Friday, February 26, 2010

Honoring a Room Full of Teachers

For the past two weeks, I have felt a more general sense of well being. Put another way, I feel loved.

It's not a romantic, giddy feeling. But I feel it in my body as warmth, more relaxed, deeper breathing, and open. Perhaps this is fleeting as all things are, but I welcome it.

When I feel uptight or anxious, I think about my circle of teachers. In the past, these teachers came from all places, but lately there are very real humans in my experience who exude love and acceptance. All of these characters are in my Wednesday morning meditation group.

I want to recognize the importance of my ongoing spiritual friendships, people who nurture my soul. They are my friends. Then there are the people who are known as thorns-in-my-side or adversaries. I grow from them, too. What I am going to write about is something different – a small group of people who collectively became a guiding force.

The core of regular attenders in this small meditation group is mostly over the age of 70 years. Who else can come at 9:45 a.m. midweek? Everyone else is very, very busy. But having faced underemployed for several years now, I have had the opportunity to sit and meditate with these sages on a weekly basis for almost three years.

I don't think they would consider themselves particularly wise. What sets them apart has been their drive to seek the Divine/seek Truth/learn about the human condition and their willingness to share their spiritual journeys with others. As their bodies age, their spirits seems to grow. Through our conversations after a 45 minute period of silent meditation, the Spark ignites into a Flame. For those with eyes to see, we have our own burning bush.

The thing is that anyone who walks through those doors is a teacher. I have witnessed the honest sharing of difficult topics and have shared my own. I saw how each person was nurtured. When I talked about painful issues, I did not die, I was not shunned. The space was quietly held or a story told or a gentle precept offered. This, too, shall pass.

I wish I could film each person so you could see their ordinariness and their life force. I wish I could package what they bring to the room. I am reminded that in the Hindu tradition, students know the love of their yogi and experience it beyond this world, even after the death of their yogi. They have a love relationship that transcends time and space.

The love and joy that arises from this group of souls who has dedicated the merit of their practice for more years than I know is like perfume. Of the Buddhist traditions, theirs is a Vipassana-affiliated group or focused on compassion. I identify with the stark Zen tradition. But thankfully, through a series of losses, I have been led to a little church social hall in Lovettsville to meet with people who repeatedly say that they are more than Buddhist or Christian or Hindu or Agnostic.

They are seeking the broadest truth or perhaps the simplest truth. In our human frailty, we are all one.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Finding a teacher

I've been praying for a teacher. I thought I meant a Buddhist teacher of some sort. Someone to mentor my spiritual growth.

Sure, my meditation group is nothing but a group of teachers - mostly elders who inspire and challenge me just by sitting with them in session. But I was looking for someone who would help me personally.

I've been in the foggy forest for some time. I keep putting one foot in front of the other while looking out for someone or something to enter that knows the way.

I think I found her for this leg of the journey.

I can't tell if I am talking about my teacher or the harp. They seem intertwined.

My Teacher starts each lesson with an absolute sense of joy in sharing her love for the harp. This is a woman who raised a family, set aside her music while they were little and got back to it once the kids were old enough. She plays in the regional orchestra and teaches.

She generously extends my lessons beyond what we say we are going to do. When I started, I was worried about money and being good enough. I thought that if I kept the lesson to 30 minutes or met every other week, maybe I could get up enough nerve to go. Maybe by getting started in a small way, I could make it work.

I hate the vulnerability I feel in any of the creative arts lessons. I am a recovering music student from a youth filled with lessons, forced practices and pressure to perform. As an adult, I took an art class one time and quit after the first lesson. My feelings had hurt by a comment the instructor made.

My Teacher said she felt that 45 minute lessons on a weekly basis were needed to get started. She didn't want me practicing with bad habits for two weeks before the next lesson. So we started with that understanding.

The first month she kept me for over an hour at each lesson. I don't wear a watch and she didn't have a clock in her studio, so I was always surprised to go back to the car and see how much time passed. Once I realized she was doing this on a regular basis, I told her I needed to pay her for an hour lesson. We are just finishing up the fifth month of lessons and she has gone over the hour each time.

But her generousity of time extends into her teaching methods. She insists on teaching beginners harp techniques by playing very slowly. I am a person who rushes everything. I practice meditation for a lot of reasons and one of them is to slow myself down.

Imagine my challenge when she had me play the harp in a v-e-r-y s-l-o-w manner. Place hands curved just so just above the strings, elbows up and out, posture straight, pluck, close hands with fingers flat into the palm and thumbs resting over top of the fist. Bring arms out and away from the strings parallel to the floor. Five months and we are still focusing on this.

Memories of music lessons from my youth come flooding back during lessons. Anxiety, holding my breath, rushing to find the next note, a desire to play beautifully, to please her, all crowd my mind as she sits by my side and watches my form.

I am beginning all over again some forty years later. I want to cry. Instead, I crack a joke. We laugh. We share stories. She tells me about her teachers just like the Buddhists who tell of their lineage. I watch my emotions come and go as my meditation practice comes into focus. She nods and encourages me to go on.

I tend to go ahead of what she has assigned. I tend to play faster than she wants. And yet at my lessons, she pulls out the metronome and has me play very slow beats, doubley slow - two slow beats per quarter or eigth note. I am alway surprised when she carefully and gently holds my arm and slows me down further so I don't rush back to the string after plucking it.

The thing is, I am learning to relax and enjoy it. The sound of this instrument resonating in my arms is a reward in itself. I have learned that I can't hold my breath while playing this slowly. I have to relax and allow the breath to move more easily. This in turn allows me to take in the sound through my whole body.

My cells are waking up and talking excitedly amongst themselves. Music is flowing from my fingertips in an easier way. Practicing is a form of pleasure that I rarely experienced in my youth when I was forced to play.

One day about two months into lessons, I took the harp in my arms and realized the harp was more than some wood and strings. I was waking up.

Grace is cradled in my arms on almost a daily basis these days. The Universe is answering my prayers.