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Category Archives: Freedom

 

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Surprise gift to my husband Patrick on his saint’s day!  And for the upcoming “refinement” of his work life.  Look forward to more music, more blogging about his process as a Qi Gong and meditation teacher, Alexander practitioner, sangha builder, artist, CD and DVD producer, philosopher and counselor to many….and very loving husband.

See his latest posting at http://ajourneymanswayhome.blogspot.com/

 

 

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Last weekend, I “came home” in physical, emotional and spiritual ways at a retreat at Conception Abbey, two hours drive north of my home town.   I brought my brother who had never participated in a Buddhist retreat but was also drawn to this abbey where my father had studied for the priesthood and met my mother.  Without this powerful center and all the conditions there, we would not exist.  We were visiting our family roots, our spiritual roots, our land roots, even the roots of our childhood praying, eating and breathing habits.

The four days were rich with miracles that will prompt much writing, but let me begin with these:

* The convergence of my ancestors, walking the paths where my father and his four brothers studied for the priesthood, driving through the “town” nearby where my mother was born.

* The new information about our family from monks who knew my uncles, Fr. Edward and Fr. Michael, meeting Fr. Joachim, a 94 year old monk in the infirmary, who told us many stories of the ‘30s at the abbey.  At the end of our interview, we realized that we were cousins!

* Taking pictures of the graves, of Conception Junction and Clyde (now just a few houses amidst rolling hills, cornfields and wind generators) and of the beautiful basilica, one of the few in the country, dedicated in 1891.

* Finding archives with books written by and about our relatives.

But all this research and interviewing took place after two full days and nights of the retreat led by Joanne Friday, one of my favorite teachers in Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition.  Led by her powerful talks on mindfulness and finding our true home in our breath, my brother and I participated fully in the silence at meals, overnight and most of the day except for conferences with Joanne and our small group sharing.  He was very respectful of the silence, the routine of mindful movements, sitting meditation, deep listening and mindful walks outdoors and indoors.  We enjoyed meeting the Heartland community members (with whom I hope he will find a new home).

We were able to share a room and get along, feel comfortable, even though we had never done anything like this together before.  We hadn’t seen one another in five years, had probably never slept in the same room.  Our lives have taken very different paths, but this wonderful retreat gave us an opportunity to be at home with one another.  We smiled in silence at some of the food that reminded us of our childhood roots in the Midwest – mashed potatoes, over-cooked green beans, fresh-baked cinnamon rolls.

The messages of the retreat were powerful for both of us.  Joanne said that “from the moment of birth, we get pulled away from our basic goodness,” that “all people have within themselves the capacity to be enlightened.”   She transmitted what she has learned and embodied from her teacher and experienced in her own recovery from a brain injury – “Be still and heal.”  Throughout the weekend, I felt the presence of my mother, father, uncles and teachers, both Catholic and Buddhist.  The powerful Midwestern wind energy drew my brother and me closer, healing family suffering, embracing us as children, allowing us space in our aging years to enjoy one another now.  The retreat leader told me that the love between us was palpable.

We had ARRIVED, we were HOME, in the HERE and in the NOW.

The Goddesses to whom I had been praying, writing affirmations to make the retreat happen, to send the right people, CAME THEMSELVES!!!  Without the participants, there would be no retreat!  I am so, so grateful to each person who came, the ones who considered it but couldn’t come this time, to all who’ve come in the past and returned, to all the new women who had the courage to experience something new, to bare their souls, share their suffering, affirm their desire to transform that suffering into precious jewels that radiate peace, joy and freedom for themselves and others!

We practiced mindfulness meditation in various ways – guided meditations, silence overnight, QiGong at dawn in the ballroom, sitting, walking and eating meditation, exploring the woods meditation, sharing in small and large groups, deep listening and mindful speech, stopping and breathing when we heard the bell, hugging, singing, holding one another’s joy and pain.  We became one, a community of recovering sisters.

The theme of this retreat was “self-compassion.” We invited the women to relax, take it easy, stop struggling for just two days and take good care of body, mind and spirit.  We offered some exercises to look at self-critical thinking, develop acceptance of ourselves as we are and nourish positive affirmations.  Mindfulness practices helped us stay in the present moment where we were safe, together, enjoying gorgeous fall days.

