Eye Gazing in Prison on Holy Saturday

I spent Holy Saturday at the Philadelphia FDC 3South floor with 12 incarcerated women attending a 2-day Heart to Heart retreat. I was there to share the gift of yoga and meditation. The women really appreciate our visits and openly express their desire to learn.
Our last exercise was an eye-gazing and I was partnered with Smoke, an African American woman of about 35. Smoke smiled a lot and agreed that she was willing to try it but admitted it made her nervous to stare into a stranger’s eyes for a total of 6 minutes. I looked forward to it immensely- you hear how the eyes are the windows to the soul and what I have seen each of the prior 3 times is infinite love.
During the first 2 minutes we were instructed to repeat to ourselves ‘I, just like you, have experienced pain, grief and fear’. Smoke didn’t seem to have too difficult of a time focusing and we both had tears prick our eyes as at once we knew the other had certainly experienced these human emotions. Her body continued to move however, as she crossed her arms over her chest, pulling her arms into her gray T-shirt. I realized she was trying to keep warm while I had a North Face jacket on.
The second 2 minutes we were to repeat ‘I, just like you have experienced joy, love and peace’. This time Smoke nervously laughed a lot which made me laugh. She couldn’t keep our gaze going for very long and fidgeted in her shirt some more.
Finally, as we took a short break before round 3, I got up and put my jacket around Smoke’s shoulders. She vehemently resisted and tried to take it off but I insisted that she wear it for the last round and warm-up. It wasn’t a big deal— to me. We returned to our silent gazing and repeated in our minds ‘I just like you have dreams and aspirations for myself and my loved ones’. I just remember thinking, you have such a warm, inviting smile Smoke. I sure hope you see how beautiful you are when you look in my eyes.
We briefly circled up before departing for a few insights on the exercise. Smoke shared that she enjoyed it very much and that she could see right down to my very goodness. She repeated that she knew for certain that I was very, very good inside. Hearing this made my heart sing because I believe I was just a mirror for this brave woman. I came home and penned this poem for her.
Priestess, when did you lose your Head Dress?
beloved i have come to remind you of your internal compass, guiding you toward goodness.  you speak of guilt and shame, temptation and unruly thoughts.
as a child, one never imagines she will end up behind bars, locked away from society— a common criminal.  you are someone’s daughter.  if your earthly parents did not know better to tell you of your royal bloodline, it should be my honor.
there is no past. there is no future. just here and now where you make your peace, in this body you very well may abhor.
i have crept into the wilderness of your heart when  the darkness returned to breathe  you into newness of life. with each exhale, I, with a force and power heretofore unknown to you, release you from the ties that bind. emptying the trashy contents of your mind.
i have come prepared to speak words of SURETY and CERTAINTY. without a doubt, you once walked and talked like no other, the natural one. you did not pose, nor attempt to impress, attracting that devil named greed.
once you robustly sang lyrics  of a long-forgotten song in a soap shop, smelling the fragrance of the sandalwood (love) and the rose(hate), and scrunching up your nose to show exactly what you thought.
as you lay sobbing and crumpled like a page torn our of a diary, mumbling abouthaving lost something, not sure exactly what or where, in a hushed tone i say i see through your temporary breakdown and remind you that a bad day for the ego is a celebration of the soul.  i shall sing  leonard cohen’s infamous tune about cracks and light and shattering and all things working toward the highest good, if only you can surrender to the pain. this pain– name it.
it desires freedom!!!  exhale! let it go..
i will you draw you into the nonjudgmental space and capture the cruciform  juxtapositon of good and evil.  where gray pervades and paints broad strokes until the time comes to step back into the light, out of darkness where dirty underground creatures dwell .
your birthright is one of phoenix and pegasus, star, ash, flame and all things vivid and taking flight.
refusing to classify the profane as wrong
preferring  crow-speak over hummingbird
prison over church
its an upside down and backwards proposition .
replete with lullabys and magic
because the darkness will revisit
and you will likely forget for a while .
so gaze into my soul as i whisper
‘you are a priestess.’haunted_mirrors2
press onward with purity of devotion
to transcend
beyond the cheating heart
and spiritual bankruptcy.
you are clothed in moonbeams
and crowned in angelic halo.
you cannot feel
the stardust in your veins so
i hold up a mirror that unveils its sparkle.
an invitation: place your hands over your heart
and repeat
THIS IS THE PLACE WHERE TRUTH LIVES!!
hello self that desires to FEEL– ALIVE, PASSION, Connection…these are not WRONG!!
my words spin out across space + time reaching into your heart and shaking it — wake up!!  you are still BEATING.
if i’m not a mirror i should drain my pen.

