By Cil Richards
Cil Richards is a professor of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at Washington State University. She has a committed meditation practice and teaches and leads a weekly meditation group at Aloft Studios. Here, she shares thoughts about meditation and shares why she meditates.
In this politically charged election year I have been thinking a lot about views and how much trouble they can cause.
View plays such a big role in what we believe, what we think about, and what we experience. It’s easy to say that we should drop our deeply held views and assumptions but that won’t make it happen. Fortunately meditation practice is a means to help us see those deeply held views and their effect.
When we meditate do we really open up to what is there or do we make assumptions about what we are experiencing? “I’m tense, I’m sad, I’m not good at concentrating. I’d be able to meditate if I wasn’t so hot.” Persistent investigation reveals the holes in these assumptions about experience. Anyone who has sat and watched their mind knows that it’s a madhouse in there. Thoughts and moods come and go like crazy. Things are constantly changing. And although sometimes that can be a little disconcerting, it’s a good thing. The fact of change means there is opportunity, possibility. I’m not sad, or angry, or hot. Those states come and go. Further investigation can reveal under what conditions these states arise and the patterns of behavior that play out over and over. For example, when I am stressed I often find that there is also some craving or aversion present. By looking closely we begin to see that we often fabricate our own reality based on views. Accompanying views are associations and memories that the mind uses to solidify and manufacture a way of viewing experience.
A helpful analogy from the physical world is a rainbow. We have all seen rainbows. No one would argue that they don’t exist, but we have all discovered that you can’t catch a rainbow, can’t touch it, and there is, alas, no pot of gold to be had. But what is a rainbow really? Is it a thing? Isn’t it really a process? One that happens when certain conditions are present? The recipe for a rainbow includes sun, rain, and an observer (you or me). Take away any one of these three and you don’t have a rainbow. The rainbow observed depends on where the observer is. That is, no two people ever see the ‘same’ rainbow. There is no ‘true’ rainbow. The rainbow ‘exists’ in relation to the sun, the rain, and the observer. Viewpoint matters.
We all hold some mental model of how the world works. Most often, when confronted with information that violates that worldview we ignore it or deny it. By doing so we miss an opportunity to learn. Through meditation if we really look at what’s really happening we see many things that challenge our worldview. If we can loosen our grip on our views and allow a new way of seeing then the possibility of transformative learning or insight arises. Letting go of views and allowing for different ways of seeing and views is an important part of meditation practice.
In my own practice through the years I have let go of and loosened many of my views. This has not been easy since as a professor I have certainly suffered from the ‘know it all’ disease. However, letting go of knowing how it is and seeing how it really is has really opened up my mind and practice.
I love to share words from others about why you value your practice, and how you manifest your practice in your daily life. I share some words Marji Neill shared with me, along with an image of where Marji meets herself/her spirit:
It was great being with you in class today! I’ve missed seeing everyone. I had to chuckle when you were talking about being mindful, slowing down, and making eye contact. Lots of thoughts came to my mind. I do not have many natural talents [editorial note from KZ: this is not true!], but for whatever reason, complete strangers have always opened up to me. My girls noticed this when they were young and it is something that drives my husband nuts. When we are out, and I speak with total strangers, he will often ask, “Do you KNOW that person?” Growing up with an “always be busy, busy, busy” mentality, I tend to walk briskly, but I like to smile and greet anyone I see. This has led to a ton of “little while friends” and fun conversations. Also, it seems like my guardian angel or spirit guide (or whatever energy is helping me through life on earth), likes to draw my attention to wildlife at just the right moment, and it’s been a fun part of my life. Lately I’ve noticed I’m not walking as fast. It made me wonder if I was holding back to not irritate my cranky knee (chronic), or if I am just getting older. But, you gave me hope that maybe I am finally understanding that if I zoom through life with my head down, I will miss a lot. After all, I want to know how that wild turkey family with seeming limited good sense, is doing!”
