zen mom life | dirt + dharma

skate. bike. dig. 

small but sure hands, inviting the bell. mismatched socks tiptoe-ing around beetle skeletons through the labyrinth. 

pausing for hugs. bowing to friends. 

finding his own rhythm in breath + stride. sitting, knee-to-knee beside me, cradling a jagged cluster of citrine.

more sunday gems: #zeninlansing

 

 

 

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touching the earth | a reflection on zenju earthlyn manuel’s “Way Seeking Mind of Martin Luther King Jr.”

reflection

As a Zen practitioner in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, my study of his teachings and personal history provided a surprising lesson about the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This gleaming insight into their relationship renewed my appreciation and broadened my understanding of King’s legacy as it elucidated the global impact of his compassionate mission.

Several years ago, inspired by the “inter-being” between these two leaders as well as my own dharma as a Black American woman on this path of practice, I led my root sangha in the Touching the Earth prostrations to honor King and Thay as spiritual teachers.

Since then, my Monday evening Yin+Yang Yoga class has fallen on this national holiday. Each asana that brings our hearts closer to the earth (like these two favorites: Child’s Pose + Anahatasana) becomes a prostration, in which we fully embody the mindfulness practice of remembrance and reconciliation. We remember our origins and connections: to ancestors, by blood and spirit; to this Earth that sustains us and upon which our complex and interwoven histories have been built. We may began to penetrate the deep suffering emanating from our painful histories, which continue to manifest in new forms and to impact our experiences and abilities to relate to one another because of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, disability and a whole slew of “differences” that seem to separate us. Breath by compassion-filled breath, we may began to reconcile these histories as we acknowledge, cradle, and heal our own suffering. We give it back to this wondrous Earth to absorb and transform it, as from the mud blooms a lotus.

In every class, I invite the practitioners to cultivate compassionate understanding of their bodies, minds and hearts through the alignment of breath and posture. Generating such mindfulness and loving awareness for ourselves teaches us how to skillfully extend compassion and loving-kindness to others.

When we abide in mindfulness, our senses become clear and fully attuned to the spectrum of beauty and suffering in the world. We acknowledge our own contribution to that stream–how our actions increase beauty or increase suffering. We make amends when we cause suffering and begin anew, watering seeds of compassion. Each heart-driven act–embodied on the mat, the cushion, among our beloveds and within our communities–commemorates the King’s legacy.

On this path, as teacher and practitioner, I know I am a continuation of Dr. King.

mudra 2.bw

[Originally posted 31 January 2013; Updated 20 January 2014]

Related:

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel |The Way-Seeking Mind of Martin Luther Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. | King’s Nobel Peace Prize Nomination Letter for Thich Nhat Hanh
Rev. Dr. Andrew C. Kennedy | Martin Luther King Jr. + Thich Nhat Hanh

[Broken links updated 16 January 2017]

how we came to be: the legacy of mary roth + wesley rhodes

 

 All our ancestors are in us.  Who can feel himself alone?
~Richard Beer-Hofmann

Inspiration

In May 2003, my sisters and I returned to Lansing, Michigan to be with our grandmother Gene (Hayes) Merchant during her heart surgery and subsequent recovery. Facing the illness and major surgery of a beloved quickly puts the value of life, family, and knowing one’s roots into new perspective.

Over the next few weeks, Tamara, Atia, and I sifted through several boxes of photographs on a mission to label, organize, and preserve these aging, delicate treasures. We were fascinated by the stories Gramma told us, bringing hundreds of captured memories—smiling faces with familiar features who gathered to share joyous occasions, milestones, or simply everyday wonders—back to life. We had also come across birth certificates and other documents, which provided some vital information and offered us a clearer picture into the past. From that moment, I was inspired to renew the vow I had made when I was 12 years old to research and document our family legacy.

After attending my first Rhodes Family Reunion in Hamilton, Canada the summer of 1989, I was excited to explore our German heritage. But books on German genealogy indicated that most records had been destroyed in World War I. A little discouraged that I could not immediately begin my search, I remained determined to someday have the means to put together the story of how we came to be.

