogent...lucid...but also extremely preoccupied with her own wants and needs. When she did speak, it was usually something about herself or a needy request for some impulse craving: "Will you go to the store and get me a candy bar and a can of creamed corn?" 

This was an actual request--and there were many random demands like this over the years.

I didn't know about causes, conditions, and karma at the time (I grew up in a Catholic home and didn't discover Buddhism until I was in my late 20s), but her life and choices demonstrated for me the drawbacks of self-cherishing and self-grasping thoughts.

All the medications and therapy didn't really help her much. She was obsessed with herself, and her self-absorption made her (and the rest of the family) miserable. Growing up with a difficult parent and home life encouraged me to seek other alternatives.   

I walked away from Catholicism and embraced Buddhism instead.

I rejected my birth father's racist views and welcomed inclusive, anti-racist, and culturally-appreciative ideologies instead.

I did NOT want to be like my mom, so I focused more on giving rather than taking--on being of benefit to others rather than focusing on myself.

This is where suffering and happiness meet--and the line they share is in the choices we make.

If we're not happy, we can decide to choose another thought, another word, or another action. Our situation may not change immediately; it takes time. My life didn't begin to change for the better until I moved out of my parents' home at nineteen. I had to be consistent...and patient.

However, when I was in college and really focused on learning about subjects that fascinated me, especially learning how to educate others and helping others figure out what fascinated them, my life started to improve dramatically.

I have always enjoyed learning about other cultures. For a while, I considered the notion of studying cultural anthropology. Appreciating and learning about other cultures and viewpoints taught me to be open-minded and open-hearted, rather than fearful, limited, and hateful.

Interacting and teaching students from diverse cultures has enriched my life--and has encouraged me to feel connected and interconnected in this world.

Reading books and listening to music by writers and musicians from different walks of life and backgrounds has nourished my own curiosity and development.

My first teachers, my birth parents, taught me what NOT to be, what NOT to do. These early years of difficulty and suffering led to many more of growth, renewal, and happiness.

My life is far from perfect, and I am not happy all the time. That is for sure! I still struggle and suffer. I still make mistakes and screw up...a lot...but when I do, I know that I have choices. I know that I can sit with discomfort--listen to my thoughts--observe my feelings. I know that I can turn to others if I need guidance. I know that suffering, like happiness, is not permanent.

I also know that I can rely on the Dharma for inspiration. I know that I can rely on my practice for stability and clarity. I know that by focusing on others more than myself--by practicing generosity, patience, consistent and skillful effort, and by making time for daily meditation, I can manage more effectively these moments of suffering and disappointment.

Even now, having had time to reflect and write about this topic and these relationships, I now have a daily opportunity to reframe how I feel about my birth parents. My mom passed away nearly a decade ago. My birth father, I presume, is still living in a small town somewhere in Illinois. When I visualize them, appearing to my left and my right, I can now work toward feeling grateful. Despite the struggles and challenges, they taught me invaluable lessons, and my time with them eventually inspired me to grow and build a meaningful life.

My hope in writing these monthly blog posts is that they may benefit whoever reads (or listens to) them in some way.

May you continue to learn and grow in your own practice, and perhaps you'll find buried treasures among your own memories and relationships--evidence of interconnection--sparks of awareness, understanding, and compassion.

***

Several malas found new homes during this month. I've added a few to the collection, and I'm working on creating more one-of-a-kind designs. I invite you to visit the website to see what's new, and feel free to reach out if you have a special request.

 

Photo credit: Facebook

 

 

 


Different, Not Less: Confronting Ableism and Celebrating Inclusivity in Dharma Practice April 28, 2023 08:38

Sea turtle rising to the surface of deep blue water

For those who prefer to listen to this article, please click HERE  for the audio file.

 

Every day I walk by a poster that hangs on the wall around the corner from my office. In bold, colorful letters, it reads: “Different, Not Less.”

According to Buddhist texts, attaining a human life is extremely rare—as rare as “a blind turtle surfacing in a vast ocean every one hundred years and managing to put its head through a wooden yoke.”

In This Precious Life: Tibetan Buddhist Teachings on the Path to Enlightenment, Khandro Rinpoche outlines the eighteen qualities that are needed to attain a “precious human life.”

