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.