Tending and Attending: Spring Cleaning as a Practice March 26, 2022 13:49
If you prefer to listen to this month's blog article, please click HERE for the audio link.
It's that time of year again--Spring is here! Birds are busy building their nests, and I am busy cleaning mine. I'm on Spring Break this week, and this is an ideal time for deep cleaning.
A few days ago, I deep cleaned our living room. I was on a mission!
I dusted the tables, lamps, framed photos, I vacuumed the couch and chairs, pushed all of the furniture to the middle of the room so I could sweep the baseboards, I corralled dust bunnies and a few dead stink bugs, mopped every corner and square inch, scooched the furniture back in place, and collapsed in exhaustion...
This. Was. A. Chore! It was a "have to," and I did not enjoy the process. While I was cleaning, my thoughts were scattered (much like the fluffy dust bunnies). I was thinking about other things that I needed to do later--or things that I would rather do besides clean the living room. I thought about my friends who were vacationing in warm, seaside climates and grew resentful. Ugh!
Even though the room looked great afterwards, and I was glad that I had taken the time to clean it (all two hours of it), I wasn't really satisfied. My mind was agitated rather than calm, and my body was exhausted rather than energized.
This is the result of striving. Striving comes from a place of "have to" rather than "want to." Striving is motivated by obligation and ego; it's an operation of "should." It's a product of pushing and forcing rather than allowing. My mind was definitely not attentive to any part of the process in this cleaning adventure. I was just hurrying to get it done--and that's no way to live.
Yesterday, I fell into cleaning the kitchen, which is adjacent to the living room. I didn't plan it ahead of time. I had wandered into the kitchen in my pajamas to make some juice (carrot, Granny Smith apple, and ginger). As I sat at the table, I noticed crumbs and a few stains on my placemat.
After drinking my juice, I cleared the table. I was present with what I was doing, I wasn't in a hurry, and I was tending to one thing at a time. I started with the mail that seems to magically accumulate, sorting bills out of the junk mail and miscellaneous catalogues. I tossed the stained placemats in the laundry basket, wiped the table with a clean washcloth, sorted spices and vitamins that we keep on trivets, and put fresh placemats on the table.
I could have stopped there at that point, but I liked how the table looked, and I liked how I felt. I was clear-headed and present. I was mindful, alert, and gently focused. I wasn't thinking about later--instead, I was tending to right now, to this present moment. As a result, I kept going.
I moved a huge planter that was taking up valuable cabinet space to the porch. Then, I cleaned the cabinet space, wiping away a few dead leaves and bits of potting soil.
Then, I moved the chairs into the hall, along with anything else that was on the floor--a trash can, a pair of shoes, Jim's heavy duty lunch box, so I could sweep the floor. I moved with ease and with a calm mind as I brushed the crumbs and dust to the center of the floor. All that mattered was what was happening in the moment. I was aware of the broom handle in my hands, the texture, the cool temperature of metal against my palms and fingers. I was aware of the sounds the bristles made as they brushed across the floor. It was an embodied experience.
I brushed the dust and crumbs into a dust pan, filled a container with warm water, a few drops of dish soap, a splash of vinegar, and a few drops of essential oils (Lemon and Siberian Fir). I took my time as I mopped the floor. I enjoyed the smell of citrus and earthy pine as I made my way around the kitchen.
What started as a simple observation--stains and crumbs on a placemat--turned into a practical exercise in functional mindfulness. I wasn't agitated or exhausted afterwards. Instead, I was calm and energized, and I had enjoyed the process. I was curious and had a gentle, playful attitude. I was very aware of my body moving through the room and was attentive to sensory details--textures, smells, colors, temperatures.
I had been tending, rather than forcing. I had been attentive, rather than scattered and harried. I had enjoyed the sights, sounds, and sensations rather than bypassing them with distracted thoughts.
