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Falling Leaves

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FALLING LEAVES

 

Autumn-
Even the birds
And clouds look old.
Basho

No matter how many autumns I pass through, each time I see leaves blown from the trees, floating to the Earth, dancing on the pavement, I feel as enchanted as a four year old. There is something so primal, sad and ripe about these leaves that begin their journey as small buds of promise, expand and thrive through the summer and then gently release their hold on mother tree gliding down to the ground. Yellow, orange, crimson, sienna and raw umber, shaped like hearts and oars, they rest on the earth beside other former residents of sister trees. This same pattern of bud, bloom and fade is seen in systems as large as planets and as small as thought forms. It is the great arc of life. Witnessing this journey is the height of drama but there is no drama within the heart of the leaf. It just buds, flourishes and dies.

My friend John died this week. I saw him a few weeks before he died. He was so radiant it was hard to tell that he was in the last stages of cancer. John always had a vibrant spirit and a vibrant spiritual practice, and he didn’t fall for any spiritual bullshit. He just did his own thing, hoping others would also walk their talk. His spiritual practice became simpler over the years. In the end, he wasn’t trying to change anybody, not even himself. This is where he had arrived at when I saw him a couple of weeks before he took his last breath. He fell like a deep orange leaf from a maple tree. His dying was his last dharma teaching.

We are moving into the darker days, the eye of the needle days. Many cultures believe that this is the time when our dead ancestors can find a crack in time through which to come visit us. It is also a time when many bodies that have been clinging to life begin to release their grip and float back to mother Earth. It is a beautiful time to die. I think my friend John, who was so in love with nature and art, would appreciate the beauty of his falling out of his body just as the leaves are falling from the trees.

As mother’s we are in the midst of birth and life. It is our mantle to bring forth and sustain life. We clearly see the magic and beauty in birth but not so much in birth’s older sister death. But death is just as sacred as birth, just as powerful and transcendent. From birth to life to death is a natural pattern that we all experience many times each day. When our natural resistance to death is mitigated by an understanding of the cycle, when the dry floating leaf is deemed as beautiful as the bud, a new, less fearful, world opens up. It is a world where there is beauty in everything. This does not diminish the sorrow or grief of our great losses or the pain of dying and leaving everything and everyone we love. The Tibetans call it the painful bardo of dying. It is painful to say goodbye to this beautiful Earth and the ones we love. But even the pain, sorrow and grieving can be held as part and parcel of the beautiful dance of life.

I don’t know what happens when a person dies. But whatever is happening with John right now is as beautiful and natural as he is. He will be missed and will always live in my heart.

How can I serve you?

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For many years you have been listening to me. Now I’d like to listen to you! So, this month, instead of my usual dharma essay, I’m reaching out to learn more about your needs, wants, dreams and challenges.

Hearth is ready to grow into an even greater resource and support system for you as you navigate the challenging seas of parenting. We know the work you do can be demanding and sometimes you may feel alone in your struggle.

In order to support you in the best way possible we need to know what kind of support you need. I am grateful to you for taking a few moments to share your thoughts with us. Here are some questions to get the ball rolling:

How can Hearth best serve you?

Providing online support
Getting together with other moms in real time
Spa/yoga/meditation weekends for moms
lists of people to support you
Personal contact with a mentor
things to read for inspiration
do your laundry
Other?

What subjects are most interesting to you?

ways to stay centered in the middle of turmoil
how to find moments to meditate
Sharing meditation with your children
creating more beauty in your life
Other?

I know how busy you are and want to thank you in advance for taking the time to let me know how we can serve you. With your input we will make Hearth an even more vibrant, nurturant community. You can either post your thoughts on:

https://awakeningathome.org/

or write me directly at:

jacquelinek@hearth-foundation.org

In gratitude for your love and desire to grow in our community,

Jacqueline

TO A NEW MOM

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As I turn 65 I find myself reflecting on my life as a mother. So much has evened out since those tumultuous early years. Thankfully, years of practice made my life richer and more relaxed. Meditation and the ancient wisdom brought me through some hard times. In the tradition of paying it forward, I’d like to share some things I’ve learned in 35 years of mothering and a lifetime of spiritual practice.

