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The Heart of the Practice: Spiritual and Health Benefits of Mantra Recitations June 24, 2023 17:05

Photo of myself standing in front of a brick wall in a colorful dress. I am peeking through the heart shape with my hands and wearing a quarter mala on my left wrist.

If you prefer to listen to this month's blog article, click HERE for the audio link.

Did you know that reciting mantras can be good for your heart?

I love it when I can find science-based articles that support concrete benefits to a regular meditation practice, and I found an article that addressed the benefits of mantra recitations, specifically.

I recently read an interesting article from an online medical journal (National Library of Medicine). It concluded that reciting mantras can have a positive effect on heart health and respiration.

This article, by Luciano Bernardi, an associate professor of medicine, along with several other researchers, physicians, and professors, conducted an experiment that analyzed the heart rates and breathing patterns of twenty-three healthy adults during periods of free talking compared to sessions of reciting the Ave Maria prayer in Latin and the Om Mani Padme Hum mantra.

The title of this article is “Effect of Rosary Prayer and Mantras on Autonomic Cardiovascular Rhythms.” Feel free to read the details of this study, if you like.

Ultimately, what these researchers found is that reciting the prayer and mantra slowed the respiration rate to six breaths per minute. Recitations also enhanced heart rate variability and baroreflex sensitivity.

Apparently, a slow respiratory rate has favorable effects on cardiovascular and respiratory function. It increases the oxygenation of blood in the body, it increases a sense of calm and wellbeing, and it improves irregular breathing patterns.

This study also concluded that reciting the rosary or a mantra is not only an important spiritual practice; it is also a beneficial health practice.

Additionally, Bernardi, et al, happened to mention in this article an important historical connection between the prayer and the mantra.

According to the article, the rosary was introduced to “Europe by the crusaders, who took it from the Arabs, who in turn took it from Tibetan monks and the yoga masters of India. This supports the hypothesis that the similar characteristics and effects of these mantras and of the rosary may not be a simple coincidence.”

This detail points to another relevant benefit of a daily recitation practice—one that fosters a sense of interconnection and community with others.

I attend weekly Dharma teachings at TMBCC in Bloomington. Typically, before the Dharma talk begins, we chant prayers together, and after the talk, we chant dedication prayers. It’s the only time during the week where I have the opportunity to chant with others. The rest of the time, I’m on my own with my personal practice.

Even though these prayers are relatively brief and take just a few minutes to recite, having an opportunity to share a collective mantra/prayer practice with others fosters a sense of interconnection and community with other sangha members.

It’s a soothing, calming, shared experience, and it’s a beautiful way to frame Geshe Kunga’s teachings.

Compared to the monasteries that we visited in India, our temple is very small. Our voices may not echo and reverberate in vast temples with high ceilings and polished marble floors, but we are joining together in a communal, shared practice—reciting, reading, and breathing together in a shared, sacred space.

Some of us are very familiar with this weekly practice, and some may be first-time visitors, but all are welcome as we recite these prayers together.

I’m grateful to be able to travel to Bloomington for these weekly teachings. I’m also grateful to have been able to travel to India a few months ago where we visited beautiful monasteries with high ceilings and polished marble floors (Drepung Gomang Monastery in South India, and Namgyal Monastery in North India).

Listening to hundreds of monks chanting together, filling these beautiful spaces with cadences and rhythms of sacred sound in Tibetan and Sanskrit was an amazing, meaningful opportunity. Their voices lulled us into a peaceful, tranquil state and fostered a strong sense of connection, interconnection, and community.

 If you don't have a daily mantra practice yet, I highly recommend it. A daily recitation practice will not only benefit your physical health, but it will also benefit your spiritual and emotional wellbeing. Om Mani Padme Hum is a wonderful mantra to recite on the daily, and if you need a mala, I have several  to choose from in the current Middle Moon Malas collection.

I hope you are enjoying this beautiful summer season, and I hope this month's  article was beneficial in some way. I look forward to sharing another article with you next month.

 

Take Care-- 

Teresa


Suffering and Happiness: A Tangled Interconnection May 29, 2023 08:57

Mama bird with baby birds in a nest build inside a yellow caution traffic light

If you prefer to listen to this month's blog article, click HERE for the audio link.

 During a recent meditation class, my teacher, Geshe Kunga, said something that has stuck with me, and I have been mulling it over for several days.

He said that happiness and suffering are interdependent and interconnected. For example, we appreciate food more if we have ever experienced hunger first hand. If we've ever lived in a country where water was a scarce and precious resource, we are more careful about how we use water--even if we're in a place where it is plentiful.

The suffering and lack of resources stimulates an appreciation and a strong sense of responsibility. This is the relationship between suffering and happiness.

Suffering, like everything else, is impermanent--and, so is happiness. Consequently, our lives are a blend of both--just like the beads on a mala. The beads themselves represent the beautiful aspects of life. The knots between the beads represent the hardships and obstacles. A meaningful life includes a balance of both.

Since January of this year, I have been practicing Lam Rim meditations with an online group connected with Sravasti Abbey. I enjoy the daily sessions--the familiarity of the mantra recitations, the visualizations, and the analytical contemplations that comprise this daily practice.

However, there's a part of the practice that I struggle with a bit, and it makes me bristle and cringe. As we begin the Shakyamuni Buddha sadhana, we visualize our birth mother on our left and our biological father on our right as we imagine leading them, along with other sentient beings, in this practice of gratitude and appreciation.

Both of my birth parents were challenging for me in many ways. They divorced when I was very young, so I didn't really know my father. What I did know wasn't good--he was a misogynist, a bigot, and a literal card-carrying member of the KKK.

My mother survived a serious car accident when she was a teenager. She slammed through the windshield...twice...and sustained serious head trauma at sixteen when she was riding in a car with friends. 

As a result, she suffered with mental health issues ever since I can remember and even up until the time she died. When I was growing up, she took various combinations of medications over the course of decades ranging from anti-depressants to anti-psychotics. She worked with several therapists over the years, she was hospitalized several times, and she even endured shock-therapy treatments.

Looking back, I really think that she may have been misdiagnosed, and I believe that working with a therapist who specialized in trauma would have benefited her. However, I don't know if there were many specialists like that in the 70s.

Living with her when I was growing up, I remember that she was extremely self-absorbed, withdrawn, emotionally unavailable toward others, and needy. She was able to work for a while, but when she stopped working, she spent most of her time lying on the couch with her eyes closed--or staying in her room with the door closed.

She was very intelligent and bright...cogent...lucid...but also extremely preoccupied with her own wants and needs. When she did speak, it was usually something about herself or a needy request for some impulse craving: "Will you go to the store and get me a candy bar and a can of creamed corn?" 

This was an actual request--and there were many random demands like this over the years.

I didn't know about causes, conditions, and karma at the time (I grew up in a Catholic home and didn't discover Buddhism until I was in my late 20s), but her life and choices demonstrated for me the drawbacks of self-cherishing and self-grasping thoughts.

All the medications and therapy didn't really help her much. She was obsessed with herself, and her self-absorption made her (and the rest of the family) miserable. Growing up with a difficult parent and home life encouraged me to seek other alternatives.   

I walked away from Catholicism and embraced Buddhism instead.

I rejected my birth father's racist views and welcomed inclusive, anti-racist, and culturally-appreciative ideologies instead.

I did NOT want to be like my mom, so I focused more on giving rather than taking--on being of benefit to others rather than focusing on myself.

This is where suffering and happiness meet--and the line they share is in the choices we make.

If we're not happy, we can decide to choose another thought, another word, or another action. Our situation may not change immediately; it takes time. My life didn't begin to change for the better until I moved out of my parents' home at nineteen. I had to be consistent...and patient.

However, when I was in college and really focused on learning about subjects that fascinated me, especially learning how to educate others and helping others figure out what fascinated them, my life started to improve dramatically.

I have always enjoyed learning about other cultures. For a while, I considered the notion of studying cultural anthropology. Appreciating and learning about other cultures and viewpoints taught me to be open-minded and open-hearted, rather than fearful, limited, and hateful.

Interacting and teaching students from diverse cultures has enriched my life--and has encouraged me to feel connected and interconnected in this world.

Reading books and listening to music by writers and musicians from different walks of life and backgrounds has nourished my own curiosity and development.

My first teachers, my birth parents, taught me what NOT to be, what NOT to do. These early years of difficulty and suffering led to many more of growth, renewal, and happiness.

My life is far from perfect, and I am not happy all the time. That is for sure! I still struggle and suffer. I still make mistakes and screw up...a lot...but when I do, I know that I have choices. I know that I can sit with discomfort--listen to my thoughts--observe my feelings. I know that I can turn to others if I need guidance. I know that suffering, like happiness, is not permanent.

I also know that I can rely on the Dharma for inspiration. I know that I can rely on my practice for stability and clarity. I know that by focusing on others more than myself--by practicing generosity, patience, consistent and skillful effort, and by making time for daily meditation, I can manage more effectively these moments of suffering and disappointment.

Even now, having had time to reflect and write about this topic and these relationships, I now have a daily opportunity to reframe how I feel about my birth parents. My mom passed away nearly a decade ago. My birth father, I presume, is still living in a small town somewhere in Illinois. When I visualize them, appearing to my left and my right, I can now work toward feeling grateful. Despite the struggles and challenges, they taught me invaluable lessons, and my time with them eventually inspired me to grow and build a meaningful life.

