Archive for category: Meditation

A Beautiful Gift of Friendship

Categories: Adventure, Buddhist Practice, Conscious Living, Endorsements, Meditation, Women's, Writing - Tags: , , , , ,

“Pulling Up Stakes: Stepping Into Freedom”–an ink and watercolor drawing by Linda Johnson Roesch

Words cannot begin to describe the surprise, amazement, delight and gratitude that I felt when I opened a large mysterious package recently.  I was agog.  I have loved our adventures and I have loved writing about them, even to the extent that writing is part of my meditation practice.  Editing and publishing my first personal book was challenging, scary and exciting.  My readership is considerably smaller than  Cheryl Strayed’s who is living the writer’s dream, whose book “Wild”, about redemption hiking the Pacific Crest Trail be selected by Oprah for her book club. www.cherylstrayed.com/wild_108676.htm

My gratification as a writer is more private, though very deep.  And I have thoroughly relished invitations to speak with readers at book clubs.  Those readers really have great questions leading to wonderful discussions, and opportunities to relive experiences and explore life lessons learned.  More than enough conditions for happiness…..

However, this surprise package thrilled me to the core.  The beautiful watercolor and ink painting arrived unbidden, created by my high school classmate, artist Linda Johnson Roesch. San Marino High School Class of 195www.smnet.org/comm_group/smhs1958/WhatAreTheyDoing/

 

Linda lives in Vermont and we have only seen each other a couple of times since high school, but she got wind of my book, Pulling Up Stakes: Stepping Into Freedom, and bless her, was so inspired reading the book, that she took up brush and watercolors and created this mosaic, listing every single place mentioned in the story–and most of the characters including each of my children, and she signed it with an ink drawing of a llama with wings, an homage to the cover art.  Without saying a word, she packed it up, shipped it west, and gave me the deepest thrill a friendship over decades and across the continent could possibly bring to an author.

Cheryl Strayed, were you any happier when Oprah called you?  I am sure  you were in bliss, but this inspired act of generosity surely nourished my bliss as well.

Together, we Step Into Freedom practicing random acts of kindness.  Thank you SO much, Linda, Dear Friend!

How To Find Solace In the City

Categories: Adventure, Buddhist Practice, Conscious Living, Meditation, Mindfulness, Personal Growth, Relationships, Self-Improvement - Tags: , , , , , , , ,

It is so easy to get caught and stressed, and yet so precious to be able to find opportunities for calming the mind, breathing and smiling, and centering.  For example, Tim Kreider writes in the New York Times about “The Busy Trap” (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/the-busy-trap)  and how we too often overload our schedules and run around lamenting how over busy we are, just to avoid the fear of space, quiet, down time–the true ingredients of creativity. “More, more, and more” has long been the American way of life (or, should I say the American way of death…?) but there are (dare I say?) more and more of us pursuing a quieter, calmer path.  As Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh so sapiently offers:

DONT DO SOMETHING….  JUST SIT THERE…..

          Cultured Asians have long understood the value of solace and respite, and to that end, have created sublime gardens to foster peace, calm and tranquility.  This fall, while traveling on the book tour, we have savored three such beautiful gardens:  the Chinese and especially the Japanese Gardens at the Huntington Library and Art Gallery in San Marino, California–(about a block from where both Jim and I grew up), and the Chinese Gardens in Portland, Oregon.

In each, we found peace and quiet and such a clear privileging of aesthetics and beauty over any other value.  Time spent in an urban garden as even a brief respite from the busy-ness of urban life can be as refuelling as a day in the wild.  

 This lovely scene is from the Japanese Gardens at the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA  Japanese Garden – The Huntington Library www.huntington.org › Gardens

The Chinese gardens in Portland provided welcome respite from a busy schedule on the book tour in the Northwest–In Portland, we did a “meet the author” at Annie’s Bloom’s Books.  Annie Bloom’s Books | Your neighborhood independent bookstore. www.annieblooms.com/.   We stayed at the beautiful Portland hillside home of Lilio Aragonez, one of my favorite colleagues from teaching days at Beverly Hills High School a few decades ago!  We adventured around the city with Maina Ptolomy, one of my high school buddies from San Marino.  So book touring was always an adventure combined with kicks and old home week.

