Spiritual Maturity: A Journey from Woo-Woo to Wisdom February 17, 2022 10:45
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A few days ago, a friend of mine had posted a picture of the book Ask and It Is Given on Facebook. She had recently read it, and it resonated for her.
I don’t respond often to posts, but I felt the need to “chime in” with this one, in a compassionate way. I wasn’t mean-spirited or rude. I wasn’t judgmental or unkind. In fact, I admitted to my friend that I had read this book, too, years ago.
I had even purchased tapes (yes, tapes) of Abraham-Hicks conversations. I also listened to various Hay House Radio programs back in the day. I was totally on board and sucked into the “vortex” of woo-woo.
I had read The Secret, and I had watched the video, I’m embarrassed to admit, on more than one occasion.
During this time in my life (early 2000’s), I was attending psychic fairs, I read a lot of “self help” books (many by Hay House authors), I had angel and archetype card decks lying around the house. I was frequently shuffling decks and pulling cards for guidance or validation for something or other.
During this time, I consulted psychics, numerologists, astrologists—For an entire year, I participated in a “meditation” group that met weekly at a local rock and crystal shop.
I had immersed myself in a new age “spiritual” world, and, at the time, it resonated—or, at least, I thought so.
At the time, I was also very vulnerable. Jim’s father had passed away, we moved to a new home in a new town, we had invited Jim’s mom to live with us, my daughter was very young and just starting school, I had recently finished graduate school, and I was teaching full time. My life was very busy, stressful, and chaotic at this time. I didn’t have time or energy for deep thoughts.
Instead, I took solace in pseudoscience. It was easy to access, and I didn’t have to think too much. Most of the “guidance” I received from psychics was vague and general (which is typical). I liked the atmosphere of the rock shop with the sounds of ambient music, the tinkling of wind chimes, creaking wooden floors, and the ever present scent of incense—and all the shelves lined with new age spiritual books about spirit guides, animal totems, dream interpretation, channeled conversations from the spirit realm, near death experiences, and angels. All of this was very soothing, calming, and validating to me.
I felt safe here. I took refuge in the supernatural and the hokey. I made friends and felt connected to others who felt comforted by these things, too.
I was satisfied, satiated, and numb in this vacuous world of manifesting good vibes, generating energetic frequencies, and clutching shiny stones.
Even though I cringe writing about this now, this world was a necessary escape hatch for me at the time. I don’t regret the friends I met here or visiting this place. It was what I needed. It helped me manage my overly busy life. Yes, what it had to offer was superficial, contrived, and rife with sugar-coated magical thinking, but I loved it.
When I read my friend’s recent post and book review of Ask and It Is Given, it made me cringe a bit in embarrassment at first, but it also made me realize how far I have come since then.
Slowly, slowly over time I began to drift away from seeking comfort in vapid guidance on glossy cards and reading books that offered “There, there, Honey” reassurances but did little to empower me, enrich my life, or encourage me to contemplate deeply or take meaningful action.
Looking back, I was very gullible, naïve, and desperate for validation outside of myself. Reading these books taught me to look at myself, but in a very self-centered way. These sources never had anything specific or concrete to offer, and they also didn’t suggest being of meaningful service to others, which is critical for authentic spiritual growth.
These books, recordings, and tchotchkes were mind-numbing escapes from my mind-numbingly busy life. They were like a Styrofoam life raft in very dark and turbulent waters. At the very least, they kept me afloat.
Like all things, nothing is permanent. As my life changed, my interests also shifted. My life settled, and I started to crave more substance, more meaning, and more depth.
I also became aware of controversies associated with some of the Hay House authors as well as the publishing company itself, and critical thinking helped to break the spell for me. I became more mindful, picky, and discerning about the books I read. I selected authors who valued ethics, cultural diversity, inclusivity—and teachers who didn’t manipulate, lie, berate, or bamboozle their students.
I became hungry for practices that encouraged me to look at myself, but not to attach, grasp, or cling. I was drawn to practices that were simple, but also meaningful—practices that invited generosity, compassion, and kindness toward others. I was hungry for significant connections and interconnection.
Fortunately, this led me to seek out books, teachings, and teachers who would push me to be better, rather than lull me into a spiritual la-la land.
