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Brookside

Police have arrested over 2500 in protests over the death of George Floyd, firing tear gas into the cars of reporters, shooting them and others with rubber bullets, the National Guard called out in 26 cities. Our hearts are torn open by the cruelty of the murder, this last among the thousands by police against African American sisters, brothers, friends, mothers, fathers, children.  Too many unpunished by law.  A man in the White House who stokes the flames of racial hatred and violence!  Enough!

When there is a fire, we must first put it out.  First the fire in my own heart.  So, I took a mindful walk in Brookside Garden this morning, doing gentle Qi Gong, meditating on the beauty of the flowers, the blue sky and sunshine.  I was happy to see a number of African Americans there, also walking, enjoying the beautiful morning.  It calmed my anger and despair, helped me see what I need to write to you. 

From my experience violence doesn’t not stop violence; only increases it – within me, in society.  I had a sick man harassing me in sexually demeaning ways in the last few weeks. It hurt my heart, roused anger, self-defense, desires to tell the details, to expose, retaliate.  It helped me feel a small fraction of what the family of George Floyd, what all people of color must feel at this injustice.

The fires of fear, anger, retribution and violence within me are a danger not only to myself.  Because I have no separate self.  I am – in every cell of my body – also George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Fanny Lou Hamer, Thich Nhat Hanh.  I am in them and they are in me.  I am in every suffering being on the planet and they are in me.  So, I take mindful steps, calming my heart and theirs.  I can, in this body, in my steps, in the here and now, bring healing of racial injustice to myself, to my ancestors, to those who died so unjustly, to all broken hearts.  I walk until the courage and wisdom of Martin Luther King’s non-violence and Thich Nhat Hanh’s mindfulness become mine.  Whatever else I choose to do with my community to express my outrage at this injustice and the feeding of violence by the White House, I will bring peace and justice only when my own heart is calm and loving

When stressed or emotionally upset, I need a change of viewpoint.  I recognize the emotion, name it, calm it in body, mind and spirit.  Yesterday I had the experience of being obsessed about making a decision, so we went outdoors to do our Qi Gong practice by Sligo Creek.  After shaking, scooping, earthly and heavenly circles, we did all of Sunlight Qi Gong, my favorite long form.  Then my husband and I walked in opposite directions.   I found myself walking alone up a steep hill, still pondering my decision.  Suddenly, I turned around, walked backward and found an entirely new perspective!  The view from this height, looking down into a branch of the creek, reminded me of ‘Honey Creek’ in the Shenandoah Mountains, a refuge for me for over 25 years.  My mind, body and emotions were transformed in a second.  The energy in my head moved to my heart.  I felt open, free, flooded with fond memories of walks near my beloved creek near Old Rag Mountain.  The insight came to me that whichever way I decided to go, I had many options.  I was a free woman.

Several exercises we have been teaching in our Zoom Qi Gong classes on Saturdays are very useful for gaining this “change of viewpoint” when we need it.  The Temple Gong allows the entire body to shift from right to left, to touch the shoulder with one hand and gently tap the kidney with the other, then reverse, setting up a rhythm.  Especially when our eyes shift from far right to far left, we actually see ourselves, our body and our environment from a different perspective.  Yin and Yang become one.

Try walking backwards or doing the Temple Gong today if you need a ‘change of viewpoint’!

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May 4, 2020

The 50th anniversary of the Kent State massacre of students.

Nixon admitted the bombing of Cambodia on April 30, 1970.  The May Day demonstrators revealed that bombing had been happening for a long time in Laos and Cambodia.  Those bombs endangered a tiny baby who would become a dearly beloved member of my family. 

I began to relive the feelings of rage that the US government would bomb millions of innocent people in SE Asia.  Then shoot and kill innocent students on a US college campuses who protested the killing.   I again felt in my gut the same helpless and dumbfounded rage at our government, the cruelty, the ego that places profit over human life.

 But we weren’t helpless then and we are not now.  We rose up, demonstrated in increasing numbers, demanded that Nixon stop the war.  Our experience then gives me hope now that today’s administration can be stopped from putting profit above human life during this epidemic.  Apparently one congressman said, “We should let the old, the poor, those who aren’t productive just die.  We’re better off.”  Like Hitler!

I react, watch my mind start hating, judging, wanting to say the same things to them….then I know I need to STOP, breathe, look at the rising sun.

