Friday, May 23, 2014

You Can't Take It With You

This view did not cost a penny.

What does it really mean to be free?

According to, liberty is defined as "freedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction or hampering conditions". It's the "power or right of doing, thinking, and speaking according to choice". Yeah, that sounds about right.

I define freedom as the ability to do what I want whenever I want without having to consult with another.  I find comfort in the space of having freedom to succeed, but also the freedom to make mistakes. My mistakes are my greatest teachers. When I screw up, I let go of the anxiety and rest into the newly acquired lessons that I (hopefully) take away from the situation.

I've experienced independence from my family, my significant other, my friends, and my employers. I've made choices that were right for me, even though they might have seemed crazy to everyone else.

Lately, I've discovered a new kind of freedom. As I was preparing to move 2,000 miles from my home last October, I was faced with the reality that "you can't take it with you". I could only take with me what would fit in my car, so that meant I needed to shed over half of my possessions. My clothing, household items, books, etc., all had to be pared down to the bare necessities. At first, this was a daunting task. How could I part with all of my things?

My friend, Marga, sent me an article about a man who owns just fifteen items. That seemed a bit ambitious for my taste, though I admire him for it. He is truly free.

The hardest items for me to part with are my books. My worldly possessions are now dominated by my book collection.  More than 50% of the items I currently own are books.  I just can't seem to part with them as easily as the other things.  That old shirt, sure, it can go.  That hard back copy of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, you must be joking.

Going through my items was difficult. Memories of good times and not so great times flooded my brain along with thoughts of "but I might need that one day". During the last few weeks that I lived in Virginia, I sorted through every item that I owned. As the time to leave grew closer, I became tired of going through all that stuff, and I found it a little easier to let go with each passing day. I began to ask myself, "do I really need this?" More often than not, the answer was no.

I sold, gifted, and donated nearly everything I owned. I managed to whittle my wardrobe down to just what would fit in one suitcase. That's winter and summer clothing. Everything. And I didn't even have to sit on it to zip it shut.

In this age that is driven by consumerism, I find it interesting that I really don't need very much.  It felt good to lighten the load.  It's been liberating to rid myself of all that stuff.  I find that I have more free time because I don't have to concern myself with mountains of laundry, loads of dishes, or tidying up things that might be scattered about.  Those things just don't exist.

When I arrived in Tucson, I relied on Goodwill and Craigslist to furnish my apartment. I'm using the term "furnish" loosely. I have a couch and a chair. My friend, Shaena, loaned me two tables and a coffee pot. The only thing in my bedroom is my bed, which I brought with me.

Life is full of simple pleasures.
Last December, I traveled for 24 days with only what would fit in my carry-on tote bag and my backpack. I went from Tucson to Honolulu to Charlottesville and back to Tucson with only three outfits, two pairs of shoes, my computer, my phone, four books, and some toothpaste. Oh, and granola bars. I did have a bunch of those in the bag.

I felt completely free. I wasn't tied down by possessions. I was able to explore wherever I happened to be at the time. I trusted that everything else I might need would be provided. And it was.

In Hawaii, I stayed in a hostel during my Nia Brown Belt training. My friend, Kristin, lived close to Honolulu, so I asked her to loan me a towel, a blanket, and a tea cup. She brought me the softest blanket and the most beautiful tea cup I've ever seen. More importantly, I got to spend time with my friend in the magical land of Hawaii.

After my time in Hawaii was up, I flew all the way back to Virginia. I did not have enough warm clothes to survive the winter there when I arrived, so I headed to the local thrift shop to acquire some winter gear. When I walked into ReThreads, the owner and my dear friend, Melissa, informed me that I had quite a bit of credit due to the sale of some of my clothing I had consigned when I left for Tucson. I ended up with four winter outfits for free. The best part was that when I left Virginia for Tucson later in December, I just returned the clothes to the thrift shop.

Last week, my friend, Hansel, invited me to a clothing swap. This invitation came at just the right time, because I had a few clothing items I wanted to retire, but I had not had a chance to get to Goodwill yet. I was surprised at how much fun it was.