We’re all messed up in one way or another. Don’t knock yourself out trying to hide your shadow. Remember we’re all works in progress. Know yourself without censorship and develop your practice from there.

I remember being so afraid of passing on my family shadow to my daughter. I was afraid I’d make a mess out of her life and that other’s would see my anger and fear and dysfunction and deem me a bad person and a bad Buddhist. Over the years I’ve met many Buddhist teachers and students and not one of them was devoid of wounding and it’s difficult expressions. Relax, you are not alone in your petty thoughts, jealousies, yearnings and feelings of inadequacy. It’s all part of being human. We don’t become more perfect through years of self development, we become more ourselves.

Practice doesn’t have to be something apart from everyday life.

Buddhism has been handed down to us from mostly monastic traditions. But many of us are not called to be monastics and there are vital flaws in this line of transmission when it comes to the life and practice of mothers. Awakening is a combination of mindfulness and concentration with a sincere, open, ready heart and a touch of good karma. We need to find ways to develop our awakening within our homes. It’s not necessary to be celibate or wear robes in order to have a deep practice. There are many examples of awakening within everyday lay life. Bloom where you’re planted.

Eric Ericson wrote that the key to happiness is a balance of work, love and play.

Work hard, love deeply and don’t forget to play! Set aside time each day to dance, get down on the floor with your baby or go on an adventure. Your responsibilities will be waiting for you when you return with a refreshed mind. We can’t avoid the painful parts of being in a human body so we might as well enjoy it’s delights. To shun one or the other does violence to our spirit. Have fun!

Don’t be afraid to fall into the numinous

After giving birth using vipassana as my focus I was in a state of bliss every time I’d sit down on my meditation pillow. It frightened me. I now realize there was nothing to be afraid of. Don’t let fear of the mystery make you hide from a deeper experience of emptiness. Lean into it. Be curious. Awakening is a journey into the unknown where what you thought life was about is turned on its head. Go bravely into the unknown.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re in a boardroom, on a stage or in the kitchen. We all die and what is left behind is the love we have brought into the world. All the rest is dust in the wind.

Most of us have bought the line that to be working outside the home is more valuable than working inside the home. That’s just a pile of beans. Cook them, eat them and poop them out. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you spend your time as a teller in a bank, an executive in an office, an artist in a studio or a mother in a home. What matters is that your life is authentically yours, true to your nature, and that you move ever closer to your own personal, unique awakening and live a generous, awakened life.

Cultivate friendships, create your own sangha

Buddhist institutions have the good fortune of gathering people together to support one another’s practices. Homemakers need to find ways to do the same thing. After all, the Buddha said to Ananda that sangha, or community, is not part of the practice, it is the practice. We can’t do it alone. We need to find like- minded friends who will help support our practice and our everyday life.

Everything is always changing. Nothing is permanent

Let go of the past, don’t let it define you. Even your glories and victories are only memories. Enjoy what there is to enjoy in this moment. Cherish your precious time here.

Stuff happens

Tires go flat, the body gets sick, appointments are missed, people yell. This is not an apparition, but a natural part of life. Expecting ups and downs, remembering that life is in constant flux and we are always trying to establish our equilibrium amid the flux, makes for smoother sailing. Challenges are just part of life, we don’t need to interpret them as good or bad. Hanging on to the peaceful, happy times or rejecting the storms makes for disharmony. Flow with the ups and downs like a buoy on the ocean.

A child needs both love and discipline

I’ve seen all sorts of parenting styles-progressive, traditional and conventional- produce loving and loved children. I’ve also seen all these parenting styles produce unhappy families. Regardless of your personal parenting philosophy let your love surround your children. Create safe limits that demonstrate your love. More than a beautiful home, more than great food, more than the perfect environment or “best” parenting style, your love and guidance is what sustains your family. This is one of the few things in life you can control.

