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.
Hitting the Reset Button: Retreat and Recharge April 3, 2017 13:46
The only thing that matters is this breath. The only thing that matters is slicing this apple. The only thing that matters is this step. The only thing that matters is this blue heron taking flight over a pond.
I recently spent three days in a secluded cabin at the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington, Indiana, for a personal retreat. I needed a little time to unplug (literally and metaphorically) from the world and to reconnect with myself and my practice.
I stayed in a circular, yurt-inspired cabin. It had a small kitchen, a domed skylight , walls painted a soothing sea foam green, plenty of floor space for yoga practice, and a deck with a view of the woods.
During my stay, I made serenity a priority. I practiced yoga every morning before breakfast and every evening before going to bed. I wandered in the woods and grounds of the Center in between stints of light rain showers. I circumambulated the Kalachakra Stupa while chanting. I ate meals mindfully. I meditated on the deck. I strung beads on a mala. I chatted briefly with gray squirrels, attendants at the nearby gift shop (The Happy Yak), Geshe Kunga on his way to the temple, and an aging, but friendly pug named Norbu.
For three days, I paid close attention to sounds that I’m not accustomed to hearing—wind chimes, fluttering prayer flags, rain on the roof, squirrels skittering on the deck. I took time to enjoy food—to savor every bite—sliced oranges in a bowl, raspberry cheesecake, toast with Marionberry jam, Greek yogurt with spiced butternut squash and apricots. I watched the sunrise between the trees and the stars from the skylight.
No obligations or interruptions, no striving or planning, this retreat was all about allowing and being. My headaches (and hot flashes) subsided; my stress levels decreased dramatically. By releasing the usual day-to-day distractions, it allowed me to connect more deeply to myself and the environment.
I look forward to visiting TMBCC again for future retreats. In the meantime, I can choose to find stillness and serenity in this moment, regardless of where I am. I can choose to make my meditation/chanting practice a priority every day, beginning each day with recitations,instead of postponing it to the end of the day when I am mentally and physically fatigued. I can choose to unplug from the frenetic busyness of my day-to-day life for just a few minutes in order to reboot and recharge energetically.
The only thing that matters is this breath. The only thing that matters is this traffic light. The only thing that matters is this student who will deliver her speech in an hour. The only thing that matters is this sip of lukewarm chai tea.
One Breath, One Bead at a Time. July 4, 2016 16:04
The Zombie Apocalypse is real. For 25 years, I taught high school English. For many of those years, I felt trapped in a perpetual cycle of planning lessons, creating tests and essay assignments, grading papers, and attempting to manage and meet the academic needs of students crammed in over-crowded classrooms. I often felt confined by the clock and by the ever-present and perpetually-increasing demands that a data-driven system thrives on—the almighty standardized test scores.
I felt stressed—all the time—and I spent very little time in the present moment. This constant striving, doing, rushing, pushing, and grasping for the future or ruminating and worrying about the past kept me from meeting the needs of my students and taking care of myself. It also kept me out of the present moment, and it prevented me from enjoying my life. My students never really knew who I was—and neither did I.
For a quarter of a century, I was caught up in a trance, and yoga and meditation gradually helped me break the spell and encouraged me to find balance and purpose in my life.
My first experience with yoga and meditation occurred when I was a freshman at Butler. A guest speaker came to our Physical Education/Health class. My fellow classmates and I were crammed into a small classroom/storage room, and many of us giggled our way through the guided meditation followed by a brief asana practice in the gym. This was not an ideal environment to explore the benefits of meditation and yoga, and it certainly didn’t leave a lasting or accurate impression on me.
I revisited meditation when I was pregnant with my daughter in 1994, and in 2000, started regularly attending a yoga class at a local gym. Progress was glacially slow—but gradually, very gradually, I started to find a respite from the 10,000 distractions and thoughts that blocked my path, and I started to connect and reconnect with myself.
Stilling the constant mental chatter in meditation was a big challenge in the beginning—and still can be at times, even now. But with consistent practice, and, ideally, after an hour of asana practice, it’s much easier to climb inside the present moment. Memories, thoughts, and feelings still rise to the surface, but it’s easier now to briefly acknowledge them, allow them to drift away in order to make room for the spaces between thoughts.
Yoga, too, has helped. It has helped me focus on my breathing—and to bring my awareness out of the mind and into the body—even for just a little while. Yoga also allows me to sit more comfortably when I’m meditating—and to sit for longer periods of time.
In recent years, I have added a mantra practice with malas to enhance my meditation and yoga practice. Using a mala gives me a tactile anchor that keeps me rooted and grounded in the here and now. Each bead becomes a fresh focal point, a new beginning, ushering in a new moment. Each inhalation, each exhalation, each repetition of the mantra welcomes now, and now, and now.
Ultimately, my yoga and meditation practice has saved my life—it has helped me find balance and perspective, and it has prevented me from falling off the precipice of perpetual busyness and disappearing into the abyss of the living dead.
I’ve since retired from teaching full-time. I still tutor part-time, and working with students one-on-one allows me to give them my undivided attention—to be fully present. I also teach and practice yoga, and along with running a small business, I still remain very busy, but I am no longer a slave to busyness. I am living my life on my own terms, and I am living my life one moment at a time—one bead at a time.
Honoring Those Who Have Come before You June 1, 2016 08:00
My introduction to a meditation practice was not dramatic, by any means. My japa roots are humble ones; I fell into this practice by a combination of happenstance, intuition, and luck. I didn’t have a guru or a spiritual teacher to show me the way. My spiritual teachers were found mainly in books and Sounds True courses on cassette tapes (later CDs): Louise Hay, Alan Watts, Marianne Williamson, Eckhart Tolle, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Don Miguel Ruiz, Caroline Myss, and Carl Jung. Each book, each lecture was like an individual bead on a sutra—one following the other—each one connected and interconnected—leading me to exactly where I was meant to go…and be.
