Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Garden Diaries (Introduction)



While I’ve always loved nature, I wasn’t all that interested in gardening until my 40s when the concept of helping things grow suddenly seemed a miraculous endeavor. In addition, having daily access at my fingertips to fresh organic food is a component of living a feel-good life for me personally. Sometimes I even feel a hint of fairytale energy with the delicate little white butterflies flitting about, bees buzzing overhead, and squirrels bouncing from tree to tree. Nowadays, if I’m not literally in the garden, I peek out my window to bask in the visual glory of the greenery getting bigger by the day.

For many of us, nature is a spiritual entity, if not a spiritual practice. We might walk and ponder, sit and meditate, or lie back and stargaze. Some of us even tend to the land with hands of magical intent. My friend Farmer Ric, for instance - once a Sacramentan - now runs an organic farm in New Mexico providing clean, nutritious food to locals. This, I consider a high calling nowadays.

Yet not all of us have to take it so far. We are allowed to simply enjoy any semblance of nature we can find, even if we don’t have an intentional practice built around it. But recognizing the symbolism of nature – serenity, abundance, power, cycles – we can also all benefit from the lessons inherent within. And when it comes to Sacred Outdoor Space, a garden is a prime example.

Gardens are symbolic of our own peacefulness and creativity; serenity and peace are themselves Dharma concepts. Can you vividly imagine an inviting outdoor community space in which we can come together?! Can you feel the gentle breeze, hear the crickets, sense the healing powers of nature filling you up?
~

[Image: Camellia Tree Through Window at Lion's Roar Dharma Center by Melanie Noel Light]


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Tai Chi: Philosophical AND Practical



“Internal martial arts gives you a method of learning to focus awareness and refine sensitivity. The techniques in themselves are not so important--functioning as concepts or points of departure for a deeper discussion of what's really going on in a given interaction. In that sense, the lessons apply to all things.” ~Robert Nakashima, Inner Circle Tai Chi

There is a handful of friendly folks in the room chatting among themselves while they wait for the instructor Robert Nakashima. The ages on this day probably range from bout 30s to 70s, with backgrounds as varied as can be. A tall, older gentleman turns to me and says, “I’m not giving up.” I smile and ask if he’s talking about the class or life, to which he replies, “Both.”

I myself am experiencing some physical discomfort with a pinched sciatic nerve, and wonder how this session will go for me. I know there are others in the room with physical limitations and concerns, and yet we’ve all shown up.

Robert appears as his usual welcoming and upbeat self, and the class begins without much ado. I notice that the energy in the space is calming and on the quiet side, and I am surprised at how quickly I feel relaxation. Robert’s teaching style is casual and often humorous as he weaves philosophy and practical instruction like golden thread through the silence. It is anything but deafening, however, as there is occasional banter between participants and instructor, and some questions here and there as well.
Today, it’s all about spiraling energy, opposites balancing, and connecting the body in fluid movements. It’s about recognizing that moment when all is one… while continuing to move through it. Again and again.

“A tiny bit of motion gets a lot of tissue moving,” Robert says. “There’s tremendous power in gentleness because you’re directing your energy… (but) you don’t have to over-think it. This way it’s more meditative and relaxing.” And beneficial, not to mention. “Tai Chi can strengthen organs, making tissues more flexible and increasing oxygen in the body, thus energizing it.”

Toward the end of the hour I am so relaxed I could easily fall into a deep sleep, and yet I’m somehow also eager to tackle the rest of my day. I want to ask Robert about doing Tai Chi with an injury but he reads my mind, talking about modifying the intensity of the movements to fit your current level of flexibility or ability. And I realize that’s exactly what I have done.

“The Chi knows what to do,” Robert says. “We just have to be open to letting it.”

After we perform the ritual closing moves, Robert turns to the tall, older gentleman. “How was that? Was that too much standing?”
“No. I could hardly stand when I came in,” he responds. “Now I feel great.”

