ichi go ichi e — my last day at work and first day of something new.

photo 1

Today was an unwrapping of gifts. Toward the end of my last day at work at MRC, I stumble into the performance space to see dim lights, balloons, tables and chairs, and, standing all around, faces of so many family and friends who came to see me off.

I see students, past and present, parents, coworkers, volunteers, supporters, mentors, and creative “partners in crime”. Hearing  my students perform one song after the next, and hearing them express their sentiments to knowing me, I melted into reverence for each moment I’d shared with them, that would inevitably, unbeknownst to any of us, lead us to this pivotal moment of the here and now. A moment that overflowed with loving spirit, of thankfulness and joy. Filled with warm wishes for me, and gratitude for how I’d touched others.

My heart continued to break open until I was surprised by a goodbye video, consisting of these warm wishes by many a student, strung together along with photos of yesteryear, when I was freshly back in Cincinnati. When I was planted back at home while yet to feel at home inside myself. My heart raced as my body appeared ready to shut down—I felt my rib cage ready to collapse, to make way for my soul to leap out from inside me.

When I finally took the microphone, I was unable to speak. It was at this moment I had fully touched the brevity of how much my work had affected me, and how much I had affected others. The stories could all be strung together in my mind, as they had been up til now. The stories of who I came to know, how our interactions touched us, and what I’ve come to learn and take away from dedicating myself to this place for the last 5 years.

But, standing shoulder-to-shoulder before me as one group, I had seen the bigger story of my life wholly embodied in a spirited presence. My mind unwound time to help me realize just what the place meant to me.

I looked to and addressed my father, who was my first supporter in my creative music endeavors. I opened myself to once again being grateful for his openness, his friendly support of my pursuing a passion. A passion that would lead me to the East Coast for college and work, where I would eventually burn out and return home from with complete surrender.

“You wouldn’t have known,” I told my students, “that when I returned home to Cincinnati, Ohio, I thought my days doing anything with music were over.” But soon after, I would find a mentor and business owner who would show me hospitality and an open door, subtly encouraging me to revisit my interest in music. Sure enough, he was standing before me in the congregation, now a volunteer at my work. Added to his gifts were the gifts my boss, Karen, would provide me with over the next 5 years.

As I would tell her later, she met me at a time when my vision was dim, my take on myself limited, and my belief in music, much less what my role with it, yet to be discovered. Yet, in devoting myself to this work, I came to find inner strength, a life purpose, and an ability to touch lives. Thus sparked a “new take” on myself.

Karen gave me the chance to recognize and use my gifts; to learn about others; to appreciate what I have, and to learn not to put limits on what I can achieve. I will forever be grateful for what she’d made possible.

Gazing into the eyes of those around me, I’d seen all the characters in what would become an immense chapter in my life, all gazing right back at me. The moment was so rich, so full, words could never aptly take one there. It was a junction of meaning, resolution, and understanding. There was a deep, deep acknowledgment of what this period in my life would actually come to mean, and what it was for me in totality right this instant.

It all made me contemplate my should, how I ended up here. What I unknowingly came to learn at MRC . . . that we are all good, that there is only healing; that we need to help each other water the seeds of kindness in one other; and that I can live my life, my every waking moment, with purpose, integrity, and belief in the goodness of all. That I can serve, bring joy to others; that I can be a light that I would hope helps you see your light too.

The heart that I wish to grow is not anything waiting for me overseas. It is what I discovered by watering seeds at this sacred workplace with these incredible individuals. This love and light I hope to nurture in my journey are merely the fruits of my path as a steward at MRC.

At the end of my acknowledgment, I shared the quote used in Japanese tea ceremonies,

ichi go ichi e. — one meeting, one opportunity.

With our arms around each other, we acknowledged that the moment before us would likely be the only time we would all be together in one room, in this exact combination. That whatever spirit can come about from this combination could only be found in the here and now, should we be open enough to one another to share it.

To all I came across, thank you for sharing a million meaningful moments with me, for all the many gifts each one would place on my heart for ever and ever. May we become evermore awake to ourselves and each other so that we can own the precious gifts this being alive has to offer.

photo 3

Goodbye To A Space

Tonight will mark the last meditation gathering held at the space which moved me to create this blog, Inner Peace & Tea. I am moving out of the apartment that’s been home for over three years now, in which I made my first dedicated meditation room, and where I would invite many people to share meditation.

IMG_2677In a few days I will say goodbye to this place which has brought so many memories, precious moments, and new friends into my life. Thankfully, a handful of friends who have gathered here over this past year made it for one last sit, to share this space, both inner and outer, together for yet another time.

Since 2012, I’ve had over 30 or so people come to share sitting and walking meditation, through biweekly meditation gatherings and silent half-day retreats, and occasional meditations guided live by Buddhist monks of the in Thailand.

