Meditation Pals: An invisible Sangha

One aspect of Buddhism practice that I have struggled with over the years has been Sangha.

I love the idea of Sangha- a group of humans meditating together and sharing energies. It brings meditation to a whole new level. It is a way to share both mutual faith and grow as a practitioner.

It is an idea I’ve always believed in- Buddhist or not.

I’ve been in several Buddhist Sanghas. Each has thrived for only months before the members lost interest leaving me to practice alone, again. I hold no grudge, but I have become jaded on the idea.

Recently, though, I have found something close. Of all things, it was an iPhone app that gave me back my Sangha.

Insight Timer is a meditation app. I downloaded it to use as a timer and chime me into and out of my sit. I knew that it told of others who were also using the app, but never realized that they would pay me any mind.

This morning, after a fifteen minute sit, I received a message.

“Thanks for meditating with me”.

It is a canned response. The person behind it, though, is a woman from Brooklyn. I know nothing of her except that we meditated at the same time, together, this morning.

From my armchair I meditated with another practitioner and it mattered enough that she thanked me for it.

It’s not a Sangha in a traditional sense, but we live in a world where technology can bring us together for any purpose- both good and bad.

I see no reason why that purpose can’t be for for meditation.

Tomorrow, I’m going to thank a fellow practitioner for meditating beside me.

Perhaps it will make their morning brighter too.

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Taking Back My Night: My First Rally

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Last night, I was spontaneously invited to a Take Back the Night demonstration by my friend, Amee.

It wasn’t what I had planned to do with my Thursday evening but my gut was pulling me in another direction. I only knew which way my inner GPS was pointing when my friend asked “Who wants to go?” and my intuition screamed “Me!”.

I hadn’t the first clue what to expect. I wore the most “girl power” outfit I could find in a span of five minutes and topped it off with my favorite flowered fedora. When I arrived at the event I, surprisingly, did not feel out of place. My gut, again, seemed to have found it’s home for the evening.

Amee and I took our seats on a set of bleachers (throw back to high school circa 2001!) and chatted as the professional cameras snapped shots of the podium, guest speakers, and volunteers clad in pink. Then she left momentarily and returned with possibly the coolest bucket drum I’ve ever seen!

When the ceremony began, two speakers emerged from the crowd. One was a mother and grandmother who lost her daughter and unborn granddaughter to murder. The second was the sister of the man who murdered them. It was no less than a tragedy. Still, they exuded a level of hope that was inspiring.

More proof that nothing is permanent. We suffer greatly and still find a way to smile again- love again.

The march was my favorite part. Led by Amee and the other drummers, we took to the streets armed with balloons, signs, and our voices. Traffic was stopped for us. Everyone was forced to take a moment to listen.

That was when I cried.

I’m pretty sure no one noticed. It was that kind of crying that usually goes unseen.

You see, I have been abused. I won’t go into detail about it. I simply don’t see the point any longer. I’ve grown and changed. I’ve found my present moment and I am happy living here.

That is why I cried. Because I am happy- finally I am happy.

I have never felt so strong both as part of that crowd of survivors and as an individual woman. It doesn’t matter what happens from here on out. I’m good, strong, and healthy.

Afterwards, I slept better than I have in a long time.

I took back my night.

Next year, I might even bring my drum.

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The Tibetan Book of the Dead

Recently, I’ve undertaken (pun intended) the study of an important book in Tibetan Buddhism- The Tibetan Book of the Dead.

In response to my praises of this book, I have had many friends and acquaintances approach me with concern. So, just to clear things up, I thought I’d inform of the intent of this highly spiritual and enlightening book.

I admit, the title brings about the morbid thoughts that most never wish to consider. What happens during and after death is such a question mark that it causes many to feel anxious and even frightened. Sometimes that fear can be paralyzingly and interfere with how we live our lives here and now.