So, what am I up to now?
Currently, I’m reading books that feed my mind, that appeal to my need for spiritual connection, that inspire my personal practice, and that encourage me to be of meaningful service to others.
For example, over the last few years I have participated in three Retreats from Afar through Sravasti Abbey in Washington state, where Venerable Thubten Chodron is the abbess.
These programs include daily meditation sessions and weekly transcripts of amazing Dharma teachings that inspire me to continue to learn and practice. These Buddhist teachings are informative, specific, relevant, and Thubten Chodron always includes examples and analogies that Westerners can relate to and appreciate in her teachings.
I like practicing on my own at home, but there’s also the option to practice on Zoom or a livestream video, which is a wonderful option. This year’s retreat focuses on Medicine Buddha.
The Sravasti Abbey website includes a vast library of teachings (both in written and video format) that are free and available to the public.
In addition, Thubten Chodron has collaborated with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, on a series of Buddhist books called The Library of Wisdom and Compassion (Simon and Schuster). Currently, six volumes have been published, and two more are slated for publication later this year. These books contain detailed, accessible Buddhist teachings, meditations, and commentaries. They are profound treasures of wisdom and meaning.
During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, I joined an online book club. We met once a month to discuss the book Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation, which included essays by angel Kyodo Williams, Lama Rod Owens, and Jasmine Syedullah. This book was engaging, real, contemporary, and controversial, and our group had excellent, and sometimes animated, discussions about systemic racism, privilege, and injustice--and how Dharma can be a vehicle for positive, meaningful change.
A few months later, this group gathered again (virtually) to discuss Lama Rod Owens’ Love and Rage: The Path of Liberation through Anger. Again, this book was compelling, personal, and timely. Our group had meaningful discussions—and I really appreciated how Lama Rod shared so many specific details about his own personal practice in this book.
Currently, our little virtual book club is now reading and discussing Everyday Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck, and we are enjoying the discussions that this wonderful treasure has inspired as well.
I also like Roshi Joan Halifax (Abbot, Head Teacher, and Founder of Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico). Her book, Standing at the Edge: Finding Freedom Where Fear and Courage Meet is excellent as well.
Believe it or not, I don’t just read Buddhist texts. I’m a big fan of Brené Brown (Rising Strong, Braving the Wilderness, Daring Greatly), Stephen Nachmanovitch (The Art of Is: Improvising as a Way of Life), and Martha Beck (Finding Your Own North Star, Steering By Starlight, and The Way of Integrity: Finding the Path to Your True Self), to name just a few.
I also have a few favorite podcasts that are engaging as well. They are rich with specific, relevant information, and they foster critical thinking. My favorites are The Mind and Life Podcast, IndoctriNation with Rachel Bernstein, and Conspirituality Podcast.
All of these teachers are helping me keep it together, that’s for sure :).
Twenty years ago, I didn’t really have a personal practice to speak of, but I was certainly searching for one. The angel cards and Hay House hokum were stepping stones and gateways to a much more compelling and authentic way of thinking.
My gullibility, naiveté, and exhaustion may have led me into a vortex of “woo woo” for a time, but, ultimately, this new age pseudoscience sparked my curiosity and my deep need for meaning and connection. They led me to discover authentic, ethical, inclusive, and diverse teachers and powerful sources of wisdom.
I don’t know where my practice will lead me twenty years from now, but I am continuing to learn, grow, and enjoy this journey—not only for myself, but for the benefit of others as well.
My hope is that my curiosity continues to lead me even farther, that my practice continues to deepen, my heart and mind continue to open, and my capacity for wisdom and compassion continues to grow.
I wish the same for all of you as well. Honor your journey—all the parts—even the bumps and unexpected detours. They led you to where you are now, and they’ve given you the courage, critical thinking, and patience to continue on your path, wherever it may lead.
In many ways, we are what we read, but we can always choose to close the books that no longer benefit us and find new ones that do.
Bossa Nova Snowfall: Everyday Rhythms of Practice January 28, 2022 15:27
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I have "Waters of March" rolling around in my head (the Portuguese version). A friend of mine recently shared a Dust to Digital video of the duet with the composer, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Elis Regina singing it in a studio in 1974.