My hope in writing these monthly blog posts is that they may benefit whoever reads (or listens to) them in some way.

May you continue to learn and grow in your own practice, and perhaps you'll find buried treasures among your own memories and relationships--evidence of interconnection--sparks of awareness, understanding, and compassion.

***

Several malas found new homes during this month. I've added a few to the collection, and I'm working on creating more one-of-a-kind designs. I invite you to visit the website to see what's new, and feel free to reach out if you have a special request.

 

Photo credit: Facebook

 

 

 


Different, Not Less: Confronting Ableism and Celebrating Inclusivity in Dharma Practice April 28, 2023 08:38

Sea turtle rising to the surface of deep blue water

For those who prefer to listen to this article, please click HERE  for the audio file.

 

Every day I walk by a poster that hangs on the wall around the corner from my office. In bold, colorful letters, it reads: “Different, Not Less.”

According to Buddhist texts, attaining a human life is extremely rare—as rare as “a blind turtle surfacing in a vast ocean every one hundred years and managing to put its head through a wooden yoke.”

In This Precious Life: Tibetan Buddhist Teachings on the Path to Enlightenment, Khandro Rinpoche outlines the eighteen qualities that are needed to attain a “precious human life.”

One of these qualities is the third personal endowment—that we are born with our six senses intact: “Our eyes can see, our ears can hear, etc., …our mind consciousness has the ability to discern right from wrong. Having all of our senses intact, we can remain in the ground of awareness with all of our perceptions, which is a precious quality.”

That may be so, but, I’m not going to lie, it also strikes me as extremely ableist as well.

I have been an educator for over thirty-five years, and I have worked with students, teachers, staff, and parents who were visually impaired, hearing impaired, or neurodivergent. Some endured conditions such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy, or paralysis. Regardless of their circumstances, what they shared in common was a yearning for knowledge and a strong capacity for curiosity and growth. Through much patience, determination, and effort, they succeeded academically and professionally, despite these challenges and “differences.”

You can’t tell me these students, colleagues, and parents weren’t precious—or capable of realizing wisdom and compassion.

Early on in my teaching career, I taught English at a very large high school in Indianapolis. This was long before 9/11, frequent news stories of school shootings, and data-driven standardized testing mandates. Our football team was doing very well that year, and, as a result, we had all-school convocations in the gym virtually every week leading up to the State Championship game.

On Fridays, students were corralled and packed into bleachers to celebrate the physical prowess and accomplishments of athletes along with the strategic genius of the coaching staff.

After every win, there would be a convocation. There were many wins that season…and many convos, which cut into our valuable teaching time and student learning time.

These celebrations became so commonplace that students and teachers sat in the bleachers like zombies, their eyes glazed over from boredom and complacency.

For me, however, there was a bright spot. Her name was Nikki. She was not a student in my class, but I would look for her during every pep session. Nikki had Down Syndrome and sat in the front row, courtside, along with her Special Education teacher and other MOMH students.

As students filed into the gym, Nikki sat quietly, but as soon as the band started to play the school song, she was on her feet, clapping her hands, smiling, her eyes wide open. She embodied and radiated joy while the rest of us sat quietly, unmoved.

For me, she outshone the cheerleaders with their practiced smiles and plastic pom-poms.

Seeing Nikki in the gym every Friday afternoon made me question who was the one with the disability?

Nikki was fully present during these weekly pep sessions, and each week, her genuine smile lit up the whole gymnasium. She had a capacity for joy that the rest of us could not comprehend or touch.

For all I knew—Nikki could have been a Bodhisattva, despite her diagnosis and cognitive challenges.

You can’t tell me she didn’t inhabit a precious human life. For those of us fortunate enough to notice her in the crowd during these weekly convos, we benefited from her uninhibited exuberance, her genuine joy, and her undying enthusiasm.

******

Recently, I watched a meaningful Dharma talk on YouTube. Vicky Beckett’s talk was called “Disability, Ableism, and the Dharma: Liberation from Views.” Beckett is a disabled Buddhist practitioner, and she gave this talk during a Buddhist festival in the U.K.

She began by explaining that the root of ableism is the mistaken belief that disabled bodies are worth less than abled bodies.

Beckett described some of the accessibility challenges that she has faced as a disabled practitioner who requires a wheelchair.

One of the most important questions that she posed during her talk was, “We know this human birth is a precious opportunity to awaken, so why are we deciding that some lives are worth more than others?”

Our experiences occur within the circumstances, dispositions, forms, and loci of our own bodies. Many teachers and texts agree that we create our worlds with our minds, that nothing exists inherently, and that nothing is permanent. After all, there are millions of disabled people in this world, and, at any moment, we could be one accident or one health crisis away from becoming a member of this demographic.

Beckett’s primary point in her talk was that regardless of our physical condition, “being alive in this body…RIGHT NOW…awakening is possible, whether you are disabled or able-bodied. This life is precious…rare…and beautiful.” I couldn’t agree with her more.

As a Buddhist, I do believe in reincarnation, and while I firmly believe that causes and conditions give rise to karmic imprints and results, I don’t think that it is fair to assume that if we are born into this world with a disability of some kind, that it is the result of an obscuration, negative imprint, or poor choices from past lives. I also don’t believe that able-bodied practitioners are more spiritually evolved than disabled practitioners.

Over the years, I have had the pleasure of working with differently-abled, neurodivergent, and atypical students who were powerful, inspiring teachers for those of us who were able-bodied. They moved through the world in their own unique ways and witnessed the world from novel perspectives. Their differences were valid and valuable—and so were they—and, most importantly, their differences enhanced the lives of others.

My favorite quotation from Beckett’s talk was, “I love my body. It is my vehicle for liberation.”

In this powerful line, she is acknowledging, with confidence, that her life is, indeed, precious, and that despite any physical limitations, she, too, is capable of attaining enlightenment for the benefit of herself and others.

We all have gifts that we develop and bring to this world. It’s up to us to make the most of the life that we currently inhabit—to learn and grow in the best way that we can—and to be a source of support, encouragement, kindness, and compassion for ourselves and others.

Thanks for taking the time to read or listen to this month's blog article. Be sure to visit the current collection of Middle Moon Malas designs. Mother's Day is coming up soon--or, you may want to treat yourself or a loved one to a beautiful mala just because :).

Until next time...Take Care--  

 

Photo Credit: David Troeger courtesy of Unsplash

 


From Poison to Nectar: Distinguishing between Healthy and Harmful Pride March 28, 2023 11:52

image of a white sailboat on blue water with a bright orange sky and clouds

If you prefer to listen to this month's blog article, please click HERE for the audio link.

 I love listening to Dr. Bertice Berry's daily stories. She started posting them every day on Facebook during the pandemic. Dr. Berry is a sociologist, a story teller, a motivational speaker, a seamstress, and a writer. Her latest book, BlackWorld, is amazing!

Most of her stories are uplifting--and even when they deal with struggles or suffering--there is usually a message of hope and encouragement embedded in the story.

The other day, she shared a story on her page called "It's OK to be Proud," and she encouraged her listeners to "look at something you've done, something you created with our own hands and heart--and marvel at it--be proud of what you made and how you made it."

Taking the time to think about what I've worked hard to create makes me feel a little uneasy. That word--"pride"--is a loaded word--and the concept behind it can be a slippery slope.

On one hand, it's healthy to have a sense of self-confidence, a clear understanding of your capabilities and skills. 

However, pride in its unhealthy form is an exaggerated sense of  self. It is boastful and demeaning. It takes up a lot of space and demands of others. "LOOK AT MEEEEEEE!!"

I think my discomfort with this word started when I was a kid. As long as I can remember, I have talked to myself (when I'm by myself). Admittedly, I still do this--usually when I'm in the car. It's a great way for me to process creative ideas or to work through problems and struggles.

When I was young, talking to myself was part of imaginative play, and a way to keep myself company when I was alone. One time, when I was about seven years old, I was looking at myself in the bathroom mirror. The door was open, and I thought I was alone, but my stepdad must have been in the hall.

I don't remember what I was saying or talking about. I do know that I was playing--making silly faces in the mirror and giggling--just being a kid and having fun.

The next morning, I went into the bathroom, and when I turned on the light, I noticed that a towel was covering the mirror. It took a second for me to register this--it was jarring to me, and it took my breath away. I remember feeling a sudden rush of shame wash over me.

I can still see that towel in my mind even now--it was an old beach towel--faded yellow, with a single sailboat floating in a pale blue ocean.

My stepdad never talked to me about it. Instead, he let the towel speak for him. It communicated a strong message: don't look at yourself--don't waste time with silly play--don't talk to yourself--you're a weirdo--you're not important--you don't matter.

He may not have intended any of these messages, but this is what his action communicated to me.

My stepdad had assumed that I was being arrogant and prideful. I can't be certain of this, but throughout my childhood, he would occasionally accuse me of being full of myself or egotistical. Often, these accusations would blindside and confuse me. 

Looking back now, I can see that he was likely projecting his own lack of self esteem and pride onto me, something a seven-year-old kid would not understand...yet.

This towel gesture didn't help me. Actually, it hindered me. It had a negative impact on my own self-esteem and confidence. 

I still talk to myself :) (and I am more careful about making sure I'm by myself when I do), but I don't look at myself in the mirror very often--maybe just quick glances--but that's it.

