Inventory

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I recently took inventory of all my spiritual “stuff.”  The list is quite impressive.

Mantra flash cards (I’ve collected lots of melodic, mineral rich Sanskrit chants from my time with a Kirtan ensemble and other spiritual pursuits).
Beautifully upholstered zafu & matching zabuton sets.
Mala prayer beads (including a set given to me by the Dalai Lama).
Incense.
Candles.
Crystals, healing stones, and heart rocks.
Essential oils.
Mandalas.
Tibetan singing bowls.
Trickling Zen fountains.
Bundles of roped sage for smudging and cleansing.
Mesmerizing music and recorded “om”s.
Stone works and wood carvings and figurines of the Buddha, Ganesha, Kwan Yin,
St. Francis, and my beloved om (I even have an om tattoo).
And finally, dog-eared stacks of all the most penetrating writings of Thich Nhat Hanh, and Pema Chodron, and Eckhardt Tolle, et al.

It all serves something for me.  Much of it helps me open a door that might’ve been otherwise stuck.  My visceral reaction to a certain symbol or image can powerfully operate as just the conduit needed.  What all of it legitimately does is generate an energy and environment of serenity, and a constant reminder of my path. And I’m grateful enough for that.

However, if I’m not careful, these props (the only word I can think of to call them) can also act as a crutch.  And this is where I find it’s time to take serious stock and inventory.

I have been a meditator for years now. And most recently a Kirtan chanter with a lovely group.  There is nothing more meaningful to me than participating in meditational rituals, such as the winter solstice labyrinth I walked this past winter with a group of like-minded seekers at the spiritual center I call home.   And the props can often be an integral part of ritual (chanting 108 repetitions of a mantra with the use of mala beads, or clanging 3 dings of the singing bowls in order to sign in and out of a practice.)

But I look at all the stuff, and I wonder if they aren’t merely being collected to cocoon me from the world, the harsh elements, the stings of life.

My stone Buddha that I bought at a statuary in Glendale two decades ago is so pretty.  So is the one I keep beneath my father’s easel. And the laughing one that sits on my bookshelf surrounded by Jack Kornfield books.  And the one I painted a flower on at Color Me Mine.  And the one that’s holding his hands in gyan mudra.  A couple of them were gifts from people who know my penchant, and I treasure them.  They exist in such quantity all around my modest apartment that they’ve sort of formed a club: Angela’s Guards at the Gate.

And my collection of mala prayer beads is quite something.  But how many of them do I actually use to meditate with?  My meditations are usually silent ones, so my beads really just lie around my apartment, beautifully draped on this or that, in order to create the funky, Zen, hippie-girl-flower-child ambience that is the reputation I most embrace.

And the heart rocks.  I’m always looking for them whenever I walk my nature trail.  I’ve amassed a little bit of a collection, along with every different shape and kind of crystal, and the garnet nugget (my birthstone) that I found encased but subtly peering out from sediment.  These beauties give me comfort.  And the illusion of safety.

I wear my brass Ganesha figurine in a medicine pouch (a beautiful velvet beaded one, of course) around my neck or in a pocket, because Ganesha is the remover of obstacles according to the Hindu religion.  He has never directly removed any of my obstacles, nor do I actually think there is wisdom in believing that all obstacles can be removed.  There is a divine design in obstacles.  Some are meant for us to clear, some not.  All are meant to provide a lesson, if we’re willing and open.  Nevertheless, I keep my sweet Ganesha close to my heart because he comforts.  The illusion of safety.

I imbue meaning on every prop, every trinket, because managing and navigating my life without that armor is maybe just a little too much to consider.

If I were to truly strip down my spiritual journey to its most basic element, I would have to say it’s about management. The buzz word in my spiritual community these days is mindfulness.  But mindfulness isn’t, as is often misunderstood, a state of perfect reaction. We’ll never be perfect reactors.  We’ll have our moments of groundedness interspersed with those other moments of knee-jerk responses, defensiveness, anger, even deceit. And we’ll consider the time when those start to be outweighed by Right Speech and Right Behavior as success! We’re practicing mindfulness!  When the truth is, we’ll always experience both, in probably fairly equal amounts, all throughout our lives. Mindfulness isn’t a banishment of those unskillful moments. Mindfulness is paying attention to all of it. Learning to identify the source of the less benevolent traits, and to offer them as much of our understanding, patience and goodwill as when we get it right.

I recently said to a friend, a fellow meditator, that I had all but abandoned my meditation practice because of some family stresses that were rather consuming, and that I hadn’t been able to get in gear with it. And I was saying it to him as a kind of self-indictment confession. His response to me was, “well, sure, cuz shit comes up. And when life is already feeling very full of it, sometimes the idea of more is too much.  That’s okay.”

And that’s the thing. Meditation isn’t meant to be a cushion (though it sometimes serves exactly that).  It is meant to strip down, to uncover, and to lay bare.  And all it takes is an agenda of NOTHING, and some silence.  That can be hard to do, but is just that simple.  So, all the trinkets, the doo-dads, the Buddhas, the beads, the oils, the crystals, ad infinitum …. perhaps as a way to that place of commitment?

