A Portfolio of Spiritual Practices

This page is an invitation to enjoy a sanctuary for the spirit.

The poems and prayers are a refuge of words which both give voice to the experience of living in our time, and a sense of being connected to others in their experience. The spiritual practices are an invitation to use your body as a vehicle for connecting with a deep place within yourself, a place to discover your own deep well of consolation and courage, gratitude and peace.

Many of these resources have been provided by islanders, and in many cases, written BY islanders – your neighbors and friends -- since the coronavirus descended upon us.

We look with uncertainty…..

We look with uncertainty
beyond the old choices for
clear-cut answers
to a softer, more permeable aliveness
which is every moment
at the brink of death;
for something new is being born in us
if we but let it.
We stand at a new doorway,
awaiting that which comes…
daring to be human creatures,
vulnerable to the beauty of existence.
Learning to love.
By Anne Hillman

Reflections and questions on this poem, by Parker Palmer. March, 2020

“Uncertainty makes most of us anxious. When things are ‘normal’, we soothe ourselves with the illusion that we’re in control. Until we’re reminded that we’re not…

But uncertainty, rightly held, can generate creativity instead of anxiety. Here are five questions that Hillman’s poem evokes in me – questions that, taken seriously, might turn out to be life – giving:
--How can I let go of my need for fixed answers in favor of aliveness?
--What is my next challenge in ‘daring to be human’ in personal, relational, vocational, and political terms?
--How can I open myself more fully to the beauty of nature and human nature?
--Who or what do I need to learn to love next? And next? And next?
--What is the new creation that wants to be born in and through me?

‘Nobody knows what the future will bring. But if we wrap our lives around good questions - and try to live our way into good answers, step by step – the better world we want and need is more likely to come into being.
‘Does one of the questions above speak to you? Or maybe you have one of your own.”


The Practice of Palming


Find a comfortable seat where your feet are touching the floor, or if sitting on the floor, connect your sitz bones to the surface beneath them. Close your eyes and take in a few deep breaths. Inhale and exhale slowly, notice the quality of your breath today. Next, rub your hands together briskly, spinning up some heat and energy between your palms. 

Once your hands feel warm and tingly, place your palms over your eyes, then open your eyes and look out into the warm darkness and drink in the heat and healing energy of your hands. Your nervous system will gear down and your mind and body will relax. Close your eyes and repeat. You can also put your warm hands on any other part of your body that would love a little care today.

Do this as many times as you need, and then sit quietly and observe the effects of this practice.

Offered by Nicole Grey, Vashon yoga instructor


To Care for Loneliness and Distance from Loved Ones during the Pandemic

Here is a practice to resource yourself even though you may be physically separated from people you love, either by space because of social distancing, or because they are someone you knew in the past. Gratitude to my teacher Sarah Peyton, empathybrain.com for this practice.

Sit comfortably. Relax your face. Close your eyes if you feel comfortable doing that.

1. Bring to mind someone who loves you. It could be a real person or someone you imagine. It could be someone who is alive now, or someone who has died, maybe someone you knew when you were a child. It could be a spiritual teacher you’ve never met in person. Just think of someone who, if they saw you right now, would just be so happy to see you.

2. Imagine that person right here in the room with you. Where are they in relation to you? Do they come sit next to you? Do they stand behind you with their hands on your back, supporting you?

3. Let them see what’s on your heart right now. How do they respond? See if there are any words they have for you, or any gestures or touch. 

4. Let yourself savor the connection as long as you like. When you feel ready, thank them. Return to the room by opening your eyes and feeling the chair under you. 

Offered by Amanda Blaine
Coach, teacher, on Vashon

Connecting with Heart Intuition

1) Relax into a comfortable posture.

2) Allow your mind to quiet as you take 3-4 slow, calm breaths.

3) Gently sense your heart and its pulse.

4) As you sense into your heart, ask your Heart Intuition for any guidance.

5) Be receptive to any feelings and subtle thoughts that may arise.

6) With patient practice at this exercise, learn to differentiate busy mind from Intuition.

Offered by David Seborer, Vashon yoga teacher

Invisible Yoga for Trigger release: Encountering Fear

In these complicated times, we may find our nervous systems reacting in extreme ways in response to fear. This is called a “trigger” response. I want to share some ways to meet and ease a fight or flight trigger response. I call it “Invisible Yoga for Trigger Release.”

When we meet a threat, perceived or actual, our body registers “danger” and leaps into action. This is a positive, lifesaving process- it is not pathology- but when we cannot release the energy, we can feel immense anxiety and panic and even feel out of control.

One way to work with this is to release the activated sympathetic nervous system energy as it arises. When it is discharged and released, it does not get stored to create more chronic activation, and we can more easily meet the challenges of our lives as our nervous systems learn to “glide” between action, connection, and rest.

Yoga honors the whole of you- understanding that all of the components of your nervous system have their place creates space for you to live as the responsive, embodied being you innately are.

