Please support the Plum Village Community with a purchase of The Mindfulness Bell Autumn 2020/Issue 85 and read the Venerable Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh‘s guidance for cultivating “Peace, Love and Happiness” during these challenging days. Plus, you can read my contribution, “Peaceful Warrior,” about how I’ve coped with COVID-19 in my new city.
As we head into the end of the third quarter of the year, it is clear to see that 2020 is still unrelenting. Many are trying to process compounded trauma and grief in the midst of “unprecedented and uncertain times.” Between increased, publicized, instances of police brutality and Black death, a pandemic that requires quasi-isolation (or complete isolation for some), Zoom fatigue, and loss, both personal and communal, people are carrying a lot. In the words of Erykah Badu:
Bag Lady you gone hurt your back
Dragging all them bags like that
I guess nobody ever told you
All you must hold onto, is you
– Bag Lady
Even though things are a bit haywire right now, before you can rush into dealing with the world, it’s imperative that you first check in with yourself. As people are turning to holistic wellness, it’s important to remember, you can’t meditate or manifest in a tainted atmosphere.
How to Sage Your Home:
Sage is an herb that is used as a cleansing agent that purifies the air and dispels negative energy. Sage can also be used to assist with meditation and checking in with oneself spiritually. To sage, the basic steps are as follows:
- Determine what type of sage you need. The most common type of sage that people use for cleansing is white sage. Make sure that you have a bowl to put the sage in – safety first.
- Once you select the sage, take a few leaves from the bundle, and place it in the bowl. Most people burn the entire bundle of sage and while that is still effective, it is better to burn small amounts of the sage to preserve the life of it.
- After you light the sage, blow out the flames once it begins to produce smoke. Once the sage is smoking you can either leave it in the specific room you are trying to cleanse, or you can walk the sage around the house for a top to bottom cleansing.
- As you are cleansing the house with sage, don’t remain silent! This is the perfect time to explain exactly what you are asking the sage to clear out. Words carry weight, speak up about what is lingering in your house that is no longer serving you.
- Make sure to open a window and/or door while working with sage. You don’t want to stir up the negative energies but have no place to dispel them to. My recommendation is that as you conclude working with the sage, open the front door and let the smoke out. After this is done, make sure to welcome the positivity and blessings that you are hoping to attract.
- Don’t forget to sage yourself! When saging yourself, start from the crown of your head and work your way down. Make sure to affirm and speak over yourself. Also, don’t forget to lift up your feet to sage under them.
If you wear or keep crystals and tumbled stones in the house, saging them is a way to cleanse them so that they are ready to fulfill their purpose and intention.
Other Ways to Cleanse:
Not everyone enjoys the smell of sage but still believe in the importance of cleansing. If you don’t want to use sage, but still want to elevate the vibrations of your space, try a few of the following methods:
- Cleanse with Florida Water. Florida Water can be found online and at most Botanicas. It is believed to have spiritual properties that enable the person being cleansed to be stripped of the negative energies they carry. It is a more superficial cleaning, but it’s a start until deep cleaning can be undertaken. To cleanse with Florida water, it’s important to apply it first and foremost to the head, because it is the head that carries the record of what’s troubling you. Florida Water can also be added to your laundry or other household cleaning products for increased effect.
- Cleanse with Rose Water. Rose Water is similar in function to Florida Water. For added benefits, use the water directly from the Rose of Jericho which is a resurrection plant. When using the Rose of Jericho rose water, as you cleanse you can also call into being those items that have become stagnant in your life.
- Take a Spiritual Bath. Spiritual baths are a deeper cleansing and can vary based on the impetus for the bath. Ingredients for a spiritual bath can be found online or discussed via a consultation/spiritual reading.
This is just an initial entry into the basics of cleansing. With four months left of the year, it’s time to lay down the burdens that the first eight month have placed upon you. Let’s raise our energy levels and honor ourselves by honoring our space.
Recently, I received a beautifully written “Out-of-Office automatic reply” that opened my heart with compassion and awareness. Without delving into too many details about the message, the author outlined her circumstances and the nature of her personal challenges; explained how her situation was impacting her work and her ability to respond to the needs of others; and requested the readers’ understanding and patience. Her message caused me to pause, breathe and re-read her note. It was obvious to me that while her message wasn’t longer than the usual content, the care and self-awareness required to write such a missive were unique.
