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Bruce Lee and Butterflies: Absorbing What Is Useful June 30, 2017 17:04

I have entered my fifth decade, and yet I still occasionally struggle with self-acceptance. I wonder if I’m doing life “right,” whatever that means. Even though, on an intellectual level, I know it’s important to honor what resonates with me, when I observe others or hear them speak about their yoga or meditation practices with such confidence and authority, it can stir up questions and doubts.

This morning, I saw my favorite type of butterfly in our garden. I don’t know what it’s called. It’s not fancy or famous like the Monarch or the Tiger Swallowtail. This butterfly is very small, and it flies around in a very haphazard and erratic way—almost as if it’s surprised by its own ability to defy gravity. Its wings are white on one side, and pale blue on the other, so when it flies, it looks purple, lavender or lilac, really.

Even though it’s small, and a wobbly flyer, it’s still a butterfly, and it serves its butterfly purpose.  It’s not trying to be the Monarch, the Cabbage White, or the Blue Morpho. It’s in the garden, hanging out with the lilies and hosta blooms being true to its quirky self.

I have deep admiration for people who do this, too. People who can embrace who they are unapologetically—who can “absorb what is useful,” like badass Bruce Lee, and integrate it in such a way that they still honor and maintain their own individuality. Even if they wobble or teeter a bit, they have the courage to stay on course, their course, the path that best suits them.

I tend to descend into doubt and second-guessing when I hear a yoga or meditation practitioner singing the praises of his or her own personal practice—elaborating on how great Iyengar or Ashtanga is…hot yoga…goat yoga…or some complex, esoteric sadhana found in an obscure, scholarly text.

If Ashtanga resonates with you…great. If you can achieve Samadhi by practicing yoga with hooved livestock…awesome. If reading complicated, philosophical texts resonates with you and enhances your meditation practice…fabulous. By all means, rock on with your enlightened self.

I prefer a slower, gentler practice. One lineage is not enough for me—I like variety. Diversity matters…a lot. I like reading meditation texts that are clear, concise, practical, and…well… a little funny (thank you, Brad Warner).

So, why do I feel prickly and antsy when I hear about other people’s practices? It can feel a little jarring to me—it can make me feel like my path is inadequate somehow…less than. During these moments of doubt, I offer myself tenderness and permission to question, investigate, and reflect—to explore these practices and texts objectively, whether up close or from a distance—and then decide if they’re appropriate for me or not.

 I’m not a Monarch or a Tiger Swallowtail. I’m more like that nameless lilac butterfly haphazardly zipping around the yard. I’m still learning to navigate this life with ease, grace, and acceptance. I'm still figuring it out. I’m still learning to be gentle with myself, but strong enough to keep going and growing in my own way, even if I teeter and wobble a bit. I'm still learning to absorb what is useful, and to adapt and apply it to my own life in an authentic way...to be compassionate (and patient) with myself, and with others. Whether it's on the mat, on the cushion, with or without a mala, this, too, is the practice.


The Benefits of Keeping a Spiritual Journal June 03, 2017 15:17

Over the years, I’ve kept various types of journals and logs. For the past three years, I’ve been keeping track of my japa practice in small, portable notebooks.

Though I’ve been pretty diligent about writing in these logs, I am horrible about taking the time to read over the entries (they’re more like lists, really) to reflect on what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown as a practitioner. Being in the present moment and recording the present moment is one thing—but taking the time to look over a year of present moments to note tendencies and patterns is a really daunting task. Honestly, I thought I might be bored out of my mind—many of my daily observations are really mundane and repetitious, but I did manage to find a few nuggets of wisdom among the pages.

*THE REPETITIOUS AND MUNDANE ARE EVIDENCE OF DEDICATION

8.12.16 “Chanted with the Olympics on mute.”

12.26.16 “Practiced yoga for over an hour to tango music in the living room.”

1.4.17 “Chanted before Yin—then watched Portlandia after class.”

Countless entries made reference to the practice—the yoga practice—the chanting practice—the meditation practice. Regardless of the day, the time, the location, or the circumstances, the practice was the hub, and the driving force of these entries.  Practice requires commitment and dedication, and these entries, while repetitive, were solid proof of this resolve. Taking the time to reread them has bolstered my desire to continue all of these practices, including the writing practice.