We watched transformation happen as we shared, opened our hearts to one another and gave ourselves a chance to look deeply into our own suffering and water seeds of happiness and peace.   One person had very recently lost her husband, another was grieving through a recent divorce, another struggling over custody of her children.  Many had either been neglected by their mothers or had become mothers who neglected their children because of addictions.  The mother/daughter theme emerged as such a deep suffering that we are considering doing a workshop on it next spring.

The healing was tangible, faces and bodies relaxing, tears and smiles mixing, a woman who considered leaving dancing in the fall leaves instead.  This is what I love, being with people, especially women, forming a group where sharing on a deep level is possible, where healing of our bodies, minds, emotions and hearts can happen, continue.

So, I feel GOOD!  even though one of my legacies of the weekend was a cold from hugging some sick folks.  This will pass.  I am resting, drinking water and tea, taking lots of vitamins and trying to follow my own “self-compassion” advice.

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Peace is possible – HERE and NOW in our hearts, in this beautiful fall day, with one another.

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Need some happiness right now? Here are a few ways I learned to get in touch with happiness at Thich Nhat Hanh’s retreat last week at Blue Cliff Monastery in NY:

STOP….whatever you are doing, including reading this blog, and
BREATHE three times.
Close your eyes and FEEL the breath coming into your body, going out. Ahh!
FEEL that you are ALIVE.
SMILE.
LISTEN to whatever you hear…is there the sound of a cricket? Water flowing?
If not, perhaps go OUTDOORS (with eyes open).
LOOK around you – at the sky, the clouds, the sun, moon, stars.
Keep BREATHING, being aware of the miracle of being alive, in this beautiful world.
Find a CHILD to teach you (like this little girl enjoying the lotus pond or your own inner child).
Keep SMILING.

All the conditions for happiness are available right here, right now, no matter what suffering is also present.
Notice the bells of mindfulness in your day.

Enjoy life, especially your own.

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My husband and I had a real “vacation” day yesterday! We didn’t do anything that was routine. He came to me while I was writing and asked me to “relax, take it easy and not struggle” and let go of rushing off to a meeting first thing. He wanted a day when he had no one telling him what to do, no schedule. Sunday is our usual Day of Mindfulness, when we drop our work to REST. It turned out to be a magical day at the East Gallery (with one trip to the West to see a small lithograph exhibit of Edvard Munch).
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We both love the National Gallery of Art, enjoy being inside the amazing space of the East Gallery. Arriving at opening time, we saw that there was a film on the Ballet Russe beginning in a few moments, so we decided to go. It turned out to be an excellent overview of the exhibit on a ballet company formed and sustained by Diaghilev from 1909-1929, mostly in Paris. I didn’t realize that he convinced the great artists of Europe – Picasso, Renault, Matisse and others to design his sets and costumes for a ballet that was increasingly modern in style and movement, a huge contribution to dance, music and design. Then we were able to see the actual costumes and watch videos of the ballets (The Prodigal Son, the Firebird….many others). What a wonderful experience! To top off our perfect “vacation” in our hometown, the Gallery presented a live ballet performance starring lead dancers from Russia.

Although we both value the discipline that allows us to accomplish much in a day, these days of breaking habits and enjoying the immense gifts of our Washington, DC area’s free art offerings is also necessary and wonderful. We came home tired but greatly inspired.

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For the last several years a friend and I have been offering women’s meditation retreats that are very powerful and transforming.  I had just returned from one in Florida to hear that the dates for our May retreat in WV had been taken by another group.  This news was upsetting because we had advertised widely and begun receiving deposits.  Was there another weekend open?  Would the retreat happen?  The retreats are very important to me, one of the main ways I have found in retirement to give to others some of the great gifts I have received in meditation, tools that keep transforming my life.

The anxiety and frustration I experienced waiting to hear from my contact at the retreat venue for the next 24 hours was a great opportunity to “practice what I preach” on the retreats.  My partner and my husband reminded me to BREATHE, relax, take it easy, not struggle, trust.  Ruth (www.ruthfishel.com) was very confident that new dates would work out fine.  I used Qi Gong to keep my vital energy moving, meditation and prayer to calm my mind and help me think clearly.  I focused on taking care of my feelings instead of bugging the person from whom I wanted an answer NOW.  What was going on beneath the surface?  Ego? Fear of embarrassment?  Of not getting what I wanted?  Losing the respect of my women friends? I even knelt down (a desperate posture for this ex-nun) and turned the problem over to the God of my understanding, the Force of Love, the great Mother Earth, the Universe that is bigger than all of us, holding and caring for all our needs.  I wrote “May retreat” on a tiny piece of paper and put it in my God box.  To “turn it over,” I called up the image of Life as a rushing river in which I had the choice to cling stubbornly to a boulder in the middle or “let go” and “go with the flow” of its energy.