 A family can be any size

There is a difference between relatives and family. A relative is someone who shares you DNA, a family is two or more people who share a lifetime commitment to have one another’s backs, to support one another through thick and thin. When my husband and I separated it felt like I had lost my family. I now have a very small family, but it is a happy family. Some people are gifted with large families-brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. This is a real blessing when the family offers love and support. Embrace and be grateful for the family you have, regardless of how large or small it is or what it looks like. Double down on your commitment to be there for one another.

Take care of your body

I didn’t take good care of myself after having my baby and got quite sick. It’s not uncommon for a mother to take care of everyone but herself. This is dangerous. It can create resentment and ill health. Feed yourself well and enjoy your food, air and water. Take time alone to write, paint, read, meditate, do yoga, run and/or enjoy silence. Prepare your bedroom for holy, precious sleep. When your kids see you take good care of yourself they learn to take care of themselves as well.

 Follow your uniqueness

Sometimes you are called to a path that your family or society is uncomfortable with. Be brave. Listen to that little voice, commit to your own unique version of a happy life. Others may be unhappy with you for a while but ultimately, if they love you, they will come around. Even if they don’t, you are responsible for your own happiness, no one can create it for you. Begin to listen to that voice inside you that says you need to paint, or work in an office, or in a forest, or on a stage, or at home. Fashion a life out of who you really are rather than what is expected of you or what you think is good. This is the heroine’s journey.

Strive for excellence

There is real joy in doing your best at anything. Creativity burgeons when we focus in and work to the very best of our ability. A life of excellence is a life that continually moves forward. Focused excellence is a key to success in the world. This is a life that leaves something beautiful behind.

Your pain is not purposeless

Just as the pains of birthing led to your beloved child, the pain in your life will unveil your golden character. Keep moving forward with your dreams, through the perceived failures and unkind words of others. Anyone who has every done something great in this world has gone through many trials and met doubters along the way to their final realization. 

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Everyone ages, everyone dies. Make the most of whatever the moment has to offer and leave something wonderful in your wake.

 

the dark and the light

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A dear friend opened up her home for a one-day meditation retreat. We meditated in intervals of 25 minutes of sitting then 10 minutes of walking. In between, each one of us offered a small dharma share; a reading or insight. We were surrounded by roses and fountains, lavender and cool, shady lawns. It was a perfect Mediterranean Sonoma day. The sun was fully present and the garden was moist. During the rest period I stood by the window and looked out at gentle breezes blowing through the birch trees. The leaves sparkled and danced in front of a blue sky.

During one of the afternoon dharma shares my friend spoke the words that have been sitting like lead in my belly and haunting my sleep. All the violence in the world today is horrifying. Global warming and the audacity of its denial, a presidential candidate who could do great harm to our experiment in diversity and world unification, guns designed to kill as many people as possible in the hands of madmen, thousands fleeing their homes seeking safety. Munich, Nice, Texas, Syria, Istanbul.

These dark, terrifying events sit alongside our peaceful day of silence. How do we hold the beauty and the horror of life in our one fragile container? This is our challenge as people aspiring to be whole and awake. To use our meditation practice as an escape tunnel is not going to bring us to the lasting bliss and peace we desire. Our bliss will always be vulnerable to events. Even if we escape to a perfect, far away island the sea levels will rise. The Buddha did not teach meditation in order for us to escape the world but rather to bring our bliss deep into the fray, to bring our stillness into the chaos.

There is a well known series of poems and pictures in Zen called the oxen herding pictures. These stages of awakening are written sequentially but in actuality they are experienced in deeper and deeper layers throughout our spiritual experience. The series starts with that dark night we all know:

Desolate through the forests and fearful in the jungle,
He is seeking an Ox, which he does not find.

 It then walks us through the different stages of awakening; seeing the footprints left behind by awakening, seeing the first glimpse of awakening, training the mind and enjoying the glow of awakening.

Wherever he may go he creates a fresh breeze,
While in his heart tranquility prevails,
The Ox requires not a blade of grass.

