Tag Archives: meditation

My Mom’s Email Sign-Off: Metta

Periodically I will be reposting here, often with a few minor changes (or in this case, several additions), posts that I crafted for my professional yoga site, as some of those posts may have relevance for readers of this blog. This is one of those posts.


All blessings bright and beautiful

That is how my Mom would sign her emails to me, followed by Love.

When I began leading yoga practices my Mom’s sign off became my closing words along with an added sentiment – 

May all blessings bright and beautiful be yours, may you shine them inward to nourish and reflect them outward to share with those you meet.

My additional words change with each practice, as the moment takes hold, but always they reflect inner self-nourishment, and outward kindness and consideration for others.

Over the years the Buddhist tradition of a Metta practice has found its way to my awareness, either from reading books or having my yoga teachers explain and then guide such a practice. A little over a year ago, while reading Frank Ostaseski’s thought provoking “The Five Invitations,” I was struck by his mention of the first Sanskrit chant I ever learned: Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu. (My review of this book is here and my reflection about the book is here.)

In English it translates to “May all beings everywhere be happy and free.” Ostaseski describes Metta as “a practice in which we consciously evoke a boundless warm-hearted feeling” and that by reciting this chant, or similar chants, “we gradually establish benevolence, friendliness, and love in our own hearts, and then we extend the wish for well-being and happiness to all beings in every direction.”

There are two interesting aspects of chanting that resonate with me. The first is that it is much easier to remember something if it is set to a melody, particularly if there is a repeatable rhythm. The second is that chanting can help to clear the mind and prepare it for relaxation or meditation. I wrote a bit about chanting in early 2011, and find it interesting that almost ten years later very few of my yoga teachers incorporate chanting into their classes. After typing that sentence a smile spread across my face with the realization that I, too, do not include chanting in the classes I teach!

EileenAndLaurieMy Mom was practicing Metta long before I ever understood that it was something, a practice, a way of being and thinking. Her closing words always resonated with me as a powerful and beautiful expression of love – love for self and love for others. I wonder if she was consciously practicing Metta or if the words just simply resonated with her, as well. Thanks Mom. 🙂

Catching Up With Life & Death

Last year at this time, I had recently finished reading Frank Ostaseski’s book The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully, and written a post about it here. Around that time I also subscribed to the Metta Institute‘s newsletter, which seems to come infrequently. The “Institute was established to provide education on spirituality in dying” and it grew out of the Zen Hospice Project, founded by Frank Ostaseski.

The most recent newsletter arrived about a week ago, and from it I learned that Ostaseski had experienced several strokes. Since my Mom also had a stroke, I was a curious to know how the experience impacted Ostaseski, and relieved to see that the newsletter also included a link to a recent interview of him at the EndWell conference, where he spoke about The Paradox of Vulnerability. (The video is also embedded at the end of this post.)

I was stuck by the pacing of his speech, which may or may not be his typical way of speaking, and by the sound of his breath, which may or may not be related to having had several strokes. But there were two comments that most impacted me. One was his reply to Courtney’s question about what he now thinks is bullshit as opposed to prior to his strokes he saw as “okay” bedside approaches to people on the journey of dying.

His response was to tell a story of a man who was dying from AIDS. Frank was sitting by the man’s bedside as the man reached for something, in the process knocking over a glass of milk. Frank told the man it was no big deal, that it could be cleaned up. The man, incensed, angrily retorted that it was a big deal. In stopping to think about this, to that man it was a very big deal to lose control of one’s body and of one’s abilities.

This, in turn, had me thinking in general terms of how often I have said to someone “it’s no big deal” in my attempts to ameliorate their discomfort. Yet, maybe I should reconsider this comment and think more intentionally about validating what the person may be feeling by at least acknowledging the way they are feeling. Much to ponder about this.

The other comment of Frank’s that still has me thinking is his story about conversations doctors and therapists have been having with him. They keep talking to him about recovery, which just now I looked up online in order to see the specific definition: Recovery is a return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength.

To Frank, it is not a matter of recovery. Rather, and to my mind profoundly, to him it is about discovery – what he is learning about himself and the world in each moment. Perhaps it is akin to seeing the world through a new lens, and it is definitely about accepting what he is discovering rather than fighting against it. Another online search yielded several clarifying definitions for the word discover: Find something or someone unexpectedly, become aware of, be the first to find or observe, perceive the attractions of an activity or subject for the first time. 

Perhaps this feeling of discovery is a practice of self-compassion, of accepting oneself for who you are at that very moment, of going inside and not turning away from what you find. In my yoga practice and my yoga teaching this approach surfaces in meditation and in practicing loving-kindness towards oneself. I suspect it is something with which Frank Ostaseski is quite familiar as a Buddhist.

A Reflection

A few weeks ago I cut a quote out from the December 2, 2018 Letters to the Editor section of the Sunday NY Times magazine. I did not recall, and perhaps never even read the article to which it referred, but the quote resonated:

Aging is not the issue. The issue is decline, and it is different for everyone.

This evening I finished Frank Ostaseski’s book The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully. In reading the book, which took me close to three weeks, I was touched by how profound the ideas were and by the anecdotes Frank lovingly shared of individuals he accompanied on their path to dying. You can learn more about The Five Invitations here and read my book review here.

During this afternoon’s walk I was telling Fred, my husband, about my response to the book, and he asked me what it was I found profound. In replying I described the many touching anecdotes and the explanations of Buddhism (which I sometimes had to reread to follow the full meaning). But mostly my mind lingered on the five invitations and the understanding that what can serve us in approaching our mortality can serve us as well in approaching our living.

Fred took in my words and then mentioned the science writer Robert Wright, who has written books about God, Buddhism, religion, as well as numerous articles for various magazines. It turns out Wright also teaches the coursera course Buddhism and Modern Psychology for which I signed up and started as of this evening.

These paragraphs may seem a bit disparate but that is not the case. Frank Ostaseski co-founded the Zen Hospice Project. While not everyone who turns to hospice is old in the sense of years, as the opening quote notes: it is not aging that is the issue, it is the decline, and decline can happen at any time along the aging continuum. Zen Buddhism is but one way to approach dying as well as living. It is this blend of looking at the aging continuum  thru a Zen lens that appeals to me.

Perhaps my interest stems from having witnessed my parents end-of-life, particularly my Mom’s and her decision to follow VSED. Or perhaps it is my own aging, having last month celebrated my 64th birthday, launching me full of wonder into my 65th year. Or maybe it is because I have become immersed in my yoga practice and yoga teaching, and wanting to try meditating – maybe for a spiritual reason but definitely because of the positive health benefits for the brain. Between the teachings of the book and what I may wind up learning from the course, I feel as if there are multiple strands of light waiting for me to braid them together into understanding.