Change Is Happening in This Space: Evidence of Growth from Daily Mantra Practice November 20, 2021 15:15
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I had a friend ask me recently how my mantra practice has changed my life or made a difference in my life.
At first, I mentioned small things--like finding joy and appreciating everyday moments--the burst of color of autumn leaves...watching a child toddle toward a school bus in the morning and not feeling impatient about having to wait in traffic, but taking a moment to enjoy the moment.
However, it occurred to me later that there was a more significant change that I've noted recently. It has taken time to develop, and it has evolved and morphed very slowly and gradually.
This change that I've noticed is that I am not feeling the need to elaborate on situations, events, or occurrences, especially those that made me feel unsettled, agitated, annoyed, or even traumatized.
Before I started a daily mantra practice, I was prone to oversharing details--whether good, bad, or indifferent. I felt inclined to justify myself or over explain even the most mundane occurrences. I wanted others to know "the whole story."
In recounting the details, especially of unsettling stories, I would relive the suffering of the original encounter, and I also ran the risk of causing suffering for others by spewing these details, too.
However, I've noticed a significant change in this pattern since I've been practicing regularly. I've caught myself on three separate occasions recently.
For example, I recently attended the Bands of America Grand Nationals Competition in Indianapolis. A friend of mine saw my FB post and sent me a private message asking if I knew a friend of hers who is a choreographer of band shows and who also happens to be a Buddhist teacher.
I messaged in response, "I know of him," but that was it. I steered the written conversation toward the current performances and how talented the musicians were. In other words, I didn't feel the need to mention or dredge up any unpleasant details.
I actually did have an unusual exchange a few years ago with this friend of hers. He wanted to argue about an article I had shared online about meditation, and when I didn't engage, he became increasingly more judgmental and angry. Ultimately, he got the last word with a snarky remark and then blocked me from his page.
Even these are bare-bones details. I don't feel the need, even now, to recount the entire story. It's water under the bridge. I also don't need this person's approval or friendship, and I didn't feel the need to bring up an inconsequential conflict now with the friend who messaged me. These details from the past were irrelevant to the current conversation.
I left it at, "I know of him."
In another recent conversation with a friend, this time a spoken one, we were discussing our Tibetan language lessons. I mentioned that I had changed textbooks, and that I had found another book that was more helpful for me.
I didn't feel the need to elaborate on the specific reasons or explain why the other text was not a good fit for me. I didn't mention the poor organization, the occasional misspellings, the firehose-type spray of overwhelming information in each chapter, which was incredibly anxiety-triggering for me.
Instead, I left it at, "I found another book that motivates me to learn," and we continued on with our conversation.
Finally, this pattern has not just had an impact on written and spoken conversations with others. It has also had an impact on my own private thoughts.
Last week I was at home sweeping the kitchen floor when I thought about a teacher who used to be at the Dharma center that I currently attend. He's since moved on to another center on the East Coast.
Instead of rehashing and ruminating about the handful of brief encounters when I had observed him being judgmental of others or rude to me, I simply stopped these thoughts with another one--"He's not my teacher."
This single thought put a stop to an unnecessary, negative thought spiral, and it allowed me to be present with what I was doing instead.
In essence, my daily mantra practice is preventing and stopping cycles of suffering for others and for myself.
I am choosing my words and thoughts more carefully, I am more engaged with people in the present moment, and I'm less likely to overshare or overshadow conversations with unnecessary editorializing and kvetching.
Even in my own head, I'm not allowing unpleasant memories or judgments to interfere with the present moment.
In short, I'm letting the irrelevant and negative details go. They don't serve others, they don't serve me, and they don't serve my practice.
I'm grateful for my friend for asking her question--and I'm grateful for having opportunities to notice this change in my thinking and my practice. I'm also hopeful that continuing to practice will bring about even more beneficial changes in the future.
My hope is that your personal practice benefits you as well as others, too.
By the way, the Indy Holistic Hub Wellbeing Fest in Indianapolis earlier this month was a big success. Several beautiful malas found new homes, and I am working steadily to add new designs to the online shop. Please visit middlemoonmalas.com to view the current and ever-growing collection.
Taking Action and Responsibility for Your Own Practice April 30, 2021 10:52
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When I was a very young kid, my family moved into an apartment complex on the far east side of Indianapolis. Braeburn Village was a brand new complex in 1970, and we were one of its earliest tenants.
I was very curious and playful as a kid (as most kids are), and I would sometimes peer into the windows of the first floor apartments to see how other families lived. I was curious about what they were doing, how they spent their time, and, most importantly, what they were having for dinner.
Often, the windows revealed dark, empty kitchens, but since then, I have always been curious about how other people lived their lives. It was important for me to feel like I belonged.... and that I fit in.
I have long since abandoned peering into my neighbors' kitchen windows :), but this need to fit in, to feel connected and understood... well, that still lingers.
Even now, I can be easily influenced (and overly curious) about what others do--to the point that I question my own judgement and whether the way I choose to do things is OK. This tendency can be a blessing... and a curse.
Comparing myself to others, and then changing or adapting in order to accommodate can be unnecessary. It often hinders learning for me and can lead to great frustration and confusion. At other times, it can enhance the learning process, accentuate curiosity and play, and lead to discovery and more creative and innovative ways of doing things.
