Photos

A Secret Garden

I was at a meeting at another agency that was built in the years when civil service was a respected nd honored activity. The garden is clearly maintained, but I have never seen anyone in it, and wonder whether entrance by anyone other than maintenance is permitted. Does the solitary air of the garden make it feel more personal and sweet? Or does it seem isolated and less intriguing because of the absence of people?

I wonder whether people who are naturally drawn to meditate would be the ones who would answer yes to the first question and no to the second.

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Lunchtime Idyll

I did not have much time for a break today as I had a meeting scheduled for 1:30 pm. I always try to take at least a short break from work in the middle of the day, including a walk and some time to sit quietly. I am far more productive and have a better day all around when I do.

One of my favorite places to go is directly across the Mall to the US Botanical Gardens. When I sit and close my eyes, it feels and smells like I have gone someplace warm, beautiful, and exotic. I had only time to take a few good breaths and write a couple of sentences in my journal, but that brief interlude can be all that I need to bring renewed enthusiasm to my work.

Do you have an idyllic place you can go for a few moments? If you cannot leave your office, do you remember to close your eyes and breathe or engage in other simple meditation?

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I Wanted to Be Near the Water

When I finished practicing this morning, all I wanted was to be near the water. I walked to the tidal basin–about seven miles round trip. Some of the museums were open. After the crowds in New York, even the Natural History Museum for a rest stop did not seem too, too terrible. The day was almost balmy, no need for a scarf or hat even with the wind off of the water. Appreciating the contrast between walking around in DC and NY, I found myself remembering why I had first decided to come to DC from New York to go to law school, based on an initial visit in February: the snow was melted and the museums were free.

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Two Temptations of Maya

In classical yoga, maya is the illusion that the tangible world is what is real.  Only atman is real; the world we experience through our senses (and our senses them selves) as reality is an illusion.  We renounce the world to escape the temptation of being drawn into it as reality.  In so doing, though, we ineluctably must come to the conclusion that all that is ill with the world is as much an illusion as that which is tempting.  In turning away from the world we would be also turning away from the pain of seeing inequity and suffering and the desire to seek change in the tangible, sense-experienced world.

As I was walking around New York City, ankle-deep in slush and being hyper-stimulated by the lights and the noise and the smells and the bustle and the choices, I found myself thinking about maya and that in its classical sense has two surface temptations for me.  The first is the temptation to turn away from the stimulation, to reject consumption of more than needed to exist.  In the face of such excessive stimulation, the idea of nothing, of utter simplicity, of quiet seems desirable.  If the turning away is another form of seeking pleasure or escaping pain, though, it is still in the trap of maya — the worldly illusion that binds us in the pair of opposites–pleasure and pain.  The second temptation, the temptation to withdraw from everything except seeking the light within, is more subtle.  If we truly are to turn away from the world of the senses, we turn away from notions of justice and equality and freedom that are based how we live in the material world as much as we turn away from consumption.

The true path of renunciation, of pure meditation, is a rare and beautiful path, but to stay in the world and to withdraw ineffectually in such a way might earn the hackneyed epithet “navel gazing.”  My path is not that of the renunciate yogin, nor do I have the fortitude to live a life of Christian poverty, which would reject riches and live for service.  Where can we find the support in the yoga path to stay engaged and yet still live mindfully, fostering the expression and recognition of spirit in ourselves and others?

In tantric philosophy, maya is understood somewhat differently than in classical yoga.  The maya is not the world itself.  When we think that getting and having and avoiding is all that there is and that it is separate from spirit, then  our lives are cloaked by maya, and we are ignorant (avidya) of the true bliss of spirit (satcitananda).  To know spirit, we must see through maya.  To do that requires discrimination (viveka) in what we take into our senses and ethically responsible action in the tangible world to align our lives in a way that expands the opportunity to recognize spirit, which in my mind includes having less material disparity in society, which disparity most assuredly makes the essential truth of blissful consciousness more opaque (due to the play of maya) for both the haves and the have nots.  While we make our attempt to live with more discrimination and grace and with less cause of conflict or suffering (doing better some times than others), we still try to recognize and savor the exquisite divine in each sight and taste and sound and creation.  How extraordinary always is New York in all its wild manifestation!

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Walking Holiday

Walking has always been my preferred form of getting from one place to another; if time and distance require it, I intersperse a lift from bus, metro, or taxi on one end or in the middle of a walk.  All I really wanted to do with my time off–I don’t have to go to the office or teach class until January 3rd–is to walk and practice and visit with friends and family and look at art and cook and read and study and eat and play with the cats and write and photograph and dance (an open-ended term) and maybe knit or draw.  For me, walking is walking in itself; time to practice bhavana — deep contemplation; time to practice japa–repetition of mantra; opportunity to open the mind and senses to allow the flourishing of creative projects–mostly writing and photography; a way of going from one place to another for shopping, working, visiting, etc; and sometimes an activity to share with friends.  And of course walking to get food is wonderful both for stimulating the appetite and for aiding digestion.

Yesterday, we were given 90 minutes of administrative leave.  On leaving the office at 3:30, I walked west from my building to the last Thursday until spring of the Penn Quarter Farmer’s Market.  I didn’t really need anything, but wanted to support the farmers who were braving the cold, so I bought a wild oyster to eat while I stood there and a bag of arugula and a few apples and pears.  From there I walked back east, traversing the Capitol grounds to East Capitol Street and stopped in and browsed at Capitol Hill Books.  It was turning dark when I walked east into Lincoln Park before turning north to go home.

In less than an hour, a good friend will arrive at the door in her walking shoes.  We are going to head out on foot to the Mall to talk and to look at art and to share a meal in Penn Quarter or back on the Hill.  Later in the day, I will walk along the bus route to Dupont or walk to the metro to go to a Christmas Eve potluck dinner at Friends Meeting of Washington.

Tomorrow, Christmas Day, I will celebrate Christmas in the manner of New York Jews (Chinese food and a movie).  After walking through Lincoln Park and down Kentucky Avenue SE (where are some of the most beautiful trees in the neighborhood) to get a massage, I’ll walk to the U.S. Botanical Gardens to meet a friend I have known since third grade who is town with some of her NY friends for the holidays.  We will probably walk up to Chinatown after that.  Then I’ll go see a movie.  Whether I walk or take the bus will depend on whether it is dark by the time the movie lets out.

On Boxing Day, I will go to Georgetown to volunteer at the Lantern Bookshop.  I will walk some of the way and take the bus the rest of the way.  The length of the walk will depend on the amount of time I spend making breakfast, caring for plants and cats and house, and writing.  How much of the return trip ends up being on foot will depend on how many books I decide to take home from the Lantern.  Sometimes I only get one or two.

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Neighborhood Holiday Lights Charity Challenge

How we collectively yearn for the light, though we seek it in different ways!  For anyone who can tell me exactly where I took each of these photos, I will give a donation to charity in your name (total for all persons guessing correctly $250).  Hint:  All photos except the last, which was taken this morning, were taken on the solstice, and I did not go out of my way to take the photos.

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