Controlled Burn: Sitting with Fear July 3, 2020 21:11
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It's early July, and I'm sitting in a lawn chair babysitting an active fire in our side yard. My fear of fire is strong, so I hate it when Jim burns shit in our yard. It ratchets up my anxiety levels, and today, the pile of wood was very high. We cleared out and cut several dead ash trees and rotted wooden beams that framed our turnaround, so the heap was a formidable one.
The good news is, it's not a windy day. The flames were quite intimidating at first, but they died down quite a bit and fairly quickly. The logs are turning ashy white on the outside and glowing bright orange at the center.
I have to admit, I feel a bit like the burning logs right now. Everything seems to be fairly calm and under control, but beneath the surface, anger, sadness, frustration, and uncertainty are blazing.
Typically, on the Summer Solstice, I am a vendor at an event in downtown Indianapolis, Monumental Yoga. This year, however, because of COVID-19, the physical event was cancelled, and, understandably so. I typically sell quite a few malas at this event, and even though I've had the opportunity to participate in a few virtual events as a vendor this season, the results have been disappointing. I didn't sell a single mala in the month of June, which is very unusual. The good news is, I've had time to catch up on my inventory, and I currently have a full collection in the online shop. However, I'm anxious for these beautiful malas to find new homes.
I've also been dealing with waves of sadness throughout this past month as well. My friend Michelle died on June 16. She'd been battling terminal cancer for the past three years. A few months ago, she was doing quite well, and I was really hopeful that she might have more time. She was a kind, generous spirit, and I will miss her dearly.
The first of July was the tenth anniversary of my friend Larry's death. Larry was an amazing art teacher at the high school where I used to teach English. His partner had shared an online interview that Larry gave with a former art student just a week before he died. It was wonderful to hear his voice again, but it was also agonizingly sad. Larry was an excellent educator, and he encouraged his students not only to create meaningful art, but to maintain a sense of curiosity and wonder with the world. Listening to this interview ten years after his death was inspiring, but also bittersweet.
I'm still struggling through weekly Tibetan language lessons. Currently, I'm taking two classes a week on Zoom with two different tutors. I have moments of clarity and understanding, but many more moments of feeling totally lost and frustrated.
Our class on Saturday went over by 45 minutes. I had literally been tethered to my computer for over two hours, and another student asked a question that required a lengthy, complicated answer--and it was material that was totally new to me. At that time, I was too tired to process any more information (Zoom fatigue is no joke, people!).
I tried to remain patient, polite, and engaged, but I'm sure my frustration showed through in my body language and audible sighing.
The Tibetan language is very subtle, and correct pronunciation is extremely important. Unfortunately, I have significant hearing loss in one ear, and after two hours of intently listening, I'd reached my limit. I want to understand; I want to get it right, but it was not happening at that moment.
As an educator, I understand that confusion is an important aspect of the learning process. Sometimes you have to stir things up in order to see the truth and then make sense of it. It's one thing to understand this on a conceptual level; it's quite another to experience it and process it with dignity and grace in real time, especially when you're tired and cranky.
I've had enough of Zoom, really. Don't get me wrong; I'm extremely grateful to have the option to connect with others virtually online. It has been a crucial link in many ways; however, it's also a poor substitute for face-to-face communication with people, and I really miss that right now.
So, this is where the anger shows up for me. Honestly, I feel a little like Samuel L. Jackson in the last 20 minutes of Snakes on a Plane. (If you're not familiar with this film...or THE quintessential line in this film, click here).
I have had ENOUGH of COVID-19!
I have had ENOUGH of Donald Trump!
I have had ENOUGH of police brutality!
I have had ENOUGH of systemic racism and racial inequality!
I have had ENOUGH of ridiculous conspiracy theories and manipulative propaganda on social media!
I have had ENOUGH of crybabies complaining about having to wear masks in public!
I have had ENOUGH of people suffering and dying needlessly from this terrifying new virus!
Before I can be grateful and understand the blessings of big things, I have to acknowledge and sit with their shadow sides first. I can't attach, contract, grab, cling, or wallow in them.
First and foremost, I have to sit with these strong feelings...let them burn brightly, then smolder, stirring the ashes until they cool. This process enables me to allow whatever it is to be, to open and expand in order to see the benefit...and take necessary actions to realize it.