She showed that she cares not only for herself and her immediate family, but that she also respects anyone who may try to communicate with her through her work email. Her impressive mindfulness is important aspect of communication. That she outlined a course of action and that her relationship to the reader is clearly important and worth her careful consideration were additional dimensions of her active good will. With deliberate thoughtfulness and kindness, she coveyed the boundaries she needs to thrive. For the reader there is no mystery, no loss of focus or confusion. She effectively eliminated any misunderstandings that may arise owing to lack of skillful communication.
Lesson 18: This week, before you pick up the phone, answer an email or leave a voicemail, take a breath to make sure you are calm and able to respond with good intention, so that you can communicate your message with love and kindness. Rely on your Accountability Group if you feel challenged by any emotional aspects of the communication
While not sufficient in itself, it is commonly accepted that the “Tool of Intention,” often utilized in prayer, meditation and contemplation, has the transformative capacity to improve outcomes. Whether intention is used for physical, mental or spiritual healing, intention sets a pathway to communication that relies of love and spirit to transmit good faith and harmony. During these trying times, we could all use intentional communication to ask for what we need, reduce harm and show good will.
The Black church is currently experiencing an exodus of its millennials who are seeking community and spiritual fulfillment elsewhere. Research conducted by the Pew Research Center stated that four out of ten millennials are likely to claim no religious affiliation (Cox, 2019). It is assumed that those who are leaving the church are becoming atheist or agnostic, however, this is not necessarily the case. As the church experiences an exodus, many millennials are finding their genesis in traditional African spiritual systems and the wisdom of their Ancestors.
What are African Spiritual Systems?
African spiritual systems are those that predate the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and were practiced on the African continent prior to European colonization. While the spiritual tradition varies dependent upon where one is on the continent, two that are most widely known throughout the diaspora are Ifá and Vodun. The practice of both systems has been vilified throughout history, but particularly after the Haitian Revolution because during the Haitian Revolution, an important Vodun ceremony took place at Bois Caimen that helped assist the enslaved Africans defeat and drive away their French colonizers. The vilification and demonization of these systems has helped ensure that diasporic Africans remain disconnected from their Ancestors, and therefore themselves. Though the systems may vary, there are a few key elements that translate between them.
Ancestral Veneration: It is often assumed that in African spiritual systems, people are worshiping those who have transitioned. To venerate means to pay homage to and show deep respect for someone or something. The Ancestors are given a high level of respect because they are their descendants’ first line of defense, and a connection to the spiritual realm. They are able to help guide and direct their descendants, as well as keep them from harm or unwise decisions. It should be noted that all cultures have a form of Ancestral veneration but may not realize it. For example, when going into an elder’s home, you may see that they have a collection of obituaries on their mantle, and photos of the transitioned all throughout their home. Though they may balk at the idea of setting up an Ancestor altar, they are engaging in a form of ancestral acknowledgement. Additionally, when one “pours one out for the homies,” it is a libation used to honor those that are no longer physically present. Elements of the African worldview and thought process are syncretized into modern day practices, often without a true understanding of where the traditions originate from.
Belief in a Divine Creator: African spirituality is often viewed as polytheistic due to the presence of Orisha (Ifá) or Loa (Vodun), who practioners can work with and call upon. However, there is still the belief in a singular Divine Creator who is not assigned a gender and is considered to encompass both genders.
Divination: In Christianity and Islam, one of the primary tenants is faith. However, African spiritual systems include divinatory abilities. Practioners do not have to guess if they are in alignment, making good decisions, or moving in purpose. With the ability to divine on a matter, practioners are able to move throughout the world in a more effective manner with a certainty that what they are doing is correct, or that what they are doing will lead towards harm.
Why is Returning to Ancestral Wisdom Important?
2020 has shifted everything, including worldviews and ideologies. This time of quarantine and social distancing has allowed many to sit with themselves for the first time in years, or first time ever. During this time of sitting with oneself, many have come to realize that the ideologies and expressions of self they were taught to hate and fear, might hold the key to their wellbeing. The Ancestors are our first line of defense, as such, it is necessary to be still and listen to what they are trying to teach us. We cannot claim to be their wildest dreams if we are not taking heed to their advice, or diminishing their practices. It’s not enough to rally against systemic anti-Blackness if one does not address internalized anti-Blackness that is present through the demonization of one’s own traditions. Regardless if one chooses to participate in an African spiritual system, it should be understood that there are alternative epistemologies, and wisdom to be gained.