For someone new in town, this was the perfect opportunity to meet new people. There were about thirty folks there sifting through the mounds of clothing. It was a potluck, so after stuffing my bag with new-to-me clothing items, I was able to enjoy some delicious food and mingle with the local Tucsonians. With events like this, I may never "shop" for clothes again!
Frugality is one of the most beautiful and joyful words in the English language, and yet one that we are culturally cut off from understanding and enjoying. The consumption society has made us feel that happiness lies in having things, and has failed to teach us the happiness of not having things.” ― Elise Boulding
I've become more aware of shopping mindfully. This means when I do shop, I shop locally, and I buy only what I need. In my opinion, there's way too much stuff in the world already. If there's anything I need, I can almost always find a friend who is more than willing to loan it to me. If not, I'll check Craigslist or the thrift shop. Usually, if I can't find it at that point, chances are I probably don't need it anyway. It also helps that I don't watch TV. I don't have ads bombarding me with the new and exciting things I'm missing in my life. My life is full enough, thankyouverymuch.

This new mindset has made me realize that I can be at home anywhere. Home is not about things. It's about people and experiences. I've been in Tucson for about six months now, and I still don't have much more than I brought with me.  And I love it that way. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Sweet Surrender

"You have been stony for too many years.
Try something different.
Surrender."― Rumi

I have only ever claimed to be perfect in jest. I have done my best to embrace my imperfections and have made no excuses for them. As I continue to make mistakes and sometimes even learn from them, it still catches me off guard when others take it upon themselves to point out my transgressions. 

My immediate reaction is to become angry, defensive, and ultimately to withdraw. This usually results in hurt feelings for all involved, typically accompanied with harsh words, harsher glances, and the occasional flying object. These are patterns I have recognized in myself over the years, and it has been a difficult struggle to curb this behavior. 

It still amazes me that I can snap back into those old patterns in the blink of an eye. It's almost scary how quickly my dark side can rear its ugly head when the right triggers are present. I have a temper like Mount St. Helens, and when it blows, nothing (and no one) is safe from my wrath. Thanks to my mindfulness practices, I have become more aware of my tendencies in the past few years. The last major eruption occurred nearly ten years ago and resulted in me being estranged from my family for over a year.

I have always had a strained relationship with members of my family. I can't remember a time when I got along with any of them for more than a year at a time. During that time, I became a master brick layer, building walls around myself that even the Army could not penetrate. 

This often comes as a surprise to people who think they know me. It seems that I live a charmed life, and I've "got it all figured out". This could not be further from the truth. I have made tremendous progress. 

I have learned to let a lot of things go as a result of trying to live my practice. My Facebook posts are primarily positive, but the moment I post that I want to punch someone in the throat, everybody gets their panties in a bunch. I receive messages and emails asking me "what about all that mindfulness?" or reminding me "that is not very yoga-like".  

My reply is always the same: I am human. I get angry. I do yoga to keep me from actually punching people in the throat. It doesn't mean that I don't still want to. At least I can admit that. 

It seems that some people may have misinterpreted my mindfulness journey as the path to righteousness. I am grateful to have discovered techniques that make me more aware of my behaviors, but I have never adopted the "holier than thou" attitude. It is a daily struggle. I am not the Buddha. I am not running around town with a giant banner across my chest screaming "Meditation is THE way!" I have no interest in hunkering down in a cave for years to meditate in order to achieve an enlightened state. I'm just a human being who has seen glimpses of the person I want to be. 

That is why I do yoga. That is why I do Nia. That is why I try desperately to sit on my meditation cushion for more than 5 minutes a day, even when I don't want to.  By doing these things, I have been able to stave off a major volcanic blast for almost a decade. To me, that is incredible progress.

"What other people think of me is none of my business." -- Wayne Dyer 

Someone asked me the other day if mindfulness really meant self-centeredness. I thought about that for a few days, and what I've decided is that it's the exact opposite. I have become more compassionate, more giving, and more open as a result of adapting mindfulness practices. I understand that it may seem that I have thrown concern for others' feelings to the wind, but the reality is that I've stopped attaching to what others think of me. It doesn't mean I don't care about the other person, it's that I am choosing to not be responsible for their reactions to my behaviors.  