Taking only a whole city block, these gardens invite us to step into the home of a Chinese scholar and calligrapher, pausing by contemplative ponds and bridges.Lan Su Chinese Garden is one of Portland’s greatest treasures—a powerfully inspiring experience that takes one through time, offering a window into Chinese culture, history and way of thinking.

Lan Su Chinese Garden   www.lansugarden.org/

Entry mosaic invites the eye to contemplate patterns and rhythms while walking in meditation

A seasonal array of Chrysanthemums reminds one of the falling leaves, the coming of winter and consciousness of time passing…

Entering the welcoming courtyard,  looking through the keyhole gate, we are invited to look inward, to leave the city’s hustle and bustle behind and to enjoy time for contemplation, for focusing on aesthetic beauty and on both timelessness and time passing.  As Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, “I have arrived, I am home”  and “No Coming, No Going…..”

Each vista is calming, centering, lovely…

Hecate’s Feast: Celebrating Dark Time in Deadwood

Categories: Adventure, Conscious Living, Dining, Meditation, Mindfulness, Personal Growth, Self-Improvement, Spiritual - Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Skeletal Wine~But Look at the Price tag: $98! Fit for the Feast of Hekate

Jim and I had an amazing experience on Sunday night, visiting a friend in Deadwood Oregon, a tiny bohemian enclave off the grid in central Oregon.  We happened to be near Deadwood for the Feast of Hecate, as we are here on the last major chapter of our book tour, which is taking us from Eugene, to Portland, to Seattle, to Port Townsend and then back through Tacoma, where we will celebrate the close of the tour with Thanksgiving at the home of our daughter Brooke and her family.

Yardenna, Our Queen of Deadwood

 

Our longtime friend and former mediation partner, Yardenna, invited us to overnight at her home in Deadwood.  She told us that Deadwood residents would be gathering at the home of Mark McNutt, internationally recognized astrologist and his wife, Mary, an Anusara yoga teacher.  Their strawbale home is totally off the grid and built entirely by their own hand, an experience to visit in its own right.

Hecate’s feast was celebrated by candlelight with quite delicious offerings of black beans, peruvian potatoes, kale, dark pasta sauce with lots of black olives, forbidden rice, some amazing beets, etc brought by guests from the neighborhood and beyond.  After the feast, carrying some of the food, Mark and Mary led us with hypnotic drumming on a ritual walk by candlelight in the gently falling rain to Hecate’s altar on the bank of Deadwood Creek.  There we gathered for singing and silent intentional reflections about what we would like to lay to rest and what we would like to nourish through the dark time of winter.
Then, after being offered six pomegranate seeds, symbolic of the six seeds Persephone ate which consigned her to spend the six dark months of the year with Hades, some of us followed the sounds of splashing and thrashing to a bend in the creek where 20-30 pound salmon were returning to their birthplace to spawn.  The exhausted fish, weary from crossing the Pacific ocean and returning to their home creek, were digging holes in the rocky creek bed with their tails, before laying eggs, then the males fertilize them–and up the creek they journey, spawning until battered by the rocks they have beaten their bodies against, utterly depleted and exhausted, they die and the winter brings a gestation time for their fertilized eggs to hatch in spring.  What a powerful experience of celebrating rather than resisting the onset of the dark time!

Llama Drama: An Opportunity for Practice

Categories: Adventure, Animals, Buddhist Practice, Conscious Living, Family, Health and Fitness, Hiking, Meditation, Mindfulness - Tags: , , , ,

All Black Llao Llao Grazing by Matlock Lake

Arriving in bliss with the llamas and our dogs, high in the John Muir Wilderness, we chose a relatively off the beaten path lovely lake to set up camp for our week.  While the Kearsarge Pass trail gives access to both the John Muir Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail and thus sees lots and lots of backpackers this time of the summer, Matlock Lake is a hidden gem.  We are the only ones here.  It is in a basin surrounded by gnarled weather bent White pines and granite outcroppings against a backdrop of jagged minarets.  From here we can explore Flower Lake,  Gilbert Lake, Heart Lake, and Bench Lake.

