Wellesley College Reunion-- Class of 1991
I am very grateful for the invitation to be of service to my class.
Here is the meditation we shared this morning.
HOPE, Wellesley College Choir
(original composition Ysaye Barnwell, Sweet Honey in the Rock)
If we want hope to survive in this world today,
Then every day we’ve got to pray on , pray on (teach on, work on, march on, sing on).
Welcome, my Wellesley sisters! This will be an interfaith experience—may you find moments of connection with what is familiar, and moments of inspiration from that which is new.
FINDING THE STILL POINT IN THE CENTER OF THE CIRCLE
My Hindu chaplain-colleague at Wellesley, Vaishali, once shared the image of Shiva, a Hindu deity, who dances within the circle of life, setting Ananada tandava, the cosmic dance in motion-- as a way of stepping into all these rhythms of life and universal energy-- seeing these as the dance of Bliss.
Both Buddhism and Hinduism (and in fact, within many traditions) it is considered essential to align with the natural rhythms and cycles of life. When asked to describe Buddhism, Suzuki Roshi said "Everything changes." Within these processes of change, we return to the center of our sacred circle, which is
simply here, now and this.
Here, now, this.
There is a time for being ahead, a time for being behind;
a time for being in motion,
a time for being at rest;
a time for being vigorous,
a time for being exhausted; a time for being safe,
a time for being in danger.
The Master sees things as they are, without trying to control them.
She lets them go their own way,
and resides at the center of the circle.
--Tao te Ching, trans. Stephen Mitchell
What is the center of your circle?
Centering ourselves in the present moment, whatever wisdom, clarity, compassion we need is there. Let’s now share three deep breaths as a way of trusting our own deepest experience.
We can begin by breathing deeply through the lungs, through the deepest corners of the lungs. Then, breathing through the lower belly. As we are doing so, noticing what physical sensations arise: whether there is warmth or coolness within the breath, pulse, pressure, tingling—noticing any sensation. And noticing whatever emotion arises as well—letting that be as it is. Breathing through and relaxing our lower body—so as to feel the Earth itself supporting us. Through our lower body. Sensing our connection to the Earth, to our families, our communities, our traditions—everything that grounds and nourishes us at our root.
In that spirit, let’s drop into this contemplative translation of the Lord’s prayer—
LORD'S PRAYER., translated from the Aramaic by Neil Douglas- Klotz
Alum Camille Berry '91 kindly read this for us.
O Thou, the breath, the light of all,
focus your light within us -- make it useful
Create your reign of unity now
Your one desire then acts with ours,
As in all light,
So in all forms,
Grant us what we need each day in bread and insight:
Loose the cords of mistakes binding us,
As we release the strands we hold of other's faults.
Don't let surface things delude us,
But free us from unripe acts.
From you is born all ruling will,
The life that can act and do,
The song that beautifies all,
From age to age it renews.
I affirm this with my whole being.
WHOLENESS NOT PERFECTION
Our Wellesley Muslim chaplain, Najiba Akbar, once told a story about a person who is considered by the prophet to have special distinction. Someone asks, "Have you memorized the Koran?" No. They ask a few more questions. No, he humbly replies, he cannot lay claim to these honors. The only thing he can think of, is that every night before going to bed he asks that Allah clear any lingering resentment or obstruction from this day, from his heart. That clear heart-- his sacred space.
That practice of forgiveness must extend to forgiving ourselves for being imperfect, for being human.
I know we Wellesley women have a drive towards perfectionism. All too often, we allow certain experiences and emotions to arise, we manage other emotions through all kinds of compulsions. trying to achieve the perfect image of ourselves. Some of this is socially driven-- we have a societal overdrive related to "looking good", evidenced by (among other things) facebook "status updates"-- we are continually revising our status, and it is always revised upward. This is not actually possible in real life.
When we set our expectations higher than can be physically achieved, there is pain every time these expectations collide with reality. This reaction has a powerful kickback that takes two forms.
First, we become anxious and self- critical: without self-acceptance, that feeling of being secure in our own skin, happiness becomes difficult to achieve.
Second, because we are thoroughly invested in maintaining an artificial self- image, we do not allow ourselves to be vulnerable. When we mask our vulnerability, we do not allow others to truly see us. If people cannot see us, connection cannot happen. By the use of armoring we prevent ourselves from feeling the excruciating discomfort of vulnerability, and the potential experience of fear or shame. However, we also prevent intimacy.
(In these thoughts I am inspired by sociologist Brene Brown)
There is a story which I have often used teaching at Wellesley College, due to our perfectionism that runs rampant.
