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Category Archives: Spirituality

Who are we?
Why are we here?
What is life all about?
How is my spirit connected to the universe?

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We greeted the rising sun together in the woods this morning with Sunlight Qi Gong, my favorite movement. As the first rays of the sun reached the tops of nearby trees, birds chirped, we smiled.  We are fortunate to live near woods, creeks, hilltops, many lovely outdoor spots to practice these healing movements daily after journaling and meditation.

After a very busy July, a restful August, a wonderful women’s retreat at Claymont, a lovely Qi Gong “Energize your Life” class and Pat’s speech at the ANFP conference in Ocean City, we are enjoying the changes in temperature and shorter days.  We will be announcing our new Qi Circles website soon with photos of some of these venues for our Qi Gong teaching.

We hope that you also find moments to enjoy the changes of autumn leaves, moving and dancing outdoors.  Qi is the “life force” energy inside us all, in the air, the earth, the trees, the full moon, the rising sun, the stars, so easy to bring into our minds and hearts with each breath.  Enjoy each precious moment of life!

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 we were given by my son’s father as a wedding gift 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.

Full Moon 1:4:15

Reposted 1-4-15

 

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?

Today is the 43rd anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Today I heard a part of a friend’s story I hadn’t heard before, one that reminded me both of how much MLK’s dream has come true and how much more of it we have yet to fulfill in 2011. My friend recalled that he attended a Catholic church in his youth in St. Mary’s county, MD in which blacks were seated at the back of the church and had segregated weekend activities from white parishioners. I was curious about the time period – 1950? “No”, he said, “the early 1970’s.” Yet today, we sat in a non-segregated (non-Catholic) church hall sharing stories of our common religious upbringing and the reasons why each of us had grown away from it. Our journies back to a spiritual life took very different paths, but neither of us returned to the church of our youth, the church of our parents.

Of course, the racism in the churches in the 20th century was a reflection of the racism in our culture, our government and our laws during most of our lives. My friend and I both realized the role that racial segregation and the dismissal of women drove each of us from organized religion. Yet we needed a Power greater than ourselves to survive, live, thrive. We had to find a Power greater than any organized religion and find a way within our hearts not to dismiss the valuable gifts in religions and religious people along our paths.

I continue to be shocked by the horrors of segregation, even though my own experience of it was also complete. So complete that I never saw a black person in my Catholic parish. Did black Catholics in Kansas City have their own parishes? Where? Were there also segregated churches there as late at the 70’s? Most likely.

I must continue to plumb the depths of my own experience in my writing and encourage my black friends to write, to share their stories, to pass down our heritage of both suffering and transformation, to keep MLK’s dream alive in our own lives.

A friend’s brother was beaten to death behind a liquor store, her second brother killed. I don’t know how she holds the pain…how she’ll tell her mother. Another young woman took another drink after a year of attempting sobriety. Please guard and protect all my friends struggling with the horrible disease of alcoholism, but especially these two today. And another sober for many years flying home after seeing her dying sister for the last time and having a wonderful visit to the cherry blossoms with us. I also witnessed fourth friend able to share so deeply from her heart her pain and the solution to that pain, her faith and her spiritual path! All in the first few hours of my day

So, the joy and sorrow are ONE, the insanity and the solution are ONE, the beauty of our city and its pain are ONE. Help me see that today. Not opposites….the same thing! When we are suffering, a baby’s smile, sunshine coming from behind a cloud, a guitar playing, a gentle touch are all just as real as the tears.

This song from the Plum Village songbook, A Basket of Plums, based on Thich Nhat Hanh‘s poem of the same name says it better than any of my own words:
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 remain open.

The door of compassion.

“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?

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?

Today is my birthday, one of the BIG ones. I have now outlived my mother by three years. We share this birthday and she would have been 102 today. My father lived six years past this one but died miserably. I hope that this decade I can live fully, happily, with my parents living on in me, in my life filled with love.

These last three days without electrical power, without being able to stay in our home, access our phone, wash clothes has shown how attached I am to my home, to my great life. Being without our usual routines and stuff for a few days, relying on the kindness of friends for basic shelter has been like a retreat, an opportunity full of insights.

My Buddhist teachings tell me that everything is impermanent, even the best things and people in our lives we will lose, because everything is in a state of constant change. I’m more at peace with that. Change allows babies to grow up and us old folks eventually to let go of this precious life, trusting that we continue on in the earth, the air, the trees that feed on our bodies, the memories of people we have loved. It’s not that comforting and I know that I don’t have complete trust that dying is ok. But our friend Jay (whose ashes are in Pat’s room) said on his death bed three months ago that there is “NOTHING TO FEAR.” I trust him, his connection with great spirits. I trust the teachings of the Buddha. I trust Thay. These teachings ring more true than the Catholic ones I grew up with – the eternal soul (although part of me still believes that too), God the Father, heaven, hell and purgatory. Whatever happens will be a continuation of this life. And this life is now so incredibly good, wonderful and happy that I want to spread all the goodness, happiness, joy and love possible to everyone I meet for the rest of my life. No time for fear, for self-centeredness, for anger, hatred, selfishness, pride or small-mindedness.

This is the time of my life for LOVE, deep, clear, expanding, powerful LOVE. I am so, so grateful to be alive, to have such riches of love and friendship in my life, such powerful spiritual teachers, work I love, family and friends and our sweet home to which we will return shortly.

I dedicate this decade of my life to LOVE.

Photo by Rob Warde

My heart is singing with the joy of two powerful spiritual paths converging in me, finding voice and words that are of use to others. We just finished a deep conversation with a good friend and teacher that clarified how important it is to me to continue the work of meditation retreats for women. In preparation for a meeting with my co-leader of the next retreat, I spent time this morning in my journal listing similarities in the two paths. The similarities include freedom for the individual, strong community, deep looking at one’s own suffering, listening, prayer, meditation, service, discipline and real ways of relieving the suffering of others. What gratitude I feel for having both of them in my life!

My journey has been a long one, from convent to atheism to despair to freedom. Along the way, I have suffered deeply, experienced great joy, felt separated from all human understanding and found connection beyond space and time. I feel so happy with the gifts in my life that I want to dance, to share it with you, to shout, to sit in silence, to smile.

That moment when all the suffering in one’s life has meaning and becomes transformed into a jewel that can be of use to someone else is a moment of great happiness. This moment. Thank you, my teachers, my parents, ancestors, fellow sufferers, community members.

I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

Martin Luther King, Jr’s dream, Obama’s dream is my dream. I couldn’t say it better.
Happy Birthday, Martin.