Facing Fire Fears and Freeing Hearts

By Steven Libowitz   |   December 21, 2017

Dealing with the Thomas Fire likely has been stressful, at the least for those in Montecito and environs who have been lucky enough not to have suffered more physical losses. The mandatory evacuation of such spiritual retreat centers as La Casa de Maria, Vedanta temple, and the MacVeagh House at the Museum of Natural History – and voluntary closures of others – levies another blow to maintaining emotional and spiritual stability during the trying times.

Here are some opportunities for gathering to move through fear or dissolve numbness that are still being offered as of my deadline on Monday. Be sure to double-check before heading out to verify they’re still scheduled. Others opportunities have popped up online for virtual connecting spaces. Either way, stay safe… and sane.

Radhule Weininger, Ph.D., the clinical psychologist and teacher of Buddhist meditation and Buddhist psychology as the founder and guiding teacher of the One Dharma Sangha, has had to cancel her regular Tuesday and Thursday meetings at the museum and La Casa, but is holding her regular dharma talk and meditation at 7 pm on Mondays at St. Michael’s University Church, a beautiful space blessed with colorful stained-glass windows at 6586 Picasso Road in Isla Vista. And if the museum reopens in time, Weininger and her husband, Michael Kearney, a palliative care physician who also combines medical treatment with meditation and Native Spirituality, invite everyone to a meditation followed by a holiday gathering at the MacVeagh House on the day after Christmas, Tuesday, December 26, at 6 pm. Please bring Christmas cookies, apple cider, and other snacks to share, or just come for the companionship and sharing, accompanied by Anahita’s beautiful harp music.

Looking further ahead, and assuming La Casa is open, Weininger and Kearney are offering a New Year’s Retreat with the theme “Prepare for The New Year with Inspiration and Purpose” for the 24-hour period from 4 pm Sunday, December 31, to 4 pm on January 1. Their Native American friends Wolf and Lisa Wahpipah are also helping to lead the retreat where Indigenous and Buddhist wisdom and nature connection will be interwoven to help participants remember deeply our true nature – and what is most important to us as spiritual human beings. A late-night labyrinth walk will be followed by an 11 pm interfaith New Year service at the Big Chapel.

Renewal with Russell

That same weekend, La Casa de Maria will also be host to “Opening to Divine Joy: A Weekend of Meditation and Spiritual Renewal”, featuring a return visit from frequent Casa visitor Peter Russell, a longtime meditation expert. Russell – a fellow of the Institute for Noetic Sciences and The Findhorn Foundation and the author of 10 books, including From Science to God: A Physicist’s Journey into the Mystery of Consciousness – leads what is billed as an “opportunity to step back and realign with your inner self” through mediation. “Surrendering all resistance in meditation can open you to the peace and joy within the present moment. Enter the new year with tools to free yourself from the kind of thinking that creates dissatisfaction and unnecessary suffering, and use your inner guidance to support your spiritual practice.”

The retreat begins 7 pm Friday, December 29, and runs through 1 pm on Sunday, December 31 – which means you could continue at La Casa with the Weininger & Kearney program just three hours later. Register for either at www.lacasademaria.org.

Sound Advice for Healing

Music of the Spheres: Meditation with Sound, which takes place periodically at Center of the Heart, will likely have a special resonance on Thursday, December 21, if the fire and smoke/ash situation allows. Izumi Asura Serra uses crystal singing bowls and Tibetan singing bowls, employing the simple yet powerful sound and vibrations to help minds to quiet down. Who doesn’t need that right now, when stress and anxiety seem to be the order of the day?

For those who haven’t previously participated, Serra explains that the experience is usually called “sound healing.” She prefers “Meditation with Sound” because the effects of being washed in a sound bath approximate the benefits of meditation. It’s especially helpful for those who have a hard time focusing or calming the mind, similar to hearing a wind chime on a quiet afternoon. “If you listen to those sounds long enough,” she explains, “you may fall into sleep or drift away from the endless mind chattering by focusing on each sound.”

Serra applies her intuition to produce sounds and vibrations using the singing bowls, plus gongs, bells, rattles and even voices, producing simple, authentic sound without any set of melody or rhythm. The intended effect is to find deeper relaxation that can allow access to inner guidance – helpful in dealing with the catastrophe of Thomas – may improve overall well-being.

Music of the Spheres: Meditation with Sound is also scheduled for 1 pm on Saturday, December 30, at Center of the Heart. Details at www.musicofthespheressb.com or www.centeroftheheart.com/event/music-of-the-spheres-with-asura-2914.

Merry Mala Making

The mala, Buddhist prayer beads, are a traditional tool used to count the number of times a mantra is recited, breaths while meditating, prostrations, or the repetitions of a Buddha’s name. In recent years, they’ve become popular in yoga studios and are often worn as spiritual jewelry.

BodhiPath center, at 102 West Mission St., is on the edge of the voluntary evacuation zone, but as of this writing plans to host its annual special evening of meditation, community bonding, and fun with the mala as a central theme, this Thursday, December 21. Attendees can create a new mala, restring an old one, or make a mala to gift. The center preferred pre-purchase of the kits, but check in to see whether extras might be available or if there’s another option. Visit www.bodhipath.org/sb for details.