*CELEBRATE JOYFUL MOMENTS (BIG AND SMALL)

10.1.16 “Jim and I attended a wedding (apprentice from the shop). The groomsmen had superhero action figures in their shirt pockets.”

10.15.16 “Took a photo of the full Hunter’s Moon as Hugo kept me company out in the yard.”

11.21.16 “Prajnaparamita arrived today. She’s beautiful.”

1.20.17 “Received a handmade card from a nun I’m sponsoring in India. Venerable Tsundue Palmo. She’s 12.”

There were several unexpected surprises hidden among the ordinary entries.  Some of these nuggets of joy I had forgotten about; others, I remembered vividly. Reading these entries was a lot like looking over photos in an old album. The brief notations and descriptions were like faded photographs, but they were clear enough to trigger these pleasant memories so that I could enjoy them again.

* DISAPPOINTMENTS AND TRAGEDIES ARE OPPORTUNITIES FOR GROWTH

1.23.17 “This lifetime is like a flash of lightning. Be hard on your delusions, not on yourself.”

2.10.17 “Went to Mike’s funeral.  Jim did such a fabulous job. He spoke at the service—honest, sincere, tearful, funny.  So proud of him. What a sendoff!”

4.3.17 “Hugo was really struggling this morning. Jim and I took him to the vet in the back of my car. Elise met us there. We said goodbye as a family.”

Just as there were many moments of joy—this year also brought challenging moments as well.  Sadness, anger, despair, grief, and doubt were opportunities to implement the practice in order to heal and grow. This is where all of those mundane moments really paid off. I needed the help of all of the practices in order to allow and be, to sit patiently with these intense emotions until the storm surges settled.  Taking time to remember and acknowledge these moments gave me an opportunity to appreciate what I have endured, and to value each fleeting present moment even more.

*TRUST… RIGHT PEOPLE, RIGHT PLACES, RIGHT TIMES

6.25.16  “Love and compassion are the keys to happiness, not money, power, and things.” HH Dalai Lama Lecture at State Fairgrounds

8.27.16 “Attended Teaching—Had lunch with sangha—watermelon slices with Geshe Kunga and Ten Pa. Stayed for afternoon prayers—Rinpoche blessed Josie’s mala—Green Tara—Heart Sutra—Lovely.”

11.2.16 “The Cubs haven’t won a World Series in 108 years. There are 108 laces on a baseball. Just strung the 108th bead on a Kumbaba Jasper mala—sending much love and light out to the Cubs.”

Every cell in my body resonates to the frequency of the belief that the right people and events will come into your life when they’re supposed to, and they’ll leave when they’re supposed to.  I’m all about right place, right time, and this year was no exception.  Whether it was listening to The Dalai Lama deliver a live lecture in Indianapolis, chatting with dear friends, working with students,  discovering the right book, documentary, YouTube tutorial, or movie at just the right time, the best lessons and teachers have arrived at the perfect time and in the best way.  I know that as long as I continue to practice—to sit, to chant, to breathe, to write, to step onto the mat, to be present…I will continue to learn, grow, and blossom, and, with a little luck, benefit others along the way.

 

 

 

 


Anatomy of a Mala: Why Each Part Matters May 02, 2017 11:41

I recently had a friend of mine ask if she should include a tassel on a mala that she had created.  I explained to her that the tassel is an incredibly important component of a mala, and that I have never designed a mala without one.

Each aspect of a mala has a specific, significant role. Together, these parts create a holistic system and tool for generating awareness, bliss, and peace. Understanding the role that each part plays can add more meaning to your personal japa, chanting, or meditation practice.

A mala is much more than beads on a string. It’s a garland that doubles as a metaphor for life in our universe. Every bead represents a truth or principle, and over time, the beads absorb the energy of our focus and attention.  Just as we infuse each bead with our intentions with each recitation, we create the life we live by infusing each moment with our thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs.

