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Category Archives: Happiness

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.

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J at GC GC colors GC with trees

Wow!  The Grand Canyon is a great place to touch the Energy of the Universe!  So powerful in majestic beauty, and in geological, historical, social energy.  I was able to absorb the beauty of these colors, breathe the air, look as far as the eye can see on our Women’s Retreat in Sedona, Arizona.  Fourteen women gathered for a week absorbing the energy of the vortexes, meditating, practicing Qi Gong and yoga, resting and sharing deeply from our hearts about blocks we want to transform to receive energy into our bodies, minds and lives.  Then nine of us were able to travel to the Grand Canyon for our final day in Arizona.

Thank you, Ruth and other sisters on this journey.  Thank you, Mother Earth, for these magnificent mountains, rocks, and fire at your core.  Thank you, Father Sun for blessing us with life every day, whether we see you or not.  Thank you, amazing Universe, for holding us, connecting us in your Energy and Love.

My affirmation for the month of March, as I heal from a bad cold:

“The spring sun is warming, healing and inspiring me.”Joann:Qi:Beach.JPG

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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.”

 

 

 

 

Claymnt back

“Embracing, Loving and Accepting Ourselves Just as We ARE, with All our Imperfections, All our Experiences”

 

We should do “before” and “after” photos of the women’s retreats. Several women were going through traumatic or very difficult changes in their lives, one not wanting to live, one describing her feelings as 99% of the time feeling as if her skin is being peeled off with a vegetable peeler 24/7.  The Powers of the Universe helped us create a big enough “ocean” of love, understanding, healing, positive energies to absorb the pain, at least for the weekend, to give hope, an intense experience of what peace, rest, joy and connection with other women feels like. Even those of us who weren’t currently experiencing such deep pain had done so in the past, or could “take names” of those who were suffering our worst fears. Seeing their survival, strength, vulnerability and reaching out for help, makes it more possible for us if/when we lose a child to drug addiction, suffer a dangerous divorce, have our house burn down, face fatal diseases or take a deadly drink. Together we can go through any human suffering, knowing that others have survived the same experience, that help is available, that there is a path to transform suffering into happiness.

It feels so GOOD to be any part of such transformation. And Ruth and I benefit every time! We receive what we are trying to give others – renewed commitment to daily meditation practice, journaling, stopping in our daily lives to breathe, take care of ourselves, rest, reflect on questions like “Is it true?” when something, someone disturbs us. We are not on this path of spiritual transformation alone. And the journey never stops. I’ve been on three retreats, many other group meditations and have practiced mindfulness daily in the past month. Yet I know I will need many more retreats (planning for six in the next year), my regular three days a week with sangha, daily journaling, Qi Gong and meditation with my husband and many other resources to stay on the path, to keep growing, learning, developing my mind, body and heart. This is our life! What a great life!

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In front of Claymont Court, WV, our weekend home

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YES!!! Spring is coming. The first crocuses have broken through the ground, the snow is gone, and it’s now 68 degrees! What a beautiful, warm, wonderful day!

Winter hibernation, cold and shoveling have probably left this area, to be replaced by warm breezes, people outdoors digging in gardens, walking and biking on the creek path near our home.

New energy was anticipated, so we’re already teaching a Moonlight Qi Gong class and will begin a new one April 1 – Sunlight Qi Gong, my favorite. You can sign up at https://apm.activecommunities.com/takomaparkrecreation. Also a Day of Mindfulness on April 4 (dayofmindfulness@gmail.com) will provide a day of rest, meditation, mindful walking and eating at a beautiful blueberry garden. Qi Gong teacher training continues, this time a lovely Taste of Taiji with Master Li. This year I will do only the Tuesday class and Pat will take the Tuesday and Sunday sessions. And Monday evenings I am taking a Cartooning Studio class, furthering work on a comic book my granddaughter and I are creating together.

Of course, women’s meditation retreats (March 6, May 1 and May 22) enliven my life and allow me to organize others to practice meditation, Qi Gong and deep relaxation. (See http://www.ruthfishel.com if you would like to join us!).

All of these activities in addition to working on another new book, with the working title Loving Mindfully. Twenty chapters written, flowing easily.

Thank you, energy of sun, wind, air, earth, flowers and friendly faces for the daily inspiration to get outdoors, engage in life, enjoy opportunities to learn, grow and share the great gifts of life.

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?

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After meditation, I shared with my husband that I tried the “counting 10 breaths” method during my meditation and kept wandering away with distracting thoughts. He said, “Let’s try it together” and we did. After only a few minutes we opened our eyes, smiled at one another and grinned that we had “done it”! We taught this basic method of concentrating on one’s breath in meditation at our Day of Mindfulness Sunday. Somehow practicing with a sangha, even with our small home sangha is more powerful than any form of mindfulness I can usually practice alone. Of course, the notion that I am ever truly alone seems more an illusion to me today than it did decades ago when I began mindfulness meditation. We are never really alone because all our teachers, our family ancestors, our friends and loved ones are with us and in us when we practice and our efforts at mindfulness nourish everyone on our path.