One of these qualities is the third personal endowment—that we are born with our six senses intact: “Our eyes can see, our ears can hear, etc., …our mind consciousness has the ability to discern right from wrong. Having all of our senses intact, we can remain in the ground of awareness with all of our perceptions, which is a precious quality.”

That may be so, but, I’m not going to lie, it also strikes me as extremely ableist as well.

I have been an educator for over thirty-five years, and I have worked with students, teachers, staff, and parents who were visually impaired, hearing impaired, or neurodivergent. Some endured conditions such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy, or paralysis. Regardless of their circumstances, what they shared in common was a yearning for knowledge and a strong capacity for curiosity and growth. Through much patience, determination, and effort, they succeeded academically and professionally, despite these challenges and “differences.”

You can’t tell me these students, colleagues, and parents weren’t precious—or capable of realizing wisdom and compassion.

Early on in my teaching career, I taught English at a very large high school in Indianapolis. This was long before 9/11, frequent news stories of school shootings, and data-driven standardized testing mandates. Our football team was doing very well that year, and, as a result, we had all-school convocations in the gym virtually every week leading up to the State Championship game.

On Fridays, students were corralled and packed into bleachers to celebrate the physical prowess and accomplishments of athletes along with the strategic genius of the coaching staff.

After every win, there would be a convocation. There were many wins that season…and many convos, which cut into our valuable teaching time and student learning time.

These celebrations became so commonplace that students and teachers sat in the bleachers like zombies, their eyes glazed over from boredom and complacency.

For me, however, there was a bright spot. Her name was Nikki. She was not a student in my class, but I would look for her during every pep session. Nikki had Down Syndrome and sat in the front row, courtside, along with her Special Education teacher and other MOMH students.

As students filed into the gym, Nikki sat quietly, but as soon as the band started to play the school song, she was on her feet, clapping her hands, smiling, her eyes wide open. She embodied and radiated joy while the rest of us sat quietly, unmoved.

For me, she outshone the cheerleaders with their practiced smiles and plastic pom-poms.

Seeing Nikki in the gym every Friday afternoon made me question who was the one with the disability?

Nikki was fully present during these weekly pep sessions, and each week, her genuine smile lit up the whole gymnasium. She had a capacity for joy that the rest of us could not comprehend or touch.

For all I knew—Nikki could have been a Bodhisattva, despite her diagnosis and cognitive challenges.

You can’t tell me she didn’t inhabit a precious human life. For those of us fortunate enough to notice her in the crowd during these weekly convos, we benefited from her uninhibited exuberance, her genuine joy, and her undying enthusiasm.

******

Recently, I watched a meaningful Dharma talk on YouTube. Vicky Beckett’s talk was called “Disability, Ableism, and the Dharma: Liberation from Views.” Beckett is a disabled Buddhist practitioner, and she gave this talk during a Buddhist festival in the U.K.

She began by explaining that the root of ableism is the mistaken belief that disabled bodies are worth less than abled bodies.

Beckett described some of the accessibility challenges that she has faced as a disabled practitioner who requires a wheelchair.

One of the most important questions that she posed during her talk was, “We know this human birth is a precious opportunity to awaken, so why are we deciding that some lives are worth more than others?”

Our experiences occur within the circumstances, dispositions, forms, and loci of our own bodies. Many teachers and texts agree that we create our worlds with our minds, that nothing exists inherently, and that nothing is permanent. After all, there are millions of disabled people in this world, and, at any moment, we could be one accident or one health crisis away from becoming a member of this demographic.

Beckett’s primary point in her talk was that regardless of our physical condition, “being alive in this body…RIGHT NOW…awakening is possible, whether you are disabled or able-bodied. This life is precious…rare…and beautiful.” I couldn’t agree with her more.

As a Buddhist, I do believe in reincarnation, and while I firmly believe that causes and conditions give rise to karmic imprints and results, I don’t think that it is fair to assume that if we are born into this world with a disability of some kind, that it is the result of an obscuration, negative imprint, or poor choices from past lives. I also don’t believe that able-bodied practitioners are more spiritually evolved than disabled practitioners.