The Thread:  "Sutra" is the Sanskrit word for thread or line that holds everything together.  The thread or cord running through the mala holds and supports the beads. Consequently, it represents the Cosmic Creative Force that supports or sustains every part and every being in the universe.

The Beads: The 108 beads collectively represent the universe itself, but individually, they represent the beautiful aspects of life--the good times--beautiful sunsets, grandchildren, hot chai on a rainy day, loyal and supportive friends. These beads are arranged on a never-ending circle, creating a circuit of positive energy that drives life forward into hope and gratitude.

The Knots: The knots between the beads make the mala stronger. They prevent the beads from rubbing together and cracking over time; however, they also represent life's challenges—a flat tire, an uncertain medical diagnosis, the loss of a job or a loved one. These knots fall between the smoother, more beautiful aspects of life.  They also signify the Divine link present among all beings in the universe. Though challenging, these knots remind us that all aspects of life are connected and supported in the universal sutra of life.

The Guru (or Meru) Bead: "Guru" means teacher, and "Meru" means mountain in Sanskrit.  The guru or meru bead is often the 109th bead that is connected to the tassel, and it represents the state of transcendental consciousness or awareness, the central goal of meditation practice. In order to reach this supreme state of understanding, one must be brave and courageous enough to stay the course--perhaps completing many cycles, many repetitions along the sutra of life--encountering both blessings and challenges along the way. These blessings and challenges lead us to find our ultimate teacher and climb that intimidating peak of awareness one step, one bead at a time.

The Tassel: On a mala, the tassel is an extension of the string or sutra that binds the garland together.  It represents our connection to the Divine (whatever that means to you) and the interconnectedness of all beings.  It is a reminder of oneness and unity--that we are all connected--and regardless of the challenges that we face or the rewards that we reap, we're all really traveling together, and we have something beautiful to look forward to at the end of our journey.

 Consequently, a mala is much more than a collection of beads strung together. It represents the compass on your journey as a meditator or practitioner, and it connects you to all other beings who are finding their path, in their own way, one moment, one circumstance, one bead at a time.  

 


Hitting the Reset Button: Retreat and Recharge April 03, 2017 13:46

 

 

               The only thing that matters is this breath. The only thing that matters is slicing this apple. The only thing that matters is this step. The only thing that matters is this blue heron taking flight over a pond.

                I recently spent three days in a secluded cabin at the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington, Indiana, for a personal retreat.  I needed a little time to unplug (literally and metaphorically) from the world and to reconnect with myself and my practice.

                I stayed in a circular, yurt-inspired cabin. It had a small kitchen, a domed skylight , walls painted a soothing sea foam green, plenty of floor space for yoga practice, and a deck with a view of the woods.

                During my stay, I made serenity a priority. I practiced yoga every morning before breakfast and every evening before going to bed.  I wandered in the woods and grounds of the Center in between stints of light rain showers. I circumambulated the Kalachakra Stupa while chanting. I ate meals mindfully.  I meditated on the deck. I strung beads on a mala. I chatted briefly with gray squirrels, attendants at the nearby gift shop (The Happy Yak), Geshe Kunga on his way to the temple, and an aging, but friendly pug named Norbu.

                For three days, I paid close attention to sounds that I’m not accustomed to hearing—wind chimes, fluttering prayer flags, rain on the roof, squirrels skittering on the deck. I took time to enjoy food—to savor every bite—sliced oranges in a bowl, raspberry cheesecake, toast with Marionberry jam, Greek yogurt with spiced butternut squash and apricots. I watched the sunrise between the trees and the stars from the skylight.

                No obligations or interruptions, no striving or planning, this retreat was all about allowing and being.  My headaches (and hot flashes) subsided; my stress levels decreased dramatically.  By releasing the usual day-to-day distractions, it allowed me to connect more deeply to myself and the environment.

                 I look forward to visiting TMBCC again for future retreats. In the meantime, I can choose to find stillness and serenity in this moment, regardless of where I am. I can choose to make my meditation/chanting practice a priority every day, beginning each day with recitations,instead of postponing it to the end of the day when I am mentally and physically fatigued. I can choose to unplug from the frenetic busyness of my day-to-day life for just a few minutes in order to reboot and recharge energetically.

