Category: The Spiritual Journey

 

 

 

“Vigilant among the negligent,
Wide awake among the sleeping,
The wise one advances….”
–The Dhammapada

 

Om

 
Inside our courtyard, as I walked along the pavers I had previously arranged to follow the shape of an Om sign, I became aware that the usual pace I had been maintaining over the last couple of years was much faster than need be. The quicker pace had allowed me to slide over the surface of what my body was experiencing. This insight created a huge shift. The pressure to move more quickly, in order to release tension, dissolved.

I slowed down. The new pace became most interesting as I noticed how many curves and turns were involved in each cycle, and how these complex movements affected various parts of my body. I easily connected to a background sense of presence–the energetic essence of my manthra. Every nuance of the walking meditation, a process of lifting, placing, shifting, became profound and meaningful. As I slowed down, time passed quickly, and I was able to walk longer than I had planned.

The following morning, I continued to enjoy a more easeful walking meditation, feeling light and fluid as I followed the complex design beneath my feet. I remembered what my teacher had often recommended on the spiritual journey, “keep a constant vigilance,” or to say that in another way: be mindful.

 

Gudrun

The Spiritual Journey

The Dhammapada: A New Translation of the Buddhist Classic with Annotations

by Gil Fronsdal

 

I am deeply appreciative of Gil Fronsdal’s translation of the Dhammapada, an anthology of verses on the teachings of the Buddha from the early period in India. There is a wonderful pragmatism, wisdom and simplicity in how the path of liberation is presented in the short space of 107 pages.

The power of the mind in shaping experience and the importance of skillful choices are concepts I find particularly confirming. Also, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the music of this ancient poetry, or short sayings. Rhythm and melody is created through artful repetition and the transposition of repeated words. Such poetic practices serve to effectively awaken one’s attention.

 

Gudrun

 

(See all of Gudrun’s reviews on Goodreads)

The Spiritual Journey

bloodmoon

The day of the Blood Super Moon, I listened to Oprah’s interview of former President Jimmy Carter. She asked him for tips on maintaining a positive long-term relationship.

 

One of the things he said, was that he and his wife still continued to make the effort to do something new together. I thought this to be very good advice. I’ve noticed, within myself as part of the aging process, that it often seems easier to fall back into comfortable patterns.

 

That evening, my partner said, “let’s go watch the blood moon.” I had never seen this phenomenon and agreed, even though the name triggered certain unpleasant connotations. Outside, I had brief thoughts about the local mountain lion and bear in our adjacent forest as we walked through darkness away from the house.

 

We sat on the love seat-sized swing by our cottage, opposite the oak forest, which glowed at the crown of its trees with a long line of white light. That auric light shifted as I looked higher into the sky. And there it was—the red moon. We were mesmerized and silent.

 

We waited until the moon’s unusual color faded before we headed, slowly, back to the house. We stopped several times to deeply breathe in air so fresh it seemed to stimulate every cell in the body. I know this night will be remembered by us both. How sad it would have been, if I had allowed old patterns to get in the way of a new experience.

 

 

Gudrun Mouw

Sept. 27, 2015

 

The Spiritual Journey

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I wake up with several concerns regarding family, friends and a Raja Yoga/Meditation Workshop I have committed to teach in the city one hour south of my home. After trying several going-back-to-sleep strategies which do not work, I decide it must be time to meditate. Meditation, the 7th of eight limbs in the raja yoga tradition, in Sanskrit, is called, “dhyana.”

At my corner, I open cabinet doors, pull out the shelf with a marble slab and burn the candle on top of it inside its cut glass container, which spreads a soft, amber glow. The Krishna statue’s hands, holding his flute, gleam. Various crystals reflect bright points that penetrate even as I close my eyes. Inside, I see what looks like a shining display of northern lights.

After the usual invocations, I feel inspired to practice metta (a loving kindness meditation), during which the first of two tears slides, slowly, over my left cheek and gradually dissolves somewhere under my chin. The second tear seems to stand still for the longest time just below my lower eyelid.

