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Tending and Attending: Spring Cleaning as a Practice March 26, 2022 13:49

close up view of broom bristles

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

 

It's that time of year again--Spring is here! Birds are busy building their nests, and I am busy cleaning mine.  I'm on Spring Break this week, and this is an ideal time for deep cleaning.

A few days ago, I deep cleaned our living room. I was on a mission!

I dusted the tables, lamps, framed photos, I vacuumed the couch and chairs, pushed all of the furniture to the middle of the room so I could sweep the baseboards, I corralled dust bunnies and a few dead stink bugs, mopped every corner and square inch, scooched the furniture back in place, and collapsed in exhaustion...

This. Was. A. Chore! It was a "have to," and I did not enjoy the process. While I was cleaning, my thoughts were scattered (much like the fluffy dust bunnies). I was thinking about other things that I needed to do later--or things that I would rather do besides clean the living room. I thought about my friends who were vacationing in warm, seaside climates and grew resentful. Ugh!

Even though the room looked great afterwards, and I was glad that I had taken the time to clean it (all two hours of it), I wasn't really satisfied. My mind was agitated rather than calm, and my body was exhausted rather than energized.

This is the result of striving. Striving comes from a place of "have to" rather than "want to." Striving is motivated by obligation and ego; it's an operation of "should." It's a product of pushing and forcing rather than allowing. My mind was definitely not attentive to any part of the process in this cleaning adventure. I was just hurrying to get it done--and that's no way to live.

close up image of dust pan and small broom

 Yesterday, I fell into cleaning the kitchen, which is adjacent to the living room. I didn't plan it ahead of time. I had wandered into the kitchen in my pajamas to make some juice (carrot, Granny Smith apple, and ginger). As I sat at the table, I noticed crumbs and a few stains on my placemat.

After drinking my juice, I cleared the table. I was present with what I was doing, I wasn't in a hurry, and I was tending to one thing at a time. I started with the mail that seems to magically accumulate, sorting bills out of the junk mail and miscellaneous catalogues. I tossed the stained placemats in the laundry basket, wiped the table with a clean washcloth, sorted spices and vitamins that we keep on trivets, and put fresh placemats on the table.

I could have stopped there at that point, but I liked how the table looked, and I liked how I felt. I was clear-headed and present. I was mindful, alert, and gently focused. I wasn't thinking about later--instead, I was tending to right now, to this present moment. As a result, I kept going.

I moved a huge planter that was taking up valuable cabinet space to the porch. Then, I cleaned the cabinet space, wiping away a few dead leaves and bits of potting soil.

Then, I moved the chairs into the hall, along with anything else that was on the floor--a trash can, a pair of shoes, Jim's heavy duty lunch box, so I could sweep the floor. I moved with ease and with a calm mind as I brushed the crumbs and dust to the center of the floor. All that mattered was what was happening in the moment. I was aware of the broom handle in my hands, the texture, the cool temperature of metal against my palms and fingers. I was aware of the sounds the bristles made as they brushed across the floor. It was an embodied experience.

I brushed the dust and crumbs into a dust pan, filled a container with warm water, a few drops of dish soap, a splash of vinegar, and a few drops of essential oils (Lemon and Siberian Fir). I took my time as I mopped the floor. I enjoyed the smell of citrus and earthy pine as I made my way around the kitchen.

What started as a simple observation--stains and crumbs on a placemat--turned into a practical exercise in functional mindfulness. I wasn't agitated or exhausted afterwards. Instead, I was calm and energized, and I had enjoyed the process. I was curious and had a gentle, playful attitude. I was very aware of my body moving through the room and was attentive to sensory details--textures, smells, colors, temperatures.

I had been tending, rather than forcing. I had been attentive, rather than scattered and harried. I had enjoyed the sights, sounds, and sensations rather than bypassing them with distracted thoughts.

The result was the same--I had a clean kitchen to show for my efforts, but because my efforts were relaxed and rooted in gentle awareness, I was able to appreciate and enjoy each part of the process. It wasn't a chore, rooted in ego with a destination or agenda, or a "have to"--it was a pleasant, mindful, moving meditation.

And what's more, I didn't even bother to look at the clock to see how long this took. I had forgotten about the time!

I did a lot more than clean my kitchen yesterday. This experience was a wonderful reminder that meditation practice does not just occur on a cushion. It can happen anywhere. The key ingredients are a relaxed mindset and a gentle, but attentive focus.