                The only thing that matters is this breath.  The only thing that matters is this traffic light. The only thing that matters is this student who will deliver her speech in an hour.  The only thing that matters is this sip of lukewarm chai tea.

 


Trigger Warning: How a Mantra Practice Can Help Manage Unsettling Emotions March 06, 2017 13:48

 

 

 Triggers—we all have them.  They can be situations, memories, specific sounds or smells, words and phrases, animals, or even certain individuals that can push us into a vortex of unpleasant emotions or mindsets. It’s easy, too easy, sometimes, to get caught up in this dizzying, unsettling flurry, and it can have a lasting impact, if we allow it.

Last week, I was chatting in the hall with colleagues after school.  I like to laugh—a lot—unfortunately, I have a bold, loud laugh that can sometimes be misconstrued.  At some point in our conversation, I let one of these bold laughs fly, and it triggered one of my colleagues.  She had assumed that I was laughing at her, and that I was judging her, which was not my intention at all.   

 Even though I had apologized and explained to her that I was not criticizing or berating her in any way, I could tell that this did not completely pacify her. It still stung. She was triggered by my laughter—and I was triggered by her response.  I felt awful about causing someone else pain, even though it was unintentional. Later on in the evening, it had an impact on my personal yoga practice.  I couldn’t get that moment out of my head. I had trouble focusing, I didn’t enjoy my practice, and I started to second guess and berate myself as a result.  What was the root of all of this turmoil?

 Meditation can be an effective follow-up for my at-home yoga sessions, and it was perfect for managing the ripple effects of this particular situation. By incorporating the following steps, I was able to halt the negative self-talk, to recognize patterns, to answer lingering questions, and to offer compassion as an antidote.

 Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted and sit so that you can be both relaxed and alert.

 *Observe : Identify and name whatever reactions or emotions are associated with the situation. Where do you feel this reaction in the body? Are you holding tension anywhere? Notice what’s happening with the breath. Is your breathing ragged or smooth? Shallow or deep? Simply take time to identify, notice, and name what’s happening in the breath and body.

 *Pause: Without judgment, and without taking these reactions personally, simply take some time to sit and acknowledge these reactions and feelings. They may be familiar to you—you may have felt this way before—and you may acknowledge patterns emerging.  Whatever feelings or reactions that surface for you, be with them…without pushing them away….or looking for a distraction. Simply be still. Hold space for whatever you’re noticing.

 *Reflect: Ask for guidance—what is this person, situation, etc. teaching me? What do I need to learn from this? What’s the message? Trust the information that you receive—and be patient—sometimes you won’t receive an immediate answer. This is usually the place where I begin a mantra recitation practice with a mala (japa practice).  It’s kind of like waiting on hold and listening to music on the other end of the line—only the music doesn’t have to be annoying. Choose a mantra and a mala that resonate with you, and use this recitation practice to help you find clarity, direction, and calm. Again—without forcing an answer—without trying to manipulate or control your meditation session…simply allow…one bead, one recitation at a time.

 *Release: Whether you choose to recite one round (108 repetitions) or multiple rounds with your mala and mantra, at the end of your recitation practice, offer yourself, the situation, and any other individuals involved compassion. Give yourself permission to release any fears, anger, frustrations, etc. that this situation may have stirred up for you. This part of the process allows for a sense of closure (at least for the time being), and it prevents this situation from hijacking the rest of your day.

 Triggers in and of themselves can seem very small and insignificant, but they can explode into major disruptions if they aren’t dealt with or managed effectively.  Using a mantra practice can help you notice patterns about yourself and be more mindful as you interact with others.

 I still laugh—boldly, loudly—and although I may not be able to control how other people respond to my laughter,  the more honest, clear, and compassionate that I can be in relating with others,  the more we can laugh together.

