I’m walking the labyrinth this morning and noticing dewdrops on blades of grass as they catch the light of the rising sun. Patches of dewdrops are visible only from certain angles. Otherwise, they are present but unseen. It’s an interplay that depends on where you and the object are in relation to each other and to the sun. Timing is also a factor because of the dewdrops’ transitory nature.
I recognized this immediately as my daily metaphor. Nature is a mirror that helps me to make more sense of the ambitious curriculum of Schoolroom Earth.
I can tell the labyrinth received some TLC recently, probably yesterday. It was neat and tidy and perfect for walking. Feeling appreciative, I stood at the end of the willow branch threshold and didn’t step into the labyrinth until I arrived fully in the space and could feel my feet on the ground, hear the sounds, and feel the breeze on my skin. Ground, sound, around.
As I walk, I notice the shadow pictures on the recycled slate steps of the labyrinth and think of all the different images that went unnoticed until I looked in a new way, and they became visible. Then I couldn’t believe I’d never noticed them before.
Isn’t that just how it works, though? You’re blind to certain realities until you’re in the right place and ready to see them. Visually and otherwise. Even when they are right there in front of you and had been all along.
All of a sudden, in one moment, breath, or footstep, it seems so obvious, and you can’t unsee the thing. I remember the day I first noticed the shadow pictures. It was like a new world opened up, and from then on, they were plain as day. Then I started noticing other kinds of shadow pictures. It was a new, expanded way of perceiving the world.
Sometimes other people can help us open our eyes. For example, one of my photographer friends shared a picture of geese floating on colorful, autumn reflections. Her image spoke to me and planted the seed of longing to notice and photograph the interaction of birds and reflections. Sharing her perspective made me aware of a new possibility.
Shadow pictures, others, self: It’s all the same. When the blinders finally come off, you see (and then can’t unsee) things that previously passed under the radar. We evolve by becoming aware of blind spots and expanding our field of vision and awareness. Sometimes it happens when there is a pressing need and we’re actively seeking a new perspective, and sometimes it happens when everything lines up just right. And when it does, there’s no value in regretting that you hadn’t seen it sooner. For whatever reason, you weren’t ready.
Just be glad you finally did, and go on from there.
I’m really glad I went to dharma meditation group this morning, even though I was five minutes late. It might have been because I got out of bed about a half hour before I needed to leave, and someone beat me to the bathroom, so I had to wait a few minutes. At any rate, by the time I left the house, I realized I would be a few minutes late.
What were my options?
Sit outside the door until the break between sittings.
Enter the meditation room as quietly and mindfully as possible.
The group meets in a wellness facility. A room at the back of a gym. When I got to the door, it didn’t feel right to sit outside the room. It felt more right to enter quietly.
Ever so slowly and mindfully, I turned the door handle, opened the door, and walked towards the meditation blankets and cushions, feeling each slow-motion, bare footstep making contact with the hardwood floor. It was a very short walk of fewer than ten steps, but in the piercing silence of the meditation room, it felt intrusive nonetheless.
I sat down silently on my cushion and tuned in to what was going on in my head and body. Most of all, I hoped I didn’t disrupt anyone’s meditation. Do I have a right to be here? Was it selfish to come in a few minutes late?
In meditation, you work with what arises, what shows up. For me, it was the voice in my head that didn’t want to bother anyone or act selfishly. I took a couple of deep breaths and did a body scan, which revealed energy in an area that often feels imbalanced, in a nook right below the center of my rib cage. So I directed my attention there, like a flashlight.
There was some panic in that spot. I was tempted to focus on my breathing instead of the tension. I noticed some resistance to being intimate with that energy and noted: Resistance. Then I realized there was a tender and vulnerable energy beneath the panic and investigated it. It seemed like a young child, and I heard: Am I lovable? Is it okay to make a mistake? Do mistakes make me bad?
This energy called for presence, not for the logical mind to step in and fix things and avoid connecting with and feeling the vulnerability. The childlike sweetness and purity of the questions touched my heart. I wanted to care for this little child.
But then I got distracted. I noticed the sounds outside the door: the whirring of an exercise machine moving very fast with an intensity that was in stark contrast to my stillness on the cushion. I heard voices talking. Were they louder than usual? OH NO! Did I not close the door all the way? Am I responsible for ruining everyone’s meditation?
Paying attention, I once again noted: Panic. I stayed with the source of that energy.
A few minutes later came the most dreadful realization of all: I FORGOT TO TURN OFF MY PHONE! Oh dear God, no! Please don’t let my phone make any sounds! What are the chances I will get a phone notification before the meditation bell rings? Okay, so I have a choice right now. I can hope and pray my phone will remain silent until the meditation is over. Or I could very mindfully and as quietly as possible reach for my bag, unzip it at a snail’s pace, and turn off my phone. Which would be least disruptive? Waiting for the bell did not seem as empowering a solution as turning off my phone. However, I decided to take that risk. Oh meditation bell, please ring soon!