I remember that we are all one, all part of the same organism, that I’m as capable of bitterness, rage, fear and blame as that congressman.  I look at the bits of blue sky, the light on the top of the trees, hear my own heart beating….knowing that I can never wish death or harm to any living being and still be myself, be true to myself.  I am one with the most ignorant, the most fearful, the most dangerous men on the planet.  My mindfulness can nourish their mindfulness…raise us both, help us remember that we are grains of sand on the same shore, waves on the same ocean.  My heart calms.  I have a choice to nourish peace, love and mindfulness, while taking a stand against war, injustice and greed.

Help me,Universe, Ultimate dimension of myself, to keep stopping, breathing, coming back to reality, to this one enormous cycle of LIFE, of LOVE, of PEACE.  What we see is so small, a corner, a shadow of the big picture.  Help my actions and attitudes this day increase the peace, the joy, the love and compassion in the world.

 

Sunday 3/21/20

Dawn blossoms

There was a great article in the Washington Post this morning, which describes how the Covid-19 virus is impacting refugees in Gaza, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.  

We INTER-ARE!  No one is exempt from illness or death because of education or wealth.  The privileged are also impacted by the spread of this disease among the poor.  The poor, the homeless, refugees, prisoners, victims of war are at more immediate risk than those with the resources to “distance” in homes, with savings unaffected by the crashing stock market.  They will be able to buy food and medical supplies, some hoarding what others need to stay alive.  As always.  Yet, this crisis provides insight for all of us – to see that we are one world, one small planet that is under threat, that the privileged must help the poor in order to save their own lives.

The compulsion of the few to accumulate more than necessary deprives the many of the basics of food, clean water, land, shelter, medical and educational supplies.  This lack of understanding of our inter-dependence is harming us all, has been killing us for decades.  Destroying our planet.  So perhaps Mother Earth is fighting back, reducing the number of parasites creating pollution, global warming and desertification.  Perhaps we are receiving a powerful message that the actions of one affects the many and the needs of the many are the responsibility of the one.  There is really no separation.

There will be good outcomes from this crisis.  Lotuses arise from mud.  Already pollution has lessened dramatically in China and Italy.  The maps showing the changes are amazing!  We are perhaps learning from quarantining that we don’t really need so many things, so much buying, driving, working, entertainment.  Most of us Americans would be healthier without so much food, so many cars, distractions from the important relationships in our lives.  Perhaps the examples of generosity, the courage of medical personnel and musicians performing on their porches will help transform our notion of separateness from the whole of humanity.

We are asked to be very mindful of our smallest actions in order to save our lives and those of any human being with whom we have contact.  Mindfulness of what we touch, including our own faces, where we breathe and sneeze is critical to stopping the spread of this deadly disease.  Washing our hands frequently, slowly, carefully is becoming a universal practice of mindfulness.  Trying to stay at least 10-12 feet away from the breath of any other person is a challenge on now crowded pathways in parks.  We must be mindful of the air we breathe in and the passing of air from our bodies to other people.  As we pay attention to our own breath and that of others close to us, we also know that so many are taking their last breath.  As we wash our hands, we are mindful of those in refugee camps who have to choose between washing hands or using water to cook food.

Some in our mindfulness communities are using the phrase ‘Karuna virus” to remind us of all the beautiful forms of compassion arising from this pandemic.  Neighbors are helping the elderly to receive food and medicine, on-line meetings for alcoholics and addicts arise, family members and friends are connecting more often.  One of the highlights of our day was seeing the delight on a 2-year-old’s face when sprinkled with mist from our garden hose.  She had been trained not to come close to us, but we could connect and laugh together at a distance.

Our communities are quickly learning on-line skills to set up meditations, sharing of teachings on impermanence, inter-being and non-self, the basic insights of mindfulness meditation.  The Universe is teaching us everyday how inter-connected we are, that using this time of quarantine to connect to others is bringing us all more peace, joy, love and happiness.  Some of us are reframing this time as a global “retreat,” a time for spiritual practices that reduce fear and isolation.  We are learning more deeply how fear and greed separate us and how love and selflessness spread the ‘virus’ of compassion.  

“May each of you, and all creatures on our Mother Earth be well, healthy, safe and free from all worry and anxiety – even now, in this challenging yet precious moment.” (Recited slowly, this ’metta’ takes about the 20 seconds you need to wash your hands).

