how we hanukkah

Blessed is light in the world;
Blessed is the light in humanity; Blessed is the light of Hanukkah.
— Humanistic Hanukkah Blessing

yesterday, stirred by instinct, i decided that we’d create our own hanukiah. (lemme take a sacred pause here to emphasize how Spirit truly moves through us because i had not even checked the calendar to see when Hanukkah fell this month!) only now as i write am i connecting this intuitively-inspired action to heart-seeds nourished by Sangha’s reflection on what we have inherited, the quality of how we give + receive, and what we transmit.

🕯 what have i inherited? the soul-deep call to explore the spiritual legacy of my jewish ancestors dora, gottlieb + mary roth.

🕯 how do i give + receive? by trusting curiosity + call to move beyond ideologies + orthodoxies about how to celebrate/worship. by telling new stories + making new practices + memories.

🕯 what do i transmit + pass on? imagination, creativity + openness to be expansive with how we live out the yearnings of our spiritual hearts, which are compelled toward what feels nourishing.

so on tuesday night, we took turns re-reading Hanukkah Moon by Deborah Da Costa + inviting the bell. i recited a prayer before K lit the first candles. then the kiddos ate brownies to sweeten the day.



first light of hanukkah:

the light of reason that teaches us the difference between right and wrong.
(*)
— Marilyn Rowens, Secular Humanistic Judaism


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(*) dualistic language that I always expand to “skillful” and “unskillful” to acknowledge the range of context and conditions as well as the process of learning, stretching, deepening, revising, evolving as we grow through, test out and experience actions that create suffering/harm and those that cultivate freedom/healing from suffering/harm.

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#BodhicittaBookshelf

📚 Grandma’s Gift by Eric Velasquez

📚 Hanukkah Moon by Deborah Da Costa

📚 Jackie’s Gift: A True Story of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Jackie Robinson
by Sharon Robinson

📚 Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas by Pamela Ehrenberg



the second light of hanukkah
the light of self-esteem that inspires us to believe in ourselves.

my little ray of light just might have been most geeked about learning how to use a lighter. these mudras were all him, y’all!

here i paused + cradled my heart for the devastating loss of young lives to suicide triggered by bullying. as much as i want to try to understand the unimaginable, i can hardly read beyond these headlines.

that these babies are suffering so deeply that voices of cruelty drown out voices of love is unacceptable. we must protect these babies — those who have been taught to harm + those who are the targets of harm — at all costs.


the third light of hanukkah:
the light of courage that gives us the strength to stand up for our beliefs. 

[king k + his “flamethrower,” lighting the 3rd candle last night!]

afterward, we talked about what courage looks like + read about courageous activist + Nobel Peace winner, Malala Yousafzai.

courage also looks like untethering ourselves from what no longer serves us — thoughts, values, beliefs, behaviors, practices, rituals, — particularly, if they are “inherited” or “borrowed” + not resonant with who we are or aspire to be.

#BodhicittaBookshelf
Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education by Raphaële Frier


the fourth light of hanukkah:
the light of freedom that reminds us to take responsibility for ourselves.

as we reflected on freedom, i was instantly transported back to Salus Center’s Whose Streets? workshop last saturday + heard the echoes of Dr. Koach Baruch Frazier declaring, “we have a duty to know that we are free!”

so what makes us feel free?

for my 7-year old: not having homework! 🤸🏾

for me, i told him, one of the many things that affirms my sense of freedom is being my own boss so that i can cultivate a skillful livelihood that enables me to stay aligned in Spirit while supporting others in being whole + free.

we read about Ida B. Wells who was born into slavery, emancipated as a young child, then became a celebrated journalist, crusader against lynching + a voice for justice.

#BodhicittaBookshelf
Yours for Justice, Ida B. Wells: The Daring Life of a Crusading Journalist by Philip Dray


the fifth light of hanukkah:
the light of love that enables us to care for those in need.


we celebrated love…the binding energy that defuses t(w)een-angsty squabbles + sustains sugar-fueled cousins + siblings through gramma’s holiday slumber party!


the sixth light of hanukkah:
the light of loyalty that helps us keep our promises to those who depend on us. 

[jedi vibes on this 6th night of reflection under the new moon (rosh chodesh). 🌑]

on this night we contemplated models of loyalty, dependability + trustworthiness, which include superheroes, trollhunters + dragonriders…and, in real life, parents who always got ya back!


the seventh light of hanukkah:
the light of generosity that encourages us give even when we do not receive.


we talked about the many ways we can practice generosity — like giving your cousin most of your goldfish. being patient, kind + helpful. spending time with those you care about. listening well. having a big heart. 💖


the eighth light of hanukkah:
the light of hope that leads us to a vision of a better world. 



k has thoroughly enjoyed his official role as “keeper of the flame” + surprised me by suggesting we add the buddha statue + goddess card to create this tableau.

(i’m sure his eye for #miseenscene has been influenced in some small way by all the episodes of #fixerupper he watches with his dad!)

on this very last night we celebrated hope + its connection to each of the seven virtues that came before.

hope can energize our capacity to embody + experience generosity, loyalty, love, freedom, courage, self-esteem, reason/wisdom. and each of these qualities can strengthen our hope.