 

"What is the wild horse that throws one from the mountain one is ascending? Pride, which thinks oneself superior and dwells on one's good qualities."  (Gems of Wisdom from the Seventh Dalai Lama)

In Buddhism (and society in general), pride is considered a poison. It is an exaggerated view of the self that clings and grasps to one's perceived abilities and achievements. 

Low self esteem, surprisingly, is also an expression of pride. It, too, is an exaggeration of the self, and it comes in the form of self-deprecation--making a big deal of ourselves in a negative way.

According to Venerable Thubten Chodron, abbess of Sravasti Abbey in Washington, the antidote to pride is to remember our interconnectedness to others. We never achieve what we do, or understand what we know, without having help from others.

Ven. Chodron agrees with Dr. Berry--that having confidence and the ability to rejoice and delight in our good qualities are healthy and important.

In addition, being able to discriminate between healthy pride, which is rooted in confidence and honesty, from toxic pride, which is rooted in arrogance, smugness, and demeaning others, is also very important.

Ven. Chodron adds that pride "isn't a poison unless it devalues another person."

In The Power of Compassion, His Holiness the Dalai Lama explains that excessive pride is connected to attachment to the self. "Attachment is narrow-minded and biased. Genuine compassion is healthier; it is unbiased and based on reason."

According to HHDL, the key to developing and practicing genuine compassion is cultivating equanimity. The wisdom of equality, equanimity, and focusing on others can transform the poison of pride into a healing nectar of compassion.  

Sometimes I think about that little seven-year-old girl, that long ago version of me. If I could go back in time and talk to her (my "present self" talking to my "former self," which takes the notion of talking to myself to a whole new level), I would offer her reassurance and compassion. I would tell her that it's OK to be playful and imaginative--that it's OK to look in the mirror and smile. I would take the towel off the mirror and tell her that I love her, that she is beautiful and funny and creative, and encourage her not to let anyone dull her shine. We would look into the mirror together--and make silly faces.

 It's OK to be proud. It's OK to celebrate and rejoice about things that matter to you, about things that you have worked hard to create and share with others.

I left a comment on Dr. Berry's story from the other day. I told her that I make beautiful, hand-knotted malas, and that my intention is to inspire and support meaningful practice for others. I hope that my creations offer a little peace, compassion, and encouragement for others.

She responded with a heart and an "Oooooooooo Yaaaaaaaasssssss!"

What are you proud of? What have you created with your heart, hands, and mind in this precious human life?

Take a moment to marvel at it--to celebrate and rejoice....because, sometimes, it's OK to be proud.

 

Thanks for taking the time to read or listen today. The MMM collection is full! Please take a look at the beautiful malas and quarter malas available in the online shop. May they be of benefit to you and your practice. Rejoice and celebrate!

 

Photo Credit: Edrick Krozendijk, courtesy of Unsplash


Impermanence is a Process: A Daily Practice Can Help Process Change February 25, 2023 17:39

water droplets on yellow tulip petals

If you prefer to listen to this month's article, please click HERE for the audio link.

 

I've been thinking a lot about impermanence lately. It's one thing to contemplate the idea of impermanence--to recognize and be aware of it in an intellectual sense--but it's quite a different practice to experience it--to feel the full weight of it when it pushes into your life and then leaves you, overwhelmed and confused.

A couple of weeks ago, my neighbor, Paula, called me in the evening. She was in a panic, and her voice wavered as she struggled to control it.

     "I hope I'm not bothering you," she began. 

     I knew it was something serious--and she had no need to qualify her news or apologize.

     "An ambulance just pulled into our driveway, and we're taking David to the hospital," she said.

I could hear and feel the uncertainty and concern in her voice. Her husband, who recently underwent major heart surgery, was having difficulty breathing and was experiencing severe pain.

My heart went out to both Paula and David. They had been through so much in the last few months. After a serious bout with COVID, David's health continued to deteriorate, leading to a heart valve replacement in December. He had been home for a couple of weeks, and his surgeon was happy with his recovery--until now.

Nothing is permanent. Nothing is fixed or lasts forever. We age, grow old, and die. No one is exempt.

Comprehending this on a superficial level and realizing it in a deep, real, and profound way are very different degrees of understanding.

     I whispered, "Oh, honey--I'm so sorry. Please know that we are thinking of you."

I looked out the kitchen window and watched the ambulance's lights flashing in the darkness. We hung up, and I held onto the edge of the counter until the ambulance pulled out of their driveway. When my own breathing steadied, I took my seat and practiced, dedicating the merit of the practice to the both of them.

We don't realize how attached we are to this life...or to the people and things of this life...until we are confronted with the harsh reality of loss.

Our tendency to grip and cling to those we love becomes such a firmly ingrained habit. We don't even think about impermanence, until someone we love dies or leaves.

In The Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English, Bhante Gunaratana states, "When we do not cling, we do not suffer."

We cling out of habit. We expect those we love will always be there for us...with us. We take them for granted instead of taking responsibility for our own deluded state of mind.

"Life is as impermanent as a water bubble."

This is one of the lines that stands out to me in the Chenrezig sadhana. Every day, when I read this line, I pause to take it in.

Being responsible means knowing how to respond with skill, wisdom, and awareness.

Understanding impermanence is a process--sometimes we can prepare in advance for an upcoming change--like planning a wedding, a graduation party, or a move.

Sometimes, however, the changes occur suddenly--but they aren't necessarily unpleasant. My daughter's dog, Kevin, was a stray who literally jumped into her arms as she was stepping out of her car one evening. Kevin has been a source of joy for her and her husband ever since.

Pleasant changes and gradual changes are easier to manage, but the sudden, life-changing surprises can be like sucker punches to the gut.

The truth is, we're changing constantly. In our own bodies, on a cellular level, millions of cells die and many more replace them every day.

Today is Saturday--but I am not the same person that I was last Saturday. I may look the same, but on a cellular level, I am different--I have changed.

Change is a powerful teacher. It nudges us (sometimes gently, and sometimes forcefully) to pay attention, to be mindful of where we are, what we are thinking, doing, saying, and who's around us. 

This moment will never come again--our next breath is not guaranteed--and the more we can appreciate and be present with what is, the more open we can be and more accepting we can be when changes inevitably come.

This is where a daily meditation practice really comes in handy. Daily practice can help prepare for and cope with loss and change.

Taking a few minutes each day to connect to my breath or to recite a few rounds of mantra with a mala can help prevent me from spiraling into worry or grief when the universe pulls the rug out from under me.

A daily practice also bolsters my courage. I have friends who avoid watching the news, for example. They can't handle it emotionally--it's too overwhelming and depressing for them.

Just this month, hearing stories about devastating events such as the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, that resulted in hazardous chemicals seeping into the soil and water--polluting the air, and causing devastating effects for the residents and wildlife in the surrounding areas--this is suffering, this is painful, especially upon learning that accidents like this are totally preventable.

Sometimes, they can't be prevented. On an international level, the powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake, followed by a series of aftershocks devastated parts of Syria and Turkey, killing more than 44,000 people and displacing more than five million from their destroyed homes.

Facing change and suffering is not easy--and ignoring it doesn't make it go away or make it easier to handle, either. 

Change can be sudden...change can be devastating...Having the courage to face impermanence, and having the compassion to reach out to others who have been directly impacted, are crucial to recovery and healing.

Speaking of recovery and healing, I have some good news. David, our neighbor, was released from the hospital recently and is recovering at home. I stopped by a few days ago to deliver a vase of tulips and to offer to help with anything they may need. It was good to see them both smiling and happy.

Change is inevitable. Nothing is permanent. All changes aren't devastating. However, a daily meditation practice can help prepare for the uncertain and bolster the compassion and wisdom required for managing the aftermath, whether the changes are positive, negative, or neutral.

Daily practice offers solace, steadiness, and familiarity during ever-changing times. May your daily practice be of benefit to you...and may it help you to be a source of strength and support for others.

 

By the way, the Middle Moon Malas collection is also always changing. I have added several new one-of-a-kind malas and quarter malas to the online shop. If you would like a new mala to support your own practice, or if you'd like to give a beautiful mala to a friend or loved one, please visit middlemoonmalas.com.

 (photo credit: Angelica Vaihel via Pixabay)

  


Finding Resonance with Your Practice: Easing into the New Year January 31, 2023 19:01

snowy morning offerings on outdoor altar space. Snow covered Buddha holds birdseed

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--

 

Take care!

 

 

 

 

 

 


Interdependence and the Trip of a Lifetime: The Balance of Giving and Receiving December 31, 2022 13:33

View of sunset at Namgyal Monastery, temple of His Holiness the Dalai Lama

(View from Namgyal Monastery, HHDL's temple in Dharamshala)

 

If you prefer to listen to this month's blog post, please click HERE for the audio link. 

 

Americans, in general, are a bit fussy about independence. We like to be able to do things "all by ourselves," and many of us are hesitant to accept help from others. However, one of the biggest lessons that my Buddhist practice has taught me is that we are constantly riding the waves of our own personal and collective karmas, and that because of various causes and conditions, no one journeys through life alone--we are interdependent beings, whether we realize it or not. Life is more fun when you realize it, though.

I was very fortunate to be able to travel with a group of Dharma friends to India in November. We spent a week near a monastery in South India, and then we went to Dharamshala in North India for a week or so.