Ultimately, I have to make a choice. I can continue to keep my walls up, or I can choose to surrender to the present situation, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. Surrender is the hardest thing in the world for me to do. I used to think that it would be a sign of weakness to give up the fight.

Pay attention here, because this is the good shit: There is nothing to fight for.  As soon as I typed that sentence, my whole body relaxed. That is mindfulness at work.

Something amazing happens when we surrender and just love. We melt into another world, a realm of power already within us. The world changes when we change. the world softens when we soften. The world loves us when we choose to love the world.  Marianne Williamson

I sense my feet on the ground and my butt in this chair and my fingers on this keyboard. I am not at war. The situations that caused me to raise my drawbridge are not present here in this cafe. My family is 2,500 miles away. There is no immediate threat to my person. I inhale. I exhale. I let go. 

And my body softens. My breath is fuller. My heart opens. I notice that the hurt that I've been holding onto isn't hurt, it's sadness. There's also compassion in there, for those who feel I've wronged them, and for me. I surrender. There is only love here and now, and I am happy. In this moment. It is my wish that you are happy, too.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Forgiveness: It's What's for Dinner

People have to forgive. We don't have to like them, we don't have to be friends with them, we don't have to send them hearts in text messages, but we have to forgive them, to overlook, to forget. Because if we don't we are tying rocks to our feet, too much for our wings to carry!  C. JoyBell C.

Now that the book is published, I have time to get back to my reflective practices. I notice that since I have not been practicing regularly, I am quick to become irritated by situations that would normally not bother me. I think it has something to do with the fact that I just poured my soul into a book that is now out there for the whole world to see. My sleeping and eating patterns have been erratic, and I have felt fatigued. My body has been aching, and I know that it is telling me to get back into my movement practices.

This morning, I woke up early, and the first thing I did was get on my yoga mat. I literally crawled onto it and collapsed. I just laid there. After about 10 minutes of reverse savasana, I pushed myself up into child's pose. It felt so good. I found the rhythm of my breath and let it relax me deeper into the pose. After about 15 deep breaths, I moved into cat/cow and stretched my spine. The pops and cracks seemed to be saying "thank you".  

I've been thinking a lot about forgiveness lately. As I slowly made my way through my sun salutations this morning, my body was forgiving me with every stretch and every breath. I began to feel better. I returned to savasana after my practice, and as I felt my body release into the mat, I smiled. I'm back.

My body forgives. After celebrating my birthday for an entire month last summer, I had a lot to ask my body to forgive.  I remember going for a run the day after my last birthday celebration. I had not run for over two weeks, and I thought it was going to be awful.  I thought I would be back at the starting point.  

I started down the street, and I noticed that my body felt OK. Actually, not just OK. I felt pretty good.  My feet felt light, and it didn't seem to take as much effort as I thought it would.  Before I knew it, my 1.5 mile run turned into 1.77 miles, and more importantly, I was enjoying it.  My body remembered how good it felt when I ran nearly every day, and it responded by forgiving me so that I could enjoy running again.

My heart forgives.  In my exploration of compassion, I have made conscious choices to forgive the emotional lashings that my heart has endured.  My practice of compassion started with myself.  I am my toughest critic, and I discovered through my mindfulness practices that I can be downright nasty to myself sometimes. 

I have been fortunate to experience blissful episodes of loving exchange. When those relationships ended, there was always a feeling of loss, and the question of what went wrong pops into my head. When I can step back and see the bigger picture, I realize that nothing went wrong. Everything happened just as it was supposed to. 
True forgiveness is when you can say, "Thank you for that experience.” ― Oprah Winfrey
We are meant to experience loss and heartache. That's what makes us human. That's what makes us all more similar than we are different. Everyone knows what heartache feels like. When that familiar ache starts in my chest, I whisper the words my meditation teacher taught me, "Darling, it's OK to feel sad. It's OK to feel loss. It's OK to grieve. That just means that the experience meant something to you. Remember, I love you." And then I forgive myself and move on. 

My mind wants to forgive. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that I want my mind to forgive. This is where my mindfulness practices really come in handy. I am constantly in my head. Without regular yoga, Nia, or meditation, my thoughts can easily take over and make my life miserable. 