 


Wake Up! It's Time to Manifest Your Dreams February 03, 2017 13:37

          When I was a kid, I used to visit my cousins, Michelle and Linda.  They lived on a farm in Fairland, Indiana.  They raised chickens on their farm, and one time, we were all out playing in the backyard while their rooster, Hercules, was strutting around. My aunt Betty warned me not to let him come too close—he was aggressive and “ornery.”  I’m sure Hercules sensed right away that I was not a country girl, nor part of the usual barnyard company, and he seemed to take pleasure in chasing me around the yard. He flapped his glossy wings and taunted me with his sharp talons and menacing spurs.  He scrutinized me closely with intense, gold eyes.  Fortunately, I was able to outrun Hercules while also providing a source of entertainment for Michelle, Linda,  Aunt Betty, and all the chickens in the yard.

            2017 is the year of the Fire Rooster.  Roosters are flashy and elegant; they’re strong and vibrant, and they are fiercely protective of their community.   The Fire Rooster has some wisdom to offer, whether you are cultivating goals, dreams… or a japa practice.

*Persistence

Don’t be chicken—take charge of your own meditation practice and take time out every single day to sit, to chant, to breathe and be.  Any discipline requires perseverance and tenacity. Carving out time to dedicate to your practice is essential.  Before long, you’ll start to notice positive effects—you’ll be able to remain calm and find your center while others around you are consumed by fear, convinced that “the sky is falling.”

*Strength

Be “unpeckable” in body, speech, and mind.  A regular mantra practice can help you discover and wake up to what really matters to you.  This mindful awareness can help bolster your confidence to pursue your goals and dreams.  It can ignite your emotional resolve and motivate you to take action in order to manifest those pursuits.

*Refinement 

After you establish a regular japa practice, you may begin to notice a need to clearly define your own boundaries—the need to scrutinize and refine what matters.  It can be as simple as creating a beautiful space to meditate, and then tending to that space to keep it clean.  It may be choosing a beautiful mala that resonates with you and your intentions—each recitation—each shimmering bead—helps to unfold and uncover your own power and elegance.

             Hercules was pretty intimidating and scary to me as a kid.  However, his intensity and fiery resolve to protect…to tend…to examine…all of these noble characteristics warm the fire element of my own heart and motivate me to tenaciously pursue what I love.


Resolve and Dissolve: Setting Intentions and Managing Changes in 2017 January 02, 2017 20:02

Yep--it's that time of year again. It's the start of a new year, which brings change, new beginnings, and the hope of a brighter future. The ball drops, fireworks bloom in the night sky, champagne, kisses--the works. 

Most changes occur slowly, which is good.  It makes them easier to process.  However, managing change--even small ones--can seem daunting at first.  I like setting intentions at the start of a new year.  It's not unlike embarking on a mantra practice, or designing a mala.  The following tips help me stay clear and focused, and they help me navigate my way through change in order to grow.

*Don't Focus on the Whole...Focus on the Individual Pieces

Managing fresh starts and new patterns requires patience, practice, and time. At first, the project, goal, or intention may seem overwhelming. When I'm designing a mala, for instance, I arrange the beads one at a time.  When the layout is complete, and the stringing begins, all that matters is this bead, this loop, this knot.  One, by one, until the design is complete. It's that simple. I don't worry about how many beads I can string in an hour--or when I'll be finished.  Focusing on the individual pieces is like appreciating each step on a journey rather than fixating on arriving at the destination. Focusing on what's right in front of me keeps me rooted in the present, and it allows me to enjoy and appreciate the adventure, no matter how long it takes, or if it's completed at all. 

* Offer a Dedication

 Purpose helps to add meaning to any task, even mundane ones. Usually, I practice japa in the evening.  I'm more relaxed, and I generally have more time to devote to the practice.  Sometimes, however, I wait too long--I'm tired, impatient, and just want it to be over, so I can go to bed. Chanting a mantra just to recite it 108 times is a waste of time and energy.  Offering a dedication to the practice adds sincerity, significance, and motivation. For example, before I practice, I hold my mala in my hands and offer an intention--that my students will do well on their final exams--or, I dedicate my practice to a friend who is dealing with the loss of a parent--or to a friend who is giving birth to her first child. I may offer peace and healing to strangers who are suffering in a city halfway around the world. By doing this, I'm not just practicing for myself--I'm practicing to benefit others as well.  Big or small, offering a dedication can bolster motivation and infuse any resolution with purpose and meaning.

