Archive for category: Spiritual

Lima: Tears of Joy & Sorrow!

Categories: Adventure, Buddhist Practice, Gourmet, Mindfulness, Oncology, Personal Growth, Psychology, Relationships, Spiritual, Travel - Tags: , , , , , , ,

Prudencio, Tania Harriet & Margarita

Prudencio, Tania Harriet & Margarita

This emotional roller coaster, these tears of joy and sorrow, this laughter, all within 48 hours, this is NOT JET LAG. It is the joyous proximity to celebration of a new life, juxtaposed with the sudden confrontation of the possible death of a friend, both of whom we have specifically come to South America to visit.

But here and now, the poignant celebration of a new life. We touched down in Lima at midnight on Sunday, exactly one year to the day later than we were expected. After the usual scurry of pre-departure preparations for a six-week absence in So America and Cuba, we arrived in Lima after 22 hours in transit, and exactly one year after we expected to arrive. The surprise sight of Prudencio waiting for us with his bride Margarita and their baby daughter, Tania Harriet, my Aymara Indian baby namesake, awaiting arriving international passages straining at the rails, simply and totally dissolved me.

Loving Newlywed Parents

Loving Newlywed Parents

I had not seen Prudencio for ten years, not since I was the one at LAX awaiting at the rails for him among arriving international passengers after he’d returned to us from his visit home to his family in Chicuito,, his Aymara pueblo on the banks of Lake Titicaca, in Peru. But in 2004 Prudencio, even with the ten year visa we’d helped arrange for him to visit us, was quite harshly denied re-entry by US border officials.

That was one of the penetrating traumas that preceded my diagnosis of breast cancer, and that introduced me to the visceral experience of powerless disenfranchisement that the majority of third world people experience daily. As I waited eagerly for Prudencio to emerge from customs, the hours dragged on with no word. US Border Officials refused to reveal anything about Prudencio whom they had detained in a darkened room behind closed doors, while, I later learned, they threatened him and his whole Peruvian family if he did not confess to whatever trumped up charges they accused him of, before loading him on a return flight to Peru.
In the intervening years we tried several times to clear this up, to no avail. So this is the first time we have seen each other in ten years, and why, upon seeing him waving and smiling as we emerged from customs after midnight, I dissolved in tears of joy and relief.

Since then we have spent nearly every waking hour together while we are in Peru. They show up at our hotel mornings after what turns out to be typically long bus rides across several zones of the city of Lima on the Metro with Baby Tania Harriet. We spread out over the two queen beds and on the floor of our large hotel room for hours, sharing photos, catching up, exchanging presents, and reading aloud in Spanish from one of the dozen or so classic children’s books I have brought my namesake, year-old Tania Harriet, long before she will be interested in reading!.

Reading Curious George in Espanol

Reading Curious George in Espanol

Listening to Ariel's iPad Reading of "Ferdinand"

Listening to Ariel’s iPad Reading of “Ferdinand”

Margarita crotchets booties for Daughter Ariel and her partner Kate’s baby boy due in June. Ariel has recorded a dramatic video reading on my iPad of “Ferdinand” in her fluent Spanish; Prudencio read us my favorite story of “Frederick”, and we stumbled and laughed through pidgin Spanish escapades of “Curious George on His Bicycle”. We visited museums together and their immaculate modest house outside the city, appreciating anew the struggles he faces supporting his family with his work in housekeeping at the downtown Sheraton Hotel.

P1020506The last day we played in our shallow hotel swimming pool, introducing Prudencio, Margarita and the baby to their first time ever dog paddling and “swimming” before taking them out for a celebratory final dinner at “Rosa Nautical”, a fancy and delicious seafood restaurant on Lima’s Pacific shore.

All in all, a delicious and wonderful visit before we set out on the rest of our long awaited return to Latin America,, and next, our also long-awaited reunion with travel buddy and English Expat friend, Kevin Poulter in Santiago.

Don’t Lose Your Cool in the Warmth of the Holiday Season!

Categories: Buddhist Practice, Conscious Living, Family, Mindfulness, Parenting, Personal Growth, Relationships, Spiritual - Tags:

        Tis the season to be jolly, right?  Sometimes, doing our best at this time of year to be kind, and generous and thoughtful, remembering our friends, our family, our neighbors, wanting to reciprocate that random act of kindness that went unacknowledged, sometimes we just discover ourselves running out of gas, spread too thin, uber stressed.

I remember the coup de grace of this pattern, a time, way back when, when I was a single mom, a full time graduate student, and trying my best to do it all and to make the holidays wonderful for my two children, Gabriel and Ariel, then probably seven and five years old.  My kind mother, a creative grandma sewed an advent calendars for each of  them.  the calendars each had twenty-four little pockets with each day numbered from December 1 to 24, and each pocket was to hold a small surprise to be opened every day until Christmas.  So, writing papers and meeting deadlines for grad school, I also did my best to find forty-eight wonderful tiny surprises, and wrap each in tissue paper to fill their calendars.  Of course in addition, there were gifts to buy for the whole family and many friends, stockings to fill, holiday cards to create, write and address, lights to hang and a tree to decorate.

Gabriel and Ariel delighted in helping glue family photos on the cards, baking cookies and decorate the tree, hanging ornaments as high as they could reach, but we had a high ceilinged living room and a very tall tree, so they could only do so much.  At night, after they were tucked into their beds and sleeping, I got a tall ladder out of the garage, set it up, and began working my way up the tree with ornaments (many of course hand-made to make them more meaningful–Martha Stewart, are you hearing me?).  As I reached the top of the tree and the top of the ladder, to put the star on top of the tree, I teetered, lost my balance and fell to the floor in a crumpled heap, alone, sobbing, overwhelmed, and utterly exhausted.

