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Lions Roar : March 2013
can perhaps be summed up in one sentence: “Seek the riches within”—a very Taoist, very Hindu, very Buddhist-sounding notion. It was, in fact, Thoreau—and his mentor, Emerson— who in the early nineteenth century introduced the teachings of Asia to America. I took another course from Dr. Haddin, entitled American Transcendentalism and Asian Philosophy. All the writers we studied spoke of meditation. But how did one actually learn to do it? You couldn’t walk into a bookstore in Birmingham, Alabama, and find “how-to” books. Then one day I saw a poster for a meditation class and showed up to sit in a circle on the floor with other young seekers. The teacher, Niila Keshava, was a tall wiry twenty-something with a bald head and big brown beard. When he greeted me, he looked into my eyes with a beau- tiful benevolent gaze, his blue eyes full of light. He was teach- ing meditation in a tantric tradition and I dove in. After several years I became a meditation teacher myself, and eventually a poet and professor. Now, at the beginning of every semester, as cottonwoods wave their yellow prayer flags or wait with buds encased in snow, I tell my aspiring poets that the thing I most want them to get out of my class isn’t how to create a powerful poetic voice, or how to use metaphors and rhyme, or how to get published and become famous. I tell them that the most important thing I hope they’ll take away from my class is how to pay attention to their lives. I tell them that the nineteenth-century English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley said poetry’s purpose is “to remove the scales of familiarity from our eyes.” Shelley saw how we become habitu- ated to people, landscapes, and things. He observed how we walk around lost in our thinking minds, on automatic pilot, and no longer experience what’s around us—the shadows of ash-tree leaves on my desk, a crow cawing in the distance, the voices of children rising from the street. Emerson knew this, too. He said, “To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same field, it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again.” I want my students to see that poems are all around them, that we find our originality in the uniqueness of the present moment. Early in each semester, I share a story out of Stephen Levine’s book, Healing into Life and Death. Levine, a longtime Buddhist teacher and hospice worker, says meditation can reawaken old wounds in patients and often initiates deep grieving, but that the breakup of frozen emotions facilitates healing and often triggers a global awakening of perception. One woman, a vic- tim of childhood sexual abuse, practiced meditation for twenty minutes, twice a day, and found it unbearably difficult. But after about two and a half months, she said, “A miracle happened. I walked into the kitchen, sat down at the table, and looked up and saw the wall. I just saw the wall! I was just here in my body, in the world, in my heart. I saw the wall as if for the first time. I was just here. It was the most wonderful experience of my life!” There was nothing extraordinary about the wall the woman looked at. What was extraordinary was the depth of her New certificate program offering five stand alone modules focusing on professional development, spiritual practice and innovative approaches to End of Life Care. Metta Institute Trainings in Mindful & Compassionate Care www.mettainstitute.org 415 331–9600 san Francisco Bay a rea