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!
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.
Planting Seeds of Change: Pandemic Haiku Part Two June 9, 2020 11:47
(If you prefer to listen to this blog post, click here)
I wasn't sure if I wanted to include additional poems in this month's blog post or not, but when I read through the haiku from this past month, I observed some significant shifts and patterns that were quite different from the previous poems.
Needless to say, this month has been challenging for many reasons. COVID-19 has not yet released its grip around the world, and, on top of that, here in the U.S., we are grappling with the collective grief, rage, and pain of racism, police brutality, and economic hardship.
It's been a difficult month for many, and while I have been staying put at home, for the most part, I have also been deeply aware and connected to the concerns of others. These concerns have drifted to the surface of awareness through this daily haiku practice.
* Connection with Nature
For centuries, haiku have connected to and referenced the natural world. While I wrote a few poems in the previous month that alluded to nature, wildlife, and the environment, the haiku this month seemed to slip deeper. They moved beyond mere observation to create a more direct, organic connection to the natural world.
Our eyes met briefly
as you trotted through the yard.
Wild. Searing. Amber.
Komorebi * (5.11.2020)
Shadows of oak leaves
dance on white walls. Light and dark
play until dinner.
(* Japanese term: play of sunlight through leaves)
Dwarf Rhododendrons (5.19.2020)
Tender white petals
expand, hold time and stillness
close in drops of rain.
Sunday Afternoon (5.24.2020)
Even in full sun,
this room is cloaked in green leaves.
Oak, Ash, Hickory.
*Uprising of Grief
In the weeks leading up to Memorial Day, I noticed a palpable tension that gradually intensified. It was a subtle shift, slowly rising to the surface. I went through periods of grief--intense sadness for no obvious reason. Then, reasons began to emerge--a former student of mine was murdered; then, George Floyd was murdered, and racism, injustice, corruption, and brutality were justifiably called out into the open. The daily protests continue even now; voices rise up, screaming for change. An ancient wound has been acknowledged at last, and accountability has been demanded.
Space between Stimulus and Response (5.3.2020)
Fine line between left and right.
Not this…Not that…Here.
As If the Virus Wasn’t Enough (5.5.2020)
Toxic stings, hot nails
in flesh. Murder hornets rip
honeybees to shreds.
Remembering Tori (5.13.2020)
Red hair and freckles,
giggling with best friend in hall.
Restless. Kind. Spunky.
Her body shakes; claws
dig into chair cushion. Raw
struggle for control.
A knee to the neck
for nine minutes. Cries for help
ignored. “I can’t breathe.”
*Call to Practice
The third pattern that has emerged is a distinct call to practice. I've stayed up late several times this month to watch H.H. Dalai Lama give live stream teachings and transmissions from India. A friend and Dharma teacher is currently living in Israel right now. She's been hosting weekly meditations and talks on Zoom. I've awakened at 4:00 a.m. on several occasions to join them. Saga Dawa, one of the most significant Buddhist holidays, is currently happening this month. It celebrates the birth, death, and parinirvana of Shakyamuni Buddha.
I've spent more time on my cushion in quiet contemplation, or in meditative movement practice as a way of processing this undeniable collective grief and anger. I came across a Thich Nhat Hanh quotation recently that resonated: "Meditation is not evasion. It is a serene encounter with reality."
These poems have been attempts to acknowledge and come to terms with this difficult reality as well.
Golden light spirals
from the center of the spine.
May you be happy.
Paint each vertebra
with an exhale. Spinal curves
and breath undulate.
Precious Garland: Day One (5.15.2020)
Gold robes, orchids, silk.
He speaks of love, compassion
between sips of tea.
Inhale: Pain. Exhale:
Joy. Inhale: Black Smoke. Exhale:
Gold Light. Receive…Give…
May all of you reading or listening to these words be happy and well. May you be free of suffering, and may you find joy.
I have added several new designs to the Middle Moon Malas online shop, so if you haven't visited in a while, feel free to browse the collection at middlemoonmalas.com.
Take care, everyone!
Pandemic Haiku: Finding Hope and Healing in Seventeen Syllables May 1, 2020 14:09
(If you prefer to listen to this blog post, click here)
We're all coping with this strange new normal as best as we can. I've certainly done a fair amount of yard work (for me, that means picking up fallen limbs and branches and throwing them onto the burn pile), stress cleaning, organizing, and experimenting with new recipes as a way of managing my own concerns and worries.
