Climbing Mt. Kailash...One Tibetan Letter at a Time February 10, 2020 18:53
"To learn is an act of deep work." Cal Newport (associate professor of Computer Science, Georgetown University)
Some of the best opportunities that have occurred in my life were not the result of calculated planning, but out of being open, curious, and willing to explore the unknown.
Five years ago, I fell into designing malas and then building a small business (Middle Moon Malas) through this creative interest and a love of japa practice.
Two years ago, I discovered The Feldenkrais Method as well as other alternative movement modalities, and my physical, emotional, and spiritual health flourished as a result.
Two weeks ago, I landed, unexpectedly, in a small class that my dharma teacher is leading between his weekly dharma talks and prayer sessions on Sundays. I'm one of a handful of students studying Tibetan.
Learning a new language in my mid-fifties is much more challenging (and enriching) than when I was studying French in junior high school. The Tibetan alphabet is totally different from English, and several of the sounds are very similar, with subtle, nuanced distinctions. Therefore, the learning requires more time, deliberate care, practice, and patience.
It turns out, there are several benefits to learning a language later in life. It can improve problem-solving, critical thinking, listening, decision-making, and concentration skills. Learning a new language can also stave off dementia, mental aging, and cognitive decline. It also fosters deeper connections and appreciation of other cultures.
I found out about this class a few weeks in, so I'm a little behind and scrambling to catch up. I gave myself a week to learn the Tibetan alphabet--30 consonants, 4 vowels. That doesn't seem too demanding, right?
Turns out, I needed the full week. I spent about an hour each day learning and reciting the sounds of each new letter, tracing unfamiliar curves, arcs, and loops onto graph paper. I flipped through flash cards again and again, and I watched several YouTube tutorials in order to recognize, memorize, speak, and write these beautiful new letters that are like keys to a mysterious puzzle.
I barely deciphered the Tibetan alphabet in time for the following week's class. We're moving on to numbers and combining letters into words, which is an even deeper mystery for me.
I feel like I'm climbing Mt. Kailash, one Tibetan letter at a time. Thankfully, I'm not alone on this journey. I have a knowledgeable leader, a team of peers, and additional resources to guide me along the way. Most importantly, I'm enjoying the process. It's definitely challenging, but I'm benefiting from it a great deal.
I'm learning much more than a new language. I'm learning the value of maintaining Beginner's Mind. I'm learning the importance of being gentle and patient with myself (and others) as I navigate this new adventure. I'm learning the importance of moving slowly, deliberately, and without force. I'm learning that this new endeavor is intricately connected to my movement, meditation, and japa practices. Most importantly, though, I'm rediscovering that...
"Learning should be a pleasant, marvelous experience." Moshé Feldenkrais
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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.
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 :).
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.