over the bay
infusing the heart
with a quiet joy
priming it to meet
the day’s suffering
with peaceful presence
reflecting back hope
cobalt violet sunrise
over the bay
infusing the heart
with a quiet joy
priming it to meet
the day’s suffering
with peaceful presence
reflecting back hope
With the pandemic forcing more families to stay at home, the lines between school, work, and home are blurred with unclear boundaries. I’ve talked with patients, extended family, and friends who are struggling to maintain decent communication in closed quarters where most of life is happening these days. The internal aversion is also exacerbated by unhealthy air quality from raging California fires, limiting outdoor activity and escape.
For the first few months of travel limitations and social distancing, I felt that I was doing OK, even celebrating the sweet connections to my family. After an RV trip where we are all in even tighter quarters than at home, rubbing up against each other with every movement, something inside me snapped. Was it perimenopausal mood fluctuations, past patterns finally catching up with me, other causes and conditions? Do the reasons even matter?
Opening to what’s happening in the relational field requires so much patience. I love my family dearly, but I’m not always going to like them, especially when we disagree. The nature of life is change. There is nothing new about this concept. We are not fixed beings, but processes doing our best to acclimate to external forces. And everyone has their own way of adjusting.
Pausing and taking a few deep breaths before speaking or acting can make a difference between clarifying connection or disastrous disconnection. I recently listened to a podcast outlining a four-step approach to communication designed to increase clarity, minimize miscommunication, honor each person’s individuality, and build a shared sense of trust and respect for long-term success. Remembering intentions for healthy relationships, I was grateful to implement the practice a few times in conversation.
Patience is not about getting my way or forcing a certain outcome. It’s gently engaging eye contact, using words as windows instead of weapons, and awareness of body language internally and externally.
Close relationships can often lead to perceived nuclear fallouts when monkey mind is active. It’s so easy to get triggered by past hurt with an overlay of old scenes coloring what’s actually happening. It’s also tempting to stay focused on thoughts like train schedules flashing in the mind, constantly rechecking details for the future in case I miss the train.
How can I trust the present moment as it’s playing out, especially when I’m conditioned to fight, flee or freeze when it’s uncomfortable based on the thoughts and feelings arising? Present moment awareness is all about dropping below the story line, below the cranium to feel the story as sensations in the body, connecting with whatever I am sitting, standing, walking, or lying down on as gravity reminds me to let go of everything but this moment. Beginner’s mind is all about a certain innocence and curiosity for the moment rather than prematurely predicting an ill-fated outcome.
So how do I transform monkey mind to beginner’s mind when conditioning is strong? I keep coming back to the practice of mindfulness or sati, returning again and again to the breath (or other meditation anchor) to remember. I could be lost for seconds, hours, days, even years, and presence is like a breath of benevolence. It doesn’t judge or ask why I left, why I don’t feel safe, why I feel the way I do. It simply opens the door, no questions asked, with an enthusiastic and heartfelt Welcome home! I’ve missed you.
2020 is certainly a year of much distress and heartache for many. And I need to remember that this suffering is not new. Our ancestors have faced such trials and tribulations, and so will our children. There is no escape from sickness, aging, and death, or the dissatisfaction that arises in response to it. While grief is a guarantee to all who live, so is gratitude. If everything is in a state of flux, then I must bring a sense of blessing to that change through heart practices like the Brahmaviharas.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to practice metta with Ayya Anandabodhi. I’ve learned metta as a traditional Burmese practice of silently and systematically repeating phrases of goodwill towards myself, a benefactor, dear friend, neutral person, and difficult person. Ayya Anandabodhi led a guided metta meditation that revealed the radiant, unconditional, boundless qualities of metta. I began by visualizing and lighting a diya inside the heart, breathing into it to fuel the flame of love. With each outbreath, I was invited to send that sacred flame of metta above me, below me, around and everywhere, allowing it to spread in all directions. If specific beings arose as natural recipients, that was fine. If not, that was fine, too. There were no ‘shoulds’, no comparing to past practices, no predictions for the future, just one woman’s heart feeling more expansive and free from conceptualization than ever before. I remembered my own goodness and the capacity to hold distress in loving arms.