Robert’s Tai Chi/Qigong classes are suitable for those of all ages and experience levels, as well as people with disabilities. Classes are taught Tuesdays at noon at Lion’s Roar Dharma Center. Call 916.492.9007 for more information or visit our website: http://lionsroardharmacenter.org/


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Man, the Myth, the Legend... The Role Model


His name was Bob. He was a devoted husband, supportive father, successful businessman, and steadfast friend. But in the end, no matter the role he played in each of our lives, he was one thing to all of us: An inspiration.

I hadn’t seen Bob in about 6 years, but he always felt like family. So when I took a trip to Palm Desert this past December for his memorial service, I wasn’t prepared for the impact it would have on me.

When I heard of my friend’s father’s passing, I immediately tried to get in contact with her. Because it was her dad, and I knew how it felt to lose one at a relatively young age. Because I knew how close the family was. And because it was Bob – this warm, jovial, fun-loving father-figure who had always made me feel welcomed and loved. And because I suddenly realized how fortunate my longtime friend was to have had this man at the center of her life.

Now sitting amongst the crowd in the funeral home, I really began to feel the weight of the loss. There was a wife, three grown children and a gaggle of grandkids; a mother, sister, aunts, uncles, cousins, and countless friends – who like me - were always made to feel like family. I just hadn’t realized until that moment what a gift that truly was.

As we waited for the service to begin and streams of family and friends drifted in, I turned to my mom and asked her if Bob had had any faults. It seemed a silly question, and yet it was an honest one. I mean, of course Bob was human just like the rest of us. But maybe he was even more human than the rest of us, in a way that somehow elevated him to a higher spiritual plane… Mom replied that she didn’t know any of Bob’s faults offhand, and was in agreement that he had surely done something right in this lifetime.

Bob did have a strong faith, as did the entire family, but it was a quiet thread that gave them strength when they needed it and held them firmly together all those years – something I’d never quite mastered. I really can’t pretend to know the formula Bob used to design his life, except that it seemed a simple, poignant one: Work hard, play well, love even better.

The bonds between the family members (that were also always extended to family friends) were forged upon something invisible but powerful, something not all of us hold so dear or are perhaps just not gifted with in such a significant, obvious way. And I couldn’t help but feel I have been missing something profound all my life, something Bob utilized like a master.

Did he know the most important lesson of all? Was he just purer of heart? Unfettered by mental clutter? Unwavering in a certain faith in life? Did he know something that most of us do not?

It wasn’t just me who was somewhat baffled by Bob’s being-ness. Even some of Bob’s older friends recognized the elevation of Bob’s existence as someone who, even after death, is an inspiration to… well, be a little more like Bob.

Loving. Fun. Embracing. Laughing. And somehow knowing that what matters most is how we make others feel.

Somewhere within the beauty of eternity there is a new guardian rooting for all mankind. I call him Saint Bob.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

MASSAGE: From Physical Presence to Magical Realm



"If I am able to lie down in comfort, feeling the physical sensations of relief and healing, my consciousness is also able to float up into a more spiritual-feeling space of timelessness and pure potential."

When I had my first massage, I felt gentle tingling sensations throughout my body that at the time I would have described as “magical”. ‘I could easily get addicted to this feeling,’ I thought, but wondered if there was any real physical benefit to massage. I was doubtful, and yet still hopeful. Decades later, I now know that massage is not only beneficial to both the inner and outer workings of the body, it can help with emotional healing as well. But there’s one more rather secretive benefit of massage: A deeper connection to something greater than myself.

Now, no two massages are going to be exactly alike and each massage therapist is going to have a different technique and bring different energy to the table. Even your mental and physical states are going to vary, causing your needs – and thus each experiences - to vary. Still, there are certain constants I find occurring with massage therapy. Such as, if each time I commit to trusting the therapist and to allowing myself to relax as fully as possible into the situation, I will experience profound holistic benefits. I will also usually thoroughly enjoy the experience itself.

Why do I say “usually”? Well, there are certain factors that can prevent me from getting as much out of massage as I’d like. For instance, talking; too much deep tissue work; or other situational distractions/discomforts. Let me explain further.