BodhiPath is also hosting a repeat screening of Hannah: Buddhism’s Untold Journey because many center members were at resident teacher Dawa Tarchin Phillips‘s retreat for the December 7 date. The acclaimed documentary about the transmission of Tibetan Buddhism to the West through the life of Hannah Nydahl, a Danish practitioner and a teacher, will be shown again at 7 pm on Thursday, December 28, preceded by meditation. Everyone is welcome. Admission by donation.

Transforming through the Core, and Breathwork

Yoga Soup, the studio-gathering space-book store-gift shop located at 28 Parker Way, has managed to stay open through Thomas’s reign of terror, even as some teachers fled for clearer air. Special events for the final weekend of 2017 begin with Sadie Nardini’s “The New Year Core Transformer”, slated for 1 to 3 pm on Saturday, December 30. Nardini – the founder of Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga and The Yoga Shred, both anatomy-enhanced styles and trainings, and the lead singer for rock ‘n’ roll band Sadie & The Tribe here in town – invites fellow yoga teachers and practitioners to learn new-generation anatomy and alignment tips via a flow that supports rather than sabotages your hard work on and off the mat. Participants will learn how transitioning more organically from pose to pose, in a specific order, can instantly increase the strength, stretch and detox benefits from yoga and fitness practices. Admission is $30 in advance, $35 day-of.

Yoga Soup founder/owner Eddie Ellner leads a New Year’s Eve Ecstatic Breathing event the following night, an event that also includes, in Ellner’s elegant way of communicating, “Light Stretching, Special Beverages, Sweet Potatoes, and Other Really Incredible Short-lived Things” and “mediation, music, and dancing highly likely.”

“I love the breathing we’re going to do New Year’s Eve,” Ellner writes on the event page that also includes a first-hand account of his early experiences with ecstatic breathing and on-going inquiry. “It’s a direct way to break through some psychic scar tissue in the way of Truth. It’s non-polluting, self-generating, and free. Well, not really free. To attend will cost 40 bucks if you sign up in advance, $50 at the door. It’s kind of a joke to charge money to breathe, but you also get some great finger food, a nice place to be, and the good company of fellow voyagers.”

Visit www.yogasoup.com to register or for more details.  

Unity Reunited

I have to admit that I have yet to hear the Unity Singers Christmas Cantata, the annual concert filled with song, joy, and the holiness of the holiday. But if they’re anything like the unofficial reunion gathering of the Unity choir of San Luis Obispo that I attended last weekend at a private party in Los Osos while escaping the approaching Thomas fire flames, you’re in for a real treat. It was led by Mark S. Welch, who served as the music director at Unity SLO for 15 years and now employs his gifts as a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist providing musical support for New Thought conferences and churches, as well as his own workshops. Welch led two dozen or so of his former choir members in an entirely original sing-along program that was utterly ear-opening to this newbie. Careening between genres, from ballads to spiritual to reggae and 1950s style rock ‘n’ roll, Welch’s songs were remarkably full of melody and delivered with gorgeous harmonies, even if the singers hadn’t even rehearsed together for a couple of years.

My personal favorite, “Remember (Star Child)”, offers truly embracing lyrics that begin “Remember, remember, remember, remember… When no fear filled your eyes and your heart was wide and free/When all of the Earth knew your name/And the heavenly rays nourished you through your infancy/when you were a star child… When forever was nothing at all and the on and on was green/When love was an open book/And it’s treasure you took and wore it constantly/When you were a star child”.  “Rappin’ Rudolph” was its own revelation: “Well, hey, my name is Rudolph/I pull ol’ Santa’s sleigh/When I hear “Ho” I turn on my nose/Then we all dash away… But it wasn’t always like this/This leading scene is new/For people laughed and called me names/And said “Hey, dude. You’re rude… I didn’t let that bug me/I just went on my way/Yeah things were cool, I loved alone/Until that fateful day…”

Welch told me he’s never brought his music to Santa Barbara, so hopefully that will be remedied soon. In the meantime, our Unity Singers Christmas Cantata, postponed from last week, takes place at 7 pm, Friday, December 22. Admission is free, love offerings accepted, and there are holiday refreshments served after the concert.

Virtual Meditation Circle

For those who are still not venturing from their homes – or may have evacuated and have yet to return – Marian Baker is hosting daily morning meditation circles at 8:30 am, at least through this Friday via conference call. The 30-minute virtual gathering begins with a few words followed by silent meditation, plus an option to stay on to connect in a virtual living room/circle for some extra support. The concept is to employ an active imagination practice of asking the fire and our homeland for a message.

“It’s not about what to say. It’s about Being together in that stillness and feeling that together feeling that strength, that Truth, that LOVE, that power that is just as fierce as this blazing fire and the ocean and the sky and all those trees who may sacrifice their lives for all of this Love wanting to wake up so many of you, wanting to clear the path of old to make way for new,” Baker writes in her email invitation. “This is nature’s way. It looks like destruction, but it is also carving new openings. Let there be that opening inside your hearts as you gather. Let there be that peace that passes understanding and all logic and fear and doubt. Let there be, yes, that fire inside your hearts. And yes, let it be one heart for everyone and everything everywhere. Be the peacekeepers and beholden to the Beauty for ALL. Let your souls sing into each heart that is shaking, wherever they may be. You can do this. You can be this LOVE through your willing intention.”

Join in the circle by calling (641) 715-3650, with the access code 590743#.


You might also be interested in...

  • Woman holding phone

    Support the
    Santa Barbara non-profit transforming global healthcare through telehealth technology