Packing with llamas gives us some luxuries backpacking must deny, such as a commodious tent, extra thick sleeping mats, a hammock, a table and two low Crazy Creek chairs, my small inflatable boat the “H.M.S. Sassenatch” launched summers ago on Crabtree Lake into Bench Valley, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables and other delectables.Feeling immeasurable gratitude for all their exertions in making this possible, I wanted to offer the llamas something in exchange.  Down by the banks of the lake I saw a wonderful garden of fresh green bunch grass, their favorite.  I could liberate them from their stake out line, up the required 200 feet from the lake, and let them enjoy an hour of grazing while I paddled across Matlock Lake in my little boat on a reconnaissance mission.

Paddling H.M.S. Sassenatch with Beau and Tashi on Matlock Lake

Jim had warned me that that he had seen Kalmia Polyflora,a toxic form of heather,  the same noxious neurotoxin that had killed Llao Llao’s grandmother Hopi on a pack trip many years ago.  I had seen a bit of that plant down by the lake but felt that there was so much good bunch grass available for the llamas that they wouldn’t eat it, especially if they were only allowed to graze there at the lakeside for an hour.

Last night we climbed into our tent early, read for awhile, buttoned Tashi and Beau into their bright red fleece sleeping jamis and fell fast asleep.  That is, until I was awakened by my muse to write ” The Zen of Llamapacking in the Wilderness” as Jim and the dogs snored on.   I finished writing just before turning out my headlamp to go back to sleep.  But not quite!  I heard a disturbing noise.  Was it a llama choking and sputtering?  I knew it could be the worst.  Terrified, I pulled on my camp mocs and jacket, and rushed out of the tent to discover my worst fears realized.

Llao Llao was frothing at the mouth, just like his grandmother Hopi had done before succumbing to paroxysms of neuromuscular trauma and death.  OMG.  At least this time I had fully stocked our llama emergency first aid kit and was prepared with activated absortive charcoal, a camelback and tube for intubating a poisoned llama, as well as an injectable bio-sponge to absorb toxins from the gut.

At first, so chagrined that I had not heeded Jim’s admonition, and dreading the inevitable “I told you so.” I hastily mixed the granulated charcoal in water in the camelback and tried to administer it by myself to the downed llama.  As soon as I approached Llao Llao with the hose to intubate him, he got to his feet and I knew I couldn’t wrestle 325 lbs of even a sick llama by myself.

I had no choice but to swallow pride and wake up Jim for help. Torn between terror about losing Llao Llao and dreading Jim’s reprisals, I called out imploringly to him.  Aroused, he snarled, “I knew it!” but pulled on his pants and shoes and came to my side.  Realizing we had to figure out a way to immobilize Llao Llao’s head and incredibly strong neck, I haltered him and led him to a large granite rock, pulled his head down onto it, wrapped the lead rope under and around the boulder and handed the rope to Jim to immobilize him while I tried to get the hose down his throat and into his stomach, not his lungs.  Not easy at all, as naturally he fought with all his might and when I did snake the tube in he tried to grind it up with his molars.  He didn’t try to bite my hand inside his mouth per se, but I did get some cuts but somehow managed to pump quite a bit of the bladder full of charcoaled waters into him.  We released his head and watched for awhile, until we figured there was nothing more to do for him but pray.  Charcoaled water all over my clothes and feet, I looked like a refugee from a coal mine.

Jim couldn’t resist telling me that I had shown way too much hubris.  Meekly, I replied that I thought it was misguided compassion more than stubborn pride. Nonetheless, deeply sobered, I realized it was definitely time to practice, to breathe, to meditate, to embrace humility and calm, not get feisty and defensive.  So, exhausted, we returned to our tent and fell back into deep slumber.