The gatherings were offered in the spirit of hospitality, with the space open to anyone regardless of their experience, path, or beliefs. What would come from a modest session of silent sitting and tea afterwards was always special, lucid, simple and intimate – no matter the number of gatherers. This last night was no different.

The meditation room is of the last to be moved out, but still shows signs of my departure. Under the same paper lantern, surrounded by the familiar candles and pictures, the five of us sat in a close circle near the small window, a porthole to a closing day.

IMG_2679Amidst starkly contrasting cardboard boxes ready to absorb the contents of the room, John said with a smile, “Will you be offering a Dharma talk about emptiness and transience today, Max?”

I smiled, and, after we were settled in, guided a sit. To share the simple quiet presence once more was very special. Indeed, to slow down and follow the breath in and out, with my friends amidst a more stripped-down version of our space, the sense of departing became enveloped with a great feeling of peace for me.

Just as our timer signaled, I had a funny sense that perhaps I should talk about what I was feeling, as John suggested. No sooner did I strike the bell did it begin to rain outside. Still clear in my mind’s eye are the luscious green leaves blowing in the distance, the smell of fresh rain coming through the window, and the peaceful but gripping ebb and flow as the rain fell harder, then lighter, then harder.

Over a few moments, we would each turn first our heads toward the window, then our whole bodies, and I remember each of us intently watching, with our whole beings, the view through the window. Immediately in my mind, I knew, this was our Dharma talk. Spontaneously, as if on cue, everyone’s attention was on the window as if it were someone making a speech.

As I began to reflect what the rain meant to me—the clearing away, the sense of refreshing, replenishing, even the subtle reminder that my car windows were open—I immediately reflected on how each of our experiences of the rain would be very different, yet we all watched on with the exact same intent and thoughtfulness.

This would lead me to reflect on what was most meaningful to me in sharing my space. The act of purposefully clearing a space in one’s home, meant not to be filled, created a sense of sacredness in my daily life that was never too far away. And once shared, I could see the potential of that empty space grow to hold peacefulness, community, and closeness. To share silence, conversation, and tea… to share our practices together, as well as our laughs and concerns alike, would make for a context in which to connect with people I had not quite experienced before. To make a place that would inspire others like it did me, where everyone could feel calm, comfortable, and natural—this is what I will take with me.

IMG_2702

After admiring the rain for nearly 20 minutes in silence, we turned back toward each other, and shared our memories and reflections from the space.

It was touching to hear everyone’s unique sentiments, as well as the common ground we had come to find, just by sitting together this past year or so.

What will this connection become from here? As I can easily feel on the inside, what made the space was more than the superficial. Even beyond the people that would come to gather… I feel a harmony between the space, people, and the intention we bring. The room had incense, tea, artwork and muted lighting, but whenever I myself would go into the room, I would feel most strongly the intention—to make the room in the first place, to keep it preserved, sacred, and silent. Beneath what I could see, smell, and touch would be the returning to that very feeling, that quiet thoughtful space.

This space, then, is not quite physical. It’s not made solely of the group , nor the practice, nor the amount of time we meditate. Yet when all of these combine, the camaraderie felt during our time would be truly unique. We could share a tea worth enjoying in silence, or enlightening conversation. Or, we could share a quick, small glance, lit by a smile that my heart would argue illuminated the entire world for a moment. This moment would remind me of the peace available to all of us in the world, waiting for us in that empty space we can share.

To everyone that has come to share this space with me…

Thank You.

Whatever it made available to you, I hope you can find that feeling again and again within.

IMG_2668 copy

 

Happiness Unhidden

Insight today: Prerequisites of happiness.

One of my favorite questions Robert Holden asks is, on a scale of 1-10, how happy are you in this very moment?  Can you allow yourself to envision the feeling of being one level happier? Now, WHAT would it take to be there? How often I remain in a middle-level happiness simply because I’m not taking full stock of what is. Simply asking yourself this question brings you more in touch with what’s here. [Keep reading below the picture]
Do I confuse happiness with happy states? What are the prerequisites for happy states? Not circumstantially, but within my own being? How is the instrument of myself usually tuned when I receive genuine happiness?

For me, a willingness to be connected. An openness, acceptance, being present to myself and others, allowing myself to be right here, comfortable, rooted, and engaged.

 

Maybe this offers more insight than does the “technique” of pursuing happy states and circumstances that seem to birth them. Sure, circumstances bring about a happy state, but doesn’t my inner temperament have a role in it? It must, because I’ve found myself on a beautiful sunny warm day, in the company of nature, good friend, or family, and simultaneously unhappy.

 

May my moments be infused with the spirit of being open, in that way that inclines me toward happiness.

If I concentrate on anything, may it be to remember this way of being that makes me most “ready for happiness.”

