Being Gratitude

Offering prayers at Warrungup Spring

Offering prayers at Warrungup Spring

Meditation:
Breathe in beauty; breathe out gratitude
Take a moment to look around you and allow your eye to settle on something that strikes you as beautiful – the view out the window, the way the light glances off a surface, your own reflection in the computer monitor. Feel that beauty with your body, breathe it in. How wonderful it is to be touched by beauty – realising that something is beautiful fills our hearts with a deep emotion that includes peace, happiness, calm, connection, and gratitude. Feel a sense of gratitude for being blessed with the presence of beauty and, as you breathe out, feel your body respond to that gratitude in a gentle sigh.
Breathe in beauty; breathe out gratitude
What are the blessings in your life – yes, count them 🙂 And with each blessing remembered, breathe out gratitude. After a short while, your whole body will be feeling a gentle soft tenderness that is simply ‘gratitude’ without an object. Rest a while in “being gratitude”.
Breathe in beauty; breathe out gratitude

2013.01.20.01Gratitude is a blossoming flower of spiritual practice. When we feel gratitude, our hearts open up like a flower opens in the nurturing warmth of the sun and we are no longer isolated and alone – there is a profound recognition of connection with another person, a recognition of our interdependent relationship with something and everything that is beyond our narrow framework that defines “me”.

This is the key lesson I have gained from my own spiritual practice, and “being gratitude” was the central focus of my training in preparation for the Womb World initiation given by the Dalai Lama in Japan in April. I have tried a number of times now to write about some of the intense realisations that I experienced during that trip, but each time I have not been able to capture the essence of those experiences in words. I think it will require a book! So many small steps along the path, since I began practicing in the Buddhist way twenty-five years ago after my bout of cancer, which seemed to culminate in a profound moment of understanding and recognition of the blessing that is simply being alive. This recognition released a flood of gratitude to all the people who have helped me in my life, and all my ancestors’ labours that led up to the point of my own existence, and all the people, animals, plants, wind, sunshine, earth…all the entire cosmos somehow working together so that I might live. How profoundly humbling!

Fishes in Warrungup Spring

Fishes in Warrungup Spring

It has been one hundred now since the Dalai Lama initiated me into the Womb World. During that time I have continued to practice the rituals associated with that initiation, including reciting 10,000 mantras each day. Over this one hundred days I have also continued to offer the prayers that were entrusted to me and yesterday I went down to the sacred Warrungup Spring and made a ritual of reciting the names of petitioners and finally offering up their prayers, which marked the end of that prayer cycle. The sun came out just as I offering the last name and seemed to fill the world with light and blessings.

This active, yang cycle is now complete. Now it is time for me once again to withdraw into a passive, yin cycle that rests, reflects and contemplates.  In honouring and nurturing our spiritual lives, it is essential to carefully balance the yang of outward-flowing energy that is active, with equal amounts of yin practice that draws energy inward and is passive and quiet: to rest in gratitude. Therefore, I will not be engaging in my usual public Wabi’an events for the time being. This means there will be no Kuan Yin Day in August. Thank you for your understanding.

Breathe in beauty; breathe out gratitude

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Emily Kngwarreye’s Mandala

Anwerlarr anganenty (Big yam Dreaming) by Emily Kame Kngwarreye

Anwerlarr anganenty (Big yam Dreaming) by Emily Kame Kngwarreye

This week is Naidoc Week and I so I wanted to share with you one of my favourite paintings: It is called Amwerlarr Anganenty (Big Yam Dreaming), painted by Emily Kame Kngawarreye, an Anmatyerre woman from Utopia community, 250 kms north-east of Alice Springs. It is a massive painting 3m x 8m, taking up one whole wall of the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, so it is difficult to capture the majesty of the painting in such a little photo. However, I have been fortunate enough to sit in the gallery on several occasions and meditate up on this deeply spiritually moving image and if you live in Victoria, I highly recommend you visit Emily’s painting.