One of the keys to effective decentering is cultivating mindfulness. Mindfulness is important because it allows us to become aware of the events, emotions, and thoughts that are occurring within and around us. Often, when one speaks of mindfulness, one can conjure visions of a Buddhist master, but the truth is anyone can achieve satisfying, powerful clarity through this practice.
The idea of The Self is an important one. It helps us to navigate a world where it is sometimes difficult to understand the place your dreams, desires, motivations, worries, and worldview start and end. If you are not aware of the nuances of this, you may need or demand too much or too little support from others, or they may ask too much or too little of you.
The sense of The Self also harbors fear. Fear can be a good thing — evolutionarily, fear has kept us from being attacked by predators. However, too much anxiety can interfere with our emotional and psychological growth. It also fosters rash decision making and inability to establish long-lasting and trusting relationships with others.
One example of this is the police officer that allows fear to cloud their judgment and ascribe far more danger to a citizen than necessary. When a person has this mindset supported by others that look like them, either by race or wearing a uniform, there is little incentive to stop and examine the circumstances through another lens. However, this support can prove to hinder your growth. When you are most comfortable and feel most supported is when you should decenter.
How to Decenter
One of the quickest ways of maintaining a decentered state is a routine meditation practice. Studies show that meditation reroutes pathways in the brain and reduces stress. Stress can aggravate and prolong feelings of fear, aggression, and unworthiness. While there are many books and videos on meditation, meditation does not have to be a process in sitting still and breathing.
The reason breathing is crucial is that, apart from the physiological changes when more oxygen enters the brain, breath is a repetitive movement.
Meditation is a process of cultivating what psychologists call “flow.” Flow characterizes what laypeople call being in the zone. Any athlete, artist, or another person that relies on the repetition of their skill can report a sense of peace when they “get in their zone.” Getting in the zone provides an acute sense of clarity seldom found in other activities.
Some activities to get in the zone are:
Discussions and lecture
Why This Is Important
As a law enforcement officer, your job is dangerous. You probably work strange hours and have seen the worst of the human spirit. Because of this, you can end up overworked and fearful. However, there are other professions and life experiences that cause others to be overworked, stressed, and afraid too.
If the police apprehend a woman, search her, and she physically retaliates, the police report says she was resisting arrest. The account may be accurate, but if you decentered yourself and listened to her story, you may find out that the way you gripped her arm was the same way her abusive ex-lover did two years ago. She suffers PTSD, and reacted the way she did because she was unable to decenter as well.
Decentering allows the public servant to detach and offer more effective service. It also allows the officer to see that decentering is part of his or her job. The “resist to arrest” no longer becomes about “degenerate citizens” but more about understanding how to diffuse a contentious situation.
One action that has historically, universally sustained oppression is the practice of Dehumanization. De-human-ization affects all people involved. Its insidiously intrinsic nature normalizes itself. People don’t even notice this Othering. Dehumanization is a disease of the consciousness, wherein the afflicted carry the illness without knowing it, and spread it to their families and extended community. How can Dehumanization be unlearned given the nature of this oppressive condition?
We must Humanize all of humans. Again, this work requires self-reflection, introspection and humility. Only the most-committed warriors for justice can stand up and face the self. This internalized oppression must be sought out in the psyche, at its root. Once again drawing upon powerful DBT techniques, we will embody the behavior that is married to the belief. Only by practicing Humanization, can we begin to see this invisible illness.
Lesson 5: Watch the entire video of Ahmaud Arbery‘s murder. Ahmaud was 25 when he was hunted down by a white father and son.
Do not turn away. If possible, show it to all members of your family. Open your heart and mind to the feelings and cry for this fallen son, your brother. See his humanity, and mourn with us.
Cry. Weep. Wail. Scream. Pray. Cry some more. This one step on the path to transforming our society.
We were bound on the wheel of an endless conversation.
Inside this shell, a tide waiting for someone to enter.