* Seek a Fresh Perspective

I like variety, I like having options, and a change of scenery can do wonders for a resolution or intention that's reached a plateau or grown a little stale.  Sometimes I like to work on a mala at the kitchen table.  I like the lighting and the view from the window.  Sometimes, I prefer to work upstairs (we have more channel options on the TV), so I can string beads and watch a movie. (One of my favorite designs was an Unakite mala that I strung while watching the Bollywood classic, Bride and Prejudice :). If the weather's nice, I can work outside at the patio table and listen to birds, cicadas, children laughing in the neighbor's yard. A change of setting can offer much needed inspiration, a change in perspective, or a boost in creativity.

I'm not sure where 2017 will lead, but my intention is to continue to learn,grow, and navigate the changes and surprises that this year will undoubtedly bring by continuing my japa practice, and to enjoy creating beautiful malas for others.  Happy New Year, everyone!  Enjoy this year's journey. 


Trusting the Circuitous Path: Navigating the Journey with Japa December 06, 2016 14:01

I was late to school this morning—over 45 minutes late. Normally, this would really bother me.  I hate being late, the inconvenience of waiting and making others wait. However, today was different.  On this cold, rainy December morning, the universe was placing necessary detours in my path in order to give me more time to slow down and think. A fender bender, flashing police lights, and a long line of traffic forced me to turn right instead of left. An endless stream of yellow lights and a delay on my usual interstate exit ramp convinced me to go way out of my way and explore the side streets instead.  I took a break from my usual routine, letting go of time, letting go of the usual obligations, and, along the way, reflected on what I’ve learned during this past year.

*Trust Yourself: Follow Your Own Compass

Feeling lost has always been unsettling for me. I have friends who deliberately try to lose themselves in a forest or new city—they enjoy the adventure of finding their way out of the tangle of uncertainty. For me, that uncertainty creates mind-numbing anxiety and fear.  I like to know where I’m going, and I’m really bad with directions, so finding my way is often a challenge and a real struggle.

This year I’ve had several opportunities to venture off the usual path, literally, and metaphorically—to explore new places—to interact with new people—to trust my own instincts and rely on my internal guidance more than external markers and guideposts. The more I can breathe, relax, and allow, the easier this process becomes, and the more I can enjoy the adventures.

*Establish Necessary Boundaries

Because I like to know where I’m going, I crave parameters. Unfortunately, I have a tendency to honor other people’s guidelines before following my own. This year, however, I have practiced making my own boundaries a priority, paying much closer attention to what’s happening in my own mind and heart. For seven months, I taught yoga at a studio that was an hour’s commute from my home.  While I enjoyed teaching the class, and I enjoyed working with my students, the business owner wasn’t paying me regularly. After a couple of bounced paychecks and one too many half-hearted pleas for understanding and patience had worn thin, I walked away. I felt bad for leaving my students, but this obligation was becoming more of a burden than a joy. My regret, however, was short-lived. I currently enjoy having more time to spend with my family, and more time to devote to my own personal yoga practice at home.

*Relax, There’s Plenty of Time

Time dissolves when I do what I enjoy. For more than a year, I have dedicated time each day to a japa practice. I have worked with a single mantra (the long version of the Gayatri) and a specific mala for this practice, and I have noticed significant, positive changes as a result of this practice. I’m more patient with myself and others; I’m more flexible and willing to adapt when unexpected surprises occur; I’m more relaxed and comfortable with myself and others, and, most importantly, I’m able to recognize that time is an imposed construct--and that no one’s life truly revolves around it.

I was 45 minutes late to work this morning, and I didn’t really care.  I listened to music on the way, I enjoyed the drive and the time to reflect, I arrived safely, and I was able to assist my students in a meaningful way during the course of the day.

Despite all of the setbacks and disappointments of 2016, this has been a good year.  I’ve learned and grown a great deal, and I look forward to what 2017 has to offer. My japa practice has helped me navigate and manage the many ups and downs, and it’s been the steady needle of my life’s compass, helping to guide me along this amazing, circuitous path.


