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.


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.

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.