Amy Ward Brimmer

mother daughter wife teacher writer dreamer sister worker seeker activist minister healer student human


2016: Being Simple, Curious, Loving

     Lordy lord, 2015 has been one hell of a year. The painful stuff was hugely painful and the pleasant stuff was supremely pleasurable. Not a lot of in-betweens. When I was clear, I was totally directed and on point. When I was confused, I was in a fog, just lost and wandering about, hoping for a familiar landmark. I established some personal discipline at a new level for me, which really paid off. A few times I forgot or ignored key facts about living as a human, which really cost a lot. Destiny will bitch-slap me when I pretend the rules don't apply to me. Mostly I worked my ass off this year, on both the outside and the inside (because there's not much difference between them). I just kept showing up, which is all person can do, really. The rest will take care of itself, if I can release the death-grip on my agenda for every single second that unfolds in my life. If I can soften, trust, choose faith, open to my innate freedom.

     In 2016 I desire to keep it simple, get curious about what is real in any given moment, and love myself. I really do want to love myself as I am, as I move through each day. When I consider various challenges for the new year, this is the one that seems the most daunting, the most radical. It goes against everything I was taught or learned or am being conditioned to believe.

     I bow deeply in humble gratitude to all the teachers who came into my life this year, whether you intended to help me learn or not. Thank you in advance if you will keep walking with me in 2016. 

     Thomas Merton wrote, "My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone."

     Not knowing is crucial; my happiness depends on it, in fact. When I move through life thinking I know what to expect, or how things should be versus how they really are, or precisely what the outcome of anything will be, I am miserable. I don't mean the instinctual kind of knowing, like when I can sense something true in my gut. I mean the kind of knowing that closes me off, decides what will happen before it has actually occurred, produces reactions in me that are habitual and stale and often inappropriate to the situation. The kind of knowing that believes the story I tell myself, over and over and over again.

     To say, "I don't know" is a little scary, like liberating things tend to be. To shift the perspective and say, "I sense that this is real and I know what I am doing and where I am going, but the truth is, I don't honestly know." Can I let go into that way of being, that open-hearted warrior stance? In 2016 I plan to test the theory that moving through life in faith is a way to love myself, and that loving myself is an act of faith.

     Namaste, dear ones. All blessings as we turn the page and create another year together.


The Grateful Days

Each day in November I posted on Facebook something for which I'm thankful. I found it easy most days, but occasionally I needed to choose to feel grateful, which always produced something significant enough to name. I noticed that the act of choosing gratitude led to a sense of lightness and ease, and more connection to my immediate environment. My intention was to strike a balance between the general and the specific, neither too shallow nor too heavy duty, so the list contains a range of reasons to be thankful.  These are the 30 things I came up with.

1 & 2 - My two lungs

3 - The right to vote      
4 - Health! Health Militant! (Oliver Sacks)

5 - Leading midday meditation each Thursday

6 - My kids and their generation of activist-warriors

7 - Love songs

8 - Yoda fortune cookie: "Do or do not. There is no try."

9 - My warrior nature

10 - My Alexander Technique students

11 - My job at Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting of Friends

12 - Bucks Quarterly Meeting

13 - Moving and leading others in movement

14 - The people who joined me for Moving Into Mindfulness

15 - Love Saves the Day, a universal truth

16 - The little objects of comfort on my kitchen windowsill  

17 - My amazing husband, J. David Brimmer

18 - Ben & Jerry's

19 - Favorite movies like "O Brother Where Art Thou?" and the love of good friends

20 - Feminism

21 - Interdependence

22 - A beautiful sunset and the ability to see it

23 - A warm fire on a cold evening

24 - Hot and cold running water and modern conveniences

25- Teachers in the classroom, making a difference

26 - Companionship along the way

27 - Mild temperatures, a gentle walk with my family

28 - Doing nothing. And naps!

29 - Choosing to be thankful produces gratitude

30 - The wise ones who have come before to show the way

I have myriad reasons to be thankful, and this exercise leaves me feeling humble and very, very lucky. As we move through the coming weeks of increasing darkness, may I be grateful for everything, just as it is. May I trust in the abundance that surrounds me without needing to see very far ahead. May I let go of my agenda and rely on mindful, whole body sensing to navigate.

Advent, the Christian season of preparation and expectancy, has begun. Here is a poem from an Advent book by Jan Richardson, Night Visions:

There are other senses,
you tell us, 
and when the darkness
obscures our choices,
we must turn
to the other ways of knowing
you have given us.

In the daylight
we can get by on sight,
but for the nighttime
is our hearing,
is our tasting,
is our smelling,
is our questioning,
longing touching.

A thousand messages waiting
for our sensing
you have given us,
O God.

May beautiful expressions of gratitude light your way as we move toward the Winter Solstice. May you know the ease of well-being.


Walking This Talk

Moving Into Mindfulness isn't just a blog; it is also a learning and exploration process.  Join me for a day-long workshop in November here in Bucks County, or next January in Center City Philadelphia. Here's some basic information. Feel free to call or email if you'd like more information and to register.

Moving Into Mindfulness
Saturday, November 14, 2015
9:30 am – 4:00 pm  blue green qi gong
Fallsington Friends Meeting
9300 New Falls Road, Levittown, PA 19054
Sliding Fee -- $45 – 75 per person
An experiential, guided movement class for people at all levels of practice. Discover how to take the benefits of your mindful movement out of the classroom and into everyday living. The workshop explores mindfulness through three components: Qigong, everyday activities, and guided meditation practice.
We will also investigate mindful eating (in a shared lunch), and thoughtful communication practice. We'll discover how movement is stillness and stillness contains movement. Participants will be given resources to support home practice, and leave with tools that can be applied in daily living.
Please see the full description of  Moving Into Mindfulness on the Workshops page of the website for more information.
To register, contact
Amy Ward Brimmer


Days of Awe

I don't know much about Yom Kippur, but I do know it is the holiest day in the Jewish year, the culmination of a 10-day period that begins with Rosh Hoshanah, the new year. This period is called the Days of Awe. They end with repentance, sacrifice, and purification. Today is the Day of Atonement.