This truly was an amazing trip of a lifetime, and it would not have been possible without the presence, assistance, patience, kindness, compassion, generosity, expertise, and effort of many, many others.

One of the biggest lessons of this trip for me focused on the importance of giving and receiving--especially maintaining a healthy balance between these two actions.

 Too much giving--especially feeling pressured to give, can leave me feeling depleted and exhausted. By the same token, too much receiving makes me feel  uncomfortable, undeserving, selfish, and mired in the grippy tangle of attachment.

This trip was a beautiful dance of give and receive, and our group members were willing participants in its choreography. 

One of the things we were grateful for was the delicious food we enjoyed while in India. While we were in Delhi, we were invited to a dinner at the Tashi Kyil Guest House and were served steaming platters of momos, veggies, fresh bread, and cups of hot chai.

I remember hearing the clatter of dishes, pots, and pans--the hiss of steam--the spray of water in the kitchen. Many hands were involved in preparing this meal, and it was delicious.

We enjoyed all of the meals during our trip, whether they were served in fancy hotels or prepared in tiny local restaurants, like Dolma's Kitchen in Dharamshala, where all the food was made from scratch--the tea from the Norbulinka Cafe, the cheesecake and yogurt mousse from a tiny restaurant near Namgyal Monastery--and all those wonderful honey lemon ginger teas and cappuccinos.

No matter where we went, we were greeted with warm, smiling faces and sincere service. We pooled our rupees and took turns paying for each other's meals. It was a beautiful exchange of give and receive--one fueled by meaningful service and gratitude.

Geshe Kunga treated us to tea at a shop along the kora by HHDL's temple

(Geshe Kunga treated us to tea at an outdoor cafe along the kora in Dharamshala)

We did not partake in street food. However, one of my favorite meals was "soup in a bucket." Our teacher, Geshe Kunga, who took very good care of us throughout this trip, sent us an urgent message one evening to come to the temple. We hurried down dark, crowded streets to Namgyal Monastery to be greeted by Geshe-lak, who served us steaming bowls of spicy vegetable soup with thick, hand-made noodles from a large metal bucket. He had sponsored a dinner and wanted to share it with us, too. Monks from Namgyal prepared it for their sangha members. We sat on metal benches at the Dalai Lama's temple and enjoyed the warm, savory soup that was lovingly prepared by many monks for the benefit of many others.

Sangha members enjoying soup in a bucket. Warm, savory, spicy, made from scratch and sponsored by our teacher, Geshe Kunga.

(Mmmm...mmmmm...good. Sangha members enjoying homemade soup)

Interdependence was literally all around us--and it was not limited to restaurants and coffee shops. It was with us in the bustling Delhi airport--it was with us in traffic as taxi drivers gracefully chauffeured us among other cars, trucks, tuk tuks, scooters, pedestrians, and even livestock on crowded streets.

Interdependence was with us as we navigated our way on foot through narrow alleyways of the Tibetan Quarter in Manju ka Tila, busy markets near Hubballi,  and the sloping network of streets in McCleod Ganj.

***

 We had so much to be thankful for on this trip, but the day before Thanksgiving, we had the opportunity of a lifetime--our group had an audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

I can't begin to fathom all of the causes and conditions that had to align in order for this meeting to occur, but we were beyond appreciative.

I remember waking up at 3:00 AM in my hotel room at the Serkong House. I was too keyed up to practice, so I sat in bed and chanted the long Chenrezig mantra. I made a cup of tea, continued to chant, and waited.

Later, I showered, changed into a chupa (Traditional Tibetan dress) and pangden (apron) and met the rest of our group in the lobby at 6:15 AM.

We walked to the temple in the cool darkness. A black feral dog walked with us, escorting us most of the way to Namgyal Monastery. I was a little nervous about our meeting, but continuing to chant the Chenrezig mantra helped me remain calm, clear, and focused.

Geshe Kunga was waiting for us at the gate, and we walked to the office where we all took Covid tests. Our group was scheduled to meet with HHDL last that morning.

We showed our passports, went through security, and waited. We placed objects that we brought with us for HHDL to bless on a small table. I brought my white Selenite mala and a small quarter mala that I had made for someone special and gave these to the attending monk.

When it was time, our group was ushered upstairs to a room where couches and several chairs were arranged on either side of HHDL's seat in the middle of the room. Once we were seated, we remained very quiet as attending monks bustled quietly around us. One brought in a tray of beautiful statues and placed it on a nearby table.

We could hear groups of people just outside the door, and occasionally, HHDL's voice and gentle laugh as he patiently greeted those who came to see him, along with the rapid shutter clicks of a camera.  

We waited quietly in the room for thirty minutes or so. Geshe Kunga gave each of us a Medicine Buddha statue from the tray to offer to HHDL. We unfurled our khatags that we brought and rested the statues on them in our laps. Then, His Holiness quietly entered the room, flanked by attending monks who guided him to his seat. All of my nervousness melted away, and I felt very calm and at ease in his presence.

Takster Rinpoche, a young lama who is connected to our Bloomington center, was kneeling on the floor beside him. Our connection to this young lama is the reason why our group was here--and why this private audience was possible.

His Holiness was very kind and nurturing to the young Rinpoche. He affectionately touched his head and patted him as he talked to us. He encouraged Rinpoche to continue his studies, and he emphasized that this was very important. His sincerity and encouragement were quite moving for all of us, particularly for Rinpoche, who wept quietly as he spoke to him.

Afterwards, attending monks helped us to line up with our offerings. At the last moment, while I was waiting in line, one of the monks, Geshe Sangay, gave me a beautiful jeweled conch shell to offer as well.

My mind was calm, and my hands were full with beautiful offerings. When it was my turn, I knelt down before HHDL as attending monks collected the offerings; in turn, they gave me a small Buddha statue that had been blessed by HHDL. We met eyes and smiled. He held my gaze briefly, leaned forward to pat my cheek, and brought his forehead to touch mine.

No words were spoken--and they weren't necessary-- it was merely a quiet exchange of sincerity, joy, compassion, and gratitude.

He placed the khatag around my neck, attending monks helped me to my feet, and they led me out of the room.

Our group gathered our things and blessed items and took several group photos in front of the temple. We walked back to the Serkong House for breakfast in a blissful state--among fellow pedestrians, scooters, tuk tuks, vendors, monastics, and feral dogs. I have never felt a stronger sense of connection to all of humanity in my life. I felt calm, connected, and interconnected to everyone and everything around me. It was a beautiful experience and a memory that I will treasure always.

Meeting with the Dalai Lama

 (Meeting HHDL was a joy)

Sangha Members with HHDL

(Dharma friends with HHDL)

 group photo in front of HHDL's office after private audience

 (Group photo with our group outside HHDL's office)

***

Every day of this trip was an adventure, and every day revealed the reality and significance of interdependence.

Meeting His Holiness was an amazing and meaningful opportunity, but I was hoping to meet someone else who was just as special to me.

I have been sponsoring a nun through the Tibetan Nuns Project for several years. Venerable Tsundue Palmo resides at Tilokpur nunnery, which is about an hour away from Dharamshala. Before our trip, I had reached out to TNP administrators to see if it would be possible to arrange a visit during our trip. Our schedule was tight and unpredictable, but many hearts and hands came together again to bring Venerable to Dolma Ling, a nunnery much closer to Dharamshala.

Honestly, I was a little more nervous about meeting her than I was meeting HHDL. Our group had rented a car and traveled to Gyuto Monastery first. The buildings were painted bright yellow, birds were everywhere, and young monks were chanting mantras from open windows. It was a beautiful, sunny day--Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.

Then, we traveled to nearby Dolma Ling and met with Tenzin, who helped make this meeting possible. After a few minutes, a car arrived at the nunnery, and I was able to meet Ven.Tsundue Palmo in person. I was surrounded by my Dharma friends when Tenzin introduced us. I offered Venerable a khatag, a donation in a bright orange envelope, and the quarter mala that I had made for her, which had been blessed by HHDL the day before. 

Venerable was very soft-spoken, peaceful, and pleasant. Tenzin took us on a tour of Dolma Ling nunnery, and we stopped by the office so my friends could make prayer requests and donations to TNP. Then, we invited Venerable to join us for lunch at nearby Norbulinka, a beautiful monastery with a museum, restaurant, and gift shop.

Another member of our group, Victor, happened to be connected with the project manager at Norbulinka, Nyima, and she graciously treated our group to lunch and a tour of Norbulinka. It was another wonderful day--and interdependence made it all possible.

It was a joy meeting Venerable in person, and it definitely strengthened my motivation to continue to support her and the Tibetan Nuns Project.

 Offering khatag to Venerable Tsundue Palmo

 (Victor taking a photo of me offering a khatag to Venerable Tsundue Palmo)

Joyous meeting with TNP nun Venerable Tsundue Palmo

 (Venerable and I --a joyous meeting)

Venerable at Norbulinka

(Venerable after lunch at Norbulinka)

 

***

Our group was riding the waves of our collective good karma, but it wasn't finished with us yet. Another member of our group, David, had met with Rinchen Khando Choegyal years ago when he had traveled to India in the 70s. This previous meeting with her was extremely inspiring and meaningful for him, so he reached out and managed to arrange a private audience with her and our group.

Rinchen-lak is the founder and special advisor of The Tibetan Nuns Project. She is the former Minister of Education in the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, and she is the founding President of the Tibetan Women's Association. Oh, and she's also HHDL's sister-in-law.

