Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Grandmother Reverberations

She had those glasses that darken automatically so it was hard to see her eyes. Still, you trusted her, liked her. Something about her demeanor -- a quiet, a peace – was reassuring. She had a service dog, a golden retriever I think, as quiet and as peaceful as she.

We were among 70 or so people attending a meditation retreat. Quiet and peaceful were expected. Still, I noticed her – doing the slow, deliberate steps of walking meditation. Diminutive, she could easily be spotted in her yellow quilted jacket with a knitted cap over her straight, charcoal hair.

Following the tradition of exiled Vietnamese Buddhist priest Thich Nhat Hahn, the retreat schedule included dharma talks and dharma discussion groups. I was delighted that she was in my group. I liked the things she said. Her name was Elaine Little.

 During our first session, we were to describe a benefactor – someone who had taught us important lessons. I described Grandmother Margaret Behan, the Cheyenne elder who had hosted the 11th Council of the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers. I shared her lessons of history and forgiveness and told of my awe at hearing the songs of the wolves she had brought in to participate in ceremonies.

When our discussion session ended, Elaine came up to me and revealed that the Alaskan Indigenous Grandmother, Rita Pitka Blumenstein, was her aunt.

Throughout the retreat, Elaine and I would manage short exchanges. She told me about fetching herbs for her aunt, a Yupik elder, about learning from her and from her uncle, whom she described as a New York Jew. 

On the retreat’s final evening, each discussion group was to perform something for the others. Elaine suggested a song taught to her by one of her Yupik elders. Soft-spoken, she sang with surprising volume. As soon as we heard the song, we wanted to sing it – with minor modifications that she graciously accepted. 

She turned out to be one of the teachers designated to lead us in movement between meditations. She was so easy to follow. It was such fun to do her tribal dance.

Whenever she led, we followed, amazed at her powerful voice and presence.

 My participation in the 11th Council of the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers was a profound experience -- an experience that reverberates throughout my days – in amazing ways . . . most recently, in encounters with a short Alaskan elder with a service dog

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