 But this state of bliss, this dwelling in emptiness is only the 6th stage. The unfoldment goes on to dwelling in this bliss, entering into the emptiness where no self, no ego, remains and returning to the origin, to our true self. Now, fully embodying the true self, the final stage brings us back into the world:

Barechested, barefooted, he comes into the market place.
Muddied and dust covered, how broadly he grins!
Without recourse to mystic powers,
Withered trees he swiftly brings to bloom.

 It is not enough to sit and enjoy the emptiness, the beautiful day, our lovely family and comfortable home. We are never separate from the refugees fleeing Syria or the families grieving in Nice. Yet if we go into the fray without our bliss, our emptiness, our stillness, we are vulnerable to being dragged down into the fray. When that happens we become part of the fear and anger and can no longer offer solace. If we remain detached in the emptiness we are prone to selfishness and delusion. Zen invites us to walk the tightrope between the horror and the bliss and to act compassionately in the world from that place of balance. We fall off to one side then the other oscillating between fear and joy. Then we right ourselves with our practice and with our friends on the path over and over again.

 

 

zen in a pile of manure

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“…after my first feeling of revulsion had passed, I spent three of the most entertaining and instructive weeks of my life studying the fascinating molds which appeared one by one on the slowly disintegrating mass of horse dung. Microscopic molds are both very beautiful and absorbingly interesting. The rapid growth of their spore, the way they live on each other, the manner in which the different forms come and go, is so amazing and varied that I believe a man could spend his life and not exhaust the forms or problems contained in one plate of manure.”

David Fairchild-Nobel prize winning American botanist

I remember sitting under our lemon tree in the backyard on a tiny patch of soil shaded by the tree’s umbrella. Being the suburbs, there wasn’t much in the way of wild life. But the ground beneath the lemon tree was alive with rolly polly bugs and soft yellow moths, busy ants and bees and the sweet smell of lemon blossoms. The expression of life under the tree was infinite! When there was confusion and fighting in my home I would climb under that lemon tree and become one with a more harmonious ecosystem.

Much of my spiritual practice has been some version of climbing under that lemon tree. Like so many others, I came to the practice in an attempt to self medicate. I think that’s a common entry point for many people, especially in this culture. Bookstores are full of self- help books advising us to change this or that about ourselves or our lives in order to become happy. It’s natural to want to be happy and natural to feel the itch to eliminate anything we perceive to be in the way of our happiness. It just seems to be the way of things.

But what if happiness is not dependent on conditions? That sounds crazy! Happy while going through a divorce? Happy while deathly ill? Happy while our child has run away from home? Happy while facing economic hardship? Come on now, really? This notion that we can enter sanity, joy and wholeness even while wading through a pile of manure flies in the face of common sense. Isn’t pursuing happiness the way to find happiness? Zen takes this common sense idea of pursuing happiness and turns it on its head. Hakuin wrote:

The aim for the moment is for there to be a place to enter-just exclude non-entry, that’s enough; there’s nothing else.”

 From the Zen perspective we awaken into reality, which exists right now in all things, all places and under all circumstances. This notion is radical for any age. Most healing and religious systems advocate being some way other than how we are in order to awaken; more loving, more generous, more forgiving. Some say that in order for our awakening to ripen we need to follow a set of rules, some say we need to have our personal lives in order or a clear mind or no desires. But awakening isn’t found by changing ourselves or our environment. Awakening finds us in its own mysterious way- and it can only find us right where we are. Hakuin challenges us to enter our awakening, to find our happiness, right where we are.

Taking life just as it requires staying open to life’s ever present manure. This goes against our understandable human tendency to cling to the pleasant and be repulsed by the distasteful. Added to that, we humans have a natural tendency to divide things up into piles: good and bad, wholesome and unwholesome. This can be a useful tool when managing our everyday lives. But how easy it is to take this concept of apparent duality and think that to enter the way we need to get rid of the unwholesome states and cultivate the wholesome ones. This impossible task actually ends up creating more aversion-aversion to unwholesome states! We become unhappy with ourselves due to our inability to root out all the weeds, no matter how hard we try. Zen opens up the playing field by telling us we can enter awakening under all conditions. At first glance this may look a lot like moral relativism, and some do use the principle of non-duality to justify bad behavior. But to a mature practitioner non-duality goes to the very marrow of ethics. Our non-duel original nature is inherently kind. Ethical behavior flows forth naturally from that original kindness. We don’t have to remember to be kind, to not kill, to not abuse others. It’s just who we are once the wrapping is removed.

