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Category Archives: Life of Meditation

Longing for Home

This month, Jennifer Louden,Susan Piver, Hiro Boga and I unleash a wave of emotions as we write on the subject of Home: longing for them, losing them, making them ourselves. Follow the links to read their offerings. Hat tip to these brilliant women: my delight in writing in community with them was one of the inspirations for the Summer of Lovingkindness Invitational. (There’s still plenty of time to join in the #SOLI magic!)

earth - moon - rock (Arizona stone)

earth - moon - rock (arizona stone) © 2010 Mahala Mazerov

I step out every day, overflowing with gratitude for my life in Ithaca. I’m in walking distance to almost everything. There’s a wonderful disability ride service for things farther afield. I like the ease, progressiveness, cultural offerings and the extraordinary geology of the gorges that surround me. Plus there’s the Dalai Lama’s monastery brimming with boundless courses and retreats. (Not to mention the pure, inexplicable happiness I feel running into Tibetan monks in the food co-op.)

It’s perfectly functional for me. Except it’s not Home.

Before Ithaca, I lived in a small village in Vermont. For 10 years I lived with a river. No back yard, but the “west branch” of the Ompompanusac River, with meadow turning to woods on the other side. I would sit on my Little River Porch (bundled in blankets in winter) and watch deer, river otter, beaver, all manner of birds and the occasional kayaker pass by. I felt my roots go down deep there. I thought I’d never leave.

But I was dependent on others to get out and around. It was tiring to always have to ask and so I mostly stopped asking. Over time the isolation I needed (to get away from 7 years of hospitals and 3 years of at-home brain injury rehabilitation to heal and integrate in peace) became too much.

I’m on a quest for a Heart Home where I have the best of all possible worlds. But I’m questioning my perception of Home. Can I find it? Or, like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, has it been with me all along?

The Story

If I ask “Where are you from?” do you answer with the place you live now? Or the place you were born?

Ask an indigenous person that very same question and they may point to a great ocean, a mountain, or the center of the earth as their home.

Ask the Q’ero, direct descendants of the Incas, and they point to the stars.

I was only just discovering my shamanic ancestors when I met Q’ero shaman sometime in the 1990s. In a strange prescience we met in a Zen temple in Rhode Island. Peruvian shaman in ceremonial ponchos looking as if they’d just stepped out of National Geographic magazine sharing space with a giant golden Buddha.

Little did I imagine how these two worlds would combine to be my future.

I can see the face, the energy, the pure love beaming from Don Manuel Quispe, the Dalai Lama of the Andes as if he were standing before me now.

Don Manuel Quispe

Don Manuel Quispe 1905 - 2004 (photographer unknown)

He and the other shaman shared extensive teachings and initiations his people had hidden for 500 years. Their prophecies indicated it was now time to share this knowledge. Time for the Condor of the South and the Eagle of the North to fly together.

One night they gave us an initiation, a Karpay, a transmission. They gave us the Star Rites of “Mosoq Karpay” (The Rites of the Time to Come) to the Star Beings.

To this day I could not tell you what happened to me under that sky. But something cracked open.

I returned home to Vermont, sat on my Little River Porch, looked up at the night sky and sobbed my heart out for eight solid weeks.

Just writing about this makes me start to quiver.

What does this mean that, longing for Home, I point to the stars?

It’s the same longing I have for the all-encompassing love I experienced the night of my brain injury. The night when, after 8 hours in the ER, my awareness of dying transformed into a near death vision.

It’s the same unobstructed state I experience in some of my Buddhist practices. I overflow with love until everything becomes spacious and empty.

These are my Home. And yet there’s no physicality. There’s no place to stay. I need a body and this physical world around me to accomplish anything at all that is good.

Wherever I live becomes my practice ground. The place where I turn events easy and hard into a cultivation of lovingkindness and compassion. The place where I fail and try again. The place where I sometimes succeed and bask in pure astonishment that it is possible to feel such love here, too.

Home becomes everywhere my heart has a chance to love.

Comment Kindness: This is one of those posts that might seem perfectly ordinary to you, but which feels very vulnerable for me to publish. Even though I ask What does it mean that I point to the stars…? it’s a question of inner exploration. I’m not really asking for an answer. What I would love is your thoughts about home: Have you found your heart place? And your thoughts about lovingkindness: how does your home evoke that in you?