However, I've also found another effective coping mechanism for dealing with the uncertainties of lockdown lifestyle: writing daily haiku.
5...7...5: Three lines, seventeen syllables! It's the perfect form for staying present and honing in on a specific event or moment.
Since the middle of March, I've spent a few minutes every evening focusing on a specific image, memory, or happening from the day and attempted to capture the essence of that moment.
It started as a lark, really--a way to lighten the mood, and decompress from the onslaught of depressing news coverage, but after 40+ days of documenting my experiences in bite-sized poetry, I've discovered a few surprises.
Surprise #1 These poems have become important reminders that spiritual practices are not limited to the cushion. Actually, they are extensions of meditation, contemplation, and study. In a way, they are nuggets of attention, intention, and practical wisdom.
Full Pink Moon (4.7.2020)
Blushing in the dark,
she shimmers, while peeper frogs
cheer from deep ravines.
Imagine Leaving an Imprint (4.16.2020)
in warm sand, uncooked
pastry dough. Skull. Ribs. Pelvis.
Vajrasattva Recitations at the Laundromat (4.30.2020)
Linens tumble dry.
Quarters, green numbers mark time.
Fluff. Fold. Purify.
Surprise #2 Much like an archaeologist digging for ancient artifacts in the sand, these poems are clues to what matters...what really matters right now (family, humor, nourishment, safety, nature).
Vegetable Soup (4.3.2020)
Slow-cooked leeks, carrots,
potatoes fill the house with
the scent of normal.
Sock Monkey Bandana (4.10.2020)
Wore it as a mask
on a Target run. You thought
it was underwear.
Terrier Vs. Dandelions (4.27.2020)
She runs through tall grass
snatching heads of suns and moons
between sharp, fierce teeth.
Surprise #3 Finally, these poems are evidence of connection and interconnection. They are reminders of the importance of compassion for others, gratitude, and thoughtful reflection.
Bright Spot (3.18.2020)
She waited in line
at Fresh Thyme, cradling yellow
tulips like a child.
Online Zoom Class (3.19.2020)
rise, flow, soar, sway, transcend space
from small square boxes.
Miumiu and Paulo: “Fly Me to the Moon” (3.26.2020)
Two guitars, one voice.
China and Nashville share a
masterclass in grace.
Storms and wind brought them:
body twitching, head thumping
hard against wood floor.
The Early Bird Gets the Clorox Wipes (4.17.2020)
Noon brings empty shelves:
vinegar, lemons, vodka—
Sleeping in has perks.
To date, I have written 40+ pandemic haiku. I don't know how long this sadhana practice will continue, but as with every meaningful practice, motivation and intention are much more important than rushing to completion. Taking a break from frenetic busyness has many blessings and benefits. This haiku project, for me, has helped to recognize and appreciate them.
To view the mala collection, click here to access the Middle Moon Malas online shop.
Jr. High Orchestra Saved My Life...and Inspired Me to Practice December 4, 2019 17:42
I happened to catch a film that I had seen bits and pieces of years ago. Hilary and Jackie focused on the relationship between Jacqueline Du Pré, who was an extremely talented and famous cellist, and her sister Hilary, who played the flute for a time.
Both were sisters, both were involved with music, and both supported each other in times of need.
Jackie was a prodigy and became a professional musician at a very young age. Unfortunately, her music career lasted only a short ten years before she was diagnosed with MS. She battled this devastating illness for 14 years before she died at the age of 42.
It was painful and heart-wrenching to watch her transform from a musical genius to a helpless invalid on film--but just as tender and heart-warming to see her sister nurture and support her.
Recently, I had an opportunity to present meditation and wellness practices to groups of educators at a local high school as part of their township's Professional Development Day. I was assigned to lead sessions in a 9th grade orchestra classroom. The acoustics were great, and the tiered levels of seats in a horseshoe pattern were ideal for these sessions.
While I was setting up for the first meeting, I noticed a chair and a framed photo mounted on the far wall of the room. When I walked over to check it out, I discovered that it was a tribute to a student who had passed away the previous year. Her name was Alex. She was smiling in the photo, caught in a slanting ray of sunlight. The chair had been hers in class, and her classmates had written warm, tender messages on the seat and backrest in silver Sharpie. This tribute was beautiful, moving...and devastating.
This was the third consecutive year that I had been invited to present stress-reducing breathing techniques, meditation, and movement strategies to overworked, exhausted educators. This was also the third year that I'd presented in this 9th grade orchestra room, which I appreciated. This room is calming, open, warm, and safe--it's also far away from the other sessions that take place at the nearby high school.
Being in this room reminded me of orchestra class at Stonybrook Jr. High. These were definitely not the Wonder Years for me growing up--far from it. At that time I was living in a tumultuous home environment. I was teased and bullied virtually every day at the bus stop, on the bus, and in the halls at school. The only place where I felt safe at this time in my life was in orchestra class. No one made fun of me there. I liked the teacher, and I liked playing the violin. Playing music with other students made me feel like I mattered...that I had something to contribute...that I was valued and appreciated. I belonged. Orchestra for me was an oasis from daily battles and struggles. I was safe there and part of a community.
Being able to offer simple, practical techniques to help teachers nurture and take care of themselves in this setting has been a pleasure for me. I look forward to these annual sessions, and I appreciate being invited back. It made me feel good to know that these sessions fill up, and fill up quickly. This year, we started with a breath practice similar to nadi shodhana, progressed to a somatic relaxation practice for the eyes. We did a little sounding--chanting the vowels--to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, a Feldenkrais-inspired shoulder exercise, followed by a body scan and a loving-kindness meditation.
Thankfully, I no longer live in a tumultuous home environment. I am no longer harassed and bullied on the daily at school now. I have found safety in my own personal meditation, japa, and movement practices, and I look forward to visiting this orchestra classroom every year. It's a safe place where teachers gather--it's an oasis from the demands of teaching, even for just a day. It's a place of connection and interconnection, shared joys, hard work, and sometimes sorrow. It's a place of support...where people uplift and hold space for each other...it's a place to practice...and a place to grow.
Interested in growing in your own meditation practice? Check out the one-of-a-kind, hand-knotted malas in the Middle Moon Malas online collection (middlemoonmalas.com).
Personal and Public Practice: Striking a Balance June 14, 2019 12:27
I love my personal practices (meditation, mantra recitations, somatic movement), but I also enjoy sharing a common space with other practitioners, too.
Whether you're an introvert or an extrovert, ideally, a healthy spiritual practice requires a blend of both private and group settings in order to foster personal growth and social connections.
Benefits of Personal Practice
Privacy and Agency:
I begin each morning with a sadhana practice that my teacher gave to me. I sit in bed in my jammies while my dog and cat sleep on either side of me, and I recite, chant, and visualize the practice in the privacy of my own home.
If I'm at school, and I have a few minutes between student tutoring sessions, I'll walk around the track and chant mantra. Adding movement to a japa practice with a little fresh air and sunshine is a great way to boost my energy and stay focused and sharp for my students.
I also like to chant if I'm in the car alone on a long commute. It helps me to stay focused while I'm driving, and it's also a great way to ward off stress and anxiety during rush hour.
In the evenings, I sit on a cushion near my altar space to meditate. I'll light a candle or a stick of incense and practice for an hour. If I'm tired, sometimes I'll practice lying down on the floor. I have options--and I've learned the importance of being gentle with myself and taking care of myself as I practice.
Recently, I've discovered some wonderful Feldenkrais lessons online. I love ending each day with a movement lesson. I'm on a circular green mat in my living room. The lights are dim--the TV is on mute, if it's on at all, and it's just me, myself, and the movement practice.
Having the space and time to deepen and explore my own practices on my own terms and in my own way is nourishing and delicious to my spirit. I absolutely need the privacy and the time to practice every day in order to function properly.
Benefits of Public Practice
Connection and Support:
There's something really beautiful about sharing the practice and the space with other meditators or movers, too, however. In the last year, I have attended three, week-long retreats at a meditation center in Colorado. Meditating in a large group is very different from a session in the home space. Not only are you sharing a common physical space, and typically you're sitting very close to one another, but you're also holding space for each other in a communal practice setting. In this environment, you pick up on the subtle energies of the location and on the other practitioners around you.
