Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Do This And Change The World!!

We live in a world where there is suffering. Everyday in our own lives, in our families, our communities, and certainly in our world we are confronted with it.

In just the past year I have seen events of cataclysmic suffering close to home; Hurricane Sandy, Sandy Hook, the bombing of The Boston Marathon, and I have felt grief and despair. There is so much heartbreak, it is so difficult to process, and certainly very hard to find peace.

Everyday I can look at the world news headlines and find violence, disaster, horror, such profound suffering endured by my fellow beings. Just today my heart seemed to shatter again as I read about the victims of the tornado in Oklahoma City, many of them children.

How can we keep our faith in the face of such pain? How do we continue to be steadfast in the belief in the ultimate goodness of this world? Where do we find grace and strength when it might seem that we are powerless. How can one person change the world?

Can one person change the world?

I believe we can. I believe I can. Maybe not in a big or sensational way that will lead to fame and public accolades, but in a quiet and yet powerfully direct and intentional manner.

We must change the world from the inside out. We cannot make peace in the world until we learn to make peace within ourselves. Gandhi said, "Be the change that you want to see in the world."

I have come to believe in the power of meditation and prayer. These are tools for transformation, again nothing flashy or glamorous, but powerful, like a slow steady stream of water that in a quiet way can carve through the hardest stone.

One of the most transformational meditation and prayer practices I have found is the practice of metta meditation or loving kindness. This simple offering done regularly will begin to vibrate in increasing intensity in your whole being. It will radiate from you, everything in the world is energy, change your energy and change the surrounding energy. The prayer will always create a shift to a higher energy a greater lightness.

Here is how you do it.

Find a comfortable seat, on a cushion or in a chair with a straight spine to increase the energy and mindfulness. Connect to your breath and to your heart center.

The prayer is quite simple and you first direct it to yourself. Again the first place we must create peace is within our own beings. Three times say or think:

May I be happy.
May I be peaceful.
May I have ease of well being.
May I be free.

Next say the prayer for a benefactor. That is a teacher, a friend, a partner, someone who is a positive force in your life.

May you be happy.
May you be peaceful.
May you have ease of well being.
May you be free.

Next say three rounds for someone for whom you have neutral feelings, for example your mail person or the cashier at the supermarket.

May you be happy.....

Fourth, direct the prayer to someone who challenges you, someone who has hurt you or others. You don't even necessarily have to know them directly. This one is the most challenging for many people and can be the most important. We must be able to see all beings as part of the spiritual family. Those who commit acts of violence and harm are in deep suffering. They still at their core are beings of goodness and light. We help create change by extending the powers of love and forgiveness everywhere, especially into the darkness. Hold this person or people close to your heart and offer to them.

May you be happy.
May you be peaceful.
May you have ease of well being.
May you be free.

Finally direct the prayer to all beings in this world and others.

May all beings be happy.
May all beings be peaceful.
May all beings have ease of well being.
may all beings be free.

I would like to suggest that if you took the time to read this whole post that you take on this practice for one month. It only takes about 15 minutes to do a short practice.

The Dalai Lama said " “If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.” We can begin now with ourselves, our impact will be significant.

If one person's prayer is like that small stream that given time can cut through rock, together we can create mighty rivers of peace and compassion. You can change the world.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

My Arab Education

"Every tree, every growing thing as it grows, says this truth: You harvest what you sow.
With life as short as a half taken breath, don't plant anything but love." ~ Rumi

The first person I met here in my new neighborhood in China was a woman named Miral or Mira for short. It was my third day in my new country and there we were standing at the bus stop. My inner voice told me "Go on, you HAVE to say hello to her! You need to talk to someone, so get to it!" So I looked her way and caught her attention, we both smiled and I said, "Hello." We proceeded to exchange names and basic information, it turned out she has been living here for two years, a "veteran", so to speak, but she had also just moved into this neighborhood or what we call "compound" here in the local vernacular.

She spoke good English but with a pronounced accent which I could not identify. I asked her where she was from and she told me how she is originally from Egypt, but has spent many years living in the United States, and that her family had moved here, to Shanghai, from Michigan. I found her immediately endearing, kind, and exotic. I have never had a friend from Egypt before. Most of all I felt an immediate connection to her, and in these few months we have become friends.

Moving to Shanghai, of course, would be a chapter of life full of new experiences for me and my whole family. I never imagined though, that it would offer me an opportunity to experience and learn, on a personal level, about Arabic culture and people, not book learning, but experiential learning, relational learning.

A few weeks went by and Mira had given me loads of advice on places to go, where to find things and invited me along on outings to some markets. She has been like an angel, truly, I have felt so blessed to have her in my life here and she has made my landing so much softer.

 Then on a bright unusually warm Saturday in March she invited our family to come to a barbecue at her house with her friends. I asked if she was sure, would she have enough food for five more people? She replied that she is an Arabic woman, of course there is enough food. So we accepted the invitation.