Talking. While I love chatting with people and getting to know them, this distracts me from truly deep relaxation. It keeps me out of the magical realm that massage can so easily open. If I am able to lie down in comfort, feeling the physical sensations of relief and healing, my consciousness is also able to float up into a more spiritual-feeling space of timelessness and pure potential.

Too much deep tissue work. If the massage is painful in any way, my body tenses up, preventing me from transcending it. This is not to say that deep tissue work can’t be quite beneficial, but people disagree about how much discomfort should be inherent in the process. I’ve had deep tissue work done that didn’t hurt; so knowing this exists, why would I choose pain?

Other situational distractions/discomforts. If I am too hot or too cold, this is going to detract from the pleasantness of the experience, thus making me less comfortable and less able to relax into the process. If there is a yelping dog in the other room (and this has happened before), my heartstrings are going to be pulled toward it and away from my own transformational feelings. If I am self-conscious about not having shaved my legs, I am going to be mentally bogged down by that trivial concern. And yet since this is really so much more than a “situational distraction/discomfort”, let’s consider it a little further.

Self-conscious feelings of shame/embarrassment. If I haven’t shaved my legs that day, I am assuming that the therapist is going to be disgusted by this. But wait a minute. “Disgusted”? That’s a strong word for something so insignificant. How about an acne breakout, body odor, excess weight? And we haven’t even touched upon the more damaging internal reasons for feeling we need to feel this shame or embarrassment in the first place. Never mind what excuse we’re using for feeling this way, we are essentially feeling unworthy.

Sometimes it’s the little things that help us become aware of the big ones. Why would I feel so bad about not shaving my legs? Do I honestly think the therapist cares or even notices? It’s much more likely that there is a part of me feeling unworthy because (I feel) I am imperfect. So perhaps I have some perfection issues to tend to...

See how beneficial massage therapy can be?! It can help reveal hidden insecurities, whether physical or emotional (or both). And shining a light on these subconscious processes can help us transcend to the magical realm where healing is quite simple, and still profound.

Or, you could just lay back and enjoy the experience of your body being pampered. If you can do that, I'd say you’re already in a pretty good place.

[We now offer massage services at Middle Way Health. For more, read about Jill Kerrigan HERE.]

ART SAVES LIVES: Open House & Opening Reception



"We are a gallery and a center for healing and creativity - as we know it is all connected - creating the kind of intimacy that facilitates profound healing."

Did you make it out to the Middleway Health Foundation Open House & Art Reception on 2nd Saturday, October 8? It was a fundraiser for the Foundation with lots of art for sale, delicious small bites, lively music, and friendly faces.

Middleway Health Foundation is Middle Way Health’s nonprofit providing free mental health services to the community. It was born from a need to help close a significant ‘gap’ in public and private mental health services. The goal is to find those people who have ‘fallen between the cracks’ or are in danger of doing so. By taking these services out into the community where access is limited and obtaining accurate information, the Foundation directly connects people in need with available services so they can make their own informed health decisions. Clients have direct access to and benefit from:

Counseling
Psychotherapy
Meditation & Mindfulness
Support Groups
Health Counseling
Healthcare Provider Directory

The Foundation hosted a handful of local artists whose work was displayed throughout both the Foundation offices and Middle Way Health offices (virtually next door to one another). In fact, you can stop by to view the art in any and all open rooms. Just keep in mind that these are therapy offices with private healing sessions happening behind closed doors, so your peaceful presence is appreciated.

Aside from raising money for the Foundation (which currently receives no grants or government funding), our intention with the art gallery space was to highlight the significance of creative expression. Because creativity and art save lives; and beauty heals and inspires.

While we have two rooms dedicated to gallery art, we also have artwork for sale in our therapy offices. While every room has art, keep in mind that not all of the rooms will be accessible at all times. So if you drop in more than once, you might get a different experience each time.