We all live amid a joyous, complex, pile of manure. It is a world in which Donald Trump grows rich and powerful as teachers scratch by, a world where military assault rifles are in the hands of unstable citizens and neighbor turns against neighbor because of differences in color, sexual preference or religion. It’s also a world where first responders run into burning buildings to save strangers, where people care enough to spend their lives lifting up the homeless and feeding the hungry, where mothers nurse their babies. I don’t know why this world is filled with so much beauty and insanity. But this is what we’re given. Haikuin invites us to not only tolerate the uncertainty and manure that touches every life but to embrace it as yet another aspect of who we are. To explore the manure and the flowers with curiosity.

 

 

Where’s the bliss now

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                                                                WHERE’S THE BLISS NOW

 When my father found out he was dying he came to live with me. Each morning, when I’d bring him his medicine, he’d look up at me with eyes full of gratitude. He had been a hard nosed, even brutal, businessman all is life. Somehow dying had burnt off some of his outer crust. In the glowing embers that remained was something that looked a lot like love. When Zen master Kaisen Shoki was being burned up in a fire his response was:

 Zen of great peace does not necessarily require mountains and rivers. When the activities of the heart are eliminated, even fire is cool.

 One morning my brother and I were standing around father’s bed talking with him. We hit some sort of snag in the conversation. My father became very still, pointed one finger up in the air and said, “Where’s the bliss now?” My brother and I also became still. In the stillness I felt what was lying beneath the snag, which, as it turned out, was bliss. For the next few months of his life my father would say, “Where’s the bliss now?” whenever we got caught up in the details of living and dying, which was often because he was still an old lion.

The first line of a gatha expresses the situation; sitting down to a meal, waiting in traffic, comforting a sick friend. The second line, I vow with all beings to… , establishes us in a sincere heart space and reminds us that we are not alone; The third and fourth lines remind us of our original face. In these last two lines of the gatha we evoke the undercurrent of bliss hidden behind appearances. This is a practice of letting go of resistance to any situation we might find ourselves in. When we let the gatha enter us even fire is cool. It seems counter intuitive that bliss would lie hidden within an argument or a traffic jam or a broken heart. But this insight is one of the many gifts of our practice. The gatha makes use of the awareness that awakening is not for some after life but right here in whatever the moment holds-no exceptions. Sometimes it’s challenges and sometimes it’s our simple, immediate life. Washing dishes, rocking the baby.

Certainly meditation practice can help us bump into this awareness of the presence of awakening right here and now. Yet, sometimes people just bump into this awareness by accident and sometimes people meditate for years without encountering this bliss that is closer than their own breath. The awareness of our true nature is attached to a myriad of other insights such as our interconnectedness and the realization of how limited our minds really are in understanding life. There are many gates. A gatha is a key to the gate of relative reality. We think there is no way out of the pain but there it is, and the way out in further in-where is the bliss now?

 When anger or sadness arise
I vow with all beings
To accept my emotional nature
It’s how I embody the Tao.

 This is not to say the way of awareness is easy. Life can be brutal as it rips self-illusions and hubris from our clenched hand. The tighter we hold the more painful the process. Life is not “kind” but it is compassionate. It seeks to balance itself in truth. Since we humans often prefer the stories we tell ourselves to the truth underneath the story there is usually some burning involved in getting to our true natures. What is underneath that which sustains our ego is so much more beautiful than anything we can concoct. The gatha brings us right to that place, into the underneath of our stories.

So much of religious practice and self help culture focuses on making us better people. The gatha practice accepts us exactly as we are and helps us remember who we really, really

If action must wait for satori
I vow with all beings
To forget satori completely.
What a relief! Let’s go home. 

 

 

WHEN DO YOU WANT TO REMEMBER?

