Sudden Storms: Navigating Whirlwinds of Change with Daily Practice July 28, 2023 17:10

Dark storm clouds swirl and churn in a form in turbulent sky

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


“O, I have suffered with those that I saw suffer.”

                                    Miranda from Shakespeare’s  The Tempest

This summer has been a whirlwind of activity—literally and figuratively. In late June, a pop-up tornado ripped through our neighborhood. It uprooted giant trees, tore off roofs, obliterated detached garages, barns, and fences.

We weren’t given much warning that it was coming. Storm sirens in our area had sounded earlier in the afternoon, but had stopped. It wasn’t raining or hailing at the time, and television meteorologists were focusing on areas to the north and south of us.

The first indication that something wasn’t quite right was our cable went out, and our TVs were blasting loud static on snowy screens. I was going upstairs to turn off the TV when Jim yelled from downstairs, “Get down here, NOW!”

I looked up at the skylight in time to see limbs of trees blowing sideways.

I hurried downstairs, closed the front door, and headed toward the bathroom in the interior hall. By the time I’d reached the bathroom, the storm had already blown past us, and we stepped outside to assess the damage.

Fortunately, our damage was minimal. We lost a cherry tree that had fallen across our driveway and some large limbs from a walnut tree in the backyard. We also had debris from various neighbors’ properties strewn all over our yard. Our house was intact; our barn was not damaged; our two big oak trees had not fallen over (and I was very grateful for that).

However, nearby telephone poles and lines were down. One pole had broken in half and was lying across a two-lane street at an odd, unstable angle. I thought it would be days before our power would be restored, but within eighteen hours, the power was back up and running.

Our neighbors behind us lost three vehicles due to fallen trees. Our neighbor to the south of us lost every single tree standing in his backyard. The damage all around us was devastating, and our community sustained a tremendous amount of damage in the span of 90 seconds. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt, thank goodness.

Jim cut up the cherry tree that had fallen across our driveway with a chainsaw, and then he went to our neighbor’s house to help with their roof.

Neighbors helped us pull their mangled trampoline out of our pine trees, and all of us spent hours picking up limbs, sticks, and branches, carting them into burn piles or dragging them to the ends of driveways for pickup.

This storm was so unexpected and fast-moving, we didn’t have time to be scared.

Neighbors did make time to come out and help each other, asking if everyone was OK.

While Jim was helping out our neighbor with his roof, I picked up sticks, branches, and debris in our yard, and used it as an opportunity for practice.

I chanted, “Om Mani Padme Hum” for hours while I worked. I thought about our neighbors who has sustained far more damage than we had—who lost beautiful trees, who sustained roof damage, broken windows, crushed vehicles, mangled fences, garages, and barns.

I picked up sticks and branches, whispering, “Om Mani Padme Hum.”

Coiled springs from our neighbor’s trampoline—“Om Mani Padme Hum.”

Shingles from a nearby barn—“Om Mani Padme Hum.”

A book cover (Love Story) from someone’s patio table—“Om Mani Padme Hum.”

Arm floaties and bits of pool noodles—“Om Mani Padme Hum.”

Pieces of plastic and siding scraps—“Om Mani Padme Hum.”

We worked for hours, each of us doing our part to clean up the debris and patch things up in the best way we knew how.

We eventually settled into our dark, quiet homes, some of us with candles and flashlights, a few of us with generators.

We rested…and waited for morning.

I’m not going to lie, I had trouble sleeping that night. My body was tired and sore, and my mind was racing with “what if” scenarios—a post traumatic response and an indication of a dysregulated nervous system.

Another opportunity to practice had presented itself. This time, I mentally recited “The Heart Sutra” in Sanskrit (see below for video link).*  It’s something I practice daily, whether there’s a tornado or not. It took me three years to memorize it, and about seven minutes to recite it each day. It’s an important part of my practice, and I’m really glad I took the time to commit it to memory. In this instance, it really helped me to calm down and relax the tight muscles in my jaw, shoulders, back, and legs.