Relax and Allow: How a Mantra Practice Can Invite an Appreciation for the Present Moment November 01, 2016 00:00

          As often as I can, I like to go to the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington on Sundays for a morning lecture.  This past Sunday, Geshe Kunga presented a teaching on patience.  During these lectures, Geshe Kunga speaks in Tibetan, and another monk, who’s actually in Virginia, translates via Skype on a small laptop. I know, it sounds like a scene from Lost, but I actually look forward to these weekly “Dharma transmissions.”

            Last Sunday, the weather was absolutely beautiful.  The double doors on both sides of the main room in the temple were open, letting in mild breezes and the sounds of rustling leaves and birdsong.

            The view to my left was especially scenic, and my gaze kept drifting toward it throughout the lecture.  My student self was listening to Geshe and the cyber monk, but my artistic self was growing a little antsy. I had my camera with me in my bag, and I wanted to capture a photo of the open door—the sunlight streaming through lace curtains, the contrast of the brightly painted temple walls against the shadows of falling leaves, the literal threshold between the manmade and the natural. It was stunning….and very distracting.

            My attention was divided, and I was holding the tension associated with grasping and clinging attachment. I could feel it in my body and mind. Technically, I could have taken a photo during the teaching, but it would have been weird. The room is small; there were only a dozen or so practitioners in attendance, but it was a lecture in a temple, not a scenic overlook or tourist attraction.

            I mentioned that the lecture was about patience….so, I waited.  At the end of class, after the bows and prostrations, I returned to my cushion, and just as I was lining up the shot, Geshe Kunga walked across the room to close one of the doors and was headed to the second set to close it, too, in preparation for the prayer session after lunch. I had just enough time to grab my camera, focus, and snap the shot just as the door shut. 

            The photo was not what I had expected, and it wasn’t the shot that I thought I had wanted. It was better.  It was better than anything that I could have planned or anticipated.

            The universe keeps giving me opportunities to relax and allow.  The more present I can be without clinging to attachments or preconceived notions, the more I can enjoy and receive the benefits of what these moments have to offer.

            One of the best ways for me to practice this present-moment acceptance is through japa.  Reciting mantras with a mala helps to still the obsessive thoughts and the constant anticipation and planning that goes on in my head.  The repetition of the mantra itself is soothing, and each complete circuit of a mala is a way for me to mark time with presence.  I can relax and allow into this practice, which permits me to relax, allow, and enjoy other aspects of my life as well.


Giving and Receiving: Three Keys to Finding Balance October 04, 2016 12:05

 

I recently learned that one of my dearest friends from junior high/high school passed away suddenly. We lost touch a few years after graduation, but learning of her passing stirred up old memories for me.

Josie was a very kind-hearted, sincere person.  Everyone loved her.  She was popular and active in orchestra, drama, journalism, Student Council, speech and debate, and German club.  In high school, we worked together at a local Dairy Queen.

Josie was a giver—she willingly gave her time and energy to anyone who needed it. She was a doer and a people-pleaser. She often went out of her way to help someone else, even if it meant sacrificing her own well-being.

Learning of her recent passing was a shock. She left behind a young daughter and many family members and friends who are reeling from this loss. Her passing is a fierce reminder of how important it is to set boundaries and balance giving with receiving.

I know from my own experiences how easy it is to get sucked into the giving vortex—that all-consuming need to fulfill others’ obligations or serve others so as not to disappoint. It feels good to be helpful, but if not balanced with taking the time to nurture and restore your own reserves, it can be exhausting.

Finding this balance is like breathing.  Breathing is involuntary —we don’t have to think about it; it just happens. However, this can be a blessing and a curse.  On the one hand, we don’t have to worry about scheduling time to breathe— on the other hand, it becomes too easy to take this vital activity for granted.

Each breath we take is a reminder of how essential it is to balance giving and receiving. Giving without receiving is like exhaling without inhaling. Eventually, it depletes you of your energy, time, and motivation.  It’s exhausting, unnatural, and unhealthy.

So what do you do when you find this delicate balance of give and receive has shifted? How do you recover, nourish the self, and restore balance?