Testing the Benefits of Meditation… in the Emergency Room

We read a lot about the benefits of meditation. But the true test may come in times of trauma. Here’s how meditation transformed a severe fall and a trip to the emergency room into an experience of mindful awareness.

In Your Body Is The Garden Of Flowers

Photography as Meditation: The Friday Flower. Sometimes just photos. Sometimes with writing. Appearing on Fridays.

infinite beauty © 2009 - 2010 Mahala Mazerov

Do not go to the garden of flowers!

O friend! go not there;

In your body is the garden of flowers.

Take your seat on the thousand petals of the lotus, and there gaze on the infinite beauty.

Kabir ~ 15th century Indian mystic

Tender Edges of Your Heart

Photography as Meditation: The Friday Flower. Sometimes just photos. Sometimes with writing. Appearing on Fridays.

the tender edge © 2009 Mahala Mazerov

the tender edge © 2009 Mahala Mazerov

There is a misconception, I think, that meditation and living in close relationship with your heart means your life will go easily.

But being luminous isn’t easy. It isn’t all love and light. It isn’t soft. It isn’t new age-y. And it isn’t an automatic fix for whatever hardships you may have to face in life.

Being luminous means you engage in the continual practice of meeting the tender edges of your heart.

Your love expands, yes. But it comes from including experience with darkness. Not only other people’s suffering, but personal acquaintance with the abyss. And you choose not to run away, soar above it, or wall yourself off from it.

Being luminous means you try to face darkness and light with equal presence. You strive to act from a higher awareness no matter what your world looks like at the moment.

In some sense, you learn to become comfortable with the changing states because you recognize they are just that, changing.

Now, I’ve never been comforted by the words “this too shall pass.” Maybe because they’ve been said by people who didn’t have a clue about the depth of pain I was feeling. Or were said by people uncomfortable with any kind of disharmony, who had no solutions, and wanted to quickly move on.

When I talk about being comfortable with changing states of being what I mean is that impermanence proves to you that it is not your true nature. It proves your essence is indestructible. No matter what life, the world, karma throws at you — no matter the sufferings you bring upon yourself — there is a ground of being that is unstained.

Meditation will meet you there. It will help you find it.

It isn’t easy being luminous. But meditation offers strength and steadfastness, so you can experience the most true and beautiful moments at the tender edges of your heart.

Thoughts On Giving & Receiving

Photography as Meditation: The Friday Flower. Sometimes just photos. Sometimes with writing. Appearing on Fridays.

© 2009 Mahala Mazerov

© 2009 Mahala Mazerov

These flowers, liatris, make me think of candles. The small flowers bloom on long wands from the top to the bottom. To me it’s like flames and wax dripping down. I actually thought one name for them was candle flower, but that’s another plant entirely. Liatris are also know as “blazing stars.”

They remind me of all of the candlelight vigils I’ve ever attended — Kent State University, where I was a student not long after the 1970 shootings. Antiwar protests. Nuclear disarmament. Vigils with the local Tibetan community. Chanting for peace.

I don’t think I’ve ever been in a candlelight vigil under clear skies. There always seemed an endurance test of wind and weather to solidify calling of the heart. It was so hard to keep a candle lit.

Sweet bonds were formed in those moments when we shared our candle flames with one another. No matter how soaked or cold we were, that simple act of rekindling another candle was part of what made the endurance worthwhile.

I have the flu and my candle is flickering a little. I’m doing my practices but there’s not a lot of fire behind them.

I want to tell you something that took me a long time to realize, because I was so focused on trying to save the world.

I am a bringer of blessings, but I can also rest and be a receiver. The same is true for you.

I know you have things you care about. Causes and people that depend on you. But you are not alone. You’re not the only one.

liatrisEvery day there are people working and praying for the benefit of all beings. May all beings be happy and safe. May they be healthy. May they have everything they need.

It’s so easy to forget when you’re making these prayers, doing good work in the world, that you are also part of all beings. The prayers and the work are for you, too.

Keep a tiny light glowing inside of you. It doesn’t always have to be a blazing fire. Sometimes all you can do is keep a small ember from going out entirely. And if you can’t do even that, don’t worry. Someone will come along, share their flame, and get you glowing again.

When your light is flickering, for whatever reason, know at this very moment you can drink in the efforts and aspirations for your well being.

Someone is working and praying on your behalf at this very moment.