PRACTICE:
When you perceive danger, intense stress, or threat, you may notice your breath get faster, your pulse starting to race, or sudden intense emotions of fear, anger, or anxiety. Acknowledge that your body is responding to a threat of danger. You may notice that “knowing better” doesn’t help. This is because it isn’t your thoughts that are the problem. You are having a physiological response to danger.

Instead of dismissing it, try honoring it. Notice the way your body is taking care of you. There are clear messages of action in your system.

Start to tense and release your muscles. Pay special attention to your arms, core, legs, and glutes. They want to activate to save you. Honor this message. Tense them, and then let go. You can do this invisibly, without any one knowing.

Once you start to notice yourself being able to let go after the tensing, which may take some time, see if you can go all the way to rest for just a nanosecond after the tensing. Then try shaking or wiggling whatever parts of you that you like- hands, etc.

If you are still at high speed, tense and release again, and then shake or wiggle.

When you are ready, start to move any body parts in synch with your breath rhythm- fingers, toes, neck, anything. Match your breath rhythm with your body.

Next, look around you and notice what you see in your physical environment. Take in shapes, colors, details, sounds.

If you like, make soft fists with your thumbs inside. This is Adhi mudra, a gesture to help you ground yourself. If it feels safe, notice your breath.

If you are still experiencing fear, move with your breath. Don’t force yourself to be still when your body is sending “move” messages.

If you are starting to calm, you might notice the length of your inhale and the length of your exhale. Just notice it. Your body has its reasons for breathing a certain way. Never use force with your breath.

If it feels right to you- and only if you are feeling the panic start to release, you could gradually start to lengthen the aspect of breath (the inhale or exhale) that is shorter. Do this slowly, no more than one count every few breaths.

You can gradually work towards evenness, but there is no need to get there. Let it be a process.

After a few minutes, wiggle or shake, move with your breath rhythm, and look around.

--offered by Deborah King, Vashon yoga instructor


Calm

How do
you cross
the flood?

You cross calmly--
one step
at a time,
feeling
for stones.

How do
you cross
the flood,
my heart?

You cross calmly--
one step
at a time,

or not at all.

From 'The First FREE Women', poems of the early Buddhist nuns

The simplicity of the poem to the left, Calm, carries so much meaning for me. As I try to navigate the rough waters-- the many moments my heart feels like it’s ready to break, the loss of work, the worries of my daughter living in New York, I am grateful for the many “stones” I have in my life.

A reliable stone is the grounding practice of yoga. I am particularly drawn to the breathing practices at this time. Breath practices are called pranayama in yoga philosophy and these practices are considered one of the 8 limbs of yoga. These 8 limbs make up the prescription for alleviating our suffering, for living a good life, and for spiritual awakening. An incredibly soothing and grounding practice is called Brahmiri or “Bee’s breath.”

Preparation: Before you begin, just find a comfortable seat and bring your attention to your natural breathing. Let it be natural, just noticing the feel of the breath entering and leaving the body. Pay attention to where you feel the most sensation in the body as you are breathing and let it linger there.

What to do: You inhale through the nose regularly. As you exhale through the nose, you bring your lips together lightly to make the “mmm” sound. While you are doing this breathing, you take both hands to the face, placing the first 4 fingers lightly over the closed eyes and the thumbs gently press the inner cartilage of the ears. This helps move the sense gates from the outer environment to the inner environment. Take 7 breaths in this way, letting the exhale play all the way out with the sound you are making.

Receiving the gift of the practice: Afterwards remove the hands from your face and allow the breath to go back to its natural wave, breathing in and out of the nose. Let your mind rest on the breath, like lying on a raft, gently rocking in a lake.

Offered by Ronly Blau, island yoga instructor


Healing Intense Emotions

1) Come into a comfortable, restorative posture in a safe space.

2) Gently take 3-4 slow, relaxed breaths.

3) Become aware and accepting of where in your body a particular emotion is being held (e.g. heart, solar plexus, back, guts…).

4) If comfortable, softly rest your hand over that area.

5) Describe to yourself what you’re feeling (e.g. achy sadness in heart or hot anger in solar plexus…).

6) Have compassion and acceptance for everything you notice about the emotion without trying to change it.

7) Ask the emotion what it’s about and allow the emotion to have a voice and communicate back what it is experiencing (in this practice you become both the compassionate witness to the emotion and the part of the self that is in that emotional state).

8) Allow the emotion to discharge in a safe way if it needs (e.g. cry, shake, scream…).

9) When you feel that you’ve digested as much as you can handle, thank the emotion and tell it you’ll be there for it and do something grounding like walk on the earth with bare feet, sweep the floor, help someone less fortunate, or anything your intuition guides you to do.