Zen teacher Ed Brown began his Zen training as a cook at Tassajara Retreat Center. For many years, when making biscuits, he felt he could not get these right. He had grown up with Pillsbury biscuits, which were incredibly fluffy and light. On the baking sheet, they invariably took the perfect shape, and their flaky crusts were the gold standard by which he judged the crusts of his pastry. This prevented him from actually enjoying his biscuits as much as the guests, who raved over his biscuits. Finally, he realized, “Oh, these are not canned Pillsbury biscuits”, and allowed himself to taste them just as they were. They were earthy and real. And in that same way, Brown notes, we too often miss our life by comparison with the lives of others and trying to make everything look right-- concealing the messes to achieve some state of perfection which never arrives. “To heck with it”, he said at last. “How about savoring some good old home- cooking, the biscuits of today?"
If we do not try so hard to conceal the messes, and exclude the shadow, something truly magical happens: we achieve wholeness, and cook our life. So, try that special meditation practice technique, of touching whatever is inside with warmth and kindness, and let me know how it goes.
Here, I lift up two simple objects Dean Daniels once gave me—a stone and a chestnut, simply gathered from her travels. I always considered her to be a goddess. Her white hair and unretouched skin made it evident to all that she was not young. And at the same time, there was undoubtedly a grace with which she carried her body, and its wear, which bore witness to the fullness of her travels upon this earth, her natural wisdom. Perhaps we, too, can love our bodies—even though we are no longer twenty-one-- and dwell within them, in this way.
MEDITATION ON RHYTHMS AND CYCLES
Our bodies reflect the spirals and movement of the stars. We wake and sleep, the earth turns, the sun rises and sets, menstrual cycles parallel the moon, our hearts beat, our breath moves in and out, our cerebral spinal fluid washes our brain and spine, all in natural rhythms. –Jack Kornfield, A Path With Heart
Let’s take a moment to touch into our bodies with kindness—
Placing one hand at heart level, the other on our lower body.
Listening to the rhythm of the breath, perhaps the beating of our heart.
Let’s now reflect on the warmth and kindness we have felt from our Wellesley sisters—and all those which have touched our lives-- parents, partners, children, mentors, all of those loved ones-- allowing ourselves to take in their wishes for our wellbeing-- through our whole body, opening to this kindness through our entire heart/mind.
Envisioning their faces—seeing and remembering them sending that wish for your wellbeing. Envisioning this wish as radiant light, which bathes your entire body, opening the heart, nourishing the bone marrow, shimmering through every pore of the skin. Trusting this wish of love more than limiting thoughts of yourself, receive it into every cell of your body.
Now-- joining them in their wishes for your wellbeing-- let us set these intentions in our heart and mind....
May I be filled with loving kindness.
May I accept myself just as I am.
May I experience the innate joy of being alive. May my heart and mind awaken; may I be free.
Now extending that love to all of us present in this meditation, and all of our classmates—
May you be held in loving kindness.
May you accept yourself just as you are.
May you dwell in joy and safety.
May your heart and mind awaken; may you be free.
And now, extending this out to our communities, and people of other communities.
May all people be filled with loving kindness.
May all people have complete wellbeing.
May all people have deep and lasting peace.
May they awaken; may they all be free.
Reflecting on the past in the present, appreciating all our adventures, appreciating the cycles and paths of our lives with a sense of wonder and gratitude. Then, feel yourself resting in this moment today with an openness towards our future-- sensing how we can be true to ourselves and true to our own way, or Tao—the path that is unfolding in our life.
We are the Visionkeepers
of a deep and abiding spiritual heritage that honors the sacredness of life and the integrity of all life forms.
WE ARE THE VISIONKEEPERS
We are the Guardians
of a rich body of myths and symbols, powers and knowings,
stories and traditions that honor the cycles of birth, growth, aging and death
WE ARE THE GUARDIANS
We are the Creators
of a New Earth upon which the spiritual values of women shall be fully woven into the fabric of our everyday lives
WE ARE THE CREATORS
We are the Weavers
of ancient and new patterns of living in kinship with nature,
WE ARE THE WEAVERS
FOR THE EARTH IS IN US AND WE ARE IN HER.
--adapted from a poem by Patrice Wynne
Sabbe Satta Suki Hontu
May you be happy
Sabbe Satta Dukkha Muccantu
May you be free from suffering
Sabbe Satta Avera Hontu
May you dwell in joy and safety
Hineh ma tov uma na’im
Shevet achim gam yachad
How good it is when sisters gather together!
I release you to the four winds and the ten directions with so much gratitude for the moments we have shared together.
Ji Hyang Padma