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Category Archives: Freedom

J at Sunrise 5:17

Sitting on the edge of the Atlantic ocean, after doing Sunlight Qi Gong slowly to the rising sun, my mind tries to hold all the suffering in the world. The seemingly endless suffering feels so overwhelming, so huge – Syrian people bombed, children raped in Nigeria (reflecting the Untamed State, a novel about a kidnapping in Haiti I’m reading), and the insanity of our government. How can one heart and mind hold it all? Even knowing a small portion of the suffering, I could drown in it all, lose myself, my perspective so easily. I would possibly, if I were in the midst of being raped or watching my child die of starvation. These horrors are happening to some woman right now. In my safety, surrounded by beauty, I try to hold her suffering in my heart, send her love, gentleness, the power of the rising sun.

Practicing breathing mindfully, moving slowly, bringing the energy of the sun, ocean, sand and clear air into my mind, my body and my heart is more important now than ever. These are the times we have been practicing for – these moments of great uncertainty, fear, war, poverty, chaos and suffering. The world needs our mindful energy so much, our compassion for suffering, our openness to beauty, goodness, kindness and love.

As I hug my husband, I hug all suffering people in the world and send them the energy of hope.

Beach FL '17

Unable to walk

on the beach – I become

the ocean instead.

A haiku by John Snyder (RIP March 5, 2017)

Just returned from this beautiful beach on Anna Maria Island, FL after a fabulous Women’s Retreat with Ruth Fishel (www.ruthfishel.com).  It was too cold and windy for swimming, but I did have a short walk there.  Now back home, I envision the sky, clouds, waves and sand and become the whole Gulf.  I can also enjoy the blue sky and strong sun that is sure to melt the ice and snow here in Maryland.

I love meditation visualizations that help me calm my body, mind and spirit, becoming the sand, the waves, the whole ocean in my mind.  Our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that it is true that we are the ocean, the sky, the clouds, the sun, the moon.  We are all made up of these elements that sustain our lives.  The ocean is in me and I am in the ocean.  Whenever I am unable to walk on the beach and feel the waves on my body, I can call up these images that help me remember my true self.

Did you have an enjoyable meditation this morning?  Let me know.

Peace, joy and love to every wave within you today.

march-with-banner

Together we are ONE” was the theme of our gatherings Friday and Saturday, January 20/21 for a mindful presence at the Women’s March.  Washington Mindfulness Community, MPCF, Stillwater, ARISE, Wake UP, sanghas from Baltimore and many others, local and national, organized and led us in silent walking to the mall.  There we formed a circle of about 140 meditators, then did mindful walking, sitting, singing and eating together amidst half a million other sisters and brothers.  We rejoiced when we learned that we were part of over 670 marches around the world, in every US state, on every continent, standing up for justice, peace and love.

thays-photo-at-march

Our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh was present in the form of a large photo, reminding us to keep coming back to the home of our breath, here and now, in the present moment.

In Together We are One  (Parallax Press, 2010, p. 79),  he says “Sometimes we believe, ‘Until this person or that institution changes, I can’t be happy.’   We may make a particular person or group of people into our enemy, we think they are the obstacle to our happiness.  But our suffering comes from our own ignorance and lack of understanding, not from other people.  When we understand this, we can open our arms to embrace all peoples, all species, and we have no enemies.  To have no enemies is such a wonderful thing.  When we have no enemies, no reproach, and no blaming, our mind is light as a cloud, and our happiness is vast, immense.  We do not look at those who hurt us as our enemies, but as people who need understanding and compassion.  When we are able to look in this way, we can call ourselves the children of the Buddha, disciples of the Buddha, and no one is our enemy….If we use the eyes of compassion to look at the world, we can see that even those who oppress and exploit others, those who instill terror, or those who cause harm, can be our beloved ones.  None are our enemies.”

Those of you who remember me as the “mini-skirted nun” of 1969 protests and actions will smile.  Have you truly embraced this teaching, you might ask?  I am transforming, trying, stumbling sometimes, gaining tremendous strength, joy and hope from the millions who walk with me, one day at a time, one step at a time, never alone now, always “Together as ONE.”

Photos by Bao Tich Nguyen

 

 

Spring budsWhat a glorious spring day!  The first birthday of our great niece Hannah Grace (https-//www.facebook.com/photo), the spring full moon, cherry blossoms trying to burst into bloom on the Tidal Basin, and so many great activities coming up.

Please join us in celebrating SPRING and new life within yourself at these events.  Our world needs every gesture of peace, every celebration of life possible:
1) “Twelve Posture Qi Gong”class.   My husband Patrick and I will be teaching this 8-week class in simple, gentle movements that will greatly reduce pain, improve agility and open energy channels in your body. Join us on Tuesdays from 7:00-8:00pm from April 5-May 24 at the Takoma Park Community Center. Sign up for drop-in or the full class at (https://apm.activecommunities.com/takomaparkrecreation/Activity_Search/qi-gong-12-posture/4440).

2) There are still some private rooms available for our Women’s Spiritual Retreat at Claymont Court, WV (near Harper’s Ferry) the weekend of April 29-May1. (See http://www.ruthfishel.com or email Joann to register ASAP).   REST, RELAX!

