We're offering the forgiveness workshop Sat. Apr. 14, 10-Noon at Cloud Cottage. Go to www.cloudcottage.org and click on directions.
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We have developed a dynamic, hands-on two-hour workshop on forgiveness -- Call to Forgiveness, Call to Love. I will offer it everywhere and anywhere, and will appreciate your ideas for venues. We will use mindfulness meditation, journaling, a talking stick circle and a forgiveness ritual.
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Philip and I went down to Malaprops to deliver a poster for my reading later this month, and we looked on their published calendar to see this: ZEN MASTER TO READ FROM HER BOOK, Murder as a Call to Love. A master I am not. A student, yes, and a student of the masters, yes. I am not sure how this came about, but I had to laugh.
Philip just unearthed this love note I wrote to him from Plum Village, in 2001,with Thich Nhat Hanh and my darling granddaughter, Heather:
Windy changeable day in Bordeaux County -- my love who is so much a part of me, my blood my bones, my past present and future. Just dumped my chair in the lotus pond trying to pen you, somehow be even more with you by talking to you here. This is one of those days you like a lot -- moody, indecisive, dangerous. Thay held Heather's hand this a.m. during walking meditation. He led us down a long forest tunnel I hadn't seen, and onto a plateau overlooking the rolling French farmlands that make the quilt of fields and vineyards that connect the four little hamlets here. You need to come with me here just to know these fields with their sudden church spires and roads made for buggies, not buses. I'm settling in on our fourth day at our retreat. Heather reminds me so much of her shy mom at this age. We three are so in one another. Thay took us to his hermitage today. Heather and I have a nice double room with small skylight. It is so peaceful here. I love you...J.
Actually, on our honeymoon is 1981, Philip and I visited City Lights in SF, and we bought a limited edition black and white poster of Walt Whitman that we kept on our wall for 20 years, then gave it away to another poet. City Lights in Sylva is an utterly charming and cared-for shop, where everyone smiles and greets you when you come in, willing to help you find whatever you're looking for. Chris, the owner, is affable and knowledgeable about local history.
This was my virgin reading! The book launch in January was utterly successful, with about 100 people, but it was not the kind of reading you do with a circle of chairs at a book shop. So I started out by asking how many writers there were -- about a third of the 15 or so folks who were there. So they were interested in the back story.
Most wanted to know, too, about the story of how I came to forgive the boy (man) who murdered three of my family. So I did read some of that chapter. But we had lots of rich conversation, and I got to know the folks who came by. This is what I was hoping for when we sheduled a few local readings. Nothing will be canned. It will all flow organically, depending on who's there, and what they want to hear about. It worked well.
A couple of days before the reading, I had an idea: I took lines from the book that can lead us toward forgiveness, cut them up, and offered them from a long-stemmed glass as fortune cookie fortunes on forgiveness. Everyone loved that idea! For folks who bought books, I also offered a loving-kindness meditation that is not in the book and that was composed by Thich Nhat Hanh.
I'm really looking forward to our reading in Waynesville in a couple of weeks! And Malaprops in March. See News and Events.
Journalist Theresa Peneguy Paprock covered the Orthodox Peace Fellowship gathering in October, in Madison, Wisconsin. I was blessed to be a part of this esteemed gathering. Here is an excerpt from her online article in IN COMMUNION, website of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. For more, go to http://www.incommunion.org/2011/12/07/forgiveness-finding-wholeness-again.
The next presenter, Judith Toy, of Black Mountain, N.C., discussed forgiveness from a Buddhist perspective. Twenty years ago, Toy experienced a nightmare most of us could not begin to imagine: Her sister-in-law Connie and her sons Allen and Bobby were stabbed and bludgeoned to death by the teenage boy who lived across the street. Charles had been a family friend, and no clear motive was ever revealed.He was sentenced to three consecutive life terms in prison.
“Our family was unanimous in not wanting Charles dead–but not out of idealism or pacifism,” Toy wrote in her book, “Murder as a Call to Love.” “We wanted him to suffer long and hard behind bars. For the rest of his days, we reasoned, he should face what he had wrought.” A Quaker at the time, Toy began to study Zen. After several years of meditation, she felt her anger begin to melt away, and she wanted to tell him so–but before she had the opportunity, Charles committed suicide.“Could I have saved him?” Toy asks today. “I mentally put myself in Charles’ cell and hold him in my arms. … (When you forgive someone) the edges between yourself and others begin to blur.”
I’m noticing that mindfulness is a kind of catch-all word or fad. There are mindfulness classes for everyone from dentists to psychotherapists. The results of numerous studies have shown that mindfulness practice, a secular form of Buddhism minus the Buddha and the sutras, is good for pain management, stress relief and healing from disease. And maybe the fad aspect is good, because more people may try mindfulness practice and benefit from it because it’s hot at the moment.
But what I observe is that some folks are leaving out the most important aspect of mindfulness. In a company training on customer service, a company
which shall remain unnamed, the trainer was trying to teach mindfulness with clients and those on the opposite end of the phone. I’m not sure what the word “mindful” evoked for the trainees, but the trainer never mentioned the one key to mindfulness, the door to mindful practice that brings us right into the present moment, which is our in-breath and our out-breath. That is, noticing our in-breath and our out-breath.