Panic.Choice.Choosing to wait for the bell to ring.Questioning that choice. Noticing the temptation to criticize myself.
Then the bell rang, mercifully. I breathed a sigh of relief and turned off my phone.
After a brief break and dharma talk, we meditated again. I returned to the vulnerable energy at the base of my rib cage and placed a hand on that area to flow Reiki – unconditional love – to it. The energy wasn’t asking for reassuring explanations. It needed love. So I nurtured it with loving presence. How often do I shush that voice and focus on something else, thereby diminishing its importance and not hearing what it wants to tell me? And therefore not giving it what it needs.
After a few minutes, the energy calmed and cleared.
Then I noticed the voices outside the door again. The glorious voices! They were still loud. But that meant I didn’t mess up! It’s just the way the sounds are in that room. Maybe others were irritated by the voices and wished they would be quieter and less disruptive. In which case: Irritation. Desire.
Maybe some were grateful for the sounds of the voices bringing them back from wherever their mind had wandered. Returning. Appreciation.
Maybe when some people come in late, they squelch the voice that wonders if they are lovable, or maybe that voice doesn’t arise in them as it did in me. Maybe they assert their right to be here, and screw anyone who has a problem with it! (Thought bubbles over a roomful of meditators would be hilarious, heartbreaking, mundane, and everything in between.)
In the past, I sat next to people who came in late during meditation and noticed the sound of their rapid, shallow breathing, as if they’d been rushing. Compassion arose in me, and I radiated love to them and honored their intention to practice. Who knows what they went through before arriving. Their determination to attend meditation group was greater than whatever obstacle got in the way. Good for them!
I’ve also witnessed a meditator scowl at a latecomer. And I judged the scowling, thinking: He should just focus on his own breathing and reactions rather than get upset with someone who decided to show up after all. And then I caught my reaction. Judging. Storytelling.
Hello, Ego, my old friend. You nearly pulled me in again.
An observer might think it looks like everyone in the meditation room isn’t doing anything. But there’s so much that arises as invitations for awareness, healing, compassion, self-compassion. You work with whatever shows up. That’s the practice. When other people are involved, there’s an abundance of opportunity for practice because relationships are perhaps our principal means for learning in this world. But there’s plenty of opportunity when we sit alone in a room, too. There’s no shortage of material to work with, whether alone or with others.
At the end of the meditation group, an older woman approached me and complimented how quietly I entered the room and said she wishes others would come in so quietly. She told me she’s glad I came. Someone else might have a different response, a different story, different habits.
But you know what? The energy that arises in me is what I have to work with, and I felt good about how I handled it today, for the vulnerable, child energy received what it needed. The more I can accept and love all the parts of myself that arise, the more cleanly I can relate to others.
Of course, it’s important to get to meditation group on time. But if you are a few minutes late and choose to enter the room – or even if you’re on time or practicing alone – pay attention to the voices and energies that arise. They are there for your healing and liberation. All of them.
This afternoon, a friendly, older couple came into the library with a little girl about eight years old. They asked me to help them locate a DVD and handed me a piece of paper with only the call number written on it: 792.8 COPP. I didn’t need to know the name and didn’t ask.
It ended up being a DVD of the Coppélia ballet. They were taking their granddaughter to see it later this week at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) and wanted her to know the story ahead of time.
I saw the New York City Ballet perform Coppélia at SPAC many times when I was a little girl. It was my favorite ballet aside from The Nutcracker. I told the girl I loved Coppélia when I was about her age and mentioned that the costumes are beautiful, and I think she will enjoy it.
The grandparents’ energy was lovely. Their personalities seemed a lot like my parents’. My mom always made sure I knew the story of the ballets before seeing them, and the grandmother’s excitement reminded me of her love for ballet performances at SPAC. And the little girl reminded me of little me.
My mom worked at SPAC since I was in elementary school and retired a few short years before she died five years ago. When she retired, my parents were given lifetime, complimentary tickets for the ballet and orchestra performances. They always sat in “their” seats in the amphitheater. After my mom died, I accompanied my dad and sat in her seat. Their seats have plaques, and my mom’s bears the inscription:
Nancy Meyer “The Heart of Art of SPAC” From your SPAC Family
My dad’s, on the seat next to hers, reads:
Ed Meyer Nancy’s Husband “Partner in the Arts”
I haven’t been to the ballet or orchestra since my dad passed away. However, thanks to a partnership this year between SPAC and the libraries I work at, I’m going tomorrow evening with my family. I would have loved to see Coppélia, but I’m not free that evening. But it makes me happy to think about the little girl and her grandparents going to see it.
It was a really sweet interaction. However, when I sat back down at the reference desk, my eyes teared up. It was the kind of moment that has become so much rarer than during the early years of bereavement.
Grief is so very, very different now than it was for a few years after my mom (and soon after, my dad) died. It even feels benevolent. There’s still an initial sting, but it subsides swiftly into gentle ripples of gratitude and appreciation. I’m so grateful because grief was intense and overpowering for a while, a flood tide force that knocked me down and threatened to pull me under. There were a few complicating factors that made it downright brutal and certainly the darkest, most challenging years of my life.