I started to meditate when I was pregnant with my daughter, Elise. At the time, I was naïve enough to think that meditation would help me transcend the pain of childbirth. I never dreamed that it would become a lifelong habit that would help me navigate the joys and challenges of life, and that it would become an absolute necessity for the demands of parenthood.
In the winter of 1994, I made weekly trips to a small home in Broad Ripple that had been converted into a meditation center. I remember our shoes lined up in neat rows by the door, the faint smell of jasmine incense, sunlight streaming through partially opened blinds, and that purple maternity Barneyesque sweat suit that I wore (It was the only thing comfortable enough for me to sit and meditate in). I was full of hope and purpose, and I was eager to welcome a new life as well as a new practice into my own life.
I persisted, sitting every evening in front of a small votive candle on the floor of my daughter’s freshly-painted nursery. After she was born, sitting in meditation became more sporadic, but it still happened—and life also happened. However, I found new teachers to lead the way—poets, this time: Li-Young Lee, Jane Hirschfield, Gary Snyder, Dorianne Laux, Ted Kooser, Rita Dove, Charles Simic, Rumi, Dōgen…
I bought my first mala before I knew what it was for—or how to use it. I knew they were sacred, like the rosaries I had seen my mother and grandmother use, and I knew that they were connected to meditation and spiritual practices, but that was all. I was drawn to the black specks on the creamy white bodhi seeds—a Moon and Stars Mala. It called to me, and I answered. For a long time, I kept it in my home office; it shared space on a table with a small candle and a statue of Kwan Yin. I liked the feel of the seeds between my fingers—and sometimes I wore it to school.
Eventually, all of the pieces of the puzzle came together with the help of many more teachers. This time, real-live human beings were coming into my life to enhance my practice, and I was very grateful for their arrival. I was able to link my meditation, yoga, and mantra practices together, integrating body, mind, and spirit.
What started as naïve curiosity had blossomed and deepened into a sincere, heart-driven practice and a desire to share this practice with others. I love creating and designing custom malas for others, never forgetting how my own practice began, and honoring the teachers (literary and real-life) who helped me along the way. My meditation practice started before I gave birth to my daughter, but what I didn’t realize is that, all along, this practice was helping me awaken, helping me realize my potential, and helping me serve others in a meaningful way.
Hello 2016: Setting Intentions for the New Year January 1, 2016 06:52
It's that time of year again--January 1--the start of a new year. The potential and hope of 2016 is wide open and waiting. All we have to do is realize that potential. Right? In theory, yes, but in practice, things can grow a little murky and uncertain.
This year, I have committed to sitting in meditation every day--even if it's for just five minutes; my intention is to establish a seated meditation practice. Chanting in my car on the way to work--piece of cake. Moving meditation--whether while walking or while practicing a slow yoga vinyasa, no problem. At some point during the day, I usually sit in a chair or on the couch and complete a round of chanting with a mala, but it's not necessarily in the same place--and it isn't necessarily quiet. I may hear the sound of the TV drifting in from another room, or my husband or daughter will enter whatever room I'm in to ask me a question, or the bell will ring during a passing period at school, and my practice will be accompanied by the sounds of teenagers shuffling and chatting in the hall.
This year, things are going to be different. I even invested in a lovely zafu and zabuton set (thanks to Dharma Crafts) as an additional incentive and spent over an hour cleaning the living room which had been taken over by various boxes, bags, and books from my daughter's college dorm room.
It's January 1. I've cleared the space. I've made the time. I have the house to myself. I have a lovely place to sit and meditate. What could possibly go wrong? As I settle onto my meditation cushion and begin to connect with the rhythm of my breath, Maya, our four-pound Yorkie, and Hugo, our 100-pound Bouvier, decide that now is a good time to chase each other around the house. Hugo is twelve-years old, so his hips are a little arthritic, and he's a bit clumsy now as he stomps around the house like Frankenstein's monster trying to keep up with two-year-old Maya.
This, in and of itself, isn't bad. I can deal with the occasional sounds of the trash can or chairs being bumped around in the kitchen. Even the fast-paced sounds of Maya running around like Speedy Gonzalez followed by Hugo's labored clomping are manageable. It's when they both stop running in the hallway--and it gets really quiet--I can't abide that. I know what's happening--Maya has rolled over, showing her belly--and Hugo is licking her belly, and her face, and her legs, until she's totally soaked in his big dog saliva--wet,sticky,and smelling weird--that I can't handle.
I open my eyes, sigh, and walk down the hall, where they are both staring at me like guilty toddlers. Hugo is drooling on the floor, and Maya is a soaking-wet pupsicle. I grab a towel from the bathroom closet, clean up the puddle in the hall, scoop Maya up in my arms, and walk back to my meditation cushion. Hugo lumbers into the living room and sits down next to me, resting his head on the corner of my zabuton. Maya is in my lap wrapped up in the towel. They both settle and become still.
It takes me a hot second to recover from this ridiculous interruption. After about a minute, my giggling subsides, my breathing settles, and I am able, at last, to meditate. It didn't happen like I had imagined, but it did happen, and I was able to share my experience with my two puppy children, and, honestly, they seemed pretty open to the experience. That's the way it goes with resolutions...or intentions...or anything else, for that matter. Unexpected glitches occur, and things don't usually go as planned, but with a little patience, perseverance, and creative adjusting, they do eventually happen. Only 364 days to go....wish me luck. Happy 2016 everyone!
- Page 1 of 2