Groundwork: Inviting the Shadow to Tea December 30, 2023 13:21

White teacup in shadow. The reflection of the handle creates a heart shaped image

If you prefer to listen to this month's offering, please click HERE for the audio link.

I’m currently reading a book by Rob Preece. He’s a Tibetan Buddhist as well as a therapist (with Jungian leanings). Preparing for Tantra focuses on Buddhist preliminary practices, but he frames them through the lens of a Western perspective. I’m enjoying his book very much, and it is helping me prepare for Sravasti Abbey’s Retreat from Afar starting in January.

One of the major points that Preece emphasizes in this book is the importance of shadow work. He defines the term Shadow as “aspects of human nature that are repressed and held in the unconscious.” According to Preece, acknowledging and integrating the Shadow can be synonymous with groundwork.

In Buddhism, groundwork, or preliminary practices, can be connected to (but not limited to) mantra recitations, prostrations, and water bowl offerings. These rituals prepare the body, speech, and mind for more advanced meditation practices and study.

However, this idea of connecting groundwork to facing one’s Shadow fascinates me. For years, I would joke that I must have gotten turned around and lost in the Bardo and wound up with the wrong family in this lifetime. After reading this book, I no longer believe that.

Shadow memories and dark times have been bubbling to the surface for me recently, which is not unusual given the time of year. Winter is often the season for reflection for many people.

I wasn’t a practicing Buddhist as a kid, but I did grow up with challenging circumstances. I grew up in a home with a severely mentally ill parent. My mother had been diagnosed with many labels and had been prescribed many more combinations of psychiatric meds over the course of her adult life, but through the changing diagnoses and medications, she consistently remained incredibly unmotivated and self-absorbed. She often used her illness as an excuse to not do anything or go anywhere. She also milked it for all it was worth to manipulate family members and to garner constant favors and requests. My stepdad was frequently going to the store for her after coming home from work because she was “too sick” to go herself—and she never went with him.

We all walked on eggshells around her. Her depression took the entire family hostage, and each of us handled the fallout in different ways.

My stepdad escaped through work; he worked long hours and took several business trips to Mexico and Japan during this time period.  My sister and I both took refuge in music; she played the piano, and I played the violin, but we didn’t play together. I also loved to read and enjoyed escaping to the safety of novels and biographies.

Unfortunately, my mother’s illness didn’t bring us together. Instead, it forced us apart. It also didn’t help that I was the odd duck in the family. I was the oldest, and a child from my mother’s previous marriage, so I never felt like I fit into this new family unit (not fitting in is a big part of my Shadow work).

I was bullied at home. My stepdad was extremely demanding and critical with me, and he could be quite condescending and emotionally cruel, especially when no one was around to witness his cruelty.

My sister and I were four years apart in age. Consequently, we attended different schools and had different circles of friends. When we were together, we often argued. She was my stepdad’s biological child (and darling), and he treated her differently—he was much kinder and more patient with her than he was with me.

Both of my parents were emotionally unavailable for me at this time, and I desperately needed loving, compassionate guidance. Unfortunately, I was often left to fend for myself—and honestly—I was a weird kid—awkward, shy, socially clumsy, and hopelessly insecure.

During this time, when I was attending junior high school, we lived in an apartment complex. Unfortunately, I wasn’t just bullied at home—I was also bullied at school, too, mainly at the bus stop and on the bus.

I loved school—it was my safe space—but I hated the ride there and back.

Every morning, I carried my books and violin to the bus stop at the front of the apartment complex. It was a large shelter framed with dark wooden fencing on three sides and a roof, and it was always packed with kids from the complex. Several kids smoked cigarettes in the crowded shelter, and there were some “stoners” who smoked marijuana. I had enough craziness going on in my life; I didn’t need that, so I waited for the bus by the main road, away from the shelter.

I stood outside, rain or shine, by myself. Several kids hooted and jeered at me every morning when I walked by. Some even made animal noises at me. I ignored them, but it was HARD! On the outside, I may have appeared unfazed by their daily taunts, which carried over on the bus ride to and from school—every day—for three years. On the inside, however, I was a mess—a hollow, confused, traumatized mess.

I stood up (and out) by staying quiet, minding my own business, and enduring the daily barrage of ridiculous taunts.

I didn’t know it at the time, but upon reflection, this was my groundwork. This was a significant preliminary practice for me. I was not in a good place physically or emotionally during these junior high years. I did not feel safe, and I was not understood, adequately cared for, or appreciated. These were very hard times—for me and for my family.

Fortunately, things improved when I attended high school (and we moved out of the apartment complex). I got a job at a nearby Dairy Queen, not far from our new house. Between work and school, I didn’t have much time to spend at home, so the bullying subsided there, too.


These painful experiences helped me tremendously and led me to discover Buddhism. They helped me develop empathy and compassion for others, especially after I graduated from college and started my teaching career.

I knew what it felt like to be excluded, so I went out of my way to ensure that my students’ voices were heard and acknowledged. I never taught a class without including journal writings. It was a great way for them to practice their writing skills, and to express their thoughts and feelings.

Groundwork is the foundation from which everything else grows. It is dark soil, rich with rocky potential that requires hard work, patience, and dedication.

When I think about these early years, I realize how far I’ve come and how much I’ve grown, despite how much I suffered. I was traveling on the path before I even knew the path existed.

These dark, awkward times motivated me to continue to read, study, and learn. They taught me the importance of kindness, generosity, empathy, compassion, and joy. They inspired me to embrace connection and understand the importance of interdependence.

This groundwork encouraged me not only to keep going, despite the hardship and loneliness, but it also encouraged me to surround myself with others who were ethical, supportive, and kind.