The opportunity finally arrived soon after I had returned to my home in Brooklyn, New York in July 2003. The journey began in the Milstein Division of U.S. History, Local History and Genealogy at the world-renowned New York Public Library (the one with the lion statues featured in dozens of movies) in Manhattan where I discovered that Wesley Rhodes had served in the Civil War. Along with viewing census records of my great-great parents, Sylvia (Rhodes) Hayes & James Hayes, I obtained a copy of Wesley’s file card from the Civil War Pension Index.

I immediately enlisted the help of Tamara, who lives in Maryland, to visit the U.S. National Archives and Record Administration in Washington, D.C. and copy Wesley’s file. I was amazed when she excitedly called some weeks later that August to tell me that there were actually two huge folders of documents. (It was the best birthday gift I could have asked for!) Neither of us expected there would be so much information! But, as you well know when the government is giving you money, war veteran or not, it doesn’t come easy: they want proof of the proof! As thrilling as it was to hear my sister read the documents to me, I was eager to touch this history myself and visited the N.A.R.A. in October 2003 to collect additional information.

Family, please know how blessed we are to have access to such valuable information. Many people cannot begin to piece together their genealogy, to verify stories that have been passed down orally for generations, or to come upon surprises such as Tamara and I did! Contained within those files are birth, marriage and death certificates, letters written by Mary (or perhaps her daughter Annie on her behalf) to the U.S. Pension Bureau, depositions and affidavits from friends corroborating Mary’s and Wesley’s history, and even a document of Wesley’s health examination, recording his height at 5 feet, 8 ½ inches, weight at 185 pounds and his various ailments.

This booklet is my first endeavor to encapsulate the remarkable legacy of Mary Roth and Wesley.  For me, it is one of love against odds, courage, determination and the quest for freedom.

Continue reading “how we came to be: the legacy of mary roth + wesley rhodes”

adventures in snow + ice

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I knew I’d have to make peace with winter when I decided to move back to Michigan 10 years ago (from NYC, which in my 9-year stint as a resident, had milder weather. Hands down. The true test: my nose hairs never once sprouted icicles!) As a kid, I loved everything about it. But my intolerance for snow, bitter chill, and grey skies–sometimes from October to April–grew with each year of adulthood. Maybe it’s genetic–my Caribbean roots or my anemia!

So I chose to embrace it rather than to suffer or grumble through the inevitable teeth-chattering and shoulder-scrunching. Warmed by my childhood memories of gliding, stumbling, and laughing with family and friends as we looped around our now-defunct outdoor ice rink for hours on end, I bought ice skates and made weekly visits during the mid-day open skate. I learned to breathe and relax my arms instead of tensing all my muscles in a futile attempt to fold deeper into my goose-prickled skin. I was slowly becoming weather-resilient!

By the time I became a parent, I was committed to making sure my son would be an all-seasons kid. So as long as the temperatures don’t veer toward the danger zone, we bundle up for regular walks and romps in the snow.

Notable winter moments so far:

K got his very own shovel as a gift from his Papa! It was as much a gift for Daddy too since he no longer had to trade turns with K while clearing the walkway.

My Caribbean father, who has lived in Michigan for all but two of the nearly 40 years he’s been residing in the States, went sledding for the very first time in his life! It was a joy to watch K and his Papi make such memories…and a trip to see my dad spend hours editing the video he shot of our sledding adventure that day! #BucketList

musings + meditation: on the first day of a new year

It was 17° F on New Year’s Day, and my practice still beckoned me to honor my commitment to get sorted, settled and centered–body, heart, and mind–through my walking/running meditation.

There’s a special stillness in winter that I deeply appreciate. Fewer people venture out when the temperature dips below 30 °F, and only the bravest dare to “play” if the sun’s not offering some illusion of warmth. Slate grey sky. Stark white snow. A solid path along a river flowing beneath a thickening sheet of ice. Scraggly winter-stripped branches and a frizzled ridge of vegetation mark the border between shoreline and water.