When we arrived some of her friends were already there and kids were playing, our three kids just folded into the mix. Then, for the next seven hours we met and socialized with her family and friends who came from Jordan, and Lebanon, and of course her family from Egypt. We feasted on a grand banquet of delicious food, enough for a wedding, dish upon dish of delightful color, flavor and texture. We drank and we laughed. The sun went down, and they lit two big hookah pipes with double apple tobacco. I am an ex-smoker and I usually find smoke repulsive, but this actually smelled mellow and sweet, so I decided to take a couple puffs just for the experience of it all. At one point some of us moms ended up dancing to "Gangam Style" with the kids. An evening of pure, unadulterated fun.

The most beautiful part of the whole thing was that no one in my family felt the least bit awkward or unsure. These people wholeheartedly invited us to their table, to eat, drink and be merry. There was so much newness in it for me, but it felt easy, effortless and natural. I wish the whole world could have been at that table, this is the true human spirit. We are people of common experience in friendship and family, breaking bread and celebrating life. Across cultures we share the need for love and connection, community. This very simple event brought me so much happiness, as well as new insight.

Soon after that night, my husband Stephen came across some information on a Muslim market at a mosque here in Shanghai. I was very interested to go, so I asked Mira about it. She said yes there is a market at her mosque but it is not very big and is mostly vendors selling food. I wanted to go check it out regardless, so Mira offered to take me with her on a Friday, since she goes on Fridays anyways for prayers. She told me I didn't have to go in for prayers though, I could wait outside. I felt a great possibility in this. I asked her, "Can I go inside for prayers with you?". She said that I could if I wanted to. I most definitely wanted to. A door opened to a unique opportunity to once again learn about something so often judged and misunderstood in my home country. I would again be able to learn from first hand, direct and personal experience.

A few weeks passed, and finally, on a bright sunny Friday morning I went to Mira's house to prepare to go to the mosque. There is a bodily cleansing that must be done before entering the mosque. We washed our feet, our hands and forearms, rinsed our mouths and washed our foreheads. She explained to me that this is to enter the sacred space clean and pure and is done for respect of the holy space. She helped me pick out a pretty scarf, or hijab, to wear over my head. The men also wear a hat to cover their hair. She explained to me this is also done as a respect. We wore the scarves around our shoulders for the moment and we headed out.

We arrived at the mosque to survey the market first. We ate some wonderful barbecued lamb with bread for our lunch, and as we ate we strolled and checked out all the meat,vegetables and other foods. We each bought a leg of lamb from one of the vendors to take home. The atmosphere was friendly, lively, and as it got closer to the time for prayers many people were convening there. I was surprised at how many people were arriving and even more surprised at how many Chinese people were there, and they were not there just to look, they were there to pray.

The time came to go inside so Mira helped me put on the hijab and we went to the women's entrance. I was not sure, as we prepared to enter, if I might meet some resistance or disquiet, but I did not feel that at all, at least not here, and Mira explained every detail to me so beautifully that any reservation I might have had melted away.

We removed our shoes and entered the prayer room. There were several long narrow rugs arranged to make rows where we sat to wait. There were strands of prayer beads on the rugs to use and they looked so much like the mala beads we use in yoga, or the rosary beads of the Catholic faith. Some women were already there using the beads or praying on their own.

The formal prayers began and the room was quite full. I was shoulder to shoulder with Mira on one side and another woman on the other side. The prayer was very ceremonial and included words which Mira explained to me were to express gratitude and devotion to Allah or God. The words were accompanied by movements, first standing up, then a standing bow, finally down to kneel and bow to the ground in prostration two times. The prayer was beautiful and the energy in the room was peaceful and reverent. This is the same energy I have felt in churches and cathedrals, at Kripalu, my spiritual home of yoga, and alone in my practices. This is the energy of the divinity that lives in all of us, it is love, it is universal and unchangeable.

I believe it is that love, our higher consciousness, that is at the heart of truth in all religions, all spiritual traditions. The separation we imagine between those expressions of faith is just that, an imagination, an untruth. If we really took the time to know, to inquire, to reach out for understanding before leaping into judgment we would see that the love is what is far more pervasive, but that does not get the attention of the media. We do not get the full story or the true picture. We must seek it.

The bombing in Boston happened just a week and a few days after my visit to the mosque. My heart has broken for it. My heart breaks for the victims and the city of Boston. My heart breaks that this kind of violence continues to happen in my country or in any other country on this earth. My heart breaks to see people seething, angry and vengeful,and directing that anger, in some cases at all Muslims, or on the other side to all Americans. Some terrorists are Muslims and unfortunately they are the celebrities of Islam in the world. They are the exception and not the rule, just as oppressive states that victimize women and say it is in the name of Islam, I believe, do not represent, in truth, the hearts and spirits of the majority of people under that rule.

I am no expert on religion, politics or world affairs. I say this from my felt sense of what I have now experienced directly. It is only what I can extrapolate from a knowing that comes from my own simple practice, prayer and insight, and notably from friendship. It is an offering, and for me it rings true. I pray for peace in this world and for the liberation of all beings.

"If we have no peace it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other." ~ Mother Theresa