This groundwork encouraged me to be observant and mindful—to set healthy boundaries—and to communicate clearly about what is OK and what is not.

My life is far from perfect. I continue to falter and make ridiculously stupid mistakes. The good news is, I have a loving family, I feel safe in my home, I have supportive, warm-hearted friends, and I have a meaningful Dharma practice to rely on daily.

I enjoy reading books like Rob Preece’s, I enjoy listening to and attending Dharma talks, I enjoy making time to meditate, recite mantra, make offerings, and do prostrations.

Remembering the dark times helps me to appreciate all that I have now. Those junior high days seem like many lifetimes ago, but I wouldn’t be who I am now if I hadn’t endured those challenges and struggles.

I have invited my Shadow to tea with this blog post, and I realize now that I did not get turned around in the Bardo and wind up in the wrong family. I ended up exactly where I was supposed to be, and I worked hard to cultivate a meaningful life for myself and others. I continue to do that work even now.

We are all works in progress, we all suffer in samsara, and we are all on the path helping each other learn, grow, and thrive, whether we realize it or not.

I hope 2024 treats you well. May you continue to learn, grow, practice, and thrive in the coming New Year. Please visit the current Middle Moon Malas online collection of hand-knotted malas. May they support and inspire your own personal practice. Know that you are always welcome to reach out via the Contact Us page for custom design requests as well.

Thanks for taking the time to read or listen to this month’s offering. Happy New Year!





.Photo Credit: Luca N from Unsplash






Listening to the Wisdom of the Body: Welcoming the New Year December 31, 2021 15:38

Buddha in Fog Hong Kong

photo credit: Valery Rabchenyuk 

(If you prefer to listen to this blog post, please click here for the audio link)

Over the past two months, I have been suffering from very uncomfortable shoulder pain. I didn't sustain an injury. I didn't twist, turn, or lift anything in such a way that might have caused discomfort in my left shoulder. This pain has been a bit of a mystery for several weeks.

I have been carrying a relatively heavy shoulder bag from my car to my office at school on this arm, so I switched to a bag on wheels so that I could relieve any unnecessary tension in this arm. However, after several weeks, I didn't notice any significant change at all.

One of the mysteries of this discomfort is it has been difficult to pinpoint. I couldn't tell if it was in the bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments, or fascia. Also, the pain moved around. Sometimes, I'd feel discomfort in my shoulder blade--and sometimes I would feel an ache in my bicep--or tenderness near the left collar bone--sometimes it was a dull ache--other times, it was a pinching sensation. It was always morphing and shifting, and it kept me from sleeping.

After a few weeks, I started to worry about it...a lot.

I'm left handed, and having strength in this dominant arm is also essential for creating malas. Consequently, the worry wheels started to turn and spiral. Is it frozen shoulder syndrome, bursitis, arthritis, tendonitis, a repetitive stress injury, a rotator cuff tear?

The onset of this pain was sudden. It occurred right after my husband fell and broke his right ankle. Because of this, I wondered if the source was emotional. I realized that because of the nature of his injury and recovery, I was going to have to really step things up and take on more than I was already doing. I could metaphorically feel the weight of the world on my shoulder. Of course, I kept this to myself--I didn't want Jim to feel bad or worry while he was recuperating.

I was also experiencing additional emotional pressures at work, and, the ongoing pandemic wasn't helping things, either.

Jim's ankle healed, thankfully, but my shoulder didn't. I see an holistic chiropractor every five weeks. During my last appointment, I asked her to focus just on my left arm. Her adjustments helped relieve the pressure and tightness a lot! She agreed that the source, or at least part of the source, seemed to be emotional in nature. She didn't detect any obvious physical problems or red flags. I found that I was able to sleep more comfortably after this session.

Just before this session, I spent some time at home on my cushion and just allowed myself to be still and receive guidance about what I needed to heal.

After a few moments of stillness, the message I received was, "I need to feel safe, and I need to feel supported."

I listened to this message, and I have been honoring it ever since--by taking more time to take breaks and rest, taking time to adjust physical habits and behaviors that may contribute to this discomfort, taking more time to move mindfully (Feldenkrais lessons have been extremely helpful), taking more time to reflect, process, and let go of old, emotional wounds and moral injuries.

Every time my shoulder pops and cracks, it releases tension and makes space for healing.

As of today, it's not quite 100%; however, it feels significantly better than it did. The pain and discomfort have reduced, and my mobility in this arm is improving steadily.

The body knows things....and it carries a wisdom that the mind doesn't always recognize.

The body is also an emotional barometer of sorts. My left shoulder was letting me know that something was out of whack and needed healing. Once I began to acknowledge those things, to make space for them, and then let them go, the pain eased.

During this time, my meditation and movement practices were (and continue to be) especially important to facilitating continued healing. Taking the time to sit, to listen, to receive, and to move mindfully for a few minutes each day has been essential to finding relief and moving forward. In other words, pain can be a powerful teacher.

Ready or not, as we navigate our way toward 2022, I have several hopes and motivations for this upcoming year.

May we all continue to learn, grow, and thrive during this New Year.

May we all receive relevant guidance and support whenever it is needed.

May we all have the wisdom to respond appropriately once it is given.

May we all release what no longer serves us with grace and humility.

May we all feel safe, supported, and happy.

May we all be a source of safety, support, and happiness for others.

May we all continue to practice daily.

May our daily practice be of benefit to ourselves.

May we be of meaningful benefit to others.


Finally, Heartfelt blessings to all of you! May you find joy, good health, and prosperity in 2022!