Jr. High Orchestra Saved My Life...and Inspired Me to Practice December 4, 2019 17:42
I happened to catch a film that I had seen bits and pieces of years ago. Hilary and Jackie focused on the relationship between Jacqueline Du Pré, who was an extremely talented and famous cellist, and her sister Hilary, who played the flute for a time.
Both were sisters, both were involved with music, and both supported each other in times of need.
Jackie was a prodigy and became a professional musician at a very young age. Unfortunately, her music career lasted only a short ten years before she was diagnosed with MS. She battled this devastating illness for 14 years before she died at the age of 42.
It was painful and heart-wrenching to watch her transform from a musical genius to a helpless invalid on film--but just as tender and heart-warming to see her sister nurture and support her.
Recently, I had an opportunity to present meditation and wellness practices to groups of educators at a local high school as part of their township's Professional Development Day. I was assigned to lead sessions in a 9th grade orchestra classroom. The acoustics were great, and the tiered levels of seats in a horseshoe pattern were ideal for these sessions.
While I was setting up for the first meeting, I noticed a chair and a framed photo mounted on the far wall of the room. When I walked over to check it out, I discovered that it was a tribute to a student who had passed away the previous year. Her name was Alex. She was smiling in the photo, caught in a slanting ray of sunlight. The chair had been hers in class, and her classmates had written warm, tender messages on the seat and backrest in silver Sharpie. This tribute was beautiful, moving...and devastating.
This was the third consecutive year that I had been invited to present stress-reducing breathing techniques, meditation, and movement strategies to overworked, exhausted educators. This was also the third year that I'd presented in this 9th grade orchestra room, which I appreciated. This room is calming, open, warm, and safe--it's also far away from the other sessions that take place at the nearby high school.
Being in this room reminded me of orchestra class at Stonybrook Jr. High. These were definitely not the Wonder Years for me growing up--far from it. At that time I was living in a tumultuous home environment. I was teased and bullied virtually every day at the bus stop, on the bus, and in the halls at school. The only place where I felt safe at this time in my life was in orchestra class. No one made fun of me there. I liked the teacher, and I liked playing the violin. Playing music with other students made me feel like I mattered...that I had something to contribute...that I was valued and appreciated. I belonged. Orchestra for me was an oasis from daily battles and struggles. I was safe there and part of a community.
Being able to offer simple, practical techniques to help teachers nurture and take care of themselves in this setting has been a pleasure for me. I look forward to these annual sessions, and I appreciate being invited back. It made me feel good to know that these sessions fill up, and fill up quickly. This year, we started with a breath practice similar to nadi shodhana, progressed to a somatic relaxation practice for the eyes. We did a little sounding--chanting the vowels--to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, a Feldenkrais-inspired shoulder exercise, followed by a body scan and a loving-kindness meditation.
Thankfully, I no longer live in a tumultuous home environment. I am no longer harassed and bullied on the daily at school now. I have found safety in my own personal meditation, japa, and movement practices, and I look forward to visiting this orchestra classroom every year. It's a safe place where teachers gather--it's an oasis from the demands of teaching, even for just a day. It's a place of connection and interconnection, shared joys, hard work, and sometimes sorrow. It's a place of support...where people uplift and hold space for each other...it's a place to practice...and a place to grow.
Interested in growing in your own meditation practice? Check out the one-of-a-kind, hand-knotted malas in the Middle Moon Malas online collection (middlemoonmalas.com).
The Heart of the Practice May 16, 2018 15:02
I had some time to myself on Sunday in the early afternoon, so I decided to work on creating a mala...for myself, which is a rarity. I have recently been working with a supplemental mantra in my practice honoring Kurukulla, the semi-peaceful, semi-wrathful goddess of unconditional love, passion, and transformation of consciousness. Kurukulla is a dakini, an embodiment of ultimate wisdom who turns raw, negative emotions into pure awareness. Blazing red skin, four arms (two of which are holding a bow made of flowers), and three eyes, she is fiercely protective, magnetizing, and powerful.
I laid out a design with Dragon Blood Jasper and Hessionite Garnet beads and strung the mala with a deep wine-colored sutra and matching tassel. I finished the design before my daughter came over to celebrate Mother’s Day with me, so I posted a quick photo of the mala on my Facebook page.
A few hours later, a friend had responded, indicating that the mala spoke to her, and she was interested in purchasing it. I had created the design with an open heart, and even as I was stringing the beads on the sutra, I was chanting Kurukulla’s mantra (Oṁ Kurukulle Hrīḥ Svāhā), invoking her wisdom as I worked.
A regular meditation practice often brings unexpected opportunities to the surface. One event leads to the next, like beads on a string. I thoroughly enjoyed creating this mala and savored the opportunity to practice japa while stringing it. I was equally joyful about adding it to the MMM online shop so my friend could purchase it. I knew she would appreciate it, and she even purchased a second mala for a friend.
Ironically, this was not the only unexpected opportunity that I would experience on this day. After finalizing the transaction and finishing the online conversation with my friend, my computer crashed. Most of my photos and documents….gone! This unexpected opportunity was a bit more challenging to navigate. Kurukulla was definitely messing with me…on Mother’s Day, no less!
After a day or two of trial-and-error problem-solving, consulting a tech-savvy friend, and a trip to Best Buy, I realized that my hard drive had stopped—and came to accept, reluctantly, that the heart of my computer was dead.
My sitting practices during these two days were discursive and distracted, to say the least, but I continued to focus on the heart…on my heart…on somatic, heart-opening meditations, visualizations, and japa. These practices were raw and uncomfortable, but they proved to be a powerful medicine that allowed me to let go of what was, to embrace the unsettling state of “not knowing,” and to simply hold space and be present. Kurukulla wasn’t just messing with me; she was also teaching me to get clear—to be open—to have the courage to start fresh—to make room for new opportunities by letting go of what is no longer necessary. My computer may be broken, but I’m not.
I look forward to creating new mala designs, taking new photos, creating new documents and poems, and shopping for a new computer (and an external hard drive). In the meantime, I have my practice, I have this moment, and I have an open, accepting heart.