The last time I was in Crestone, I kept getting images of eyes--close-up, huge, luminous eyes--of horses, of people, of cartoonish animated characters--big eyes everywhere! I'm not sure whose energy I was tapping into, but I was accessing unusual images and cultivating opportunities to sit with these differences in a non-judgmental way. It was interesting...and challenging.
Practicing in a group also lends itself to learning new ideas and strategies, too. I saw so many creative prop arrangements for seated meditation when I shared the space with 100 other meditators.
I recently started attending somatic movement classes. It's been nearly two years since I practiced in a group setting. I used to practice and teach yoga at a local studio, but I've since become a "reformed yogi" and prefer Feldenkrais lessons and other alternative movement modalities. I've missed the camraderie and friendship that practicing in a group environment can bring, and I'm so glad that I've found a local somatic group that I can practice with and feel safe. They are warm-hearted, friendly, and accepting. Having the courage to step out into a group space again has been a little unsettling, but it's important to nudge yourself beyond the boundaries of your comfort zone every once in a while.
Practicing with a group is great, if the group dynamics are supportive and healthy. It took me some time to heal and deepen my own personal practices before I was ready to join another group, but I'm really glad I did. That supportive connection with others is so important.
The closest I've come to chanting in a group setting is when I've attended an occasional kirtan event. Chanting and singing Sanskrit mantra with musicians in a group setting is a blast! It's an uplifting way to connect with others and clear away the energetic cobwebs. No one leaves a kirtan event depressed or angry.
I've also attended pujas and ceremonies at TMBCC in Bloomington where Tibetan monks have chanted prayers, sometimes for hours at a time. The energy of the temple is transformed when a group of a dozen or so monks are chanting. It is an energetically moving and powerful experience.
Introverts will gravitate to their own personal practices, and extroverts will undoubtedly be drawn to the public ones, but it's important for everyone to engage in both personal and public practices in order to benefit themselves and share these rewards with others.
For more information, or to view the online mala collection, visit www.middlemoonmalas.com.
Knowing When It's Time to Move on... November 23, 2018 17:46Sometimes, 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.
Procrastination and Meditation: A Call to Action March 2, 2018 11:46
It's been a challenging week at school; it always is when major essays are due. Even though I remind my students to come to their tutoring sessions prepared with completed drafts well in advance of the due date, and they nod their heads in understanding, and they assure me that they will arrive to their sessions prepared; alas, they rarely do.
Instead, they wander into my office with their computers open, wondering what their thesis statements are, or they've written several pages without citing a single source, or worse, without having read any of their sources yet. When their essays are due within hours, or the next day, but their drafts are train wrecks that cannot possibly be salvaged in a twenty-minute session, it creates tension and pressure, both for me and my students. This is the unfortunate end result of procrastination.
Procrastination is an insidious, time-wasting diversion. Partly rooted in motivation, or a lack of motivation, partly linked with priorities, or mismanaged ones, procrastination is an expression of laziness and attachment. We're all guilty of it. I put off scheduling doctor's appointments; my attic is filled with miscellany that I should have cleaned out, sorted through, or donated a long time ago; I still need to call the car dealership and arrange to drop off my vehicle for a necessary recall--something about the gas tank and the risk of explosion ( I received a notice months ago).
I get it! We prefer short-term pleasure to the hard work or inconvenience of reality. We are attached to the avoidant coping response of procrastination to dealing with the negative emotions associated with the task.
This is where a meditation practice comes in handy. The practice cultivates awareness of the present moment. This awareness allows us to recognize when we are averse, freaked out, or bored out of our minds about an impending task. Ultimately, this awareness can signal the need to inhibit our habit of procrastinating. If we are aware of our emotions, we can then exert control, stay focused, and take action.
I keep a small quarter mala in my desk drawer at school. There are 27 beads on a quarter mala, so it takes less time to chant a circuit of recitations in between student sessions. I happened upon a lovely mantra recited by Pema Khandro Rinpoche, and I chanted it between student sessions, not only for my benefit, but for theirs as well:
Sentient beings are numberless, I train in order to free them.
Delusions are inexhaustible, I train in order to transform them.
Reality is boundless, I train in order to realize it.
The awakened way is unsurpassable, I train in order to embody it.