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While driving home from Oakland to Sonoma in thick Friday afternoon traffic I watched myself become more and more proprietary about “my lane”. The tension travelled from my mind to my hands and throughout the rest of my body. Craning my head to see who had the nerve to cut in front of me, I watched my mind become sharp and rigid. Where was my 40 years of meditation? Where was the bliss I felt only yesterday while sitting in my chair enjoying the present moment? I tried using my breath to return to an unconditional present moment, but to no avail. The triggered body was already activated. It would take something stronger to help me see things from a larger perspective.

There is a natural human tendency to get caught up in the details of our lives. We are all prone to loose our perspective when we get triggered, regardless of how much mindfulness practice we have under out belt. In thick traffic, while arguing with a loved one, in the middle of a challenging workday, we don’t always have the luxury to remove ourselves from the situation and take the time to center ourselves in meditation. Yet these are precisely the times we most need to remember a broader perspective.

Enter the gatha. Gathas, as described in last month’s newsletter, offer a simple and beautiful way to bring awareness into the muddled stuck areas of our daily life. Remembering the bigger picture while in the midst of a brain fog, fear and irritation provides us with a bit of breathing space. In that space we can let go, even for just a moment, of the tension we are carrying. Outwardly things remain the same. Inwardly, everything has changed.

When do you lose perspective? When do you forget that you are not alone in this vast world? that you are a jewel connected to the infinitude of beautiful, bright jewels in Indra’s web? When does your mind race out of control? When do you forget the peace you discovered in meditation and become fearful and grasping? Is it in the middle of thick traffic? While paying bills or filling out tax forms? While saying no to your teenager? We all have different triggers. It’s helpful to know what yanks our chain. Try this exercise:

Take a moment and think about your week. When did you feel most lost? Write down some of the times you lost perspective, felt out of control or were just mildly distracted. Remember these times without any self-judgment. Odds are there are many other people who are triggered by the same things that trigger you. By looking at your daily challenges you become more aware and more apt to recognize them the next time they arise. But, most importantly, what you noticed can be used to develop a strategy for dealing with challenging times. It can used to erect a lifeline for when the challenges inevitably reoccur. By taking what you’ve noticed and creating a simple line, such as, “While driving in traffic” or “When I feel anxious about my parents visiting”, you have the first line of your personal gatha.

We have begun of our homemade gatha journey. The ideal way to explore this is with others in a group, but for now we can take this journey together from our respective arm chairs. Next month we’ll take the next step in creating our personal gathas. I hope you continue to join us on this journey! We would love to hear about what you are discovering.

Happy Noticing!

 

the beauty and power of words

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Gatha is a Sanskrit term meaning verse or hymn. In Buddhist literature it is used to designate the versified portion of the sutras.

 As I prepare to embark on a journey through Buddhist gathas, three thin volumes sit at my side. One is a translation of the Dhamapada that my mother helped make more accessible to a Western audience, one is a sliver of a book by Thich Nhat Hanh entitled Present Moment Wonderful Moment, and the third is a book by Robert Aitken Roshi called The Dragon Who Never Sleeps.

 Verse and meditation have been intimately linked since the beginning of religious thought. Part poetry, part affirmation, part vessel for wisdom, gathas cover a vast territory. Short and incisive, they supply us with a pocket practice we can carry anywhere and pull out at anytime. They are equally as useful for beginners as they are for advanced practitioners. The use of verse as a carrier for wisdom is not only found in Buddhism but also in other religions throughout the world. The Torah, the Psalms, the Bible, and the Koran are just a few examples of illuminated words that contain an experience of enlightenment within their syllables.

When we encounter just the right words a door to a more expansive reality opens up before us. We can enter there. The words may be different for different cultures, different ages, and different personalities, but their effect is the same. When we meet these words, the spiritual world becomes, not simply beautiful thoughts, but a very real experience of the numinous in the present moment. Gathas can bring us here. They remind us of the joy and depth that is available regardless of our circumstances.