Early this morning, I listened to Brené Brown's Dare to Lead podcast with guest Amishi Jha, neurologist and author of Peak Mind. (Here's the link to her episode: Finding Focus and Owning Your Attention)

They discussed the relevance, importance, and value of mindfulness and meditation--and specifically, how these practices can impact focus and memory.

I liked the metaphor that Jha used comparing the mind to a flashlight. The mind can really only focus on one thing at a time, but the mind is also wired for wandering. Consequently, practices like mindfulness, meditation, mantra recitations, etc. can help to gently shine the light of attention where you need to and redirect it easily if it strays.

We're all works in progress, and I am actively working on bringing a more mindful focus to what I do more often during the day--to tend and attend with awareness and ease.

The time I spend on my cushion and the time I spend with mantra practice help me to recharge the batteries of my own "flashlight," especially when I feel the urge to strive and force my way through the day.

 

Spring is an ideal time to renew your personal practice. If you haven't had an opportunity to check out the full collection of Middle Moon Malas, please do! Several beautiful new hand-knotted malas have been added to the online shop.

 

 


Taking Action and Responsibility for Your Own Practice April 30, 2021 10:52

  If you would prefer to listen to this month's blog post, please click HERE.

When I was a very young kid, my family moved into an apartment complex on the far east side of Indianapolis. Braeburn Village was a brand new complex in 1970, and we were one of its earliest tenants.

I was very curious and playful as a kid (as most kids are), and I would sometimes peer into the windows of the first floor apartments to see how other families lived. I was curious about what they were doing, how they spent their time, and, most importantly, what they were having for dinner.

Often, the windows revealed dark, empty kitchens, but since then, I have always been curious about how other people lived their lives. It was important for me to feel like I belonged.... and that I fit in.

I have long since abandoned peering into my neighbors' kitchen windows :), but this need to fit in, to feel connected and understood... well, that still lingers.

Even now, I can be easily influenced (and overly curious) about what others do--to the point that I question my own judgement and whether the way I choose to do things is OK. This tendency can be a blessing... and a curse.

Comparing myself to others, and then changing or adapting in order to accommodate can be unnecessary. It often hinders learning for me and can lead to great frustration and confusion. At other times, it can enhance the learning process, accentuate curiosity and play, and lead to discovery and more creative and innovative ways of doing things.

I've been studying the Tibetan language for a little more than a year. Because of COVID, my lessons have been online. I've been working with a wonderful teacher, who is originally from Lhasa, and one other student.

We've been using a textbook that is fairly advanced and not really ideal for new language learners, so from the very beginning, the weekly lessons were challenging. As we progressed more deeply into the text, the lessons became even more overwhelming and stressful for me.

I didn't think much about it at first since everything was new in the beginning. I expected some degree of confusion. Confusion, after all, is an important aspect of the learning process, and it can often be a motivator for discovery. However, as we made our way through the chapters, my confusion and frustration escalated, rather than subsided. The information in the text was daunting to me, and it lacked clear explanations and adequate exercises for practice.

Unfortunately, my need to fit in, belong, and stay caught up pushed me to continue. It would take me hours to complete the short, weekly exercises, and, worst of all, nothing was sticking. I wasn't retaining the information from week to week. This drinking-from-a-firehose technique of learning was NOT working for me, and it was crushing my curiosity, playfulness, and motivation to learn this beautiful language.  

  My fellow classmate, however, LOVES this book. He enjoys sifting through mounds of information and was even pushing to move even faster through the text.

My need to keep up and my tendency to accommodate others hit a wall in the middle of Chapter 5. I reached out to two friends for additional resource suggestions. One is a professor of Tibetan Studies; the other is a translator for a Tibetan lama in Canada. Both recommended additional texts that might be helpful for me.

I also reached out to my Tibetan teacher and asked if she could work with me individually. She agreed that the book we were using was too advanced (for both me and my fellow student) and agreed to work with me on another day of the week.

By taking action and responsibility for my own learning, I have a renewed sense of commitment, curiosity, and motivation. I'm honoring what works for me, and I'm looking forward to slowing down and focusing on just a couple of concepts at a time--and taking more time to practice, play, and explore with those concepts before adding additional information.

In this case, "keeping up" was NOT helping; it was actually hindering my progress. It was also sabotaging my motivation and mental health.

The new books my friends recommended have arrived this week. I'm looking forward to diving in and exploring them on my own terms and in my own way. I'm also looking forward to the one-on-one sessions with my teacher soon.

