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Meditative Musings: Brood X Cicadas May 31, 2021 16:02

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It's a Sunday afternoon. I'm sitting outside in the backyard listening to the Brood X cicadas sing in the trees. One of our neighbors is tooling around his yard on a lawn mower, but the cicadas are drowning him out.

There's a distinctive undercurrent of sound--like a constant "Ha" or a steady, but subtle baseline, and then a spiraling, melodic layer of sound pressing over it. I love this sound--this steady crescendo and decrescendo--and I love the creatures who create this sound; they inspire me, and they motivate me to continue to practice.

Any creature that burrows underground and stays "in retreat" for seventeen years, emerges, molts, mates, and sings all while constantly at risk of being eaten by just about every other creature (ants, birds, squirrels, raccoons, dogs, etc.) has my total respect.

Cicadas are mascots of endurance and patience, and it's particularly fitting that their emergence coincides with our own cautious emergence from the COVID-19 pandemic, at least here in the U.S.

For the last couple of weeks, I've wandered around our yard every morning and afternoon examining the trunks of trees for their empty husks--or, exuviae--evidence of successful molts.

And they are everywhere! Scattered in the grass, stuck to the undersides of leaves, they cling to the bricks of our home and line the outer edges of our garage door.

Not all of them make it. I've seen several "failed molts" of would-be cicadas trapped in their former "nymph" selves, unable to escape--or they escape, but with crumpled wings damaged in the molting process. When I see them, I whisper "Om.Ah.Hum" on their behalf.

A few days ago, I was lucky enough to witness a successful molt from start to finish. It was a cool, foggy morning, and I noticed a dark brown shell at eye level on a cherry tree in our front yard. This exoskeleton didn't have a vertical split down the center of the thorax, so I knew the shell was still occupied.

adult cicada emerging from exoskeleton

I wandered around for a few minutes looking at other trees in the yard. When I came back, the shell was pulsating, so I decided to stick around.

I stood by the tree and watched this cicada emerge from its exoskeleton--the entire process took a little over an hour.

It wriggled and pressed its way out of the confines of the exoskeleton that protected him in the earth. His body was pale, and his wings were small and delicate. 

cicada doing backbend as it exits its shell

When he emerged, he looked like he was doing a back bend until his wings and all six legs were free from the shell. He moved, wriggled, and stretched all of his legs, then returned toward the tree, climbed over his shed exoskeleton, and rested until his crumpled wings slowly unfurled and dried. Then, he took his first steps as an adult cicada and began to climb up the tree.

brood x cicada emerging from shell 

You may be wondering, at this point, what on earth does this have to do with meditation practice? This is a valid question.

Today is Monday--Memorial Day--and I took some time to sit outside to meditate this afternoon.

The temperature was cool, and the sky was cloudy and overcast.

I closed my eyes and listened underneath the intermittent bird song, the occasional slam of a car door, the sputtering motor of a nearby riding lawn mower, and the sound of a motorcycle accelerating in the distance. Beneath these distinct "sounds of samsara" was a constant hum that seemed to be coming from nowhere and everywhere at once.

What started as the roar of applause, or the sound effect from a B-rated sci-fi flick, transformed into the hush of cause and effect, the infinite sigh of the earth, the soft, primordial thunder that held all other sounds together. It held space for sound, and it, too, was the sound of space. This ubiquitous murmur was the sound of transformation, the backdrop of interconnection, and a beautiful reminder that life is precious, that time is limited.

 This is the sound of generosity; this is the sound of ethics; this is the sound of patience; this is the sound of joyful effort, this is the sound of focus, and this is the sound of wisdom.

For me, these Brood X cicadas are simple but powerful symbols that embody and sing the benefits of daily practice. All we have to do to benefit others, as well as ourselves, is to observe, to listen, and to be still.

 May you all enjoy the remnants of this holiday weekend, and may you all find time for your own practice today....and every day.

Thanks for reading or listening. If you haven't checked out the Middle Moon Malas online shop in a while, be sure to visit middlemoonmalas.com. I've added a few new designs recently that you might like.