A monologue waiting for you to interrupt it.
A man wading into the surf. The dialogue of the rock with the breaker.
The wave changed instantly by the rock; the rock changed by the wave returning over and over.
The dialogue that lasts all night or a whole lifetime.
A conversation of sounds melting constantly into rhythms.
A shell waiting for you to listen.
A tide that ebbs and flows against a deserted continent.
A cycle whose rhythm begins to change the meanings of words.
A wheel of blinding waves of light, the spokes pulsing out from where we hang together in the turning of an endless conversation.
The meaning that searches for its word like a hermit crab.
A monologue that waits for one listener.
An ear filled with one sound only.
A shell penetrated by meaning.
For all the fallen angels of the Black Lives Matter Civil and Human Rights Movement of 2020, your life has meaning. You are not forgotten.
With unexpected changes happening every day, I’ve found that it’s important to find a routine or a ritual. For me, it is walking in nature to breathe the air that refreshes and heals, taking warm showers with luxurious soaps and salts that soften and cleanse, and drinking the teas that bring forth healing and wash the worries of the day away. These sensual indulgences link my body, mind, and spirit and allow for optimal psychological and spiritual health.
Mental health, our internal heaven, sometimes seems to elude us but is always available to us. A fragile, steadfast friend, it wants to stay with us — through connecting with our friends and our family, scribbling in a journal with tattered pages; a trusted and empathetic psychiatrist or counselor, or the paintbrushes tucked in our studio.
Respite and Revival
These rituals simultaneously connect us to and vehemently release us from the realities of life, while life makes it possible to enjoy and revive our bodies and souls. With our staunch collective obsession of all that is new and theoretical in our Western society, coming back to that which is tried and true can be a welcome respite from the pressure to be different.
Still, a mysterious danger remains of being stuck in the past, present, or even future instead of being edified by it. We must embrace cycles in their full spectrum. Cycles are not just a hallmark of fertility although that is certainly significant; these cycles are cues that allow healing, sleep, emotional development and stability, calm.
Alleviation of Emotional and Psychological Pain
These rituals and cycles — circling, and spiraling — undo the knots of symptoms such as anxiety and anger. Our internal revolutions unfurl the painful memories locked into our psyche and cells and are expressed as inflammation. Whether you call these experiences cytokines or prostaglandins, rituals to remove stress can stop the overabundance of pain.
We also stop the pain with laughter, the ultimate healing ritual amid the friction that can be described as systematic subjugation. I laugh with my ancestors: they get the joke, the absurdity that we should have to fight oppressive forces all this time.
Finding my center
My rituals help me to tap within, to figure out why we do what we do. Where do we fit into the seeming madness of the world? It seems like we all have desires that appear to be at odds with each other, yet make up a composite mosaic that is reflective of our collective experience.
It’s hard to feel energetic in the mornings knowing people are getting sick. Our lives are disrupted. It’s spring but we must stay home. Besides cooking, exercising and checking in with friends all over the world, I’ve found some comfort in my new hometown. These days, Mayor Garcetti’s five o’clock briefing is uplift hour at my house. That’s when I turn on KPCC and listen to Mayor Eric Garcetti‘s update.
When Mayor Garcetti speaks, I know this is what compassion is. In the middle of the most confusing time of our lives, a global pandemic that few expected and fewer understand, when violence has grown intimate and our national leadership has flagged, Garcetti is solving homelessness in order to save as many people as possible. His message to “Stay at home” comes with the energy and commitment to galvanize LA city residents to protect the lives of some of the most vulnerable people among us.
Mayor Garcetti easily slips into my portfolio of heroes: People like Harriet Tubman, Dr. King, Jesus, John Brown and Ernestine Rose. I don’t have a problem including him on my list. I want someone to imitate. I need to believe in goodness at a time like this. Here is a man talking about CoronaVirus and using words like, “us,” “we” and “love” to talk about what’s a stake and what we must do to heal and stay safe. He urges us to engage with our best efforts and most positive outlook while providing concrete guidelines for behavior that mitigates risk to our families. He reminds us to stay home, take care of each other and advises us on what the city is doing to curtail the spread of COVID-19. Hearing him is healing my heart.
