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]

whuzzat?! why? and, what happens next, mommy?!: curious questions of a cool mind

The Incredible Magic of Ordinary Things

I was cuddling one autumn morning with my then 15 month-old son. Nestled in the crook of my arm, K suddenly pointed at me and asked, “Whuzzat?”

“My armpit,” I laughed.

“Cool.”

I was thoroughly tickled! For one, K was fascinated by this new discovery. He fearlessly inspected it, pinching at the sprouting hairs (um, yeah, I’m sharing this). I marveled that my child would find the ordinary, or otherwise maligned, armpit a source of wonder. Not to mention that he had used his word-of-the-moment in context!

See…See? What Is It?

My baby’s first uttering was “see.” A statement and a question.

He’d gaze intently out of our front window, repeatedly pointing at the scene before him. His dad or I would hold him close and name everything that was in view–elaborating on each detail or making up little stories or rhyming songs.

Together we’d soak in the sounds and sights with bright curious eyes.

It was easy to make the connection between this act of observing the world with my son and what I had learned through years of meditation: to look deeply, with every sense engaged and opened to the wonder arising in the moment. 

What is this? The fair-witnessing mind gently asks.

Look. See truly. A reminder to strip it bare. Peel away the layers. Get to the core. Reveal the heart: Simple. Rich. Vibrant. Suchness.

And Then What Happens?

With every ensuing question K began to ask, my mind and senses were bathed in mindfulness. I had to pause and consider how to answer in ways that could be understood by a toddler.

An exercise in skillful effort, indeed.

This meant each arising thought and spoken word was filtered through the four gates of speech (attributed to the Sufi tradition and referenced frequently in Buddhism): Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it helpful? Is it kind?

Parenting books would translate such ancient spiritual wisdom as “keeping it simple and sweet.” But there’s so much more to this lesson.

We can cultivate our own skillful understanding as we break things down for the little ones in our lives. We refresh our perspective, search for new meaning (I mean this literally, too. Hello0ooo, Google!), and recognize, in truth, just how much we don’t know about this world.

My son has truly helped me unlearn, relearn, synthesize, and renew my practice of looking and listening. By nourishing his inherent joyful curiosity about life, I am learning alongside him how to penetrate the surface of all that we encounter:

For example, while playing at a park last summer, we noticed an enormous bee-like insect zipping around.  Another mother warned her kids away, understandably concerned by the prominent stinger.  We too avoided colliding with it, but our curiosity was definitely piqued. I even mentioned to my mate that I’d spotted something I’d never seen before! A few days later, upon leaving the children’s science museum, K and I spotted a sign in one of its gardens that identified this strange creature as a cicada killer wasp. He was excited to know all about it, so when we got home I read through articles and found a video on the internet to watch together (see previous link). For weeks afterward, he was talking about it–impressing his grandfather with the story of the cicada killer. Had I offhandedly dismissed it as a scary bug, we might have overlooked the sign and missed this opportunity to understand the nature of this creature.

With senses sharpened, we see the minute details and puzzle them together into an experience that reshapes us. This capacity to see clearly may expand into a capacity to speak truthfully and skillfully about what troubles, intrigues or excites us in life. For my son, Whuzzat became Why morphed into And Then What Happens? and begat the twin wonders What Does That Mean? and Tell Me About This, Mommy. Our questions bloom into explorations, discoveries, reflections, imaginings, stories and memories.

As Rilke once assured a young poet, we learn to live the questions now. Living the questions may often test our faith, compassion, and understanding. We may get stretched out completely. But our willingness to be present to them helps us develop the resilience to survive even the most difficult questions. So we listen and look closely and grow to love the questions and the journeys they lead us on.

This much I have learned from really hearing the wisdom in my son’s question and looking deeply into the coolness of an ordinary armpit.

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.

inviting mindfulness: the heart at rest ~ mudra of the inner self

Mudra of the Inner Self[1]

With the hands held in prayer position,

the thumbs represent the Inner Self—

surrounded by a temple of your creation.

 

mudra 1.bw

Touching the Heart,

Nurture the Self with Breath & Loving Awareness.

Acknowledge your Commitment to

Compassionate Self-Understanding & Well-Being.

