Up Before Sunrise

There was color shining between the houses with clouds higher up, always a promising sign. So I grabbed my camera, knowing there was no time to waste.

I had to wonder do those living by Robins Farm Park ever take the time to stop and really take in the wonders visible through their windows? Still, there is something to be said about being out in it – right there with the squirrels and birds in the dark as the day starts.









Living from Belonging

It was the beautiful design that first caught my interest. Online research revealed that this “taka” was made by the Ngadha tribe, who live on the island of Flores, in Indonesia. And although I read various theories, I would not be surprised if only the Ngadha know the taka’s true meaning and uses.

I was also intrigued by the fact that members of the Ngadha think of themselves first as “we” (not “I”) – a bit like how the taka includes two equal parts joined in intimate connection. Placing primacy on a first person plural identity is evidently quite rare among human cultures. That’s a bit surprising given how much we humans have always been dependent on each other for our very survival.

Jayne Curnow explains the Ngadha view using these words:

“individual independence is not a coveted state of being; rather being singular plural is the principal mode of existence. In this context, the nua is the central heartland for the spatial and material expression of clan unity, although the emotions of being singular plural transcend time and space….Ngadha practices of interdependence are reflected in the community economy, which privileges Ancestor worship, community cohesion and group distribution of resources above the needs and desires of the individual….Interdependence is a dominant feature of everyday Ngadha life and organization. Ngadha people’s view of their own society involves a sense of self that questions the conceptual separation of self from others. Frequently, people alerted me to the ways in which everyone and everything is connected.”

Now, most of us do not live in tribes. We live with members of our immediate family, or with a roommate. Many live alone. We pay a price for that. Jeffrey Simons and Lane Beckes argued that pro-social behavior that was required by tribal living provided evolutionary advantages. And a sense of belonging, of being deeply known, appreciated and cared about by a larger group has some significant psychological benefits.

Intentionally working to form groups that provide a sense of belonging and adopt a “we” perspective (as is true of many religious communities, for example) seems particularly wise in perilous times like our own. At a minimum, that could provide access to a broader range of perspectives as well as to useful instrumental support. I tend to agree with those who argue that social capital can be very valuable even when other resources are not available.

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied together into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality . . . Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on Earth until we recognize the basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality. “

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.1967 Christmas Sermon on Peace

Walking Meditation

Periods of walking meditation alternated with silent seated practice during a silent 7-day women’s retreat. Christina Feldman suggested that we might find it easier to sustain concentration during walking meditation as that was closer to our experience in the West. But, for some reason, I did not expect that to apply to me.

At first I walked all over the place to familiarize myself with the layout of the corridors and buildings of the retreat center. When I came across some stairs leading down to the laundry facilities, I decided I might as well get some exercise. Then I remembered – walking meditation is not supposed to be goal-oriented.

I noticed women walking back and forth in a lovely light-filled “walking meditation room” with many windows and lovely polished wood floors. I joined them walking in my lane by a large potted plant.

Suddenly, it was as if somebody turned up a dial; the newly felt intimacy with moment to moment experience had a quality like floating through space and time. Perhaps this was what Goldstein meant in describing an awareness that was “inwardly steadied, composed and unified. This is … concentration that is calm and refined, achieving increasing levels of mental purification” (page 276, Mindfulness; A practical guide to awakening).

As I walked to the meditation hall for the next period of silent sitting, it occurred to me that it might be possible to simply let go. Later I shared my dawning awareness that, “All we need to do is let go into the present moment” with one of the retreat teachers. Pointing a finger at me, she said “That’s it! It is simple but not so easy, as we all know.” Goldstein notes, “liberation is not about becoming or getting, not about holding on or craving or clinging, but about letting go and letting be” (p. 306).

Although I often get lost in planning and dreaming during my nightly sitting meditation, it is clear that this way to weed my “garden” has benefits that show up in daily life – greater openness, softness, and acceptance as well as appreciation and gratitude. I find it easier to sustain attention during more active relational mindfulness practices such as Insight Dialogue. And there is something special about bringing all the “let go” awareness I can muster to my daily walks in a nearby woodsy park where I find wonder in how much we can relate to other life forms and for that matter, to whole ecosystems, which have their own valuable lessons to teach us.

Fall Colors in the Rain

Many appreciate how sunlight can light up the colorful leaves in New England at this time of year. But wise photographers know that wonderful things can happen in all kinds of weather conditions.

A cloudy sky can make the colors pop. Rain can highlight the patterns in a single leaf, or add jeweled beads. Dreamy scenes enveloped by fog can provide a moment of respite in this troubled world. Mystery can catch us by surprise.



















Hilarious Mindful Dishwashing


As it turned out “mindful dishwashing” became a “thing” when I was a student in Lesley University’s Mindfulness Studies graduate program. Several of us independently discovered that we liked mindfully doing the dishes and decided that it was quite a viable mindfulness practice. There was something about the warm water and suds as scrubbing restored a squeaky-clean shine. In fact, hand washing dishes at home could be quite soothing. But washing dishes for over 100 people at a silent retreat I attended was another thing entirely. I did not know what I was getting into when I elected “dinner dishwashing” as my volunteer task to keep costs down for those attending the retreat.

