Books that fill the sky with color

IMG_MayaAngelouSky (1)Some books fill the sky with color. Some authors leave a distinct hue, their indelible mark in the space beyond the clouds. When Maya Angelou passed on May 28 in 2014, I watched a gorgeous sky(pictured above) take shape at sunset in Salinas, Ecuador. The clouds stretched across the sky and shades of pink lingered before giving way to gold then yellow then orange.

It was her sky that evening, a majestic tribute in her honor. That evening I began a Maya Angelou reading marathon of sorts. While familiar with her poetry, I hadn’t read her autobiographies. I started with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which opens with a vivid scene of a young Maya in church. She evokes feelings of displacement and not being enough through a description of an ill-fitting, faded lavender dress.

“It was old-lady-long too, but it didn’t hide my skinny legs, which had been greased with Blue Seal Vaseline and powdered with the Arkansas red clay.”

She goes on to compare her skin to the color of mud, the minister’s wife has a long yellow face, and then a green persimmon or a lemon catches her between the legs after she trips on her way to the bathroom. Angelou manages to work every color of the rainbow into her story.

By the time I finished reading all of her autobiographies, she had taken residence in our home on the beach. I felt her presence in the hammock, in the bedroom with the green decor, and at the kitchen table. We had many visitors come and go during that extended stay but the one person I felt most connected to was Angelou.

Her stories were like the clouds in the sky floating in and around me, coming and going. Now each time I think about Salinas, I can’t help but remember her life experiences. For me Salinas belongs to the ocean, the sea lions, the sunsets, and Maya Angelou.
South

Find a meditation buddy

Adriana-Yoga-2868For the first time this past weekend, I sat in meditation with my family members. An impromptu session of yoga turned into a seated ten-minute meditation practice. I guided the group in, which consisted of my siblings, mother, and oldest nephew. Each individual has had their own meditation practice in one form or another but we had never sat down together as a family to meditate. As I sat in silence, I experienced a sense of awe and joy.

Meditating in a group feels different than meditating alone, it isn’t better or worse, just different. The collective energy of the group sets the tone for the practice. And sharing in challenges and observations can often provide insight. Sometimes sitting in silence with others helps keep the practice consistent and provides a counter balance to what often seems like a very solitary exercise.

Some participants in a meditation group I guide on Thursdays at the Women’s Project have shared that they find it easier to meditate in the group sessions rather than on their own. I’ve also noticed that the two practitioners who join in the sessions most often plan their afternoon activities together and often show up together.

To keep the meditation motivation going, find a buddy, sit, breathe, and relax into what is without judgement. Then allow space for for tea and talk afterwords.

Buddy

Poem selected for publication

IMGbooks2

I’m happy to share that my poem, “Anoche,” was selected as the top poem for a National Poetry Month contest held by the Jersey City Independent (JCI) and Jersey City Writers. The poem is one of three that will be featured and published by the JCI during the month of April.

I’ll also have the opportunity to read the poem on April 13, 2016 at a literary reading being held at Barrow Mansion at 7 p.m. The event is being hosted by JCW, JCI, and Art House.

The event will also feature Claudia Cortese whose first full-length book, “Wasp Queen,” will be published by Black Lawrence Press in 2016.

Other poets selected to have their poems read that evening include: Abigail Pillitteri, Rachel Poy, Kevin Singer, Simon Pereira Shorey, Holly Smith, John Trigonis, Beth Bentley, Carol Lester, Joe Del Priore, Aileen Bassis, and Kay Dominguez.

This April marks the 20th anniversary of National Poetry Month, which was inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996.

 

 

Meditate wherever you are

IMG_Commit2SitDay1b

Sunset meditation: Canoa, Ecuador

When I first began meditating, I lived in a studio apartment in New York City. The only space that was truly quiet was the bathroom or the closet. The open living space had stuff, clutter, and two cats. So I would close the bathroom door, light a candle, close my eyes, and sit quietly.

At the time, I had no instruction. I had yet to seek out guidance on how to meditate. I just did what I thought meditators do, sit quietly. I’d soon realize it was more than that and just that.

I thought I was doing it all wrong in an inappropriate space so I moved my meditation seat next to the bed. I’d roll off my bed and onto my cushion in the mornings. The cats and clutter and stuff were behind me and around me. Sometimes my cat Puddy would sit on top of me or the cats would brawl in the living room or there would be sounds of construction coming from the building going up next door.