I've been studying the Tibetan language for a little more than a year. Because of COVID, my lessons have been online. I've been working with a wonderful teacher, who is originally from Lhasa, and one other student.
We've been using a textbook that is fairly advanced and not really ideal for new language learners, so from the very beginning, the weekly lessons were challenging. As we progressed more deeply into the text, the lessons became even more overwhelming and stressful for me.
I didn't think much about it at first since everything was new in the beginning. I expected some degree of confusion. Confusion, after all, is an important aspect of the learning process, and it can often be a motivator for discovery. However, as we made our way through the chapters, my confusion and frustration escalated, rather than subsided. The information in the text was daunting to me, and it lacked clear explanations and adequate exercises for practice.
Unfortunately, my need to fit in, belong, and stay caught up pushed me to continue. It would take me hours to complete the short, weekly exercises, and, worst of all, nothing was sticking. I wasn't retaining the information from week to week. This drinking-from-a-firehose technique of learning was NOT working for me, and it was crushing my curiosity, playfulness, and motivation to learn this beautiful language.
My fellow classmate, however, LOVES this book. He enjoys sifting through mounds of information and was even pushing to move even faster through the text.
My need to keep up and my tendency to accommodate others hit a wall in the middle of Chapter 5. I reached out to two friends for additional resource suggestions. One is a professor of Tibetan Studies; the other is a translator for a Tibetan lama in Canada. Both recommended additional texts that might be helpful for me.
I also reached out to my Tibetan teacher and asked if she could work with me individually. She agreed that the book we were using was too advanced (for both me and my fellow student) and agreed to work with me on another day of the week.
By taking action and responsibility for my own learning, I have a renewed sense of commitment, curiosity, and motivation. I'm honoring what works for me, and I'm looking forward to slowing down and focusing on just a couple of concepts at a time--and taking more time to practice, play, and explore with those concepts before adding additional information.
In this case, "keeping up" was NOT helping; it was actually hindering my progress. It was also sabotaging my motivation and mental health.
The new books my friends recommended have arrived this week. I'm looking forward to diving in and exploring them on my own terms and in my own way. I'm also looking forward to the one-on-one sessions with my teacher soon.
Sometimes, however, examining a subject from a different perspective can be inspiring--and can even ENHANCE one's practice.
Recently, I've joined an online book group. We are reading Lama Rod Owens' Love and Rage: The Path of Liberation through Anger.
We meet twice a month and discuss a few chapters at a time.
Last week, we discussed Chapter 4, which includes detailed descriptions of several personal meditation practices that Lama Rod incorporates regularly in his own practice.
I appreciated that he took the time to carefully outline and explain each step of each practice.
He explained each part of the practices by including examples, and he also followed up each with a brief outline. Lama Rod carefully explained at least a dozen specific practices in this chapter.
I found these detailed descriptions to be extremely useful, and I even had time to explore and play with a couple of them before we had our most recent book club meeting. His explanations have enhanced my own personal meditation practice.
Ironically, during our online discussion, a few members of the group found this chapter to be daunting and overwhelming: "TMI for one chapter."
They wondered if Lama Rod could have mentioned one practice at at time--maybe dedicating one chapter to each practice rather than cramming all twelve into one chapter.
This made me think of my online Tibetan class, and my classmate who loved the TMI text--but my frustration with it.
Although, compared to the Tibetan text, Chapter 4 in Lama Rod's book was nothing in terms of being too confusing or overwhelming :) !
I didn't feel compelled to try ALL of the practices, and the ones he outlined weren't linear. In other words, I didn't have to practice the first one before experimenting with the second one, etc.
I read through the chapter, picked a couple to explore, and enjoyed the practices as a result.
I may not need to take the time to explore the remaining practices. I took what I needed and moved on.
Learning has always been an important part of my life, and everyone learns in a different way. Trying to fit into someone else's learning style or educational paradigm is NOT a good thing.
Learning to honor my OWN path and to follow what fascinates and nourishes me has been a lifelong journey, too, just as honoring what fascinates and nourishes others--giving them the space to explore their own path is just as valuable and important.
At this point, I'm back on track. I'm curious, playful, and motivated about continuing to learn Tibetan in a way that resonates with me. I'm also fascinated about bringing fresh awareness into my personal meditation practice by learning more about what works for Lama Rod and the other members of my book club group.
Peering into my neighbors' kitchen windows when I was a kid has been a helpful and humorous metaphor for gauging if it's appropriate to follow along with others, abdicating my own viewpoint (and power) in the process. However, that's not always the best approach. Learning to observe, listen, and trust myself, to take responsibility and action for what fosters and nourishes my own curiosity has been an even more powerful life lesson.
This process turns the kitchen window metaphor around for me, and it involves paying closer attention to what's happening in my own "kitchen," appreciating that it, too, has value, worth, and the potential to nourish. Viewing the world through this lens (or window) allows me to acknowledge and appreciate my own perspective, and it also allows me to observe what's happening in the outer world while simultaneously maintaining a sense of connection, belonging, and understanding.
While you're here, I invite you to check out the current Middle Moon Malas online collection. Several new designs have been added to the online shop. These one-of-a-kind designs are made with love and care, and they're intended to enhance your meditation, movement, and wellness practices.