The result was the same--I had a clean kitchen to show for my efforts, but because my efforts were relaxed and rooted in gentle awareness, I was able to appreciate and enjoy each part of the process. It wasn't a chore, rooted in ego with a destination or agenda, or a "have to"--it was a pleasant, mindful, moving meditation.
And what's more, I didn't even bother to look at the clock to see how long this took. I had forgotten about the time!
I did a lot more than clean my kitchen yesterday. This experience was a wonderful reminder that meditation practice does not just occur on a cushion. It can happen anywhere. The key ingredients are a relaxed mindset and a gentle, but attentive focus.
Early this morning, I listened to Brené Brown's Dare to Lead podcast with guest Amishi Jha, neurologist and author of Peak Mind. (Here's the link to her episode: Finding Focus and Owning Your Attention)
They discussed the relevance, importance, and value of mindfulness and meditation--and specifically, how these practices can impact focus and memory.
I liked the metaphor that Jha used comparing the mind to a flashlight. The mind can really only focus on one thing at a time, but the mind is also wired for wandering. Consequently, practices like mindfulness, meditation, mantra recitations, etc. can help to gently shine the light of attention where you need to and redirect it easily if it strays.
We're all works in progress, and I am actively working on bringing a more mindful focus to what I do more often during the day--to tend and attend with awareness and ease.
The time I spend on my cushion and the time I spend with mantra practice help me to recharge the batteries of my own "flashlight," especially when I feel the urge to strive and force my way through the day.
Spring is an ideal time to renew your personal practice. If you haven't had an opportunity to check out the full collection of Middle Moon Malas, please do! Several beautiful new hand-knotted malas have been added to the online shop.
How Mantras and Memorization Benefit the Brain February 1, 2018 18:30
I spent nearly a week memorizing a new mantra. Most of the mantras I work with are in Sanskrit, but I came across a Tibetan mantra that resonated with me. The Guru Rinpoche mantra is only eight lines long, but learning it was slow-going and challenging. I don't read the Tibetan language (same is true for Sanskrit), so memorizing a transliterated text is a lot like learning a language within another language, and as a visual learner, it offered a new set of challenges for me. The sounds were new. The combinations of syllables were clumsy and awkward at first. From the outset, memorizing eight short lines seemed very daunting.
I work as a tutor at a local high school, so in between student sessions, I listened to an audio recording of a lama chanting the mantra over and over again (thank goodness for YouTube). My commute home is usually 30-45 minutes long, depending on traffic. Each afternoon I chanted two lines of the mantra while driving home. On Monday, I worked with the first two lines. Tuesday, the second pair, etc The chanting was very slow at first. There were long pauses and hesitations as I worked to find the right sounds in the right order. I had to remain intensely focused, not only on driving, but on reciting each line over and over again. Slowly, over the course of the week, I was able to chant the entire mantra. It required time, effort, and painstaking dedication, but it was worth it. Not only do I have another sound tool to play with in my energetic repertoire and practice, but I did something good for my brain, too. Here are some of the benefits of memorization:
* Mental Flexibility and Agility
Just as consistent, challenging exercise benefits the body, memorization is a useful way to stimulate the brain. Functioning like "mental gymnastics," memorization makes the brain more quick, agile, and flexible.
* Improved Neural Plasticity
Medical research has found that rote memorization benefits the hippocampal foundation, which is crucial for episodic and spatial memory in humans. In a recent Irish study of participants aged 55-70, researchers concluded that repeated activation of memory structures in the brain promote neural plasticity in the aging brain. In other words, we need to use it, or we're going to lose it.
* Improved Focus and Creativity
Working memory involves storing, focusing attention on, and manipulating information for a relatively short period of time. According to Paula Fiet of Weber State University, working memory is essential for learning to occur. Completing exercises (such as memorizing a new mantra) that are aimed at building short-term memory benefits our capacity to learn and to focus.
Working memory is also important for creativity. Dutch researchers have concluded that those who learn to focus and develop their working memory through memorization tasks can free their mind in order to pursue other creative tasks.
