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.

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

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

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 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