It was the Best of Times/It was the Worst of Times

An ordinary Tuesday that began and ended in tears. But what happened in between is where the magic happens.

It’s 6:30 a.m.

Making breakfasts and packing lunches for the teens. Telling myself to bring joy & gratitude to the activity– totally faking it.

Before I descend the basement steps for my daily meditation, I take a peek at the twitter feed and read “90 year old sisters still making each other laugh”.

I try and sit still and follow my breath and hold my spine upright. Really I do.

But after a few minutes it feels impossible and even a bit painful. I surrender and take child’s pose. I’m clasping my hands behind my head and willing the earth to absorb my tears and fill my heart with calm.  I am saying “I’m sorry for all the times I EFFED up! I am doing the BEST I can!”

The day you break your own heart and call bullsh*t on yourself for playing small, for believing the lies, for not knowing any better: you step into your power.

You NEVER look back.

I was ASLEEP at the wheel.

I am awake now.

What do you think the  bible means in 1 thessalonians 5:17 when it says to pray continually?
I used to wonder what the heck that could look like?  Now that I have a daily mindfulness practice I pay attention!!  To what I am thinking and feeling..I am fully alive and no longer on auto-pilot.

Right now I am feeling like a lonely, little girl desiring more time with my Oma to laugh with.  My grandmother and I were more like sisters, sharing a room for 18 years.

I decide to try to “sit” once again. I am still crying and imagining I am at the foot of the cross, pleading to my deceased Oma and Jesus to give me comfort.  Now I am saying, “I just want someone to laugh with. All I’ve ever wanted all those desperate times I forced relationships — boyfriends and girlfriends. God made me so serious. I just want someone to laugh with.”

I begin praying– show me new ways to serve. How do you want me to serve and self-empty?  Kenosis:  I love that word.

More kenosis…yes...more of YOU, less of me.

Then I am transported to utter emptiness, connection to ALL and a stillness beyond understanding. The crown of my head feels open and as if the contents are being drawn upward. Then there are bands of energy-like chords connecting me to something above. I sit in awe to the Presence.
I hear

  • That which you are seeking is seeking YOU
  • I am you and you are me
  • Stay….Rest
  • Yours are His hands, feet and heart
  • You will continue to be used well…Trust
Once in this place of deep, abiding grace I feel complete. There is nothing I need. I can barely sense where I end and everything else begins. 
Inhaling I expand. 
Exhaling I am ready.

I return to my laptop and check email and Facebook.  Here is an opportunity to serve:  Trans4m network event in DC this April.  I  sign-up as a volunteer and can attend for a very reasonable price.  Within minutes I hear from the administrator, ‘How would you like to serve?  Would you enjoy teaching yoga?’

Am I on Candid Camera?
I am laughing at the beauty of this opportunity.  My Oma and I used to watch that show and laugh till we cried.  My mind is blown open for the second time in an hour—- this is yet another occasion to come my way in 2 days to teach yoga in our Capital City.  Less than a week before I had put out into our benevolent universe my desire to teach healing mindfulness practices specifically to Congress after praying to be a part of the solution and not the problem.  Here are two steps in that direction.

Later in the day I am reading Jim Palmer’s daily blog, “Imagine yourself walking in that Garden, an atmosphere where there is only harmony, wholeness, and oneness. Feel it deep within you. Know it to be real in your deepest awareness and gut feelings. That reality runs through us all. That reality within us will save us and this world forever if we will turn toward it and lift it up.”

If this anawim (divine nobody) can have these profound experiences of bliss and one-ness with our creator, ANYBODY can!!!  Palmer is challenging us to lift it up out into the world.

