Tying and Untying Knots: Holding Space and Letting Go during Totality April 21, 2024 18:00

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

In a knotted mala, the knots carry an important significance. On a functional level, they help to protect the beads against cracks, chips, and scratches due to friction from regular use. Because the knots hold just enough space to prevent the beads from touching, they also help to showcase more of the surface area of the individual beads.

If the cord breaks on a knotted mala, it won't result in 108 beads scattering across the floor.

On a symbolic level, the knots represent the obstacles and challenges in life. The challenges allow us to apply what we've learned, and they test our capacity for patience, strength, endurance, and compassion.

The beads represent the blessings and beautiful aspects of life. Consequently, a meaningful life requires a balance of both blessings and challenges.

I like creating knotted malas. Even though they require more time and effort, the knots create a sense of steadiness and stability in the designs. They cradle and hold the beads in place. The knots are subtle--they are smaller in size than the beads themselves, and they offer a sense of quiet strength and protection.

Typically, it takes me two to three days to create a full (108 beads) knotted mala. If I try to overdo it and string too many beads in one sitting, I'll pay for it later. I'll experience numbness in my fingers and hands late at night--or I'll run the risk of splitting my thumbnails. They remind me of the benefits of pacing myself--that less is more. There's no need to rush or hurry the process. Slow down. Be mindful. Be present. Pay close attention.


On Monday, April 8th, a large swath of our state was able to view a total solar eclipse. The last time a solar eclipse was visible in what is now Central Indiana, according to a recent Butler University newsletter, was in the year 1205. Indiana didn't even exist at that time.

The next eclipse is scheduled to make an appearance in the Hoosier State in the year 2153. So, it was pretty amazing to have an opportunity to witness a celestial event like this.

What was even more amazing was...the weather. Normally, April in Indiana brings loads of rain, cool temperatures, and gloomy, gray, overcast skies. On April 8th, the skies were clear blue, and it was a pleasantly warm 70 degree day.

Local schools and businesses were closed for this event. Jim and I stayed home. We sat in the front yard on fold-up lawn chairs and kept tabs on the sun and moon while wearing our eclipse glasses.

Jim puttered around doing yardwork leading up to the afternoon event, which gave me time for personal mantra practice. I've been working on refuge ngondro recitations since January, and will continue for most of this year (four refuge prayers--111,111 recitations each). I'm pacing myself and taking my time with this meaningful practice. I sat in the rare, April sunshine and completed twelve mala rounds of "Namo Dharmaya."

I'm glad Jim and I decided to stay home. We could have traveled to big public celebrations in Bloomington, Speedway, and Indianapolis, but I'm glad we opted for a more intimate viewing.

In the months and weeks leading up to this eclipse, I didn't have any expectations or hopes. In fact, I was fully prepared to watch it on NASA's website if the weather was rainy or cloudy.

I finished my recitations, and Jim joined me in the front yard. We listened to tunes on WTTS on a portable radio as the moon slowly slid in front of the sun : "Black Hole Sun," "Dancing in the Moonlight," "Here Comes the Sun," "Blinded by the Light"...

At around 3:00 in the afternoon, we were able to witness Totality. I turned off the radio at this point so we could take it all in. 

The air took on a dark blue, metallic hue and cooled by about ten degrees. Houses in the distance appeared hazy and blurry.

Peeper frogs started to chirp in our ravine, and a nearby barred owl hooted intermittently.

As I gazed up at the eclipse in Totality, I felt extremely heavy, as if I were being pushed into the earth.

Two images crossed my mind during these fleeting minutes. One was an image of a race car crashing into a wall after navigating a sharp turn. It was not a spectacular crash, the kind where the impact is dispersed outwardly, often protecting the driver. It was the "un-spectacular," no-big-deal kind, which is often deadly for the driver, who absorbs the impact of the crash.

The second image was actually a memory. I remembered being very pregnant and walking down the hall of the high school where I taught at that time. It was during a passing period, and students were milling all around me as I was walking back to my classroom. I remembered feeling a sudden, sharp, stabbing pain in my groin, and all I could do was stop, put my hand against the wall for stability, and breathe until the pain subsided.

I did not experience physical pain during Totality, but these images were intense and brought a strong sense of weighted heaviness to my body and mind.

I felt the energetic "impact" in my body--and all I could do was to allow--to hold space--and to accept and receive these images and feelings on each inhalation. Then, with each exhale, send all of that heaviness into the earth to be transformed.

It was an odd sensation, but for three minutes, I was firmly rooted to my chair, completely fixated and sensing the full impact of this once-in-a-lifetime event. I don't know that I would have experienced this if I had been in a large, public setting.

I felt like an energetic conduit, and all I could do in this odd dance of give and receive was breathe--inhaling the full weight of the sun and the moon--and exhaling into the earth. 

Just before Totality ended, and the moon continued to move across the path of the sun, it occurred to me that this experience was like a giant knot in a celestial-sized mala. It simultaneously separated and joined the sun and moon for a brief time--holding them together like a knot separating two beads on a sutra.

The path of this eclipse (which spanned the width of 108 miles, by the way) stretched from Mexico to Maine. This eclipse crossed the continent like a big, beautiful mala-in-progress, and I'm grateful that we were able to witness it.