Later in the week, we rented a car and drove to Kashmir Cottage to meet with her. We were seated in a small, airy room where her attendant brought us glasses of ginger tea.

 She was very kind and generous with her time. We talked with her for an hour. She told us that her family was originally from Kham in Tibet, and her family came to India in 1958, a year before the Chinese invaded Tibet.

She came from a wealthy family and was able to attend school. Rinchen-lak later married the Dalai Lama's brother, and she started a bakery to provide food for other Tibetan refugees. She also helped provide clean water for the nuns at Tilokpur (the same nunnery where Ven. now resides) and opened Kashmir Cottage as a guest house.

She worked very hard to ensure that the nuns were fed and cared for--that they had qualified teachers and received a good education. She emphasized practical, foundational matters, tending to the physical wellbeing and mental health for the nuns as well as practicing Dharma.

Rinchen-lak was a kind-hearted, generous host, but in hearing her story, she was also wise, fiercely determined, and dedicated to helping the Tibetan people and to preserving the Dharma and Tibetan culture. Her work in educating and supporting Tibetan Buddhist nuns is beyond inspiring, and her primary message to us was..."For everything that you have, now it is time to give something back."

This is the essence of interdependence.

Rinchen Khando Choegyal at Kashmir Cottage

(Rinchen Khando Choegyal at Kashmir Cottage)

David was instrumental in making this meeting possible. He was very grateful to be able to meet with Rinchen lak again.

(David expresses his gratitude)

 

Group photo at Kashmir Cottage with Rinchen Khando Choegyal

(Dharma friends with Rinchen-lak)

 These were just some of the highlights of our trip to India. There were actually many other examples and many more wonderful people that I could have mentioned in this article. 

I am very grateful to have experienced all of the events of this trip with my Dharma friends. Much gratitude to Geshe Kunga and TMBCC for making this trip possible. My hope is that sharing these moments with you will be of benefit as well.

May you give and receive with an open heart.

May you graciously accept help from others and offer help when you can.

May 2023 offer you many blessings, adventures, and opportunities.

May you continue to learn, grow, practice, and flourish in the coming New Year.

Geshe Kunga flanked by monk friends on the kora

 (Geshe-lak flanked by monk friends in Dharamshala)

 

 

 

 


Embracing the Benefits of Fall: Learning to Let Go October 29, 2022 14:06

A silhouette of Teresa standing in a leaf covered yard holding a large sycamore leaf.

If you would prefer to listen to this month's blog offering, please click HERE for the audio link. 

 

This autumn season is blazing with color in Indiana. The maples and oaks are letting go of their leaves in brilliant red, orange, gold, and sepia colors. Nature is throwing a party, and everyone is invited.

While I'm enjoying this colorful season, I'm also grappling with an undercurrent of anxiety. A few factors are contributing to this mild, but steady uneasiness.

1. I have a trip of a lifetime coming up in mid November. A group of dharma friends and I will be traveling to India in a few weeks. We'll be attending an important ceremony at a monastery in South India, and then we'll be headed to Dharamshala to attend a live teaching with H.H. the Dalai Lama.

I have been fussing with the details and preparations for this trip for months: securing a visa, arranging for required vaccinations, thinking about what to pack (for two climates), downloading necessary travel apps, etc. I have been navigating feelings of anticipation and excitement as well as the worry of uncertainty.

2. This trip occurs during a time when I usually attend an important event as a vendor. Because my mala biz is online, and I don't have a brick and mortar shop, attending events like Indy Holistic Hub's Wellbeing Fest in Indianapolis helps to boost my success and sustainability, and it also allows people in the community to see and purchase my malas in person.

As a result, I've been grappling with uncertainties about my business. I've been questioning and ruminating about whether what I do is relevant. I've been worrying about where I can find those who appreciate what I do--and where they can find me, so that they can use these malas to not only benefit their own personal practice, but they can also be of benefit to others.

I've been grappling with feelings of doubt and of not feeling worthy or relevant.

3. I recently attended an event earlier this month hosted by Shades of Becoming a Mom, Inc. It was a wonderful, meaningful ceremony dedicated to women and families who had experienced pregnancy, infant, or child loss.

In preparation for this event, I had created several quarter malas made with gemstones suited for dealing with grief and healing from loss. I was grateful to sell a few of them, and I was also very grateful to be invited to participate as a vendor at this event. I met some kind-hearted, gracious people.

However, those seeds of doubt and worry surfaced again. I was comparing this event to the Wellbeing Fest from last year, which is not a fair comparison at all. The audiences and intentions of these events are completely different--and making comparisons only makes me spiral into hopelessness and dread.

4. I am still trying to overcome my conditioning to believe that being busy and productive are marks of success. I taught English at a large high school for nearly twenty years. In this environment, I was frenetically, frantically busy--too busy, really...

too busy to think

too busy to enjoy what I was doing

too busy to have time with my family

too busy to have any kind of restorative personal practices

too busy to effectively take care of myself

This level of chaotic effort was not healthy or helpful for me or anyone around me. In many ways, I felt like a useless failure during this time.

Thankfully, I transferred to a smaller school in the same district, and things did improve, at first. I wasn't as stressed, and I felt like what I was doing (teaching young people to think and write and reflect) mattered.  Even though I was teaching in a smaller school, and the work environment was more healthy and supportive, it didn't take long for the commitments and pressures of teaching--the endless initiatives, the daily meetings, the constant stream of collecting data and proctoring various standardized tests--all the things that interfered rather than enhanced teaching--all of these things took over like kudzu--and I felt that stranglehold pull of stress, anxiety, and doubt once again.

About ten years ago, I transitioned to a part-time tutoring position at this same small school. Once again, things improved.

I had more time to help students one-on-one. Because this is a part-time position, I also had time to take care of myself. I had time to read, to spend time with my family, to practice yoga and Feldenkrais lessons, to travel to Bloomington for dharma talks, to create malas--and to start my mala business. For the first time, my life felt balanced.

____________________

Fall is a season of facing and celebrating change. Each year, month, day, moment is different from those that came before, and I have a choice about how to approach these constant changes.

Instead of planting seeds of doubt and worry about traveling to new, exciting places, not selling malas, missing an event that I can attend next year, I am taking inspiration from these beautiful fall leaves and giving myself permission to let go of expectations, attachments, patterns, behaviors, and thoughts that no longer serve me.

I don't need to be so busy that I can't think clearly or take care of myself and others.

I don't have to sell X number of malas or put unnecessary pressure on myself to  feel as though I matter.

I don't need to do more or exert unnecessary effort in order to feel productive or relevant.

This fall season is speaking to me, and the trees in my front yard are modeling what I need to do--to let go--to rest--to restore.

They are encouraging me to recognize and acknowledge the wisdom and confidence that I already have within me--and to have faith that a new growing season is coming.

They are reminding me to trust that the right people will find me and the malas on my online shop.

They are validating that what I do matters in a quiet way--and that what I do will encourage others to find their own paths as well.

Creativity can't be forced, and endless effort is not productive. It often leads to burnout and exhaustion. This fallow time is necessary, and it's giving me more time to devote to other interests and adventures.

I am embracing change during this beautiful season. In a couple of weeks, I will be going to India. I have never been there before, and I don't have any expectations or comparisons. I am open to having an adventure with my dharma friends and receiving any benefits that may come our way.

I am leaving my worries, doubts, and neurotic musings behind. May they drift to the ground like dry leaves and drift away with the wind, or sink into brown grass and nourish the soil underneath.

I look forward to sharing more details about this trip with you soon.

In the meantime, if you feel compelled to purchase a mala from the online shop, now is actually a good time. I am more than happy to send them your way before I depart.

May you reap the benefits of this beautiful season as well, and may these words and malas be of benefit.

 

Take care--

 

Teresa 

 

 

 

 


Retreats: Recharge, Renew, Reflect September 30, 2022 14:46

snow capped mountains and bright blue sky 

 

If you prefer to listen to this month's blog article, please click HERE to listen to the audio link.

I recently read Tenzin Palmo’s biography, Cave in the Snow, by Vickie MacKenzie. She is a well-respected Buddhist nun who had spent over twelve years in a solitary mountain retreat.

While I have no desire to climb up a mountain in the Himalayas to meditate in a tiny cave while enduring blizzards, avalanches, predatory creatures, and minimal options of food and medical supplies, Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo’s dedication to practice was certainly inspiring.

Retreats can be rejuvenating and motivating, but not everyone has the privilege or karma to leave home and practice in an isolated environment. The good news is, retreats don’t have to occur in harsh, barren landscapes (or extravagantly elegant ones, for that matter); they don’t have to be expensive; they also don’t have to be lengthy to inspire meaningful practice and to be of benefit.

This month, I had the opportunity to attend three retreats of different sorts: a three-day Chenrezig retreat in Bloomington, a ten-day Feldenkrais summit, and a series of online teachings that focus on Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s The Power of Mantra: Vital Practices for Transformation.

Even though each retreat had a different focus and topic, I was able to participate, practice, and tend to the other obligations and responsibilities in my life.  As a householder, I don’t have the luxury or time to practice uninterrupted in a secluded place, but these mini retreats have helped me maintain my motivation to practice as well as honor my family and work commitments.

  • Chenrezig Retreat

This past Labor Day weekend, Geshe Kunga held a Chenrezig Retreat at TMBCC in Bloomington.