I remember hearing this song as a kid, but I didn't think about the lyrics that much, mainly because I don't speak Portuguese. I remember my stepdad had a collection of jazz albums in the stereo console that he kept in the living room. This song was included in an album called Bossa Nova's Greatest Hits.
"Waters of March" is a happy melody, and now that we are lucky enough to have access to Google, I was able to search for the lyrics in English. It reads like a beautiful list poem, and the rhythms flow, like water from beginning to end:
It's the rest of a stump, it's a little alone
It's a sliver of glass, it is life, it's the sun
It is night, it is death, it's a trap, it's a gun
A knot in the wood, the song of a thrush
The wood of the wind, a cliff, a fall
A scratch, a lump, it is nothing at all
It's a beam, it's a void, it's a hunch, it's a hope
And the river bank talks of the waters of March
It's the end of the strain, it's the joy in your heart
The beat of the road, a slingshot's stone
A fish, a flash, a silvery glow
A fight, a bet, the flange of a bow
The bed of the well, the end of the line
The dismay in the face, it's a loss, it's a find
A drip, a drop, the end of the tale
A truckload of bricks in the soft morning light
The sound of a gun in the dead of the night
It's a girl, it's a rhyme, it's a cold, it's the mumps
The plan of the house, the body in bed
And the car that got stuck, it's the mud, it's the mud
A hawk, a quail, the promise of spring
And the river bank talks of the waters of March
It's the promise of life, it's the joy in your heart
It's a thorn on your hand and a cut in your toe
A point, a grain, a bee, a bite
A blink, a buzzard, a sudden stroke of night
A snail, a riddle, a wasp or a stain
A pass in the mountains, a horse and a mule
In the distance the shelves rode three shadows of blue
And the river bank talks of the waters of March
It's the promise of life in your heart, in your heart
The rest of a stump, a lonesome road
A sliver of glass, a life, the sun
A knife, a death, the end of the run
And the river bank talks of the waters of March
It's the end of all strain, it's the joy in your heart
(if you're curious, listen to the recording in Portuguese here)
In essence, it's a song about appreciating the present moment, no matter what's going on around you. It's about the ordinary, mundane images of daily life, and the inevitable journey towards death, just as the rains of March mark the end of a Brazilian summer.
This morning, Maya and I were sitting in front of the storm door watching snow fall.
It's a light, fluffy snow that collects on branches, sticks on the bricks of the walkway in loose, fat flakes.
It had already covered the morning offerings of birdseed and coated the face of our resin Buddha statue.
Cardinals, juncos, chickadees, and wrens hop and flit about. Their wings flutter, bodies in flight--and at rest.
The deliberate staccato rhythms of a pileated woodpecker echo from a nearby oak tree.
I can hear the ticking of ductwork expanding and contracting with steady heat rising from the vent in the floor. It competes with the cold pressing against the glass door.
We moved to the living room a few minutes later. Maya is snoring on my lap, and Zora is perched on the back of the love seat. She has a close-up view of the falling snow from the French doors behind it.
Bare branches, light wind, swirling spiral patterns on sage green pillows.
The hum of the furnace, the ringing in my ears, the stiffness in my shoulder.
The soft touch of warm fur--orange and black--like those wooly caterpillars in late summer.
Silk lotus blossoms in a striped bowl, a silent grandmother clock.
Bare feet, cold floor, the rise and fall of soft bellies.
Snow flakes falling in straight lines.
Cream colored curtains, a plaid shirt, dried flecks of paint on navy sweat pants.
Abandoned spider silk between adjoining walls--temporary hypotenuse.
Empty vase, copper bell, wooden elephants--share a dusty table with framed faces and photo albums.
The effortless acceptance of Now.
These observations don't rhyme, and they don't follow the unconventional cords, innovative syncopation, and jazzy rhythms of Bossa nova.
However, practice doesn't have to be formal. It doesn't even have to happen on a cushion, and it can occur at any moment.
Take a few moments today to notice what's happening around you, wherever you are. Without attachment, grasping, or commentary--just be present--observe, breathe, and be.
