Less Is More: The Beauty and Benefits of Quarter Malas July 30, 2022 10:36
To listen to this month's blog article, please click HERE for the audio link.
Lately, I have been inspired to create a series of quarter malas. Quarter malas include twenty-seven beads (1/4 of 108) plus a guru and tassel.
Practicing with a quarter mala, as opposed to a full mala, has several benefits, and in this month's article, I'd like to share what some of those benefits are.
One benefit of practicing with a quarter mala is it's portable and easy to use while traveling. They are convenient and store easily in the console of a car, a carry on bag, or a desk drawer at school or office workplaces.
Construction delays and traffic jams are perfect opportunities for mantra practice in the car in order to keep calm and carry on. I also keep one at school in my desk drawer. Sometimes, between student tutoring sessions, I'll take it with me as I walk around the track--moving mindfully and chanting mantra is a wonderful way to take care of myself during the work day and squeeze in a little practice time.
The quarter malas I design are intended for practice. Sometimes, people will ask if I can make "stretchy bracelets." I don't--for a couple of reasons. One, I'm not able to create a knotted quarter mala with stretchy cord--and the knots are an important part of the design. They represent the obstacles and challenges we face in life. The beads represent the beautiful aspects and blessings--and a balanced, meaningful life requires both.
Two, stretchy bracelets break fairly easily, and it's too easy to slip one on and go about your day without thinking about practicing. Having a knotted quarter mala that you keep in a place where you'll see it or can find it easily will remind you to practice. They serve a special purpose, beyond that of a pretty bracelet. Consequently, they aren't designed to be worn throughout the day. So, for those of you who were wondering, that's why I don't make stretchy bracelets.
*Reciting Longer Mantras
Saving time and cultivating a consistent daily practice are two additional benefits of quarter malas. This is especially true when reciting longer mantras. Some sadhana practices, for example, include lengthy mantras, and reciting a 100-syllable mantra 27 times vs.108 times can be more practical and efficient.
Not everyone has time to (or wants to) chant mantras all day long. Family obligations and work-related responsibilities are important priorities. Carving out a few minutes each day for practice can be challenging at times, and working with a quarter mala can help establish a necessary balance among work life, family time, and self care.
This "less is more" approach (chanting 27 recitations as opposed to 108) makes it easier to cultivate and maintain a daily practice. It's easier to stay present and focused with each recitation, especially with longer mantras. On really busy days, taking time to practice with a quarter mala makes me feel like I've accomplished something important and meaningful--that I've done something to help myself, and others.
I recited the Long Gayatri mantra daily for several years. I actually used a half mala for this practice, but looking back, a quarter mala would have really come in handy. I've also used quarter malas for Vajrasattva and Medicine Buddha sadhanas. I created a specific quarter mala for the Vajrasattva practice, and another one for Medicine Buddha. Know that it's OK to use the same mala for different mantras, but I like to use one, specific mala for a each corresponding mantra practice.
Another benefit of quarter malas is that they are perfect for safe keeping on home altar spaces. They don't take up much room on a small altar, and they are beautiful reminders to practice.
*Gifts and Offerings
Quarter malas also make meaningful, thoughtful gifts for fellow meditators, practitioners, yoga friends, and teachers.
I've been very fortunate to have had ethical, kind-hearted, and knowledgeable Dharma teachers, and I have given many of them quarter malas as gifts of appreciation.
I've also given them as gifts to loyal customers over the years for their continued support.
Quarter malas also make beautiful offerings for special events and pujas at Dharma centers and temples. Generosity is a practice in and of itself, and offering quarter malas to others with an open heart is a beautiful way to give.
Finally, quarter malas are perfect for practitioners on a budget. Most of the quarter malas I create are between $40--$50. I take time and care to create beautiful hand-knotted designs with high-quality beads in the hopes that they will inspire practice (this is just as true for quarter malas as it is for the full malas).
Whether you are a beginning practitioner who is just starting on the path of a daily mantra practice, or a seasoned practitioner who is looking for more opportunities to practice throughout the day, quarter malas are beautiful, convenient, affordable, and meaningful tools to assist you on your personal journey.
Although I try to keep a few quarter malas in the ever-changing collection on the MMM website, they tend to go quickly. Please know that I can also create custom designs. For example, if you would like a quarter mala, but there aren't any available on the online shop, please reach out through the Contact Us page. I would be happy to create a quarter mala design that's just right for you.