He held a similar retreat a few years ago, and I was able to stay on site by renting one of their cottages. This time, however, I chose to commute each day instead. Several other retreatants had traveled from other states and countries, and I didn’t want to inconvenience them or deny them the opportunity to stay on site.

This retreat included three days of in-depth teachings and meditation sessions on Chenrezig, the Buddha of Compassion. We spent time reading, analyzing, chanting, discussing, and unpacking a specific sadhana practice.

Before this retreat, my personal practice had become a bit inconsistent and sporadic, so this retreat and sadhana practice was the perfect jump start that I needed. It offered just enough structure, it was meaningful, and it didn’t require a lengthy time commitment.  

Since Labor Day weekend, I have been practicing this sadhana every day. I read it aloud in English (and Tibetan), and I look forward to my practice. Sometimes, I can practice in the early morning; sometimes I practice in between student sessions at school, and sometimes I practice later in the day or evening. Regardless of the time of day, I feel like I’ve accomplished something meaningful, and it gives me a sense of purpose. This jump start wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for this short retreat.

I wasn’t in a cave—I still have to deal with rush hour traffic—I still have to make trips to the grocery store—I still have to pay bills and wash dishes—and I still have to interact with others. But the thread running through all of these “beads of responsibility” is the practice.

 

  • Feldenkrais Summit

The second retreat that I participated in was the Move Better, Feel Better Summit hosted by my friend Cynthia Allen. She has hosted several online Feldenkrais summits in the past. This is an annual, online event that lasts for several days. This year’s event was a ten-day summit which included keynote speakers, presentations by experts and Feldenkrais practitioners from all over the world, and three short Feldenkrais lessons led by practitioners each day.

Because the interviews and lessons were pre-recorded, participants could access them online at their convenience. I could choose which interviews to watch and which lessons to practice, and the best part was, this event was free.

This summit is a wonderful opportunity for those who are new to the Feldenkrais Method to learn more about it, and for those who are familiar with the method, it’s a great opportunity to deepen their understanding and practice.

Like most conferences, this online event can seem overwhelming at first, and it’s tempting to want to see and do everything. If I lived in a cave with internet access, I probably would, but instead, I chose to watch one interview and practice at least one of the three lessons each day. Carving out time for my movement practice—making room to cultivate curiosity through learning, growing, and playing while still tending to real-life obligations has helped me maintain a healthy life balance.

I was able to listen to interviews while I was sending morning emails to students—or while cleaning my living room, and I could begin or end my day with a short movement lesson. This summit added novelty and structure to my life, and it encouraged me to make time to move, play, and attend to my life more fully.

 

  • The Power of Mantra

Finally, my third retreat, which is still ongoing, focuses on reading and analyzing a Buddhist text: The Power of Mantra: Vital Practices for Transformation.  

Venerable Yӧnten is an amazing Buddhist nun who is currently teaching at Vajrapani Institute in California. She is teaching a series of online lectures that focus on this text by Lama Zopa Rinpoche.

I’ve been following Ven. Yӧnten’s teachings for a few years. She’s a young Mahayana Buddhist nun from Montana who is extremely knowledgeable (and funny). I appreciate how she can unpack and explain complex Buddhist ideas as well as incorporate relevant and contemporary examples to bring clarity and understanding to ancient teachings and concepts.

I had attended several of her live teachings on Zoom a few years ago when she was teaching in Israel. I remember waking up at 4:00 AM to attend these talks.

Her current teachings from Vajrapani Institute are also available live via Zoom. However, she is also sharing them on YouTube as well, which is more convenient for my schedule.

This text, The Power of Mantra, is a compilation of what Lama Zopa Rinpoche considers to be the most accessible Buddhist deities and their respective mantras. It includes chapters describing Shakyamuni Buddha, Chenrezig, Manjushri, Tara, Medicine Buddha, and Vajrasattva. In addition to explaining the significance of each deity, this text also includes mantras and short meditation practices that correspond with each.

The text alone is an absolute treasure, but being able to listen to Ven. Yӧnten explain in more detail and lead listeners through the meditations is an even greater gift.

  

Retreats are important—they are meaningful opportunities and necessary pockets of time for practice—whether it’s a meditation, movement, or mantra practice—whether the practice is intellectual in nature, or rooted in curiosity, creativity, and play. Taking the time to delve into practices that resonate with you is extremely important. Retreats can help boost, recharge, and energize a fading or forgotten interest, and they can help add structure to a sporadic practice, helping to make room or time for them even during the busiest of days. They can also give you something to look forward to.

The best part is, you don’t have to take refuge in a cave (or an expensive resort) in order to make time or reap the benefits of meaningful practices. With a little creativity, resourcefulness, and planning, retreats can occur in the middle of your own life, and they can become the sutra running through your own beads of responsibility.

 Enjoy your own practices, everyone!  Talk to you soon.

If you haven't visited the MMM online shop in a while, new designs have been added. Enhance your own personal practices with a beautiful, hand-knotted mala. Visit the current collection here .

 

 

 

 

 


Reflections on Leaving a Cult: Evolutions and Revelations August 25, 2022 11:01

A pigeon takes flight among other pigeons cooped in small boxes

 If you prefer to listen to this month's blog article, please click HERE for the audio recording.

I recently binge-listened to a podcast called Uncoverage. In it, Nina Bird Lawrence describes some of her childhood memories and recollections that she had while in a Tibetan Buddhist cult and her interactions with the leader of this cult, Chogyam Trungpa. Her story was one of deep sadness, survival, and growth. I appreciated her vivid and specific details in each episode. Each was a zoom-lens view of her experiences in Shambhala.

So many things were stirred up for me as I listened to Lawrence’s story. Cults aren’t necessarily large, global groups like Jim Jones’ The People’s Temple, the Moonies, or Scientology. Cult dynamics can occur in families, work places, one-on-one relationships, or, as was my case, a local yoga studio.

I had taken a weekly yoga class since 2000 at a local gym in Indianapolis. When I took a sabbatical from teaching high school English in 2012, I had more time to dive more deeply into my own personal practice. I discovered that a nearby yoga studio in Greenwood was offering a Yoga Teacher Training program. I chatted with the business owner (I will refer to her as Narcie in this article) at length on the phone, and I took a few classes at the studio before committing to the 200 hr. YTT training.

Looking back, I should have known better. There were signs all around me that things were not quite right, but I was in a vulnerable place in my life—I was exhausted and burned out from full-time teaching and was in desperate need of spiritual nourishment and self-care—so I was a prime candidate for a charismatic, predatory cult leader.

I remember the lobby area of the studio...cluttered and “busy” with shoes haphazardly scattered under wooden benches. Photos of famous yogis (T. Krishnamacharya, Pattabhi Jois, Neem Karoli Baba) hung in mismatched frames on one wall. The wall leading to the studio space included hand-painted yoni shapes in thick, sticky jungle green and brown paint. The studio itself was dimly lit. Along one wall were stacks of yoga blocks of various sizes and colors, and straps hung on hooks. The flooring was a cheap laminate marked with Frog tape to indicate yoga mat placement. Mismatched sarongs were draped over tables and bookcases. A small burned-out salt lamp gathered cobwebs in one corner. Scruffy, worn-out bolsters were piled in the opposite corner along with leftover carpet squares and ceiling tiles. A long, vertical banner with the chakra symbols hung on the back wall near the bathroom. Additional canvases dotted the walls—dark, heavy colors in thick paint—abstract references suggesting Hindu deities like Ganesha and Kali.

There was always something interesting to look at, but it was not a warm, inviting place. The décor was dark, mysterious, and a bit unkempt. I recall Narcie telling me once, “It’s this place…it draws people in…and sends some away.”

 Dominance:

After I left this studio, I found the research and writings of Steve Hassan, Janja Lalich, Matthew Remski, and Rachel Bernstein to be extremely helpful to my healing. According to these experts, one of the qualities of a cult leader and a common characteristic of cult dynamics is dominance. According to Hassan, this authoritarian trait can come in the form of a person (Narcie), or an ideology (yoga).

Narcie liked to feel superior. She took pleasure in knowing things that others didn’t, and she wasn’t generous with her knowledge. She often withheld it to hold over others. For instance, sometimes, when I was taking her class, she would sneer to herself when she noticed that I struggled with a pose, instead of offering to help. She took pleasure in my awkwardness.

She also liked to manipulate and control others. She used hands-on adjustments frequently during her classes (without bothering to ask for consent first).  Having someone touch me during class was always jarring for me. It pulled me out of my practice, and it made my practice feel performative rather than interoceptive or reflective. Hands-on adjustments were intrusive—and made me feel judged and uncomfortable.

Later, when I led my own classes at this studio, I preferred offering verbal cues and giving my students agency instead of physically manipulating them.

Ironically, I would learn later, thanks to Matthew Remski’s book Practice and All Is Coming: Abuse, Cult Dynamics, and Healing in Yoga and Beyond that Pattabhi Jois, who abused hundreds of students at his shala in India, often used hands-on adjustments as a way of abusing his students in plain sight. Remski also refers to this invasive practice as somatic dominance.

Once, in one of her Gentle Yoga classes, which attracted a large number of regular students, and it was a class that I attended as well, Narcie announced during the flow that she was a sadist. Her students giggled at this; they thought she was joking...and that she was making a reference to the pose that we were doing. However, I didn’t laugh—because I knew she was admitting the truth.