When I don’t resonate with a family member, can I also remember their goodness? It helps to reflect on the times when I have felt connected, and all the things I appreciate about them. Relationships are not easy. They are complex and rather messy. They can also be exquisitely tender and redeeming, growing the heart to hold beauty and terror in the same loving space.
Writing this does not guarantee safe passage for future encounters. It does provide a template for embodied understanding and growth. I am still learning…
Bubbles and Butterflies by Shirley Reede
I was grateful for some quiet time to unplug from work - sit, walk, read, write, and engage with the Bikkhunis from Aloka Vihara and poems from the Therigatha on a home retreat for a few days.
Tissa ~ Third
Why stay here
in your little
If you really
want to be free,
a thought of freedom.
Break your chains.
Tear down the walls.
Then walk the world--
a free woman.
In the silence, a life pattern I’ve known about for some time resurfaced for contemplation.
I rely on specific outcomes, conditions for happiness.
Since the pandemic changed our way of life in March, I’m reflecting on identity, what really matters to me, and how I want to contribute to the wellbeing of others based on my own dance with life.
I was filled with ideas of healing hope, gift wrapping them faster than others could open and enjoy them. “Would any physician like peer support, mindfulness training? How about compassionate support? Would any patient like a mindfulness consultation, a tailored mindfulness meditation created just for you? Step right up and sign up for a mindfulness for stress shared medical appointment, or an online six-week meditation and reflective journaling class.”
“Take me out of respiratory clinic! That isn’t where my talent is. As every place is being hit hard economically, medicine is no exception. I’d like to make a living (right livelihood) offering mindfulness as medicine in addition to Western medicine.”
Just typing all this out and reading it aloud makes me realize how much energy I’ve directed into willing a certain outcome. I’ve also strategically tried to plan trips when other vacation plans were cancelled for safety reasons, and constantly check my phone to see if I’m receiving emails or texts that align with my ideal future. What have I missed along the way?
There is so much compassion for this heart-mind that dearly loves mindfulness, not just for stress reduction, but for the deep and profound ways the teachings have changed and healed my life. Of course I am passionate about this! I just need to remember that is not the medicine for everyone. Or, the package it comes in, the way that it’s offered may not work for everyone.
As much as I enjoy and am committed to Western medicine for its miracles and healing opportunities, it does not always integrate body, mind and spirit the way meditation and writing do. I understand why it feels like a part of my healing energy, my creative spirit stagnates when it doesn’t flow the way I envisioned it would.
Life is asking me to be on the lookout for joy and wonder like a toddler delighting in summer bubbles and butterflies. Life is also asking me to get curious, to be patient, to delight in the care received from others and be on the lookout for opportunities to extend care to others.
Having a distinct vision for joy, wonder, and care is not wrong. It’s the attachment for things to be a certain way that causes suffering. It’s the limiting beliefs that cause distress. Anything short or different from The Vision is a failure, not good enough, all my fault.
Letting Go (inspired by Tissa ~ Third)
Why stay here
in your little
If you really
want to be happy,
a moment of care.
Open your mind.
Let go of limiting thoughts.
Then meet each moment
with curiosity and wonder.
May we all let go of life patterns that cause suffering. May we let go into life’s mysterious unfolding.
May we be on the lookout for joy, wonder and care in each moment.
(Please share information about this class with anyone interested. As I am learning to let go, I can still advertise😉!)
This moment will not come gift-wrapped
in the shiny paper you expected
or the promise of on time delivery.
Sometimes it’s unpleasant-
asking you to look for what’s missing,
to listen for the friend you’ve
been waiting for your whole life,
to just breathe and unclench
tightly held fists.
Surrendering to the relentless
passing of days and nights,
this is it,
what you’ve been waiting for,
a peace so profound that you
didn’t recognize it at first glance.
The best gifts don’t have
to be so expensive.
Some gifts are free if you’re
willing to redefine happiness.
I used to think that enlightenment
Was a place to get to
Just one more class, one more practice
One more teacher training
And I’m on my way
To the land of freedom
What if enlightenment was always right here
A calming breath underneath
An N-95 mask and other *PPE
Compassionate words to soothe
The ill and worried well
Knowing that both need attention
What if enlightenment is vacation
Redefined as staycation
No more Maui or even Monterey
The rooms in my home and backyard
Becoming the paradise I seek
Sheltering in place to awaken
What if enlightenment is this body
Breaking down to remind me
Speed caused injury
Slowing down is what heals
Yoga to Qigong, hiking to walking
Embodying over accomplishing
What if enlightenment is family
The ones who love me most
And push all my buttons
To test a bodhisattva’s vow
On your path to liberation
Will you take us with you?
