Monday, June 27, 2022

What I'm Reading: Feel-Good Book Five

When I lived in Washington, DC in the eighties, I met the meditation teacher Stephen Levine at a conference and bought his beautiful book, A Gradual Awakening. "Treasure yourself," he inscribed on the first page. I devoured the practical tips on meditation, the clear explanation of the benefits of becoming aware of "monkey mind" -- the mind's incessant chatter -- and found great joy in the guided meditations sprinkled throughout. 

One hot August day in 1988, I took this book and my lunch to the park at DuPont Circle for my lunch break from my job at the Institute for International Environment and Development. This park, surrounded by a large traffic circle and a magnificent fountain at its center, pulsed with life. Bike messengers, chess and checkers players, homeless people, others on break like me, and passersby filled the walkways and patches of grass.

Seated on a bench, I began to read the guided meditation on opening your heart in loving-kindness. I slowly read the words, "May all beings be happy. May all beings be clear-minded. May their hearts open. Slowly and gently let your love spread to all beings, everywhere."

"May all sentient beings, all feeling beings, may they be free from suffering. May they love themselves. May they come to their happiness. May they uncover the joy of their true self. All beings everywhere. Just let yourself sit in the light of this love, in this caring for yourself, for each other. Don't try to do anything. Just be. In love. In the light. May all beings share in this openness. May everyone experience this spaciousness, this openness of heart. may we all come home to our completeness."

As I read, sitting on the park bench in the summer sun, still wearing a sweater from the cold office, I felt the words crack my heart wide open. I ate my food, a delicious, peanut butter sandwich that I chewed slowly, appreciating deeply. I took in the others at DuPont Circle and loved each and every one, open to their sadness and their joy. I took in the whole city of Washington, DC.

My heart opened out to the country, touching my brothers' lives where they were, and my other relatives and friends. My heart opened out to the Americas -- including my parents who lived in Colombia -- and then to the world. As I meditated, tears of utter bliss streamed down my cheeks. Deeply, amazingly at peace with the whole universe. I saw my part in it, feeling the presence of a powerful force whose language is love.

All too soon, it was time to walk back to work. The world around me seemed to vibrate with life, with love. I felt wide open to others, to everything, deeply grateful for this beautiful life. 

But as hard as I tried to maintain that openness, it slipped away. It's okay, though. I know where to find it again; inside the covers of A Gradual Awakening.

PS My book Courage Without Grace takes place in DC, and Josie spends a lot of time in and around DuPont Circle. Here's Josie.

"For the first time since arriving in DC, I had hope. Pedaling past the many pigeons and bicycle messengers at DuPont Circle, I admired the park's fountain with its chalice-like shape, three sculptures, and low pool. On the Taft Bridge, I snapped pictures of my stone lion friends. The expressions on their regal faces looked pleased, as if they knew things were looking up for me and were glad to play their part. 

 Still giddy with new hope, I turned up my street, standing as I pedaled up the hill. Something rumbled nearby, and I checked behind me. I nearly fell over when I saw the black motorcycle. Dear God, will that man never leave me alone?"

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