What does that make us, then? Ever expanding our wings! We’re not just an art gallery and not just a healing center. We are a gallery and a center for healing and creativity - as we know it is all connected - creating the kind of intimacy that facilitates profound healing. We know the artists personally, and we are the artists. We create to heal and express, and we sometimes combine work and play to facilitate emotional balance. We also highly encourage others to experiment with their own creativity and authentic self expression.

Why art, expression, creativity, beauty? When we consciously stop to appreciate something outside of ourselves, this awareness creates a bridge, a connection, a relationship – thus we are no longer entirely separate from that which we are appreciating.

Art initiates conversation, opens minds and moves spirits. In this regard, art isn’t just ‘art’ but something that stirs the soul and awakens the psyche. We also create art by how we live out our days, a kind of 'performance art' of how we choose to appreciate our existence.

This kind of art isn’t something we make alone; it’s something we co-create with our environment. Our relationships and communities are a public work of art. When we consciously create these together, we get a better sense of who we are personally. And all of this facilitates healing.

The Foundation Gallery is also open 2nd Saturdays, or by appointment. Artists currently exhibiting are: Jonathan Baran, Hope Harris, Melanie Noel Light, Phil Littman, Michael Mikolon, Fran Quinzon, Sandra Warne.

For more on Middleway Health Foundation.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Say What? Rumors, Hearsay and Gossip, Oh My!



“Is the Dalai Lama coming to Sacramento?” When people hear something like this they often just run with it, turning it into a statement rather than a question. “The Dalai Lama is coming to town!” The big things in life are especially prone to this.

The truth is that Zanazabar Dharma Center is inviting the Dalai Lama to Sacramento. Lion’s Roar is involved but is not driving it because we believe it’s best the invite comes from the only Mongolian Temple in the west. Geshela and Baasan are heading up the invitation with assistance from Jhado Rinpoche. But it’s not a sure thing; an invite doesn’t mean an acceptance.

So let’s talk more about rumors. Anytime something significant happens or there is a change in the status quo, rumors arise. We tend to not be comfortable with the unknown so our tendency is to fill in the blanks of our lives - often with hearsay - and spread the “inside information” around.

But what exactly is a rumor?

A rumor is ‘something spoken or unspoken that is going around, but not yet officially released, substantiated or verified.’ A rumor can be false, partially true, invented, or entirely true. It is ‘quickly spreading’ and ‘has no discernible source or authority for truth.’

Rumors often come from hearing just part of a conversation, and then running with it, possibly even embellishing it. What generally happens is that we take the information - even mis-heard or misunderstood information - as fact. It’s just so tempting to latch onto some part of the rumor and consider it true.

For instance, there have long been assumptions (thus, rumors) about Buddhists that we’re all vegetarians and always chill, mellow or zen-like. There are also ongoing beliefs that somewhere else will provide “the perfect Dharma practice”. Some students and teachers even play on these generalizations.

“There were a lot of rumors going around when I was a monk,” Lama Jinpa says, “due to perceived projections of what a monk is supposed to be like.” While people don’t always realize they are creating or spreading rumors, sometimes someone is knowingly making it personal; their goal being to take you down a notch. In these instances of false accusation, if you admit to it the accuser feels somewhat satisfied - as if they’ve been vindicated. If you won’t cop to it, however, this “validates” the rumor even more in their eyes. This is a trap out of which there seems no escape… Unless you don’t take the bait in the first place.

While the most typical rumors circulate round feelings, reality, sex, money, politics, or anything potentially “scandalous”, there can actually be an upside to all this gossip. For instance, when the rumor going around is actually a positive one. Or, sometimes even a negative rumor can work in your favor, as it gives you an opportunity to tell your story or strengthen a truth. While a rumor may be painful, regardless, it can still be a catalyst to a positive outcome, tipping something forward toward something better. An example of this is how rumors actually helped us obtain the Temple, by deterring another potential buyer.

When it comes to an antagonistic rumor, nonetheless, there’s no denying that it can be incredibly painful at the time. And other people can make decisions based on the hearsay and rumors, thus adding insult to injury. We are usually only able to see the absurdity of or humor to the rumor long down the road.

