Every Christmas Eve, after our family dinner (traditionally cheese and chocolate fondue) and before the children go to bed, my father reads aloud the classic poem A Visit From St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore. He’s done this nearly every year since I was born – which means he’s read this poem on nearly 40 successive Christmas Eves! Now that I’m grown, I marvel at the way that Dad approaches the poem. He reads the words thoughtfully, with a sound of wonder in his voice that suggests he’s encountering each line for the first time. Sometimes he even pauses after reading the following couplet, a delighted smile on his face:
As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly, When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
It is a particularly poetic line.
Listening as my father read the poem this Christmas Eve just past, it occurred to me that the sense of wonder and delight with which he approaches his annual recitation is exactly the way in which I should approach the bodhisattva of compassion sadhana that I recite each morning. I tried this out recently and what a difference! Suddenly, I’m saying the familiar words with curiosity and appreciation, rather than rote tedium. It’s an amazing psychological change. My mind naturally focuses as soon as I send myself the internal message that “this is interesting”. The words come alive. I look forward more each morning to the recitation. Continue reading →
At heart, I am a storyteller. I love the English language, whether spoken or written, though my particular passion is playing with written words. I’ve written a couple of books and co-written a couple more; I earn my living through mastery of a highly technical and precise form of writing that has little room for creativity and often feels like assembling a verbal puzzle. I get a lot of enjoyment from crafting a well-turned phrase.
Stories are a wonderful way to learn, teach, and share. Some truths penetrate the heart easier when they are clothed in fiction; a lesson may face less resistance when presented through a well-told story. I spent my childhood unashamedly in love with books and can still be enthralled by a good author who knows the craft.
Mary McCarthy wrote, “We all live in suspense, from day to day, from hour to hour; in other words, we are the hero of our own story.” As an inveterate storyteller, I occasionally catch myself doing something akin to narrating my own life through internal dialogue. There is always a danger that I will sensationalize, catastrophize, romanticize, or otherwise subconsciously alter my own experience in order to make a “better” story. Mindfulness practice reminds me to remain in the unvarnished present moment, accepting and embracing what actually is rather than trying to recast it into something else. Continue reading →
I’m back! First of all, I’m very excited to report that I did successfully cross the 50,000-word finish line of NaNoWriMo on November 20th. My novel still has a ways to go before completion, but I’ve made an excellent start and look forward to a collaborative finish with my husband’s assistance; we make an excellent writing team. Secondly, I want to say that while it was very useful to prewrite blogs so that I could focus on my noveling, I actually did miss the more spontaneous approach of writing a blog the same week as I posted it, which is so much more in keeping with the present moment. So I’m glad to get back to something a little closer to “real time” blogging.
Throughout November I’ve thought about what I’d like to write about on my return. I strongly considered Grasping, Forgiveness, Gratitude, Hopefulness, and Hopelessness – each of which may make an appearance in blogs to come. However, ultimately, I decided on Community. In particular, I want to focus on the Buddhist word for spiritual community: sangha.
Back in January, nearly a year ago, I received the Five Mindfulness Trainings in the Plum Village mindfulness practice tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. Making the decision to receive the trainings felt very momentous at the time. My Buddhist foundations are in the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, but I’ve struggled to find a nearby affiliated sangha at which I felt at home. I felt some trepidation about transitioning to mindfulness practice, even though all of my experiences with the Still Water Mindfulness Community had been very positive. At base, I was worried about making spiritual commitments to a different tradition. However, I knew that my practice was faltering because I did not have the support of a sangha, and I knew that the Five Mindfulness Trainings were rooted in the Five Precepts, which I already had committed to when I formally became a Buddhist. I decided that this was the right step for me to take. Continue reading →