It's easy to say I forgive others for their words or actions that I take personally, but I know that it's not really they who have caused my suffering. I have chosen to take things personally, and therefore become angry or hurt. 

One of my favorite books is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. This book was introduced to me in 2007 during my Nia White Belt Intensive. I have tried to actively incorporate the teachings of The Four Agreements into my practice and my daily life since then. 

Here are the Four Agreements, in a nutshell:
1. Be Impeccable With Your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.  
2. Don't Take Anything Personally:  Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.  
3. Don't Make Assumptions:  Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.  
4. Always Do Your Best:  Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.
I began my personal forgiveness practice on April 1st as a gift to myself. The practice consists of me sending a kind word to myself every time I prepare to eat my evening meal. I've decided to serve up compassion and forgiveness as the first course of every dinner. I do this for me. It's a silent practice that only takes a second. It's a reminder, a prayer, a mantra, a gift. No one knows that I'm doing it, until now anyway.
The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward." -- Steve Maraboli
Since incorporating this simple practice into my daily life, I have not been as hard on myself. I've found it easier to let go of the little annoyances that creep into my space. I let go of thoughts that are full of shoulds. I invite you to give this practice a try, and see what happens in your own life. 

Feel free to leave a comment below or email me at 

Buy your copy of Mindfulness On the Move here.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

On the Rocks

A quiet moment on the rocks.

Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.”
― Barry FinlayKilimanjaro and Beyond

It is no secret that I'm afraid of heights. I generally shy away from any activity that involves me being high in the air, with the exception of flying, of course. Somehow, when I'm sitting on a mountain at 7,000 feet elevation, I don't feel afraid. I feel grounded.

The majority of my sitting meditation practice now takes place outside. I enjoy hiking up the mountains to just the right spot to sit and look out on the world. Living in Arizona, I am surrounded by mountains. One of my favorite things to do in Tucson is drive up to Mount Lemmon and soak up all that silence. There's just something about sitting on these rocks that have existed for centuries that calms me instantly.  

There is a stillness way up on top of mountains that we don't experience on the ground. We are often so busy with our daily lives that we don't stop to just breathe and take in the view around us. We allow people and images to influence our thoughts and actions. We are busy. We have work to do, papers to file, shows to watch, and products to consume.

From the mountain top, the view is more like a painting. The land is laid out before me, and everything is still and small. There are no demands, only an invitation to sit and breathe and see. When I look out and see for miles, I realize that the world is a great big place, and I am just a tiny speck.

When I get too caught up in the whirlwind of work, home, and family stress, I know it's time to go to the mountain. I remind myself that I need to step back and get a bird's eye view of my world from time to time. Sometimes, the challenges in my life seem too big to handle, but when I'm on the rocks, everything is small, even my problems. 

Jason Elliott
Mount Lemmon, Tucson, AZ
My friend, Jason, is a rock climber. When he is not working, eating, or sleeping, he can be found on the side of a mountain. I understand the need to be in touch with the mountains and the serenity of the rocks, but climbing them never crossed my mind.
Jason tells me that he climbs the rocks because they are there. He says that climbing is "a metaphor for dealing with challenges in life. Each route presents a new set of problems to be overcome. Sometimes, you have to change your approach in order to make it to the top without falling."

Watching Jason climb, I realized that rock climbing is his meditation. It's like watching poetry in motion. It is a slow process, and every move is deliberate. He is completely in the present moment. Every hand placement and foot hold is pre-calculated. He balances his body and connects with his breath in order to advance up the mountain.

There is an active rock climbing community in Arizona. Most of the climbers I've met so far are, forgive me, down to earth. They have an easy-going demeanor and seem to have their stress under control. They come from many different backgrounds, but when a group of them get together, they exhibit a camaraderie that embraces everyone in the group, whether an experienced climber or a novice.

Logan Patrick

My friend, Logan started rock climbing in February 2013. He says he was "not immediately drawn to the sport, instead it slowly grew on me. I climbed for four months and then did not climb for almost three months. In August of 2013, I rediscovered climbing and found it in a much different light."
When he first started climbing, his motivation was exercise and spending time with friends. Logan says, "my current motivation for climbing is more existential. I am motivated by the ever present mental and physical challenge of climbing."

