ritual

The Gift of Healing

One Woman's Experience

By Julia Corbett

In The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh writes: ''Those who have been sexually abused have the capacity to become bodhisattvas .... Your mind of love can transform your own grief and pain, and you can share your insight with others." In this spirit, I offer this reflection on how my Buddhist practice-in addition to a caring counselor and keeping a journal-has contributed to my healing from childhood sexual abuse.

My daily practice includes three basic elements: ritual, reading something spiritually-enriching, and meditation. For me, doing these things in the early morning quiet works best. I begin the day focused, my priorities in line.

Ritual can be beneficial in content, and comforting in its constancy. When everything else seems to be coming loose, the ritual remains a touchstone. Taking Refuge and using some of the Plum Village Chanting Book material link me to the larger community of the Order of Interbeing, and to people throughout history who have taken refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Two recitations from my daily practice deserve special mention. One is an affirmation of intention, by Thay: "I vow to cultivate lovingkindness and compassion, and practice joy and equanimity. I vow to offer joy to one person in the morning and to help relieve the grief of one person in the afternoon." This verse reminds me of the qualities I seek in my own life, and encourages me to reach out to other beings, to see past my own problems to the greater good. The other is a nontheistic revision of the serenity prayer: "I vow to cultivate the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." It is important not to let the energy we need for transformation be drained by a fruitless quest to change the past. We cannot change the fact of our abuse, but we can change its effect on us. It is meaningful to remind myself of this every day.

Several books by Buddhist authors have given me great hope and encouragement. Books that can be read a chapter a day have been most helpful. Often, I fmd insight or encouragement to take me through the day. Books I've found particularly encouraging include When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Hard Times, by Pema Chodron, Open Heart, Clear Mind, by Thubten Chadron, The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching and Old Path, White Clouds, by Thich Nhat Hanh, and A Heart as Wide as the World, by Sharon Salzberg.

Meditation has been the most helpful practice for me. No aspect of our lives remains unchanged by recognizing that we were abused as children, and healing from it. Recovering memories that lay unrecognized in our unconscious is a central aspect of healing. It can also be difficult. For me, meditation, particularly walking meditation, facilitated remembering. I practice walking meditation on a treadmill-walking vigorously, synchronizing breathing and steps. Ten minutes into my hour's walk, a deeply meditative state comes about quite naturally. During the phase of healing in which recovering memories was central, walking meditation was especially useful. It provided an open emotional and mental space into which memories could come, and a safe container for even the hardest memory. During walking meditation, the most difficult memories-recollections of the most violent abuse-arose, along with feelings that had lain dormant nearly half a century. Because I was centered and grounded, I could be fully present with what was happening, and let the memories and feelings come as they would. I felt safe and open, even at the worst of times. Walking meditation was also helpful when I was simply too agitated to sit still. Meditating with my Sangha has often lifted my spirits. Even if you aren't comfortable sharing your journey, the energy developed in group meditation can be positive and healing. Never underestimate the healing power of simple friendship.

During all phases of healing, our emotions whirl like a stream racing over rocks. The daily practice of simply following your breath and letting the emotions come and go-neither fearing nor rejecting what comes—is fundamental. We need to balance many difficult emotions-pain, grief over a lost childhood, anger and rage at the perpetrator or perpetrators, and the shame and guilt that are the inevitable legacy of abuse. We need to experience those emotions fully, but not be engulfed by them. Meditation is an excellent way to achieve this balance.

In all phases of healing, it is important to water our seeds of joy and peace. Mindfulness encourages me to be aware of those seeds, nourish and celebrate them, and look for ways to pass them along to other people. Sometimes, it's easy to be overwhelmed by negative emotions and memories. Meditation helps me touch the positive in life as well. And, when my awareness from formal meditation extends into daily life, I am better able to work with the effects of the abuse.

Our pain, fears, anger, and shame are all part of us. If we don't handle them with kindness, we do violence to ourselves, thus perpetuating the violence that was done to us as children. Thay suggests that we look on whatever comes up as guests in our living room. Granted, we are dealing with some pretty unpleasant guests here, but we invite them all in, treat them with respect, and learn from them.