3) AND join Ruth and me in a special women’s retreat in SEDONA, ARIZONA May 30-June 2 “Awakening to the Power of the Vortexes!” (with a trip to the Grand Canyon on June 3 optional). To sign up, see http://www.ruthfishel.com.

Enjoy every moment of new life, every precious, beautiful moment, my friends.

Love and Peace,

Joann

car snowed inThese last four days of being buried under two feet of snow has been a challenge for many of us. It is especially difficult if we don’t have a strong meditation practice, are not used to being alone and miss distractions and activities (work, shopping, driving, even phone calls, television and internet if power is lost).  At last my copy of the Washington Post arrived today!

This morning my husband read a passage from Thich Nhat Hanh’s Art of Communication before our sitting meditation (after journaling and Qi Gong, our usual morning routine). Thay said “The way in is the way out.” I breathed with this phrase, letting it sink into my consciousness, the truth of it connecting to my heart.

Even though my outer world has been still, covered in snow, preventing usual outward activities, we have been happy to have this little four-day retreat together. Fortunately we also have power, so we’ve checked on friends and family, FaceTimed with those half-way around the world, held an on-line meeting, faced some tasks that we might have shunned without this intense period of time alone at home.

But the most precious gift was extra time to meditate together. To touch our hearts, to feel fears of isolation, “cabin fever,” being ‘trapped’ should there be a medical emergency. Our logic tells us that we have great neighbors (our next door neighbor held a brunch for all the children who made her lawn into a giant snow slide), a four-wheel jeep across the street, many friends. But sometimes our hearts beat with irrational fear. We need time to calm our heart, clear our mind, find our breath and know that we are truly at home, here and now.

From the safety and joy of going inward, we find the strength and clarity to reach out to others, dig out our cars, wait patiently until it is safe to venture further and reach out to the rest of the world, with all its suffering and joy.

“The path home begins with your breath. If you know how to breathe, you can learn how to walk, how to sit, how to eat your meal, and how to work in mindfulness so that you can begin to know yourself. When you breathe in, you come back to yourself. When you breathe out, you release any tension. Once you can communicate with yourself, you’ll be able to communicate outwardly with more clarity. The way in is the way out.” (p. 17/18).

IMG_0461

The Gazebo at Brookside Gardens                                           Photo by Joann

Most of us don’t need to go far to see blue sky, sunlight, clouds, water, green leaves, paradise.  Happiness can be present in our next breath.  In this breath now, if we are aware, awake, alive.  What a miracle this cool, beautiful August morning offers us.  I was particularly moved during meditation at Stillwater this morning by the beauty I saw outside the windows of our meditation hall.  I get to be alive today to see the sunlight filtering through these green leaves, to see some of the first of the yellow ones fall.

My mind flitted to remembering family and friends who passed away, some recently, some years ago in early August.  I want to see all I can today, to live fully, to experience the breezes on my cheeks for them.  They are alive in me, if I am aware.  My life extends beyond this body, this period of time on the planet, I hope.  Yet I don’t need to wait for paradise the way I was taught as a child.  I can experience paradise now, hearing the birds sing, smiling at the clouds.  I am so grateful to be alive, so grateful my beloved is alive and present with me.  Thank you, Universe!

 

Butterfly Museum with my granddaughter-life, so beautiful, so fleeting it seems

Butterfly Museum with my granddaughter-life, so beautiful, so fleeting it seems.

My son, daughter in law and granddaughter are in the air for a two day trip half way around the world.  We might not see them again for a year, a very long time in a grandmother’s life.  I miss them terribly already, yet the joy of their two week visit is evidenced throughout our home.  Photos from two birthday parties, a christening yesterday in Baltimore of Pat’s grand niece and numerous adventures in museums and waterfront cafes with wonderful friends and family.  I shared with some friends at a meeting on Friday (another joyous celebration) that I’ve found joy nestled within the greatest sorrows.  In fact, joy and sorrow have become not separate, different entities in my life, but the same experience viewed with different attitude, viewpoint, perspective.

During one of his powerful talks, Thich Nhat Hanh (www.plumvillage.org) showed us a piece of paper and said, one side is joy and the other our suffering.  They are not different, separate entities or experiences.  They are the same.  Without our suffering, our challenges in life, how could we find the depth of acceptance, compassion and love that infuses our joy and happiness?  Without a deep inner happiness based on the oneness we have with others, with the whole Universe, how could we endure our suffering?

I might find some tears and longing in my heart today, a bit of fear for their safety and well-being, a desire to cling to them, hold them here close to us.  But it has always worked best with my son to “let him go,” allow him all the freedom to explore, work, learn and be the dedicated person he is in his work to alleviate poverty in Asia and other parts of the world.  I ask that my heart continue to grow with the love he inspires in me, to keep encompassing all people I meet, to treat them with the same respect and love I have for him, his beautiful wife and precious daughter.

I sing “Please Call me by my True Names”:

“My joy’s like spring so warm, it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.

My pain’s like a river of tears, so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names, so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once.