Just be mindful of when practices of cocooning are present. No judgments. Just notice. Carry on.  

That’s the voice that speaks to me every time I feel the need to bring something new and shiny and pretty into my home “for meditation.”

Because truth time?   All the stuff is perfectly fine.  I love collecting beautiful and meaning things.  But naked.  Empty room.  Hard floor.  Stink from the nearby sewer system.  Noise from the neighbors.   No serene music.  No mesmerizing candlelight.  No cloak of protection.  Nothing.  Just breath.  And meditation is still possible.  Being present is still possible.  Living by spiritual principles is still possible.

Sit.

Be still.

Close my eyes.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Notice everything.

Accept every notice without judgment.

When judgment comes – and it will – notice that too.

Repeat.

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is a published author, a recipient of the Heritage Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums as a singer/songwriter, and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on INSTAGRAM & YOUTUBE.

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Day 10 (of Juice Fasting & Meditation)

Day 10

 

Well, here we are.    We did it!    And we got a 30-second-long earthquake as the celebratory party favor and noisemaker!   Whoooo-hooo!  (Those of you in the L.A. area know what I’m talking about)

In all seriousness, when I first started this, I asked a friend if he’d do the fast with me so that I could have a support system.   He came on board enthusiastically, and so I want to thank Ross Wright for being so willing.  He actually started a few days after me, so he’s still going at it.   When I called him to check in on my last day, I told him he was free to stop if he wanted.  And he said “no, I’m gonna see this through,”  which made me smile.   What I never realized, by blogging about this adventure, was just how much of an extended support system I would end up having.   My running joke has always been that I wonder if Bindi Girl Chronicles even exists, if no one tunes in.   You know, that whole bear in the woods things?   Because I’ve tended to feel the presence of the wasteland here.   Cyberspace can be a cruel mistress.  So, imagine my surprise to discover a genuine rooting section, as I’ve peeled away each layer and each day.  Some even feeling the inspiration to try something like this themselves.    My heart is incredibly warmed and humbled by your presence on my quest.   Which is why I shout “WE did it!”   So, not only do I thank my friend Ross, I thank YOU.

Today has been a good day.   Contemplative, as you might imagine.   Wondering about all the shifts and changes, both internally and externally, physiologically and spiritually, overt and covert, instantaneous and yet-to-be-discovered, that may have taken place during this time of privation, fortifying, prostration, and inward-turning.   It hasn’t necessarily been a quiet time.   Especially emotionally.   But it has been an astonishing time.

When I looked back today over all the blog entries of this journey, I wondered if the shorter entries were because I just couldn’t get inspired, perhaps was downtrodden that day.   And then I realized that the size and length did not necessarily correlate with a good or bad day.   Quite the contrary, some of my longest entries were about very taxing days.   In fact, my shortest entry had been a peaceful day.   All systems were go.   The engine was running smoothly.   And therefore, there simply wasn’t much to report.   Then again, my most buoyant day beget the longest of the entries.   No rhyme or reason, kind of like life itself, in all of its magnificent abstract and bebop free form.

Today’s juice was beets, beet greens, spinach, and cucumber.   It tasted so lovely that I could almost picture it as a warm beverage for a cozy evening.

My meditation happened later in the day today, and the theme seemed to be compassion and equanimity.   When I’ve referred in past entries to the “themes” of my meditation, I haven’t been referring to anything I’ve deliberately set out to ponder before I close my eyes.   I close my eyes, and these issues, themes, lessons, whatever you want to call them, show up.   Sometimes, no theme at all shows up, and I’m merely meant to quiet my head.   But today, compassion and equanimity were definitely floating like a haze over me, and I know that I have been challenged in that area of late, so there’s no mystery as to why it would make itself present.

What have I been hoping for this observance of Lent to do for me?    I think, slow me down a bit in certain areas of my life.  Areas where beauties are missed, where stress and hyperactivity rule, where over there is more meaningful than right here.   And in other areas I’ve been hoping to speed up, show up, get into action.  Areas where complacency or fear have clinched my ankles and caused me great frustration and despair.  Wanting to appreciate impermanence.  Wanting to be made weightless by non-attachment to outcome, and to recognize the beauty and wisdom in creating for its own sake.   Wanting to love exactly who I am, without judgment and chastening.  Embracing imperfection, and finding that a little perfect.  A tempering of  narcissism.  Having the ability to listen to and honor every voice and every story, and to really get that someone else’s isn’t rendered valid ONLY if I can claim the same experience.   Center.   Ground.   Clarity.   And letting go.   And letting go.   And letting so.

So, have I achieved any of that?   Have the plate tectonics shifted at all?   I guess I’ll see, as my life goes on and I operate in it.

But what I do know for sure, today, is that I’ve set a groundwork for ongoing self-tending and soul-tending.   Let there be no doubt about it, I am on the precipice of profound self-awakening.  I am completely geared for an embarrassment of riches.  I find beauty in everything.  And I express my gratitude to the Source everyday.  The tools are in place.  So bring it on.  Whatever it is.   The blessing and the challenge.   I am ready for the responsibility of my Buddha mantle.

 

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light comes in.
― Leonard Cohen

Here’s wishing us all vigilant healing and constant transformation.

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.