Meditation, Illumination and Plato’s Cave

Photography as Meditation: The Friday Flower. Sometimes just photos. Sometimes with writing. Appearing every Friday.

illumination. © 2009 Mahala Mazerov

illumination. © 2009 Mahala Mazerov

When I take photographs, I work in a state of meditation and engagement. I’m searching through the lens for an image that goes beyond labels. Beyond peony. Beyond flower. Beyond petal. Until something new is revealed.

I believe there’s a dialog going on, but it’s not a verbal one. Even after I edit my shots and select the images that resonate I don’t usually have a story or a why.

In that respect, this image is different. I remember being drawn in to the luminous gold at the center. (A luminosity that unfortunately is not well conveyed here. I’m tempted to learn to play with Photoshop, but love the immediacy of printing as is with minimal adjustment.)

In that golden center I discovered a state of spiritual illumination, of unceasing meditative awareness.  In that moment petals turned to turned to ice and the story of the ice caves came into my mind.

My Tibetan Buddhist lineage, the Drikung Kagu, is known as the Blessing Lineage. It is also known as the Practice Lineage as there is a history of yogis immersed in meditation that continues to this day. Many great Drikung yogis are featured in the popular documentary film, The Yogis of Tibet. (Click the link to view it free, online.)

Anyone who repeats the much overused stereotype of meditation as hiding away from reality, has never spent any real time in meditation.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet and receive teachings from people who have completed a traditional 3-year meditation retreat, or have spent as many as 12 years (!) engaged in silent meditation. Invariably they are people of great humility and humor. You might easily pass them by because they make no great show of themselves in the world. But in the right conditions you catch a glimpse, or hear a story that indicates their exceptional inner power.

They are engaged in reality in ways far beyond our minds (which run endlessly like hamsters on a wheel) will ever grasp.

In the remote landscapes where yogis and yoginis meditate in caves, there are stories of hardship and harsh weather. [Scroll for photos of Lapchi meditation cave.] Food is sparse and simple; comforts and distraction are reduced to zero. Sometimes layers of snow and ice build at the entrance of the caves. You have to break through to go out and see the sky.

That’s the story that came to me in the golden center of this flower. It’s a place that calls to me now, a place to discover illumination found at the center of meditation.

Truth be told, I feel like I’ve been too much in another cave lately. Plato’s Cave. Chained with my back to what is real, seeing only shadows on the cave wall. Shadows created by others, of what they want me to see, know, believe, buy, value. I’ve held my own fairly well, but lately I’ve gotten lost in meaningless distractions (not the soul-feeding, revitalizing variety) and in business marketing programs (as I learn to bring courses and projects to you) in particular.

I choose instead the cave where illuminating awareness is born and nourished. Then I will break free to see the sky, and create blessings.

The Friday Flower: Inner and Outer Light

Photography as Meditation: The Friday Flower. A new series. Sometimes just photos. Sometimes with writing. Sometimes on Fridays.

inner and outer light. © 2009 Mahala Mazerov

inner and outer light. © 2009 Mahala Mazerov

I had another post almost ready to go this morning, just a few tweaks needed before hitting the publish button. But after a meltdown that’s been building for days, I looked at what I’d written and it seemed too distant and controlled compared to the raw state I’m in. I offer this to you instead and promise, some day, to learn brevity.

I know without question we all possess an inner light. Our true nature is perpetually pure and unstained. But we also have thoughts, desires, emotions, egos that mask our pristine nature. Sometimes we go searching for our light, but it’s hidden behind heavy clouds and storms.

I’ve been slogging my way through weeks with my inner light almost completely obscured. I’m depleted. I’m scattered and distracted. I can’t focus my attention for any period of time. I can’t meditate. I can’t hold my center.

My acupuncturist understands and can explain all of this to me. She takes my pulse, looks at my tongue and tells me precisely why I’m experiencing this state.

That used to make me feel better. Ah, I’m not the least disciplined person on the face of the earth. Oh, this exhaustion is real and it’s not about pushing harder. Thank you, I’m not going crazy.

But it’s been too long and explanations are not helping me at all.

I believe in the absolute preciousness of this life. And every night I go to bed heartbroken and dissatisfied with myself. Another day has gone by, has been used but not used well. I am wasting my rare and precious life in meaningless distractions. All the explanations in the world can’t help me feel better about that.

