Slow Down: Savoring the Practice of Pausing November 30, 2023 10:00
If you prefer to listen to this month's offering, click HERE for the audio link.
At various times throughout this month, I have received several nudges from the universe to slow down. For example, as I was driving home from school a couple weeks ago, I slowed down while entering a roundabout. I heard a car horn beeping behind me, and from my side mirror, I saw a small blue car. Inside, a cranky man was shaking his fist at me, urging me to go-go-go.
Apparently, he didn’t notice the giant “YIELD” sign to our right—or the three cars whipping around the circle from the left, which motivated me to slow down and pause.
I gestured toward the fast-moving cars—but cranky man just shook his head in frustration. When it was safe, I entered the circle. Cranky man in the little blue car buzzed by me, irritated, agitated, and totally unaware that I was not just looking out for myself, but I was looking out for him and others as well.
Another nudge from the universe came in the form of a poem that I came across by one of my all-time favorite poets, Naomi Shihab Nye. This poem, “Every Day,” is from her collection A Maze Me: Poems for Girls, published in 2005.
My hundred-year-old, next-door neighbor told me:
Every day is a good day, if you have it.
I had to think about that a minute.
She said, Every day is a present
someone left at your birthday place at the table.
Trust me! It may not feel like that,
but it’s true. When you’re my age,
you’ll know. Twelve is a treasure.
And it’s up to you
to unwrap the package gently,
lifting out the gleaming hours
wrapped in tissue,
don’t miss the bottom of the box.
Busyness is a habit of mind, and it can be an indication of an agitated nervous system. We are encouraged in American society to go-go-go, do-do-do, hurry-hurry-hurry, constantly chasing the mind as it leaps ahead into the future, leaving the body behind in a state of rattled confusion. The mind screams, “Look how busy I am! I am soooooo important!!!”
Right. I get it! I have certainly been caught up in this cycle. When I taught high school English, there were times when I was hyper-aware of the clock on the wall, and my days were measured in fifty-five-minute intervals, with ringing bells and five-minute passing periods. I remember the constant cycle of planning lessons and grading essays. I remember times when I was so focused on being prepared for anything that I was rarely focused on “what is” and present with my students sitting right in front of me. In other words, I was missing the bottom of the box.
Ironically, running around from task to task, obligation to obligation is just another form of laziness. According to Venerable Thubten Chodron, abbess of Sravasti Abbey in Washington state, “Being super-busy in a worldly way is another kind of laziness because it keeps us from our practice.”
A go-go-go, do-do-do, hurry-hurry-hurry mindset is a limiting one…and an exhausting one. It distracts us from what is most meaningful, and it prevents us from seeing the bigger picture.
Paradoxically, the most meaningful, big-picture moments, often involve taking the time to slow down, notice, and contemplate the small things:
*the rhythm and flow of the breath
*the syncopated sounds of rain on the roof
*a passage from a book or line from a poem that makes you stop, underline it, and read it again
*the sound of a child’s laughter in a grocery store
*watching leaves flutter to the ground
*watching the full moon shift and rise through bare branches
Small things, for me, are my portals to deep awareness. Small things encourage me to slow down—to pause—to do less and enjoy more—and to notice, really notice, what’s going on around me.
I’ve also noticed that making time for consistent, daily practices (for me, that includes meditation, mantra recitations, and Feldenkrais lessons) increases the likelihood that I’ll notice and appreciate the small things with big-picture potential—these tiny portals of awareness.
The biggest nudge from the universe came the other morning when I made time to visit a dear friend and former colleague. She has survived more than one stroke, has experienced slow, but steady cognitive decline, and is currently recovering from a recent heart attack.
The hospital where she is staying is close to the school where I work as a part-time tutor, and I was able to spend time with her between student sessions.
When I walked into her room, she was sleeping. I talked to her while she rested, describing the view outside her window. I told her about the large, billowy clouds and the streaks of sunlight shining through them. I told her about the air traffic control tower that I could see from the nearby airport, and every few minutes, an airplane would rise up and disappear into the billowy clouds streaked with sunshine.
