Be a Light Unto Yourself!

Hey all! I just wanted to post a quick little recap about the NovaPrana meeting tonight at Reston Regional Library. We had a great turnout! We saw some returning friends, and we met a couple of new folks who we're gracious to share their ideas and perspectives. As I'm thinking back on it and processing the conversation, one thing (of many!) keeps coming back to me. Our mission at NovaPrana is to work with people in the Northern Virginia community to develop a meditative or mindfulness practice that they can do, where they are, within their lives. The way we do this is by offering events and opportunities for folks to gather, meet, and communicate with others who have either adopted mindfulness or a meditation practice, or who are newer to the practice and are interested in gathering a bit more information about it and feel they might get some guidance from a support network. Now here's the thing... no matter if you've had a practice for 40 years, or if you've tried it one time, we all have stories to tell, and these stories are the greatest gift.

We all come from different backgrounds and cultures, families and environments, we have different jobs and responsibilities, and we resonate in harmony with different frequencies. All of this is beautiful! What this means, however, is that we all may have different perspectives and approaches to developing our meditation practice, which may resonate with one person differently than another. By hearing these stories, experiences, hints, nuggets of wisdom, and bits of practical advice, we may find insights about ourselves. The four noble truths illuminate both the nature of the problem as well as the solution, and in so provide a clear path. However, it is your responsibility to walk that path. The Dalai Lama said, "The responsibility of your happiness is on your shoulders." How do we bear the weight of that? Well, the Buddha said, “Be a light unto yourself; betake yourselves to no external refuge. Hold fast to the Truth. Look not for refuge to anyone besides yourselves.” What does it mean to be a light unto yourself? When someone describing their meditation experiences or approach, says something humbling to the effect of, "Hey, I’m just sayin’, this is what works for me,..." I see that as the true acknowledgement of light coming from within. It means that you are finding that the answer is within you, and the practice that you have to walk that path away from suffering is the one that you have found to be true for you. That's not to say that a little guidance isn't a good thing. A learned and experienced teacher is a invaluable thing! However, trust that you are able to walk that path, and that there is real value in trusting yourself to do so, but also know that there is value in trying new approaches and gathering ideas from others who are on the path as well. Sometimes, their light might shine brightly enough to help you find your way as well, and might show you, on occasion, that you're off the path. What's important is to keep at it with open ears and without judgement, and engage in the conversations that others can give to you.

When we say, as we do in our tagline, that we offer "Meditation and mindfulness experiences, workshops, and conversations in Northern Virginia," this is what we're talking about. Let's have those conversations. Let's hear your experiences and approaches. Our ears are open, and we're all on the path. Until next time, as Yolanda Williams says so often, "Practice your practice!." Here is another article that you can read about this very topic:

If you’re on Facebook, you can find our events listed here. If you’re more of a Meetup person, all of our events are also listed there as well. Click here to check that out if it works for you. All events are also listed on the website. I hope to see you soon! Comments are on, as always!

First Friday Recap - Relationships!

Hey everyone! First of all, I want to thank the folks who made it out to our “First Fridays - Relationships” event. It was a challenging weather day to say the least. Somewhat slippery conditions added to the cold, dark February weather, but a successful event was had, and I want to report back on how the conversation unfolded. As always, they can end up in some pretty unexpected, yet insightful and rewarding places!

We started off with trying to define what a “relationship,” of any kind, actually is - not just the romantic ones or “working” relationships. What does it actually mean to “relate” to someone, and if you do, are you in a “relationship?” Maybe so, maybe not, but a little clarity, or, at least, structure might be found in the words of Jay Shetty, whom, in the video linked below, describes how people come into your life for three reasons: for a season, for a reason, or for a lifetime. Take a minute or two to check it out:

Now, if we want to get technical about it, the etymology of the word “relate” reads as follows:

1520s, "to recount, tell," from Middle French relater "refer, report" (14c.) and directly from Latin relatus, used as past participle of referre "bring back, bear back" (see refer), from re- "back, again" + lātus "borne, carried" (see oblate (n.)).

Meaning "stand in some relation; have reference or respect" is from 1640s; transitive sense of "bring (something) into relation with (something else)" is from 1690s. Meaning "to establish a relation between" is from 1771. Sense of "to feel connected or sympathetic to" is attested from 1950, originally in psychology jargon. Related: Related; relating.

From this, it seems that most folks, when they use the word “relationship,” do so using the most recent, 1950 version - “to feel connected or sympathetic to.” However, there are some nuggets of insight from the other interpretations, in particular, “from re- "back, again" + lātus "borne, carried" (see oblate (n.)).” To be in a relationship is to carry someone with us. Not an inaccurate description at all I would say!