The knots represent the obstacles, the challenges in life. I'm not sure why I imagined a car crash and remembered a specific pregnancy pain. Perhaps these were simply symbolic images--examples of obstacles.

The knots hold the beads of a mala in place, and they showcase the beautiful aspects of life.

Afterwards, the temperature slowly increased. the heavy, dark blue, metallic sky returned to a sunny clear blue. 

The peeper frogs went silent, and we didn't hear the owl until later on in the evening.

Everything seemed to return to normal. I stepped inside the house and took a nap. I needed a little time to process what I'd experienced. When I woke up, I went to my workspace downstairs and started working on stringing a knotted mala.



April has been a bit tumultuous, but I hope you are navigating the blessings and challenges of your own life with grace and compassion.

If you haven't visited the MMM home page in a while, I've added a few additional designs to the current collection. As always, feel free to reach out on the Contact Us page if you're interested in a custom design to inspire and support your own personal meditation practice.

Take care--




The Benefits of Keeping a Spiritual Journal June 3, 2017 15:17

Over the years, I’ve kept various types of journals and logs. For the past three years, I’ve been keeping track of my japa practice in small, portable notebooks.

Though I’ve been pretty diligent about writing in these logs, I am horrible about taking the time to read over the entries (they’re more like lists, really) to reflect on what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown as a practitioner. Being in the present moment and recording the present moment is one thing—but taking the time to look over a year of present moments to note tendencies and patterns is a really daunting task. Honestly, I thought I might be bored out of my mind—many of my daily observations are really mundane and repetitious, but I did manage to find a few nuggets of wisdom among the pages.


8.12.16 “Chanted with the Olympics on mute.”

12.26.16 “Practiced yoga for over an hour to tango music in the living room.”

1.4.17 “Chanted before Yin—then watched Portlandia after class.”

Countless entries made reference to the practice—the yoga practice—the chanting practice—the meditation practice. Regardless of the day, the time, the location, or the circumstances, the practice was the hub, and the driving force of these entries.  Practice requires commitment and dedication, and these entries, while repetitive, were solid proof of this resolve. Taking the time to reread them has bolstered my desire to continue all of these practices, including the writing practice.


10.1.16 “Jim and I attended a wedding (apprentice from the shop). The groomsmen had superhero action figures in their shirt pockets.”

10.15.16 “Took a photo of the full Hunter’s Moon as Hugo kept me company out in the yard.”

11.21.16 “Prajnaparamita arrived today. She’s beautiful.”

1.20.17 “Received a handmade card from a nun I’m sponsoring in India. Venerable Tsundue Palmo. She’s 12.”

There were several unexpected surprises hidden among the ordinary entries.  Some of these nuggets of joy I had forgotten about; others, I remembered vividly. Reading these entries was a lot like looking over photos in an old album. The brief notations and descriptions were like faded photographs, but they were clear enough to trigger these pleasant memories so that I could enjoy them again.


1.23.17 “This lifetime is like a flash of lightning. Be hard on your delusions, not on yourself.”

2.10.17 “Went to Mike’s funeral.  Jim did such a fabulous job. He spoke at the service—honest, sincere, tearful, funny.  So proud of him. What a sendoff!”

4.3.17 “Hugo was really struggling this morning. Jim and I took him to the vet in the back of my car. Elise met us there. We said goodbye as a family.”

Just as there were many moments of joy—this year also brought challenging moments as well.  Sadness, anger, despair, grief, and doubt were opportunities to implement the practice in order to heal and grow. This is where all of those mundane moments really paid off. I needed the help of all of the practices in order to allow and be, to sit patiently with these intense emotions until the storm surges settled.  Taking time to remember and acknowledge these moments gave me an opportunity to appreciate what I have endured, and to value each fleeting present moment even more.


6.25.16  “Love and compassion are the keys to happiness, not money, power, and things.” HH Dalai Lama Lecture at State Fairgrounds

8.27.16 “Attended Teaching—Had lunch with sangha—watermelon slices with Geshe Kunga and Ten Pa. Stayed for afternoon prayers—Rinpoche blessed Josie’s mala—Green Tara—Heart Sutra—Lovely.”

11.2.16 “The Cubs haven’t won a World Series in 108 years. There are 108 laces on a baseball. Just strung the 108th bead on a Kumbaba Jasper mala—sending much love and light out to the Cubs.”

Every cell in my body resonates to the frequency of the belief that the right people and events will come into your life when they’re supposed to, and they’ll leave when they’re supposed to.  I’m all about right place, right time, and this year was no exception.  Whether it was listening to The Dalai Lama deliver a live lecture in Indianapolis, chatting with dear friends, working with students,  discovering the right book, documentary, YouTube tutorial, or movie at just the right time, the best lessons and teachers have arrived at the perfect time and in the best way.  I know that as long as I continue to practice—to sit, to chant, to breathe, to write, to step onto the mat, to be present…I will continue to learn, grow, and blossom, and, with a little luck, benefit others along the way.





Enduring the Knots....Celebrating the Beads December 5, 2015 17:35

A mala is 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.  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 things together.  The thread or cord running through the mala holds and supports the beads.  Consequently, it represents the 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; 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, 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.

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 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.