This helped me remain focused and patient with my panicked students.
Mindfulness is a fundamental step and an important part of the solution. Action, however, is essential to avoiding the pitfalls of procrastination.
Several of my students recognized the benefits of coming to their sessions prepared after the fact, but they remained optimistic: "I have a government paper due in a couple of weeks--I'll bring my rough draft to our next session."
Yesterday, I finally went to a lab to have a routine screening that my doctor had ordered. I didn't have to wait long, and the lab tech had a great sense of humor. I left feeling good that I did something to benefit my health, and I'll call the car dealership as soon as I finish this blog so I don't have to worry about my car exploding on my way to work on Monday.
Beauty...Beads...Breath: Practical Alternatives to a Chanting Practice October 5, 2017 19:43
I have a friend who loves malas, and she's purchased several Middle Moon Malas and requested various custom designs; however, she's not big on chanting. She recently asked me if chanting mantras was required. She was concerned that she was misusing her malas by not incorporating a japa or chanting practice. My response--absolutely not, and I offered her the following simple alternatives.
* Setting an Intention
Setting an intention or offering a dedication at the start of a yoga class can add even more meaning and significance to the practice. Similarly, setting an intention before donning a mala can be a powerful part of a yoga or meditation practice. It can serve as a meaningful reminder throughout the day, and it can help bring your meditation or mindfulness practice from the cushion or mat into your daily life.
Let's say you set an intention to be more present, more focused on the here and now. Each time you catch a glimpse of the beads around your neck or resting on the corner of your mat, each time you feel the beads against your skin or feel the weight of the mala as it shifts and moves across your body, as you shift and move throughout your day, these all serve as reminders of your intention. Be here. Be present. Be aware of this moment.
My intention with Middle Moon Malas has always been to create designs that are both functional and beautiful. Many of my customers tell me that they frequently receive compliments on their unique designs. Each compliment, each inquiry can also be reminders--be present--be here--be in this moment. No chanting necessary.
*Working with Breath
Another alternative to chanting is to incorporate a breath practice. Variety is important and valuable to just about anything in life. Just as practicing the same physical poses over and over can lead to repetitive stress and injury, mindlessly chanting the same mantra can lead to boredom and lack of focus.
There are no benefits to simply repeating or chanting a mantra--sharp focus and clarity of mind are essential to any meditation practice. Sometimes it's good to shake things up and add something different to the practice.
While I do have a daily recitation practice, sometimes I'll sit with my mala and let the breath be my focus. My right hand thumb and second finger on the first bead next to the guru, I take a long, slow inhalation. At the peak of the inhale, my fingers slide to the second bead, and I release a long, slow exhalation. One inhale, one exhale at a time, shifting to the next bead during the pauses between breaths. Again, no mantra, no chanting required. The breath becomes the focal point--the beads become tactile and visual reminders to remain present. Each sustains the other--to remain present--to breathe--and to be.
As with any practice, it's important to do what resonates with you. If chanting works for you, great! If not, great! You have options and choices. The important point is to cultivate a meaningful practice that is beneficial to you and that works for you.
One, Two, Three: Counter Beads and the Purposes They Serve September 6, 2017 18:20
What are counter beads, and why do some malas have them? A standard mala contains 108 beads; however, some malas include counter beads as well. These beads aren’t randomly placed extras. A japa practice is similar to a road trip, and counter beads can play an important part along the path of this mindful, meditative journey.
One of the primary purposes of counter beads is they act as rest stops or pause points in a meditation practice. Just like the brief pause at the peak of an inhalation, and the suspension at the base of an exhalation, counter beads can act as natural pauses in the recitation practice. They give practitioners a moment to hold space and take stock of the quality of the practice in that moment. The point of a japa practice isn’t simply to barrel through 108 recitations of a mantra. It’s not a race, and there isn’t a trophy waiting for us at the end of the finish line. A mantra practice is about training the mind; it’s about aligning and elevating our energetic frequencies so that we can become our best selves, and experience a sense of connection and interconnection with others and our world. There needs to be a balance between effort and rest, so in our practice, when our inner world is calling, counter beads remind us, “Please hold.”