Enlightenment is what’s here now
Pleasant, unpleasant and neutral
Moments taking turns to watch
If I’ll show up with grace
Or resist and run away
Accepting an in between response
As long as I’m willing to try
(*PPE: personal protective equipment worn to prevent injury or infection)
As a front-line family physician, I’m used to offering compassionate care to patients, and listening to the care team at work. I’m used to holding space for meditation and reflective journaling classes, supporting family and friends in ways that feel wholesome.
And sometimes it’s overwhelming. With the recent pandemic, the constant barrage of news, work email updates, protocols constantly changing, and questions, there has been little time to contemplate what’s happening within.
This body is also in greater pain than normal. After several months of physical wellbeing with PT and engaging in movement practices I love (yoga, hiking, walking, Qigong), the body has decided to speak (scream at times). I’m sure it’s contributing to the overwhelm with fear eclipsing the things I usually see and remember.
Over the years, I’ve cultivated a strong lovingkindness and compassion practice to face challenges. But somewhere along the way, I’ve forgotten to pause for fifteen seconds six times a day to really let joy’s sunlight reach all the dark places within me. To help me remember, I joined an Awakening Joy course.
For a few days I was diligent with the practice, opening like a sunflower to moments of gratitude throughout the day. The pain in the sacroiliac joints and gluteal muscles was improving. Yeah, I thought. I’m on the right path!
Then the body screamed. I’m doing the PT daily. I’m trying to take it easy physically. Where am I going wrong??? In a state of despair and overflowing tears, I reached out to people who could help me remember what I was forgetting. The incoming texts/emails of care and support definitely helped me to remember a few things.
1.) I must put my own oxygen mask on first before I can take on the suffering of others. This means meeting my own suffering with compassionate care and asking, What’s needed now? I’m not always in a quite space to listen, so it’s important to take this time when possible, pencil in an appointment for myself, like I did this morning.
2.) S.O.S. I heard this acronym through a prerecorded webinar my work offered titled “Managing the Unknown”. When you notice that you are on information overload, and the brain, body and heart cannot take any more, STOP what you are doing. Stop clicking on more news links online, more email. Stop engaging in conversation that is echoing doomsday. Stop immersing yourself in more secondary trauma. OBSERVE the thoughts and feelings within with kindness. If that’s hard, imagine a kind, supportive being/presence with you. Stay here as long as you need to really listen internally. SWITCH to something that is positive and nourishing – a cup of tea, a conversation with a friend, music, a walk, journaling, humor, etc. (I’ve also heard this as S.T.O.P.: Stop. Take a breath. Observe thoughts and feelings. Proceed with something nourishing.
3.) Stay informed so that you have the latest information from the CDC, WHO, your local state, county, and health care professionals AND ask yourself what else you need to hear so that the scales are balanced. It’s easy to listen to statistics, worsening conditions, and conversations around you that accentuate the negative. What do you need to hear that’s positive? Where can you find this? It might be an inspiring quote, book, movie, song, story, prayer, etc. If you are having a hard time looking, ask others! Try this one on:
"My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times. Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul.”
-Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Jungian psychoanalyst, author of Women Who Run with the Wolves.
4.) Which brings me to my next point. Be a calm presence where you can be. Today I had the opportunity to speak with a relative overseas, a local business owner, and a stranger while shopping for groceries. The questions that used to sound like massive missiles attacking were surprisingly welcome. The conversations included some of what I am sharing here. If staying calm is not possible (it’s not expected, even for me), then can you be generous in other ways? Can you call someone who is currently quarantined, or check on them in other ways that do not place yourself at risk? Do you have an extra toilet roll, hand sanitizer, can of food that you’re saving for The Apocalypse? Do you know of neighbor you can share this with, someone who is restricted financially, physically, or by some other means? Generosity cultivates abundance of heart and mind, widens survival of the fittest perspective into one of interdependence. Just be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and don’t share if you’re sick.