Smile & Bow Deeply to your Self with Gratitude.

mudra 2.bw


[1] Adapted from Mudras: Yoga in Your Hand by Getrud Hirsch. The description is my own. Photo credit: Belinda Thurston. Included in my meditation workshop materials, Inviting Mindfulness: The Heart at Rest.

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: 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.

On Mindful Parenting: “Discernment Versus Judging” – M. + J. Kabat-Zinn

What is called for in the cultivation of mindfulness, and in mindful parenting, rather than judging, is discernment, the ability to look deeply into something and perceive distinctions keenly and with clarity.

Discernment is the ability to see this and that, as opposed to this or that, to see the whole picture, and its fine details, to see gradations. Being discerning is an inward sign of respect for reality because we are taking note of subtleties as well as the gross outline of things, aware of complexity and mystery. There is a fairness in it, a rightness in it, because it is truer to the whole of reality…

Cover of "Everyday Blessings: The Inner W...

When we bring mindfulness and discernment to our parenting, we come to see how much we tend to judge our own children as well as ourselves as parents. We have opinions about them and who they are and how they should be, and hold them up against some standard that we have created in our minds. When we judge our children in this way, we cut ourselves off from them and us. We also cut ourselves off from ourselves by contracting and becoming rigid. By intentionally suspending judgment and cultivating discernment, we create the potential to reconnect with them.

Discernment includes seeing that even as we attempt to see our children for who they are, we cannot fully know who they are or where their lives will take them.

We can only love them, accept them, and honor the mystery of their being.

Myla + Jon Kabat-Zinn,
“Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting”

magic + madness of mud

Give a boy a garden hose…

and he’ll surely make, fling, smear, and eat mud!

I finally prepared my garden over the stretch of a week—turning the earth over (Shhh! I surprised my semi-bug-phobic self by apologizing to the displaced insect life and asking for their help in growing our garden), watering the plot, contemplating the layout and selection of plants, and interplanting flowers and herbs for the first time.  All the while, my dirt-loving-Earth-Day-born 2-year-old was giddily digging right alongside me.

By the end of the day, K was a pro with the garden hose and everything was a fair target.  Including me, of course!  I even had to negotiate time with it.  He’d reluctantly hand it over, whimpering “my hose” and half-heartedly picking up the hand shovel or cultivator until he could get the hose back in his grip.

So now he’s the official hose boy!

Days later, K waters the garden.

Tending the Earth

While at the park one afternoon, he played with two little girls who were trying to make an airplane out of candy wrappers strewn about the playground. I pointed out other scraps they could use, remarking how cool and clever it was that they were recycling garbage into art.  Suddenly, K starts hunting down trash and throwing it away!

I have no doubt that our time together in the garden cleaning up debris, tilling, weeding, planting, watering and admiring our efforts have planted in him the seeds to be a steward of this earth.

First blooms of the Snapdragons

Yesterday, I was so excited to see the first of the snapdragons flowering!

The gift of the whole universe:

the earth, the sky, the rain, and the sun…*

 …A hose, a toddler’s enthusiasm and wonder,

Our hands, our breath, our laughter, our smiles.

Related articles

tits + titillation II: the magic of mammaries + the madness of media hype over breastfeeding

I’m recycling my commentary to the Q&A with Jamie Lynne Grumet that I reblogged a few days ago along with related articles addressing the issue, including Dr. Sears’ respond to the hype.

As a mother who has instinctively practiced “natural”, “attachment,” or “connected” parenting, I applaud Jamie Lynne Grumet’s courage to appear on the cover of Time.

The image is undeniably and deliberately provocative.  And, in some ways, problematic.

Though not for the reasons that most folks will immediately think.

Along with the caption “Are You Mom Enough?” this cover adds fuel to thetyranny of comparison (to borrow the phrase that continues to resonate with me long after hearing it in Buddhist teacher Martin Aylward’s dharma talk Work, Sex, Money, Dharma.) between working and at-home mothers.

As well, it excludes from the picture the vital presence of fathers who are equally committed to this way of parenting.

Understandably, Time’s editorial choice was guided by sales as much as shining the light on the legacy of Dr. William Sears and attachment parenting.

I appreciate Jamie’s awareness of the unfortunate negativity (guilt, resentment, judgement, etc.) this will spark and can only hope that the full article will present a more complete and balanced view than its cover.