Eventually, my right knee hurts, which tells me more than an hour has passed. It is time to practice yoga stretches/positions, “asanas,” the 5th limb raja yoga. I unfold my mat.

On my knees, I dip back until buttocks touch heels, bring elbows forward, arms up, palms to the sides of my head. I had recently recommended this pose for someone experiencing grief. I gently stretch my neck forward, soften shoulders, open knees, and allow myself to release and relax. Inexplicably, I feel happy and have a sharp, clear insight. After more than 40 years of study and practice, the subject of raja yoga for me is how I relate to whatever I am doing.

As absorption into the present moment encapsulates the goal of yoga, my body knows which other postures it needs to further release physical, mental and emotional contractions. Dawn begins and further brightens the dark.

It’s time to start a kettle for tea, and I trust my hands to find what I need inside a drawer’s shade, not yet wishing to disturb that natural and subtle shift from darkness to light by switching on electricity. As I sit with my warm cup, I turn on a favorite music channel which randomly plays Anugama, “Tantric Day” from The Best of Anugama: Just Being Here, 1993.

I am in heaven. When the sound of Enya’s “China Roses” from The Memory of Trees, 1995 begins, I’m not noticing time, space, or anything else. And when the next random song,Tom Colletti’s “Dhyana” from Yoga is Union, 2011, fills the room, nearly 4 hours have passed since I first woke to what now seems to be ancient history. It has been time well spent. Hills hide behind the welcome fog in a dry season. Cool air refreshes. I thank the universe for its blessings.

The raja yoga work continues in days that follow. Without knowing exactly why, I feel compelled to create a memorial on a wrought iron and glass table just outside the sliding glass door on which I arrange a container with one flower, a candle and the stone I have, apparently, been saving just for this occasion.

This stone was found by my parents, reminiscent of a heart shape, and my father etched my mother’s and his initials on it. The following morning, as part of my meditation practice, I light that candle. When I am finished with formal practice, I gaze at the outside table; my eyes moisten as I remember it has been 15 1/2 years and over 14 1/2 years since, first my father, then my mother died. Slowly, still in a state of contemplation, I realize there is no residue of bitterness, anger, or resentment and am reminded of one of my favorite raja yoga sutras:

By cultivating…friendliness towards the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.

 

 

 

(c) Gudrun Mouw

July 23, 2015

Personal Updates The Spiritual Journey

meditationborder

In the final issue of the Inquiring Mind, a journal that for 30 years has discussed topics serving the Western Theravadan Buddhist community, I was delighted to read Gil Fronsdal’s essay, “When Mindfulness Is Too Much.” I felt a tremendous sense of relief.

His comment that giving up mindfulness⎯though “temporary, proved to be a necessary step in my path toward liberation” ⎯resonated strongly with me. From my 44 year journey of meditation and yoga, both as a practitioner and a teacher, I have very much valued how mindfulness shows us how to be present in the moment with whatever we are experiencing. Yet, I have also seen, as with various other mind focusing activities such as the simple act of witnessing, for example, how mindfulness is still, as Gil Fronsdal aptly said in his essay, “an activity of the mind.” The way I have framed the dilemma of longing to go beyond mindfulness is to understand that there are times when mindfulness is not enough.

A different type of experience is that state of deep quiet when all mental activity has come to a stop. I have at times concluded this must be the emptiness I have read about. Other times, I have felt so altered I could find no words to adequately describe the truth of my experience, though I have hinted at it in various poems.

I very much appreciate Gil Fronsdal’s statement, “Now I have a connection to a dimension of mind or of awareness that is unconstructed.” It is helpful for me to have this confirmation of something I have long suspected. He continues on to say that the “unconstructed became very important because it highlighted how everything else is constructed.” I find this perspective of the “unconstructed” and “constructed” to be a skillful insight on the spiritual journey.

