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Monthly Archives: February 2011

Photo at White House by Messay

Away on retreat on a different Gulf, I missed some of the news of revolution spreading throughout the Persian Gulf and northern Africa. My heart hurts for the people of Libya suffering such vicious violence against them by Qaddafi. He is saying “People who don’t love me don’t deserve to live” and “I rule over you or I will kill you,” promising to make his country a “living hell.” Yet the people rise up, protest, brave the mercenaries firing on unarmed civilians with automatic weapons. Most of the violence in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq and Libya seems to be coming from the people in power who are desperate to cling to their power and wealth. The level of courageous non-violent protest on the part of the people in areas of the world that have experienced little democracy is truly amazing. The uprisings in the Middle East seem to also be encouraging our own teachers, state workers and union members whose rights are threatened in the U.S. These protests are very encouraging to those of us who dedicated our lives to ending war, poverty and racism in the sixties and seventies.

Non-violent protest takes tremendous courage, resilience, perseverance, hope and love. Satyagraha, Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violent action, is far more powerful than any violent regime. He said that non-violence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness more manly than punishment. Non-violence is not meant for saints but for common people. It is the conquest of physical might by spiritual strength. I pray that the people of Libya will be able to withstand the violence being carried out upon them by a desperate dictator. One our country has supported for the sake of its oil.

How encouraging, heart nourishing and inspiring are the people who are standing up for their rights, for a life of greater freedom. If they use the right means, the ends will take care of themselves, Gandhi says.

This is true for each one of us in this day. Is there violence or desperation in our hearts? Fear that we might lose what we have or not get something we want? Are we willing to harm someone who is expressing their needs to us or someone who no longer loves us as we wish? Perhaps we need to look first in our hearts for dictators to overthrow. Are our hearts are full of joy, peace and freedom? Are we ready to practice non-violence in speech and action today?

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Today is my sweet husband’s 55th birthday. I am so grateful for him, for his life, for his parents and ancestors passing on their lives through him. We are both recipients of many generations of Irish-Catholic ancestors, with Polish and Dutch added on his side. Conflict, war, poverty and hard work are all part of our family traditions. Also faith, love, laughter and persistence in the face of difficulty.

He is also the product of many land ancestors and spiritual teachers (among them Thich Nhat Hanh, Martin Luther King, Robert Fripp, Gandhi and many others). We celebrated his life and his birthday today with a mindful morning of journaling, Qi Gong, meditation and a beautiful afternoon walking the labyrinth at Brookside Gardens. We listened to a new CD from the California Guitar Trio (a gift) and relished the world of music for which we are both very grateful.

He nourishes the best seeds in my heart every day of joy, peace and love. I am so grateful for him.

“Breathing in, breathing out” is such a gift. The gift of LIFE. We start breathing oxygen immediately after birth or quickly die. The air becomes part of our body, nourishing our cells, expelling as carbon dioxide to nourish plants. Our breath is not just our own but links us to the great cycle of life in the universe.

We are usually not aware of the absence of pain in our bodies until we feel pain, then feel it leave. Thay talks about how wonderful it is to have a “non tooth ache,” to sense and feel gratitude for the absence of pain. Mindfulness helps us touch the seed of gratitude in our hearts – for our breath, our eyes, ears, brain, arms and legs functioning. No matter how sick we might be, if we can breathe, we know that we are alive. We can touch gratitude for life. Once we cannot breathe, we will probably not even know it.

I am most appreciative of my ability to breathe when it is difficult to breathe.
I started a cough Sunday evening in my meditation group that has deepened and led to bronchitis. Breathing is more difficult. As I tried to lie still and breathe my body back to sleep after a severe coughing spell during the night, I felt such a deep appreciation for my breath, for my life, for the absence of pain in my chest that will come when the illness leaves, for the pain today that reminds me of how precious my life is today. Today I rest, I breathe, I appreciate my warm bed, water, tea and the opportunity to nourish the seed of health in me.