I was sent this platform to share how one ordinary mom in New Jersey experiences daily challenges raising two teens, feeling loneliness and grief and then finds meaning, connection, love and opportunities for service. Yes, I have tools to share that bring reconciliation to the broken parts and I do believe my Oma is helping send me to DC to share them.  Happy tears.

golden bauble

set right in the center of her wildly beating
heart
real or imagined
the gem lies cushioned
amid
layers upon layers
of bubble wrap
and fancy gauze
hidden deeply enough
safe from harm

exquisite in its perfectly
bewitching and well-formed
luminosity

she prizes its strength
spun from tenacity
and gilded passions

on one occasion she steps
toward uncharted
treasures
in a  future
stripped away of defenses

bravery replacing
trepidation one breath at a time
grace discovered at the bottom of the
exhale

a rare glimpse of the precious stone
Hmmmm…a bit tarnished
chipped on one side
you love it all the more!
for it
was never unmarred
or fragile

it’s worth
derived
not from artistry
or symmetry
but
from the artist
herself
who fashioned it

connected and addicted

yogi  tears
and the sound of ujaii breath
conferring ecstatic silence
behind  prison walls
that smell like home
and maybe urine
to practice
and preach
human connection

taking up my own cross
embracing my own
incarnation

asana led in the halfway house
only to find
the weekend sluts
and the greedy druggie
look like me
mirror gazing
at the inner
criminal
the one jesus loved

so they sit
in lotus
all satisfied

a woman
chin in hand
she knows more than she’ll ever understand
getting high, drunk and horny
each night
it’s the same

and each morning we salute the sun
praying to a god
who might crucify our minds
and prostitute our loss
making us weak

with repetition
and a fistful of
mercy

addicted

Living life on the Inhale

So which one are you?

An     I N H A L E R
or
an  E X H A L E R

For approximately 45 years I was an inhaler. I often desired what is not meant for me.  I did not always know this about myself. It’s the journey of a lifetime to really and truly know yourself fully isn’t it?  I had plenty of negative words bouncing around in my head to describe being an Inhaler.

  • Self-absorbed
  • Selfish
  • Stingy/frugal/cheap
  • Egotistical

These are ugly, horrid words that no one in their right mind would readily admit to. But here I am on the 4th day of a new year saying not only did I identify with them but they were often quite accurate. How can I be so certain and so honest about the dark, false side of my nature?  Because by the grace of GOD, I have come to be grounded in the TRUE nature of my being more and more often.

Once I recognized who I was NOT, I found an enormous amount of peace. Once I tasted this PEACE as within my power to remain, it became my intent to protect and enjoy it above all else.

John 14:27 in the NLV states ‘I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”

When you are an I N H A L E R, you are very troubled and afraid. You are literally gasping for life like it’s your last breath. And when you are in fight or flight mode you are panic-stricken by the idea of just LETTING GO.  If I was really honest, I could occasionally admit to being a control freak. And yet, faking control is an unhealthy and immature step on our way to individuation or self-realization.

Without a daily stress-reduction practice  we are in this mode much of the time. The body may be trying to communicate and may manifest in physical ailments like anxiety, IBS, auto-immune disorders, depression, eating disorders among many other symptoms .

Gratefully, I have been practicing yoga and meditation daily for over two years now and can identify with the steadfast, eternal nature of LOVE alive in my heart. I have gone on a journey inward toward the peace the wold cannot give.  There are many names for this: Christ consciousness, Buddha nature, Highest Self, Inner Light, presence. Once we know who we really are (and not just in our mind), but experiencing as an embodied wisdom, we can look non-judgmentally at who we are not. We can genuinely repent for who we are NOT. This means we find ourselves humbled with the full knowledge of our need for salvation by Grace and not our works.


In John 9, Jesus tells us he came to give the blind sight. I can only see my own darkness through the forgiving lens of light in Jesus’ eyes.  When I, feeling alone and disconnected, attempt to view my sinful nature, I only end up depressed and irritable.  Real repentance is about CHANGE and TRANSFORMATION.  

In her Advent message, Nadia Bolz-Weber said, ‘I cannot remain unchanged and expect to have an impact on this broken world.’  Enter the Eastern wisdom traditions instructing us to practice mindfulness.

Alan Watts’ book The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety, argues ‘The root of our human frustration and daily anxiety is our tendency to live for the future or remain stuck in the past.  What keeps us from happiness is our inability to fully inhabit the present moment.’  
The practice of paying attention to the breath  transforms me, it continues to liberate me from my suffering. It helps me to finally and fully: EXHALE.  