Only a few days before reading this article, I had observed a potential tension created by a part of the mind (which I have often called the left brain or the analytical brain) towards something quite the opposite⎯a rising, radical and expanding experience. My sense afterwards was to label that experience as rapture, but even that did not seem to be an adequate description. A startlingly clear delineation between the “constructed” and “unconstructed” was actually helpful because I recognized how both types of experiences are informative in their own way.

The Spiritual Journey

1-MARCH –Awakening

I wrote a blog in the last days of February, which I did not post because I was concerned it was too personal. As I take another look at “Valley Canyon Selfie,” I realize this piece is one example of a long-time interest I have had in describing the journey towards happiness.

Remembering the year 1970, I was 26 years old, single and working at the Stanford University Graduate Library having recently completed my M.A. in English Literature. It was lunchtime. I sat on a bench near the library, but I do not remember eating. I remember feeling completely miserable.

Within 3 years, I was married, had a child, met my spiritual teacher and was on the way to learning about the art of happiness. To begin with, I had the insight that happiness was my birthright, which was news to me. The birth of my daughter touched a joy I hadn’t known existed. Still, it has not been an easy, straightforward, upward climb.

In the past, I have often been disappointed by external circumstances or people; that is when happiness has been elusive. It’s taken a long time for me to take responsibility for my internal landscape. It took even longer to recognize that a difficult childhood, for example, were not enough reasons for me to be unhappy. I didn’t always get how joy is its own reward and doesn’t require a narrow groundwork of perfection to bring about happiness.

For me, formal sitting, meditation, has been a primary practice to help clear the mind of unhelpful baggage. In recent years I have noticed that what some meditation teachers call “ordinary dharma” has come into my life quite naturally and without fanfare. By “ordinary dharma,” I mean ongoing mindfulness, or what I like to think of as conscious living. A commitment to what my teacher often called “constant vigilance” leads to greater peace, gratitude, happiness and insight through everyday awareness of each moment. “Valley Canyon Selfie” is one of my attempts to describe how such a process can work.

 

2-FEBRUARY—Valley Canyon Selfie

February close to completion, the first of the long-stemmed Valentine roses fades. Outside, the meadow is mowed, paths cleared and walkways weeded, somewhat. I do what I can, aware of the need to prepare for another drought season ahead, knowing there is always much more to be done.

After yesterday’s walk with a friend who likes to move fast, I woke up this morning not wanting to sit, or even do yoga. The body ached. I pushed through a threatening cloud of negativity, gently searching for and, gradually, finding a way to do my morning practice until it released a threatening reactivity like a dissolving fog. I became grateful. I answered emails, washed dishes, walked, put off some paper work.

I am satisfied, now, without much justification, it seems, since there is still that mental to-do list. I’ve checked off several things, except, of course, the one I am putting off. Perhaps, I will put it off a little longer. Rest. Do nothing. Examine, once again, the card that arrived in the mail yesterday. On the front of the card is the photograph of a pig-tailed little girl with her outstretched arm on a pooch sitting next to her; both look straight ahead at a large body of water; both wear a swim ring.

I receive a request for Face Time from my daughter. Seeing the youngest one in her lap, it is as if the sweetness of the photo I had just been looking at has, suddenly, come to life. I display the 3 year old’s drawing I had received from him in January. “I did that,” he cries out. He shows me his new toy. My daughter and I walk our iPads outdoors into what had been, for me, a cloudy morning, but as we share each other’s environments, the sun comes out overhead by our meadow where I am standing and shines across my screen.

It is time for lunch. We say goodbye. Soon after, I smile with the realization that one of my early morning activities, which I had not planned but had enjoyed spontaneously, was also the perfect preparation for that which I thought I was putting off. I could not easily do the latter without the former. And so I continue to be uplifted by an awareness of the natural connection and flow of life when I allow that to happen and don’t get in the way with hasty judgments or self-criticisms.

Personal Updates The Spiritual Journey