Finding Resonance with Your Practice: Easing into the New Year January 31, 2023 19:01
If you prefer to listen to this month's blog article, click here for the audio link.
It's hard to top last month's blog post about a life-changing trip to India, so I'm going to keep things simple and easy this month.
January, with it's cold temperatures and snowy conditions, has brought many opportunities for practice, and I have gently leaned into all of them.
This month, I committed to beginning each morning by reciting the 21 Praises of Tara. Before reaching for my phone, before getting dressed--I turn on my bedside table light and chant these praises in English from a small booklet I received from an earlier retreat.
It takes just a few minutes, and it's an easy, peaceful way to begin the day.
Mornings are fairly hectic for me, especially on the days when I tutor. I'm scrambling to shower, dress, eat breakfast, make a lunch before leaving for school. However, taking five minutes to practice right when I wake up is totally doable.
Sometimes, Zora will join me. She'll jump up on the bed, stare at me with her big green eyes, and purr as I chant the stanzas to a simple melody.
I'm sensitive to music, and melodies stay with me for a while, even after the music has stopped, so all the Taras are with me as I'm making breakfast and pouring hot tea into a tumbler. They also ride with me in the car as I'm commuting to school, which is perfectly fine by me. I enjoy their company.
At the beginning of this month, my friend Kim invited me to participate in a ten-day meditation challenge through the Ten Percent Happier app. I'd heard about this challenge on Roshi Joan Halifax's Facebook page, and I'd listened to the Ten Percent Happier podcast with the interview with Dan Harris, who was the main host of this ten-day challenge, so saying yes to this challenge was a no-brainer.
I enjoyed the brief videos before each meditation session. Harris and Roshi Joan had traveled to Dharamshala to interview HHDL for this project, and seeing familiar sights where I had recently traveled with my Dharma friends was motivating and comforting.
Roshi Joan led the meditations each day, which lasted for ten minutes. It was easy to make time for them--some of the sessions I was able to do at school between student sessions. This was a short-term commitment, and Kim and I encouraged each other to practice daily through the app.
Over the past few winters, I have committed to participating in Sravasti Abbey's Retreat from Afar. These retreats span the course of several months, and participants can choose how much time they wish to devote to the daily practices--anywhere from one to four months.
Personally, I like the four-month commitment. This year's retreat is a little different from previous retreats. The focus this year is on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, which I have heard about, but I haven't delved into specific practices related to them.
For previous RFA retreats, I would listen to the teachings the nuns would post on YouTube and read the weekly articles they would share via email. I would practice the meditation or sadhana sessions on my own.
This year's format is more community-based. I've been looking forward to participating in their daily practice sessions on Zoom. They host two public sessions. Sometimes I catch the morning practice, and sometimes, I have to wait to practice during their evening sessions.
It's nice to have a couple of options, and I'm enjoying the structure, format, and melodies of the prayers. I'm also enjoying the guided analytic meditations and visualizations nestled between the sadhana prayers.
One of the things I like about these annual retreats is I don't have to leave home and abandon my work responsibilities. I also like that the nuns freely offer recorded teachings via YouTube. For this retreat, Ven. Sangye Khadro shared a series of twelve teachings related to the Four Establishments that she taught in 2021. She also recommended a book, The Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English, by Bhante Gunaratana to supplement and support our daily practices.
While this opportunity requires more time and dedication than the ten-day meditation challenge and month-long Tara recitations, it is interesting and engaging to me, and I am definitely reaping benefits from it.
I'm hoping to be able to visit Sravasti Abbey in person some day.
Since September's Chenrezig retreat led by Geshe Kunga at TMBCC in Bloomington, I have been practicing the Chenrezig sadhana on the daily at home. I read it aloud in Tibetan and in English. This practice, too, has become more comforting and familiar each time I recite it.
I enjoy the melody shifts as I make my way through each section of the sadhana, and my fluency and pronunciation with the Tibetan language continues to improve slowly with this practice as well.
My days lately have become crowded with various practices, but they aren't burdensome have to's--they are sources of comfort, and they offer just enough structure to make me feel like I've accomplished something meaningful.
Some of these practices are temporary. The Retreat from Afar will end in April, and I have one more day of reciting the 21 Praises of Tara in the morning.
Each practice is an offering--a dedication, and, collectively, these practices dovetail and enhance each other. Most importantly, I've noticed that the more regularly I practice, the more benefits I notice when I'm not sitting on the cushion.
*I'm calmer and more relaxed.
A couple of Sundays ago, the temperature was just low enough to turn wet streets slick and icy. I was driving in Bloomington early in the morning, and my brakes locked up as I was approaching a red light. I was able to glide over into the right lane to avoid the stopped car in front of me, and I continued to glide through the red light without getting hit--or freaking out.
*I don't plunge into spirals of worry and anxiety...as often :).
My husband and I were notified by a sub contractor for the power company that they were going to have to cut down 25 trees along our long driveway in order to replace a couple of old telephone poles. While this news was upsetting, I didn't freak out. My husband had a contact that proved to be invaluable--the name and number of the regional director of this power company. He called and explained the situation.
In the meantime, I did what I could--I reached out to my monk friends and asked if they would offer prayers for these vulnerable trees during their next puja ceremony. During my own visualizations during practice, I imagined miniature golden Shakyamuni Buddhas on every branch of these trees. These Buddhas dissolved into bright lights and traveled into their trunks all the way down into their root networks.
We received good news this afternoon--the trees would not need to be cut down, and the sub contractor that gave us the bad news initially would be removed from this project, replaced with someone with a little more respect for nature and compassion.
Was it the phone call or the prayers and visualizations? Maybe all of the above. It doesn't matter--skillful action and dedicated practice paid off.
* I'm more open to exploring options and adventures.
Instead of sitting in the never-ending construction traffic on I-465 when driving home from school only to exit onto another major road that is also under construction, I explored several options, thanks to Google Maps, until I found a route that avoids major traffic, long waits at stop lights, and views blocked by semis and dump trucks.
I don't save much time with this scenic route, but I don't mind. I am able to keep moving at a safe, steady pace, I enjoy the view along the way, and when I arrive home, I am in a much calmer state of mind.
One of the biggest lessons that I've learned over the years is the importance of finding my way into my own personal practices.
What works for some of my Dharma and spiritual friends doesn't necessarily resonate with me, and what resonates with me, may not resonate with you....and that's OK. Practice is practice.
The important thing is to find what does resonate--and to make a commitment and some time for practice--every day, even if it's just for a few minutes. Sometimes it takes an open mind and an adventurous heart to find what works, but when you do, you'll know it because your life will begin to change...for the better.
I have added several beautiful malas and quarter malas to the online collection recently. Check it out, while you're here--and if a design resonates with you...you know what to do :).
See you next month--
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.