For Logan, rock climbing is a form of meditation. He explains, "when you are on the rock, you must be supremely focused and in tune with your body and the environment. Space in your head cannot be filled with other thoughts."

Logan is inspired by "anyone who is willing to follow their passion and try to be their ultimate best for selfless reasons. The biggest life lesson that I have ever been taught is that life goes on, and that you mustn't forget that there is always a rainbow.

Eric Fazio-Rhicard has been climbing since 1976. He is the author of Squeezing the Lemmon II...More Juice Than Ever: A Rock Climber's Guide to the Mt. Lemmon Highway.

Eric Fazio-Rhicard
Eric is a free climber which means he climbs "with or without a rope and using my hands and feet to ascend a cliff from bottom to top without hanging on the rope or pulling on anything but the holds the rock provides." 

Eric says that he is motivated to climb by the "physical and mental challenge of climbing the hardest routes for me that I can. Most of us have heard other athletes say that physical activities are mostly mental. I have found this to be true, and I love pushing to the edge of what I think I can do and finding out again that what my brain says I cannot do, my body does anyway."

Eric's most memorable climb was "solo climbing Devils Tower in north eastern Wyoming. I set off on a climb without a rope. I had never done it before so I was relying on the knowledge that I had climbed a lot of
much harder routes successfully to get me up this one. I was 300 feet off the ground feeling as solid as I would if I had a rope to protect me." 

"I reached a point I could not find holds to continue upward. For a minute I was calm and focused on finding the next hold. When I didn't find it the fear crept in and my right leg began to shake and I began to over grip the rock. This caused the lactic acid to build up in my arms and they began to fatigue. I began to get tunnel vision and my heart began to race, in desperation I looked around and found a large hold to my left which allowed me to easily get to safety and the top of the climb. Had the fear of dying overwhelmed me to the point I stopped searching for holds I would be dead. As a famous climber named John Bachar once said 'the fear of dying will kill you'." 

"Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory.
-- Ed Viesturs, No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World's 14 Highest Peaks  

Eric says that climbing is a form of meditation in that "you must focus your mind on moving upward. You must also weigh the consequences of doing so and make a decision to go up or back down. You must keep your mind open to the options and the features of the cliff give you to ascend it. You cannot waste energy with internal discussions about the hand or footholds not being big enough. At times you have to just accept what you are 
touching and use it, even when you think you cannot possibly hold on to it."

While I am content to hike to a suitable lookout point on the mountain, I am in awe of people who seek to be on top of the world by literally climbing it. Climb on! 

Read more in the book Mindfulness On the Move.  Get your copy here!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Good Vibrations

"Sound can be used to assist you in relaxing, gaining physical power, and breathing deeper and fuller. Used effectively, it can assist your physical body in naturally and organically correcting and even eliminating imbalances that cause illness and pain. In a way, sound is magic."-- Debbie Rosas, The Nia Technique 

When people ask me what I studied in college, they are often surprised to find out that my degree is in hearing science. I have always been interested in sound and how it is processed in the brain. When I went to college at the age of 18, I had no idea what I wanted to study for the rest of my life, so I picked the major that most kids do: Psychology. 

I found the study of the brain fascinating, and my love of true crime and horror fiction seemed to fit in well with classes like Developmental and Abnormal Psychology. I was happy with my course work and decided that perhaps I would become a therapist. In order to fulfill a graduation requirement, I had to take a public speaking class. It is no secret that I used to be terrified to speak in front of more than three people at a time. 

I began to panic. I actually considered dropping out of school just to avoid the public speaking requirement. My advisor saw the fear in my eyes as soon as I walked into her office. She suggested I take the Introduction to Communication Sciences and Disorders class in lieu of the public speaking class. I wasn't sure what I was getting into, but it did not involve speaking in front of groups, so I registered immediately. I was grateful for the opportunity to continue my college education. I had no idea that it would put me on a completely different career path.

I was introduced to the study of speech and hearing, and after a few classes, I was hooked. I began to take more classes in this field and soon changed my major from Psychology to Communication Sciences and Disorders with a concentration in Audiology and a minor in Psychology. 