Anxiety … Unease … Peace Prevails

For the past week, my mind, body, and heart have been in an accelerated, anxious state, as I prepare for my journey to Thailand for Peace Revolution’s Global Peace On The Move 8 Fellowship. Once there, I will be learning Inner Peace Techniques with people from all around the world, learning from experienced teachers and Buddhist monks.

Well, the journey to Inner Peace hasn’t always looked so peaceful! I am learning as I go about just what accommodations I need to make, and taking care of all the considerations of the fellowship retreat. This has involved continual time spent shopping, using the computer, and little sleep.

Also … little meditation.

I have grown very stressed as my nervousness kicks in about the unknown. I don’t even know what to expect from the retreat experience itself. Much is unknown, and every contact I have has told me not to expect anything, that it will all be glorious.

It has been a time of balancing relieving expectations while at the same time taking due diligence with certain matters that need attention.

In the midst of all this, I am of course still heading to work each day, and applying myself to those matters. Today, preparing for work, I noted to myself how I had not meditated fully in a few days, and I felt all the tensions in my body, how it pervaded every thought muscle, and breath. I decided to take the time to meditate for five minutes before heading out the door.

As I walked into the meditation room, a room I hadn’t entered for most of the week, and took a bow, I felt I was returning somewhere deep within me. As I lit the two candles in beside the altar, I felt the rigidity of my hands, the hurriedness of my hands. As I lit the incense stick from the candle flame, I felt the scent take me to a place in my being that I knew was always there, but had not touched in a while. I felt myself fixating mentally again, this time on the length of the session I was beginning. “What if this is not long enough? I suspect that for the full five minutes I will only be anxious about not having more time to still my mind. Then it will be over, I will be at a loss, and will feel hurried onto the next engagement.”

I took another bow, and sat down on the cushion.

I folded my legs, felt my spine straighten, and by the sheer posture of my body, my mental posture transformed almost immediately. I felt my spine was erected straight into the heavens, rooted to the earth, and perfectly balanced in gravity. This stillness, this physical rootedness, brought me to the calm of the ocean floor, well beneath the choppy surface of the waves.

I smiled as I noticed how quickly I reached stillness. Within seconds. By the end of the five minutes, I had become centered, in time, in myself. No longer was I coming or going, I felt rooted in my own motion as I stepped out to work.

I realized here, on this cushion, the value of my experience practicing meditation regularly since the beginning of this year. During one of the more frantic weeks in my life, I can touch this stillness, without question, amidst it all, and smile at my own being.

I also wish to express gratitude for the meditation room itself. The sacredness, the atmosphere and state of mind that this room commands, centers me just by walking in. Its effect and sheer importance in my life become apparent during the more unexpected moments in time.

This gratitude for having the space at all is what has driven me to create Inner Peace & Tea. I wish to share the space, and the opportunities that it brings forth.

All the same, I hope you can create a meditation room, or even a corner in a room that is sacred and used only for meditation, and experience the same experience as I.

Meditation Tonight

The most wonderful meditation tonight with Donna. Thank you for coming :)

We enjoyed meditating with the Sabai feeling, and drank Ben Shan Oolong tea.

The insight I had while we were meditating was: of all the “good” meditation sessions I can remember, where there was good insight or experience—the common thread doesn’t seem to be the insight itself as much as the space in which it was able to appear in. Meaning, we need to allow ourselves time, freedom, space, detachment, and sabai feeling to experience anything real.

We need this time to meditate. And together, maybe we’ll be more encouraged to allow for that time in our day. Maybe it’s hard to set aside time for it alone, or it’s hard to “turn our mind off” when we are alone. But maybe it’s easier in the company of others; to put it all down and touch the bare experience.

It was agreed tonight—the intention to sit is all that can really be required. May this intention cultivated tonight bring peace and happiness to all beings, may it aid in the direction of removing all beings from discontent.

Peace In, Peace Out

Back On The Meditation Train

Time: 30min.

Today I meditated to the mp3 episode 9. I maintained a steady posture and much relaxation. My body was tired and sleepy, and I bounced back into consciousness a few times during my meditation. However, this did not make for a bad or unfocused meditation. I felt very much in my awareness, and my body was so relaxed it felt very light, just as the mp3 was beginning to encourage. I really am glad as I did not know which mp3 I was selecting and it turned out to be very applicable to the session today for me.
I felt very light, like I was being described by space instead of substance.
My mind was still active, but with thoughts of gratitude, of Kuldeep, my meditation coach, and his encouragement for me to find an mp3 I like and push just a little harder to meditate again. For Venerable Somsak Piyaseelo, and his words. For my time to meditate today, and the ability for me to letttt go today, and to simply realize just as the monk advised, that my body has NO use right now. This had some symbolism to it, that my body was completely unused right now. I sat with that feeling of no direction, of no feeling, and naturally of “don’t know mind”. A seed has been watered more, and I am grateful.