My husband led me in a wonderful Qi Gong session this morning, helping me be aware of all the energy of the universe available to support my healing. As we meditated, with interruptions to cough and drink water, I smiled at my body, knowing that my easy breath will soon return. I will again forget this precious gift, breathing without effort. I will forget illness and pain, until the next reminder or the next conscious breath.

Are you breathing? In gratitude?

Demo in DC/Photo by Messay.com

The pictures and stories about the protests in Egypt stir my revolutionary soul. I have gone through so many experiences in my own life that have drawn me to non-violent protest against war, injustice and oppression that my spirit resonates with the people in Tahrir Square. After having experienced violence and seen violence used to counter violence, I am again a firm believer in non-violence as a powerful force against oppression. Gandhi says, “I have found that life persists in the midst of destruction and, therefore, there must be a higher law than that of destruction. Only under that law would a well-ordered society be intelligible and life worth living. And if that is the law of life, we have to work it out in daily life. Wherever you are confronted with an opponent, conquer him with love.”

There were scenarios in the Washington Post Sunday describing various ways the uprising there could go – like Tiananmen, Poland’s“Solidarity,” Indonesia or Iran’s Islamic Republic. Or something different, something particularly suited to the conditions and history of Egypt. This is the moment of opportunity, opening, change, when many options are possible. I felt that same possibility during the intense month after 9/11. A peaceful, non-violent solution was possible then. It was an option. But Bush and our vengeful government chose instead to perpetrate an un-winable war against a country ravaged by war, oppression and destruction for many years. Less than two years later, the US attacked Iraq.

I’ve worn my peace sign on my coat since the first bomb in March, 2003, hoping for an end to the wars that have cost so many lives. It may be a small act of one small person, but I am part of a growing and powerful non-violent movement. War doesn’t work. Oppression doesn’t work. Eventually people will resist both. People want peace, enough security and safety in which to feed, clothe and house themselves and their families, freedom to vote, to celebrate life, practice their faith, work and create. All people need peace. If we want peace in our world, we must build peace in our country. If we want peace in our country, we must build peace in our communities. If we want peace in our communities, then we must build peace in our homes. If we want peace in our homes, we must build peace in our own hearts, minds and bodies. (my version of a Confucian saying).

How do you feel about the uprising of the Egyptian people? About how you are making peace today?

This afternoon, I participated in a TV program on the effects of meditation on healing. As part of my preparation, I re-read The Joy of Living by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche and used examples of his experience with neurological tests at the Waisman lab in Madison. Wisconsin. The scientists used fMRI technology to capture a moment by moment record of changing levels of activity in areas of the brain and EEG equipment to measure electrical impulses. The results showed prominent activity in areas of the brain showing empathy in the experienced meditators, compared to minimal activity in a control group. He explains how meditation training overrode his youthful panic attacks and enabled him to become a worldwide teacher of meditation.

One of the interviewer’s question was “How does a person’s state of mind affect their well-being?”
The brain can effect real changes in our everyday living. We know from our own experience that what we think and perceive affects our feelings about ourselves and our relationship to others and to the world. We can befriend the mind, observe the thoughts and feelings that come and go, like clouds in a clear blue sky. If anxiety, fear or anger appear, meditation helps us observe the feelings, feel them and let them go. We are not slaves to our feelings or moods. Our state of mind can change, affecting our perceptions and our actions. Meditation can help us stop, breathe and become aware of the state of our bodies, our minds and emotions. Calm, peace and joy in our minds can bring greater calm, peace, joy and well-being not only to ourselves but to all other living beings to whom we are connected.

I have seen the healing effects of meditation, especially walking and movement forms of meditation, in my own arthritic joints and in the calming of spasms in someone suffering from Parkinson’s disease, as I led him through a deep relaxation form of meditation. YES, meditation can heal, calm, restore, energize, enliven and nourish our joy, happiness, peace and love.

Why not try relaxing and breathing for a moment right now?