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.
Listening to the Wisdom of the Body: Welcoming the New Year December 31, 2021 15:38
photo credit: Valery Rabchenyuk
(If you prefer to listen to this blog post, please click here for the audio link)
Over the past two months, I have been suffering from very uncomfortable shoulder pain. I didn't sustain an injury. I didn't twist, turn, or lift anything in such a way that might have caused discomfort in my left shoulder. This pain has been a bit of a mystery for several weeks.
I have been carrying a relatively heavy shoulder bag from my car to my office at school on this arm, so I switched to a bag on wheels so that I could relieve any unnecessary tension in this arm. However, after several weeks, I didn't notice any significant change at all.
One of the mysteries of this discomfort is it has been difficult to pinpoint. I couldn't tell if it was in the bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments, or fascia. Also, the pain moved around. Sometimes, I'd feel discomfort in my shoulder blade--and sometimes I would feel an ache in my bicep--or tenderness near the left collar bone--sometimes it was a dull ache--other times, it was a pinching sensation. It was always morphing and shifting, and it kept me from sleeping.
After a few weeks, I started to worry about it...a lot.
I'm left handed, and having strength in this dominant arm is also essential for creating malas. Consequently, the worry wheels started to turn and spiral. Is it frozen shoulder syndrome, bursitis, arthritis, tendonitis, a repetitive stress injury, a rotator cuff tear?
The onset of this pain was sudden. It occurred right after my husband fell and broke his right ankle. Because of this, I wondered if the source was emotional. I realized that because of the nature of his injury and recovery, I was going to have to really step things up and take on more than I was already doing. I could metaphorically feel the weight of the world on my shoulder. Of course, I kept this to myself--I didn't want Jim to feel bad or worry while he was recuperating.
I was also experiencing additional emotional pressures at work, and, the ongoing pandemic wasn't helping things, either.
Jim's ankle healed, thankfully, but my shoulder didn't. I see an holistic chiropractor every five weeks. During my last appointment, I asked her to focus just on my left arm. Her adjustments helped relieve the pressure and tightness a lot! She agreed that the source, or at least part of the source, seemed to be emotional in nature. She didn't detect any obvious physical problems or red flags. I found that I was able to sleep more comfortably after this session.
Just before this session, I spent some time at home on my cushion and just allowed myself to be still and receive guidance about what I needed to heal.
After a few moments of stillness, the message I received was, "I need to feel safe, and I need to feel supported."
I listened to this message, and I have been honoring it ever since--by taking more time to take breaks and rest, taking time to adjust physical habits and behaviors that may contribute to this discomfort, taking more time to move mindfully (Feldenkrais lessons have been extremely helpful), taking more time to reflect, process, and let go of old, emotional wounds and moral injuries.
Every time my shoulder pops and cracks, it releases tension and makes space for healing.
As of today, it's not quite 100%; however, it feels significantly better than it did. The pain and discomfort have reduced, and my mobility in this arm is improving steadily.
The body knows things....and it carries a wisdom that the mind doesn't always recognize.
The body is also an emotional barometer of sorts. My left shoulder was letting me know that something was out of whack and needed healing. Once I began to acknowledge those things, to make space for them, and then let them go, the pain eased.
During this time, my meditation and movement practices were (and continue to be) especially important to facilitating continued healing. Taking the time to sit, to listen, to receive, and to move mindfully for a few minutes each day has been essential to finding relief and moving forward. In other words, pain can be a powerful teacher.
Ready or not, as we navigate our way toward 2022, I have several hopes and motivations for this upcoming year.
May we all continue to learn, grow, and thrive during this New Year.
May we all receive relevant guidance and support whenever it is needed.
May we all have the wisdom to respond appropriately once it is given.
May we all release what no longer serves us with grace and humility.
May we all feel safe, supported, and happy.
May we all be a source of safety, support, and happiness for others.
May we all continue to practice daily.
May our daily practice be of benefit to ourselves.
May we be of meaningful benefit to others.
Finally, Heartfelt blessings to all of you! May you find joy, good health, and prosperity in 2022!
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.
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.
The Subtle Side-Effects of a Chanting Practice March 2, 2016 15:00
Everything we are, and everything that is, is vibration. All sentient beings and all inanimate objects in the cosmos are teeming expressions of vibrational flow. When this flow is disturbed or disrupted, disharmony is the result. A mantra or chanting practice can help restore harmony and balance again by kneading the cells of the body with sound. One of the best ways to recalibrate and reboot your own system is through a regular practice of chanting Sanskrit mantra.
I've been practicing forty-day sadhanas with various mantras over the course of the last two years, and upon reflecting on this practice, I've noticed some interesting side-effects.
* Increased Presence
I'm finding it's much easier to stay in the present moment. This can be both a blessing and a curse. For example, I'm not writing nearly as many lists on Post-it notes, and I'm not as caught up in the trance of future thinking--the endless streams of "I have to do this," and "I have to do that," etc.
However, I'm finding that I immerse myself completely in the most mundane tasks. I'm totally engaged in loading the dishwasher or flossing my teeth, and time slips away from me. Last week, I spent twenty minutes in the produce section at Target--totally mesmerized by the colors, shapes, and smells of fruits and veggies, as if it were an art exhibit at the IMA.
*Managing Difficult Emotions
When anger, frustration, fear, resentment, and general crankiness rise to the surface, I'm able to stay with these unpleasant feelings for longer periods of time without casting judgment or pushing them away. I can sit (stand, walk, or drive) with them with an objective heart and mind--simply noticing and holding space for these feelings--until they dissipate on their own.
This morning as I was driving to school, a man in an old pick-up truck tailgated me all the way down Morgantown Rd. Every time I glanced in my rear view mirror, he made various aggressive hand gestures, clearly indicating his disapproval of me driving the speed limit. Instead of responding with equal and opposite frustration, though, I remained calm and focused, and when he barreled past me across the double line, I didn't take it personally, and I didn't feel the need to speed up and chase after him, which is evidence of significant growth for me.
*New Teachers and Adventures
One of the most pleasant side-effects of my mantra practice is that it has been sending new teachers and adventures my way. I've met amazingly creative,supportive,and nourishing people outside my usual circles who have helped me learn and grow in so many ways. They've helped me stretch beyond my comfort zones, offering guidance and encouragement at just the right time.
For a long time, I've wanted to visit the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington, Indiana, and in the last few months, I've visited several times, attending various pujas, lectures, and events there.The monks have been very kind and warm-hearted, and their welcoming and open spirits have been both inspirational and refreshing.
In addition to honoring the Divine that dwells within, I've found that the heart of a regular mantra practice also includes elevating your vibrational frequencies. Each forty-day sadhana brings new experiences and insights, and each spiritual formula has its own unique lessons to teach. I'm looking forward to exploring the treasures that dwell in the next Sanskrit mantra.