These are the very feelings that the authors of this book attempt to quell.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead is an instruction booklet on how to die comfortably and with positive awareness. It is an ancient text dating back to the eighth century. Written primarily to assist the dying in an undisturbed journey to the other side, it provides a set of prayers and mantras to direct the soul in, what can be, a confusing process. It educates the family, friends, and mentors of the dying soul on how to assist their loved one in remaining aware during the dying process and encourages transition to the next realm.

Tibetan Buddhists believe that there are several steps in the dying process beginning with the ceasing of breath and continuing on for days afterwards. The soul moves about but is always within earshot of the host body during this transition. This makes it extremely attentive to the prayers and attitudes of those it was connected to in life.

Imagine suddenly finding yourself on a crossroads in a place that you have never been before. With no guidebook or direction, how would you know which path to choose? It could be a stressful and confusing experience.

So, The Tibetan Book of the Dead is merely a spiritual GPS. As a person who is directionally challenged in life, I can only be grateful that it exists to help me in death.

Besides that, the prayers are beautiful. Even if you’re not on your own deathbed or sitting at a loved ones, it’s an inspiring read.

So, no, it is not a depressing book. So much of Tibetan Buddhism is just the opposite of that, actually.

Just one of the many reasons that I immerse myself in it. ūüôā

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Be Here Now- Enjoying the Crossroad

Recently, I’ve begun the practice of reading excerpts of Ram Dass’ teachings before and after meditation.

This morning, I came upon the following passage.

“You don’t have to have that urge, that desire, that unfulfilled thing. Just let it be”

There is something in this book for everybody. Each page presents a new idea, example, or revelation on how to get past the walls that keep us so tightly compacted.

Everyone’s walls look a bit different, I think. Mine are missing bricks here and there from my many attempts to see how much greener the grass is on the neighbors lawn. It doesn’t matter how healthy, green, and soft my yard is, there has always been a way it could improve.

I used to think this was a positive attribute of myself. But that gumption, the thing that motivates me to push farther and harder to get to any place that isn’t here and now, has actually proven to be a disadvantage in some cases.

Ram Dass uses the example of a group of friends standing at a crossroads. One by one, they ask each other where they should go and what they should do. In the end, none of them wants to go anywhere or do anything because they are happy standing on that very crossroad.

The challenge that I have faced since I began studying Buddhism has been in finding a balance between gumption and zen. I don’t yet have the answers I seek on this front. They will come in time, I believe.

For now, though, I’m enjoying the healthy green grass on my crossroad.

I don’t need to go anywhere or do anything. I’m good. ūüôā

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Thoughts on a Great Loss…

It’s rare when I am without words. Ever since last night, though, I’m dry.

I have never met Robin Williams. I cannot even say that he was a favorite actor of mine.

But the fact that he is no longer on this planet disturbs me greatly.

Suicide by asphyxiation. It’s terribly painful. Our lungs live to exchange gasses and when they cannot it is a level of pain that I cannot even describe.

The pancake incident of 2008.

Maybe I’ll elaborate someday.

My mind has not fully grasped that the same guy who voiced Genie chose to asphyxiate himself yesterday. Is that shock? Or maybe it’s just too close to home.

The pretend smiles. Covering tears with laughter. Using the words “I’m fine” without a second thought. I do it everyday.

Depression is a shadow. It hangs beside you on the good days and envelops you on the bad ones. My reality of a good day is when the shadows respect my boundaries. I don’t speak for every depressed person, but I imagine that they probably deal with something similar.

Maybe Robin Williams was in that club too. It’s not so lucrative but we do have a fairly decent snack bar.

So I guess I can identify this feeling now- fear. Robin Williams, with all of his money and access, could not rid himself of the shadow. It chased him around for sixty-three years until he couldn’t take it anymore.

What does that mean for me? What about my friends who have the same affliction?

Maybe we won’t make it either.