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What great beauty blooms amidst the largest numbers of deaths in our state, our country, our world in so many years. My husband and I walked slowly, breathing to our steps this gorgeous spring morning, confining ourselves to neighboring streets, in awe of new buds on trees. We breathed through our masks, crossing the street when a toddler and his parents came toward us, waving to the the small new walker.

Our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh assures us that finding joy in sorrow, peace in crisis, smiles in the midst of illness and death is our nature, the nature of no birth, no death. The deaths are real, the suffering is vast, yet we breathe mindfully, touching the reality of sadness in our hearts while enjoying the sunshine and flowers. Being human allows us to accept reality as it comes, to embrace life in this present moment in all its contradictory emotions. We stand up against lies and cruel decisions of government, while sending loving kindness to the same unskillful leaders of our government. One small, mindful step at a time.

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Me:redbuds:photo                                                                                                                           3/25/20

The rapid spread of the novel coronavirus in the world is waking us all up quickly! Scientists tell us that we can save our own lives and those of possibly hundreds of thousands of others by ‘sheltering in place’ at this critical moment in time.  The Covid-19 disease spreads from one person’s breath releasing the virus in the air another person breathes.  One person, without any symptoms of the disease can potentially carry the virus to many others, who transmit it to others with whom they share air.  The fact of inter-being, our inter-connectedness to every other being on the planet is so dramatically visual as the speed of the spread of the virus around the world demonstrates. 

What a time to practice mindfulness of our breathing, covering our mouths, washing our hands, changing habits of touching our faces.  Most of us are finding these new practices and keeping 6-12 feet distance from other humans difficult but life-saving in this crisis.  We have great opportunities to slow down, become aware of our habits, practice changing them daily, with the support of our friends.  We have been attending many more Zoom meetings, offering meditation and Qi Gong sessions as the number of deaths rise each day around the world.  Seeing ourselves on video for hours a day gives us the chance to see how many times we and our friends touch our faces! 

The necessity to stay put in our homes, limit our physical contact with others and change habits is not only protecting our own lives.  Our individual actions can help save the lives of family, friends, neighbors, the mail woman, the food delivery person, everyone who shares the same air.  This awareness is deepening my understanding that “taking care of me is truly taking care of the world.”  I am responsible for doing everything I can, everything the scientists (rather than politicians) are urging us to do – NOW.  I could be a carrier of this deadly disease without symptoms, given recent travel and attendance at large events.  I am responsible for not spreading it.  Memories of the AIDS epidemic flood into my mind, reminding me that we learned in the ’80’s that in having sex with one person, we have sex with every person with whom they have ever had sex. 

But fear of the possible outcome of this epidemic can be as debilitating as the illness itself.  A reasonable, current knowledge of what is happening as the disease spreads around the world and in our communities, learning best practices from more experienced countries to lessen its spread is important.  Just feeding fears with repetitive television versions of ‘news’ is not helpful to my mindfulness.  

A local meditation teacher just posted this advice –

“…for all of us who practice mindfulness, the essential challenge in the days, weeks,    and months ahead is neither to succumb to denial or obliviousness on one side, nor to fear and panic on the other. Our primary effort must be to embody and nourish our equanimity, clarity, love, and compassion, as best we can. Only then can we help ourselves and help others.”

This “middle way” is a great practice in the midst of suffering increasing by the hour around the world and in our own lives.  We are seeing how mindfulness can increase our love and compassion for ourselves and others.  When fear of death arises (we have had two friends die in the last two days, one dying of Covid-19 and a niece in chemo for breast cancer), we meditate on “no birth, no death.”  We hold our fears in meditation, as a mother would hold a screaming, fearful child.  We take walks slowly, relishing the cherry blossoms, touching the power and beauty of life within our own bodies and in nature.  We know these blossoms will only manifest for a few days.  We breathe in their fragrance and welcome the tiny green leaves that will push the blossoms off the trees.  Change is constant, beauty transformed into other manifestations.  So, with our lives, our short time on the planet in this form.  What do we want to do with this precious moment in life?  With this precious body, this breath, this smile?  Why not spend more time loving others, doing what we can to allay their suffering, their fears.  Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us that all things are impermanent, even war, epidemics and global warming.

How are my husband and I trying to practice even more mindfulness than usual?