Take care, everyone!

 


This Is a Test...of Your Meditation Practice...This Is Only a Test February 20, 2019 18:24

My practice said, “Bring it!”

The universe said, “OK!”

I recently completed a five-month meditation program in Crestone, Colorado, that included daily somatic meditation sessions, readings, lectures, monthly group calls, individual check-in calls, and two, week-long silent retreats, one at the beginning, and one at the end of the program. In addition to all of this, I also included daily personal practices: a sadhana and japa recitations. So, I’ve been doing a lot of meditating over the course of the last few months, and I’ve noticed an interesting trend…I am attracting all kinds of irritable, defensive, and angry people along with a few tumultuous situations as added bonus features.

 

What’s interesting…and new for me…I’m not freaking out about these cranky peeps and problems. In fact, I’m leaning in to welcome them…and to learn from them.

 

During these last few months, I’ve noticed that I’m more inclined to remain calm and steady, and I’m not taking the agitated behaviors or the unexpected surprises so personally.  These practices have helped me navigate my way safely into the “eye of the storm.” I may be surrounded by upheaval and drama, but I am no longer contributing to it or participating in it.

 

 I’m also not running away from it, which is new for me, too. I’m holding space and finding equanimity, and I credit these daily practices for helping me to remain calm and to generate compassion for these challenging people and circumstances.

 

Example:

I recently shared an interesting article that I read on a social media platform. It was about meditation—how important it is to choose your words carefully when cueing if you are leading a meditation session in a yoga class environment, particularly if students who are prone to anxiety are present in the class. This article was a personal narrative from the author’s blog. I thought she had some valid points and an interesting perspective, so I shared it.

 

A few minutes later, a Buddhist friend of mine wrote seething criticism about the article and questioned the author’s credibility as a meditation teacher. Clearly, he held a different view and interpretation of this article, which is fine, and as we exchanged comments, his language choice became increasingly more judgmental, agitated, and angry. The author did not write her blog from a Buddhist perspective, and she hadn’t trained in a specific lineage, so to my friend, this was not only appalling, but inappropriate. To him, only meditation teachers who trained with Buddhist masters for decades could be qualified to lead meditation sessions, even those occurring in local yoga studios. Ultimately, my friend commented that defending this author was deplorable, and before I could respond, he unfriended me.

 

The old me wouldn’t have engaged in an online debate to begin with. I would have been too timid to express my own views and explain why I found the article interesting and relevant. The old me would have complimented my friend’s vast knowledge of Buddhist wisdom (overlooking his obvious attachment and arrogance, of course) and apologized for posting the article in the first place. The old me would have immediately deleted the article from my timeline.

 

This time, however, I didn’t evade, avoid, apologize, flatter, or delete. Instead, using calm, respectful language, I defended my viewpoint. I remained open-minded and open-hearted as our written conversation progressed. I wasn’t participating in an argument—I was communicating in a clear, honest way. I wasn’t ashamed, angry, agitated, or scared. Instead, I felt relaxed, steady, and open. I also felt compassion for my friend, who was clearly growing more agitated as the conversation continued, but I didn’t take his reactions personally, and I also didn’t push my viewpoint or claim it was more valid than his. I did, however, feel sad that he ended the conversation abruptly and severed our social media connection.  I would have gladly recommended that he look into the meditation program at Crestone  :).   

 

Benefits:

Granted, I still have a lot of work to do (Don’t we all?), but it’s promising to see the positive benefits of a steady meditation practice both on and off the cushion. These are just a few that I’ve noticed from my own practice:

  • I’m less judgmental and critical of others
  • I don’t lead with my expectations (or ego) as often
  • I’m more relaxed
  • I’m more open-minded and receptive
  • I’m more courageous and confident
  • I speak up more
  • I’m tactfully honest (or, at least aspire to be)
  • I’m more accepting
  • I’m more present

 

I've completed a retreat program, but I'm not planning to stop practicing anytime soon. These benefits will continue to motivate and encourage me to embrace whatever surprises may come my way... and to grow from them.