Indiana State Fair 2023: A Celebration of Interdependence August 31, 2023 13:02
If you prefer to listen to this month's blog article, please click HERE for the audio link (11 minute listen).
The Indiana State Fair is an annual, month-long summer event in Indianapolis that includes concerts, livestock, rides, games, an assortment of fried foods, and family fun.
I’m not going to lie, it’s not an event that typically appeals to me. I’m generally not jazzed about tractor pulls, midway rides, and large crowds in the unbearable summer heat and humidity of the Hoosier state.
This year, however, my daughter was working at the Newfields booth during an afternoon shift on the last Friday of this year’s fair schedule, so Jim and I decided to meet her there for dinner after her shift ended and to experience some family fun, first-hand.
Our first (and really only) obstacle was navigating rush hour traffic and finding a parking spot once we arrived. On our way there, a semi nearly missed plowing into our vehicle on I-65. The driver hadn’t been paying attention and didn’t notice that traffic was slowing.
Fortunately, we lived through that close call only to wait in line for 45 minutes as we inched our way toward a parking spot at the far end of the sandy infield of the fairgrounds.
We arrived just in time to see the fair parade, led by the famous Clydesdale horses and Budweiser carriage, followed by a marching band and several tractors pulling hordes of waving sponsors, farmers, and fair princesses with glittery pink sashes.
Elise had wandered into the parade line and met us near the grandstand. We waited in line for ears of fresh buttered sweet corn. Elise enjoyed deep fried Oreos, I chose chocolate-covered cheesecake on a stick, and Jim selected pork riblets with a Lemon Shake-up.
The weather was perfect! It was breezy and slightly cool with very low humidity, which is extremely rare for this time of year.
After “dinner,” we wandered into various livestock buildings and visited sheep, goats, alpacas, horses, and pigs.
We sat in plastic Adirondack chairs and listened to an up-and-coming local band. The band members couldn’t have been any older than the high school students I currently tutor.
We circled around the fairgrounds on a shuttle pulled by a large tractor. The long bench seats allowed for easy access on and off during the various stops.
What does all of this have to do with meditation practice? Well, the old me (the version of myself before I dedicated time to a daily practice) would have been very anxious in a crowd full of strangers, disgusted by the mingled scents of exhaust fumes, fair food, and livestock manure. The old me would have worried about the time, even on a Friday night. Honestly, the old me would have never made it to the fair to begin with—she would have insisted that the near miss with the semi was “a sign from the Universe” to just go on home.
The present me, however, was just that—present.
Jim was a little antsy as we inched our way to the infield parking lot, but I was calm and content. We had the windows rolled down and could hear the sounds of cicadas along with the gleeful shrieks coming from people on the midway rides.
The present me wasn’t worried about being late—or the time at all. I enjoyed spending time with my family and taking in all the sights and sounds without judgment, worry, or fear.
I enjoyed interacting and connecting with the animals in the livestock barns. From patting the bellies of the milk-drunk piglets to stroking the soft noses of the sheep, goats, and horses, connecting with the animals was soothing, and being with my family was comforting.
The present me even found connecting with strangers to be enjoyable. I was relaxed and at ease in the crowd. At one point, as we were walking near the midway, I met eyes with an elderly woman in a wheelchair. I smiled, said, “Hello.” Her eyes were bright and welcoming. I didn’t know her, but I felt connected to her, nonetheless. I felt connected—and interconnected with the thousands of others who were milling all around us, sharing the sights and sounds and space of this beautiful summer night.
The present me appreciated the efforts of all the hearts and hands of all ages, races, and backgrounds who came together to make this event possible: from those directing traffic in the parking lot, those preparing and serving food, those maintaining and monitoring the grounds and rides, those driving the tractor shuttles, those making public announcements, those tending to animals, and, of course, the animals. This evening was a celebration of interdependence.
My practice has changed me for the better, and it’s events like these that most clearly reveal and showcase some of these positive changes:
- Remain open and receptive to new opportunities
- See the familiar with a fresh set of eyes
- Set aside past associations and perceptions
- Remain calm and relaxed—even under pressure
- Release tension after danger has passed
- Prevent unexpected obstacles from spoiling the rest of the evening
- Remain content and patient while waiting
- Enjoy the company of loved ones and strangers
- Feel genuine love, compassion, and joy for others
- Remain focused, alert, and present without expectations
- Cultivate gratitude for others’ skills, gifts, and efforts
This is what daily practice has done for me. Over time, it has enabled me to allow, appreciate, and enjoy this precious human life.
Do I feel this connected all the time? No. However, I do feel like this more frequently than I did a decade ago. My practice has improved the overall quality of my life, and, by proxy, it has improved the lives of others around me.
I’m reflecting on this topic at a time when yet another mass shooting has occurred in our country—this time, in Jacksonville, Florida. The contrast of these two events: an enjoyable evening with my family at the fair, and yet another tragic shooting motivated by hate, ignorance, and racism—is jarring and unsettling.