Another important purpose that counter beads offer is they act as mindfulness markers in the practice. Much like street signs or mile markers on a highway, counter beads remind us to stay present, focused, and alert in our practice. They encourage us to drive safely and to stay on course as we navigate the circuit of our mala. They help prevent our minds from wandering away from our intentions, and they prevent us from getting caught up in a tangle of mental chatter. Counters help to gauge both time and distance in our practice, and they can ease the restless monkey mind when it asks, repeatedly, “Are we there, yet?”
Finally, counter beads can add a little bling, shimmer, and character to the mala and to the meditative journey. Much like fuzzy dice, a bumper sticker, or fancy detailing on a car, jazzy counter beads add a little bit of extra sparkle to help bring balance to the design of a mala. As a designer, I like to add counter beads that are different sizes, shapes, colors, or textures to break up the pattern of the design. Sometimes, it’s just a single counter bead after the 54th bead, or midpoint. Some malas include counters after bead #27 and #81, marking the first quarter and the last quarter of the design. For other pieces, I incorporate three counters, dividing the mala into four equal segments. Counters can be aesthetically pleasing to the eye or to the touch, offering visual or tactile interest to a design, which, as an added bonus, can inspire a meditator to practice, or simply make the journey more personalized, pleasing, or fun.
Whether you prefer a mala that includes counter beads or not, a japa practice is a meaningful journey, and having a mala that motivates you to practice and that reflects your intentions will help you grow and enjoy the ride.
Finding Perspective in Your Practice: Dealing with Distractions August 1, 2017 14:33
What’s right in front of you matters. This moment matters. Navigating now seems simple in theory, but in practice…distractions can compete for your attention and hijack your intentions. They can dominate your view and force you to take unexpected detours and delays.
Last month, I took a personal retreat and spent a few days nestled in a small, circular cabin in the woods. My intention was to use this time to practice yoga, meditate, read, write, and simply enjoy being mindful and present.
On the first day of my retreat, I noticed a small spider that had created a web on the railing of the deck. Stretching to a cluster of branches in a nearby tree, this web was a perfect circle, and the spider sat in the center, patiently waiting for her lunch to arrive. She was beautiful. Her pale green body shimmered in the sun, and each leg curved like a tiny arch. I wanted to capture this moment, this now, by taking a photo.
Over the next three days, I attempted many times to snap a close-up photograph of this lovely, eight-legged architect. I had a small tourist camera—nothing fancy or expensive, but it had a decent zoom capacity. Unfortunately, it didn’t recognize the spider as the focal point of the shot, so it would zoom in on a nearby cluster of leaves or the trunk of a tree that was behind her instead. I struggled to capture the image that was right in front of me—the image that mattered most was elusive—the lens of my camera couldn’t recognize it as meaningful like my eyes (and mind) did.
I changed position, experimented with different angles, moved furniture around…no luck. In the meantime, I practiced yoga, meditated, read, wrote, hiked, and simply savored just being in each moment. Morning eased into evening. Sunlight shifted, moved, and disappeared through branches as the days progressed.
Meditation can be like this, too. Your intentions are good—you want to practice—you want to sit and focus on mantra recitations—but the phone rings, a siren sounds in the distance, a random memory or thought surfaces and will not let go. Distractions are a part of navigating now. Ignoring them, or growing impatient with them rarely helps.
Acknowledging them, however, is essential. It’s part of the practice. The phone is ringing…that’s an ambulance…this is a thought…that is a memory from the past. Taking a moment to breathe, briefly acknowledge what surfaces, and then offer a little time and space for these distractions to move, shift, and pass will help in navigating the detours.
Be gentle, and give yourself permission to continue your practice—to pick up where you left off—without berating or judging yourself for succumbing to yet another distraction. Be kind, mindful, and consistent with your practice. Eventually, the benefits will unfold and appear.
On the last afternoon of my retreat, I had returned from an hour-long hike in the woods. The sun was at just the right angle on the deck, creating enough shadow for me to zoom in and capture a close-up shot of the spider and her web. As an added, unexpected bonus, tiny orbs of dappled sunlight appeared to be caught, glistening and suspended in her web. Patience and consistency, these are the jewels of any practice.
The Benefits of Keeping a Spiritual Journal June 3, 2017 15:17
Over the years, I’ve kept various types of journals and logs. For the past three years, I’ve been keeping track of my japa practice in small, portable notebooks.