Over the years, I have had the pleasure of working with differently-abled, neurodivergent, and atypical students who were powerful, inspiring teachers for those of us who were able-bodied. They moved through the world in their own unique ways and witnessed the world from novel perspectives. Their differences were valid and valuable—and so were they—and, most importantly, their differences enhanced the lives of others.

My favorite quotation from Beckett’s talk was, “I love my body. It is my vehicle for liberation.”

In this powerful line, she is acknowledging, with confidence, that her life is, indeed, precious, and that despite any physical limitations, she, too, is capable of attaining enlightenment for the benefit of herself and others.

We all have gifts that we develop and bring to this world. It’s up to us to make the most of the life that we currently inhabit—to learn and grow in the best way that we can—and to be a source of support, encouragement, kindness, and compassion for ourselves and others.

Thanks for taking the time to read or listen to this month's blog article. Be sure to visit the current collection of Middle Moon Malas designs. Mother's Day is coming up soon--or, you may want to treat yourself or a loved one to a beautiful mala just because :).

Until next time...Take Care--  

 

Photo Credit: David Troeger courtesy of Unsplash

 


From Poison to Nectar: Distinguishing between Healthy and Harmful Pride March 28, 2023 11:52

image of a white sailboat on blue water with a bright orange sky and clouds

If you prefer to listen to this month's blog article, please click HERE for the audio link.

 I love listening to Dr. Bertice Berry's daily stories. She started posting them every day on Facebook during the pandemic. Dr. Berry is a sociologist, a story teller, a motivational speaker, a seamstress, and a writer. Her latest book, BlackWorld, is amazing!

Most of her stories are uplifting--and even when they deal with struggles or suffering--there is usually a message of hope and encouragement embedded in the story.

The other day, she shared a story on her page called "It's OK to be Proud," and she encouraged her listeners to "look at something you've done, something you created with our own hands and heart--and marvel at it--be proud of what you made and how you made it."

Taking the time to think about what I've worked hard to create makes me feel a little uneasy. That word--"pride"--is a loaded word--and the concept behind it can be a slippery slope.

On one hand, it's healthy to have a sense of self-confidence, a clear understanding of your capabilities and skills. 

However, pride in its unhealthy form is an exaggerated sense of  self. It is boastful and demeaning. It takes up a lot of space and demands of others. "LOOK AT MEEEEEEE!!"

I think my discomfort with this word started when I was a kid. As long as I can remember, I have talked to myself (when I'm by myself). Admittedly, I still do this--usually when I'm in the car. It's a great way for me to process creative ideas or to work through problems and struggles.

When I was young, talking to myself was part of imaginative play, and a way to keep myself company when I was alone. One time, when I was about seven years old, I was looking at myself in the bathroom mirror. The door was open, and I thought I was alone, but my stepdad must have been in the hall.

I don't remember what I was saying or talking about. I do know that I was playing--making silly faces in the mirror and giggling--just being a kid and having fun.

The next morning, I went into the bathroom, and when I turned on the light, I noticed that a towel was covering the mirror. It took a second for me to register this--it was jarring to me, and it took my breath away. I remember feeling a sudden rush of shame wash over me.

I can still see that towel in my mind even now--it was an old beach towel--faded yellow, with a single sailboat floating in a pale blue ocean.

My stepdad never talked to me about it. Instead, he let the towel speak for him. It communicated a strong message: don't look at yourself--don't waste time with silly play--don't talk to yourself--you're a weirdo--you're not important--you don't matter.

He may not have intended any of these messages, but this is what his action communicated to me.

My stepdad had assumed that I was being arrogant and prideful. I can't be certain of this, but throughout my childhood, he would occasionally accuse me of being full of myself or egotistical. Often, these accusations would blindside and confuse me. 

Looking back now, I can see that he was likely projecting his own lack of self esteem and pride onto me, something a seven-year-old kid would not understand...yet.

This towel gesture didn't help me. Actually, it hindered me. It had a negative impact on my own self-esteem and confidence. 

I still talk to myself :) (and I am more careful about making sure I'm by myself when I do), but I don't look at myself in the mirror very often--maybe just quick glances--but that's it.