Early on the first day those who had elected to do the dishes for one of our meals crowded into a tiny stainless steel bound room that was clearly designed for one purpose. We were shown how to use the hose with hot water mixed with detergent as well as how to refill its reservoir. We watched as the professional dishwasher was taken apart and put back together again, and we learned that it was necessary to wash the silverware three times because of health regulations. We were not allowed to take any notes, and I hoped we had absorbed enough to avoid any major disasters. I considered that those doing this demonstration had considerable experience orienting new recruits. Then I noticed a list of instructions posted on the wall, and we were told we could talk as needed to coordinate our efforts with our dishwashing partner.

We definitely had an opportunity for “careful noting of a greater number of objects” (Goldstein, 2013, p. 147) which can be useful to “stay aware in the midst of sloth and torpor” (Goldstein, 2013, p. 147). The large number of dirty dishes piling up on a counter beside us certainly woke me up fast. There was much laughter as we figuring out how to avoid getting sudsy hose water on ourselves and everywhere else. As we began to keep up with the growing pile of dishes, bowls, cups and silverware, we were also adjusting to each other’s preferred way of doing things.

In the sauna-like steamy atmosphere, the exertion and our playful and sometimes hilarious efforts at coordinating with each other provided a welcome change from alternate sessions of silent sitting and walking. I realized I no longer resented having to miss an after-dinner meditation session.

As we learned by doing, we began to “act and move with awareness, clearly knowing, being embodied rather than distracted” (Goldstein, p. 65). We still laughed often and I learned that was functional – As Funes (2000) writes, “As we use laughter to release emotions, we are able to…focus on the sensory experience of the present and we become able to perceive our environment more fully. We can therefore deal more effectively with new stimuli” (p. 77).

By the third day, we had it down “clearly knowing the purpose of doing an action before doing it, and understanding…it is of benefit to self and others” (Goldstein, 2013, p. 62). In the dining room, one of the cooks struck a bell three times to indicate everything was ready. That was answered by a strike of a triangular gong to invite folks to line up to get dinner. The two of us came up with our own dishwashing completed ritual – solemnly bowing to each other after the last clean dish was put away.

At the end of the retreat, I was asked to write on a slip of paper what I wanted to leave behind. I wrote “Being afraid of being silly.” I wondered what the teachers would make of that. They would not know about the marvelous playful and laughter-filled experience we had while mindfully washing dinner dishes. Still, I realized that not being afraid of being silly at times certainly makes sense. It makes one approachable. It cuts through barriers and takes us back to the open wonder at being alive of childhood. H. H. Dalai Lama’s tendency to tickle people is mentioned in a video made at a Seeds of Compassion presentation in Seattle and the depth of his playful relationship with Demond Tutu was such a joy to witness.

References:

Funes, M. (2000). Laughing matters, Live creatively with laughter. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan.

Goldstein, J. (2013). Mindfulness; A practical guide to awakening. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.

Fall Leaf Patterns

It has been dry where I live. That means there may be a particularly colorful fall. But these days it seems impossible to predict what will happen. After all the rain last summer, colorful mushrooms sprang up everywhere.

In 2010, bright leaf colors sometimes created stained glass patterns where the light shown through overlapping leaves. We can be thankful such glory is still here to marvel at even as things become more unpredictable.






The Heart Sutra: Empty and Full

The Heart Sutra calligraphy on this plate called out to me. This sutra is central to the Mahayana Buddhist tradition that still flourishes in Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Tibet, Mongolia, Bhutan and China as well as parts of India and Nepal. In more recent times, Mahayana Buddhism has also spread to the Americas and Europe.

Commentaries suggest the Heart Sutra’s wisdom fosters compassion and harmony, and that it can make fear drop away. I like this modern chanted version very much: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=958qchBNs60&t=56s. One of many English translations appears below:

Heart Sutra Translation by the Kuan Um School of Zen.

Source: https://www.dharmanet.org/HeartSutra

Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva
when practicing deeply the Prajna Paramita
perceives that all five skandhas are empty
and is saved from all suffering and distress.

Shariputra,
form does not differ from emptiness,
emptiness does not differ from form.
That which is form is emptiness,
that which is emptiness form.

The same is true of feelings,
perceptions, impulses, consciousness.

Shariputra,
all dharmas are marked with emptiness;
they do not appear or disappear,
are not tainted or pure,
do not increase or decrease.

Therefore, in emptiness no form, no feelings,
perceptions, impulses, consciousness.

No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind;
no color, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch,
no object of mind;
no realm of eyes
and so forth until no realm of mind consciousness.

No ignorance and also no extinction of it,
and so forth until no old age and death
and also no extinction of them.

No suffering, no origination,
no stopping, no path, no cognition,
also no attainment with nothing to attain.