May all parents be released from suffering
the tyranny of comparison.
May all parents be inspired to be
the best nurturers, educators, and providers 
they can be
and make skillful choices that serve the well-being of their families.

Related articles:

tits + titillation: the magic of breastfeeding + the madness of TIME’s provocative cover

As a mother who has instinctively practiced “natural”, “attachment,” or “connected” parenting, I applaud Jamie’s courage to appear on the cover of Time.

The image is undeniably and deliberately provocative.

And, in some ways, problematic. Though not for the reasons that most folks will immediately think.

Along with the caption “Are You Mom Enough?” this cover adds fuel to the “tyranny of comparison” (to borrow the phrase that continues to resonate with me long after hearing it in Buddhist teacher Martin Aylward’s dharma talk Work, Sex, Money, Dharma.) between working and at-home mothers. As well, it excludes from the picture the vital presence of fathers who are equally committed to this way of parenting.

Understandably, Time’s editorial choice was guided by sales as much as shining the light on the legacy of Dr. William Sears and attachment parenting.

I appreciate Jamie’s awareness of the unfortunate negativity (guilt, resentment, judgement, etc.) this will spark and can only hope that the full article will present a more complete and balanced view than its cover.
May all parents be released from suffering the tyranny of comparison.

May all parents be inspired to be the best nurturers, educators, and providers they can be and make skillful choices that serve the well-being of their families.

Health & Family

Jamie Lynne Grumet, a 26-year-old mother of two in Los Angeles, is on the cover of TIME this week breast-feeding her son Aram, who turns 4 next month. Kate Pickert, the author of the accompanying cover story, “The Man Who Remade Motherhood,” spoke with Grumet about attachment parenting, adoption and breast-feeding, topics Grumet writes about on her blog, I Am Not the Babysitter.

It’s clear from your blog that you’re into attachment parenting. Are you a fan of Dr. Bill Sears?
He’s great. I’ve read all his books. He has a very gentle spirit, and I find what he’s saying to be nonjudgmental and relevant to what’s happening today and what we’re finding out about some of the issues that are popping up with our children’s health. I feel like he really is doing this because he knows this is best. And the way he does it is graceful and educating…

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On “Guerrilla Learning” ~ Grace Llewellyn & Amy Silver

Guerrilla Learning is coloring outside the lines, finding the shortest direction between two points, moving directly toward goals, doing the best you can with what you’ve got to work with now, making what you want for your kids and what they want for themselves as real as you can, asking people for specific kinds of help, getting out of theory land and into the trenches, realizing that schools could take centuries to significantly improve (or to get out of the way altogether) and that meanwhile your children are barreling through childhood…

Cover of "Guerrilla Learning: How to Give...In a nutshell, Guerrilla Learning means taking responsibility for your own education.And Guerrilla Learning is relaxing—knowing that you’ve made a lot of mistakes as a parent (and an educator) and that you’ll make a lot more, and that that’s okay—your kids are resilient; it’s not all up to you, and life will provide.

For young people, that includes thinking clearly and seriously about one’s own goals, interests, and values—then acting accordingly.

For parents, it means supporting your child in doing so.

It might mean giving your child a kind of freedom that may seem risky or even crazy at first.

And it also means continuing your own involvement in the world of ideas and culture, continuing to read, to think, to discuss, and to create–and being a walking, talking invitation to your kids to do the same.

Of Related Interest:

Raising Smart Girls Blog

An Unschooling Life

tandem napping: magic + madness in the family bed

sharing the sweetness of breath, warmth, quiet, and rest

until the snoring begins
and blankets become tangled and hot
or hogged and coveted
and stray limbs wander into sensitive territories

leaving me the “wakeful flea” to balance hip-heavy on the inches near the edge

crowded, I roll over and out
while the two bears cuddling in the bed sigh deeply and spread wider

elsewhere,
sweatered and socked
or wrapped in a cozy,
I snuggle up in solitude and free space

eat, play, learn: a montage of the magic of food + fun

this food is the gift of the whole universe:
the earth, the sky, the rain, and the sun.
–from “the six contemplations for young people”

in Thich Nhat Hanh’s Making Space