  • Silence:  Leaving outside chatter, news from TV turned off.  Limiting the input of news to certain times a day and forms that inform without feeding fear.  Trying to give one another space in our small house, especially in the morning hours, not sharing every random thought that pops into our heads.  Journaling those thoughts, bright ideas and plans instead.

* Listening:  We listen to parents with small children trying to work at home, frustrated, desperate.  We listen to those who are ill, suffering from this disease and others.  We mourn with families who cannot be with their dying loved ones.  We keep our hearts open to the vast suffering, while continuing to breathe and take care of our emotions.

* Qi Gong: Getting up after a long meeting on Zoom, we stretch, shake our bodies, do some QG exercises.  “Snackersize Qi Gong” all day, reminding one another when we see our partner has been sitting too long.

  • Meditation: Setting up Zoom gatherings for sitting meditation together with our communities, readings, sharing about how mindfulness can keep us rooted in the present moment, doing the next ‘right’ thing.  Stopping throughout the day to pause, breathe, relax, come back to our bodies in the moment.  Supporting one another, especially those experiencing illness and death in their families, unable to attend funerals.
  • Walking Mindfully:  We have more time and motivation for long walks in the neighborhood, staying 10-12 feet apart from others, appreciating the cherry blossoms, seeing friends who live closer to us than we realized, neighborhood children.  
  • Eating Mindfully:  more meals together, carefully planned to use products tucked in the back of shelves, eating slowly, knowing we have enough food for weeks of this sheltering in place, letting go of “wants” that are not necessary or available in shuttered stores.  Aware of refugees, people in Yemen and Syria who have little to eat and are in much greater danger from Covid- 19 infection in crowded, unsanitary conditions.
  • Sharing with Friends on line:  Grateful for Zoom recovery meetings every day, creative ways of connecting with family and friends more often than usual, relishing each precious moment we have with them.  
  •   Playing music:  Pat practices his guitar every day already, but he is finding new pieces arising with more time to practice.  He is also participating in a 40-day Guitar Craft Course At a Distance, with exercises on line.  Fortunately his new CD is available on line – The Call by Patrick Smith on Amazon and CDBaby.  I am trying to revive my piano practice, singing songs from A Basketful of Plums.
  • Mindful work:   Many of our retreats, Qi Gong classes and conferences have been cancelled or postponed.  My husband was scheduled to give a talk on “Mindfulness at Work” to a national conference for food professionals in June in Las Vegas. My Women’s Meditation Retreat in May has been postponed.  So we are working to create alternatives on line, practicing with video versions of our Qi Gong classes, sharing with other meditation teachers how we might lead Days of Mindfulness and retreats for you virtually.  
  • And there are those three books I’m writing that always get moved to the back burner!  I need to finish Dakota Winds, (a novel about my father’s life) edit and publish The Power of Love: How a Nun became a Revolutionary and Loving Mindfully: Finding Happiness in Relationships.  And draw and paint, artistic work I find very meditative and absorbing.  We are very fortunate to be retired from paid work, so don’t need to work on a boss’s schedule, unlike many of our friends working at home under stressful conditions.  Savings, of course, are diminished greatly, so we don’t waste time looking at the stock market.
  • RETREAT” rather than Quarantine mentality:  Using this time as much as possible for spiritual growth, taking care of our minds, bodies, emotions.  Slowing down.  Exercising more, losing weight.  Reading good books, listening to spiritual teachings on podcast.  Today we begin a five day retreat with some of our favorite Buddhist teachers in the Plum Village tradition.  They will help us schedule our days and use this time as an opportunity rather than a ‘burden.’

Sunrise on ocean

Dear Friends,

Forgive me for posting so infrequently in 2019.  2020 will be better, in so many ways.  We have powerful forces at work in our youth, in the desire for freedom in Hong Kong, the vision in some of our would-be leaders, in Greta who sat alone to make her country and the world aware of climate disasters.

My focus in my morning meditation today took me to the increasing numbers of friends and family members who have been stricken with cancer recently, most of these in December 2019:  Angela (pancreas), Priscilla (brain), Patty (uterine), Ruth (tongue), Gene, and MaryElla with breast cancer!  So much, so fast.  My 33 year old niece is a elementary school music teacher, was still nursing her 21 month old daughter, had her first chemo the day after Christmas.

So, I took a look at the NIH website on cancer and sure enough!  They relate it directly to toxins in our food, water, air, pollution!  GREED is causing cancer!  https://www.niehs.nih.gov › health › materials › cancer_and_the_environment.