Narcie could also be quite cruel, especially during our YTT modules. She would make biting comments about one of the students in our group—and tacitly encouraged others to either chime in or side with her. She encouraged petty dramas and passive-aggressive digs. She carefully picked her targets—she knew who she could bully or break down, and she was consistently aggressive and harsh with them.

Narcie liked to know what other teachers were learning, too, even though she was very aloof and reluctant to share her own knowledge. One of her students, for instance, was in graduate school and studying to be a physical therapist. One day, she had brought her anatomy text to the studio and was working on an assignment before class. Narcie glanced at her book and said, “I could be a doctor of yoga.”

Narcie also fostered tacit competition, and she needed to be better than everyone else around her. She was a very strong and skillful asana practitioner. She demonstrated physical mastery, flexibility, and prowess.  Sometimes, before the Gentle Yoga class, which was comprised mostly of older women, she would practice very advanced poses before class started. Those who arrived a few minutes early would be her “audience.” These displays communicated authority and superiority (as well as arrogance and unprofessionalism).

 Deception: 

Deception is another red flag and a strong indication of cult dynamics.

I felt like I was under a spell when I was in this studio space, especially when I was taking classes or attending YTT modules. During our training modules, Narcie would boast about being a highly intuitive empath. She also claimed to be a Reiki master and a firekeeper. Actually, she was a master co-opter and cultural appropriator.

She would host seasonal solstice ceremonies at her studio where participants would bring flowers, fruit, and chocolates to offer to the makeshift altar space that she had created in the middle of the floor, which included candles, crystals, and a statue of a sacred Hindu deity. Narcie was not a practicing Hindu, and her heritage was not Indian, but that didn’t stop her from appropriating sacred objects and traditions from Indian culture or chanting Sanskrit mantras without explaining their significance in her ceremonies.

Co-opting was a big part of her hustle as a studio owner. Narcie would learn about a new phrase, idea, or trend, and incorporate it into her own classes or create workshops around them. For example, she purchased several Yoga Dharma Wheels (a trendy $100+ prop that resembled a section of PVC pipe covered in a swath of rubber similar to a yoga mat), and decided to host a workshop around these expensive props. Participants had to purchase this prop in order to attend the workshop as well as sign a waiver releasing her of liability in the event of “death or injury” during this special class.

She also hosted workshops and private sessions that involved Reiki, Thai yoga massage, essential oils, and acro yoga—but would quickly lose interest and toss them aside, especially if they didn’t prove to be interesting or profitable. I found that she did the same with people as well.

Narcie wasn’t especially good with people, and she cultivated a fair amount of relational chaos and drama as a result. By nature, she was aloof and overly aggressive, so she had a hard time making and keeping loyal friends and partnerships. Her business partner, Russell (again, not his real name), was Yang to her Yin. Russell was friendly, affable, good-natured, and very energetic.

Narcie and Russell had an interesting relationship. When I first started going to their studio, they weren’t married, but they lived together. When Russell wasn’t around, Narcie referred to him on more than one occasion as an asshole, which confused me because he was more than willing to lie and cover for her, and he was her greatest go-along-to-get-along enabler.

When I was almost finished with their YTT program, Narcie suddenly left the studio. She had run away to Las Vegas for two months without an explanation, leaving Russell to field questions from curious (and worried) students, cover all of her classes, and keep the studio running.

 I had worried that she ran off to Vegas to gamble away all of the YTT money she had made from the students in our group. When customers asked Russell where Narcie went, he told them she was getting dental work done. It was a ridiculous lie that no one believed, but he said it with a smile, and they didn’t press him for more details.

Narcie eventually returned…without an explanation...and her teeth looked the same as they did before she left…crooked.

She never said a word about where she went or why she left, and we knew better than to ask. Fortunately, I was able to finish my training and started teaching Yin classes at their studio.

The signs had been there all along, but I didn’t see them. The co-opting, co-modification, cultural appropriation, fickle hustles and detours, and, of course, the lies. It took me six years to recognize that no matter how hard I worked, how many classes I taught, she didn’t value me…she didn’ t value anyone, but herself.

Delay Leaving:

"When we are no longer able to change a situation...we are challenged to change ourselves."  Victor Frankl

Cult researchers also agree that members of cults often delay leaving a manipulative, toxic group or environment. This may seem counterintuitive, but I totally understand. It took me six years to walk away from teaching and attending classes at this Greenwood studio.

I did enjoy teaching classes--that was the main reason why I stayed as long as I did--because of my students.

However, I also felt lonely in this space--and hopelessly inadequate. A 200-hour YTT program is not enough training to effectively lead others in a yoga practice.  Consequently, after I completed the YTT program at this studio, I also completed a Prenatal Yoga Program at Kripalu, I studied Yin Yoga in Vancouver, B.C., with Bernie Clark, and I completed an online Yoga for All training with Dianne Bondy and Amber Karnes.

All of these additional programs were excellent, and the teachers were knowledgeable AND professional--no secrets, no drama, no mind games.

These programs and trainings also helped boost my confidence while I taught prenatal, Yin, and community yoga classes at the Greenwood studio. I invested a great deal of time and effort preparing meaningful sequences for my students. Not only did these trainings help me grow as a teacher, they also helped me recognize how unhealthy the environment was in this space--and how manipulative and toxic Narcie and Russell actually were. In effect, breaking away helped me muster the courage to walk away.

In August, of 2017, I signed up for an additional training with my friend Alyssa at her studio in Broad Ripple. She was offering a YTT supplemental program for those who were interested in teaching meditation. Alyssa's program was excellent, too, and it was during her training that I found out about a meditation retreat in Colorado scheduled for March of 2018. 

I had been practicing meditation daily on my own, and was really looking forward to this retreat. On Thanksgiving of 2017, Narcie sent me an "urgent" email. I was expecting a message from a family member--it was a holiday, after all. Instead, it was Narcie wanting to know if I was interested in renewing my contract to teach at her studio (she had her independent contractors fill out ridiculously long contracts every six months). I had filled out these papers many times before, but for the first time, I hesitated--I thought about what the next six months would be like. I thought about teaching in her dark, cavelike studio. I thought about all of her demands, dramas, passive-aggressive digs, and mood swings that I would have to tolerate. I thought about her lack of appreciation for all of the effort and dedication that I would offer, and then I thought about the upcoming meditation retreat-- and the hassle of finding subs to cover my classes while I was away.

It was at that point that I decided to leave. I taught my last class on December 17, 2017. Narcie didn't thank me for my time, effort, and dedication--and she didn't even say goodbye...which was a clear indication that I had made the right decision.

I tried to maintain my own personal asana practice afterwards, but I found it to be extremely triggering for me emotionally. When I attended the meditation retreat a few months later, I met a few Feldenkrais practitioners, and was very curious about this practice. I have been a fan of this alternative somatic movement practice ever since.

I was not the only teacher to leave this studio; others left, too. In fact, Narcie closed this Greenwood studio within a year of my leaving. I am relieved that she will no longer harm others in this space. She does still teach online, however. Thankfully, there are also many qualified, kind, and ethical teachers who are teaching online as well. I'm hoping they will outshine her dark influence.

I don't teach asana anymore; however, in the last five years, I have been healing from the toxic cult dynamics that were present at this studio and from the manipulative, controlling business owners. Feldenkrais lessons have been a wonderful substitute for asana, and I have been actively exploring and practicing the other seven limbs of yoga.

Yoga is not just about physical postures; it is much more vast and profound. Leaving this studio has given me an opportunity to actively cultivate a stronger sense of discernment and ethics; breath practices have been extremely helpful in regulating my nervous system; I have benefited from single-pointed focus, and I have found contentment and authenticity in my own meditation, mantra, and Buddhist practices.

In walking away from a toxic environment and toxic people, I have found compassion and peace, which are key ingredients for a healthy yoga practice. I have also had more time to heal and grow, and I've been able to fill in the gaps that these distressing experiences created with authentic, meaningful practices, and by surrounding myself with people who have an enormous capacity for integrity, humility, and kindness.

Another bonus: moving forward has also given me more time to devote to stringing malas. Creating beautiful, hand-knotted malas has not only fostered my own healing and allowed me to dive more deeply into my own personal meditation practice; it has also helped me inspire others to explore meditation in their own ways as well.

Thanks for reading or listening to my story today. It was not an easy one to write, and my hope is that it will be of benefit to others.

If you haven't taken a look at the malas available in the current online collection, please visit the MMM homepage. There are malas waiting for your there.

 

 


Less Is More: The Beauty and Benefits of Quarter Malas July 30, 2022 10:36

Citrine and Summer Quarter Mala with faceted Citrine, Labradorite, and Fossil Jasper beads. Bright gold Swarovski crystal guru and goldenrod sutra and tassel.

To listen to this month's blog article, please click HERE for the audio link.

Lately, I have been inspired to create a series of quarter malas. Quarter malas include twenty-seven beads (1/4 of 108) plus a guru and tassel.

Practicing with a quarter mala, as opposed to a full mala, has several benefits, and in this month's article, I'd like to share what some of those benefits are.

*Portable

One benefit of practicing with a quarter mala is it's portable and easy to use while traveling. They are convenient and store easily in the console of a car, a carry on bag, or a desk drawer at school or office workplaces.  