 

"What is the wild horse that throws one from the mountain one is ascending? Pride, which thinks oneself superior and dwells on one's good qualities."  (Gems of Wisdom from the Seventh Dalai Lama)

In Buddhism (and society in general), pride is considered a poison. It is an exaggerated view of the self that clings and grasps to one's perceived abilities and achievements. 

Low self esteem, surprisingly, is also an expression of pride. It, too, is an exaggeration of the self, and it comes in the form of self-deprecation--making a big deal of ourselves in a negative way.

According to Venerable Thubten Chodron, abbess of Sravasti Abbey in Washington, the antidote to pride is to remember our interconnectedness to others. We never achieve what we do, or understand what we know, without having help from others.

Ven. Chodron agrees with Dr. Berry--that having confidence and the ability to rejoice and delight in our good qualities are healthy and important.

In addition, being able to discriminate between healthy pride, which is rooted in confidence and honesty, from toxic pride, which is rooted in arrogance, smugness, and demeaning others, is also very important.

Ven. Chodron adds that pride "isn't a poison unless it devalues another person."

In The Power of Compassion, His Holiness the Dalai Lama explains that excessive pride is connected to attachment to the self. "Attachment is narrow-minded and biased. Genuine compassion is healthier; it is unbiased and based on reason."

According to HHDL, the key to developing and practicing genuine compassion is cultivating equanimity. The wisdom of equality, equanimity, and focusing on others can transform the poison of pride into a healing nectar of compassion.  

Sometimes I think about that little seven-year-old girl, that long ago version of me. If I could go back in time and talk to her (my "present self" talking to my "former self," which takes the notion of talking to myself to a whole new level), I would offer her reassurance and compassion. I would tell her that it's OK to be playful and imaginative--that it's OK to look in the mirror and smile. I would take the towel off the mirror and tell her that I love her, that she is beautiful and funny and creative, and encourage her not to let anyone dull her shine. We would look into the mirror together--and make silly faces.

 It's OK to be proud. It's OK to celebrate and rejoice about things that matter to you, about things that you have worked hard to create and share with others.

I left a comment on Dr. Berry's story from the other day. I told her that I make beautiful, hand-knotted malas, and that my intention is to inspire and support meaningful practice for others. I hope that my creations offer a little peace, compassion, and encouragement for others.

She responded with a heart and an "Oooooooooo Yaaaaaaaasssssss!"

What are you proud of? What have you created with your heart, hands, and mind in this precious human life?

Take a moment to marvel at it--to celebrate and rejoice....because, sometimes, it's OK to be proud.

 

Thanks for taking the time to read or listen today. The MMM collection is full! Please take a look at the beautiful malas and quarter malas available in the online shop. May they be of benefit to you and your practice. Rejoice and celebrate!

 

Photo Credit: Edrick Krozendijk, courtesy of Unsplash


Impermanence is a Process: A Daily Practice Can Help Process Change February 25, 2023 17:39

water droplets on yellow tulip petals

If you prefer to listen to this month's article, please click HERE for the audio link.

 

I've been thinking a lot about impermanence lately. It's one thing to contemplate the idea of impermanence--to recognize and be aware of it in an intellectual sense--but it's quite a different practice to experience it--to feel the full weight of it when it pushes into your life and then leaves you, overwhelmed and confused.

A couple of weeks ago, my neighbor, Paula, called me in the evening. She was in a panic, and her voice wavered as she struggled to control it.

     "I hope I'm not bothering you," she began. 

     I knew it was something serious--and she had no need to qualify her news or apologize.

     "An ambulance just pulled into our driveway, and we're taking David to the hospital," she said.

I could hear and feel the uncertainty and concern in her voice. Her husband, who recently underwent major heart surgery, was having difficulty breathing and was experiencing severe pain.

My heart went out to both Paula and David. They had been through so much in the last few months. After a serious bout with COVID, David's health continued to deteriorate, leading to a heart valve replacement in December. He had been home for a couple of weeks, and his surgeon was happy with his recovery--until now.

Nothing is permanent. Nothing is fixed or lasts forever. We age, grow old, and die. No one is exempt.

Comprehending this on a superficial level and realizing it in a deep, real, and profound way are very different degrees of understanding.