Emily Kame Kngwarreye

Emily Kame Kngwarreye

On the surface the image is a representation of Emily’s Country, Alhalker, and her Dreaming, which is the amwerlarr (pencil yam), and suggests the lines of the roots of the pencil yam as it covers the earth. Emily painted this all in the course of two days, sitting on the canvas, laid out on the red desert earth, and covering it with thick white lines, all the time singing her Dreaming story as she painted. Emily started painting when she was 80 years old and to me this reveals the greatest significance of her work: her profound wisdom. In her paintings she re-creates the wisdom of countless generations passed on to her by teachings from her Elders over many decades. When Emily was asked what her painting was about, Emily simply replied “Whole lot, that’s whole lot… That’s what I paint, whole lot.” That is, although this painting looks like the roots of the yam, in fact there is a much deeper significance to her work: it is a visual representation of the whole cosmos, in the same way that the great Buddhist mandalas reveal the Truth that underlies our superficial understanding of reality. Within the lines of the painting there is a profound and mystical teaching that, even if we can’t understand it intellectually, we can receive by quietly meditating on the image. This is the same as the Buddhist practice of meditating on a mandala.

Diamond World Samaya Mandala

Diamond World Samaya Mandala

In a Buddhist mandala the image might be of a particular deity or set of symbols, but that is only the superficial meaning of the painting. Underlying the lines of the painted work is a deeper teaching that has come from the vision of an enlightened person – the one who first painted that mandala, who had a deep experiential understanding of Reality – which is then copied over periods of centuries by monks who then use the image as an object of meditation. Using your eyes as your instrument of practice, meditate upon the mandala and allow the teaching that is inherent within it to connect to your own deep innate wisdom.

Emily’s wisdom pours forth from her entire being as she sings her painting into life, through the medium of paint and brush, as an extension of herself not separate from the land, onto the canvas. Within the painting there is a story about Country that relates to the way people have an inherent interconnection with the land around them – the land that contains and includes the self, or self as a microcosm of the land itself, inseparable. Although the superficial meaning of the painting is the roots of the yam, within the lines and, far more importantly, between the spaces are revealed deep teachings of a cosmic Truth that can be apprehended not with the mind but with whole body simply being in its presence and meditating upon the lines in quiet stillness – allowing the message to seep into your own being via your eyes.

And this is exactly what Emily Kame Kgnwarreye is offering us in her mesmerising paintings – mandalas that offer us profound spiritual teachings that connect to our own deep wisdom. This is the sacred offering that the ancestors of this land have to share with all of us, regardless of  our colour or background – how to recognise and apprehend our inseparable, ineffable spiritual connection with the land. So I encourage you to sit quietly and meditate upon the works of the Elders.

Happy NAIDOC Week 🙂

Emily Kngwarreye working on the painting "Earth's Creation"

Emily Kngwarreye working on the painting “Earth’s Creation”

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Kuan Yin Day

Dragon Kuan Yin

Dragon Kuan Yin

Just a reminder that next Friday (18th July) is Kuan Yin Day
Kuan Yin Day is held every month on the 18th to provide a chance for women to get together and talk about their own spiritual journey, to hear stories from other like-minded fellow pilgrims, to share a meal together and spend a couple of relaxing hours in the peace and gentle energy of Wabi’an, a Buddhist chapel nestled in bushland in Bouvard.
The event starts with some chanting by Cate of Kuan Yin sacred texts and prayers, which you’re welcome to join in or just listen to, followed by some quiet time in meditation. Then we have lunch for which everyone brings along a plate of something yummy. Regardless of your own spiritual practice, everyone is welcome to come along and share in this gathering.
Friday, 18th July 11:30am – 2pm (Wabi’an is open at 10:30am if you would like to come earlier for quiet meditation)
8 Bouvard Drive, Bouvard
I look forward to seeing you then ❤

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Healing a Lost Pregnancy

Mizuko Kannon, Mt Koya, Japan

Mizuko Kannon, Mt Koya, Japan

Rituals of healing for the grief of miscarriage and abortion: In my experience, rituals performed in memory of an unborn baby, lost though miscarriage or abortion, helps to heal the deep pain of loss and to bring a sense of closure for many women, who often cannot even tell anyone of the dark secret they hold. This post is a reprint of an article I have written in June’s NOVA Magazine, Healing a Lost Pregnancy, which you can read online here (the article is on page 6).

The Water Babies

In Japan, nestled in a grove of trees or on the mountainside looking out over the ocean within the grounds of the temples that are dedicated to Quanyin, the Goddess of Compassion, you will find rows of little stone figures lined up along tiered benches. These statues represent the spirits of babies who have been miscarried or aborted; they are called “mizuko,” which means “water-babies,” because they have come from the waters of their mother’s womb and have returned back into the flow of life.