***

Sometimes, however, examining a subject from a different perspective can be inspiring--and can even ENHANCE one's practice.

Recently, I've joined an online book group. We are reading Lama Rod Owens' Love and Rage: The Path of Liberation through Anger

We meet twice a month and discuss a few chapters at a time.

Last week, we discussed Chapter 4, which includes detailed descriptions of several personal meditation practices that Lama Rod incorporates regularly in his own practice.

I appreciated that he took the time to carefully outline and explain each step of each practice. 

He explained each part of the practices by including examples, and he also followed up each with a brief outline. Lama Rod carefully explained at least a dozen specific practices in this chapter.

I found these detailed descriptions to be extremely useful, and I even had time to explore and play with a couple of them before we had our most recent book club meeting. His explanations have enhanced my own personal meditation practice.

Ironically, during our online discussion, a few members of the group found this chapter to be daunting and overwhelming: "TMI for one chapter."

They wondered if Lama Rod could have mentioned one practice at at time--maybe dedicating one chapter to each practice rather than cramming all twelve into one chapter.

This made me think of my online Tibetan class, and my classmate who loved the TMI text--but my frustration with it.

Although, compared to the Tibetan text, Chapter 4 in Lama Rod's book was nothing in terms of being too confusing or overwhelming :) !

I didn't feel compelled to try ALL of the practices, and the ones he outlined weren't linear. In other words, I didn't have to practice the first one before experimenting with the second one, etc.

I read through the chapter, picked a couple to explore, and enjoyed the practices as a result.

I may not need to take the time to explore the remaining practices. I took what I needed and moved on.

Learning has always been an important part of my life, and everyone learns in a different way. Trying to fit into someone else's learning style or educational paradigm is NOT a good thing.

Learning to honor my OWN path and to follow what fascinates and nourishes me has been a lifelong journey, too, just as honoring what fascinates and nourishes others--giving them the space to explore their own path is just as valuable and important.

At this point, I'm back on track. I'm curious, playful, and motivated about continuing to learn Tibetan in a way that resonates with me. I'm also fascinated about bringing fresh awareness into my personal meditation practice by learning more about what works for Lama Rod and the other members of my book club group.

Peering into my neighbors' kitchen windows when I was a kid has been a helpful and humorous metaphor for gauging if it's appropriate to follow along with others, abdicating my own viewpoint (and power) in the process. However, that's not always the best approach. Learning to observe, listen, and trust myself, to take responsibility and action for what fosters and nourishes my own curiosity has been an even more powerful life lesson.

This process turns the kitchen window metaphor around for me, and it involves paying closer attention to what's happening in my own "kitchen," appreciating that it, too, has value, worth, and the potential to nourish. Viewing the world through this lens (or window) allows me to acknowledge and appreciate my own perspective, and it also allows me to observe what's happening in the outer world while simultaneously maintaining a sense of connection, belonging, and understanding.  

 

While you're here, I invite you to check out the current Middle Moon Malas online collection. Several new designs have been added to the online shop. These one-of-a-kind designs are made with love and care, and they're intended to enhance your meditation, movement, and wellness practices.


Anatomy of a Mala: Why Each Part Matters May 2, 2017 11:41

I recently had a friend of mine ask if she should include a tassel on a mala that she had created.  I explained to her that the tassel is an incredibly important component of a mala, and that I have never designed a mala without one.

Each aspect of a mala has a specific, significant role. Together, these parts create a holistic system and tool for generating awareness, bliss, and peace. Understanding the role that each part plays can add more meaning to your personal japa, chanting, or meditation practice.

A mala is much more than beads on a string. It’s a garland that doubles as a metaphor for life in our universe. Every bead represents a truth or principle, and over time, the beads absorb the energy of our focus and attention.  Just as we infuse each bead with our intentions with each recitation, we create the life we live by infusing each moment with our thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs.

The Thread:  "Sutra" is the Sanskrit word for thread or line that holds everything together.  The thread or cord running through the mala holds and supports the beads. Consequently, it represents the Cosmic Creative Force that supports or sustains every part and every being in the universe.

The Beads: The 108 beads collectively represent the universe itself, but individually, they represent the beautiful aspects of life--the good times--beautiful sunsets, grandchildren, hot chai on a rainy day, loyal and supportive friends. These beads are arranged on a never-ending circle, creating a circuit of positive energy that drives life forward into hope and gratitude.