Nothing is permanent though-suffering or joy. I guess, in the end, that knowledge leads me through. My Buddhist studies have given me a compartment in which I can stack my depression and label it for what it is- a disease with remissions and reoccurrences.

I wish Robin Williams the peace that he could not find in this life. He was a beautiful soul. I’m certain that he will be just as beautiful in his next life.

Hopefully, the shadows won’t follow him down his next path.

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Dying for a Change: Not just Another Bad Pun

I’ve never dyed my hair.¬†

The closest that I’ve ever come was when I got talked into¬†those blonde highlights back in high school. These mixed with my already barely-brunette did not bode well for my¬†dark-haired¬†aspirations.¬†

I’ve never felt like a blonde. Not to make any judgements about blondes, we all walk into the bar same way, it’s just that I never felt right with my god-given follicles.¬†

You know how it feels when you put your shoes on the wrong feet? It’s kind of like that except with hair.

That said, after thirty one years in¬†this body I finally realized that I don’t have to live this way any longer!¬†

It is 2014 and we live in a world where nothing about our¬†appearance must rely on genetics. We can change our hair, weight, skin tone, eye color, or measurments¬†at the drop of a hat (or scalpel). If I don’t want to straddle the fence between blonde and brunette anymore (blondette? brunonde?) than I don’t have to. All it takes it $7.99 and a working shower.¬†

So, I did it. Granted, it didn’t go as smoothly as one would hope. I am in no way talented when it comes to hair (one of the many reasons I keep it short) so I fumbled my way through the directions as best as I could. That first squirt of dye into my root line was terrifying and liberating. After that, I was able to relax into the process. Once you start there is no going back. For me, that was relieving.¬†

I didn’t leave it on quite as long as I should have and I’m fairly certain that I missed a spot. But I’m not bald and my allergies didn’t act up in response to the dye. In the end, I was¬†more brunette than blonde.¬†

For a first try, I call that a success! 

Dying hair is probably an everyday thing to a lot of women out there. For me, though, it was a transformation far beyond changing my look. The old Jenny would never have done such a thing. Hair dye can cause cancer, allergic reactions, and split ends. Not to mention the fact that it’s not natural. Blah blah blah.¬†

I have always felt like a brunette. Now, I am one step closer to presenting myself to the world as, well, myself. 

What an exciting idea that is. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Father’s Day- The End of Traditions

I had a tradition.

Every Fathers Day I would do something in honor of my dad. Some years it was driving up to Starved Rock and hiking my grief away. As time went on I began doing mud runs and 5k’s that conveniently fell on the holiday. I even made a t-shirt with his picture on the front and a clever slogan on the back – “This Runs for you!” to commemorate his collection of Budweiser memorabilia.

I almost always fulfilled these traditions in isolation.

Today, though, something out of the ordinary happened – I forgot about my traditions.

I woke up and went about my Father’s Day- preoccupied with wedding planning thoughts and cuddling with my puppy. I knew what day it was- but I wasn’t thinking about what day it was.

It was half over by the time I realized that I had not gone to Starved Rock nor had I run a 5k. I had just treated today as a normal day.

I was horrified. For the first time since my father died, I wasn’t memorializing him. I felt like a bad daughter. I cried because I hadn’t cried earlier.

Then, I stopped. I stopped because my soon-to-be husband wanted to see a funny movie. I wanted to see the movie too but a grieving daughter wasn’t supposed to watch a funny movie on Father’s Day.

Then it hit me. I’m not grieving anymore.

My dad would have liked the movie. If he were here, he would want to see it. We watched the movie and I laughed so hard that I couldn’t breathe. The entire audience got into it too.

Not only did I enjoy this Father’s Day, I enjoyed it with my best friend and an audience full of happy people.

I love my dad. I miss him so much sometimes. I will definitely miss him at my wedding next week.

But I laughed on Father’s Day and I didn’t feel bad about it. Time does heal. So does love.

I’m so lucky to have an abundance of both.

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