The statues are placed there by parents after they have participated in a memorial ritual at the temple, praying for a good rebirth for the baby and asking for forgivenness for not being able to give them a life at this time. The little statues wear tiny bonnets and bibs that are made by the old ladies of the village to keep the spirits of the babies warm. The parents often place gifts in front of the statue, such as toys, pinwheels and candy, along with letters to the baby written on small wooden plaques.

When I first encountered these grottos dedicated to the spirits of the water-babies, I was deeply moved because I had never seen such public acknowledgement of miscarriage and abortion in Australia. When I talked to the temple priest, I was impressed by his refusal to engage in any kind of moral judgment: he did not ask whether the pregnancy loss was as a result of a natural miscarriage or the result of the woman’s choice to terminate the pregnancy. His compassion was entirely focussed on helping to ease the grief of the woman who was suffering from the loss of her baby, regardless of the cause.

To me, this was in stark contrast to the situation in Australia, where there is a deep divide in social attitudes between a woman who has had a miscarriage and a woman who has had an abortion. With a miscarriage, a woman is encouraged to be open with her feelings and to receive appropriate support from her family, friends and society at large. However, if a woman has an abortion and suffers grief from her loss, because she may have complex feelings of shame or guilt, or feel she doesn’t even have the right to grieve, then she is left alone to carry her pain in secret and the usual ways of finding healing for her grief are closed to her.

When I returned home to Australia, as a Buddhist priest, I began to offer memorial rituals of healing for pregnancy loss here at Wabi’an, a chapel dedicated to Quanyin, the Goddess of Compassion. Every woman’s experience is unique and each memorial ritual is individually created to help her find closure for her grief.

Mizuko in bibs & bonnets at Hasedera Temple

Mizuko in bibs & bonnets at Hasedera Temple

Healing Stories

For many women, healing the grief of an early miscarriage is difficult because the baby just “disappears” and there is nothing tangible to mourn: When Laura had a miscarriage, she felt her grief as a great empty space within her, unable to find expression or closure. Although well-meaning in their support, her family and friends did not appreciate the depth of her grief, saying “It just wasn’t meant to be” or “You’re young – you’ll have a baby one day”. But Laura grieved for this baby, of which nothing remained. So as part of a memorial ritual, Laura made up a box of mementos, photos, and letters that gave her something tangible to bury in a special place that fully acknowledged and celebrated the baby’s life with dignity and honour. A year later, Laura carried another pregnancy to full term and gave birth to a healthy baby boy.

For many women, events much later in their lives may trigger the deep pain of suppressed grief: Jackie was 56 years old when her own daughter had a miscarriage. While comforting her daughter, Jackie became overwhelmed by a grief of her own that related to the abortion she had been forced by her parents to have when she was 16 years old, 40 years earlier. She had tried to forget all about it but suddenly, in sharing her own daughter’s loss, she grieved for the loss of her own baby all those years before. So a ritual of healing was performed that honoured the spirits of both babies, sending messages and mementos up to heaven tied to balloons, which brought Jackie a great sense of peace that she had finally acknowledged her loss and healed her own deep grief.

For many women, illness and fertility issues bring up feelings of having created bad karma from having an abortion: Christine was in her mid-30s and had been undergoing IVF treatment for some time, without success. Because she was having difficulty in conceiving, she began to believe that she was being punished for having had an abortion when she was younger. She had never told anyone about her abortion and was worried that the spirit of the baby was seeking revenge by preventing her from getting pregnant. After performing a memorial ritual to honour the spirit of the lost baby, Christine confided that she felt a huge burden was lifted from her by just being able to share her story and not being judged or condemned for the choice she had made. The following year, Christine gave birth to a healthy baby girl – naturally and without fertility treatment.

Letters written to mizuko babies on wooden plaques

Letters written to mizuko babies on wooden plaques

Rituals for Pregnancy Loss

Every woman has her own individual way of grieving and so each memorial ritual is unique. For some women, it is enough to share her story and be relieved of the burden of her secret, in which case she may decide to perform her own ritual in private. For others, a formally conducted ritual using traditional language and structure provides the sense of an important occasion that suits their need to express their loss as a life ceremony. In every case, I encourage the mother to begin the process by naming her baby and writing a letter that expresses how she feels and what she wants to tell the spirit of her baby.