5.) Impermanent/Imperfect/Impersonal. Physical pain and global pandemics can feel permanent, imperfect, and personal. It sure feels perpetual, messy, and personal to me right now. But if I take a closer look, there are moments when the body isn’t raging, even parts that feel neutral or pleasant. There are times when corona virus is not the main news infecting body, mind, heart, and spirit. It was not the main news when I dropped my daughter off or picked her up from school, on a mini retreat this morning in sitting and walking meditation, while brushing my teeth or taking a shower.
It can also help to remember that others are affected by what’s happening, just as you are. Knowing that so many lives have been affected, what can you keep doing regularly to maintain some sense of normalcy? (If you or someone you know has been significantly harmed physically, emotionally, financially, etc. please grieve the way that you need to. ‘Normalcy’ may be the last thing you need to hear/read.) Maybe it’s the way you comb your hair, brush your teeth, sip morning coffee or tea, go for a walk/run, meditate, eat, work, hug/kiss healthy family members, sing, dance, or any number of things you normally do (and are still doing:) Though change is inevitable, it’s healthy to maintain contact with who/what is familiar. It can nurture a sense of safety in times like this.
to a beating heart
an unsettled belly
a hand on each one
prana providing companionship
through every future unknown
This post is not written to negate the true feelings that are here: fear, anger, loneliness, despair, etc. It isn’t a spiritual bypass to a happier place untouched by illness or suffering. (If you know of such a place, let me know!). I needed to sit with all the paralyzing thoughts, feelings, and physical manifestations of them. I will likely be sitting with them for some time. Surrendering to a beating heart and unsettled belly, I placed a hand on each one, just sensing, just breathing, prana providing the companionship that was so desperately needed. I know that this simple act is not enough to heal the world, but it is certainly “mending the part of the world that is within my reach” through every future unknown.
May these reflections be of benefit to all beings everywhere without exception.
Fall and winter are generally seasons for introspection. Summer has been that time for me. Rather than calling it a midlife crisis, I’d like to think of it as midlife reflections.
I’ve been thinking about work, family, friends, where I live, hobbies, my place in the web of life. Where do I fit in? Do I belong?
FOMO (fear of missing out) keeps me constantly second guessing choices I’ve made. Maybe things would be better if I changed them up a bit. After all, so and so says it’s working for him/her/them. It’s so easy to become encased in others’ dreams, ideas, values like an old house, an old soul constantly receiving a fresh coat of paint, forgetting what the base coat ever looked or felt like.
I value time for silent reflection more than the most exotic place to visit, the biggest diamond, the prettiest home, sometimes even over relationships I deeply value. It’s where I can hear and remember how to live life from the inside out, what that base coat on this heart feels like, what it’s trying to tell me. I’m writing this on the Arbolejo Overlook of the Chamise trail at Foothills Park where some of these photos were taken.
There’s this snail-paced, slow and steady movement towards JOMO (joy of missing out). It’s so refreshing to trust the moment as my greatest teacher. I don’t need to whirlwind into the future with an expectation for definite answers. I can trust the leaves of wisdom to gently fall into my lap when they are ready to let go, to be known.
Love is so much larger than fear, doubt, and comparing mind. I am learning this in the arms of a beloved community, in the wild and vast lap of Mama Earth. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Gate gate para gate para sum gate bodhi swaha!
(Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone far beyond, to Awakening!)
Woke up with a pounding headache
Stayed up late last night
Come sit on the zafu
With everything as it is
Thoughts chasing the future
Replaying the past
It’s always better somewhere else
Or is it
Belly tensing against today
What do I need to do
What will the weather be like
Should have stayed asleep
For a better meditation
Waking up later
To practice again
It’s ok sweetheart
Just as you are
Finding the breath as ally
Soothing the body
Gathering swirling thoughts
Collecting them as mementos
For the heart to hold
Sitting like a mountain
Unmoved by the weather outside
Breathing in oxygen
Breathing out carbon dioxide
Symbiosis with trees
Breathing in his suffering
Breathing out compassion
Breathing in her struggles
Breathing out support
Breathing in their confusion
Breathing out understanding
Breathing in the joy
Of this practice
Breathing out the wish
May others experience this too
Thank you DoriMa and Kairos House Sangha for shaping my experience and heart. May the metta force field protect us all.