I reach for the outer light that pulls me forward, the Bodhisattva path. Love and compassion so strong that one vows to free all beings from suffering. Something in my heart catches, then falls. I’ve been guiltily avoiding my meditation table. I’m not even managing the reading that fills my heart. I am failing at this, too.

All of this pours out in an unexpected call with a dear friend, Marybeth. May everyone have a Marybeth. I have never known anyone who could hold space with such love. She can find (and speak of!) the magnificence in every being. I am in awe of her.

Marybeth listens. She waits. And then she says “You’re still my role model.”

“Role model for what?” I challenge her. I expect her to come up with something that is really Marybeth in disguise. But she says…

“Grace. You carry a grace through everything you do and it is stunning.”

Because I’m just this close to self-hatred there’s no room for humility. I will own this because it’s the only thing that will save me from drowning right now.

I tell her the one thing I’ve been doing well is recognizing how completely painful this is, knowing how much others struggle, and asking to take it away from them and carry it all on myself. It’s the Buddhist practice of Tonglen, Taking and Sending. That is the grace she is seeing.

“It’s enough,” I say. “It’s everything,” she says.

It’s become so internalized through years of meditation that I don’t think about it. It’s my nearly automatic response to suffering. What continues to deepen over time is the conviction in my heart as I practice.

“I forgot. I forgot I was doing it,” I say through tears.

In that moment, outer and inner light appear in my heart. They merge. They are one and the same in essence. It’s only worldly confusion that keeps them separate. That same confusion is the cause of suffering.

May all beings be free from suffering!

Skillful Answers to Disgraceful Questions, Part 2

In my previous post, I wrote about Pema Chodron’s brilliant response to a wildly inappropriate question that made the rest of the audience squirm.

But what if the question is mundane and you’re the one squirming?

Disgraceful questions. We all have them. They’re completely routine to everyone else, but they press on our most tender spots. Not answering feels like an evasion and a lie. Answering bears a truth we fear hurts or disgraces us.

It’s “How are you?” when you’re struggling with a chronic illness your friends and family don’t really understand. “How’s business?” if you’re a solopreneur doing everything you can to find clients and feeling like a failure. “How is X?” when your relationship is crumbling and no one really knows how bad it is behind closed doors.

What’s your disgraceful question? How do you deal with it skillfully?

In my case, I’m managing life with a brain injury along with recent unpleasantries of autoimmune thyroid illness and adrenal fatigue syndrome. Needless to say, “How are you?” ranked number one for me.

In search of a skillful answer I made space for all the ways it makes me squirm. I did this when my mind and emotions were reasonably calm since my clarity “on the spot” had been something near zero.

Well no wonder! My inner narrative, a deluge of emotions and stories, quickly flooded any semblance of a spacious mind.

Keeping my seat, returning to my breath again and again, I let the story lines wash over me. No matter how “true” they felt, I didn’t grab on. I didn’t hold the line. I let them keep coming. Let them keep going. When they finally dissipated, I felt spent, but I also had a feeling of being at rest. I looked at my mind and found spaciousness.

Now, when people ask “How are you?” I smile and say “I’m hanging in there.” I have enough lightness in my voice to move on to other subjects and enough truth for further inquiry.

I’m in search of a more elegant phrase, but results with this one have been fairly astonishing. A few people pass right over it, but mostly what I’m discovering is a lot of us are “hanging in there.” I’m entering into deep, rich conversations as the result of that simple response.

I’m usually uncomfortable talking about my health and my needs because it makes the conversation all about me. Magically, the conversation has now become about them, too. About us.

I’ve found myself in multi-layered discussions about the experience of aging as a single woman. Had a conversation with a dear Buddhist friend regarding emotional challenges of being a vegetarian who suddenly needs to eat meat for healing. A favorite waitress in a favorite cafe told me she was brokenhearted after putting her cat sleep three days before, then spoke of her father who died three years earlier. And on and on.

We’re talking about dreams and hopes and celebrations and losses. I’m touched and grateful for the intimacy. For the chance to listen and offer kindness. For the gift of receiving it.

Maybe the phrase “I’m hanging in there” lays out some unexpected welcome mat for genuine engagement. I think the real magic is in the mindfulness. I only know I’ve exchanged more love, kindness and compassion since I stopped squirming over the question.

What’s you’re disgraceful question? Can you find a skillful answer?

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