After working with the guided meditations in The Blooming of a Lotus, I developed the following meditation, focused on the particular negative emotions experienced by people healing from sexual or other abuse, and on the positive seeds we seek to cultivate. I encourage others to examine the feelings particular to their experience and use them with this meditation.

Aware of the feeling of shame in me, I breathe in.
Smiling to the feeling of shame in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of shame in me, I breathe in.
Releasing the feeling of shame in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of guilt in me, I breathe in.
Smiling to the feeling of guilt in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of guilt in me, I breathe in.
Releasing the feeling of guilt in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of regret in me, I breathe in.
Smiling to the feeling of regret in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of regret in me, I breathe in.
Releasing the feeling of regret in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of sadness in me, I breathe in.
Smiling to the feeling of sadness in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of sadness in me, I breathe in.
Releasing the feeling of sadness in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of grief in me, I breathe in.
Smiling to the feeling of grief in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of grief in meI breathe in.
Releasing the feeling of grief in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of anger in me, I breathe in.
Smiling to the feeling of anger in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of anger in me, I breathe in.
Releasing the feeling of anger in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of joy in me, I breathe in.
Smiling to the feeling of joy in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of joy in me, I breathe in.
Welcoming the feeling of joy in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of contentment in me, I breathe in.
Smiling to the feeling of contentment in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of contentment in me, I breathe in.
Welcoming the feeling of contentment in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of peace in me, I breathe in.
Smiling to the feeling of peace in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of peace in me, I breathe in.
Welcoming the feeling of peace in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of calm in me, I breathe in.
Smiling to the feeling of calm in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of calm in me, I breathe in.
Welcoming the feeling of calm in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of compassion in me, I breathe in.
Smiling to the feeling of compassion in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of compassion in me, I breathe in.
Welcoming the feeling of compassion in me, I breathe out. 

Aware of the feeling of healing in me, I breathe in.
Smiling to the feeling of healing in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of healing in me, I breathe in.
Welcoming the feeling of healing in me, I breathe out.

Julia Corbett welcomes contact from others exploring these issues. 10072 West County Road 300 South, Parker City, IN 47368; (765)468-6019; JuICorbet@aol.com.

PDF of this issue

Drinking Tea

Savitri  Tsering There are times in my day that my actions are like ritual moments that help me remember to come back to the present moment. Some of those critical times are when I ride my bike to and from work, when I go for a walk at lunchtime and, most important to me, the time in the morning when I sit and drink tea with my partner, Tsering.

At our house we serve Indian sweet tea – now well known throughout the world as chai. Drinking chai became a habit of ours prior to our meeting. Tsering grew up in India and he has done this since childhood.

mb33-Drinking1

And I have had chai drinking come in and out of my life since my first trip to India in 1984. Most anyone you meet who has traveled a while in India will tell you of significant moments they have spent over a hot cup of chai. Most likely they were sitting inside a shop which resembled a large hole in the wall, sitting with locals, breathing in the steam and holding the hot cup as though for a moment one held in their hands the nectar of the gods.

When Tsering and I get ready to go to work in the morning, making the tea is an integral part of our preparation to leave the house. When I come to my cup of chai, often I am behind schedule and need to head off to work shortly after. Our time drinking together is very important to both of us. If one of us has the day off we still get up to drink tea together before the other has to leave. Sometimes when I have to leave very early in the morning to go to a meeting in Milwaukee, I will make the tea and then go up to our bed and sit and drink it while Tsering sleeps.

When the tea is ready, one of us brings it to the table – the location of where we sit varies with the season. And for some time the tea sits. Steaming hot, cooling and letting us know the moment to drink is coming soon. When I am able to take the tea in my hand, there is a shift in my consciousness. I become more present. I become more aligned.

I feel the treasured jewel of life and the present moment in my hand. I feel the warm cup and the heat of the hot liquid enter into my body through my hands. This warmth spreads and touches my whole being, bringing me in contact with the joy and realization that I am here again, another day. Lucky to have the chance to sit and drink tea, lucky to have this moment of quiet and rest before I head out into the world.