Many memorial rituals are created using one of the elements of earth, water, wind or fire: for example, the focus of an earth ritual may be to bury something and perhaps plant a tree; in a water ritual offerings are made into a river, lake or the ocean; a wind ritual may involve using a balloon to send a message up to the heavens; a fire ritual is an ancient way of mourning though fire, smoke and ashes, or by lighting candles or incense. I have found that each person tends to naturally be drawn to creating a special ritual of their own through one these elements, or using this as a starting point for their own creative journey. I have helped to create rituals that involved painting a picture, sewing a quilt, knitting a story, playing music, writing poetry, scupturing an image, or making a photo album. With nurturing support, each person is able find their own expression of their grief and healing.

In the ongoing heated and emotional debate between pro-choice and pro-life lobbyists, it is the lonely voice of each individual woman, with her own unique experience and personal grief, that is drowned out in the political rhetoric. When a woman comes to me who is grieving the loss of her baby, I do not ask questions: Regardless of politics and religion, my objective in offering a memorial ritual is to bear witness to each person’s particular experience, to acknowledge their grief without judgement and to support their healing process. My role is to welcome each individual with compassion and respect for the choices they have made in their lives and to offer comfort and healing for their grief in a way that honours their life choices and their own spiritual path.

Although until now I have offered rituals only to mothers who have come to Wabi’an, I also encourage and welcome fathers who are suffering grief from pregnancy loss to seek healing as well.

 

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Being the Rainbow

Anette's photo of the rainbow at Warrungup Spring

Anette’s photo of the rainbow at Warrungup Spring

Yesterday at our Kuan Yin Day gathering (thank you to the lovely women who came along and shared their beautiful energy and heartfelt stories that made the day such a nurturing time together), fellow pilgrim Anette shared a story about this wonderful photograph she took on Saturday of a full double rainbow across the Mandurah Estuary. Anette had been driving home when suddenly, after a cloudburst of rain, this glorious rainbow appeared: it was a full arch with a double rainbow that reflected in the still waters of the estuary. It was so breath-taking that she parked her car and got out and just stood there in awe of this beautiful scene. Then she snapped this photo before getting in her car to continue on her way home, feeling a sense of elation at having been witness to this special moment, even though she was unable to capture and share the full radiance of the experience in a single photograph. A moment later, as Anette drove away, clouds blew in and the rainbow disappeared, just as suddenly as it had appeared, but the feeling of awe and elation remained long afterwards.

I think it is very significant that the place where Anette “just happened to stop” was Warrungup Spring, the Aboriginal sacred women’s site where women had given birth to their babies for thousands of years (I wrote about Warrungup Spring in Sacred Places).

It is a wonderful blessing to be present in a sacred place and to bear witness to a glorious moment in nature. Sacred places are physical spaces within which there is a higher potential for spiritual transformation: perhaps this is because we know that it is “sacred,” which brings our awareness more fully to the experience or perhaps there is a deeper mystery present at an energetic level that permeates our being. Although the reasons for sensing the sacredness of a physical location remain a mystery (and instead of intellectualising about why this place is sacred), it is most important to bring our complete awareness into the body, into the heart, into the mind and simply open ourselves fully to the experience of the sacredness present in that place.

You can do this by relaxing your body and bringing your awareness into your feet connecting with the ground, drawing up the energy of the earth, feeling it streaming throughout your body; then bring your attention to your breath: gently following the breath in and out; breathing in the sacred energy of this place, breathing out and sharing your own energy, leaving the traces of your own sacred nature to add to the energy of this place. If you know of places that are considered sacred, it is important to visit those places with a meditative awareness – breathe, meditate, walk through these places and open up to receive its blessings and offer your own prayers, leaving your own spiritual footprint for the next pilgrim to find and follow.

Egret I met this morning at Warrungup Spring

Egret I met this morning at Warrungup Spring

Likewise, when you witness beautiful natural events such as rainbows, sunsets, moon rises, or share precious momentary encounters with native birds and animals, there is a moment of awe in which you are completely open and one with that experience. In that moment, all your cares and worries and preoccupations are suspended while you share in that connection with something greater than just “I”. It is in that moment when spiritual transformation is possible – you are open and momentarily there is no separation between what is ‘inside’ you and what is ‘outside’ you: there is just being completely within the experience itself. Just being the experience of the rainbow. Just being.

Sacred places and experiences are everywhere around us, all the time: we just need to be able to ‘see’ them. Step outside now and just look… then breathe… then just be the rainbow 🙂

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