December always begins with a week of intensive silent meditation practice, called sesshin, that commemorates the Buddhaʻs enlightenment. These retreats always ground me and they have become an indispensable practice for my well-being.
The process of making time to pay attention to whatʻs going on inside helps me remember and appreciate what is important in my life. I donʻt set out to change anything, but want to respectfully bear witness without judgment.
During a dharma talk I gave in the year-end three day sesshin, we had a good discussion about the difference between judgment and discernment. Judgment feels more reactive and closed to the world - stuck on an opinion. Discernment is open to input, to what is, and thus weʻre able to move more skillfully in the world. Being grounded helps ease judgment and encourages discernment.
In between, my husband and I were in the warmth of Mexico for a couple of weeks vacation, a brief respite from Chicago. Puerto Vallarta, which is the same latitude as Hawaii, has deliciously mild, warm weather and the Pacific Ocean. It has a long beach with dark sand and many iwa (frigate birds) soaring in the air. Known as the magnificent frigate bird, or Fregata magnificens, it is the largest of the frigate bird species. It is a relative of the Hawaiian iwa also known as great frigatebird or Frigata minor.
One day at sunset, there were hundreds of iwa circling over the ocean and swooping down to the oceanʻs surface to grab flying fish with their feet since iwa never go into the water. It was breathtaking to watch. There were also cute little sanderlings that scuttered around in groups of 5 or more running towards or away from the waves always looking for food in the freshly washed sand.
Then I communed with a few curlews with their curved beaks and skinny legs moving slower and more deliberately at the waterʻs edge. Small flocks of sandpipers on the shore reminded me of Hawaii and her beautiful kolea (sandpiper). Graceful white and brown pelicans coasted just above the breaking waves gliding along the entire length of the wave before they broke. I cheered and whooped as they effortlessly swooped upward away from the breaking waveʻs spray.
And just at sunset, every evening, hundreds of small bats circled high in the sky above the hotel and zipped down to eat up mosquitos and other insects. I read that bats can eat up to 1,000 mosquitos in an hour! I like bats just because of that!
One early morning I meditated on the beach facing the ocean. I paid close attention to the sounds, the scent, the colors, and the fresh gentle breezes. Ever since I was little, the beach has always been a place to have fun, relax and heal. It was grounding and reaffirming.
Later that day I went on a tour to see El Jardin Botanico de Vallarta, the famous Vallarta Botanical Garden. There were many plants similar to Hawaii: orchids, palm trees, anthuriums, bromeliads, ferns, bamboo, red ti leaves, bougainvillea, and hibiscus.
Thankfully Mexico is also still home of the jaguar and the guacamaya (green Military macaws). I didnʻt see any jaguars, but I saw the beautiful guacamaya, a very large parrot. Jorge Novoa, an excellent guide, took me to El Santuario de las Guacamaya, a sanctuary he created for the green macaws in the wild. He builds huge wooden nests, weighing 200 pounds, for them because the logging of pines have caused much habitat destruction.
We drove to a wooden gate, opened it and drove slowly on a single lane sandy road with a sparsely wooded hill on one side and a steep drop on the other.
The sky was clear blue and the mountain air fresh when we got out of the car. We walked quickly on a thin dusty mountain path looking for the guacamaya.
Jorge was like a mountain goat moving fast on the path. I lagged behind taking quick photos of lacy foxtail grass, flowers and the pines. I heard them before I saw them. They were cawing, actually sounded more like shrieking, loudly. I saw quite a few who sat contentedly in or near their wooden man-made nests. When they flew I could see gorgeous aqua in their feathers.
Just before we left, we were very close to a tree that had five guacamaya in it. Three more flew over and then another two joined within a few minutes. Ten guacamaya sitting in a tall pine tree and watching with curiosity, "Who is this gringa?" they must have been thinking as I watched them from the ground. What a thrill for me!!!
Wishing you all a very Happy New Year of 2019!
Malama pono (take good care of body, mind and heart),
June Kaililani Ryushin Tanoue
Kumu Hula and Sensei