Climbing Mt. Kailash...One Tibetan Letter at a Time February 10, 2020 18:53
"To learn is an act of deep work." Cal Newport (associate professor of Computer Science, Georgetown University)
Some of the best opportunities that have occurred in my life were not the result of calculated planning, but out of being open, curious, and willing to explore the unknown.
Five years ago, I fell into designing malas and then building a small business (Middle Moon Malas) through this creative interest and a love of japa practice.
Two years ago, I discovered The Feldenkrais Method as well as other alternative movement modalities, and my physical, emotional, and spiritual health flourished as a result.
Two weeks ago, I landed, unexpectedly, in a small class that my dharma teacher is leading between his weekly dharma talks and prayer sessions on Sundays. I'm one of a handful of students studying Tibetan.
Learning a new language in my mid-fifties is much more challenging (and enriching) than when I was studying French in junior high school. The Tibetan alphabet is totally different from English, and several of the sounds are very similar, with subtle, nuanced distinctions. Therefore, the learning requires more time, deliberate care, practice, and patience.
It turns out, there are several benefits to learning a language later in life. It can improve problem-solving, critical thinking, listening, decision-making, and concentration skills. Learning a new language can also stave off dementia, mental aging, and cognitive decline. It also fosters deeper connections and appreciation of other cultures.
I found out about this class a few weeks in, so I'm a little behind and scrambling to catch up. I gave myself a week to learn the Tibetan alphabet--30 consonants, 4 vowels. That doesn't seem too demanding, right?
Turns out, I needed the full week. I spent about an hour each day learning and reciting the sounds of each new letter, tracing unfamiliar curves, arcs, and loops onto graph paper. I flipped through flash cards again and again, and I watched several YouTube tutorials in order to recognize, memorize, speak, and write these beautiful new letters that are like keys to a mysterious puzzle.
I barely deciphered the Tibetan alphabet in time for the following week's class. We're moving on to numbers and combining letters into words, which is an even deeper mystery for me.
I feel like I'm climbing Mt. Kailash, one Tibetan letter at a time. Thankfully, I'm not alone on this journey. I have a knowledgeable leader, a team of peers, and additional resources to guide me along the way. Most importantly, I'm enjoying the process. It's definitely challenging, but I'm benefiting from it a great deal.
I'm learning much more than a new language. I'm learning the value of maintaining Beginner's Mind. I'm learning the importance of being gentle and patient with myself (and others) as I navigate this new adventure. I'm learning the importance of moving slowly, deliberately, and without force. I'm learning that this new endeavor is intricately connected to my movement, meditation, and japa practices. Most importantly, though, I'm rediscovering that...
"Learning should be a pleasant, marvelous experience." Moshé Feldenkrais
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.
Relax and Allow: How a Mantra Practice Can Invite an Appreciation for the Present Moment November 1, 2016 00:00
As often as I can, I like to go to the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington on Sundays for a morning lecture. This past Sunday, Geshe Kunga presented a teaching on patience. During these lectures, Geshe Kunga speaks in Tibetan, and another monk, who’s actually in Virginia, translates via Skype on a small laptop. I know, it sounds like a scene from Lost, but I actually look forward to these weekly “Dharma transmissions.”
Last Sunday, the weather was absolutely beautiful. The double doors on both sides of the main room in the temple were open, letting in mild breezes and the sounds of rustling leaves and birdsong.
The view to my left was especially scenic, and my gaze kept drifting toward it throughout the lecture. My student self was listening to Geshe and the cyber monk, but my artistic self was growing a little antsy. I had my camera with me in my bag, and I wanted to capture a photo of the open door—the sunlight streaming through lace curtains, the contrast of the brightly painted temple walls against the shadows of falling leaves, the literal threshold between the manmade and the natural. It was stunning….and very distracting.
My attention was divided, and I was holding the tension associated with grasping and clinging attachment. I could feel it in my body and mind. Technically, I could have taken a photo during the teaching, but it would have been weird. The room is small; there were only a dozen or so practitioners in attendance, but it was a lecture in a temple, not a scenic overlook or tourist attraction.
I mentioned that the lecture was about patience….so, I waited. At the end of class, after the bows and prostrations, I returned to my cushion, and just as I was lining up the shot, Geshe Kunga walked across the room to close one of the doors and was headed to the second set to close it, too, in preparation for the prayer session after lunch. I had just enough time to grab my camera, focus, and snap the shot just as the door shut.
The photo was not what I had expected, and it wasn’t the shot that I thought I had wanted. It was better. It was better than anything that I could have planned or anticipated.
The universe keeps giving me opportunities to relax and allow. The more present I can be without clinging to attachments or preconceived notions, the more I can enjoy and receive the benefits of what these moments have to offer.
One of the best ways for me to practice this present-moment acceptance is through japa. Reciting mantras with a mala helps to still the obsessive thoughts and the constant anticipation and planning that goes on in my head. The repetition of the mantra itself is soothing, and each complete circuit of a mala is a way for me to mark time with presence. I can relax and allow into this practice, which permits me to relax, allow, and enjoy other aspects of my life as well.
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!
Business Advice from a Luna Moth June 9, 2015 19:51
A couple of weeks ago, a luna moth perched on my front storm door and camped out all day until late in the evening. It politely posed for a few pictures and stayed steadfast even as the door opened and closed several times during the day. I can't help but wonder if it is a messenger of some kind--or a subtle metaphor at the very least.
Luna moths undergo a complete metamorphosis in their life cycle--from the egg phase--to the larva--to the powerful transformation in the chrysalis--and then literally taking flight as an adult moth.
Middle Moon Malas was merely an idea (or egg) last fall. I spent many months researching and asking questions of other experts and business owners--taking in information like a hungry hungry caterpillar.
In late winter I had a friend, a fellow yogi and mala enthusiast, who, along with her team of techies and creatives, helped me build a website. My cocoon was made of a complex silky web of code, photos on smoky black glass, XL spreadsheets, and detailed descriptions of various malas. I remember feeling confused and overwhelmed as all of this information swam around me in a blur, but a transformation was taking place, nonetheless.
It's taken many months to manifest, but Middle Moon Malas is a full-fledged online business. I believe this luna moth was giving me guidance--a little metaphorical business advice from the insect world:
*Despite your feelings of vulnerability and doubt in starting something new, trust your intuition and inner wisdom
*Claim your personal power and happiness by navigating through the darkness and the shadows
*Seek light and illumination through patience and determination
*Honor your vision and maintain an optimistic outlook in order to attract those who will want and value what you have to offer
Sometimes sound business advice comes in the form of a well-written article in The Wall Street Journal, and sometimes, it literally lands on your front door waiting for you to quietly unravel its secrets while it rests by the light of day.