the golden time of day

he crawls into the empty pre-dawn space daddy made, flings his legs over mine, and quickly drops back to sleep.

waking hours later, he speaks to me of colorful video-pixeled dreams.

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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]

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.

a family affair: father’s day practice

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…

What is prayer?…

What is prayer?

I make a list:

Praise
Gratitude
Begging/pleading/cutting deals
Fruitless whining and puling
Focus

There the list breaks off; I had found my word. Prayer only looks like an act of language; fundamentally it is a position, a placement of oneself. Focus. Get there, and all that’s left to say is the words. They come: from ancient times … from the surprisingly eloquent heart … from the gush and chatter of the day’s detail longing to be rendered.

So what is silence?

Silence speaks, the contemplatives say. But really, I think, silence sorts. An ordering instinct sends people into the hush where the voice can be heard. This is the sorting intelligence of poetry, marked by the unbroken certainty of rhythm, perfect pitch, the placing of things in right order as in metrical form. Not rigid categories, but the recognition of a shape always there but ordinarily obscured by — by what? By noise, which is ourselves trying to do the sorting in an order that may be a heroic effort but is bound to be a fantasy.
~ Patricia Hampl, “Virgin Time”

From the transcript of On Being with Krista Tippett’s 2009 show Approaching Prayer.

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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inviting mindfulness in a moment of madness: how I learned to live the meditation when sitting was not an option

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]

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 of moon wisdom

There’s something magical about waking up with my lovey-boy before dawn on the days that surround the full and change of the moon.

Sometimes for K, it’s a tossing-and-turning to find the right nook to snuggle into, a fluttering of eyes, a murmuring of dreamy words, a giggle- and-yawny stretch. Hands reaching out, knees nudging, toes burrowing—the reassuring warmth of skin. And, once in a while, he’s wired for sound! Popping up to play with cars or to read books as if the sun were streaming brightly through his window.

When I alone am awake, I rest in contemplation or sit in meditation. These witching hours are made for listening deeply and seeing clearly by the twinkle of stars that light the path.

Insight is a gift not the goal. Some things are illuminated, others released. Often, nothing at all appears to be happening. Yet it’s more than enough to abide in the hush, to simply feel and hear my breath subtle and distinct. Quietly, steadily just being me.

Attuned to this spirit time, I feel energized rather than depleted. I am awake—moving easily through the day on merely a few hours of sleep, sustained by the magnetic wisdom of the moon.

a million hoodies, a million hearts: metta behind the movement for trayvon martin

Easily seen is the outrage, despair and fear, the ignorance and insensitivity, the failures of the police, lawmakers and politicians, the complex, provocative and polarizing rhetoric and debate, the uncertainty of justice and the swelling distrust in the systems that are meant to ensure our safety.

Hard indeed to see and to carry hope for the possibility of deep and lasting change.

Not only to the controversial and dangerous law that gave a misguided vigilante license to act upon his fear and racism with unnecessary and deadly force.

But also to individual and systemic institutional practices that reinforce our prejudices, feeding and fueling them to become rampant antis-, –isms and -phobias.

Easily seen are the differences between us: skin, hair, race, gender, age, sexuality, religion, education, politics, economics…

Hard indeed to see are the threads that tie us together:
blood, breathe, heart, soul, histories, joy, suffering…

But for my practice of the buddha-dharma,
I might sit heavy with visceral rage, terror, disgust and disappointment.

Stomach-churning, heart-racing, tear-choking, breath-stealing anguish

For Trayvon,
my son,
my mate,
my father,
my brothers,
my nephews,
my cousins,
my friends,
my neighbors,
and others known or unknown to me who could be snatched from their loved ones
so brutally, so easily.

And not just sons, not only males.

Our daughters, mothers, sisters, and aunts are always vulnerable too. 

This cruelty, this pain, this suffering does not discriminate.
It leaves no one untouched.

So with my practice I sit.
Breath-, Love- and Hope-filled.

In full trust of the ever-evolving nature of all things.
In full remembrance that there are causes of and an end of suffering.
In full awareness of the victory of each sweet breath.

I sit to cradle my simmering feelings—
giving them space to stretch out, unfold, take new shape in their own time.

They are natural, they are human, they are mine.

Yet they are not me.

Touching the dharma and continuously taking refuge in the Five Mindfulness Trainings,             I am determined that my feelings will not feed or fuel choices that are unskillful, harmful or deadly.

I grow steady with each breath.
My anger and fear cool, soften and slowly transform into
the compassionate vigilance of mindfulness.

I listen deeply, see more clearly what is the true, necessary and wise course of action for me in this moment.

I touch the Metta Suttasending compassion and lovingkindness
in all directions with every breath
so that any habitual inclination toward anger, numbness, despair or avoidance will be released.

I step back—filtering out the discord, limiting what I consume from the media.
Tuning in—to my breath, my intentions, my dharma, my heart.

From this space, I listen deeply for:
facts, resolution, and the aspirations I hear beneath the pleas for justice.

From this space, I see clearly the faces:
brown as my own,
also darker, lighter—matching the full spectrum of hues and tones of people I know and love—reflecting my sadness, my questions, my aspirations.

From this space, I see clearly the hearts beneath the hoodies.

I feel them beating, bleeding, bursting wide and tender with compassion
for Trayvon Martin, his heartbroken parents and loved ones,
and all others who are suffering from such tragic and profound losses.

Hearing, seeing, feeling completely, I touch those aspirations that connect us all.

I chant them silently, I chant them aloud to my son each night, I chant them for us all.

With each nourishing, energizing, life-sustaining breath:

May we and all beings be happy,

May we and all beings be safe,

May we and all beings be well,

May we and all beings have peace.

My path and practice are affirmed.  I know this is the only way for me.

 Trayvon‑Martin‑009_540x405.jpg

  • My son: My ray of light, my bell of mindfulness, my clear intention for practice.
  • My mate: A miraculous odds-smashing survivor of a random act of road rage, he was shot in the head at 19. He happens to be white. The shooter, who served the minimum sentence on a plea, is black. His parents–my loving “in-laws”—and family members who are models and practitioners of faith and forgiveness.
  • The Dhammapada (Verses 252 – 3) as quoted in Come See For Yourself  ~ Ayya Khema         We read and discussed the chapter “The Faults of Others” in my root sangha (lamc.info) several years ago, and it continues to resonate.
  • The Places That Scare You: A Guide To Fearlessness in Difficult Times ~ Pema Chodron    I’m currently re-reading this book (slowly digesting the practices), and my bookmark was resting in the middle of her chapter on Compassion.
  • Metta for Children ~ InvitingtheBell.com                                                                                         Matt wrote about introducing this “magical” practice to his daughter (exactly one month ago today) and, auspiciously, I read it shortly after putting my own child to bed with thoughts about how to incorporate age-appropriate bedtime blessings into our evening ritual. Every night since, I sing my simple metta chant to him.
  • ‘Million Hoodie’ March  ~ Newsone.com

poetry in motion: [in Just-] by e.e. cummings

These two gorgeous lines (tweeted by someone in my cipher) sprang to life in the shape of my puddle-hunting, snow-munching, nature-loving son!  In them I see a beautiful meditation celebrating the transition from winter to spring.

in Just–

spring when the world is mudlicious…

…when the world is puddle-wonderful…

And, on the brink of spring in Michigan…when the world is snowlightful!

Read here in its entirety: [in Just-] by e. e. cummings: The Poetry Foundation.