Feel free to visit the home page to view the current collection of mala designs. Until next month, keep practicing!
Unlikely Offerings September 15, 2020 15:52
If you prefer to listen to this blog post, click HERE.
It's early morning. I light a stick of incense, grab a Granny Smith apple from the bowl by the fridge and a scoop of birdseed from the bag near the front door. I pick up Maya with my free hand (which is a challenge because she's jumping up and down in excitement) and slip into a pair of sandals.
With both hands full, I carefully open the storm door with my left elbow and walk toward the small garden in the front yard.
The tip of the incense stick is glowing bright red in the early morning light, and white smoke that smells of juniper wafts around us.
I am thinking about my friend's dog who recently passed away. I am also thinking of another friend's son-in-law and a former colleague's brother--both of whom have died within the last few days.
I carefully place the incense stick in a small metal bowl at the base of a tree stump and sprinkle the cup of birdseed into the open palms of a concrete Buddha statue.
Maya and I walk down the driveway looking for a few acorns that have fallen from a nearby white oak, and I also pluck a few black-eyed Susans that are blooming near a mulberry bush.
I place them on the tree stump near the Buddha statue, along with the green apple.
We do this twice a day, this simple ritual of offering. It's dedicated to all sentient beings: insects, animals, loved ones, strangers, celebrities who have passed away in the last 49 days (in Buddhism, the intermediate state, or bardo, can last up to seven times seven, or 49, days). We make these offerings so that these beings may navigate their way safely through the bardo in the hopes that they find happiness in their next life--so that they may be of benefit to others in their next incarnation.
I offer a brief prayer to the outdoor altar, and then Maya and I make our way back to the house.
This is an example of a traditional offering: flowers, fruit, incense. However, offerings don't have to be traditional to be meaningful or valid.
Offerings can be very simple, subtle, and sometimes...unlikely.
Anything given with an open heart and from a spirit of kindness and generosity could be considered an offering. Here are just a few practical examples:
* Sharing home-grown veggies from your garden with friends or neighbors.
* Helping someone who's having technology issues or a friend who needs help with a home-improvement project.
* Letting someone enter the flow of traffic, especially when traffic is heavy.
*Offering kind words of encouragement.
* Acknowledging and thanking a cashier or clerk by name at a grocery store, bank, or gas station.
* Wearing a mask and honoring social distancing guidelines during a pandemic.
Offerings can also be a blend of the traditional and everyday common courtesy.
I often practice japa when I'm driving. I use a clicker counter or knitter to keep track of the recitations (and it's safer than using a full mala for me). Often, when I'm reciting, I offer the benefits (or merits) of the recitations to the drivers, passengers, and pedestrians around me:
* May they arrive safely to their destinations
* May they be happy
* May they be well
Even during a more formal sitting practice or during a sadhana, it's not unusual for miscellaneous memories or sudden flashes of people I haven't seen or thought about in years to pop into my head. Instead of viewing this as an annoying distraction to resist or push away, or interpreting this as evidence of being an undisciplined meditator, I briefly acknowledge them and wish them well:
*I see you
*I love you
*I remember you
*I forgive you
*I honor you
Usually, when I take the time to witness and appreciate these "surprise visitors," they dissipate fairly quickly, and it opens up even more space for my practice. In fact, I see acknowledging and honoring these memories and flashes as an important part of my practice.
So, what are the benefits of making daily offerings, whether they are tangible objects, courteous acts or gestures, or meditative thoughts?
* They encourage generosity and selflessness
One of the quickest ways to bust out of an "I,I,I...me,me,me" mindset is by considering or giving to others instead of thinking about yourself.
* They foster connections and interconnection with others
Offering words, thoughts, or things with a kind-hearted spirit helps dissolve feelings of separation or disconnection toward others.
* They inspire a sense of purpose and meaning
On an individual level, offerings can add a little structure and motivation to a practice. When the intention is right, and when the desire for recognition is absent, it feels really good to do charitable things or offer kind words of support to others.
Offerings can strengthen and bolster compassion for self, for others, and for the planet.
By the way, supporting a small business is another wonderful way to make a meaningful offering. Feel free to visit the Middle Moon Malas online shop (here) to purchase a one-of-a-kind mala for yourself or a loved one. These beautiful designs are intended to enhance your own practice, and they make wonderful gifts....or...offerings.