Eventually I sought formal instruction. I realized that the conditions to meditate would never be perfect. That as much as I attempted to situate myself in an ideal setting, it would never be just so. If I waited for the perfect conditions to arise, I’d likely never meditate.

What I knew was that I had an innate desire to meditate. I craved the opportunity to sit in silence. That desire was stronger than any of the distractions or obstacles that surrounded me at the time. While there has been an ebb and flow in my practice and varying degrees of intensity, the desire is always there like a flame that never goes out.

Today I meditated in union with thousands of others as part of the Real Happiness 28 day challenge guided by Sharon Salzberg. Salzberg says, “if you are breathing, you can meditate.”

I hope you’ll consider joining in and meditate wherever you are.

 

 

Music and Mantra: Being with Sound

BuddhaMantra
As you go about your day, you may have words you repeat to yourself as a reminder, as a way to boost your confidence, or perhaps as words you live by. Sometimes you may find yourself repeating a mantra or something said in a yoga class. Thoughts or phrases you return to can have a powerful effect on your perceptions and behavior. Mantras especially can serve as a way to calm the mind, allow for healing, and open the heart to acceptance, self-love, and compassion.

Centering

A yoga class often begins with the chant of om, or aum, as a centering practice. A root or bija mantra, om represents beginningless time, it sets off an internal vibration, releases energy and prepares us for the physical practice. In meditation practice, a mantra purifies and focuses the mind and prepares us for the silence that follows.

Mantra derives from the sanskrit root word man, which means “to think” and the suffix tra, which means “instrument” or “tool.”

Nourishing

In “The Radiance Sutras,” Dr. Lorin Roche defines mantra as an instrument of thought, speech, sacred text or speech, a prayer or song of praise. He says classic meditative mantras can feel like sounds of nature or the hum of electricity while other mantras can be nourishing like food. When we return to mantras throughout our day, they can serve as a source of energy and fuel, a way to release burdensome thoughts, and a way to focus the mind. According to Roche, what matters is finding the sounds you love so much you want to be with them.

Understanding and offering compassion

In the space of the silence that follows mantra chanting, you may find insight and understanding. In “Teachings on Love,” Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh says, “To bring about harmony, reconciliation, and healing within, we have to understand ourselves.” Mantras carry meaning in them that with practice can help us learn self-acceptance but it begins with deep listening and allowing for openness in the heart. Mantras may also carry a wish for peace and healing in the world. The words can be infused with love and compassion for others as an offering.

Invitation to explore and be with sound

The workshop Live Music, Mantra, and Movement is an invitation to explore the healing and heart-opening sounds of mantra followed by movement and meditation. As a bonus, we’ll have talented singer and songwriter Diane Lutz sing mantras during the flowing asana practice.

A certified yoga teacher, Lutz was introduced to eastern philosophy and meditation at a young age. As a musician, she was magnetically drawn to chanting during her teacher training in 2010 when her journey began exploring the healing powers of mantra and kirtan.

For Lutz, chanting mantra helps to clear her mind from “chatter” and creates a great foundation for meditation.

“I find myself occasionally waking up chanting in my mind, which is such a pleasure to wake up to instead of, again, the “chatter” of my noisy mind,” says Lutz.

When she recites mantras she notices where the mantra resonates most within the body whether in the head, throat, heart, navel, etc.,

“I like to imagine that clearing of the energy in the space where I feel the sound as if the resonation is breaking up anything that may be blocking that space or blocking the flow of energy,” says Lutz.

During the workshop we will practice deep listening, tuning in to the powerful vibrations evoked from chanting then allow the mantras to resonate throughout the body through a flowing asana practice set to Lutz singing. We’ll follow the movement with silent meditation.

On how to get started with the practice, Lutz says, “Just start! The beauty of mantra is that it can be done anywhere…. all you need is your voice.”

She adds, “For my particular situation, being a stay-at-home mom, I am drawn to chant around 4 p.m. or 4:30 p.m. It’s nearing the end of a full day with the littles and it helps provide me with the energy I need and the patience I desire to enjoy the last few hours of the day with my kids.  My almost 4 year old has started sitting next to me and humming along from time to time.  Perhaps we all need it.”

Register now for Live Music, Mantra, and Movement with Adriana and Diane, being held Sunday, October 25, from 2pm-4pm: http://tinyurl.com/otkpwgn.

Originally posted on Yoga in the Heights blog.