“LA Love” is a theme I can get behind, especially when it comes with direct action. When he tells us about getting manufacturers to make masks for public workers, or sadly explains why our beaches are closed or how new regulations will be implemented, it’s full of hope. He’s even raising money for locals who are unable to work or need extended shelter until the danger passes. Garcetti emphasizes the unity of Angelenos and is raising money for people who may need help.
I’m grateful for Mayor Garcetti’s leadership at this time. It reminds me to be still and step up when I can. We can all use some hope these days.
One of the things that I enjoy about organized religions is the way religions honor the extraordinary magic of life through ritual. These ancient, universal customs transcend individual beliefs and encompass the basic human elements that forge all relationships. They say to participants,
You are the fabric of this existence.
You are integral to the workings of life.
Notably, the season of Rosh Hashanah is upon us. It is a time of inner renewal and atonement for Jews. On a spiritual level, observers rest and remove stagnant energy from their psyches. Essentially, it’s a time to reflect on the past year, find peace with your life and loved ones and seek forgiveness from those whom you may have wronged and to grant it in turn. Obviously, these are not required practices for a non-Jewish person; however, for me, the benefit of honoring the practice brings peace and light into the world outweighs my allegiance to my particular faith. Central to these upcoming High Holy Days is a compelling call to harmonize with the self and one’s extended community, and it is a practice, which I wholeheartedly embrace.
When I first celebrated Rosh Hashanah with my Jewish friends in New York during my twenties, I remember being caught up in the spectacle of the ritual of a festive meal, chanting, and the lighting of candles. Now Rosh Hashanah holds significance for me that I treasure beyond those sacred memories of being welcomed into the intimacy of a private celebration. Rosh Hashanah is a time for me to get right in my soul. This period is a gift to me, a time to ask forgiveness from the people I’ve wronged, a chance to reflect on my words, my intentions and impact on the people around me. It’s also an occasion to atone for the unintentional harm I may have caused another, for even in innocence we can sometimes offend. It’s a habit that leads to grace—it helps me to say I’m sorry more quickly or more easily the next time around. It’s an invitation to hear when someone is struggling to make right with me. Rosh Hashanah allows me to let go of the outcome, release my ego and do my part to leave a blessing behind. The process makes my steps lighter, my heart ever more capacious.
Because we can’t change the past, it’s crucial we take the time to be present for our loved ones and atone for mistakes in an expedient manner. The unexpected death of my sister has taught me this lesson. The effort to seek forgiveness is a calling that requires humbleness, compassion and introspection. It is work done with a sincere heart; it is an observance with profound implications for everyone around us. There’s more room in our lives for tender moments when we don’t insist on carrying grudges. We can give and get forgiveness.
I still celebrate the Western calendar New Year on January First but find that Rosh Hashanah enriches my life with its heartfelt redemptive and renewing capacity. I’ve invited this ritual into my life in order to grow and expand my ability to love and co-exist with people who may not see the world as I do, which in an increasingly diverse world is becoming ever more critical. As I struggle with the right words and conditions to ask for forgiveness, I look to role models whose compassion and tenderness provide a guiding light. One source of luminous guidance for me is a mentor in the Order of Interbeing, who sent a beautiful email to her extended community. As I read her message, the words sank into my heart and touched the wounded part of me. I breathed in her words, and I let go of my hurt. Afterward, I filled that space with a tender hug and a salty kiss from my nephew and inhaled the sweet scent of my niece’s clean hair as I sent her to school. This I want to hold tight. The rest I’m willing to let go.
It’s clear that we could all use some tenderness and gentleness in these times of disaster, strife, misunderstanding and tension. In the spirit of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I share some of her words and intentions with you, my readers and extended community.
Let the healing begin with me. On this wonderful day, I offer you these words:
Hello Dear Ones!
During this month of September we honor the Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In the Plum Village Community there are several mindfulness retreats, both general mindfulness, and those with specific focus on engaged awareness practice for racial equity and inclusiveness, and for caring for the earth, our planet home. May we find these trainings to be of nourishing support.
Some of you I have not seen in awhile. Please accept my beneficial regret for any harm that my actions or inactions may have unintentionally caused. I ask your forgiveness with all my heart, and if I got it wrong before, I will do my best to get it right in the future.
With love on the path of Interbeing,