I continued to take psychology classes, but sound made more sense to me. I was more interested in my coursework in phonetics and sound processing. By the time I graduated, I could perform a hearing assessment, write a report explaining an audiogram in detail, make a proper recommendation for a hearing device, and take a hearing aid apart and put it back together again. Sometimes, just for fun, I still write my grocery list phonetically.

After graduation, I entered an apprenticeship with Miracle Ear, Inc. I studied alongside the Hearing Instrument Specialists, and after a few months, I passed my state license exam. Over the next four years, I helped nearly 200 people hear better. I worked for Miracle Ear and Beltone and my practice spanned the entire state of Virginia. 

I loved my work. I felt deep satisfaction when I turned on my client's hearing aids for the first time and watched their face light up as their silent world opened up to all the sounds they had not heard for so long. Because of my background, I was able to fit the majority of my clients with a mid-priced model hearing aid and work with them closely to tailor the sound for them. I instructed them to return to my office frequently for adjustments and check-ups as part of their aural rehabilitation. I was combining my knowledge of audiology with my psychology training, and I felt like I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing.

I wasn't just selling hearing aids.  I was helping people reconnect with their loved ones and enjoy a richer experience of the world around them. Sound is a frequency, or vibration, that affects everyone and everything. Loud, sharp sounds can startle us and trigger emotional responses such as fear and anxiety. Low, smooth sounds can cause us to feel relaxed and calm. Sounds affect us physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Certain vowel sounds correspond
with each of the chakras.
Sounds are processed by the Auditory Cortex located in the temporal lobe of the brain. Of course, we do not absorb sounds through our ears exclusively. Our entire bodies are meant to receive sounds. We are composed of mostly water, a fantastic conductor of sound. Our bones "hear" through vibration. Our skin and other organs receive and respond to sound vibrations, as do our energy centers, or chakras. To sense listening with the whole body, turn on a piece of music and sit upright with eyes closed.  Notice what sensations arise in the body.

"Deaf people sense vibration in the part of the brain that other people use for hearing – which helps explain how deaf musicians can sense music, and how deaf people can enjoy concerts and other musical events. These findings suggest that the experience deaf people have when ‘feeling’ music is similar to the experience other people have when hearing music. The perception of the musical vibrations by the deaf is likely every bit as real as the equivalent sounds, since they are ultimately processed in the same part of the brain"-- Dr. Dean Shibata, assistant professor of radiology at the University of Washington
In most yoga classes, it is typical for the class to be led in the chant of "Om", loosely translated to "all that is". Rather than one sound, it is a set of sounds ("au", "oh", "mm") that have a calming effect on the body. When chanted within a group, the sound vibration is meant to harmonize the group to promote a calming environment in which to practice yoga together. It's literally "setting the tone" for the class to make sure everyone is in the present moment and ready to experience the class.
"The human body is made up of electronic vibrations, with each atom and element of the body having its electronic unit of vibration necessary for the sustenance of that particular organism."--Edgar Cayce 
Mantras are sounds used in yoga or meditation on which to focus one's attention in an effort to reduce the tendency for the mind to wander. Different mantras have different effects on the body depending on the sounds or frequencies that are present. The sounds may or may not have any literal meaning, but the vibrations of the sounds can affect the body and promote healing, both physically and mentally.
"The universe is created through the medium of sound, and all sound, whether subtle or audible, issues from a transcendent, "soundless" source called the 'supreme sound' or 'supreme voice' (shabda-brahman or para-vac). The sounds of mantras are far more forceful than other sounds."--Richard Rosen Yoga Journal
Bryan Phillips
To understand the power of mantra in more detail, I turned to my friend, and colleague, Bryan Phillips. Bryan is a seasoned teacher of Tantra, Tibetan philosophy, and Buddhist meditation at the University of Virginia. He is the author of The Lotus Song: Heart Pulse of Buddhist Tantra

Bryan has practiced traditional seated meditation for 25 years. This includes "calm abiding and insight meditations, narrative meditations and visualization practices for the manifestation of compassion and other beneficial qualities, and naked awareness practices based in the luminous nature of the mind."