We have to get more active, do what we can to STOP the CAUSES, not just focus on making the drug industries richer by providing the chemicals to cure it.  Both necessary, could save the lives of my niece and friends, but the CAUSES are what we have to look at too!

Meditation leads to deep looking into the causes and conditions of suffering.  Let us not turn away from suffering in 2020, in ourselves, our friends, our communities, our world, our Mother Earth.  Let us do all we can to lessen suffering, so that a future may be possible for our children, our grandchildren, for life on earth!


Pat with craab

Yesterday my husband tossed a stranded a horseshoe crab back into the ocean.  Someone might wonder what difference this small act makes in a world of suffering and selfishness.  “It made a difference to that one crab,” he’d say.  We had just lifted our arms to the morning sun, turning our wills and lives over to the great Powers we saw in the sun, the ocean, the vast sky, asking to be ‘instruments of peace,’ to be allowed to help someone today. 

There is so much suffering, loved ones needing help, at least an open ear.  Often there is so little I can do directly to relieve the suffering! It’s frustrating to feel helpless, powerless.  So, I meditate, look deeply, hold everyone in my life who is suffering close to my heart, asking for inspiration to do whatever is possible to help relieve suffering.

I find Power in the realization that I am never alone, never able to solve any problem completely on my own.  I need people, the beauty and power of nature, all the forces for good, beauty, kindness, compassion and love in the world.  If I can contribute to that Force of Love today, please allow me the awareness, openness and compassion to do so.  We are all connected, so perhaps one act of kindness affects us all.

I hope that horseshoe crab lives a long life.

 

HR 40

Last week, I joined hundreds of eager citizens desiring to hear Ta-Nehisi Coates, Cory Booker, Danny Glover and my friend Katrina Browne (whose ancestors were involved in the slave trade) testify on HR-40 on Reparations for Slavery.  You can hear their short, powerful statements at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfEe1MRxSgI.

Most of us who had arrived at 7:30am were not allowed to enter the hearing room at 10:00am because we were told it was “full.”  Folks had traveled from NY, NC, PA, bringing children who patiently waited until reporters, interns and ‘important’ people jammed ahead of them in the hall.  I enjoyed talking to people, asking about their stories, the meaning of t-shirts connecting many as members of ADOS# (African Descendants of Slavery).

No amount of money can pay for over two million lives lost in the Middle Passage or over 2.5 million slaves who built the US economy that so many of us benefit from today.  Or for the extreme suffering of families torn apart, language and culture lost, the rapes, the beatings, the lynchings that persist to today in the form of police killings of young Black men.

My eyes were opened in a deep way in my first year of teaching at Montgomery Catholic High School in Alabama in 1963, just 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation.  The signs over some court bathrooms had been removed, MLK’s bus boycott had happened, but our small white Catholic high school was still segregated from the tiny African-American high school.  Separate, very unequal and a ridiculous use of resources.  It was an amazing year of change, of making Black friends, forming an integrated baseball team, rousing anger, becoming a revolutionary, realizing that I had grown up in similar segregation in Missouri and would fight the rest of my life to end it.

As Katrina Browne pointed out, white folks whose ancestors weren’t in the US before 1863 still ‘leap-frogged’ over the descendants of African slaves economically, politically, in every way.  Racism is not an abstract notion, but a continuing daily form of oppression and thievery from African-Americans who still do not have equality in education, housing, political power, health care, justice in an unjust court and penal system.

Let’s make things right!  Now!  Why wait?  African Americans have been waiting over 400 years!

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Today my father would. have been 110 if he had not died a horrible alcoholic death.  I am so grateful to carry his genes and his spirit today, to still be living beyond the years my father and mother both had in this human form.

We celebrated my father’s life and our gratitude for our lives this morning by greeting the rising sun with Sunlight Qi Gong, meditation, journaling and meeting with some dear friends.

Are you grateful for continuing your parents energy in your life today?  I am nourishing their positive gifts of hard work, patience, tolerance, humility, choosing often to place spiritual values before material ones throughout lives that were filled with challenges.  They weren’t perfect, as I am not and don’t even aspire to be perfect.  Just the best ME that comes from their love, the best person I can be today, with all the challenges and gifts of life.  Bringing nourishing energy from ancestors, the sun, the earth, and all of you, my friends, into my mind, body and spirit.  Thank you for being part of my good energy!