The Bodhisattva depends on Prajna Paramita
and the mind is no hindrance;
without any hindrance no fears exist.
Far apart from every perverted view one dwells in Nirvana.

In the three worlds
all Buddhas depend on Prajna Paramita
and attain Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi.

Therefore know that Prajna Paramita
is the great transcendent mantra,
is the great bright mantra,
is the utmost mantra,
is the supreme mantra
which is able to relieve all suffering
and is true, not false.
So proclaim the Prajna Paramita mantra,
proclaim the mantra which says:

gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha
gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha
gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha

*****************************************

So while I know I could put whatever I like on that plate, it already seems quite full.

Communing with Surfaces

I first met Ken Matsuzaki on a trip to Japan. The first photo is of his pottery on display when I visited in 1997. After I returned, I was delighted to see Ken again, as well as examples of his latest work in Boston at the Pucker Gallery, which continues their long-term relationship with the master potter.

Entranced by the exuberant surfaces of the works on display in 2010, I asked and was granted permission to take closeups. I hope the photos below convey some sense for the joyful adventure of looking closely at their remarkable diversity.











Summer Tea Garden

The Japanese tea garden or roji may appear to be a natural woodland path, but it is actually a designed transition to the tranquil world of Japanese tea ceremony. Tea gardens induce a spirit of openness by bringing the tea ceremony values of harmony, respect, purity and tranquility to nature’s asymmetrical design.

To tend even a very small tea garden is to place oneself into nature’s rhythms. That provides a certain solace even in this summer of unusual heat. I water the moss, and watch it puff up and turn a deeper green. That feels as if I were the one becoming fuller and deeper.

I remember how, after I cleaned and filled the water basin and sprinkled water on the stepping stones as a sign of welcome, the cicadas began their evening song, as if they too, wanted to welcome my guests.






Sharing Tea and Dialogue As A Form of Servant Leadership

The new tea and dialogue practice I have been working on might be considered a form of servant leadership, a style of leadership that is primarily focused “on the growth and well-being of people.”

The respectful sharing of tea and honest open dialogue is aligned with what Lowder (2009) found in reviewing the literature on servant leadership including: mutual power, collaborative participation, non-judgment, a focus on believing in and empowering people, providing opportunities to learn, and valuing differences. Two particularly notable aspects were “openness to spiritual, emotional, and mental inspiration and revelation” (p. 12), and a focus on “overcoming… fear through creating shared meaning” (p. 13).

I find that holding nurturing safe space for authentic relating makes “aha” moments more possible. Marshall (2016) notes that an intention to improve wellbeing may not lead to action until it is supported by a strong emotional connection, “The aha moment is essentially the sweet spot where the emotional brain and rational brain finally integrate” (Marshall, 2016, p. 65).

Edwards, Elliot, Iszatt-White and Schedlitzki (2015) discuss the potential use of creative techniques like tea & dialogue to support the integration of cognition and emotion that is accessed through the body (Nummenmaa & Glerean & Hari & Hietanen, 2014): “leadership cannot be reduced to an entirely rational process, there has been an increasing interest in emotional and social intelligence in the leadership literature…with arts-based methods and other creative techniques gaining ground…It is argued that these approaches have the potential to connect cognitive and emotional processes” (p. 2).

Fry & Krieger (2009) describe servant leadership, which they rank highly in their model of being-centered leadership as follows: “Servant leadership consists of helping others discover their inner spirit, earning and keeping the trust of others, valuing service over self-interest, and role modeling effective listening…The most effective leadership in this view is not provided by those who seek leadership roles but rather by those who have a compelling vision and desire to serve others first” (Fry & Krieger, 2009, p. 1682).

The embodied awareness of tea & dialogue is particularly useful for leadership that works through supportive relationships. Brendel and Bennett (2016) speak of the benefits of “a practical model of embodied leadership where individuals learn ways to deepen awareness to include both the mind and the body as an interdependent system” (p. 409). They concluded embodied and aware leadership “builds resilience and resourcefulness, and improves relationships in complex environments” (Brendel & Bennett, 2016, p. 409).

References:

Brendel, W. & Bennett, C. (2016). Learning to embody leadership through mindfulness and somatics practice. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 18(3), 409-425. Doi: 10.1177/1523422316646068

Edwards, G., & Elliott, C., & Iszatt-White, M. & Schedlitzki, D. (2015). Using creative techniques in leadership learning and development: An introduction. Advances in Developing Human Resources. 17(3) 279-288, Doi: 10.1177/1523422315586616

Fry, L., & Krieger, M. (2009). Towards a theory of being-centered leadership: Multiple levels of being as context for effective leadership. Human Relations, 62(11), 1667-1696. Doi: 10.1177/0018726709346380

Lowder, T. (2009, June). Best leadership model for organizational change management: Transformational verses servant leadership.

Nummenmaa, L., & Glerean, E., & Hari, R. & Hietanen, J. (2014). Bodily maps of emotion. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Marshall, L. (2016, December). The power of the aha! moment. Prevention, p. 62.