According to Bryan, the compassion mantra, Om manipadme hum, is "entirely steeped in the Buddhist ethos of boundless altruism, so there is no Buddhist meditation practice that doesn't harmonize with toning the Lotus Song."

Bryan considers mantras to be "mind tools. They stimulate attunement to particular psychological viewpoints and reinforce the potency of those perspectives with palpable physical sensations. One great Indian sound healer described mantra practice as 'kneading' the internal conduits of both the subtle and gross anatomy. So to be clear, it's not just meditation practice in the sense of 'chilling' the stream of mental chatter; mantra meditation involves dynamic transformation!"

Bryan first became seriously interested in the "Lotus Song", or compassion mantra, in 1997, while he was teaching courses in Buddhist meditation at the University of Virginia. As he researched decades of Tibetan history, he came across several different kinds of texts containing philosophical expositions, meditation instructions, sacred biographies, and a celebration of the compassion mantra.

The six syllables of the compassion mantra served not only to reconnect Bryan with his original practice inspiration that led him to pursue Buddhist studies as a profession. He also found the Lotus Song to provide an opportunity for self-healing. He says, "There is an aspect of this particular practice that harmonizes and integrates a wide variety of Buddhist practices including mindfulness and concentration, the generation of a compassionate heart for oneself and others, the recovery of innate intelligence, and more."   

Bryan says, "The goals of mantra practice are physiological and psychological well-being: balance, harmony, integration, resilience. Profound visionary experiences are also not uncommon. If you talk to professional musicians, they can generally tell you that part of the play of music making occurs between knowing precisely when to contribute, and when not to. The spaces between are as much a part of music as the intentional sound tones. So when toning a mantra, it involves both the volition to re-sound it, and a concentrated surrender to attuning to its resonance and that experience. Not surprisingly, then, my current motivation to tone the Lotus Song is to allow the field of compassion this mantra generates to manifest itself--both through me, and through others who are interested in actively embodying a more compassionate energy in our world at this time."

Bryan's most memorable experience with the Lotus Song occurred when his research landed him in Bhutan.  There he "received a powerful blessing from the reincarnation of one of the key proponents of this practice lineage, and shortly thereafter was granted access to some of the original handwritten texts and sacred relics from the authors I was studying. What started as an academic investigation with personal curiosity quickly turned into an archetypal hero's quest. I know it sounds trite to say, but I couldn't help feeling like Indiana Jones!"

The Lotus Song:
 Heart Pulse of Buddhist Tantra
by Bryan Phillips
As with any mindfulness practice, there are times when life happens, and it may be difficult to focus or to maintain a regular practice. Bryan says, "At its foundational levels, practice moves along a continuum from bodily acts to speech acts to mental intentions. So unless the mind isn't present, there's never an opportunity not to practice. Of course there have been windows in my life where I haven't been able to maintain a daily practice the way I did prior to marriage and children, but I have never considered that my roles as a spouse and father preclude me from practicing insight, compassion, and patience whenever possible. I'm sure there are lots of people in town who have seen me in the car and assumed I was singing along to the radio, when in fact I was engaged in toning practice. I find toning while driving to be a great practice. You are sharing those positive intentions and vibrations all around town and wherever you go!"

I asked Bryan what's the biggest life lesson he's learned.  He answered, "For me the life lesson constellates around patience. Like the example I used before about musicians who have to know when to chime in and when to hold back, the lessons of my life always seem to be about when to abide (like 'the Dude'), living with what is, and when to dynamically create, or to use my agency as an active being to make a difference. We must be comfortable in stillness and solitude, and search diligently for our own unique redemption, and at the same time, we need to joyfully participate in the drama of our own particular time and location. Knowing which to do when is the great challenge."

In his book, Bryan includes a suggested playlist for anyone looking to add the Lotus Song to their mindfulness toolbox. He says, "it's of great value to hear the Lotus Song sung by others, and to hear some of the different styles in which it's performed. Part of the practice of mantra toning is discovering, over time and by experimentation, what version of resonation serves to best quicken your own path to wisdom and compassion. Start by tuning in to how others venerate it, then discover for yourself your own sonorous path."

Read more in the book Mindfulness On the Move.  Get your copy here!