In my last post I wrote about the necessity of intentionally and consistently surrounding yourself with people and activities that feed your Spirit. Over the next couple months I'd like to share with you some short vignettes from something that I do personally that continues to nourish, challenge and inspire me: Meditating with Asha.
First, I'd like to give you just a little background on Asha, who celebrated her 75th birthday this year. She was born in California and became the state's first female lifeguard, rescuing 19 people out of the ocean. In the late 1960's she helped found the Lama Foundation, the spiritual community in New Mexico where Ram Dass wrote his famous Be Here Now. She is an artist who did some of the original artwork in Be Here Now, and continues to create many beautiful paintings. My favorites are the ones she assembled to create a series of 70 meditation cards.�Â� She is a mother of four and a grandmother.�Â� She is a senior teacher in the Sufi Rahiniat, a teacher of Japanese Tea Ceremony, and a nurse who helped found Virginia's highly respected Hospice of the Piedmont. Meditation is her primary practice. She leads retreats and workshops around the world and teaches every week at a nearby maximum security prison. And although she doesn't promote herself or advertise in any way, people somehow are just magically drawn to her. As Swami Satchidananda used to say: "Flowers don't have to advertise."
I first met Asha about 7 years ago when I first started teaching yoga. One of my friends was living with her at the time learning Japanese Tea Ceremony. Although I never saw or communicated with her in the years that followed, during my sabbatical this past winter she kept coming into my mind repeatedly, very, very strongly. I decided to follow up on that and write to her. I had heard that she meditates every morning in her Tea House/meditation hut, so in my letter I asked if I could join her. I am very grateful she said yes, because it became immediately clear that she has an enormous amount to teach, and that I have a lot to learn.
I continue to sit with her every week when she's not traveling or teaching elsewhere. Usually when I get there she has already finished an early morning swim in her pond and some time on an old Nordic Trak that sits under a tree beside her house. We walk down a path through the woods to her Tea House, which is nestled against a hillside beneath tall Poplar trees and in front of a stream. It is one small room, 9x9, with woven grass floor mats and glass windows on two sides. The only thing to break up the thick green forest through the front window is a small elephant statue, painted fire engine red, standing in the river grass alongside the stream.
We sit for an hour in silence, from 8:30-9:30, and then she turns on a small water boiler and serves a cup of bitter, green, pungent tea. After that we talk about life, the nature of reality, or just enjoy the silence and each other's company. Then I leave, making sure when I get to my car to write down all the little precious gems from the morning so that I won't forget them.�Â� Here is the first in a series of those.
The House Where Zen Lives
The first morning after we sat and were having tea, she mentioned how much she's grown to love that room. Having meditated in that space every day for so many years, it's almost become like a part of her. Even when she's travelling and sits other places, she often begins by picturing herself right back there.�Â� I agreed that the room was nice, adding that the trickling stream was lovely too. She looked at me with a quizzical, perplexed expression for a few moments, and finally said, "I don't exclude the stream from the room."