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Category Archives: Mindfulness

 

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).

Image may contain: plant, tree, sky, flower, outdoor and nature

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.

Image may contain: plant, tree, flower, outdoor and nature

 

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.’

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.

 

sunrise 3:1:19
I often tell friends new to meditation, “practice every day!” “You can’t meditate wrong.” “Just DO it!” Meditation is a practice, not an “event.” It is true that one mindful breath can change your life, give you the space to remain silent or stop a movement that might save your life. But most of us need daily practice to remember in a crisis to stop, breathe, relax, be in the present moment.  For my serenity and peace of mind and body, I need to practice every morning and throughout the day.

In Florida for two weeks of chasing away winter blues, we practiced together each morning, journaling under Venus, Jupiter, the moon. Then doing Qi Gong on the balcony to the rising sun and meditating in warm breezes. We were able to settle down our “doing” energy after a few days, though we did have work with us – a book proposal for me, a class Pat is teaching, planning future retreats with my partner there. We took long walks on the beach, swam in the Gulf, exercised at a local gym, went to daily recovery meetings, made most of our own meals mindfully, ate on the beach.  I dropped my news obsession, buying the NYT only once.  Our retreat home was very quiet, as is our home here.   Every evening possible, we watched the setting sun over the water, walking in the sand, saying farewell to a beautiful day.

We spend a great deal of our time teaching meditation, Qi Gong and other mindfulness practices. So, it is important for us to continue these practices ourselves, each day, wherever we go.  We take our busy minds with us; so mindfulness energy is available to help us slow down, relax, rest intensely on retreats and “vacation.” That word comes from the Latin root “to empty.” How appropriate for our efforts to empty our minds of noise that distracts us from touching the beauty of each moment. Really living, bringing our minds to where our feet are now – in the sand in Florida, in boots back in MD.

Find our upcoming workshops at http://www.qicircles.com.

Brookside lake photo

Photo at Brookside Gardens with my Art class

Dear Friends,

My heart breaks too at the news of the massacre of Jewish worshipers in Pittsburgh, the mail bombs, the hatred stirred at immigrants at election rallies.  We live in a challenging time that is increasing fear, triggering anger, driving us apart – if we allow this.  All the more important to care for our bodies, minds and hearts, to nourish compassion for ourselves and those who are suffering even more than we are at the moment.  Some psychiatrists have said that we are undergoing a national traumatic period.

When a friend called recently to share about a parking upset, the anger and fear still stirring inside, she had her own solution – take a walk, calm the feelings, meditate more.  STOP looking at constant television news.  It is possible to get the information without the barrage of repetitious pain.  Stop the negative input and place ourselves in positive, nourishing, inspiring environments, with people who support calm, peace, tolerance and love.

Two articles in yesterday’s paper inspired me to double up on spreading hope and kindness: “From Auschwitz to Pittsburgh” by Dan Zak in Style and “In an ill-tempered world, betting on a ‘Kindness Contagion‘ by Steven Petrow in the Health and Science section.

Be with children.  Enjoy Hallowe’en.

Love from Wonder Woman

Blog sunrise

During a wonderful discussion of ways to meditate yesterday, I thought of sharing our “cloud watching meditation” at the beach last week.  My husband and I love to rise before sunrise, do our journaling under the stars and meditate watching the clouds change as hints of the sun appear.  Then go down to the beach for Qi Gong during the actual sunrise.   This particular cloud formation changed so extremely slowly that it was easy to concentrate just on the beauty.  Some stories arose about the figures in the middle being me (on the left) being born into the arms of my mother and father (the clouds to the right).  I smiled at my ability to insert myself into anything, the ego being a pesky little creature.

But most of the time, my heart just filled with gratitude, joy, wonder, awe, happiness.

That counts as meditation, doesn’t it?  Any stopping, breathing, focusing on a rose, a child’s laugh, a butterfly is meditation.  Every conscious breath is a form of meditation.  Taking a breath instead of shouting in anger can save a life.  Where do we get the notion that it must be done in a particular fashion, particular place, in a particular way?  All ideas that prevent us from just DOING IT, trying whatever ways we enjoy, can become obstacles to developing a regular practice.  For however long or short a time possible, meditate TODAY.  Find something beautiful in nature and give it three breaths of appreciation.  Let me know how that is for you.

Hands on Rock photo

My affirmation for August is “Be me, be still, be present to this moment.”  My husband took the photo of my hands doing Sunlight #5 on Sligo Creek this morning.  I am so grateful for the privilege of time and energy to practice journaling, Qi Gong outdoors and meditation with him every morning.

National and world news holds new daily horrors, challenges to stand up to racism, violence and insanity.  Friends keep dying or developing Alzheimers.  Yet the creek flows, the sun rises, the dogs pull their people to exercise, babies learn to walk.  All the joy, peace and beauty exists within the suffering.  How important to touch the ultimate, the tiny flower of each moment, no matter what. No matter what.

QG class 10:17

Before our second session of Five Animal Play class this week, I was feeling tired from a day of travel until midnight and experiencing pain from an oncoming bout of cystitis. I took the necessary medical measures, drank copious amounts of water and heard my husband saying that he could teach the class on his own if necessary. However, medication relieved the pain by 6:00pm and I wanted to be present in the class, to receive and give whatever energy possible.

What happened is what happens in every class – we benefit as much as the students from an hour of practice together. I also received the added benefit of my body, mind and spirit feeling better, being held by the field of healing Qi energy created by the group. The lesson I learned yet again – we benefit from gentle practice, even during illness or weakness. We can benefit from others’ energy when we are not able to generate much at all on our own. I have witnessed this in many forms over the past month – in meditation circles, Qi Gong classes, spiritual meetings where the intention is strong to heal and help heal others.

In The Healing Promise of QI by Roger Jahnke (p. 259), a book several Qi Gong teachers are studying together, he says “When you practice with a group there is a distinct awareness that it is easier to do your practice, and the internal effect of your practice tends to be more evident.” He also teaches that Qi is unlimited and can be applied across great distances. “In fact, the Qi Chang – healing field – of all who practice Qi Gong is always present because there are always people doing Qi Gong in the world.” There are also always people praying, meditating, loving, practicing compassion and kindness toward animals, children, neighbors, friends and loved ones.

We have a choice every moment to plug into this energy, to choose life, to choose healing, to choose love.  Thank you to each of you for practicing, sending good energy into the Universe today and for helping me heal and live such an amazing life.

2017-08-Thay-in-Vietnam-450x353-1

Thich Nhat Hanh arrives 8-29-17 in DaNang, Vietnam

Our teacher tells us that if the Buddha is to walk on earth today,  he walks with our feet.  If the Buddha eats, speaks, listens today, he must eat, speak and listen through our mouths, our ears.  He teaches us that all of us, everyone on earth can be a buddha, an “awakened one.”  Each human being has the capacity to be awake, aware of the suffering around us, in us.  Everyone can contribute to changing the world by changing our own minds and hearts.  A good practitioner is not someone who never suffers, but someone who knows how to breathe, eat, listen and speak through their suffering.  To transform suffering, one day at a time.  One moment at a time.

What a joy to see that our teacher, who suffered a stroke almost three years ago, has the energy and determination to return to his country, to continue teaching with the limitations of his present health.  He is a powerful buddha breathing and transforming suffering each day of his life.