I was also able to steady my restless thoughts and drift off to sleep. Our house was so dark and quiet. The stillness and this practice helped me find much-needed relief.

This is one of the most useful benefits of a daily mantra practice, and I don’t have to be sitting on a cushion or holding a mala for it to be effective. In this case, I was moving slowly around the yard, sweaty, dirty, and sticky from picking up sticks and debris in the heat. I had been focused on what was right in front of me—this stick—this branch—this broken board, etc. On a daily basis, these recitations keep me grounded and prevent me from spiraling into my own storm clouds of “what if” and worry. This practice offers the comfort of “do what you can…from right where you are.”


As I’m writing this today, it has been a month since this storm blew through our neighborhood.

Today, I can hear the sounds of cicada songs, lawn mowers, along with the echoes of hammering from roofers replacing shingles on nearby homes.

Trees have been cut down and cleared away. Small, brightly-colored flags in yards mark where new fence posts will be installed. Many of us have very different views from our porches, patios, and driveways. We can see more of the sky and more of each other’s homes.

I still pick up small bits of debris—pieces of tarp or scraps of shingles—as I walk down our long driveway to get the mail.

Each piece is a reminder of what we endured—and they are also reminders for us to be kind, to be tender with each other.

We all weather storms of various kinds and with varying degrees of severity. Some are visible and create tangible damage; others are hidden and create emotional chaos.

Regardless, this experience has reinforced that finding time to practice daily (before an emergency strikes) not only helps me to regulate my nervous system when obstacles do arise, it also reminds me of the importance to be compassionate toward others--to be aware of the suffering of others—to offer empathy and aid whenever possible—and to be grateful for this precious life.

 I hope you are happy and well—and staying cool in this blistering summer heat. If you haven’t viewed the current collection of malas and quarter malas in a while, I invite you to click the Middle Moon Malas link here to see what’s new or what might speak to you in order to support and inspire your own practice.

  * Here's the link to "The Heart Sutra" video that I listened to many, many times until I finally memorized it. Vidhya Rao has a lovely voice, and listening to it may benefit your practice, too. 

 Photo credit: Egor Yakushkin courtesy of Unsplash

How to Use a Mala: Step by Step Instructions for Daily Mantra Practice June 27, 2022 18:06

full view of orange jasper mala with silk green tassel and carved wooden guru.

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

I was recently at a Summer Solstice event in downtown Indianapolis, Monumental Yoga. I've been a vendor at this annual event for several years now, and in chatting with folks who stopped by our booth, I took the time to explain how to use a mala.

I'm always surprised at the number of yoga peeps who have malas--and wear them regularly--but who don't know how to use them. To me, it's like wearing an immersion blender around your neck--you have this amazing tool designed to transform and change aspects of your life--but you don't use it as it's intended. 

Over the years, I would occasionally post short videos on Facebook or Instagram demonstrating how to use a mala, but I think it would be helpful to devote a blog post to this process as well.

My hope is that those who have purchased Middle Moon Malas over the years, and who will purchase them, will actually use them as they were intended.

The steps are simple and very straightforward, but a little review information might be relevant here.

A full mala includes 108 beads plus a guru bead and a tassel.

There are 108 reasons why the number 108 is significant--however, my favorite reason is that the number 108 is known as a "harshad" number. Harshad means "bringer of joy" or "happiness" in Sanskrit. A harshad number is a number that is divisible by the sum of its digits. For example, 1+0+8 = 9. 108 divided by 9 = 12. Consequently, the number is like a circuit--it comes around full circle--just like a mala.

orange jasper mala. 108 beads plus carved wooden guru and silk green tassel

I like to create knotted malas. The knots showcase more of the beads, and they also protect the beads from cracking and breaking due to friction. The knots represent the obstacles in life, and the beads represent the beautiful aspects of life--and we need a balance of both in order to have a full, meaningful life.

