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).
Hitting the Reset Button: Retreat and Recharge April 3, 2017 13:46
The only thing that matters is this breath. The only thing that matters is slicing this apple. The only thing that matters is this step. The only thing that matters is this blue heron taking flight over a pond.
I recently spent three days in a secluded cabin at the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington, Indiana, for a personal retreat. I needed a little time to unplug (literally and metaphorically) from the world and to reconnect with myself and my practice.
I stayed in a circular, yurt-inspired cabin. It had a small kitchen, a domed skylight , walls painted a soothing sea foam green, plenty of floor space for yoga practice, and a deck with a view of the woods.
During my stay, I made serenity a priority. I practiced yoga every morning before breakfast and every evening before going to bed. I wandered in the woods and grounds of the Center in between stints of light rain showers. I circumambulated the Kalachakra Stupa while chanting. I ate meals mindfully. I meditated on the deck. I strung beads on a mala. I chatted briefly with gray squirrels, attendants at the nearby gift shop (The Happy Yak), Geshe Kunga on his way to the temple, and an aging, but friendly pug named Norbu.
For three days, I paid close attention to sounds that I’m not accustomed to hearing—wind chimes, fluttering prayer flags, rain on the roof, squirrels skittering on the deck. I took time to enjoy food—to savor every bite—sliced oranges in a bowl, raspberry cheesecake, toast with Marionberry jam, Greek yogurt with spiced butternut squash and apricots. I watched the sunrise between the trees and the stars from the skylight.
No obligations or interruptions, no striving or planning, this retreat was all about allowing and being. My headaches (and hot flashes) subsided; my stress levels decreased dramatically. By releasing the usual day-to-day distractions, it allowed me to connect more deeply to myself and the environment.
I look forward to visiting TMBCC again for future retreats. In the meantime, I can choose to find stillness and serenity in this moment, regardless of where I am. I can choose to make my meditation/chanting practice a priority every day, beginning each day with recitations,instead of postponing it to the end of the day when I am mentally and physically fatigued. I can choose to unplug from the frenetic busyness of my day-to-day life for just a few minutes in order to reboot and recharge energetically.
The only thing that matters is this breath. The only thing that matters is this traffic light. The only thing that matters is this student who will deliver her speech in an hour. The only thing that matters is this sip of lukewarm chai tea.
Trigger Warning: How a Mantra Practice Can Help Manage Unsettling Emotions March 6, 2017 13:48
Triggers—we all have them. They can be situations, memories, specific sounds or smells, words and phrases, animals, or even certain individuals that can push us into a vortex of unpleasant emotions or mindsets. It’s easy, too easy, sometimes, to get caught up in this dizzying, unsettling flurry, and it can have a lasting impact, if we allow it.
Last week, I was chatting in the hall with colleagues after school. I like to laugh—a lot—unfortunately, I have a bold, loud laugh that can sometimes be misconstrued. At some point in our conversation, I let one of these bold laughs fly, and it triggered one of my colleagues. She had assumed that I was laughing at her, and that I was judging her, which was not my intention at all.
Even though I had apologized and explained to her that I was not criticizing or berating her in any way, I could tell that this did not completely pacify her. It still stung. She was triggered by my laughter—and I was triggered by her response. I felt awful about causing someone else pain, even though it was unintentional. Later on in the evening, it had an impact on my personal yoga practice. I couldn’t get that moment out of my head. I had trouble focusing, I didn’t enjoy my practice, and I started to second guess and berate myself as a result. What was the root of all of this turmoil?
Meditation can be an effective follow-up for my at-home yoga sessions, and it was perfect for managing the ripple effects of this particular situation. By incorporating the following steps, I was able to halt the negative self-talk, to recognize patterns, to answer lingering questions, and to offer compassion as an antidote.
Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted and sit so that you can be both relaxed and alert.
*Observe : Identify and name whatever reactions or emotions are associated with the situation. Where do you feel this reaction in the body? Are you holding tension anywhere? Notice what’s happening with the breath. Is your breathing ragged or smooth? Shallow or deep? Simply take time to identify, notice, and name what’s happening in the breath and body.
*Pause: Without judgment, and without taking these reactions personally, simply take some time to sit and acknowledge these reactions and feelings. They may be familiar to you—you may have felt this way before—and you may acknowledge patterns emerging. Whatever feelings or reactions that surface for you, be with them…without pushing them away….or looking for a distraction. Simply be still. Hold space for whatever you’re noticing.
*Reflect: Ask for guidance—what is this person, situation, etc. teaching me? What do I need to learn from this? What’s the message? Trust the information that you receive—and be patient—sometimes you won’t receive an immediate answer. This is usually the place where I begin a mantra recitation practice with a mala (japa practice). It’s kind of like waiting on hold and listening to music on the other end of the line—only the music doesn’t have to be annoying. Choose a mantra and a mala that resonate with you, and use this recitation practice to help you find clarity, direction, and calm. Again—without forcing an answer—without trying to manipulate or control your meditation session…simply allow…one bead, one recitation at a time.
*Release: Whether you choose to recite one round (108 repetitions) or multiple rounds with your mala and mantra, at the end of your recitation practice, offer yourself, the situation, and any other individuals involved compassion. Give yourself permission to release any fears, anger, frustrations, etc. that this situation may have stirred up for you. This part of the process allows for a sense of closure (at least for the time being), and it prevents this situation from hijacking the rest of your day.
Triggers in and of themselves can seem very small and insignificant, but they can explode into major disruptions if they aren’t dealt with or managed effectively. Using a mantra practice can help you notice patterns about yourself and be more mindful as you interact with others.
I still laugh—boldly, loudly—and although I may not be able to control how other people respond to my laughter, the more honest, clear, and compassionate that I can be in relating with others, the more we can laugh together.