One of the biggest benefits of my personal practice is that it helps me to navigate this paradox—and it motivates me to continue to practice without being discouraged by the hatred and anger of others. I can’t change other people, and I won’t allow the destructive actions of others to deter and distract me from appreciating moments of connection and presence. Despite others’ choices and actions that intensify suffering and despair, compassion, connection, interdependence, and gratitude—these are the necessary antidotes that a daily practice fosters.
I firmly believe that when enough people cultivate compassion and connection for others, meaningful change can, and will, occur. However, it must begin with individuals before the ripple effects can reach, progress, and improve society.
The Indiana State Fair may have come and gone for this year, but there will be many more opportunities to celebrate and practice interdependence by this time next summer.
My hope is that this article inspires and supports you and your own practice in some way.
May you be well. May you be happy. And most importantly, may you continue to practice…
While you're here, don't forget to visit the Middle Moon Malas home page to view the current collection of hand-knotted malas and quarter malas.
Change Is Happening in This Space: Evidence of Growth from Daily Mantra Practice November 20, 2021 15:15
If you prefer to listen to this month's blog post, please click here for an audio file.
I had a friend ask me recently how my mantra practice has changed my life or made a difference in my life.
At first, I mentioned small things--like finding joy and appreciating everyday moments--the burst of color of autumn leaves...watching a child toddle toward a school bus in the morning and not feeling impatient about having to wait in traffic, but taking a moment to enjoy the moment.
However, it occurred to me later that there was a more significant change that I've noted recently. It has taken time to develop, and it has evolved and morphed very slowly and gradually.
This change that I've noticed is that I am not feeling the need to elaborate on situations, events, or occurrences, especially those that made me feel unsettled, agitated, annoyed, or even traumatized.
Before I started a daily mantra practice, I was prone to oversharing details--whether good, bad, or indifferent. I felt inclined to justify myself or over explain even the most mundane occurrences. I wanted others to know "the whole story."
In recounting the details, especially of unsettling stories, I would relive the suffering of the original encounter, and I also ran the risk of causing suffering for others by spewing these details, too.
However, I've noticed a significant change in this pattern since I've been practicing regularly. I've caught myself on three separate occasions recently.
For example, I recently attended the Bands of America Grand Nationals Competition in Indianapolis. A friend of mine saw my FB post and sent me a private message asking if I knew a friend of hers who is a choreographer of band shows and who also happens to be a Buddhist teacher.
I messaged in response, "I know of him," but that was it. I steered the written conversation toward the current performances and how talented the musicians were. In other words, I didn't feel the need to mention or dredge up any unpleasant details.
I actually did have an unusual exchange a few years ago with this friend of hers. He wanted to argue about an article I had shared online about meditation, and when I didn't engage, he became increasingly more judgmental and angry. Ultimately, he got the last word with a snarky remark and then blocked me from his page.
Even these are bare-bones details. I don't feel the need, even now, to recount the entire story. It's water under the bridge. I also don't need this person's approval or friendship, and I didn't feel the need to bring up an inconsequential conflict now with the friend who messaged me. These details from the past were irrelevant to the current conversation.
I left it at, "I know of him."
In another recent conversation with a friend, this time a spoken one, we were discussing our Tibetan language lessons. I mentioned that I had changed textbooks, and that I had found another book that was more helpful for me.
I didn't feel the need to elaborate on the specific reasons or explain why the other text was not a good fit for me. I didn't mention the poor organization, the occasional misspellings, the firehose-type spray of overwhelming information in each chapter, which was incredibly anxiety-triggering for me.
Instead, I left it at, "I found another book that motivates me to learn," and we continued on with our conversation.
Finally, this pattern has not just had an impact on written and spoken conversations with others. It has also had an impact on my own private thoughts.
Last week I was at home sweeping the kitchen floor when I thought about a teacher who used to be at the Dharma center that I currently attend. He's since moved on to another center on the East Coast.
Instead of rehashing and ruminating about the handful of brief encounters when I had observed him being judgmental of others or rude to me, I simply stopped these thoughts with another one--"He's not my teacher."
This single thought put a stop to an unnecessary, negative thought spiral, and it allowed me to be present with what I was doing instead.
In essence, my daily mantra practice is preventing and stopping cycles of suffering for others and for myself.
I am choosing my words and thoughts more carefully, I am more engaged with people in the present moment, and I'm less likely to overshare or overshadow conversations with unnecessary editorializing and kvetching.
Even in my own head, I'm not allowing unpleasant memories or judgments to interfere with the present moment.
In short, I'm letting the irrelevant and negative details go. They don't serve others, they don't serve me, and they don't serve my practice.
I'm grateful for my friend for asking her question--and I'm grateful for having opportunities to notice this change in my thinking and my practice. I'm also hopeful that continuing to practice will bring about even more beneficial changes in the future.
My hope is that your personal practice benefits you as well as others, too.
By the way, the Indy Holistic Hub Wellbeing Fest in Indianapolis earlier this month was a big success. Several beautiful malas found new homes, and I am working steadily to add new designs to the online shop. Please visit middlemoonmalas.com to view the current and ever-growing collection.