Looking at these skinny little books, almost pamphlets really, it’s clear that an inquiry into gathas is not going to be about research or scholarship. Gathas are art forms. Because of this we can’t think our way through them. We need to feel and experience a gatha. It is a dance between our awareness and the present moment. The way into a gatha is through our own flesh and blood life-the dishes being washed, the snarky thought, the food being eaten, combined with an openness to experiencing life fresh. Here are a couple of gathas:

When I feel I haven’t got
I vow with all
To light incense, and making my
Touch the place of no time.

Robert Aitken, Roshi

Entering the meditation
I see my true
I vow that once I sit
All disturbances will stop.

Thich Nhat Hanh

The above gathas deal directly with meditation, but no situation is too small or too large for a gatha:

When the traffic is bumper to
I vow with all
To move when the world starts moving
And rest when it pauses again.

Robert Aitken, Roshi

May I cut you, little flower,
Gift of Earth and sky?
Thank you, dear bodhisattva,
For making life beautiful.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Each of these gathas deal with everyday life. Can you hear how different the voices of Aitken Roshi and Thich Nhat Hanh are? Both navigate the depths, yet each psyche is unique. Your awakening does not look like my awakening or Aitken Roshi’s awakening or Thich Nhat Hanh’s awakening, even thought we inevitably touch the same, basic truths. This is the case with the world’s great religions and mystical systems as well. Each system dives deep into the heart of the matter and brings up its treasures, conveying the depths using different languages and imagery for different cultures.

The challenges you encounter each day are different than the challenges I encounter. Because of this we may be attracted to different gathas. A gatha about ox herding is not so relevant to today’s city dweller. A gatha about waiting in traffic is not so relevant to someone who doesn’t drive. Allusions about plants and the seasons appeal to some, allusions about graffiti and bus stations to others. Images and language evoke different things to different people given their life experiences. For this reason we need to continue creating new poems, new literature and new gathas. They are living art forms.

We all have some experience of this depth of wisdom. It’s who we are. A gatha is designed to remind us of who we are and tap into that depth, as we are all prone to forget, over and over. Both beginners and seasoned practitioners need to be reminded of the bigger picture many times a day, regardless of how long we’ve been at this spiritual awakening journey. A gatha can aid in the realization of this purpose.

Nobody knows the best language to use or what situations we encounter daily better than ourselves. With a little support we can learn how to write our own gathas from that deep, still place within us. Using language that is meaningful to us, our homemade gathas will touch our hearts powerfully and directly. They will remind us of who we really are throughout the unique particulars of our day.

Hearth is embarking on a gatha writing experiment. What words resonate with you? Which parts of your day do you most need a gatha? How can you tap into a more awakened reality in order to bring more awareness into the mundane? If you feel called to explore this with us please contact me at jacquelinek@vom.com

 

 

 

 

flower, water, mountain, space

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Breathing in: I am a flower
Breathing out: I am fresh

 Breathing in: I am still water
Breathing out: I am calm

 Breathing in: I am a mountain
Breathing out: I am strong

 Breathing in: I am space
Breathing out: I am free

Variation on Thich Naht Hanh’s meditation for children.

Over many years of teaching meditation to mothers I’ve continually heard them say, “Now that I have children I have no time to meditate.” Mothers today juggle keeping a home, raising children and, more often than not, working outside of the home. This leaves little time to take a bath let alone sit in meditation! What little discretionary time they have they want to spend with their children. With this in mind, Hearth began a new series on Meditation with Children. This course is designed to meet three needs at once; to explore new ways to meditate, to share meaningful time with our children and to be in community with other families who are also meditating in their homes.

There are two things that bode well for families that meditate with their children. One is that mom’s are apt to take care of their children’s needs before getting around to their own. In light of this, we can find our meditation during time spent with our children. Children are natural meditators. Give them the tools and watch them work! Then there is the matter of respect between parent and child. When we meditate with our children we are acknowledging their spiritual intelligence, which elevates the relationship to a position of friendship and mutual respect. This is of great value, especially as our children become teenagers and young adults.