     I whispered, "Oh, honey--I'm so sorry. Please know that we are thinking of you."

I looked out the kitchen window and watched the ambulance's lights flashing in the darkness. We hung up, and I held onto the edge of the counter until the ambulance pulled out of their driveway. When my own breathing steadied, I took my seat and practiced, dedicating the merit of the practice to the both of them.

We don't realize how attached we are to this life...or to the people and things of this life...until we are confronted with the harsh reality of loss.

Our tendency to grip and cling to those we love becomes such a firmly ingrained habit. We don't even think about impermanence, until someone we love dies or leaves.

In The Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English, Bhante Gunaratana states, "When we do not cling, we do not suffer."

We cling out of habit. We expect those we love will always be there for us...with us. We take them for granted instead of taking responsibility for our own deluded state of mind.

"Life is as impermanent as a water bubble."

This is one of the lines that stands out to me in the Chenrezig sadhana. Every day, when I read this line, I pause to take it in.

Being responsible means knowing how to respond with skill, wisdom, and awareness.

Understanding impermanence is a process--sometimes we can prepare in advance for an upcoming change--like planning a wedding, a graduation party, or a move.

Sometimes, however, the changes occur suddenly--but they aren't necessarily unpleasant. My daughter's dog, Kevin, was a stray who literally jumped into her arms as she was stepping out of her car one evening. Kevin has been a source of joy for her and her husband ever since.

Pleasant changes and gradual changes are easier to manage, but the sudden, life-changing surprises can be like sucker punches to the gut.

The truth is, we're changing constantly. In our own bodies, on a cellular level, millions of cells die and many more replace them every day.

Today is Saturday--but I am not the same person that I was last Saturday. I may look the same, but on a cellular level, I am different--I have changed.

Change is a powerful teacher. It nudges us (sometimes gently, and sometimes forcefully) to pay attention, to be mindful of where we are, what we are thinking, doing, saying, and who's around us. 

This moment will never come again--our next breath is not guaranteed--and the more we can appreciate and be present with what is, the more open we can be and more accepting we can be when changes inevitably come.

This is where a daily meditation practice really comes in handy. Daily practice can help prepare for and cope with loss and change.

Taking a few minutes each day to connect to my breath or to recite a few rounds of mantra with a mala can help prevent me from spiraling into worry or grief when the universe pulls the rug out from under me.

A daily practice also bolsters my courage. I have friends who avoid watching the news, for example. They can't handle it emotionally--it's too overwhelming and depressing for them.

Just this month, hearing stories about devastating events such as the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, that resulted in hazardous chemicals seeping into the soil and water--polluting the air, and causing devastating effects for the residents and wildlife in the surrounding areas--this is suffering, this is painful, especially upon learning that accidents like this are totally preventable.

Sometimes, they can't be prevented. On an international level, the powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake, followed by a series of aftershocks devastated parts of Syria and Turkey, killing more than 44,000 people and displacing more than five million from their destroyed homes.

Facing change and suffering is not easy--and ignoring it doesn't make it go away or make it easier to handle, either. 

Change can be sudden...change can be devastating...Having the courage to face impermanence, and having the compassion to reach out to others who have been directly impacted, are crucial to recovery and healing.

Speaking of recovery and healing, I have some good news. David, our neighbor, was released from the hospital recently and is recovering at home. I stopped by a few days ago to deliver a vase of tulips and to offer to help with anything they may need. It was good to see them both smiling and happy.

Change is inevitable. Nothing is permanent. All changes aren't devastating. However, a daily meditation practice can help prepare for the uncertain and bolster the compassion and wisdom required for managing the aftermath, whether the changes are positive, negative, or neutral.

Daily practice offers solace, steadiness, and familiarity during ever-changing times. May your daily practice be of benefit to you...and may it help you to be a source of strength and support for others.

 

By the way, the Middle Moon Malas collection is also always changing. I have added several new one-of-a-kind malas and quarter malas to the online shop. If you would like a new mala to support your own practice, or if you'd like to give a beautiful mala to a friend or loved one, please visit middlemoonmalas.com.

 (photo credit: Angelica Vaihel via Pixabay)