The following morning at daylight we checked on our patient and to great relief found him standing and even tentatively chewing his cud.  To be extra safe, remembering Hopi,’s prolonged fatal poisoning ordeal, we repeated the procedure this time with the orally injectable bio-sponge.  The whole drama was such a practice opportunity!  Breathing in my humiliation, breathing gratitude that a potential tragedy had been averted, and that Llao Llao would not die, I realized that compassion and gratitude must be tempered by good judgement and common sense.

Confirming the crisis had passed, I was able to feed and water the llamas then stake them out far from the lake and the heather.  Assured they were cared for, secure and safe, we were able to actually take a great day hike, climbing to the top of spectacular Kearsarge Pass at 11,804 ft.  Surrounded by jagged minarets, we found a new vantage point overlooking our breath-takingly beautiful high Sierra world!

Jim & Me with Tashi & Beau on Kearsarge Pass

 

 

 

The Zen of Wilderness Llamapacking

Categories: Adventure, Animals, Buddhist Practice, Conscious Living, Health and Fitness, Hiking, Meditation, Mindfulness, Pets, Travel - Tags: , , , ,

This is our 21st summer packing with our Llamas into the High Sierras.  Over the years we’ve had ten llamas: Machu, Pichu, Hopi, Mica and Sierra all now walk the next world; Miwok and Jambo, the parents of Llao Llao and Zuni, and Tio Sequoia are with us now. 

Over the years we have packed into the Lost Coast of Northern California, all over the central Sierras including the Dinkey Wilderness, Black Cap Basin, Red Mountain Basin, Bench Valley, the Silver Divide, out of Florence and Edison Lakes and Courtright Reservoir, and into East Lake out of Bridgeport, commemorating the place Jim and I met 32 years ago, backpacking before we had our llamas.

This summer we decided to cross the Sierras and head in near Mt Whitney from the jagged and dramatic Eastern slope, planning to hike over 12,000 ft Kearsarge Pass into the Rae Lakes Basin.  It sounded fabulous until some of our llama buddies warned us that there is no grazing and no dogs allowed across the pass in Sequoia National Park, only in the Sequoia National Forest on this side of the pass.  We can get along with no grazing as we can carry sufficient food for our llamas, but no dogs?  No Tashi and Beau?  That’s a non starter.  So we decided to stay with the plan to drive from our ranch near Yosemite, south across the Sierras past Lake Isabella, to Lone Pine, boarding the llamas overnight at the Lone Pine High School as guests of the Future Farmers of America.  We would drive north next morning to the 9000 ft Onion Valley Trailhead out of Independence, and trek up toward Kearsarge Pass, but not across into the National Park.  That plan assured maximal happiness for us all: our five llamas, Jim and me, and our two athletic backpack-carrying  poodles, Tashi and Beau, a perfect recipe for the Zen of Packing with Llamas into the John Muir Wilderness!

So it was that we set out three days ago, and so it was that I am breathing and smiling  deeply and broadly here in the gorgeous High Sierras.  What is truly Zen about this experience is that packing up the llamas, each with their colorful packs is a meditative ritual, and setting out on the steep ascent is a devotional exercise.  Jim takes the lead with the two girls, Miwok and Zuni and Sequoia, followed by Tashi, with his own little “Search and Rescue” lime green pack.  I follow with the two boys, son Llao Llao and his father Jambo.  Puppy Beau elects to bring up the rear carrying his own small blue pack of dog food and toys.    Climbing ever higher, one step at a time, slowly, slowly into ever thinner air, we ascend 1600 feet, switchback by switchback over a beautifully maintained trail.  With each breath, I feel Llao llao’s gentle breath cooling the back of my neck.  As we fall into a rhythm, I turn on my iPod and listen to Buddhist chanting, the meditative strains of Avolokiteshvara, and fall into a perfect Zen reverie.

Matlock Lake/ Near Kearsarge Pass

We are back in the high country we both so love, this haven of natural beauty and restorative calm.

Peace Is Every Step.  I have arrived.  I am home.

