I am standing here leaning over the kitchen sink like Elizabeth Lesser: “Broken Open.” I am happily healing from a back breaking wound witnessed by the sagging bellied dishwasher as I turned erratically to extract dishes that day 4 years ago. That day I spent writhing in pain until released from the ER with a cautionary note—not to return for 6 months—if I craved yet another spinal injection. Why am I telling you this? Are you in mental, physical or emotional pain? Have your circumstances waged a coup to cloud your mind, built a barricade to block your movement and crushed your free spirit?
I see you. I feel you. We are connected. Read on and perhaps you might feel with Maya Angelou, “A rainbow in your cloud.”
My story spans decades of teaching, earning multiple academic degrees of excellence, yet being devoid of Tara Brach’s “Radical Compassion or Acceptance.” I had truly mastered dis-ease. I was a ticking time bomb, living dangerously and stockpiling stress in my spine as Bessel Van Der Kolk explained to me “The Body Keeps the Score.” Wait! Can you locate the imprints in your body that cause physical pain and prevent you from feeling connected? Do you know what it feels like to run on empty? I was haunted with feelings of being not good enough, the perpetual imposter. I had unknowingly locked myself out. For those I most love, as a wife and a mother, I was absent, having failed miserably to connect with Tabitha Mpamira-Kaguri’s wisdom that “Trauma not Transformed is Trauma Transferred”.
And then…I began to come alive shortly after placing two white porcelain figures, one with a troubling frown; the other with a mischievous smile, each strategically straddling a sink faucet. My figures were consistently poised, watching as I scrubbed pots and dishes. They mirrored the fleeting nature of emotion and my own foolishness. In this blog, I share how I came to mindfulness, gratitude and coexistence as ways to ameliorate stress in my life. What I offer is mindfulness for everyday living and transformation.
As an aspiring mindful educator attending the inaugural Transformative Educational Leadership Conference (2019), Parker Palmer’s words about doing the inner work—the work before the work—caught my ear. In the time since that conference, I slowly began the process of releasing. This involved erasing a lifetime of pictures (images captured through the senses of my body camera) and their associated emotional attachments, that represented a false self and were the roots of my habitual behaviors that were no longer serving me. I have been supported in this process by helpers at the Brooklyn Mediation Center. As the images melt away I am more open and present.
I firmly believe that when we give ourselves permission to be present as our authentic selves, we are enough. In becoming, I am piecing together broken parts, discarding ego and patching together the softer more vulnerable edges of my experience. Simultaneously, I am stepping lightly, to listen and to learn about what is needed, integral to Thich Nhat Hanh’s discovering the magic of presence in Being here. I feel the home beneath my feet and serve with passion, knowing what I truly love, what I am good at, and what the world needs. My mindfulness practice is a tool that helps me to reset and relate. How might these practices offer the collective a path to release?
Before I had the skills to discard the images and attached emotions, I held court with daily glasses of wine as a way to destress. I had spent my hard-earned income, rushed to the wine shop to replenish the stock and believed that this consumption would ease the stress I felt, distanced from my true nature. My lifestyle was survivalist, I dragged myself through the daze and never really experienced the moments in relationship with myself or my loved ones.
Now, being tuned in at moments when I feel caught in the stream of life offers me release from judgment. As a mother not knowing the whereabouts of your son in NYC can be stressful. I sat on the stage of graduation receiving a text from my husband that our son had not returned home. First time ever!! With very detailed possible events that might have befallen him, I took a breath and grounded myself in where I was and what was and was not in my control and trusted that flow, my son, and the moment to pass. As we left my school graduation I smiled when I learned that my son had slipped under the covers and achieved what he most desired: a great prom night!! No harm done.
A highlight of my practice was when my son shared that he took time out in remote learning to sit in the park and reset. It was humbling to see the transformative power of meditation. His final year spent at home before I became an empty nester was sheer joy!
Over time, my meditation practice has evolved to include daily guided sits offered by Brooklyn Meditation Center. I am a 4-year member of the community. I enjoy their “Better sleep meditation,” and ride my bike across Brooklyn’s Prospect Park to sit in nature and meditate with the community and curious passersby. This has been unexpectedly freeing on so many levels. I feel at peace with myself and committed to my purpose in life as a teacher educator, co-teaching college classes; and a full-time public high school teacher, publishing and presenting at conferences.
When students were in remote learning, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to facilitate a gathering of the BCA Mindfulness Club for a weekly guided zoom meditation together. To my surprise approximately 20 students showed up each week often with family members in tow.
As a result of my daily meditation at home and in my classroom with my students, I am grateful for being released from expectations and my inner fears to see the world “as-is.” With each healing breath I invite my emotions to flow without resistance, shame or self-harm, opening for empathic connection and building the capacity to care for the humanity in myself and others. I’m wondering, can you and I embody this power and turn towards each other to face the essential work of our mutual liberation?
I invite you to return with me and lean into the hearth of my home—the kitchen sink. Looking out from this humble podium, I appreciate that the bodies we inhabit are fueled by the food and drink we intake. The kettle is boiling! My friend, come by and visit again. Meantime, I wish for you to live mindfully, I wish for you to embrace gratitude and may we coexist in caring for wellbeing in the home we share.