Then I noticed that other opportunities were flowing in at the same time – a location for our free Qi Gong class in May, a good movie, a great meeting.  I could give my attention to other people and their needs, letting my anxiety take a backseat.  Waiting is one of the hardest things in the world for me to do – hence my vast need for the tools of meditation, relaxation, patience, ego reduction, a sense of humor that brings perspective.

Relief came eventually, a call last night assuring me that a new date had been scheduled for our retreat.   I need these oases of nourishing peace, joy and calm as much as any of our retreat participants.  And there must be Forces greater than me involved in all the good that flows from them.

“Want to make God laugh?  Show her your plans.”

Photo by Kathy Crabbe

Have your dreams, your journaling, your periods of mindful meditation opened doors of truth for you? What morning routine works best for you?

Here is an example of one routine that works for me, so I share it for anyone who might find it helpful. The first thing I do every day after rolling out of bed is to write whatever I can remember of my dreams. A recent example from my journal:

Dream: I was staying in a home of friends in India and decided that I would help out by taking two bags of laundry to the nearby laundry place. it turned out to be a veritable palace, with lovely separate buildings, covered with glass chips, bright paint in blues, yellow, red, turquoise and rose. I was treated like royalty, given a seat and a place to write exactly what I wanted done with the laundry. I noticed that the icons on this desk were Christian in nature, very subtle, small carvings in metal of apostles. I was fascinated by the place and enjoyed being there.

I have had the habit for decades of beginning my day with journaling, first writing whatever I remember of my dreams. Why? Years ago I studied Karl Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious and want to understand the workings of my own mind more deeply, to record what I see there, to discover connections with the wider world. I find the dreams sometimes contain images of places, people and experiences I have never had in this lifetime (I’ve never been to India, haven’t been to a laundromat for years). I don’t usually spend much time trying to analyze the dreams, just record them for possible use in future writing, perhaps notice familiar feelings or people, patterns of behavior. Sometimes they contain clear messages or inspire my creative writing. I have also participated in dream workshops in a theater group that led to amazing insights and works of art that spoke to others of their own experiences.

Are dreams real? Do they connect me with the “Great Mind” of all human thought, the collective unconscious? I have a deep feeling of “interbeing” in dreams, that I am not separate from the other people and happenings, but am part of worlds beyond conscious thought. The “flow” is so illogical, so experiential, so fast, more like the direct sensations I experience in the “real” world when I am mindful of each moment. As in waking life, there is an urge to grasp the dreams, to hold something that changes as quickly as one moment replaces another. I practice letting go.

I also find that writing down the emotions I feel in the dream transforms those feelings. Fears lessen as they appear in black and white on the page, a form outside my mind. Writing the dreams also changes their nature from quick, fleeting images to something appearing more permanent, tangible, even if their written from is different from the memory.

As I re-incorporated daily meditation into my life, I found that the journaling of dream images gave me a disciplined transition from my sleeping self to my waking, conscious mind. Writing the dreams, then a brief inventory of the previous day, any strong emotions or problems I might face in the present and an affirmation that solidifies my intentions for the day readies my mind for formal meditation.

My next step after journalling is to read from something from a wise person, such as Thich Nhat Hanh. This morning, his

    Understanding the Mind

connected to my musings about my dream writing process:

“We store all the images we get from the realm of representation in our store consciousness. The image of a friend, her beauty, her anger, all these things are stored in our consciousness. We go to the archives and take these things out, in order to use them. Poets and artists work a lot with this realm, combining images that already exist into new images. Dreams also occur in the realm of mere images. (p. 128).

Now I am ready to sit quietly, my body calmed by Qi Gong exercises, my mind clear of whatever emotions, dreams or problems I needed to record, open to whatever comes in meditation. As in the dream world, thoughts, feelings and perceptions will come and go. All thoughts and feelings are as impermanent as clouds, as dream images. Yet doors to truths about myself, the world, my relationship to other people may be offered to me in them. Though a cloud or a dream comes and goes quickly, a deep look at its essence might reveal truths of the universe. Mind consciousness is the root of all action and speech. This process of looking at and calming my mind will affect what I do with the rest of my day, the actions that seem more “real.”