Another curious thing about rumors is that we often get accused of things that aren’t true, while we are rarely accused of our actual faults. For example, there are old recycled rumors about Lama Jinpa accusing him of a variety of colorful things - from stealing money and having sex with students to driving people away, drinking or drugging; from always being super nice or an asshole or unpredictable to never really having been a monk, or still secretly being one… We have a tendency to believe there’s some deep dark secret this person is keeping - suspicions that there’s a grandiose reason for people to do what they do - and basing crazy assumptions on it.

In a religious setting there’s so much trust, openness and receptivity that most of the time people don’t check things out. So when something goes wrong – or is even just perceived as wrong - it feels like a really bad betrayal, causing people to remain in a cynical place. Even a squeaky clean person or establishment is then going to have a difficult time regaining that trust.

People’s perceptions are usually based on evaluations and stories. And since most of us aren’t insiders or outsiders - instead just in that middle ground “Well, we’ll see” space - this tends to breed more hypothesizing and rumor spreading. So why are we predisposed to believe something terrible, especially with no proof? Because it’s juicier; the practical reasons and explanations are just too boring; we’ve heard of similar instances elsewhere and assume this situation is the same; to protect ourselves or make us feel better; because it’s just more fun, etc.

In religious settings a rumor is often taken as truth because we are predisposed to think that “the truth” is an organic part of that process. In mainstream life, whereas, rumored information is more likely to be put under the ‘burden of proof’ microscope. So to what extent are we supposed to track down their origins? Some rumors don’t get questioned because they’re so bold or off the wall. Investigating them takes energy and requires residing in the unknown. It’s all too easy to just remain in ignorance and denial.

Rumors can be telling, though, exposing our personal insecurities, instabilities, jealousies, paranoias, power issues, etc. In fact, we’re making stuff up in our heads and telling ourselves rumors all the time. But there is a positive aspect to this kind of delusion: We get off balance and then have to wake up in order to regain balance. It’s not that rumors are necessary for this, but they can work in this way. If we never made anything up, nothing creative would happen.

Rumors are so multi-faceted that they can be playful or well meaning - and yet even these can backfire on the subject or spreader - leaving a lingering doubt, a lasting impression, or question of integrity. A long-standing rumor can lead to expectation of that behavior, or a rumor can re-emerge at a later date, supposedly “confirming” a past one. Rumors can be motivating for us or they can hold us back from our potential. Some end up working out in our favor… while others can feel like the ultimate betrayal.

Obviously we can’t rid of all rumors and stop all hearsay from spreading entirely. Like light passing through space and naturally getting curved by gravity, it’s difficult to obtain, contain or pass on accurate information. It gets embellished or twisted along the way. We can however be mindful of the role we play in creating, encouraging or believing things we think or hear without enough evidence backing it. This will help bring more integrity to our actions, relationships, and lives in general.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Life's Little Adjustments



There are a lot of conveniences in life I never knew existed. You know, things someone else invented and stores stock for selling that just make our days a little more pleasant.

For some reason, I wasn’t “taught” to think outside the box when I was younger, and it was really only a spiritual/existential life crisis that caused me to wonder what exactly might be outside the box. But for a long time, it was just an intangible box with lofty idealistic – albeit invisible – space around it.

Now as I watch Rob the Middle Way Health handyman attach an apparatus to the front door to get it to close gently (not slam shut but not hover open), I wonder what it might be called… Something I’d never think of, I assume.

“It’s a door closer- a ‘Commercial Door Closer’,” Rob tells me.

“Oh, of course,” I say aloud while smirking to myself at how often I tend to make things harder than they have to be.

For a 30-something (wink) year old, I may seem na├»ve in ways. But I’m continually trying to learn about things in which I’m rather thin in the knowledge department. Sometimes it’s just about knowing which way to direct your questions. And what to ask in the first place.

“We’re all missing something at any given time,” Stephen says.

I guess just accepting this is the first step to keeping the cobwebs from attaching to a generally open mind.