“We live at the edge of the miraculous.”
Henry Miller
sparkles
 

I live in the middle of New York state. This week of weather has been insane…mild, cold, rain, snow,wind. Right now we are dealing with flooding. The frigid temperatures have caused our creeks and streams to freeze, creating ice jams that are now melting. The result is flooding. Flooding of streets and homes.

My friend in California is already experiencing drought conditions.

Someone posted on Facebook an image of Mercury spinning. Another friend posted a photograph from one of our National Parks. The Hubble space telescope sends back pictures from the edge of the universe.

My daughter visited family in Oregon and made sweet young children laugh with joy.

My forehead looks like a sci-fi costume as I am being treated for Actinic keratosis.

I heard an owl the other night.

On Friday I made the most delicious millet cakes for dinner.

People can fly to space and walk on the moon. We live on a sphere that spins and zips round the sun. Technology has given us computers and the internet. Diseases get cured. Death comes in a blink of an eye. Birth happens every day.

We cry. We laugh. We sleep. We experience emotions. We hug. Run. Float. Climb. Dance. Sit and walk.

looking into the creek

We have the capacity to love and to hate.

Every single moment there is something miraculous happening in us, with us, to us, around us. Still we feel bored. Restless. Unhappy. Unfulfilled.

cardinal in snow

Perhaps if we stopped. And looked around and saw. If we paused to understand the things that are on the edge of miraculous that are happening every single moment of each day…maybe we would stand in awe and wonder instead of restlessness and searching. If we were quiet enough we might hear the sound of a snowflake falling, or a tree creaking in the wind. Or a cat purring. Or a baby snoring. Perhaps if we could hear our own breath and feel the beating of our heart and understand the profound significance of those things, we would sigh and experience wonder.

ponk rose

Just be quiet. This quiet does not involve talking or not talking.
It does not involve any doing whatsoever.
Just let the mind fall into Silence. This is enough.
~ Papaji ~
 

Maybe in a moment of silence today, you, I, will be able to witness the miraculous that is all around us. All the time.

(all photographs are by me, Kathryn Howlett)
 
 
 

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Settling Into Yourself

October 26, 2013

You know the feeling: the way you feel when you sit down in your favorite chair. Or, the way you feel as your head rests on your pillow in bed and you pull the blankets up and close your eyes. Settled. Comfortable. Secure.

bed

What about settling into ourselves?

Today my yoga teacher said, “Settle into yourself.” I thought, “What a beautiful, tender thought,”  Then I thought, “How do I do that?”

So now here I am trying to figure it out. If I think about a workday morning and all that happens from the moment I open my eyes, get out of bed and begin the day, there is really nothing at all about settling into myself. I am settling into the day and the morning routines, but really not into me.

At work, it’s a similar pattern. First there are all the routine things to do, then the checking in with people and then the doing of being a preschool teacher.

And the day continues on in much the same way. I give no thought to “me”. I get caught in routines. I get wrapped up in feeling rushed, frustrated, hungry, tired, or grumpy. I do things automatically, like driving to work without really thinking about it.  I never settle into me. I settle into “me in the world with rolls to play and jobs to do”, but not  into the essence of who I am. My true self.

Why not? Do you?

What would settling into myself even look like or feel like? Checking in with how my body feels? With what my mind is thinking? With lists of things to do today?

How do I settle into myself like I settle into my bed at night? How do I experience the relief of being me? Of feeling comforted by me? Of feeling safe and secure in me? This is different from taking for granted or believing that I do feel these these things because I should, and therefore, somehow, do.

feather

I had a moment during meditation this morning where I experienced something that was perhaps settling into myself.  It was a feeling of being aware of my body as a feather: light and all most imperceptible. Very little physical sensation. My mind was quiet, very few, tiny thoughts of nothing in particular. A muffled sense of my surroundings that was really only insignificant. I was aware from deep inside that perhaps I had just then settled into myself. When “everything” was taken away or absent, there was only a sense of being that was fresh and light and an awareness that placed no value, judgement, expectation on myself.

Perhaps for a moment I did settle into myself……

Have We Lost Silence?

August 11, 2013

I am a quiet person. I like to be quiet and I like to be surrounded by quiet. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy people and good conversation. I enjoy music and plays and movies.  I enjoy the noise of cities and the lull of ocean waves. I am grateful for the bird song that wakes me in the morning,  And for me, there is nothing more joyful than the sound of my children’s voices and their laughter.

However, I came across an article written last year that made me go “hmmmmm”.

http://www.canyoncountryzephyr.com/2012/10/01/pointblank-how-we-lost-silence-and-why-we-need-to-get-it-back-by-richard-mahler/

“In 1998, for example, natural sound recordist Gordon Hempton toured 15 states and found only two-remote parts of Colorado and Minnesota-that were free of such human-made clamor as airplanes, amplified music, chain saws, gunfire, and all-terrain vehicles for more than 15 minutes during daylight hours.