Offered by David Seborer, Vashon yoga teacher

Extending the Exhale Meditation

Offered by Nicole Grey


Meditation on Grief, Time, and Orientation

“Grief creates a strange disorientation to time. It suspends you from the world around. Hours stretch on while minutes fly by. Reality becomes permeable. Life zooms in on the most essential functions—eating, breathing, sleeping. The most crucial elements of existence become crystal clear, situated on the point of a pin—love, time, substance. We are all here, suspended in time together. We grieve a collective grief. “–D. Ainsworth

A Practice
Locate yourself in a place that feels safe. Sit or lie down in a position that feels both comfortable and comforting. Find your breath. Look for a sense of spaciousness, especially in your heart and throat and jaw.
Offer these questions to yourself, to feel into with your body and your heart. So much has changed in such a short time.
--during this pandemic, how are you experiencing grief? Is there an interplay between old griefs in your life, and new griefs, that are a part of living in this time of history? Breathe.
--during these weeks of social confinement, have you been experiencing time differently? Breathe.
--over these last months, have you ever felt disoriented? “suspended”? If you had to draw a picture of “disoriented”, what would it look like? Breathe.
--as you have lived into this extraordinary chapter of your life, how have you found orientation? Can you name those experiences, or those moments, when you have felt grounded in something deeper in yourself?
To conclude, allow yourself to breathe deeply and slowly. Rest.

Offered by Carla Pryne, retired Episcopal priest, Maury Island


Meditation on a Poem

I have always been drawn to this poem by Wendell Berry, written in 1979, from a book entitled Sabbaths. From 1979-1985, poet-farmer Wendell observed “the standing Sabbath of the woods” on Sundays, walking his property, and writing a poem. There are so many places on Vashon and Maury that speak to me, soothe and comfort me. I have always wanted to meditate on this poem outside somewhere I loved. This week, I did. On Maury, near our home.

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.

Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.

Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.

After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing
the days turn, the trees move.

by Wendell Berry, written in 1979

Preparation
Find a quiet place to be alone. Exhale. Breathe in, then exhale again, more slowly this time. Imagine a beautiful place on Vashon Island. Or go to one, and be still. Perhaps a forest, or a meadow, or a field where you enjoy watching creatures graze. Close your eyes and breathe slowly. Savor each breath. Be in that place. You have nowhere to go, nothing to do.

Letting the poem inquire of you
Reflect: what might it be like to leave your tasks “like cattle”, lying down, not to be disturbed, and not disturbing you?
What words or phrases capture your attention?
Is there something in you that is ready to be “mute”?
Is there a song that is yours, that you long to hear, or hear “at last”?

Receiving the gift of the practice
Return to your breath. Feel your bones firmly placed on the earth. If it feels right to you, place your hand on your heart. Be there with yourself.

Offered by Carla Pryne, Maury Island, retired Episcopal priest


Orienting Flow Meditation, with “mudras” - Hand Gestures

Introduction

Orienting is a simple, accessible practice that can be done anywhere to bring us back to the present when we are hijacked into the past or the future. It can also be especially helpful when bringing awareness to the body feels triggering or challenging, whether from circumstances, past or present trauma, or pain. We are brought into a sense of safety.
Mudras are hand gestures from the practice of yoga: they are like stories your hands tell your body.
When our nervous systems are overwhelmed, meditations involving stillness can feel difficult, and for trauma survivors can even be triggering. At the same time, drawing our minds back to our body systems is crucial for us to be able to regulate into a place where we can find a sense of peace and connection.
These two practices woven together embrace our needs to be mindfully vigilant when our bodies feel threatened by collective and personal stress and trauma, and use movement to create rhythm in the body and breath which helps to then soothe us back into our experience of innate wholeness

The Practice

Check in with yourself about where you want to be in space. This practice can be done in any position: seated, lying down, standing.
Once you are comfortable, notice the support of what is holding you: The chair, floor, bed,etc. Simply take in the ways your body knows it is held: the sensations of being supported.
Allow your eyes to be open. Start to take in what you see. Allow your head to turn, taking in the physical details of your present time and space. Notice colors, shapes, sounds.
To the degree that feels right in this moment, scan through your body, and notice any shifts.
Again, let your head move, taking in what you see.
If you like, notice your breath: how it feels, the way it is moving.
Once again, take in your physical space. Notice the details. You could now choose one focal point if you feel ready, and notice the textures, colors, shapes of this object.
Take in how your system is feeling.
You could now make soft fists with your thumbs inside your hands. This is Adhi Mudra, the gesture of primordial stillness. Notice the way this simple gesture connects you to the earth.
As you inhale, open your hands and draw them to your heart, one on top of the other. This is Hridaya Mudra, the gesture of divine refuge. Notice how the gesture feels.
If you like, continue to move between these gestures with your breath rhythm, inhaling the hands to the heart, exhaling the hands into soft fists, reaching down into the earth.
When it feels right to you, you could join the hands together in front of the heart in a gesture of prayer, reverence, or respect.
Now allow the fingers to open, leaving the thumbs and pinkies touching, creating a flower with your hands. This is Padma Mudra, the gesture of the lotus. The lotus is the flower that grows from the mud. This gesture is the embrace of our as-is experience, which is the gateway of personal and collective healing. It is the acknowledgement of the full spectrum of human being: the suffering, the awakening, and the creative spirit that flowers out of that whole.
Hold for as long as feels right to you, or feel free to continue moving.
When you are ready, release the hands and look around again, orienting in your present space and time.

By Deborah King, Vashon yoga teacher