So I can hear that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names, so I can wake up

and the door of my heart will be left open.

The door of compassion.”

 

 

 

 

Buddhas at Malihom

 

“We are aware that all generations of our ancestors and all future generations are present in us.” The joy, peace, freedom and harmony of our ancestors, our children and their children is ours, NOW. It works both ways – suffering passes from generation to generation, but so does the peace of one affect the peace of previous and future generations. This is the teaching on Inter-being of the Buddha, as transmitted to us in this generation by Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dali Lama and other great teachers.

Scientists are now verifying what spiritual teachers have said for thousands of years. We have wondered how children who did not actually experience the Holocaust, genocide in Cambodia, war and poverty in Iraq and Gaza have suffered so much from their parents’ suffering. In an article I read yesterday, anthropologists have studied PTSD in children of Cambodians in Lowell, Mass, children who did not directly experience the Khmer Rouge but whose bodies, minds and spirits bear the marks of their parents’ torture. (See http://www.newrepublic.com/article/120144/trauma-genetic-scientists-say-parents-are-passing-ptsd-kids).

I have also personally experienced healing in my own body, mind and spirit from deep, generations-old suffering passed on to me from my ancestors and forward to children and grandchildren. Without the great suffering, how could we see this multi-generational healing? The suffering is necessary, Thay says, to develop the love and compassion, the motivation to practice deep listening and mindful speech now, knowing that it will help our mothers and fathers who didn’t have the tools of recovery and meditation that we now have. Their mothers and fathers and our beloved children and grandchildren benefit immediately also. Sometimes this healing is visible, tangible; sometimes it works at the level of DNA and gentle transformations in the synapses of our brains.

I still have the deep hope, shared by Martin Luther King, Gandhi, the Buddha, Thay and many others, that we can achieve peace in the world by bringing true peace to our own hearts and those of our families and loved ones. Peace is possible….NOW! The deep teaching about living in the present moment is that in this moment is EVERYTHING, all the past and future, all the joy and suffering interconnected.  We are so fortunate to know and practice this reality.

Fall leaves at sunrise 11:3

With daylight savings time, I can now easily catch the first light of dawn, and, as i journal near my eastern window, the gradual lightening of the sky, the tips of our tupelo tree’s red leaves highlighted by the first rays of the sun.

I have probably always been a sun worshipper, a cloud watcher, a tree climber, a runner up and down the hills of my youth. So, it is refreshing and wonderful to have found a spiritual path and a teacher who writes

    Love Letters to the Earth

We are reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s wonderful book in our morning meditation group, relishing the notion that the Earth is not separate from us. Mother Earth is in us and we in her. Everything we have of life comes from her, through her bounty.

If we experience sadness, loneliness, isolation, fears that we are separate beings floundering about in this life, there is a ready and powerful solution. I just go outdoors, take a little walk, no matter what the weather, feel the rain, snow, sunlight or breeze on my cheeks, touch the earth, see the beauty of the natural world. Almost immediately I feel more whole, more connected to life, more ready to see my problems in perspective. I am part of something vast, beautiful, real, alive! I always have been part of the earth, the mountains, the oceans, the rivers, the deserts, even before I saw them from my midwestern home.

What are we doing today to enjoy the leaves as they change colors, as they fall?

A big-bang theory gets a big boost: Evidence that vast cosmos was created in split second

Steffen Richter/Steffen Richter/VagabondPix.co – The sun sets behind BICEP2 (in the foreground) and the South Pole Telescope (in the background).

What exciting news! That over 13.8 billion years ago, our Universe, initially infinitely hot and dense, dimensionless, with no space, no time, expanded from microcosmic to cosmically huge in a fraction of a second.  ‘Cosmic inflation’ throws gas on the ‘big bang theory’ say cosmologists.

“The inflationary model implies that our universe is exceedingly larger than what we currently observe, which is humbling already in its scale,” says Princeton University astro-physicist David Spergel.

Reading this wonderful article immediately after my morning meditation and words from Thich Nhat Hanh in Love Letter to the Earth, I am amazed and happy to be alive, to be part of such a vast, powerful, ancient and beautiful Universe.

Thay says, “Earth’s true nature is the ultimate dimension of reality – the nature of no-coming, no-going, no-birth, no-death.  This is also our true nature.  If we’re able to touch this, we can experience the peace and freedom of non-fear.”

Why be afraid?  We are as old as the energy and gravity that burst into stars and planets billions of years ago.  We are as fresh and new as the snow on the ground this morning.  Our lifespan is as limitless as that of the Universe.  In touching the snowflake or my own hand, I touch the energy and life that began in the earth and in my body billions of years ago and will continue in new forms for billions of years to come.  How freeing!

Read the whole article, wonderful and rich, and let me know your reflections, please:

In the beginning, the universe got very big very fast, transforming itself in a fraction of an instant from something almost infinitesimally small to something imponderably vast, a cosmos so huge that no one will ever be able to see it all.

This is the premise of an idea called cosmic inflation — a powerful twist on the big-bang theory — and Monday it received a major boost from an experiment at the South Pole called BICEP2.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/a-big-bang-theory-gets-a-big-boost