The Eight Lights of Hannukah by Marilyn Rowens, Secular Humanistic Judaism

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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.

woman horizontal | the sound of him

all that motherhood inspires…

3 Jewels Yoga™

he wakes whistling, thrilled by the zipping wind
he conjures and reshapes into sharps and flats

snaps a crisp unpatterned rhythm
with supple-skinned thumb and middle finger
(wiped dry between refrains)
flickering his wrist for triumphant emphasis

3jewels.allmannerofsound

mutters a play-by-play commentary
to an imagined audience of rapt gamers
punctuated with shrieks, chides, wails and groans

jigs an exuberant popiscle-sugared dance
wagging his pineapple-cherry coated tongue
shuffling feet,
flexing knees,
scuttling erratically to a giggle-inflected beat
oh! mustn’t leave out the slapping bum finale and encore

drills up and down 14 stairs,
thunderous heel-stomping laps
and cushioned drop-and-rolls,
parkouring over and around the furniture
a streak of joy unleashed

bumps and bangs precede whimpers and squealed tears
beckoning empathetic triage,
strokes of comfort and mild caution to remember,
in all this play, that his body is growing and does not yet know
the new dimensions marking where it ends and external…

View original post 87 more words

breathing beauty into the world: a mindfulness practice for children (who are learning to see with eyes of compassion)

Each day I rise, waking to a world of possibilities.

I breathe and smile, happy and ready to learn, grow and share.

I see the sky, sun, clouds above me.

I see the earth, plants, water below me.

I feel the air around me.

I breathe and smile, knowing that I am in the world and the world is in me.

I choose to see beauty in myself, my family, my friends, my neighbors, my teachers, my community, and all living creatures.

I choose to speak words from my heart that are true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, and kind.

I choose to act from my heart in ways that are helpful, healthy, inspiring, and kind.

Even when I do not feel or act my best (whether I am sad, scared, confused or angry), I remember to place my hands on my heart and breathe.

I smile, knowing I can begin anew.
I can ask for help and comfort from those I trust and love.

Each night, I rest, thankful for all that I learned and shared.

I see the sky, moon, stars above me.

I see the beauty all around me. I breathe and smile, knowing that I am in the world and the world is in me.

[originally written Fall 2012]

This writing has multiple sources of inspiration:
  • My experiences as an aunt, mother, and substitute teaching assistant for a preschool program;
  • My experiences as a practitioner and teacher of yoga and meditation, which is rooted in my practice of Zen Buddhism in the lineage of Thich Nhat Hanh;
  • My dear friend TaNesha Barnes, who asked me some time last year to create an affirmation for Beyond The Surface, the critical thinking and social justice academy she literally built in her own backyard!  A 21st-century embodiment of Wonder Woman, TaNesha is a mother, entrepreneur (t. barnes beauty), educator and social justice advocate with a clear heart-driven mission to empower students to become “global thinkers for equitable living.” When she recently posted the draft version of this piece (typed one late-night and stored as a memo on my BlackBerry) on Facebook, I was not only honored that she announced it would be recited daily in her upcoming program, Breathing Beauty Rites of Passages for Black Girls, but also compelled to add some long-awaited finishing touches! I am so deeply grateful to have lived, learned and grown up with TaNesha over the last 19 years and, on this 50th anniversary of the March on Washington (#MOW50), am excited to continue collaborating with her on programs that merge spirituality and wellness with social justice.

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.

 

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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.

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[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.

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]

squeeze + smooch: the magic of hugging meditation

“When we hug, our hearts connect and we know that we are not separate beings.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

My clever kid was about 15 months old when he abandoned nearly all requests to be picked up.

To him, the briefest pause was an eternity.  Of course, toddlers have no tolerance for waiting, and any effort—no matter how gentle—to introduce the concept of delayed gratification or patience is futile.  They want what they want when they want it, so GET IT TOGETHER, FOLKS!

K had quickly come to realize that I could not resist his yumminess.  Throughout the day, I would snatch him up for sniff (ah, that baby-fresh scent), squeeze and smooch!

I’m sure you can see where this is going…

Yup, K understood that whenever I was deeply engaged in an activity (usually cooking dinner) all he needed to do was stand at my feet, stretch open his arms, flap his hands and beg  for a hug!

How could I not instantly drop whatever I was doing to oblige him?  Every. Single. Time.

Nothing is more important than assuring my child that I see him, hear him, and feel his need to be connected.  But, of course, there are moments when I feel stretched to complete a time-sensitive task and cannot immediately give him my full attention.

So I talk him through it—I hear you, lovey. I know you want Mommy…this is what I’m doing now, then we’ll do X, Y and Z.  And soon as it is possible, I hug and kiss him wholeheartedly  for a few breaths and go about the task at hand.

Often that is enough.  But when it isn’t, I keep him next to me and do what parenthood demands we master (or fail miserably trying): multitask!

Other times, however, I require space and uninterrupted solitude.  In those instances, the multitasking continues.  My attention is concentrated on the activity while my heart is reaching toward him.

I acknowledge the subtle twinge of guilt and release it.  Breathing into it, I trust that he’s been properly fortified by every loving touch we exchange and that his sense of our connectedness will sustain him through the healthy, naturally-unfolding experiences of separation between parent and growing child.

But the instant my work ends, I grab K and love him up—breathing deeply as I squeeze and smooch until he’s had enough.

Learn more about the  practice of  Hugging Meditation.

hugging meditation
Image via PlumVillage.org – Art Of Mindful Living