When were you first exposed to dharma?

I walked into Against the Stream Nashville Meditation Center in January 2012,  shortly after coming out of rehab for alcohol dependence.   It was suggested that meditation could be helpful in further recovery.  I remember in one of the first talks Dave Smith mentioned that, sitting was just sitting.  Whether you were in traffic, the motor vehicle department or sitting comfortably on your  own couch that the experience of sitting was all the same.   He said, it was only my reaction to it that was sitting that created the flavor of my experience.  He then explained the  Buddhist concept of the second arrow.  I had never contemplated anything like this before.  I was utterly superglued to my own emotional reactions without the tiniest room for witnessing what was happening and therefore had limited choices in my response.  Added to that,  I was a stimulus augmenter.  If my experience was good,  I reveled publicly in full out exaggeration.  If it was an uncomfortable situation, I added layers to the existing story including villains who acted out personally toward me.  These stories were also embellished for wider consumption.  I thought I was an interesting, expressive “character” speaking deep truth to all.  I had no idea I was creating suffering.  When Dave explained that simple concept,  I was able to separate myself from my own perception of reality for a moment.  That moment, that brief second of separation, from the theater of my thoughts, had me fully hooked.

How has the path manifest in your daily experience? Does it reflect in your work and relationships?

The growing space of awareness and softening from practice affects every relationship in my life.  The easiest to put into words in my experience around the heart practices.  When I first encountered Metta Practice, what roared up was an initial, fierce resistance.  If anyone had asked me if I wished well for others, before this practice, I would have confidently, and indignantly, bellowed,” Of course!”  This push back response to the phrases helped me see that I felt a deep separation from others due to a deep seeded program of scarcity mind.  This relationship was stable across most of the  relationships that surrounded me, except for perhaps, my children. “If you did well, if you were happy, there was a less chance I would be” was the silent echo in my survival brain,   This is not what I believed about myself, but my body’s resistance revealed my truth.  As I result, I became a wandering Metta practitioner.  I went to malls, parks, I sat on  benches all around town and began the practice of inclining my mind towards good will for others.  I watched what prejudices arose from my conditioned mind while simultaneously experiencing physical sensations of the softening of my resistance and the opening of my heart.  These continued practices of the heart, metta, karuna, mudita, upekkha have revolutionarily changed my relationship to my loved ones, strangers, those “difficult” people,  to earth and it’s creatures and even to bugs.  I occasionally now drive UBER as a roving heart practice.  It allows me to practice mindful listening to wider groups of people from all different walks of life I would never have had contact with before.  It is one of my antidotes to all this “othering” so pervasive in our nation right now. This has been a heart opening, sometimes, deeply touching and often riotous experience allowing me remember just how deeply we can connect to others.  

Mara teaches Kali as part of her service practice.

Who is your teacher(s)?

My first teacher was Dave Smith at Against the Stream Nashville and now,  is Andrew Chapman at the same center, renamed – Wild Heart Meditation Center Nashville.  After a recent tragedy, I realized how important it is to have a practice/ and a mentor.  When I was mired thick in grief, Wild Heart Meditation Center became the location of my first steps of healing.  I was struggling to find an openhearted grief group and when unable to, I asked the center if I could start one in our community.  Looking back now, I am amazed at how much Andrew trusted me to start and facilitate a grief group when I was still so raw.  His trust in me and my practice and the connection to others who were grieving were the turning point in my healing.  I realize that my practice was in a way returned to me by my teacher Andrew.  The way he welcomed me back reminds me of how he speaks of returning to the breath.   It is a gentle, trustful, welcoming back.  

Which sangha do you normally attend?

Wild Heart Meditation Center 

What is your primarily profession?

 I am a Social Worker as well as stock trader and a Martial Arts and Pilates Instructor.  Last month I debuted a new program  Recovery Martial Arts. In addition, I facilitate groups at Wild Heart Meditation Center.   My established Buddhist practice gave me a path out of the incapacitating grief after my 26 year old son chose suicide in 2017.  My other traditional supports did not calm or catch me.  The AA mantra of “trust god” ,  the platitudes from retreating,frightened friends, “he’s no longer suffering”  infuriated me.  I felt that black of separateness descending back around me again, but at a depth and velocity I could not comprehend.   The starkness of that alone feeling in my grief, except for some calm at Wild Heart or when I was with my dharma friends.  They allowed my suffering and didn’t flinch when I lamented. 

It was the parable of the mustard seed that began to capture my attention.  As my mind steadied a little, that powerful parable began to circulate in my mind.  The Buddha taught about a distraught mother who could not let go of her dead son.  She went from person to person to find the medicine to bring her son back to life.  I understood that wandering as I spent hours and hours walking in grief a day.  I was unable to sit, and I was unable to go anywhere where people were.  It was suggested she see the Buddha for the special medicine for her dead baby.  The buddha told her to bring him some mustard seeds from a house that had not experienced death for him to resuscitate her child.  The woman wandered from house to house, hearing again and again, that more people had died in those homes that lived there now.   I imagine she began to understand the impermanence of life, and from the eyes of those talking about those who had also lost, she began to reconnect to others and deeply know the truth.   At the end of the parable she is able to bury her son and step into the Dharma.

This parable was directly responsible for me starting a grief group at Wild Heart.  I remember speaking of the pain of losing my son and the woman next to me who had also lost a son, leaned in with the softest eyes.  She knew exactly what I felt, and I began to heal.   I am now working to bring a Survivors of Suicide Loss group and Response team to Nashville to widen out that connected healing opportunity for others who may be in the same cracked open, wandering condition I was in.  That wish for healing and compassion to reach further and further out is a manifestation of the radical imagining contained in the heart practice so vibrant in my heart.

The Dharma informed me, my practice enlivened me and my sangha held me.   

And I continue.

I watched what prejudices arose from my conditioned mind
while simultaneously experiencing physical
sensations of the softening of my resistance and the opening of my heart.

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