Mahayana Meditation, Yoga Nidra, and Access to Joy
As an undergraduate at Harvard, I struggled to redefine my identity as a joyful person in the void of an unfamiliar East Coast culture and maelstrom of egoic fears and aspirations which assailed me. Of naturally artistic temperament, I gravitatied towards extracurricular activities not at all related to my studies: theater productions and a funk band. Starring in plays, dancing and singing were more important to me than taking steps to earn a degree, because I craved the deepened human connection from my Pasadena childhood home. My involvement with All Saints Church as Acolyte and Choir singer, even time spent with Youth Group all grounded me in ways I took for granted. My close circle of friends, my ever attentive mom and dad, all supported me and balanced my personality to keep me centered and growing in a healthy way. As soon as that support system was gone, I was faced with the horrifying blank canvas of my future at the best school in the country, without any clue how to navigate the incredible vastness of opportunity laid out in front of me. At this time, a friend introduced me to a dragon.
The late Friendly Dragon, aka Aba Cecile McHardy Honoring My Teacher Aba Cecile McHardy by Ruth King-
When interviewed by Turning Wheel, Aba was asked: What kinds of experiences do you bring to practice? Her response:
A playful world of difference… I enjoy teaching stories from a treasury of wisdom traditions manifesting in all cultures, exposing vulnerability, ambiguity and complexity. Pointing out instructions of a simple direct path of skillful means—meditation in action, the mantra of sound, the tantric mudra, the vajra dance, pacifying, magnetizing, enriching, and destroying displays of reparations. I celebrate healers, cosmic garbage cleaners, and peacemakers.
-taught me the importance of being naked and of fresh ginger root. She ushered many a sensitive soul through tumultuous waves of personal questioning, reframing, and seeking with the blessing of Mahayana Buddhist Meditation Technique. For 90 minutes once a week, we explored the realm of silence on a journey within. Our one talisman for the mind was to cultivate compassion within to share it outside of the self. This person tethered me in an otherwise wild world of hedonism, unbridled ambition without specific aim, and self-doubt. I came to realize I had a lot of growing up to do.
I expressed my desire to delve deeper, and Friendly Dragon pointed me towards Manzanita Village near Indio, Palm Springs, for a New Year's Retreat in the desert, where I met the shining pair, Painter Michele Benzamin-Miki and Poet Caitriona Reed. This happened to be a soul's sanctuary for not only the hapless (like me), but also for LGBT Gay and Transgendered Youth from San Francisco. As I was studying Gender and Sexuality, this was a perfect dove-tailing of interests for me. I had many a heart talk with guests and our hosts, conversations which continue to this day to echo in my mind. I found true resonance with open minded and open hearted people, and finally, joyfully sang in a wood sauna with true friends as the clock struck twelve for the last time that year.
I lived on the nourishment of that glorious encounter with my true self for the next couple of years back east, until finally, letting go of the unnecessary attachment to a place I never truly rooted for the sun-soaked adventures of Southeast Asia. Traveling, floating, writing, sketching, I immersed in every fancy with a man I thought I would spend the rest of my life with. It was not meant to be, but thankfully by the time I realized that, I was back in Los Angeles, after making a natural segue into World Arts and Cultures at UCLA. All I can say is that, I had outgrown the concept of learning in a structured way. While I still have a driving desire to drink in knowledge from the ether of ideas which surrounds us, I had no patience to do so in a systematic way as instructed. My Shakti, divine creative female force, was untamed! I became incredibly restless and destructive. Therapy and medications seemed to only fan my fire. My maternal family grew tired of my wild ways. For a while, I sojourned to Houston, Texas with my biological father. I was still incredibly restless but a bit less destructive in his presence. His universality and poet's heart did much to quell my soul's storm. A patron friend in the biz flew me back to LA for his stand-up show in Hollywood. I was back where I needed to be, with still no clue what to do with this life.
It's important to note that, on a journey to self-awareness, the road can get bumpy. All that energy, surging up through layers of memory, is bound to shake some undesirable emotions loose. If these are not closely examined in a loving way, those undesirable emotions can leak out in surprising, and sometimes devastating ways. Yoga can be thought of as the unity of ego and divine self, but the ego, small self, does not give up fear-based control of the mind without a serious fight. Years of unresolved issues will make themselves known when one journeys within. For me, I had to put my journey aside for a while to become what society considered productive - I got a normal office job and appeared normally happy for a few years. Inside, I was torn. How could I forsake the most imprortant parts of me: the wanderer, the joyful dancer, the unabashed artist, for a path which did nothing to meet my inner needs?
Thankfully, a desire to tone up my body at the gym and in the yoga studio ultimately led me to tune up my mind as well. Yoga Nidra is an excellent way of finding the truth in silence of your own mind body connection, you will find a piece of this at the end of each of my classes.
An awesome wholeness permeates my waking moments, and even my dreams. I have a newfound respect for who I am: a teacher, sacred mover and singer, rediscovering my written voice on my day off in my tiny studio apartment on Venice Blvd. I found that joyful part of me and magnified it to become my talisman. I can now share the best parts of myself with the world, through embracing all of me. Thank you, Friendly Dragon, thank you Michele Benzamin-Miki and Caitriona Reed, thank you Kumi Yogini for your bright beacons of light leading the way to Self-Realization. Photos by JQ Williams