The knowledge of impermanence sits with me too, holding this warm cup. I become aware that time passes, that my dear Tsering sitting next to me won’t always be here as he is today. That thought makes me pause and look at him with the great love I have for him and appreciate the fact that for this moment, this day, he is here and I can touch that.

I know, holding the cup in my hand, that I cannot stop the pace of time – soon the cup will be empty and I will need to go.

That this moment, even though it is treasured, cannot be clung to and that circumstances in the future may prevent me from being able to enjoy this pleasure in the future.

In this cup, I can find the whole universe. The cup of tea puts me in contact with the world – tea plantations far away, spices grown in other countries, milk from cows in Wisconsin.

In the cup I hold are the friends and family I have shared  cups of tea with before; in the cup I hold are friends I have drunk tea with that have moved or passed away; in this cup there is sunshine, blue sky and earth.

When I drink the tea, I can know that I am not alone. Most times I am with my partner and that is dear to me. But there are countless people from countries all around the world drinking tea too, finding a moment to sit and drink. There are countless others coming in contact with a hot cup of warmth that soothes something deep inside of them, something that needs comfort and warmth, something that provides them with nurturing during a difficult moment or during a quiet time.

This tea drinking is so important to Tsering and me that when we travel to visit family, we take what we need to make our tea. We have purchased tea for other family members so they can drink it too. We have created a recipe so that it can be repeated in the same manner that we do each morning. When we traveled to Spain our tea and cups came with us. When we go camping our tea and cups join us. Perhaps it is symbolic of our intention to bring ourselves fully into our lives. I am not sure. It could just be a warm and cozy habit.

As I sip the tea, I feel the joining of my mind and body. I am here with the tea. The tea and I inter-are. The tea, Tsering and I inter-are. Our lives and the lives of others in that moment interare. We are touching the miracle of life in that moment.

mb33-Drinking2

We talk about our day ahead. We talk of friends and family. We talk of hopes and dreams. We sip our tea. We feel the warmth. We hold the present in our hands. We sit in silence. We sit with the slurping noise. The sound of blowing, cooling the hot liquid and the sip, sip, sip. We note the color of the leaves outside, the squirrel running up the tree.

When the cup is empty I feel satisfied and ready. I feel grateful and full. I have appreciated this encounter and can move into the next moment with peace and satisfaction. I vow not to leave myself behind. Body, mind and spirit are one, moving into my day.

Savitri Tsering shares, “I have been part of SnowFlower Sangha in Madison Wisconsin since its beginning. I work in the area of public health.  I greatly appreciate the deep feeling of connection and community that Sangha gives to our lives.”

Two Recipes for Chai

Savitri’s Chai:

We use tea that is available at most Indian food stores. Buy Brooks Red Label tea and Lipton’s Green Label tea. Mix together in 1 to 1 proportion. For the spices, we usually use cardamom but you can use also use ginger, cinnamon sticks or ground cloves, in any combination.

For 3 cups of chai:

5 green cardamom pods 1 1/3 cups of water, teaspoons tea mixture< green cardamom pods (ground with a mortar and pestle) Boil the tea and Add 1 2/3 cups of milk (at least 2% milk, for a real delight use whole milk organic milk is best).

Bring to a boil again. In Indian chai stalls they let it come to a boil, lower the heat, boil again three times.

Add sugar to taste. And drink with joy!

Helena’s Chai:

2 cups water 1 cup milk 1 teaspoon black tea 1/2 teaspoon descoriated cardomon seeds, or 10 green with skin 1/4 teaspoon black pepper corns 1 thin slice ginger root 1 stick cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves optional: pinch garam masala, or 1 teaspoon fennel seeds

Add spices to the water in saucepan over a moderate heat until it comes to a boil. Allow this to slowly boil for about 5 minutes. Add the milk to the saucepan and bring back to a slow boil. When mixture begins to boil, lower the heat and allow it to simmer for a few minutes to reduce the volume by 1/3 and condense the milk. Remove from the heat and add the tea, let this steep 3-4 minutes and strain. Sweeten to taste.

PDF of this article