close up view of orange jasper beads with silk green knots between to showcase and protect beads

The guru bead (teacher in Sanskrit) or meru bead (mountain in Sanskrit) is the  109th bead and the focal bead in a mala design. It represents the master teacher, and deserves respect. The tassel represents one's connection to Source, and to each other. It is an important symbol of interconnection. 

close up view of carved wooden guru and silk green tassel

The Steps: 

1. Hold your mala in your right hand. When making your way around the mala, be sure to use your right thumb and middle finger, or your right thumb and ring finger. Avoid using the index finger as it is connected to judgement and ego (we tend to point with this finger), and we want to keep the ego out of our practice.

use right thumb and middle finger to gently press each bead in mala

2. Begin with the bead that is closest to the guru bead and to the right of the guru bead. As you hold onto this bead with your right thumb and middle or ring finger, think, say, whisper, sing, or chant the mantra of your choice.

I am a big, big fan of agency--so, choose a mantra that works best for you. It can be a classic Sanskrit mantra, such as Om Shanti Om. It can be the very famous Tibetan mantra, Om Mani Padme Hum. It can also be an affirmation, phrase, single word, or prayer. It's YOUR practice. Choose a mantra that is meaningful for you.

3. Make your way around the mala, one bead at a time, infusing each bead with the energy of the mantra that you have selected. Remember, each bead receives the full mantra--not individual syllables or part of the mantra. Take your time, be present, and enjoy the journey.

use the right thumb and middle or ring fingers to make your way around the mala.

 Note: If you select a really short mantra, and you decide once you've made your way around the circuit, you want to go around again, that's fine. Just be sure not to cross over the teacher bead or guru bead. Remember, the guru bead deserves respect, and you don't want to cross your teacher. Instead, go back the way you came, which requires a simple turn of the hand.

You decide how many circuits to complete. If you're working with a longer mantra, one trip around may be enough. But, it's your practice. You can make your way around the mala as many times as you like. Just be sure not to cross over the teacher bead.

Finally, if you're new to this practice, I highly recommend that you explore and stick with one mantra for at least 40 days. Take time to practice every day, for forty days, with one mantra. Maybe keep a little notebook handy to write down your thoughts and observations after each session, or at the end of each day--just a few quick notes. Then, at the end of the 40 days, take a few minutes to reflect over your observations and note the changes that occurred.

write observations in a small notebook after you practice

Personally, when I first started my daily mantra practice, I worked with a different mantra every 40 days for a year and a half. Keeping a small notebook for these 40-day cycles was extremely helpful for me. Then, when I found a mantra that I wanted to work with for a longer period of time (for example, I worked with the long Gayatri mantra every day for four years), this initial practice with shorter mantras for short periods of time proved to be extremely helpful. It also motivated me to keep working with the longer mantra over a longer period of time.

I hope this blog post is useful for those of you who may be beginning a daily practice, but also for those who are experienced practitioners.

 If you're wondering about what mantras to use, these sources were extremely helpful for me:

Ashley-Farrand, Thomas. Healing Mantras: Using Sound Affirmations for Personal Power, Creativity, and Healing. New York: Ballantine Wellspring, 1999. Print.

Kaivalya, Alana. Sacred Sound: Discovering the Myth and Meaning of Mantra and Kirtan. Novato: New World Library, 2014. Print.

 I hope you continue to learn and grow from your own personal daily mantra practice. Please consider purchasing a Middle Moon Malas design to enhance your practice. I create one-of-a-kind mala designs, so the collection is always changing, evolving, and expanding. Click HERE to view the current collection. 



Rest, Relax, and Abide: Finding Confidence and Courage on Retreat September 20, 2019 16:50

I'm not big on traveling. I like to travel occasionally, but I really have to be motivated, especially if it's a solo adventure. Crowded airports are stressful for me, and I'm not the greatest with directions, so I get turned around and lost very easily. 