I feel enveloped and penetrated by this rare moment of quietude. The sensation of refuge arises to warm my muscles–fueling each step or sprint.

I am reminded of the “witching hours” when I’m awakened by the moon. Fully alert and energized, I sit or lie down to meditate, abiding in breath, or write out my contemplations in my journal. Reprieve in a house that is typically buzzing with the energy of my 3-year old daredevil and the electricity of appliances and electronics in constant service. A murmur and sweet sigh from my son. I pause, instinctually ready to respond to his call. I relax once more. A startling chainsaw-like snore from my mate. I pause again, listening to the pattern. If it continues, I move to another room.

These sacred spaces–a park in winter, a house in slumber–magnify the wonder and magic of my mindfulness practice.

snow don’t stop the show

remembrance + reconciliation: prayers for thanksgiving

Today, may we appreciate this food
and remember those who are hungry.
May we appreciate our family and friends
and remember those who are alone.
May we appreciate our health
and remember those who are sick.
May we appreciate the freedoms we have
and remember those who suffer injustice and tyranny.1

I spent Wednesday morning in our tiny kitchen blanching, boiling, carmelizing, chiffonading, chopping, cubing, dicing, sautéing, seasoning, smelling, stirring, and tasting.

As I breathed in the swirl of pungent and sweet aromas from the herbs, vegetables and meat, I breathed out loving awareness and prayers of gratitude for the gift of being able to prepare and share a Thanksgiving meal with my family. My mate and I openly acknowledged that our blessings outweighed any minor irritations that come with hosting a holiday gathering: our good health, solid relationships, comfortable home, and modest but sufficient financial resources.

I quietly returned to the prep work, thinking of those among my circle of friends and family who were ill/injured or had recently died and those who were caring for a dying relative or a coping with the loss of a loved one. In fact, within a short stretch of days leading up to Thanksgiving I counted a death, a discovery of a debilitating condition, several surgeries, and two terminal cancer diagnoses. Knowing how close and inevitable these life events are, I shook my head and breathed a prayer that all be nourished and sustained during times of difficulty.

But suffering is not easy to shake. So the complexities surrounding this day of “celebration” continued to emerge:

the sanitized and commercialized myths of this holiday’s origins;

the brutalities inflicted upon Native peoples at the hands of explorers whose own quests for freedom stripped away theirs;

the continued suffering of Native peoples by the oppressive systems that arose from the corrupt values of those nation builders;

the  legacy of this nation still so divided by racial, social, and economic injustices that repeatedly threaten our very rights as humans to freely be who we are, choose whom we love as well as how we care for ourselves and our families;

the suffering within families who may—just for this single day—cast aside hurts and differences to endure each other’s presence over a special dinner but will be unable to truly heal and reconcile;

the suffering of those who will not spend this day in a safe space, full of love and laughter.

Recalling my own family’s internal struggles, I have frequently questioned why anyone would go through the rigmarole and pretense for a few hours of family time, if the days before and after would be fraught with conflict.

How can any single (and so-called holy) day, burdened with such history and memory, also restore our hope and inspire reconciliation? 

It may be a beginning. But wholehearted and diligent effort is what sustains. As dharma practitioners, we learn and take refuge in numerous mindfulness practices to nourish compassionate understanding for our deep and boundless connections to all beings and to heal our past and present wounds.

Around cultural events such as Thanksgiving or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, my root sangha has practiced Touching the Earth wherein we recite the six contemplations and, following each one, bow deeply to the earth in full prostration. It is an act of remembrance and homage for blood ancestors; spiritual ancestors; the land, Native Americans, and those who work to reverse the violence and injustices that have harmed us all; and those whom we love. As well, it supports us to reconcile, in our hearts and spirits, the suffering caused by people who have hurt us; and, lastly, to make peace with the religion of our origins, from which we have become estranged or disconnected.2

Honoring and acknowledging our gifts and blessings, may the love, understanding and laughter we share with friends and family nourish and sustain us in times of suffering and celebration. May our memories be purified and our hearts restored–full, strong, open and clear–turning toward reconciliation.

