By Susan Hadle Almost every place is taken tonight in the meditation hall. “Probably a lot of people have come to ﬁnd an island of comfort and safety after the tragedy at Virginia Tech,” I tell myself as I settle into my cushion. I notice the seed of sorrow that has darkened my mind since returning from caring for my brother who took his last breath just weeks ago. This seed seems to have a little magnet inside that attracts sadness.
Richard is the bell inviter and he welcomes us to the second half of the evening. He tells us he has a practice he wants to offer that he learned from John Bell of the Mountain Bell Sangha in Massachusetts. It’s called Blue Sky Practice. He explains. “First we’ll sing the song ‘Blue Skies’ and then we’ll take a few minutes to think about a ‘blue sky’ experience. A few people will tell what qualities blue sky moments have for them. After that we’ll meditate on our own blue sky experiences. Next we’ll ﬁnd one other person whom we don’t know very well and take turns sharing our blue sky times and then we’ll return to the circle and share.”
"We Left the Camps Singing”
Surprised and curious, I wait while Richard hands out little squares of paper with the words to “Blue Skies” printed in blue ink. And then Freddie leads us as we sing:
Blue skies smilin’ at me Nothin’ but blue skies do I see Bluebirds singin’ a song Nothin’ but blue birds all day long.
Never saw the sun shinin’ so bright Never saw things goin’ so right Noticing the days hurrying by When you’re in love, my how they ﬂy.
Blue days all of them gone Nothin’ but blue skies from now on. Blue skies smilin’ at me Nothin’ but blue skies do I see.
We stumble along together the ﬁrst time and then we sing with our hearts. Sangha energy ﬂows and begins to open this crowded heart. I remember something I learned during the retreat at Deer Park. Thay wants us to be happy. The Buddha wants us to be happy. And, most amazing, happiness can exist even in the midst of sadness. Daffodils bloom on cold, wet spring days. On a transport to Auschwitz, Ettie Hillesum threw a postcard out the train window that read, “We left the camps singing.” Not fake happiness that we wear to please others, but the happiness that comes from remembering that right now we are alive, the happiness that comes from being aware of what is real in this moment.
Earth Beneath and Sky Above
We’re given a few minutes to think about a blue sky experience. I am walking on a mountain ridge close to the sky. So free. People share and I think of other blue sky times. And then we meditate for about ten minutes. “Blue sky. Remember blue sky,” I tell myself as I notice the seed of sorrow sprouting again. This seed has grown thick recently with sad thoughts: “It shouldn’t have happened. I don’t want it to be like this. They were too young. It could have been prevented. If only.” And then, “Oh yes. This is Sangha and we’re meditating on our blue sky moments.” I am walking along the red dirt path, trees beside me, earth beneath and sky above. All is well. This picture fades and I am back with my brother. I feel sad. I open my eyes and remember that I am with the Sangha where we are together concentrating on blue skies. Space opens up inside me and I relax. I feel light and content to be sitting here with the Sangha.
We ﬁnd a partner and share. He goes ﬁrst and I listen like Buddha, as Richard has suggested we listen, wide open to listening, just listening without thoughts or feelings. I feel refreshed enjoying his blue sky experiences and then telling him mine.
We join the circle and share moments of clarity and joy and freedom. It’s right here as we talk, ‘blue skies smilin’ at me.’ I bow in, “Blue sky mind is contagious. I feel happy.”
Now it’s today and I wake up early to meditate. The heaviness of the past month is gone. I hear the birds and see the golden sky behind the trees. I invite the little bell and the little bell is the blue sky ﬁlling me with spaciousness.
Susan Hadler, True Lotus Recollection, practices with the Washington Mindfulness Community in Washington, DC. In the past two years Susan has been able to be with her mother, her brother and her step-father as each took their last breath.