No one in the driver’s seat
Ignition empty of keys
Car is parked right here
Where every journey begins
The words tiptoe into consciousness at five something am the morning I leave for Spokane. A retreat will begin today with Dori Ma and the Kairos House Sangha, “Waking up to the Love That is Here”.
At breakfast my partner asks what number I am in line for boarding the Southwest flight. A momentary “oh, oh” lodges in the belly. I never forget the boarding pass. Never. It’s either forgetfulness, feeling too relaxed, or something else.
Holding on to a pass labeled C18, I’m skeptical of Southwest employees allowing a large backpack containing a zafu, an oblong rolled up yoga mat, and a medium sized purse to be carried by one person on to the plane. But no one says anything.
Surprise shifts to surrender. I have no idea what will happen in the next moment. I may be asked to check in something, or not. Boarding the plane, there’s a seat in between two folks in the fourth row on the left hand side. The overhead bin has space for the large backpack. Yoga mat and purse keep my feet company beneath the seat in front of me.
Grateful for having an inspiring conversation with a Nigerian American Uber driver about diversity, politics, history, and his family on the drive to the airport, as well as a Caucasian man born and raised in the Bay Area now retired and living an exciting, unplugged, retired life in Montana’s company before the flight, I’m waking up to the love that is here.
A story is shared in the morning practice session of a Buddha statue in Asia covered in plaster. One day a monk detected a crack, a glimmer of light from within. The Gold Buddha was encased in plaster to protect invaders over centuries from stealing it.
How is my True Nature encased in greed, hatred, delusion? A subtle aversion has surrounded this heart. Comparing Mind takes note of the bathroom, my room, the food, the meditation space, fellow yogis on retreat. This isn’t DPP6. This isn’t Spirit Rock.
In a morning sit, I trace the aversion back to Spokane Airport where I first landed yesterday. I was looking for some colored fish in a sea of white foam to feel a sense of belonging.
No wonder I’m feeling like a fish out of native Sangha waters. I may be the only POC here.
We take the five precepts together. Knowing that our lives are intertwined, I vow to protect all life. This particular precept thins the aversion. The heart quivers. A few tears fall. What do I vow to protect?
I carry the inquiry into walking meditation. Black flies buzz and attempt bites at the nape of the neck and hairline. I want to protect all life, not just a few precious humans, cute and pretty creatures. Even black flies.
Choosing a different walking path close by, there are still a few black flies hovering, buzzing, waiting. I do my best to gently, lovingly brush or blow them away as another yogi catches my eye.
She is walking with hands cupping both sides of the head and neck. The mudra (gesture) holds both the black flies and herself in a circle of Metta. Brilliant idea!
Citta feels an immediate kinship with her. Heart connections are reinforced through exchange of well wishes with other yogis throughout the day. This isn’t DPP6 or Spirit Rock. It’s the Kairos House Sangha in Spokane, Washington detecting a crack in the aversion plastered around this heart, Metta emerging from within.
The day ends with a dedication of merit, palms open to catch late spring petals of today’s practice. The petals are pressed in prayer book palms closing together with heads humbly bowed. May hands open to share these soft petals with loved ones at home, with every being we meet, especially when we forget.
Good morning sweetheart. I love you. Loving presence is always with you.
I’m accepting the invitation offered yesterday to practice waking up with Metta as the first thought of the day.
The morning is overcast, wet. Rain fell overnight, moistening the earth for growth. Setting the first Metta intentions for the day in meditation and Qigong practice (and maybe beyond), may I meet all experience with kindness and love. May the earth, all her creatures, be loved and respected.
That’s a tall order. Is that even possible? Her whispers dispel doubting thoughts. I see Her in a frog, a slug, black-eyed susans and pine trees on a morning walk. I hear her in birds chirping, the wind-breath of the Spokan silenced long ago, voices still audible to those willing to listen, the clanking of cutlery against bowls and dishes as yogis partake of Her bounty at breakfast.
She is best friend, advocate, wise advisor, the kind voice and loving energy that pulses through all life.
Can I see Her, hear Her in all?
It’s time to practice Metta for a neutral being, someone who doesn’t invoke a strong like or dislike in us. Examples are offered of who this neutral being could be. I resonate with the example of the garbage collector.