What is your experience with dreams, journalling, meditation practice, finding your connections to the world inside you and outside your mind?

Easter Sunday and today Easter Monday – both bright, sunny days, filled with spring azaleas, tulips and freshly planted marigolds. What energy is released after rainy days, entombment and suffering. Why not begin anew, enjoy every moment of beauty, renewal, in whatever form it appears. My Sunday was one of shear delight – working with family outdoors. We worked together, played, enjoyed each other, the sunshine and 80 degree weather.

Photo by Tonigri

After a short rest, shower and dinner, I enjoyed a very special evening with my sangha. The founder of the Washington Mindfulness Community and his wife, both dear friends who stayed with us for the last four days, were available after the sitting to answer questions about meditation practice. The first question was about how to not lose yourself in compassion for others. E talked about healing the riff with her sister, the retreat beforehand, how to nourish compassion within herself, working on her practice, letting the sangha hold her suffering. And R told a story Thich Nhat Hanh shared on a retreat about a man so busy with his family duties that he had no time for himself. He changed the way he helped his child with homework, washed dishes and cleaned house, so that he was doing it for himself….then he had much “time for himself” because he was doing everything for himself. Gradually the man was able to see that he is in his son and his son in him, that all acts of compassion for others can be done in a way that nourish us. The rest of the sharing was also deep and powerful, stimulated by the first deep question and answers. I was filled with gratitude for having a beautiful family I love and a community of practice I also love.

Life can begin anew each day. We can rise as new beings, filled with life and promise.

January’s moon revisits us tonight, April 17, 2011

We celebrate each full moon with a vow renewal ceremony we learned in Plum Village on a retreat. After a beautiful Touching the Earth ceremony with our sangha, the Washington Mindfulness Community, and two sitting meditation sessions, we came home and realized that we could end the day with our Full Moon Ceremony. Tonight’s full moon is very bright in a mostly clear sky with occasional clouds that lend even more mystery.

The ceremony is very simple and takes only a few minutes. We light a candle at the kitchen window with a view of the moon, sound the bell and recite the Five Awarenesses:

1. We are aware that all generations of our ancestors and all future generations are present in us.
2. We are aware of the expectations that our ancestors, our children, and their children have of us.
3. We are aware that our joy, peace, freedom and harmony are the joy, peace, freedom and harmony of our ancestors, our children and their children.
4. We are aware that understanding is the very foundation of love.
5. We are aware that blaming and arguing never help us and only create a wider gap between us, that only understanding, trust and love can help us change and grow.

The moon slides behind a cloud, but we are aware it is here, that we are here, interconnected.

Yesterday I had the most amazing conversation with a very old friend, a former priest who had planned to be part of a companion draft board action to our anti-corporate action. I had woken the day before with a script between the two of us writing itself in my head. The scene of us waiting outside the government building that housed the draft files was so vivid. My memory clearly pictured the darkness, the cold, the rain, the warm coffee cup in my hands, the fatigue, the closeness I felt to my friend. This would make the perfect beginning for my book, a fifth version of the most difficult chapter – the first.

I had written a version of the scene, but now I wanted it to become even more real, the reader’s first contact with the narrator and two main characters. I realized that I needed to talk to Phil, to pump him with questions, to interview him about that night, to make the words leap to the reader with immediacy. I had tried to find him for years, especially when I planned the reunion two years ago. But this morning, the Universe and its powerful agent, the internet, served me well. It must have been the right moment. I found a contact who emailed him and we set a time to talk, all within a few hours.

Before we talked, he sent me a wonderful selection from his journals that mentioned his activities in DC at the time of the action. Details I needed, memories that varied from mine. When we finally connected by phone, we were both so happy to be in touch again that the words, thoughts and feelings flowed, years fading. We were both still passionately concerned about peace and social justice, still working in communities that served those ends. We shared news about our families, our work, our spiritual journeys over the last 40 years. As I remembered, he was able to plumb to such depths quickly, sharing a beautiful story about the death of his first wife.

He said something very freeing about our differing memories about the timing of some events. “It’s like scripture, isn’t it? Every person has their own words, their own view and memory. It’s a good thing, or else we’d only have one book instead of dozens.”

Now I’m waiting to skype the young man who was inside the building we were watching! More connections to come!