Big life lesson!  Can you relate?  Anyway now, our extended family,  Jewish, Buddhist and Christian, celebrates the holidays very differently.  We rotate holidays, taking turns to host and decorate a tree.  For gifts, except for little children, we have a drawing, each of us drawing the name of another family member.  We have each submitted the name and contact information for our favorite charity (If you are feeling generous, mine, which I founded locally, is Bread for the Journey, a non-profit that raises money to bestow micro-grants to seed creative projects to serve the underserved in our county: www.bfjsantacruz.org).  We give one  generous donation to support the charity of the family member we’ve drawn.  So conscious, so simple, so nourishing!  So respectful of our intention to consume less, be lighter on the planet, and to celebrate the season with unfettered love and generosity.

So, my gift to you, this holiday season, Dear Reader Friends, is the gift of Stepping Into Freedom!  Stay cool, keep it mindfully simple  and be warm!

 

 

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!

A String of Pearls: Summer’s Beautiful Days

Categories: Adventure, Animals, Buddhist Practice, Family, Gourmet, Health and Fitness, Hiking, Mindfulness, Self-Improvement, Spiritual, Travel - Tags:

After yesterday’s potentially life-threatening “Practice Opportunity” with our llama, which, gratefully he survived,  we have had day after day of bliss and beauty.  No Internet, no phones, no appointments , just clouds  to  watch forming and reforming across the Cerulean blue sky, hours drifting  lazily by. Nowhere to go.  Nothing to do.  Don’t do something, just sit there!

Beautiful Summer Days Roll By Like Pearls

Time in the high Sierras, for me, is like the most replenishing meditation retreat. I practically never look at my watch to see what time it is.  I find myself living solely following the rhythms of nature and of my body, awakening to the sun, we nap or rest or swim in the lake  when the sun is high and hot. We go to bed when it is dark, and find ourselves sleeping deeply, like hibernating bears, snug in our den (tent). I wake up, refreshed, remembering dreams more vividly, finding my dreams far more compelling and meaningful at high altitude.  I have time lying in the tent to reflect on them, adding the gift of reverie and introspection as the sun slowly rises.

Swiss Fondue and Fresh Veggies, anyone?

Because this campsite on Matlock Lake is so gorgeous and blissfully private, we decide not to pack up, pull up stakes and move on as we have usually done in the past, but we’ll stay here and take day hikes to the surrounding lakes and passes.  Thus days have a simple routine defined by carrying water for the llamas and the dogs, filtering it for ourselves,preparing meals (grain in each llama’s grain basket, dog food in the dog’s little bowls, making coffee, serving granola and fresh fruits in our breakfast bowls), sitting, meditating, then reading, talking softly, holding hands and intermittently smiling appreciatively, then washing the dishes, carrying more water, sitting again, watching cloud formations magically shift and observing the change of the light throughout the day from bright fresh dawn to the warm alpenglow following sunset.

We hike or fish when it is cool and we feel invigorated.  The days literally glide by according to our own bio-rhythms and the patterns of nature, stringing a sweet Sierra necklace of pearls of each present moment, one after the other.

                                                                            Summertime, and the Livin’ is Easy...

 

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!

 

How Can I Know I Will Never Die?

Categories: Buddhist Practice, Meditation, Mindfulness, Personal Growth, Self-Improvement, Spiritual, Writing - Tags: , , , , , ,

Welcome back.  I hope you have been savoring the practice of our virtual retreat with Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.  Let us continue…..

The next day of the retreat, Thay offered the children a powerful dharma talk on death and on birth and the Buddhist philosophy of “No coming, no going.” He spoke gently to an imaginary cloud, saying, “Dear Cloud, do you know when you were born?” And the little cloud said, “Thay I was never born. Before I was a cloud, I was rain, river, ocean, tears, water in the cells of plants, animals and people, and I was your tea. When conditions were right, I manifested as a cloud.”
And Thay replied, “And when you die?” and the little cloud said, “Dear Thay, I will never die. When conditions are right, I will manifest as raindrops, rivers, tears, and tea!” “And so, Children, there is no birth, and no death. There is always impermanence.”

This calligraphy “A Cloud Never Dies” was done by Thay and offered at the retreat  for sale to benefit hungry children in Vietnam.

On another day during the retreat, Thich Nhat Hanh offered another deceptively simple but profound teaching about interdependence that even the children can understand. He said, “My right hand is quite gifted. She can write poetry. She can cook and sew. My left hand can’t do any of those things. But my right hand doesn’t say, “Stupid Left Hand, you’re good for nothing. Look what I can do!” And my left hand doesn’t say, “You always get to do everything! It’s not fair!” They get along so nicely together. They support each other. One day, I was hanging a picture in my hut and I was using a hammer in my right hand. My left hand was holding the nail, The hammer slipped and pounded my left thumb instead of the nail. Immediately my right hand dropped the hammer and rushed to cradle and comfort my left hand. My left hand didn’t say, “You are stupid! How could you do that to me?” She just accepted the comfort of her sister. So my left and my right hands are friends. They are very different and they get along peacefully, just as we need to do with everyone and everything which is different from us.
When the children file out of the dharma hall with some of the brother and sister monks and nuns, Thay then offers his dharma talk to the adults. Each day, the talk goes deeper and deeper into Buddhist psychology and philosophy, teaching ethical values of equanimity, releasing anxiety through breathing meditation, coming into the present moment, learning to choose which “seeds” to water in the store conscious (or unconscious) , and which to let wither–of course seeds of compassion, calm, equanimity, generosity are the seeds to water, and anxiety, envy, cruelty, greed are the type to let wither.

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