Construction delays and traffic jams are perfect opportunities for mantra practice in the car in order to keep calm and carry on. I also keep one at school in my desk drawer. Sometimes, between student tutoring sessions, I'll take it with me as I walk around the track--moving mindfully and chanting mantra is a wonderful way to take care of myself during the work day and squeeze in a little practice time.

The quarter malas I design are intended for practice. Sometimes, people will ask if I can make "stretchy bracelets." I don't--for a couple of reasons. One, I'm not able to create a knotted quarter mala with stretchy cord--and the knots are an important part of the design. They represent the obstacles and challenges we face in life. The beads represent the beautiful aspects and blessings--and a balanced, meaningful life requires both.

Two, stretchy bracelets break fairly easily, and it's too easy to slip one on and go about your day without thinking about practicing. Having a knotted quarter mala that you keep in a place where you'll see it or can find it easily will remind you to practice. They serve a special purpose, beyond that of a pretty bracelet. Consequently, they aren't designed to be worn throughout the day. So, for those of you who were wondering, that's why I don't make stretchy bracelets.

*Reciting Longer Mantras

Saving time and cultivating a consistent daily practice are two additional benefits of quarter malas. This is especially true when reciting longer mantras. Some sadhana practices, for example, include lengthy mantras, and reciting a 100-syllable mantra 27 times vs.108 times can be more practical and efficient.

Not everyone has time to (or wants to) chant mantras all day long. Family obligations and work-related responsibilities are important priorities. Carving out a few minutes each day for practice can be challenging at times, and working with a quarter mala can help establish a necessary balance among work life, family time, and self care.

This "less is more" approach (chanting 27 recitations as opposed to 108) makes it easier to cultivate and maintain a daily practice. It's easier to stay present and focused with each recitation, especially with longer mantras. On really busy days, taking time to practice with a quarter mala makes me feel like I've accomplished something important and meaningful--that I've done something to help myself, and others.

Close up view of Vajrasattva quarter mala with 100 syllable mantra as background. Pink Sunstone and deep red Hessionite Garnet beads with Tibetan agate guru and maroon tassel. Om Vajrasattva Hum.

I recited the Long Gayatri mantra daily for several years. I actually used a half mala for this practice, but looking back, a quarter mala would have really come in handy. I've also used quarter malas for Vajrasattva and Medicine Buddha sadhanas. I created a specific quarter mala for the Vajrasattva practice, and another one for Medicine Buddha. Know that it's OK to use the same mala for different mantras, but I like to use one, specific mala for a each corresponding mantra practice.

*Altar Spaces

Another benefit of quarter malas is that they are perfect for safe keeping on home altar spaces. They don't take up much room on a small altar, and they are beautiful reminders to practice.   

Aqua Terra quarter mala adorning deep blue Medicine Buddha statue on home altar space.

 *Gifts and Offerings

Quarter malas also make meaningful, thoughtful gifts for fellow meditators, practitioners, yoga friends, and teachers.

I've been very fortunate to have had ethical, kind-hearted, and knowledgeable Dharma teachers, and I have given many of them quarter malas as gifts of appreciation.

I've also given them as gifts to loyal customers over the years for their continued support.

Quarter malas also make beautiful offerings for special events and pujas at Dharma centers and temples. Generosity is a practice in and of itself, and offering quarter malas to others with an open heart is a beautiful way to give.

*Affordable

Finally, quarter malas are perfect for practitioners on a budget. Most of the quarter malas I create are between $40--$50. I take time and care to create beautiful hand-knotted designs with high-quality beads in the hopes that they will inspire practice (this is just as true for quarter malas as it is for the full malas).

Whether you are a beginning practitioner who is just starting on the path of a daily mantra practice, or a seasoned practitioner who is looking for more opportunities to practice throughout the day, quarter malas are beautiful, convenient, affordable, and meaningful tools to assist you on your personal journey. 

Although I try to keep a few quarter malas in the ever-changing collection on the MMM website, they tend to go quickly. Please know that I can also create custom designs. For example, if you would like a quarter mala, but there aren't any available on the online shop, please reach out through the Contact Us page. I would be happy to create a quarter mala design that's just right for you.

Feel free to visit the home page to view the current collection of mala designs. Until next month, keep practicing!

 


How to Use a Mala: Step by Step Instructions for Daily Mantra Practice June 27, 2022 18:06

full view of orange jasper mala with silk green tassel and carved wooden guru.

 If you would prefer to listen to this month's blog article, please click HERE for the audio link.

I was recently at a Summer Solstice event in downtown Indianapolis, Monumental Yoga. I've been a vendor at this annual event for several years now, and in chatting with folks who stopped by our booth, I took the time to explain how to use a mala.

I'm always surprised at the number of yoga peeps who have malas--and wear them regularly--but who don't know how to use them. To me, it's like wearing an immersion blender around your neck--you have this amazing tool designed to transform and change aspects of your life--but you don't use it as it's intended. 

Over the years, I would occasionally post short videos on Facebook or Instagram demonstrating how to use a mala, but I think it would be helpful to devote a blog post to this process as well.

My hope is that those who have purchased Middle Moon Malas over the years, and who will purchase them, will actually use them as they were intended.

The steps are simple and very straightforward, but a little review information might be relevant here.

A full mala includes 108 beads plus a guru bead and a tassel.

There are 108 reasons why the number 108 is significant--however, my favorite reason is that the number 108 is known as a "harshad" number. Harshad means "bringer of joy" or "happiness" in Sanskrit. A harshad number is a number that is divisible by the sum of its digits. For example, 1+0+8 = 9. 108 divided by 9 = 12. Consequently, the number is like a circuit--it comes around full circle--just like a mala.

orange jasper mala. 108 beads plus carved wooden guru and silk green tassel

I like to create knotted malas. The knots showcase more of the beads, and they also protect the beads from cracking and breaking due to friction. The knots represent the obstacles in life, and the beads represent the beautiful aspects of life--and we need a balance of both in order to have a full, meaningful life.

close up view of orange jasper beads with silk green knots between to showcase and protect beads

The guru bead (teacher in Sanskrit) or meru bead (mountain in Sanskrit) is the  109th bead and the focal bead in a mala design. It represents the master teacher, and deserves respect. The tassel represents one's connection to Source, and to each other. It is an important symbol of interconnection. 

close up view of carved wooden guru and silk green tassel

The Steps: 

1. Hold your mala in your right hand. When making your way around the mala, be sure to use your right thumb and middle finger, or your right thumb and ring finger. Avoid using the index finger as it is connected to judgement and ego (we tend to point with this finger), and we want to keep the ego out of our practice.

use right thumb and middle finger to gently press each bead in mala

2. Begin with the bead that is closest to the guru bead and to the right of the guru bead. As you hold onto this bead with your right thumb and middle or ring finger, think, say, whisper, sing, or chant the mantra of your choice.

I am a big, big fan of agency--so, choose a mantra that works best for you. It can be a classic Sanskrit mantra, such as Om Shanti Om. It can be the very famous Tibetan mantra, Om Mani Padme Hum. It can also be an affirmation, phrase, single word, or prayer. It's YOUR practice. Choose a mantra that is meaningful for you.

3. Make your way around the mala, one bead at a time, infusing each bead with the energy of the mantra that you have selected. Remember, each bead receives the full mantra--not individual syllables or part of the mantra. Take your time, be present, and enjoy the journey.

use the right thumb and middle or ring fingers to make your way around the mala.

 Note: If you select a really short mantra, and you decide once you've made your way around the circuit, you want to go around again, that's fine. Just be sure not to cross over the teacher bead or guru bead. Remember, the guru bead deserves respect, and you don't want to cross your teacher. Instead, go back the way you came, which requires a simple turn of the hand.

You decide how many circuits to complete. If you're working with a longer mantra, one trip around may be enough. But, it's your practice. You can make your way around the mala as many times as you like. Just be sure not to cross over the teacher bead.

Finally, if you're new to this practice, I highly recommend that you explore and stick with one mantra for at least 40 days. Take time to practice every day, for forty days, with one mantra. Maybe keep a little notebook handy to write down your thoughts and observations after each session, or at the end of each day--just a few quick notes. Then, at the end of the 40 days, take a few minutes to reflect over your observations and note the changes that occurred.

write observations in a small notebook after you practice

Personally, when I first started my daily mantra practice, I worked with a different mantra every 40 days for a year and a half. Keeping a small notebook for these 40-day cycles was extremely helpful for me. Then, when I found a mantra that I wanted to work with for a longer period of time (for example, I worked with the long Gayatri mantra every day for four years), this initial practice with shorter mantras for short periods of time proved to be extremely helpful. It also motivated me to keep working with the longer mantra over a longer period of time.

I hope this blog post is useful for those of you who may be beginning a daily practice, but also for those who are experienced practitioners.

 If you're wondering about what mantras to use, these sources were extremely helpful for me:

Ashley-Farrand, Thomas. Healing Mantras: Using Sound Affirmations for Personal Power, Creativity, and Healing. New York: Ballantine Wellspring, 1999. Print.

Kaivalya, Alana. Sacred Sound: Discovering the Myth and Meaning of Mantra and Kirtan. Novato: New World Library, 2014. Print.

 I hope you continue to learn and grow from your own personal daily mantra practice. Please consider purchasing a Middle Moon Malas design to enhance your practice. I create one-of-a-kind mala designs, so the collection is always changing, evolving, and expanding. Click HERE to view the current collection.