Though I’ve been pretty diligent about writing in these logs, I am horrible about taking the time to read over the entries (they’re more like lists, really) to reflect on what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown as a practitioner. Being in the present moment and recording the present moment is one thing—but taking the time to look over a year of present moments to note tendencies and patterns is a really daunting task. Honestly, I thought I might be bored out of my mind—many of my daily observations are really mundane and repetitious, but I did manage to find a few nuggets of wisdom among the pages.
*THE REPETITIOUS AND MUNDANE ARE EVIDENCE OF DEDICATION
8.12.16 “Chanted with the Olympics on mute.”
12.26.16 “Practiced yoga for over an hour to tango music in the living room.”
1.4.17 “Chanted before Yin—then watched Portlandia after class.”
Countless entries made reference to the practice—the yoga practice—the chanting practice—the meditation practice. Regardless of the day, the time, the location, or the circumstances, the practice was the hub, and the driving force of these entries. Practice requires commitment and dedication, and these entries, while repetitive, were solid proof of this resolve. Taking the time to reread them has bolstered my desire to continue all of these practices, including the writing practice.
*CELEBRATE JOYFUL MOMENTS (BIG AND SMALL)
10.1.16 “Jim and I attended a wedding (apprentice from the shop). The groomsmen had superhero action figures in their shirt pockets.”
10.15.16 “Took a photo of the full Hunter’s Moon as Hugo kept me company out in the yard.”
11.21.16 “Prajnaparamita arrived today. She’s beautiful.”
1.20.17 “Received a handmade card from a nun I’m sponsoring in India. Venerable Tsundue Palmo. She’s 12.”
There were several unexpected surprises hidden among the ordinary entries. Some of these nuggets of joy I had forgotten about; others, I remembered vividly. Reading these entries was a lot like looking over photos in an old album. The brief notations and descriptions were like faded photographs, but they were clear enough to trigger these pleasant memories so that I could enjoy them again.
* DISAPPOINTMENTS AND TRAGEDIES ARE OPPORTUNITIES FOR GROWTH
1.23.17 “This lifetime is like a flash of lightning. Be hard on your delusions, not on yourself.”
2.10.17 “Went to Mike’s funeral. Jim did such a fabulous job. He spoke at the service—honest, sincere, tearful, funny. So proud of him. What a sendoff!”
4.3.17 “Hugo was really struggling this morning. Jim and I took him to the vet in the back of my car. Elise met us there. We said goodbye as a family.”
Just as there were many moments of joy—this year also brought challenging moments as well. Sadness, anger, despair, grief, and doubt were opportunities to implement the practice in order to heal and grow. This is where all of those mundane moments really paid off. I needed the help of all of the practices in order to allow and be, to sit patiently with these intense emotions until the storm surges settled. Taking time to remember and acknowledge these moments gave me an opportunity to appreciate what I have endured, and to value each fleeting present moment even more.
*TRUST… RIGHT PEOPLE, RIGHT PLACES, RIGHT TIMES
6.25.16 “Love and compassion are the keys to happiness, not money, power, and things.” HH Dalai Lama Lecture at State Fairgrounds
8.27.16 “Attended Teaching—Had lunch with sangha—watermelon slices with Geshe Kunga and Ten Pa. Stayed for afternoon prayers—Rinpoche blessed Josie’s mala—Green Tara—Heart Sutra—Lovely.”
11.2.16 “The Cubs haven’t won a World Series in 108 years. There are 108 laces on a baseball. Just strung the 108th bead on a Kumbaba Jasper mala—sending much love and light out to the Cubs.”
Every cell in my body resonates to the frequency of the belief that the right people and events will come into your life when they’re supposed to, and they’ll leave when they’re supposed to. I’m all about right place, right time, and this year was no exception. Whether it was listening to The Dalai Lama deliver a live lecture in Indianapolis, chatting with dear friends, working with students, discovering the right book, documentary, YouTube tutorial, or movie at just the right time, the best lessons and teachers have arrived at the perfect time and in the best way. I know that as long as I continue to practice—to sit, to chant, to breathe, to write, to step onto the mat, to be present…I will continue to learn, grow, and blossom, and, with a little luck, benefit others along the way.
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