  1. STOP!

When you first begin to notice the tug of obligation pulling you into the vortex of endless giving, stop!

Don’t do ANYTHING—even if it’s for a few minutes.  Lock yourself in a bathroom or step outside and gaze at the sky to take a much-needed perspective break.

Sit quietly

Turn off the gadgets

Be present

Moments like these are when the benefits of a meditation practice really start to pay off. By pausing and paying attention to how you’re feeling and observing what you’re thinking can help guide you. Giving yourself permission to sit, stand, lean against a wall and just BE without doing, thinking, and strategizing can help prevent another exhausting loop inside the vortex.

 2. MAKE TIME—don’t find it—you won’t—you have to actively MAKE TIME to do something that nourishes yourself.

Go for a walk (the woods, a park, the beach—find a nearby beautiful place to explore)

Make a nourishing meal (for yourself)

Read (FOR FUN)

Go see a movie

 3. Set Healthy Boundaries by Saying NO

You cannot please everyone, and only a fool will try. Setting boundaries by saying “No” with conviction and respect is like the pause between the exhale and the inhale.  It marks a necessary shift from giving to receiving.  You cannot effectively help, serve, or give to others if you do not take the time to nurture yourself.  The trick to this one is knowing  when you’ve given enough, and  knowing when it’s time to pause and fill up your own reserves.  Also, understand that you will disappoint some people at times—but it’s OK—they’ll get over it.  If they love and respect you, they’ll understand and forgive you. If they don’t, then they weren’t worth your time and effort in the first place.

I’m grieving the loss of my childhood friend. Josie was a kind-hearted, beautiful spirit, and I will miss her. I’ve actively included her memory in my personal meditation practice—dedicating rounds of my japa practice to her.  She was a dear friend and a bright light.  She helped me endure a very difficult phase of my life, and she taught me several powerful, meaningful life lessons.  Her friendship was a treasure.


Completing the Circuit: Adding Variety to a Mantra Practice September 05, 2016 14:03

I like variety, as well, so sometimes, I chant while sitting on a meditation cushion.  Sometimes, I chant silently.  Sometimes, I write out the mantra in a small notebook. Sometimes, I chant aloud while driving, but my favorite way to practice is to chant while walking.

Celebrating Sweet and Savory Choices August 02, 2016 11:31

 

 

 We have choice, and our choices direct our paths. They may not define us, but they do lead us from one moment to the next.  Each experience—each moment, has something unique to teach us.

This morning, I chose to drive to Bloomington to attend a lecture at the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center.  Afterwards, I chose to go to Anyetsang’s Little Tibet for lunch. I do not regret either choice.

Currently, I’m sitting under a red patio umbrella.  A late summer breeze teases colorful prayer flags overhead.  I can hear the sounds of a fountain gurgling behind me.  Cicadas are grinding away the hot afternoon in their shrill, spiral cries as steady traffic hums along 4th Street.

I have the patio mainly to myself, and I have the time and freedom to enjoy a mango lassi—and to savor every bite of the cabbage dumplings—pan-seared and served with soy sauce.  A sparrow hops around under my table, and heads of black-eyed Susans gently nod in encouragement.

I am at ease. I am at peace. I am savoring this present moment.

Earlier, I had considered stopping by the Jordan Greenhouse on the IU campus to see Wally, the titan arum, or corpse flower, in full bloom.  The corpse flower blooms only once every ten to twenty years, and it emits a strong odor similar to the stench of rotting flesh. It’s a botanical wonder, and seeing this plant in full bloom would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  However, vegetarian momos were calling my name, so I chose Little Tibet over Wally.  Besides, isn’t every moment a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? (I Googled Wally later in the day and watched him unfold online--so this choice was a win-win).

Every choice we make carries effects or consequences. The more mindful and present we are, the more mindful and present our choices are. Our lives are like malas, in this way. The beads represent the beautiful aspects of life (prayer flags, sunshine, momos), and the knots represent the challenges (the stench of rotting flesh).  Challenge and beauty are interconnected and balanced, and as we progress through the circuit of our lives from moment to moment, we have the choice to be present—to learn from each experience—to enjoy and savor each bead and knot of our lives.