Try it out right now. Full belly inhale to the top of the collarbones to a count of 5. Empty out until the belly contracts for 5. Inhale in all four directions of the torso, not just front and back but side to side. Release the breath pulling the belly to the spine.  
I suspect the EXHALERS out there have their issues too; maybe with accepting love, help, fullness of joy and aliveness. You might give till it hurts, leaving yourself spent and depleted.  Try focusing on expanding with new, fresh breath. We can experience rebirth with our very next breath, becoming a new creation!

In the 4th century, St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote, “What was achieved in the body of Mary will happen in the soul of everyone who receives the Word.” The Word became living breathing flesh! In John 22 we hear, ‘He breathed on them and gave them the Holy Spirit.’  Let us find balance as we inhale LIFE/Spirit/Incarnation and exhale tension, desire, attachment and expectation.  The first step to allowing more LIGHT and LOVE in is to surrender and make plenty of room.
#Exhale
Breathing lessons (app) by Carla Ardito recommended

Preferences

I find the Buddhist concept of non-attachment or no preference  fascinating.  While I would like to share my experience of being in Buddha mind, what I recognize is that there remains a subtle desire to stay in Buddha mind. This in and of itself is a sneaky form of desire.

The setting:  a holiday party where family and friends are laughing light-heartedly and I observe more than participate.  The next morning on a walk through the woods with my Golden, I sense the tears building. The energy in the world on what a few days before Christmas feels heavy and occupies an unhealthy place in my brain.  I am confident the cold air and wooded stillness will be the perfect cure.

I breathe and trust the full, emptying exhales.

Ahhh, here it is:  I am envying their laughter and I wonder why some of my days are filled with more tears than laughter. Then I think of the women at the FDC downtown in a high-rise where I volunteer teaching yoga and how sad I feel when I contemplate their inability to participate in nature’s healing.  I begin to step on the fallen leaves and say, “With each step my feet kiss the earth in honor and reverence on your behalf.”

And then I picture them one by one. The tears are raging now and I hear in my spirit, “They are the same you know: Joy and sadness.  Have no preference because deep emotion brings aliveness.”

My ego would just love for me to write about this insight and have it published in a national magazine. Yet there is a subtler message that the world needs to know– an ordinary mom and wife in South Jersey can find equanimity through daily practice.

Flashback December 23rd 2011: I’m in the Best Buy parking lot and I am having a breakdown (AKA break through!!).    I call my gynecologist because I don’t have a therapist and I practically beg her to prescribe something, anything for the pain of being me.  She declines and suggests it is  hormones and holiday overwhelm and I will feel better soon.

I couldn’t stand myself any longer– the mood swings, angry outbursts, and control issues were bad enough but the dark emptiness was threatening to drown me.

I, like so many others, had experienced a childhood wound that required tending but I never knew how harmfully it was impacting my life’s choices. I was blind to it.  Mindfulness and deepening Presence imparted new eyes to see.  I had been abandoned at birth by my father and he denies me to this day.  Some days feel like I’m being re-abandoned.

Most days I live with gratitude and wonder for this precious life.

Most days I have a deep TRUST in the goodness of the universe and faith that all will work together for our good.

I have found that sitting in centering prayer meditation has created the space and stillness for God’s love and compassion to transform what was ugly into something very beautiful.  He uses the pain as raw material for HIS divine alchemy:  like turing lead to GOLD.

What absolutely is not helpful? Judgment and shame.

Each time one of those feelings or thoughts arises we notice them, say thank you and B R E A T HE. It is in this space we allow  LOVE to arise.

I am grateful that my wildly- beating heart is smiling a genuine smile.  There resides in me a tenderness and compassion for all and a connection to God’s beautiful mystery. A lie about separation has been perpetuated.  This work and transformation needs to begin inside where all is interconnected.

Maybe you can identify where you are still holding onto a “story or grudge or victim” mentality?

I now feel more like the real me: which feels like freedom…or like a canary singing just because she has a song.

Mindfulness practices have deepened my faith and now I am blessed to share my unique gifts with others, journeying together on this beautiful path full of twists and turns, yet finding the treasure at each juncture.  May 2015 bring you deep awareness of the preciousness of life and may you THRIVE!!!!