Recently, I had an opportunity to attend a retreat and hear Her Eminence Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche teach at her Lotus Garden Retreat Center in Stanley, VA. I listen to her teachings and interviews online, and I have read her book, This Precious Life, so when I heard about this retreat, I was really motivated to go and hear her teach in person. The first step in dealing with any plan, obstacle, or challenge, is generating and maintaining the right motivation. Check!

Since the closest airport to Lotus Garden was two hours away, I decided the best option was to drive. I've taken shorter trips by myself before, but this was a ten-hour trip spanning four states. Needless to say, this was a big leap for me, and one well beyond my comfort zone.

After printing out directions, checking with my insurance to make sure I had roadside assistance, packing up the car, setting the GPS on my phone, I was ready to go. I even had a conversation with my teacher, Geshe Kunga, to let him know I was leaving. He was kind enough to give me an amulet to keep with me on my trip, instructed me to chant the Green Tara mantra, and said he would offer prayers of protection as well. Preparation and much-needed Support! Check and Check!

I chanted mantra the entire time I was on the road headed to Mindrolling Lotus Garden Retreat Center. Alternating between the 100-syllable Vajrasattva and the Green Tara mantra, I recited, in part, to help me stay focused, but more importantly, to manage my anxieties and fears of getting lost (which is ridiculously easy for me), breaking down, or getting run off the road by a runaway semi.

Chanting mantra helped me stay grounded, rooted in the present moment, and it added a welcome element of familiarity to a long journey full of change and unfamiliar landscapes. In short, mantra practice brought me safely to Lotus Garden.

It also served me throughout the retreat as well--from daily morning and evening prayers in the shrine room with the other retreatants to personal practice time in between teachings. I thoroughly enjoyed chanting quietly as I walked around the large lotus pond and along threadline paths that had gorgeous views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

As the week progressed, I could sense my own confidence level increasing, as well as my ability to simply rest and be in the moment. One of my favorite meditation sessions was outdoors. Each retreatant (150 in all) was given a small tent to pitch along the grounds. Once our tents were ready, we were given a sack dinner, a chair, and instructions to meditate for three hours. The instructions were as follows: to simply relax, abide, and allow for the duration of the session.

Our session began in the late afternoon and ended in early evening. I pushed the chair out of my tent and lay on the ground in constructive rest pose. A somatic meditation approach was exactly what I needed to remain grounded and aware of everything shifting around me: 

patterns of light and shadow on the mountains

clouds drifting, gathering, and dispersing

a large spider busily spinning a web at the apex of of my tent

bird song shifting to chirping crickets

daylight easing into darkness

intermittent sneezes, coughs, the rustling of sandwich wrappers

and eventually, the sound of tent zippers, shoes on stiff grass and gravel as we made our way back to our rooms by flashlight

Over the course of the week, I noticed that my confidence and courage had increased dramatically, and my tendency to worry had diminished. Rinpoche's teachings surpassed my expectations. She was incredibly detailed, clear, and insightful. I enjoyed connecting with other practitioners as well. Even though the Mindrolling lineage was new to me, we had more commonalities than differences. I also enjoyed being able to take the time to improve my own practice in a fresh, unfamiliar environment.

I enjoyed my stay, and by the end of the week, I was eager to make my way home. Cell phone service was very spotty in this isolated area, so I had to rely on my printed instructions to lead me back to the highway. Ordinarily, this would be a cause for major concern, but I had the motivation, confidence, curiosity, and courage to find my way without worry or unnecessary anxiety (and I didn't get lost).

I also enjoyed the trip home, more confident in my independence and in my ability to navigate change: to rest--to relax--and to abide in this journey, and in all future adventures to come.


Knowing When It's Time to Move on... November 23, 2018 17:46

Sometimes, when you let go of something, you make room for something even better to come into your life. Giving yourself time to start small and practice a new skill set, paying attention to clues along the way as you continue to practice, and honoring clear patterns and synchronicities can help you determine the right course of action in whatever you do.