Of course we breathe in and out all the time, and hold our breath when we’re stressed or in a hurry, but we are not aware that we’re breathing, nor that we’re interrupting our breath when anxious.
We don’t know we’re breathing because our breath is a function of the autonomic nervous system. We don’t have to think about it. Our respiration just naturally performs its job, as do our digestive and vascular systems, to name two more.
As a former smoker, I have always had a tendency to hold my breath. So in learning mindfulness, I have learned to notice my breath. I use certain sounds as cues to remind myself—like the ringing of my phone or stopping at a light in traffic or waiting in line at the grocery store or waiting for my computer to change functions. It’s simple. Two of my friends were making fun of me because I said I was trying to eat more mindfully. They took a strawberry and fawned over it, and said in a sing-song voice, “I’m eating my strawberry mindfully.” But they were not noticing their breath.
Mindfulness without conscious breathing is like toast without butter.
As a point of clarity for those who hear the word tossed around like a basketball, mindfulness is, first and foremost, awareness of our breath. Next in mindfulness practice comes a soft belly and soft neck and shoulders, followed closely by relaxation of the facial muscles. These seem to be the three areas where we hold the most tension.
One of my favorite mindfulness quotes is from Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, “Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.”
Not exactly rocket science, but a great way to peace of mind. A great way to be present in the moment.
WHAT I BELIEVE
My brother and I recently recollected our upbringing in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, during the Eisenhower era. Our grandparents made sure we got to church every Sunday, to a vast gothic cathedral built by Cleveland steel barons, where my two younger brothers and I sang in the children’s choir. On special occasions I got to sit beside my grandmother for one of Dr. Brown’s sermons. He never failed to tell at least one joke. Always when he told the joke, his voice would crack. So laughter was part of worship for me. And song.
There was the feel of my grandmother’s flowered silk dress, the look of her veiled hat perched on piled-up gray hair, the faint smell of rose water. Dr. Brown’s bald pate reflected in the stained-glass light of the pulpit. The unsettling boom of the huge pipe organ, with Mrs. Carl, my piano teacher, on the organ keyboard bringing “Holy, Holy, Holy” to life, everyone singing at the top of their voices, never failing to give me chills. “Lord God Almighty...” Certain Biblical quotations still have that effect on me, too.
“Wasn’t it great growing up in the church the way we did?” I said to my brother Doug.
“I hated every minute of it,” he replied. “All I wanted to do was escape. I wanted to wander around Shaker Lake, kicking stones, digging for worms, searching for minnows. The outdoors is my church.”
“Well, I replied, “the Dalai Lama says we don’t need religion. We only need to be kind to each other.”
Doug knows that I’m a mindfulness teacher and Buddhist minister. But that came out of a tragedy--only after three people in my first husband’s family were murdered. They were my sister-in-law–my daughters’ favorite aunt–and her two teenaged boys, my nephews. I was desperate. I turned to the Quakers with whom I’d been worshiping. They introduced me to a dharma teacher, an American nun. I took refuge with her. She taught me that the source of our salvation lies in what we feel is damning us. I believe that to be true. She also introduced me to Thich Nhat Hanh, who would become my teacher, the zen master and peace activist who founded an order out of the killing fields of Vietnam.
After five years of daily mindfulness practice, I was able to forgive the boy who murdered three of my family. We sit a lot. My brother would feel fenced in. He’s living in Arizona now where he can stay outdoors and make frequent camping trips to the high country. What do I believe? I believe it is best for people to heed their spiritual and religious leadings. If we take the time to listen, we all know what calls to us. Doug and I are not all that different. While I sit zazen, my brother worships at the altar of the world.
THIS FROM JERRY BRAZA, MY BROTHER IN THE ORDER OF INTERBEING:
"Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over
it and whispers, 'Grow, grow.'" -The Talmud
"If ancient wisdom tells us that even a blade of grass needs encouragement, how much more do the people in our lives need us to whisper words of inspiration into their lives? Imagine the face of a child hearing, "You are so precious. You can do it. I'm so glad you were born." Picture the look on your loved one's face when you say, "You are perfect as you are. You are such a joy. I am here for you. Thank you for being in my life." And if you received continual whispers of "You are enough, just as you are," how would your life be different? Would you be better able to whisper encouragement into the lives of those you love?"
(Excerpt from The Seeds of Love: Growing Mindful Relationships)We offer you this tender thought in the spirit of a Call to Love. How can we live our lives like the angels? How can we be act gently and calmly as bodhisattvas of kindness in a world gone mad? Let's breathe together and contemplate this for a minute, okay?
"Most of us find it is easy to feel kindly toward the defenseless, but not toward those who intentionally cause harm. Yet these people need our compassion. The Buddha taught that, because each of us experiences the consequences of our own acts, those who behave with cruelty and malice will reap the greatest misery and pain....
[C]onsider what it would take to go into the hells of this world and give all to shoe in seemingly inescapable pain."
--from No Time to Lose
She goes on to say that until we use the mud of our lives--our attachments, our judgments--to grow a lotus flower, our aspiration to help others will be sorely tested in the hells of this world.