This, too, is practice.
I have added several malas and quarter malas to the online shop. Check out the current collection here. Middle Moon Malas serves to inspire meaningful practice and to support your motivation to lead a kind, compassionate, and mindful life.
Meditative Musings: Brood X Cicadas May 31, 2021 16:02
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It's a Sunday afternoon. I'm sitting outside in the backyard listening to the Brood X cicadas sing in the trees. One of our neighbors is tooling around his yard on a lawn mower, but the cicadas are drowning him out.
There's a distinctive undercurrent of sound--like a constant "Ha" or a steady, but subtle baseline, and then a spiraling, melodic layer of sound pressing over it. I love this sound--this steady crescendo and decrescendo--and I love the creatures who create this sound; they inspire me, and they motivate me to continue to practice.
Any creature that burrows underground and stays "in retreat" for seventeen years, emerges, molts, mates, and sings all while constantly at risk of being eaten by just about every other creature (ants, birds, squirrels, raccoons, dogs, etc.) has my total respect.
Cicadas are mascots of endurance and patience, and it's particularly fitting that their emergence coincides with our own cautious emergence from the COVID-19 pandemic, at least here in the U.S.
For the last couple of weeks, I've wandered around our yard every morning and afternoon examining the trunks of trees for their empty husks--or, exuviae--evidence of successful molts.
And they are everywhere! Scattered in the grass, stuck to the undersides of leaves, they cling to the bricks of our home and line the outer edges of our garage door.
Not all of them make it. I've seen several "failed molts" of would-be cicadas trapped in their former "nymph" selves, unable to escape--or they escape, but with crumpled wings damaged in the molting process. When I see them, I whisper "Om.Ah.Hum" on their behalf.
A few days ago, I was lucky enough to witness a successful molt from start to finish. It was a cool, foggy morning, and I noticed a dark brown shell at eye level on a cherry tree in our front yard. This exoskeleton didn't have a vertical split down the center of the thorax, so I knew the shell was still occupied.
I wandered around for a few minutes looking at other trees in the yard. When I came back, the shell was pulsating, so I decided to stick around.
I stood by the tree and watched this cicada emerge from its exoskeleton--the entire process took a little over an hour.
It wriggled and pressed its way out of the confines of the exoskeleton that protected him in the earth. His body was pale, and his wings were small and delicate.
When he emerged, he looked like he was doing a back bend until his wings and all six legs were free from the shell. He moved, wriggled, and stretched all of his legs, then returned toward the tree, climbed over his shed exoskeleton, and rested until his crumpled wings slowly unfurled and dried. Then, he took his first steps as an adult cicada and began to climb up the tree.
You may be wondering, at this point, what on earth does this have to do with meditation practice? This is a valid question.
Today is Monday--Memorial Day--and I took some time to sit outside to meditate this afternoon.
The temperature was cool, and the sky was cloudy and overcast.
I closed my eyes and listened underneath the intermittent bird song, the occasional slam of a car door, the sputtering motor of a nearby riding lawn mower, and the sound of a motorcycle accelerating in the distance. Beneath these distinct "sounds of samsara" was a constant hum that seemed to be coming from nowhere and everywhere at once.
What started as the roar of applause, or the sound effect from a B-rated sci-fi flick, transformed into the hush of cause and effect, the infinite sigh of the earth, the soft, primordial thunder that held all other sounds together. It held space for sound, and it, too, was the sound of space. This ubiquitous murmur was the sound of transformation, the backdrop of interconnection, and a beautiful reminder that life is precious, that time is limited.
This is the sound of generosity; this is the sound of ethics; this is the sound of patience; this is the sound of joyful effort, this is the sound of focus, and this is the sound of wisdom.
For me, these Brood X cicadas are simple but powerful symbols that embody and sing the benefits of daily practice. All we have to do to benefit others, as well as ourselves, is to observe, to listen, and to be still.
May you all enjoy the remnants of this holiday weekend, and may you all find time for your own practice today....and every day.
Thanks for reading or listening. If you haven't checked out the Middle Moon Malas online shop in a while, be sure to visit middlemoonmalas.com. I've added a few new designs recently that you might like.
Take care, everyone!