So, I sit with these feelings, letting them burn...and then smolder.
I stir their ashes until they cool.
I witness them, with gentle attention, and without judgment.
I see you, Anger.
I see you, Inadequacy.
I see you, Anxiety.
I see you, Grief.
I see you, Frustration.
Right now, blue smoke is rising from the much smaller burn pile. The popping and cracking of blazing wood has subsided. The warm ash flakes are drifting and falling less frequently.
It is in this moment that I notice birdsong. I hear children laughing in a neighbor's yard. I take comfort in knowing that a young fawn is curled up in the brush near our home. Even though I can't see her spotted coat, I know she's there, and that mama doe is somewhere nearby.
Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, and I have reason to celebrate. I will be celebrating my temporary freedom from fear, hopelessness, anger, grief, and frustration.
These feelings will no doubt return, but for now, they have settled, eased, burned to the ground along with this giant pile of ash.
If you haven't had a chance to visit the updated Middle Moon Malas collection in a while, please click here. Perhaps one of these beautiful designs will find a new home with you.
Planting Seeds of Change: Pandemic Haiku Part Two June 9, 2020 11:47
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I wasn't sure if I wanted to include additional poems in this month's blog post or not, but when I read through the haiku from this past month, I observed some significant shifts and patterns that were quite different from the previous poems.
Needless to say, this month has been challenging for many reasons. COVID-19 has not yet released its grip around the world, and, on top of that, here in the U.S., we are grappling with the collective grief, rage, and pain of racism, police brutality, and economic hardship.
It's been a difficult month for many, and while I have been staying put at home, for the most part, I have also been deeply aware and connected to the concerns of others. These concerns have drifted to the surface of awareness through this daily haiku practice.
* Connection with Nature
For centuries, haiku have connected to and referenced the natural world. While I wrote a few poems in the previous month that alluded to nature, wildlife, and the environment, the haiku this month seemed to slip deeper. They moved beyond mere observation to create a more direct, organic connection to the natural world.
Our eyes met briefly
as you trotted through the yard.
Wild. Searing. Amber.
Komorebi * (5.11.2020)
Shadows of oak leaves
dance on white walls. Light and dark
play until dinner.
(* Japanese term: play of sunlight through leaves)
Dwarf Rhododendrons (5.19.2020)
Tender white petals
expand, hold time and stillness
close in drops of rain.
Sunday Afternoon (5.24.2020)
Even in full sun,
this room is cloaked in green leaves.
Oak, Ash, Hickory.
*Uprising of Grief
In the weeks leading up to Memorial Day, I noticed a palpable tension that gradually intensified. It was a subtle shift, slowly rising to the surface. I went through periods of grief--intense sadness for no obvious reason. Then, reasons began to emerge--a former student of mine was murdered; then, George Floyd was murdered, and racism, injustice, corruption, and brutality were justifiably called out into the open. The daily protests continue even now; voices rise up, screaming for change. An ancient wound has been acknowledged at last, and accountability has been demanded.
Space between Stimulus and Response (5.3.2020)
Fine line between left and right.
Not this…Not that…Here.
As If the Virus Wasn’t Enough (5.5.2020)
Toxic stings, hot nails
in flesh. Murder hornets rip
honeybees to shreds.
Remembering Tori (5.13.2020)
Red hair and freckles,
giggling with best friend in hall.
Restless. Kind. Spunky.
Her body shakes; claws
dig into chair cushion. Raw
struggle for control.
A knee to the neck
for nine minutes. Cries for help
ignored. “I can’t breathe.”
*Call to Practice
The third pattern that has emerged is a distinct call to practice. I've stayed up late several times this month to watch H.H. Dalai Lama give live stream teachings and transmissions from India. A friend and Dharma teacher is currently living in Israel right now. She's been hosting weekly meditations and talks on Zoom. I've awakened at 4:00 a.m. on several occasions to join them. Saga Dawa, one of the most significant Buddhist holidays, is currently happening this month. It celebrates the birth, death, and parinirvana of Shakyamuni Buddha.
I've spent more time on my cushion in quiet contemplation, or in meditative movement practice as a way of processing this undeniable collective grief and anger. I came across a Thich Nhat Hanh quotation recently that resonated: "Meditation is not evasion. It is a serene encounter with reality."