It’s not like that now, for I’ve become familiar with grief and have learned to co-exist peacefully with it. Although every now and then a “moment” happens, it’s so much more fleeting than it was before. The sea is quieter. More of a gentle splash than a smack-down.
Within seconds of feeling tears welling in my eyes at the library, a familiar patron approached me with a joke that made me smile. Then he showed me a very marked up book of poetry he carries with him that has some of my favorite poet’s work in it. And just like that, the “moment” had passed.
If a distraction hadn’t come along, I probably would have greeted it silently: Hello, Grief. Then I’d generate lots of self-compassion and compassion for others all around the world who are grieving. That’s what Grief seems to ask of me these days. It wouldn’t have stayed long. It comes to connect me with our common humanity and to help me cultivate lovingkindness.
The moment of grief at the library was poignant but very brief. The brevity made me aware of the contrast between the dark years and now. As soon as I got home, I sat down to write this because I want you to know, if you are grieving the loss of someone dear: It’s going to get better. Grief is impermanent. It changes. Your relationship with it will change. It won’t always feel so intense. In time, there’s even a possibility that Grief will be your friend and reveal its silver lining. Perhaps you’ll even learn to dance together.
It’s incredible out here on the dock this morning. There’s a refreshing river breeze. It’s even a little cool, which is welcome relief from the heat and humidity of the past few days. The waves are lapping against the shore, the sunlight is sparkling on the water, the warmth of the sun is caressing my skin, and the birds are singing. If the water weren’t so choppy, I’d go out in my kayak. But honestly, I’m glad to have an excuse to indulge in a different pleasure this morning: playing my singing drum on the dock.
I’ve had the drum for less than a week but have wanted one for quite a while. Actually, I wanted a hang drum, but they are very expensive and harder to come by. So I began exploring alternatives and then kind of forgot about it until a couple of weeks ago.
I love to play my singing drum. Especially on the dock on a bright and breezy, summer morning.
There’s road noise to contend with. Always is here on the busy side of the river. I hear the familiar vibration of the steel deck bridge and the cars and trucks only a few yards away from my spot on the dock. But I’m trying to keep my attention on what’s most important: what uplifts me and feels most right in this moment. Just letting all the traffic noise be and not pull me away from my own be-ing.
Making music while all this other stuff goes on is this morning’s meditation practice. Choosing to feel and express my interconnection with the sparkling sunlight on the river, the eagle flying over the island, the wind, the movement and rhythm of the water. Focusing on that. Making music with that.
I can’t control the road noise. But I can control where I put my attention and whether I am in harmony or disharmony with my surroundings. Does my music embody union with the sparkling sunlight on the water or resistance to the rumble of traffic rolling by? Am I expressing wholeness or separation?
The state of your mind and heart is an integral part of the music you offer the world, literally and figuratively.
My advice? Play what you love. Focus on what you love, what brings you joy, meaning, satisfaction, grace. Can you keep your focus on that when all the other stuff is going on around you? Can you tune the other stuff out so you can co-create with life? Or even better, can you incorporate it into the totality of what you are living and embracing this very moment and express unconditional presence?
I sense our music is of a higher quality – less fearful and more authentic – when we play (talk/listen/act/love) from a state of presence and interconnection.
It’s all part of a larger practice of being more improvisational and not relying on notes (of one kind or another) on a page. Expressing from the heart in the moment and trusting that whatever arises is what’s most needed and real and true. That’s the leading edge of my practice these days.
When I hit the record button on my phone, I noticed a subtle shift from expressing to performing. From letting the notes and rhythms flow uninhibited to wanting to sound good and be appealing. But that’s a practice, too. A continuum. My intention is to push the record button and remain in presence, whether I’m communicating through music or words. It’s the same basic practice whether it involves playing music, interacting one-on-one, leading a guided meditation, facilitating a meeting or workshop, addressing a group, or teaching a class of young children. In my case, all my early childhood teaching experience has become a foundation for the rest.
Cultivating deep authenticity and trust…in myself and the wisdom inside me. And also in the magic of connection that happens in the moment, that transcends any stories I create in my head about relationship.
I looked to others for guidance and validation my whole life. But that need comes from the false self, which is a layer I’m in the process of shedding. Because it’s time, and I have a feeling that hormones are finally on my side. Now what I want most of all – more than any kind of worldly success or status – is to trust and follow my own guidance. To be MORE present, improvisational, inner- and inter-connected, and LESS self-conscious, rehearsed, and influenced by others. To express my inner being rather than try to be who I think others want me to be. The latter has had a long enough run! It’s time for a new experiment. It’s kind of scary. But even more, it’s exciting.
So this morning, I brought my singing drum to the dock and allowed the sparkles of sunlight on the water to be the notes I played. They looked like this:
And if you’re curious, they sounded something like this: