K is forever pulling out my yoga mat to “exercise” or spontaneously busting a yoga pose. We love Legs-Up-The-Wall (Viparita Karani), especially when settling down for bed. So today I thought it be fun to enlist his help (and stave off cabin fever) to create a fun photo to include in an announcement about my class cancellation.
the family that prays together stays together ~ al scalpone
so the slogan-turned-Christian-proverb goes…and came to mind as i prepared to share my Sunday meditation practice with my father and youngest brother, who were coming into town to spend Father’s Day with me. although my dad has attended one of my yoga classes before, i was excited that, for the first time, he and my brother would experience mindfulness meditation as i lead it during my Sit+Study practice at Just B Yoga.
inspired by the practice i shared with my root sangha (which studies Zen Buddhism in the lineage of Thich Nhat Hanh), i gently guide my yoga-sangha through an hour of walking and sitting meditations and a dharma discussion.
i invite the bell and bow deeply throughout; occasionally recite a gatha and share Buddhist suttas or readings; and encourage mindfulness, compassion, and the calm-abiding of body, heart, mind and breath to prevail.
but what makes this so different and special?! just as the bell and breath can help us return to our “true home” in the heart, Just B Yoga has become a sacred space where many have found their second home in the embrace of a heart-centered community.
it has become a place of refuge and respite: inviting, attracting, and nurturing diversity in age, race, ethnicity, nationality, size, shape, color, gender, physical ability, religious affiliation, sexuality, education, and socio-economic status.
it is a donation-based, community-driven, family-and-pet friendly, LGBTQ ally, urban garden-growing, NO JUDGEMENT ZONE...yoga studio in the ‘hood! in fact, it’s not far from the hood where i grew up.
the doors are open. the practice is accessible. it is found in the form of yoga, tai chi, meditation, and friend-family-and-community-building! it thrives and blossoms. it spreads.
here, i’ve been awestruck at the frequent sight of more than a half-dozen black women gathered in movement, mindfulness + meditation with me! now, this here is worthy of acknowledgment and celebration! it’s a rare occurrence in the yoga and meditation circles…except, perhaps, when a special “people of color” retreat is organized.
here, we contemplate and muse about reconciliation, letting go, working through fear, doubt, and difficulty. here, we learn to stay present to what is arising and get real about the obstacles and struggles we may encounter when we’re off the cushion. here, we cultivate trust, diligence, understanding, and skillfulness. we nurture lovingkindness, respect, gratitude, and equanimity. we learn to listen deeply, see clearly, and respond skillfully.
at the end of Sunday’s practice, i bowed deeply to my father for all that he has gifted me: love, support, understanding, acceptance, insight, wisdom and, most important, the seeds of the dharma.
when he graced me with the name of a bodhisattva, he illuminated the path that would unfold within me.
here, now. this is my prayer: may the merits of our practice continue to strengthen all our relationships.
may the family that meditates together, cultivate together mindfulness, compassion, and understanding…
I was pissed!
Once again, despite my wholehearted intentions and efforts, another Wednesday evening had arrived and, instead of meditating with my root sangha (Buddhist meditation community), I was at home.
Feeling exhausted, out of sync, and in deep need of restoring myself in a place of uninterrupted quiet where I could relax my busy mind with the steady flow of my breath and invite the precious moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness that defines mindfulness.
So I was unduly pissed at myself for not being organized (or awake) enough to get there, my mate for not making it easier for me, and all those unforeseeable or unavoidable forces that arose in the course of a day and became “obstacles” to my practice. Adding to my irritation: knowing that I now lived a few minutes away from the temple yet was faced with detours and delays that made getting there seem like a trip to the other side of the state. What the hell?!
At the same time, I was completely aware of the absurdity of my frustration. How could I be stressed out about needing to meditate…so that I could be less stressed?
My life was completely different: Mothering my then-infant son, finding a rhythm with my mate in our new life together as parents, and maintaining some sense of order in our new home were my highest priorities. And, around these, I sought to balance my teaching commitments, time with loved ones, and the space to nurture myself through my practice.
Doing all of this mindfully was my deepest aspiration.
Which is precisely why I wanted to connect with my sangha—to enjoy walking and sitting meditation in the sacred space of the temple; to share our curiosities, contemplations, and challenges; and, in turn, to be supported in the practice of cultivating mindfulness!
Cycling through this loop of grasping-anxiety-frustration, I realized that in my striving to get to the temple, I was working myself out of alignment with the heart of the practice! There was, as the Zen wisdom beautifully teaches, “nowhere to go, nothing to do” but to rest mindfully in the present moment wherever I stood, sat, or lay.
INHALE. Being aware of frustration and unskillful, negative chatter.
EXHALE. Allowing it to be expressed and felt.
INHALE. Giving it space to soften and settle.
EXHALE. Releasing it.
Stopping to breathe, listen deeply, and see clearly into my discomfort with some of the changes I was adjusting to helped me accept that my new life could no longer accommodate a two-hour evening meditation. I cherished that time with my fellow practitioners at the temple, but it was no longer an option.
No cushion, no mala, no bell, no incense were required.
In the absence of all these, I needed only to take refuge in the here-and-now quality of the breath—my constant teacher—in order to cultivate that steady, quiet space where mindfulness blossoms. Bringing that gentle, expansive awareness to each moment I spent cradling my son, preparing dinner for my family, or talking to my mate was, in fact, the practice. It was how I could live the meditation.
Although the teachings of mindfulness are rooted in the traditions of Buddhism (my path to this practice), its universal principles transcend the temple or meditation hall. It is a commitment to self-study that teaches us to develop nonjudgmental awareness of our bodies, thoughts, emotions, experiences and all that arises in our lives. We learn to quiet our “inner critic” and suspend our knee-jerk reactions and give space for qualities such as compassion, equanimity, and non-attachment to grow. Indeed, we learn to nurture mindfulness by practicing meditation. We learn to sustain it through our diligent efforts off the meditation cushions and benches.
So parenting has truly been a re-education in mindfulness for me. All that I thought I understood and experienced in my five years of practice prior to my son’s arrival has been stretched in directions I hadn’t fully imagined! I renew my commitment to non-attachment on a daily basis when I’m not able to “accomplish” tasks as intended.
Sometimes I can easily shrug it off and relax in the present moment, knowing it will keep. At other times, I have to acknowledge and release the irritation or anxiety of feeling thwarted. These challenging moments become opportunities to deepen my understanding and to practice wholeheartedly this living, breathing meditation. And then I exhale, remembering that there is nowhere to go, nothing to do, nothing to attain.
So whenever it is that a task gets completed or whenever I safely reach a destination, it will be at the right and perfect time.
[originally published 14 sept 2012 for just b yoga’s blog]