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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lil bodhicitta

My little guy has become a more eager reader in recent weeks and, as he prepared his own lunch, pointed to his juice pouch and asked if it read “Heart Kids.” When I explained that it was honest, he surprised me by stating, oh-so-matter-of-factly, that it was basically another way of saying heart. And so my heart sighed, as I marvelled at his ability to see into and then extrapolate the meaning of one word toward another that we adults (it is hoped) come to learn are bound up in each other. It takes heart to be honest; and, when we commit to practicing being honest, we are living intentionally from the heart.

We’ve not discussed the definition of either word as part of a formal lesson on reading or spelling. So this moment was a wonderful reflection of the priority we place on modeling our values! We have demonstrated and openly discussed what honesty, heart, and their “offshoots”–kindness, love, fairness, forgiveness, patience–look and feel like. So now he is learning to identify it, even on a juice pouch. Proud mommy moment!

I told him that I love learning along with him because I like the way he thinks. Then my darling boy told me that he loves learning from me because I know everything. I am always honest and remind that I don’t have all the answers. But on this homeschooling journey, I am guiding us toward that which cultivates bodhicitta, the heart and mind of love.

mindfulness in a crisis

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Exploded and firefighters are two words you don’t want to hear from an unfamiliar caller, informing you that your mother needs you to come over to the house immediately.

Already in the car, heading in the opposite direction, with my husband thankfully behind the wheel. My first response was not to panic but to pause and assess. In reflection, I recognize: This is my brain on mindfulness.

And let me say right now that mindfulness is not a quick fix tool that I acquired after some 6-8 week stress reduction workshop. It is the result of 10-plus years as a dharma practitioner with feet grounded firmly on the Zen path and a lifetime of exploring contemplative spiritual and wellness practices that have helped recalibrate my fiery temperament “to be more able more often” to generate skillful responses.

I’ll be straight up: it doesn’t “work” all the time in all situations! There are certain conditions that are more likely to trigger my unskillfulness than others — lack of sleep, hormonal shifts, information overload, my enduring pet peeve with folks’ poor communication skills, a sudden pile-on of simultaneous requests for assistance or multiple “crises” (’cause, ya know, family) and, not for mere emphasis and effect but because it is my reality and truly can the training grounds for spiritual resilience, all manner of family habits/patterns/cycles.

It takes time, over a span of time and situations, to cultivate mindfulness as a spiritual faculty. With practice this faculty serves as a power, which becomes activated in a moment of crisis, where our innate flight-fight-freeze instinct is bypassed and instead calm and clarity prevail. So instead of having my husband immediately bust a U-turn, I took a fortifying breath and quietly cancelled the appointment I was heading to; notified other family members of the news — explaining that I didn’t have all the details but would provide an update soon; prayed that no one was harmed; and concentrated on seeing clearly and calmly a broad range of possibility.

En route I learned that my mother and grandmother were indeed safe, which made the drive from the opposite end of town less stressful. Still with only minimal information, I was mentally prepared to pull up to a busy scene with the driveway blocked by a firetruck, a crew assessing damage, and my mother and grandmother in a dither.

Much to my relief, there was no outward evidence of any hazard. Life, limb, and living quarters were in tact. There had, in fact, been an “explosion” and “smoke” in the form of a pipe to the water heater bursting, a release of some vapor/exhaust cloud through the smokestack, and a legitimate concern about the gas line being connected. But, thank God, all was well…albeit flooded. No elevated heart rate, nervous sweat, or belly-twisting fear to recover from. A sigh of relief and deep gratitude that nothing worse had happened. I later joked, Do y’all know how it sounds to hear “exploded” and “firefighters” in the same sentence?! There’s a certain picture that comes to mind

I won’t speculate further about worst-case scenarios. What’s more important was being reminded that, whether in the midst of uncertainty, tension, and crisis or in their aftermath, I can trust the fruits of my practice will continue to bloom — equipping, nourishing, sustaining, and restoring me.

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.

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.

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.

Be Kind To Yourself Week 2013: May the Ending be Your New Beginning

Wow! I’m so moved by all who “joined” this movement, invited others, shared their experiences, took a moment to consider how they perceive/speak to/treat themselves, and wholeheartedly committed acts of self-kindness!

The official event week may be over but let your practice continue:

  • Speak skillfully and gently to yourself! Suspend the inner critic. We can acknowledge mistakes or areas we wish to improve without judging or demeaning ourselves.
  • Honor your inner wisdom and be generous with giving yourself all that you need to support your well-being. Do not abandon yourself! Develop healthy boundaries and conserve your resources (emotional, physical, creative, etc.) so that you do not become depleted or resentful.
  • Acknowledge and honor your strengths, talents and contributions. Do not get caught up in the self-defeating cycles of comparison. We all have something to contribute to our relationships and communities. Though our circumstances may not allow us to share/contribute in equal measure as another, we can commit to the practice of giving wholeheartedly (without doubt, bitterness, frustration, etc.). Remember still that equal is not identical! Be free to share in a way that is authentic to you.
  • “Keep company with the wise.” Spend time with people who diligently nourish this grace, loving-kindness and compassion for themselves and others.

Bowing deeply with gratitude for the mindfulness that was nourished this week and to Carolyn W. of our meditation community (Lansing Area Mindfulness Community) for launching this inter-faith initiative.Image

magic + mindfulness: finding a hidden message, following a thread + shining light on “A Year of Being Here”

On a scrap of paper that had loosened itself from one of my many overstuffed journals, I re-discovered a treasured but unattributed book excerpt I had copied and tucked away years ago. The message was so “on time” for me, as my meditation group has been contemplating mindfulness of emotions and how we may cultivate skillful understanding and practice around difficult feelings and experiences. I shared it with my sangha on Sunday and today finally ran a search with one of the sentences (it wasn’t a line from the excerpt I had read to sangha but one I guessed might yield the most relevant results) in hopes of finding the source.

I glimpsed a title that evoked a dawning familiarity–The Emptiness of Our Hands: A Lent Lived on the Streets by Phyllis Cole-Dai and James Murray (and, yes, this was indeed the source!)–and then followed that thread to the author’s website where my eyes alighted on the link A Year of Being Here.

A gem! This blog/project hosts a collection of mindfulness poetry. Wonder of wonders, today’s poem is yet another thread woven seamlessly into the fabric of our study of emotions. Here are a few lines from Jane Hirshfield: “A Room” (click the link to read the full poem):

A room does not turn its back on grief.
Anger does not excite it.
Before desire, it neither responds
nor draws back in fear…
Whatever disquiet we sense in a room we have brought there.

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…

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.

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.