These poems have been attempts to acknowledge and come to terms with this difficult reality as well.
Golden light spirals
from the center of the spine.
May you be happy.
Paint each vertebra
with an exhale. Spinal curves
and breath undulate.
Precious Garland: Day One (5.15.2020)
Gold robes, orchids, silk.
He speaks of love, compassion
between sips of tea.
Inhale: Pain. Exhale:
Joy. Inhale: Black Smoke. Exhale:
Gold Light. Receive…Give…
May all of you reading or listening to these words be happy and well. May you be free of suffering, and may you find joy.
I have added several new designs to the Middle Moon Malas online shop, so if you haven't visited in a while, feel free to browse the collection at middlemoonmalas.com.
Take care, everyone!
Finding Meaning and Beauty in Isolation April 1, 2020 16:22
I’m not looking at the clock much these days. My life is not revolving around clock-time, anyway. I am following a schedule, of sorts, but it’s more intuitive—and highly dependent upon the present moment.
I’m not waking up to an alarm clock. Actually, we’ve found that we don’t really need one. Zora usually wakes us up at 4:45 A.M. with her cat opera. Her feline sense of time is amazingly early and consistent.
Staying home has encouraged me to let go of compulsive list-making and bustling around to complete tasks A to Z. My day does revolve around a few requirements, such as meal preparations, household chores, and movement, meditation, and japa practices, but they don't have to occur at a specific time.
So, I’m not tethered to a clock—and I feel a bit unmoored because of it. I’m not accustomed to being guided by my own needs, priorities, and intuitive leanings. For example, I didn’t wake up this morning planning to deep clean the living room (If I did, I would typically think of a million other things to do instead), it just happened organically. And, I enjoyed it. I took my time dusting, sweeping, mopping. It didn’t feel like a have to—or a burden.
This “new normal” of not looking at the clock and fretting about “all the things” was not a spontaneous realization. It was a process—and not a very comfortable one. For three weeks I have been struggling with anxiety. Usually, it manifests as a hard knot of pressure around my heart that comes and goes throughout the day, or the nervous energy to do, do, do—compulsively checking emails, Facebook, the news, of all things, for reassurance—and, of course, not finding much there.
However, I noticed a shift occur sometime last week. I woke up and noticed thick, heavy fog outside my bedroom window. The old me (the one from three weeks ago) wouldn’t have considered walking outside in it, especially without having showered first.
The new me recognized immediately that this phenomenon was fleeting, so I threw on a pair of jeans, a sweater, and shoes. I grabbed my phone and Maya (our Yorkie), and we took a slow walk down our long driveway (800 ft) in the fog.
Everything looks different in the fog. It obscures familiar reference points, depth perception, and even sounds are more difficult to pinpoint and locate.
Walking in the fog became a practice of being present with what is. Because I couldn’t see the familiar, habitual landmarks, my attention was captured by the shapes of branches, pavement cracks, small puddles, droplets of water clinging to pine needles, a rabbit darting under bare branches of a mulberry bush, Maya’s small body shivering against my jacket, cool air against my cheeks.
The fog kept us rooted in the present. When I turned to look back at the house, it had disappeared. When I looked toward the end of the driveway, it was invisible.
Typically, when I walk down the driveway, I’m on a mission to get the mail. This time, I walked slowly, mindfully. I took time to take pictures—to be curious—to observe small details with an open heart and mind. This, too, was a practice.
Maya and I made it to the edge of the driveway to an empty, shrouded street. We had no destination, really, or objective. We were on a little journey, an awareness field trip.
We turned to walk back home, the fog slowly lifting with the sun. Each step along the way was like a recitation—a mantra of movement. This practice of slowing down—of doing less—no planning—no striving—nothing to attain, achieve, or realize—is just the beginning.
I still have moments of recurring anxiety. That tight knot returns around my heart, and I feel the pull of clock-time, that compulsive need to do, strive, and effort. I think about this walk in the fog with Maya—of simply being, immersing in sensations, the present moment, and appreciating the beauty and stillness of uncertainty.
Thank you for reading--feel free to check out the Middle Moon Malas online collection of hand-knotted mala designs. This period of social distancing and isolation is ideal for personal practice. Not only will you benefit, you'll also be supporting a local online business with your purchase.
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