The Knots: The knots between the beads make the mala stronger. They prevent the beads from rubbing together and cracking over time; however, they also represent life's challenges—a flat tire, an uncertain medical diagnosis, the loss of a job or a loved one. These knots fall between the smoother, more beautiful aspects of life.  They also signify the Divine link present among all beings in the universe. Though challenging, these knots remind us that all aspects of life are connected and supported in the universal sutra of life.

The Guru (or Meru) Bead: "Guru" means teacher, and "Meru" means mountain in Sanskrit.  The guru or meru bead is often the 109th bead that is connected to the tassel, and it represents the state of transcendental consciousness or awareness, the central goal of meditation practice. In order to reach this supreme state of understanding, one must be brave and courageous enough to stay the course--perhaps completing many cycles, many repetitions along the sutra of life--encountering both blessings and challenges along the way. These blessings and challenges lead us to find our ultimate teacher and climb that intimidating peak of awareness one step, one bead at a time.

The Tassel: On a mala, the tassel is an extension of the string or sutra that binds the garland together.  It represents our connection to the Divine (whatever that means to you) and the interconnectedness of all beings.  It is a reminder of oneness and unity--that we are all connected--and regardless of the challenges that we face or the rewards that we reap, we're all really traveling together, and we have something beautiful to look forward to at the end of our journey.

 Consequently, a mala is much more than a collection of beads strung together. It represents the compass on your journey as a meditator or practitioner, and it connects you to all other beings who are finding their path, in their own way, one moment, one circumstance, one bead at a time.  

 Visit our online shop for one-of-a-kind mala designs: middlemoonmalas.com.


One Breath, One Bead at a Time. July 4, 2016 16:04

The Zombie Apocalypse is real. For 25 years, I taught high school English. For many of those years, I felt trapped in a perpetual cycle of planning lessons, creating tests and essay assignments, grading papers, and attempting to manage and meet the academic needs of students crammed in over-crowded classrooms.  I often felt confined by the clock and by the ever-present and perpetually-increasing demands that a data-driven system thrives on—the almighty standardized test scores.

I felt stressed—all the time—and I spent very little time in the present moment.  This constant striving, doing, rushing, pushing, and grasping for the future or ruminating and worrying about the past kept me from meeting the needs of my students and taking care of myself. It also kept me out of the present moment, and it prevented me from enjoying my life. My students never really knew who I was—and neither did I.

For a quarter of a century, I was caught up in a trance, and yoga and meditation gradually helped me break the spell and encouraged me to find balance and purpose in my life.

My first experience with yoga and meditation occurred when I was a freshman at Butler. A guest speaker came to our Physical Education/Health class.  My fellow classmates and I were crammed into a small classroom/storage room, and many of us giggled our way through the guided meditation followed by a brief asana practice in the gym.  This was not an ideal environment to explore the benefits of meditation and yoga, and it certainly didn’t leave a lasting or accurate impression on me.  

I revisited meditation when I was pregnant with my daughter in 1994, and in 2000, started regularly attending a yoga class at a local gym. Progress was glacially slow—but gradually, very gradually, I started to find a respite from the 10,000 distractions and thoughts that blocked my path, and I started to connect and reconnect with myself.

Stilling the constant mental chatter in meditation was a big challenge in the beginning—and still can be at times, even now. But with consistent practice, and, ideally, after an hour of asana practice, it’s much easier to climb inside the present moment.  Memories, thoughts, and feelings still rise to the surface, but it’s easier now to briefly acknowledge them, allow them to drift away in order to make room for the spaces between thoughts.

Yoga, too, has helped. It has helped me focus on my breathing—and to bring my awareness out of the mind and into the body—even for just a little while. Yoga also allows me to sit more comfortably when I’m meditating—and to sit for longer periods of time.

In recent years, I have added a mantra practice with malas to enhance my meditation and yoga practice. Using a mala gives me a tactile anchor that keeps me rooted and grounded in the here and now.  Each bead becomes a fresh focal point, a new beginning, ushering in a new moment. Each inhalation, each exhalation, each repetition of the mantra welcomes now, and now, and now.

 Ultimately, my yoga and meditation practice has saved my life—it has helped me find balance and perspective, and it has prevented me from falling off the precipice of perpetual busyness and disappearing into the abyss of the living dead.

I’ve since retired from teaching full-time. I still tutor part-time, and working with students one-on-one allows me to give them my undivided attention—to be fully present.  I also teach and practice yoga, and along with running a small business, I still remain very busy, but I am no longer a slave to busyness.  I am living my life on my own terms, and I am living my life one moment at a time—one bead at a time.