Can’t Sit Still? 7 Simple Tricks for Slowing & Centering

Categories: Adventure, Buddhist Practice, Conscious Living, Meditation, Mindfulness, New Age, Psychology, Self-Improvement, Spiritual, Yoga - Tags: ,

Welcome to Our World In The Fast Lane.  How many of us are caught up in what Wordsworth so sapiently described in an earlier, ostensibly simpler time, “Getting and Spending….” and he added, “We lay waste our powers.”   It is so easy to get caught, or hooked by the rush of deadlines, the press of demands of job, children, housekeeping, driving, financial insecurity, even keeping up on the internet.

But clearly, we know there is a better way–we need to find that off ramp to serenity and calm.  So, here are seven simple tricks I have learned as both a Buddhist mindfulness practitioner, and a clinical psychologist, that are sure ways to find that sweet off ramp to calm in the midst of storm.

They are so simple and so available that we can practice them easily in our everyday life.

The first one I learned from a wise old nun in a monastery.  Every morning she wakes in her cold cell before dawn and is called by a bell to meditate.  In order to come into the present moment and into centered awareness, on awakening, for just a moment before arising, she pulls on her earlobes.

1) PULL ON YOUR EARLOBES , Massage your ears ON AWAKENING.  This simple action where we have lots of nerve endings both wakes us up to the present moment, it also awakens our consciousness to the intention to be present to the new day.

2) HAPPINESS BEGINS WITH YOUR LOVELY SMILE.  The Second is one of many I learned from Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. When you wake up, and you stand before the sink to wash your face in the morning, SMILE at yourself in the mirror.  Really SMILE.This is a brilliant trick to practice throughout the day.  Just stopping to smile to yourself, to feel your facial muscles move from tense to relaxed and smiling is a wonderful pathway to present centering.

3) FACE WASHING:  Smiling, turn on the water in the sink and notice how extraordinary it is that this fresh clear water streams from our pipes, whether we are living in a backwoods cabin, a high-rise in the East, Middle or West, or a suburban motor home or house, this precious water flows for us and is available for us to WAKE UP–and refresh our faces==shaving, washing, whatever, an opportunity for gratitude practice!

4) TOOTHBRUSHING MEDITATION.  I have a timer on my electric toothbrush.  What a golden opportunity to practice mindfulness meditation.  Here we are, earlobes pulled, refreshingly present, we’ve smiled at ourselves, and now we are going to enjoy the refreshing zip of cool water, minty toothpaste in our mouth, and an opportunity to polish those amazing tools we rarely send our gratitude to, our TEETH!

5) During the day take time out to practice THREE DEEP, CLEANSING BREATHS.  This can be at your desk, at your workstation, in your car, wherever.  Just promise yourself that when you find yourself amped up, anxious, preoccupied, pressured, whatever, you will STOP, BREATHE DEEPY THREE TIMES.    Here is a lovely mantra to accompany your in and out breath:

“Breathe in, I bring calm to my body.  As I breathe out, I smile.  I am alive in this present moment.  This moment is wonderful!”

You may not think this particular moment in rush hour traffic or on a deadline or beset with the demands of children or boss, is “wonderful” but when you stop to think of it, it IS!! You are alive, you are here, you are present.  This mantra brings you back to the present moment. Whatever is going on within it. you are here , alive, and this too shall pass!

This is the CORE practice of these seven simple tricks.  Never forget it.  It is golden.  it is free!

6) STAND UP STRETCH, UP, DOWN, AROUND, RECONNECT WITH YOUR BODY. This is another key yogi trick for slowing and centering.  It is so easy to carry tension in our bodies without offering our precious bodies an opportunity to relieve their stress.

7) STEP OUTSIDE AND LOOK AROUND–No matter where you are, walk mindfully, periodically from whatever you are doing, to go outside, breathe the air–is it icy?  hot? humid? fresh? Let it into your lungs, let your breath become conscious and present, and celebrate the timelessness of the sky and the clouds and your surroundings. And don’t forget to practice tricks number 5 and 6 while you are at it.
I guarantee, if you practice these seven simple tricks on a daily basis, you will notice a palpable change toward centering and slowing and rejoining this precious present moment!

 

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