Closing the eyelids, I picture all the larger vehicles I typically pass on the way to work: trucks carrying groceries or goods, school buses carrying children, para transit vans carrying disabled persons to appointments. The Metta phrase comes naturally for the drivers of these vehicles:
May your load be carried with ease.
Their response surprises me.
May you be patient with our load.
Before I know it, motorcyclists and bicyclists are appearing on this meditation drive. Wait a minute! You all aren’t carrying a big load. You’re weaving in between lanes and may get side-swiped in a driver’s blind spot. You’re running stop signs and red lights.
Maybe their load is hidden. Fear of being late to work and losing a job. Distracted by a troubled relationship causing them to take dangerous risks. A life of invincibility untouched by loss.
Neutral beings transform into difficult beings, specific individuals in my life who are hard to forgive.
The heart stretches a bit.
May your load be carried with ease.
Their response encourages me.
May you be patient with our load.
The heart is primed to send blood rich Metta to difficult ones. Can I do this? So much anger, fear and hurt. Anything is possible sensing South Asian Panther aka Bhaiya by my side, an ally who easily reflects my True Nature.
Good night sweetheart. I love you. Loving presence is always with you.
I’m accepting the invitation offered yesterday to practice going to sleep with Metta as the last thought of the day.
My greatest wound is abandonment, umbilical chord not only severed at birth, but figuratively falling off the face of Mother Earth. Unwanted child, knocking on the doors of several hearts, begging for love. Who will take me in? Who will understand?
In Qigong, we polish the stone. Another Metta phrase spontaneously arises. May I polish the heart stone to uncover my True Nature. Reversing directions, may you polish the heart stone to uncover your True Nature.
A flash of insight. The heart stone sparkles in sunlight. How did I not see this before?
Wherever you are standing,
sitting, walking, or lying down,
the earth knows,
cradling feet, sits bones, back, head.
Wherever you are
with friend or foe,
why worry about safety?
You are Metta
getting curious, asking questions,
seeking authentic connection.
How can you ever be lost
when the earth knows
where you are?
My greatest joy is belonging, a sparkling jewel at the node of life’s web, Metta embodied, mirroring all life, all of life reflecting me.
The earth knows where I am.
It’s time to send Metta to groups of beings. Who do I want to choose? Releasing the need to know, to have a plan, the first group appears. All those that struggle with sleep.
May you be wide awake when necessary, and sleep well.
Metta is slowly generated for other groups experiencing what I am on retreat in this moment: midback pain from sitting, a chill in the bones from wet, washed hair.
May your back support you. May you feel ease.
May you have shelter and warmth from the cold.
There is also joy: a bright and sunny day outside, unplugged from the Matrix of rushing, performing, stretching till I’m about to break.
Metta is generated for other groups who may not experience this. Prisoners in solitary confinement, persons home bound due to a specific condition, fetuses swirling in an amniotic sea who may never see, feel the light of a bright and sunny day. Parents working two jobs to make ends meet at home, high school students stressing over grades, ACT’s, and SAT’s to make it into a prestigious college promising a home away from home, those who ride the corporate rainbow for a pot of gold at the other end with little chance to unplug.
If you cannot go outside, may you feel the light of love.
If you cannot unplug from the Matrix, may you experience moments of rest.
Like a venn diagram, I sense the overlap among circles of Metta, Karuna, Mudita, Uppekha.
Sensing what is needed within and outside, may I offer it up readily to myself and others, ambrosia of the gods. May I receive it from others when feeling unresourced and overwhelmed.
In a group process, we generate Metta for winged ones, water based ones, four leggeds, and creepy crawlers. Are these just wishes for their safety, wellbeing, ease, and freedom, or will the wishes be actualized?
Taking this inquiry outside into Nature and walking meditation, I walk a straight line back and forth. Thoughts stay logical. So I begin to walk in a circle, spiraling towards a center of creative knowing.
What beings have to die so I can live? How can old patterns in thought, word, and deed die so more creatures might live?
May we continue to ask these questions in reverence for all life, not just our own.
The sun is setting between pine trees, last glimmers of light before the evening talk, before darkness sets in and the outside world encroaches.
So many wonderful moments. What do I want to remember most?
The answer comes in a quote/teaching shared in the evening talk. “Thank you for everything. I have no complaint whatsoever.” (Zen master Sono)
I wake up way before the alarm sounds. A jackhammer headache is drilling through the right temple. The throat is slightly sore with some post nasal drip.