From there, the conversation went in a really interesting direction - the need for sacrifice. Does being in relationship with someone, and therefore “relating” to them and considering their perspective or point of view mean that to enter a relationship is to accept compromise? Pretty undoubtedly, it seems, the answer was yes! But, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing! To relinquish total self-interest to someone else may be couched in terms of “I’m sacrificing my Saturday on the couch to do the dishes,” or something similar to that. What, here was REALLY sacrificed? It’s not that the desire to spend 30 minutes on the couch has any real, tangible value. If we look up the etymology of the word “sacrifice,” this is what we get..

c. 1300, "to offer something (to a deity, as a sacrifice)," from sacrifice (n.).

Interestingly, the more common way in which it is taken or implied today, as

"surrender, give up, suffer to be lost"

is reportedly from 1706.

If we take the original meaning of the word “sacrifice” and apply it to the interpersonal dynamics of functioning relationships, the sacrifices that we make for another with whom we are RELATING to, is, literally, a SACRED gift, or a sacrament, or an "outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace." Now we’re talking! What if the “compromises” made to be in a relationship with someone else were seen not as a 1706 “surrendering” where you give something up, but rather as a sign of spiritual grace? If we do that, I would bet that relationships would be much healthier all around for everyone! It turns out it’s not about the physical thing that is being given or foregone, or the time spent doing it. Both of those approaches lead to relationships being transactional and the need or desire for approval from another. However, as Deepak Chopra said,

“This is not a body of flesh and bones, it’s a body of consciousness. It’s a body of light…. The spirit does not need approval, the ego only needs approval.”

Good relationships with others happen via offerings given and received by the spirit, and in the spirit, those offerings are made holy by intention and given by grace. That is why they are truly sacrifices in the 1300’s way, and not transactional compromises in the 1706 way. To be in a relationship with someone does, in fact, mean to carry them with us. We are connected by those sacred gifts that we give to each other, not so by a sense of duty or obligation, but rather gifts of ourselves freely given for the other to carry. It is then up to you to carry them carefully, responsibly, and respectfully, for the other person is carrying you as well.

Meeting Recap - December 5, 2018 - Walker Nature Center

December 6, 2018.

Hey all! We had a wonderfully rich discussion at the NovaPrana meeting last night! I’ve had the inkling to post recap notes of our events for a while, so here is the first one – let’s see how it goes!

We began the conversation by discussing a recent shared challenging experience where things don’t go as planned, and how those challenging experiences can be useful as ways to investigate the reactions to strong or unpleasant situations, and how even the most challenging of situations can serve as the best teachers for learning about ourselves and our own emotional reactions to things. What came out of this was a conversation about how to process these emotions once we acknowledge them, as acknowledgement alone doesn’t provide a “release” from them. It feels good to act out your emotions, but what are the consequences of doing this? Is it ok to act out in the interest of “emotional release?” The Dhammapada sort-of addresses this in the first chapter…

Can anyone think of or post some other resources that are relevant to this? How can emotions be “released” productively? The analogy was made that “unreleased,” or emotions left un-validated are like an inflated balloon inside of you, and only by relieving the pressure through words or actions can the balloon be deflated. However, it doesn’t seem to work this way. The mind can get stuck in patterns of negative thinking, which causes the balloon to be inflated from the inside as it is being released through words and actions.

From that discussion, we the subject of how to process emotion without acting out on them. You may have heard of some instructions to do things like “identify” or “name” the emotion, or to take some time to sit with them. However, how does this play out in practice? One technique that I use is, when a strong emotion takes hold to the extent that I know it’s not going anywhere soon, I take some moments pretty immediately, about 10 minutes or so, to sit and feel the emotions completely, until I can feel them with non-judgement. For me, this happens by literally visualizing a copy of myself with a hoodie on with the name of the emotion written across the front of it. It sits with me as a friend, and I feel what it represents completely. After 10 minutes or so, I wish the emotion well, thank it for spending time with me, and visualize it getting off the couch and walking off to do whatever it does.

We also talked for a bit about the intellectual side of Buddhism, and how I would love nothing more than to pour over an obscure translation of the Satipatthana Sutta. However, as the conversation went, the value of all of this is in the practice of meditation, and eventually one must put down the book and resist the urge to intellectualize it and practice your practice of meditation. The clarity of cutting wisdom taught by a master was discussed in light of a recent experience I had during a sitting with Thu Nguyen at the Mindfulness Practice Center of Fairfax. If you ever get the chance to go there for a session, DO IT! They are masters of their craft!

After productive and very insightful discussion, we practiced a quiet sitting, as we do!

We ended with a quick Mawashi session. Although Mawashi is usually only really encountered in Reiki circles (let me know if I’m wrong here!), it’s a great way to close any type of session where there is the shared experiences that touch us deeply.

And that’s how the meeting went! Our next community meeting is on Tuesday, December 18th at Reston Regional Library, so please be on the lookout for that. HOWEVER, we’re also doing our second “First Fridays” tomorrow, December 7th at 6PM at The Brennan Institute for Mind-Body Healing! We still have some seats available for that, so please check it out! There’s a button that will take you to the info page just below, I’d love to see you there!

Peace, folks! I’ll see you soon!