Sept 29, 2015
Let’s face it . . . We all need a break sometimes. We need moment to step back, gain some perspective, recognize that we are more than the thoughts and emotions we are having in the immediate moment. We need a moment to realize that we are more than the physical pain, the grief, the fear, or the illness we are experiencing. It’s no wonder that, within the traditional path of yoga, four of it’s eight limbs are dedicated to learning to quiet and focus our minds. In yoga, it’s sometimes called “cultivating the witness.” We use our breath, our ability to focus and concentrate, our posture, and our intention to become familiar with that part of ourselves that can “witness” our thoughts, feelings, even our discomfort. We initially learn to recognize, and then gradually to be at home with, this witnessing part of ourselves. Once found, the witnessing place within us can be a powerful reminder that we are more than the sum of our immediate strong feelings, thoughts, story-lines, physical pain, even illness. Cultivation of the witness within ourselves empowers us to make choices where before we felt victim to circumstances and situations beyond our control. We meet the witness as a loving, non-judgmental place within ourselves. Spending time in this witnessing place creates a sense of sanctuary and peace.
We begin learning this process early on in yoga practice, and then we integrate it into our asana practice. Once we are able to consistently find it in yoga, it has the benefit of expanding outward into the rest of our lives.
“I think joy and sweetness and affection are a spiritual path. We’re here to know [the Sacred], to love and serve [the Sacred], and to be blown away by the beauty and miracle of nature. You just have to get rid of so much baggage to be light enough to dance, to sing, to play. You don’t have time to carry grudges; you don’t have time to cling to the need to be right.” ― Anne Lamott
“I would only believe in a god who understood how to dance.” Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzche
Whether we dance to laugh and play, to let go of heartache and tension, for exercise, to find ourselves, the Divine Light, or all of the above at the same time, it’s a good thing! Nia: Wednesdays 4:30 – 5:30; Thursdays 1:00 – 2:00; Nia/Yoga combined into a single class on Mondays and Thursdays from 4:30 – 5:30. And the best part is, you don’t have to actually be able to “dance” at all — just come, ready to move!
Friend and yoga student Stephanie Crabtree who is a PhD candidate in Anthropology at WSU, read my post on the naming of KivaSpace, and added the following: “After reading your description of kivas on your webpage I would like to add that they are not just ceremonial, but functioned as multi-use spaces for not only important religious rituals, but also offered places to get out of the hot sun or the cold winter, to dance (thus many of them have footdrums, like at Aztec) and to reconnect with the ancestors. :)”
I love this. My vision of the space includes the possibilities of a multi-use space, a space to create community, and (goes without saying), a space to dance! And a bit ago, as I worked in the space, I had my own personal moment of “reconnecting with ancestors.”
Gladish Community Center used to be the high school in Pullman. Both of my parents attended high school in this building — it’s where they met and began dating. In fact, the building is named after the man who was Principal when they were students — Oscar Gladish. Mr. Gladish loved my mother (she was very bright and very socially active). He had concerns about my Dad (Also very bright, but only taking band, shop, and typing his Senior Year, and frequently found sneaking out of the band room window to go down and play pool at the City Club — Guess Gladish has always had good windows to climb in and out of!). So Mr. Gladish would lecture my mother, urging caution about dating and getting serious about that “Zakarison boy.”
Advance forward about twenty some years. Gladish was turned into one of 2 local middle schools, and it was the one I attended (I can still sing the “Fight Song” . . . just ask!). The little corner where KivaSpace is now coming to life was the P.E. teacher’s office and girl’s locker room. As I was working on the space recently, scraping off layers of paint, I hit the “red layer” that you see in the picture. Bam! I was transported to a memory I must haved buried a looong time ago. For those of you that don’t know, I have epilepsy, and it turns out I had my very first grand mal seizure in this very same space, then the P.E. teacher’s office. I had forgotten all about this until I hit the red layer of paint, which figures prominently in my memory as I hit that same paint while hitting the floor during the seizure.
I now have sympathy for that teacher. Imagine an adolescent girl, walking into your office, telling you that she feels “really weird.” The teacher suggested that maybe I was about to begin menstruating or having some sort of “personal/emotional issue.” I then dropped onto her floor and had a seizure. I remember coming back around, with her demanding that I quit “acting out for attention” and get back into the gym. I remember being really scared because I felt really strange and I didn’t know what had happened. And then I tried to walk out of her door, fell over, and got sick on her floor (Yes, the red one!). She wasn’t pleased, I felt like a freak, and my epilepsy went undiagnosed for five more years.
So now that same space becomes a place for healing. How’s that for calling up the ancestors and creating a space for loving forgiveness? Here’s to all your healing journeys. I hope that KivaSpace will be a part of them.