In the west we have come to think of meditation as sitting, and for some walking as well. While sitting we can become quiet, our attention becomes delicate. Quiet meditation helps deepen our awareness when we sit for stretches of time, especially when we sit with an authentic teacher. But sitting quietly is just one way to practice awareness. In fact, the Buddha said there are four positions one can awaken in; sitting, standing, lying and walking- a poetic way to reveal that awakening can happen anytime, anywhere. This includes in the midst of our busy days.

We can’t create a problem free world for our children, no matter how hard we may try. Life can be capricious and filled with betrayals, illnesses, and unkindness. But we can provide a place for our children to remember their true glowing nature even amidst life’s slings and arrows. Meditation can see us, and our children, through whatever life throws at us. It can help us deal with anger, sadness, confusion and other natural aspects of being human. Another beautiful thing about giving our children the gift of meditation is that once the gift is given no one can ever take it away from them. When we teach our children to meditate we are giving them tools that will serve them their entire lives. Our children carry this powerful tool with them wherever they go. So do we. If we nurture the gift, it continues to grow.

To encourage family meditation Hearth is offering a five week course on meditation with children. This course offers a number of different approaches to meditation. There is not a lot of reading, just some words for inspiration. These practices can be found in other places. What we hope to add to the mix is community support for families wanting to meditate. The practices are the paints, your home and family are the canvas. You create the pictures.

As a final gesture of generosity we share our experiences with other families, our questions, triumphs and challenges. The only commitment required for this class is for you to try the practices with your family, post at least once each week and enter the series with the intent to support your fellow classmates. If you would like to sign up for our next group contact me at jacquelinek@vom.com

Come join us!

The Dog and the Rabbit

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There once was a little brown rabbit that lived next door to a golden retriever. Every day the rabbit would crawl through a hole in the fence to go and play with the dog. Around and around they’d go and, after some time, the rabbit would crawl back under the fence and run home for the night. One day the dog came to the door wagging his tail with the drooping rabbit hanging out of his mouth. The dog’s people took the rabbit out of his mouth and placed its dead, limp body up high where the dog couldn’t reach. They then walked next door and told their neighbors what had happened. When the little girl heard that her beloved rabbit was dead she cried and cried. After awhile she and her parents walked next door to the neighbor’s house to retrieve the dead rabbit for burial. They rang the doorbell and the dog greeted them at the door joyfully wagging his tail. The little girl walked up to the dog, wrapped her arms around his neck and cried as she stroked him. When her parents asked why she was being so loving to the dog that had just killed her rabbit she replied that he had killed the rabbit but he wasn’t a bad dog. To the little girl, who the dog was, was more important than what he did.

I remember hearing in parenting classes that when a child acts out we condemn the actions but not the child. We address the child’s actions firmly but never undermine the essence of who they are. The little girl let herself feel the full grief of loosing her rabbit but she didn’t need to become spiteful to the dog. We can apply that same generosity to ourselves and others.

Pain is an unavoidable part of the human condition. We can allow ourselves to feel the full impact of pain without dragging that pain behind us like tin cans on strings. The hurt will always be a part of our psyche, but doesn’t need to color all of our future interactions. Do we want to give past suffering the power to make us sick and distracted from the roses in our front yard? From the dog’s wagging tail?

The little girl had a quick turn around time from sadness and anger to acceptance. Her heart was uncluttered, open and available. We may or may not integrate our pain so quickly. Unless we’ve been releasing pain as it arises throughout our lives, each new pain stimulates our storehouse of undigested wrongs. Feeling fully into fresh pain takes however long it takes. Allowing our pain to run it’s course is an act of great kindness to ourselves. We let ourselves feel what we are feeling, watch what it does in our body, and watch it fade in its own time. No one can tell us when to move past a betrayal or rejection. It’s unique to each one of us.

Betrayals and losses are not anomalies but inevitable parts of our delicate, amazing, complex human lives. We human’s hurt one another so it makes life sweeter if we can learn how to process those hurts and send them on their way to become fodder for a strong, empathetic psyche. A bitter life is not a happy life. It’s well worth the time and effort to develop skill at turning life’s inevitable slings and arrows into understanding and depth of character.