She was surrounded by gently beeping monitors and was covered with a fleece blanket with turkeys and pumpkins on it. A muted National Geographic program about Egyptian art was playing on the television.
A friend had visited her the day before and brought her a green stuffed rabbit. She hugged it close to her as she slept. The color made me think of Green Tara, and I softly sang the mantra to her like a lullabye: Om Tare Tutarre Ture Soha, Om Tare Tutarre Ture Soha, Om Tare Tutarre Ture Soha, Om Tare Tutarre Ture Soha…
I told her how grateful I was for her friendship over the years, how her mentorship was extremely helpful when I first started teaching.
I thought about all the places she’d traveled with her family, all the stories she’d shared about her adventures, and how much her students admired her.
I didn’t know if she would awaken while I was there, so I made the most of the time I had with her. I was fully present with her.
Fortunately, she did wake up after a short while, and we had time to chat. Her eyes lit up when she saw me; she was delighted to have someone waiting to talk with her when she woke up. She struggled to find words at times, and her mind would catch in cognitive loops, bringing the conversation around to the same topics or questions. She confused me for other friends at times, or one of her daughters, but it didn’t matter. I was happy to have time to see her and to talk with her.
This visit with my friend did not make me feel sad. Instead, I felt joyful and relieved to have a chance to thank her for all of her helpful advice and friendship over the years. I had time to hold space and be present with her while she slept and while she was awake.
Slowing down means savoring the present moment, accepting what is with grace and dignity.
Listening to nudges from the universe, taking in these small moments, and appreciating the joy of pausing—these are the “gleaming hours/ wrapped in tissue.” Paying deep attention to these portals of awareness: this, too, is practice.
I hope you all are finding joy during this Holiday Season. May you be able to slow down and appreciate your own portals of awareness during this time. Please know that I have added several new designs to the Middle Moon Malas online collection, and they make thoughtful gifts for loved ones who have a meditation practice, or for yourself. Please consider purchasing a hand-knotted mala design to inspire meaningful practice and to support a small business. Much gratitude!
Celebrating Sweet and Savory Choices August 2, 2016 11:31
We have choice, and our choices direct our paths. They may not define us, but they do lead us from one moment to the next. Each experience—each moment, has something unique to teach us.
This morning, I chose to drive to Bloomington to attend a lecture at the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center. Afterwards, I chose to go to Anyetsang’s Little Tibet for lunch. I do not regret either choice.
Currently, I’m sitting under a red patio umbrella. A late summer breeze teases colorful prayer flags overhead. I can hear the sounds of a fountain gurgling behind me. Cicadas are grinding away the hot afternoon in their shrill, spiral cries as steady traffic hums along 4th Street.
I have the patio mainly to myself, and I have the time and freedom to enjoy a mango lassi—and to savor every bite of the cabbage dumplings—pan-seared and served with soy sauce. A sparrow hops around under my table, and heads of black-eyed Susans gently nod in encouragement.
I am at ease. I am at peace. I am savoring this present moment.
Earlier, I had considered stopping by the Jordan Greenhouse on the IU campus to see Wally, the titan arum, or corpse flower, in full bloom. The corpse flower blooms only once every ten to twenty years, and it emits a strong odor similar to the stench of rotting flesh. It’s a botanical wonder, and seeing this plant in full bloom would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. However, vegetarian momos were calling my name, so I chose Little Tibet over Wally. Besides, isn’t every moment a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? (I Googled Wally later in the day and watched him unfold online--so this choice was a win-win).
Every choice we make carries effects or consequences. The more mindful and present we are, the more mindful and present our choices are. Our lives are like malas, in this way. The beads represent the beautiful aspects of life (prayer flags, sunshine, momos), and the knots represent the challenges (the stench of rotting flesh). Challenge and beauty are interconnected and balanced, and as we progress through the circuit of our lives from moment to moment, we have the choice to be present—to learn from each experience—to enjoy and savor each bead and knot of our lives.