* Delayed Cognitive Decline
Researchers from the National Institute on Health and Aging (NIHA) found that adults who engaged in short bursts of memory training maintained higher cognitive function delays. Memorization and other memory training exercises can delay cognitive decline for 7-14 years. So, memorizing mantras can help you stay sharp for years to come.
Over the next forty days or so, I plan to work with this new Guru Rinpoche mantra along with a mala (not while driving, though :). I like the idea of starting the New Year with a new mantra and a new sadhana. I'm looking forward to seeing where this mantra will take me in my practice--how it will benefit my subtle body as well as my mind and body. I'll be sure to keep you posted. In the meantime, find a mantra that resonates with you, and commit it to memory.
the data mentioned in this post came from the following source:
*"In Praise of Memorization: 10 Proven Brain Benefits" (http://www.bestcollegesonline.com/blog/in-praise-of-memorization-10-proven-brain-benefits/)
Resolve and Dissolve: Setting Intentions and Managing Changes in 2017 January 2, 2017 20:02
Yep--it's that time of year again. It's the start of a new year, which brings change, new beginnings, and the hope of a brighter future. The ball drops, fireworks bloom in the night sky, champagne, kisses--the works.
Most changes occur slowly, which is good. It makes them easier to process. However, managing change--even small ones--can seem daunting at first. I like setting intentions at the start of a new year. It's not unlike embarking on a mantra practice, or designing a mala. The following tips help me stay clear and focused, and they help me navigate my way through change in order to grow.
*Don't Focus on the Whole...Focus on the Individual Pieces
Managing fresh starts and new patterns requires patience, practice, and time. At first, the project, goal, or intention may seem overwhelming. When I'm designing a mala, for instance, I arrange the beads one at a time. When the layout is complete, and the stringing begins, all that matters is this bead, this loop, this knot. One, by one, until the design is complete. It's that simple. I don't worry about how many beads I can string in an hour--or when I'll be finished. Focusing on the individual pieces is like appreciating each step on a journey rather than fixating on arriving at the destination. Focusing on what's right in front of me keeps me rooted in the present, and it allows me to enjoy and appreciate the adventure, no matter how long it takes, or if it's completed at all.
* Offer a Dedication
Purpose helps to add meaning to any task, even mundane ones. Usually, I practice japa in the evening. I'm more relaxed, and I generally have more time to devote to the practice. Sometimes, however, I wait too long--I'm tired, impatient, and just want it to be over, so I can go to bed. Chanting a mantra just to recite it 108 times is a waste of time and energy. Offering a dedication to the practice adds sincerity, significance, and motivation. For example, before I practice, I hold my mala in my hands and offer an intention--that my students will do well on their final exams--or, I dedicate my practice to a friend who is dealing with the loss of a parent--or to a friend who is giving birth to her first child. I may offer peace and healing to strangers who are suffering in a city halfway around the world. By doing this, I'm not just practicing for myself--I'm practicing to benefit others as well. Big or small, offering a dedication can bolster motivation and infuse any resolution with purpose and meaning.
* Seek a Fresh Perspective
I like variety, I like having options, and a change of scenery can do wonders for a resolution or intention that's reached a plateau or grown a little stale. Sometimes I like to work on a mala at the kitchen table. I like the lighting and the view from the window. Sometimes, I prefer to work upstairs (we have more channel options on the TV), so I can string beads and watch a movie. (One of my favorite designs was an Unakite mala that I strung while watching the Bollywood classic, Bride and Prejudice :). If the weather's nice, I can work outside at the patio table and listen to birds, cicadas, children laughing in the neighbor's yard. A change of setting can offer much needed inspiration, a change in perspective, or a boost in creativity.
I'm not sure where 2017 will lead, but my intention is to continue to learn,grow, and navigate the changes and surprises that this year will undoubtedly bring by continuing my japa practice, and to enjoy creating beautiful malas for others. Happy New Year, everyone! Enjoy this year's journey.