My husband and I have been leading days of mindfulness for many years, first in the Washington Mindfulness Community and now days that are also open also to people curious about meditation.  We model these days of mindfulness on ones we have enjoyed with Anh Huong and Thu Nguyen at the Mindfulness Practice Center of Fairfax and on retreats with her uncle Thich Nhat Hanh. We gather at Blueberry Gardens in Ashton, MD, set up the lovely octagon space with chairs and cushions, soft music and flowers. As people arrive, we greet them and help them settle into a comfortable spot for guided meditation and deep relaxation. We present a variety of mindful practices – Qi Gong, indoor and outdoor walking meditation, mindful eating, deep listening and mindful sharing – so that individuals new to meditation can choose what works best for them in their daily lives. We stress that “you can’t meditate wrong,” that the effort to stop our busy lives, slow down, focus on our breathing and to take each step, speak each word or practice silence in mindfulness brings immediate joy and peace to our lives.

Of course, we are not always physically present with others who are intentionally practicing mindfulness, so we need many “bells” that help us “wake up” and be present to our own bodies, feelings, thoughts and actions. We share some of the bells that work for us – a phone ringing, birds singing in spring, flowers that beckon us to stop and smell them, red lights that urge us to stop and breathe rather than look at cell phones. At each of these bells, we try to remember to stop and take three mindful breaths, to recall the peaceful day that we had Sunday with our brothers and sisters, to practice with them at a distance.

But when we can be together regularly to sit and breathe together, to practice mindful walking, to share our suffering and our joy in a community of practice, what a pleasure! Sangha-building begins to become a necessity for those of us who hunger for peace, harmony, support and joy in the present moment. Like hugging, sangha building benefits us as much as those who come for the first time. As Anh Huong says, “When I take care of a brother or sister in the Sangha, I take care of myself.” (The Mindfulness Bell, 2014)

So, we create community, sometimes in these occasional gatherings, which might include members of meditation groups that meet daily or weekly and also people from other groups in our lives – recovery groups, Qi Gong classes, family members, friends. Some sangha members have created meditation or stress-reduction clubs at work or school, meeting with friends who want to learn mindfulness practices, give and receive support and be “bells” for one another in their regular work/study days.

You can do this too! It is not necessary to become a dharma teacher to gather friends who wish to practice mindfulness. Some of my 15 year old students formed wonderful groups of fellow students who shared their meditation practices with one another, watched tapes, listened to guided meditations, took blankets out on the grass at the back of their large public high school to do deep relaxation in the sunlight, practiced walking meditation back to class.

We are so fortunate, however, in the DC/MD/VA area, to have four “fingers of one hand,” sanghas practicing in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh meeting almost every day of the week, including days of mindfulness on Sat/Sun and retreats throughout the year.

If you are interested in relaxing, bringing mind and body together in the same place at the same time, slowing down a busy life, looking deeply at suffering, gaining support of brothers and sisters who have also suffered and found that all the conditions for happiness are present right here, right now, in this moment, build a sangha to support you!

Support and information can be found at http://www.plumvillage.org, http://www.mindfulnessdc.org, http://www.stillwatermpc.org, http://www.mpcf.org.

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                                Failling star*

Today I woke with mind dwelling on an unpleasant scene during a meeting yesterday, feeling I might need to “DO” something about it, but what?  Would interfering with other people’s feelings and actions, just make it worse?  Should I stay in my own “hula hoop”?

So, I did my morning routine, journaling about my thoughts, dreams, feelings: “So many shoulds, worry about other people, what they are doing or not doing.  Why not look at yourself, Joann….deal with this sadness, loneliness that you are feeling, the lack of stimulation, exercise, giving of yourself to others, a contrast to the joy you felt on Christmas day with family.  Feeling “bored with myself” or something.  Tired of winter already, of being cooped up indoors, afraid of getting sick in the cold, self-centered, lazy, indolent, hibernating, feeling old and useless.  Ridiculous when I’m healthy for a woman in her ‘70‘s with only a couple of chronic diseases.  The cure for feelings is to DO something, not just sit around, girl!  It’s what you’d tell other people, so do it!  Stop beating up on yourself!”

I went outdoors to see the lovely moon at dawn, offered it a quick “Moonlight” Qi Gong exercise, more indoors with my husband, a reading (the 4th of the 14 Mindfulness Trainings) that helped me focus on my own suffering and begin to transform it in a 30 minute meditation.  Then I found a passage in Thich Nhat Hanh’s Love Letter to the Earth that I knew would finish the transformation of my suffering (small though it is compared to most people’s suffering in the world) into gratitude and celebration of life.

After reminding us of the billions of years it took for the earth to being to manifest living beings, the development of life in the oceans fed by light particles from distant stars, Thay says “I promise to remember our extraordinary journey of eons and to live my days with awareness that we are all your children, and that we are all made of stars.  I promise to do my part, contributing my own energy of joy and harmony to the glorious symphony of life.”

Wow!  I can do that today, my small part – to contribute my own energy of joy and harmony to the glorious symphony of life that has been pulsating on this planet for billions of years!  I can’t miss this day, this opportunity, wallowing in negative thoughts, feelings or illusions.  I am, we are made of stars!  Let’s shine today.