A few years earlier, Hempton had found those same areas to be sanctuaries of the kind of hear-a-pin-drop silence that most Americans under 30 have probably never experienced. Deep silence is critically endangered. As the 21st century unfolds, the mechanical racket of the Industrial Revolution and the electronic beep of the Information Age conspire to obliterate the balm of natural silence that once soothed humankind. Not only does our clatter invade nearly every public space-from beaches to mountains, shopping centers to airports-we seem compelled to let it invade our inner-sanctums of as well. We walk in our front doors and immediately flick on TV sets, radios, computers, or CD players; replay voice mail and answering machines; amuse our children with video games; and push buttons on gadgets we’ve installed in every room of the house.”

sapwoods

(Photo by me, of Sapsucker Woods, Ithaca NY)

There is one restaurant in my town that does not play music. It is like entering a kind of paradise. We can actually sit and relax, talk to each other, eat, hear our server, breathe. We can BE. We can “stop” and think and process. We can hear ourselves and each other.

What is the impact of “loosing” silence in the world? Being alone and silent in many cultures used to be a rite of passage. To be alone with oneself in order to learn who we are from the depths of our spirit. To hear that which IS silent.

“Lost from our daily routines is time to abide calmly with ourselves. That’s too bad, because “quiet alone-time” is where I believe many of us touch the fullness of our possibilities. Clinical studies suggest that a sanctuary of stillness really can restore peace of mind, while reducing stress, expanding insight, and promoting a genuine sense of happiness and well-being.”

I know that for me the “sanctuary of stillness” is very important. Without it I cannot get anywhere near my full potential. I am not happy and do not experience “well-being” without silence in my life.

For me embracing stillness and silence is paramount to my well-being.  How about you? Care to share?

“In my own hands I hold a bowl of tea; I see all of nature represented in its green color. Closing my eyes I find green mountains and pure water within my own heart. Silently sitting alone and drinking tea, I feel these become a part of me.”–Soshitsu Sen, Grand Master XIV, Urasenke School of Tea

Tea. Hot beverages in general. We all enjoy something hot to drink, especially when it is cold. It warms the heart, and some say, the soul. Some say a hot cup of tea on a HOT day actually helps to cool you down……hmmmmm.

The Japanese ( and other cultures) have a “practice” of making a cup of tea. In Japan it is called Chanoyu, or, The Way of Tea. And while you do get to sip a bowl of warm, frothy tea, the “practice” is not really all about the tea, it’s about getting there….about preparing, about boiling the water…the journey to the end, not the end itself.

For many of us, we experience life by striving to be aware and mindful of the journey we are on and try not to put too much emphasis on the what comes at the end of the road. Don’t get me wrong, the end result of our work, commitment and sacrifices are very important! But the experience of the journey…….that’s what molds us.

Back to tea!

History tells us tea was first introduced to Japan from China with Buddhism in the sixth century. In the 12th century Eisai, the founder of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism in Japan, introduced powdered tea and tea seeds that he brought back with him from China. The tea seeds were planted by his friend the priest Myoe (1173-1232) at the Kozanji temple in the hills northwest of Kyoto.

The monks discovered that tea helped them in their practice, by keeping them alert/mindful.

In later years, the Way of  Tea became something more. It became a ceremony  based on  a meditation with tea, and the practice was meant to support awareness,  and harmony.

By learning and following precise steps and rituals, the mind becomes focused on the movements and actions….thought and distraction fade away.

It might be helpful to think of it in terms of tea consisting of 3 elements that teach us about our daily life:

Water‘s fluidity reminds us of the constant changes we face
Leaf represents life, and the community of life (people, nature) around us
A Vessel (cup or teapot) reminds us of that spiritual principle that part of us must be emptied so that we may be filled with something better.

The Way of Tea is a reminder of Ichigo, Ichie, the principle of one chance, one moment. Never again will that exact combination of tea, environment, and people (i.e. their perceptions) meet in precisely the same way. Savor the moment, and be intentional with it.

Tea drinking became identified as an act to represent the Zen belief that every act of daily life is a potential act that can lead to enlightenment.

Within the setting of a formal Tea Ceremony, we are also called to be mindful of the act of gathering together, of community. Beautiful tatami matted tea rooms were prepared especially for the quests…simple and elegant. A flower arrangement, a poem or calligraphy drawing to reflect upon, and silence. Except for the sound of the bubbling water.

For many of us today, the idea of this kind of ceremony is not always possible or interesting. For those of us committed to working on our own personal mindfulness practice, the link below offers a simple guide for preparing a cup of tea for ourselves in the same traditional and spirit of Chanoyu:

http://shifuyanlei.blogspot.com/2011/09/zen-tea-ceremony.html

In the world of grande mocha lattes with soy and splenda, whipped up by a chatty barista , a cup of tea sounds pretty good.

What potential is there for you in  silently preparing a cup of tea, aware of every step required, and drinking it slowly and with intention?