______________

1I first encountered this blessing, “May We Appreciate & Remember,” in Angeles Arrien’s book Living in Gratitude. It is also featured among this collection of blessings from other traditions: http://www.ctyankee.org/fs/page/001728/gracesfrommanytraditions.pdf
2 See also Thich Nhat Hanh’s Teachings on Love.

out on a walk: a convergence of edge states

ice kisses sand.

frozen. solid. slick. supple. permeable. gritty.

convergence of edge states: the fine detail

Earth touching Water touching Air touching Earth:

convergence of edge states: the big picture

the alchemy of transition: the promise of continuation:

the endless being and becoming:

solid. fluid. free.

touching the earth|a reflection on zenju earthlyn manuel’s “Way Seeking Mind of Martin Luther King Jr.”

reflection

As a Zen practitioner in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, my study of his teachings and personal history provided a surprising lesson about the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This gleaming insight into their relationship renewed my appreciation and broadened my understanding of King’s legacy as it elucidated the global impact of his compassionate mission.

Several years ago, inspired by the “inter-being” between these two leaders as well as my own dharma as a Black American woman on this path of practice, I led my root sangha in the Touching the Earth prostrations to honor King and Thay as spiritual teachers.

Since then, my Monday evening Yin+Yang Yoga class has fallen on this national holiday. Each asana that brings our hearts closer to the earth (like these two favorites: Child’s Pose + Anahatasana) becomes a prostration, in which we fully embody the mindfulness practice of remembrance and reconciliation. We remember our origins and connections: to ancestors, by blood and spirit; to this Earth that sustains us and upon which our complex and interwoven histories have been built. We may began to penetrate the deep suffering emanating from our painful histories, which continue to manifest in new forms and to impact our experiences and abilities to relate to one another because of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, disability and a whole slew of “differences” that seem to separate us. Breath by compassion-filled breath, we may began to reconcile these histories as we acknowledge, cradle, and heal our own suffering. We give it back to this wondrous Earth to absorb and transform it, as from the mud blooms a lotus.

In every class, I invite the practitioners to cultivate compassionate understanding of their bodies, minds and hearts through the alignment of breath and posture. Generating such mindfulness and loving awareness for ourselves teaches us how to skillfully extend compassion and loving-kindness to others.

When we abide in mindfulness, our senses become clear and fully attuned to the spectrum of beauty and suffering in the world.  We acknowledge our own contribution to that stream–how our actions increase beauty or increase suffering. We make amends when we cause suffering and begin anew, watering seeds of compassion. Each heart-driven act–embodied on the mat, the cushion, among our beloveds and within our communities–commemorates the King’s legacy.

On this path, as teacher and practitioner, I know I am a continuation of Dr. King.
mudra 2.bw

[Updated 20 January 2014]

Related:

King’s Nobel Peace Prize Nomination Letter for Thich Nhat Hanh

Rev. Dr. Andrew C. Kennedy Honors MLK + Thay

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel

Did he think that he would grow up to be who was?  Here is the link to the talk I did at the San Francisco Zen Center, Janauary 19, 2013.   I hope you enjoy.     http://www.sfzc.org/zc/display.asp?catid=1,10&pageid=3584

In peace,

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel

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out on a walk: forest bathing

snow bright
air shimmering crisp
trees frosted

mind as solid as each trunk
rooted into frozen earth
as flexible as each limb
climbing skyward
bending into the sway of wind

as clear as the path
stretching
curving
fallen debris no obstacle
flowing steadily
over under around
(sometimes) through
revealing the way

out on a walk: morning meditation

Ah, the magic of enjoying a few moments alone, nurturing myself in nature, after a run at a local park!

I walk barefoot through the gardens still soaked with last night’s rain, alternately massaging my soles on lush grass and gravelly cement.

Breathing in the fragrances of the earth, I imagine new flowers blooming beneath each footstep and bow with deepest gratitude to the four directions.