Shit! This isn’t how I want the retreat to end!
Thank you for everything. I have no complaint whatsoever.
Are you kidding? I can hear this when the heart is full of Metta. Right now, it’s encased in so much aversion. Gold Buddha? Where are you? Is Sono taunting me or offering freedom? I choose freedom.
In morning meditation, I decide to try lying down in a restorative yoga posture. That’s it Kaveri. Rest.
Her (Jackie Long, founder of Mind Body Moms) words sing to me sweetly.
You are working so hard
You are giving so much love
You are being held by us
By the earth and stars above
You will find your way through this
You will make it through somehow
We all see how strong you are
And we know your ready now
Once again, the lullaby thins the aversion. May the body support me. May I rest deeply. May this practice be for all beings in transition.
We drive to the airport, exchanging reflections of gratitude and awe. My fellow yogi was sitting to my left the whole time in the meditation hall, offering silent support, humor when sharing, and now a gentle ride into an unknown future.
Husband and daughter pick me up from Oakland Airport. They are always there when I need love, when I need to learn. Their eyes, their smiles say it all.
At SFO, prior to boarding the plane for Japan, I heard a strange voice. “Don’t believe anything you see or hear. Look and listen for connection. That is all.”
The voice sounded wise, profound. I’ve learned by now not to question its authenticity or figure out where it came from. In time, I would understand.
In Japan, I experienced an explosion of sense pleasures. The rainbow colors and taste offerings at breakfast: wakame seaweed salad with lotus root and sesame dressing, alternating miso, corn, or pumpkin soup, scrambled eggs, choice of croissant, pecan, or cinnamon danish, veggies, and a several tea options. Lunch and dinner would involve savory ramen or udon noodles, crisp, tasty tempura, or a choice of yummy Italian, Mexican, Thai, or Indian cuisines. A few nights I simply had to turn the family down for dinner because my pants grew too tight and my stomach felt like a bowling ball!
The natural beauty, grace, and order to some sites was simply overwhelming at times. Sensual pink and white cherry blossoms in full bloom. Sacred temples and shrines that secretly knew how to tame their surroundings through rock gardens, bamboo groves, and silent Zen koans. A sand bar bridge connecting heaven to earth, and an orange partially submerged Great Torii Gate rising out of the wisdom in waves against a backdrop of lush green hills.
After reading the first chapter in Ajahn Sucitto's "Paramis, Ways To Cross Life's Floods" on the four types of floods, I reflected and reframed my experience in Japan. What part of the trip was I not swept away in the flood of sensual pleasures, the flood of becoming (personal identity and time), the flood of views (I’m right, you’re wrong), or the flood of ignorance (not seeing things as they are)?
A few memorable experiences stood out. Standing at a train station in Tokyo waiting for a train bound for Kyoto, I noticed a man with a towel over his head crouching on the ground near his briefcase, eyelids closed with the weight of possible illness or job stress. This heart-mind began to practice on the spot Tonglen for him.
At Entokuin temple in Kyoto, I experienced the division of self and other melting into the green tea, the tea room structure, and the gardens around us. I didn’t even know the woman performing the tea ceremony, but in that moment, she was mother, daughter, sister, partner, friend, the soil underneath us, the breath between us.
Perhaps the most profound experience on this whole trip began at the A-bomb dome in Hiroshima. After seeing the building, it was as if another bomb of compassion blasted this heart-mind wide open. I could hear the cries of voices from the past, feel bodies burning. The experience was so intense, that I had to separate from the family and release some tears. After some time, it felt symbolic to ring the crane bell of peace at the Children’s Memorial. Closing the eyes and allowing the sound to reverberate through the body, I hoped the sound of suffering and possibility for peace could be felt around the world.
“Don’t believe anything you see or hear. Look and listen for connection. That is all.”
Their is nothing wrong with enjoying sense pleasures, wanting to be someone, or having a certain view. Suffering arises when these floods lead to unwholesome disconnection instead of wholesome connection.
I may forget the smell and taste of certain foods, how certain sights looked or felt, but the man at the station, the woman performing the tea ceremony, the victims of the A-bomb at Hiroshima, will stay in this heart-mind long after the body is gone.
Kaveri Patel, a woman who is always searching for the wisdom in waves.