I don't hear that word much, unless I'm reading the Bible or other religious book. Webster's definition includes "reconciliation" and "satisfaction" as descriptors. When I Google "atonement," I get 3 basic items: Yom Kippur, Christian reconciliation with God through the death of Jesus Christ, and the novel and film, Atonement (which is amazing, please see and/or read it when you can).

All discussions of atonement remind us that the original English meaning was literally, "at-one-ment," the bringing together of beings who have become separated. Harmony, peace, and unity are attained. Wholeness is restored.

Restored. That is crucial, because it implies that wholeness and harmony are already present, are the way we're meant to be in community with one another, and with the Divine. (Please substitute whatever word works for you: God, the Force, the Universe, the Way, Nature. The finger that points at the moon is not the moon.) In assessing our mistakes, the harms we have done, our unconscious cruelty and lack of compassion, we are recalibrating ourselves back to how things really are. If we have gotten lost along the way, or traveled down some roads that take us farther from our felt connection with all living beings, we can change direction. Your internal GPS will announce "recalculating," as you move into a restored way of relating to your life.

So atonement doesn't manufacture anything, doesn't produce some special state or mood. It eliminates what is interfering with right relationship. It makes right speech, right action, more likely.

I'm not sure what "awe" means to Jews when they consider the Days of Awe, but to me it points to the amazement that I can be brave enough to look at my failures, selfishness, lack of faith, potential for mean small-mindedness, and my dumb mistakes and say, "Yes. I did all that. I'm capable of some despicable behavior. I am at fault and owe several people apologies." I can see all of it and neither flinch nor be destroyed by it. I can face my frailties, arrogance, fear, and darkness, and when I do, it dissolves. It shows me my growth potential, and it is a blessing to see it. Awareness can hold it all.

The days are getting shorter, the darkness is growing. This is a time of increased looking within, tending the fires for the long cold nights ahead, keeping vigil with the heart-mind. Once I have restored unity with my fellow humans, gotten back on track with the Universal Way, and come home to myself, I move in a fresh direction, full of awe at our innate ability to be One With Another, One With All.

Meditation for today:  May the coming days of ripeness and release bring me the courage to let go of what has been, and may I cultivate the curiosity and fortitude to turn toward whatever is here now, just as it is. I give thanks and praise for unknown blessings already on their way.



Silence: The Loudest Thing in My Head

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance. -- Khalil Gibran
Silence is so freaking loud. -- Sarah Dessen, Just Listen
I'm about to embark on an annual 9-day silent meditation retreat at Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. This has become the cornerstone of my life and ministry. It is spiritual bootcamp, and nothing feeds me like this experience does.  But mention to anyone that you're going on a multi-day silent retreat, and see what responses you get. I'm always surprised at what I hear: "retreat" sounds good to folks, "meditation" is intriguing to most, but "silent"? That seems to stop them cold.

I can't even stay quiet for 9 minutes, let alone 9 days.
     I would go bonkers if I couldn't talk to other people.
          That sounds a little bit boring.

Perhaps it's my years as a practicing Quaker, but to me, the silence is not a problem. In fact, it's the least troublesome aspect of retreat life. It's a huge relief for me -- someone who essentially talks for a living -- to stop speaking. And since we all maintain "noble" silence, where eye contact is avoided and personal interactions are reduced to the bare minimum (nodding instead of saying "excuse me," for instance), I am also relieved of the burden of listening to others. Picture, if you can, 100 or so humans sitting and walking meditation from 5 am to 9 pm, eating together, doing yoga or Qigong, cleaning or cooking together, all without conversation. 

The challenges of being on retreat in this way are supported by the silence, not made more difficult. Because, except for no talking, it's not very quiet. "Silence is so freaking loud." When all the external chatter falls away, I can notice the internal noise more easily. Just as when I sit or stand in balance and I can feel the constant motion, as I alternate sitting with walking meditation practice I see how strong my story line is, how I feed certain thoughts and try to reject others, how my habitual assumptions are operating.

One friend remarked that this retreat must be so peaceful, so blissful. Well, yes and no. I do experience the bliss of directly experiencing reality in a way I don't when I'm in everyday living. There are times that I sense the peace that passeth all understanding (turns out this is the ground of all existence, but that's a different blog post). Mostly I just feel the struggle, the greed, the tension, the rationalization, the repulsion, and the delusion of my life. 

Sounds fun, doesn't it? 

It is, actually. What could be more interesting than investigating your self? Aren't you the most fascinating and important person you know? Who can you truly know, other than you? What is it to be alive, anyway? Believe me, it's the opposite of boring.

Staying with the present moment all day, every day: that is the challenge of a silent meditation retreat. Silence is just the condition we cultivate so that we can show up without ceasing, turn toward what is arising with precision and curiosity, and relieve ourselves of the weight of continuous social interaction. So silence is easy. Continuous, embodied, present moment awareness is not so easy. 

Each year I find the prospect of this retreat a little daunting, but I have come to recognize that it is a gigantic gift I give myself (and all who are connected to me). It's one way I honor myself, because it cannot be done without self-compassion, without turning it all over to the power of love. Pema Chodron describes this as "placing the fearful mind in the cradle of loving-kindness." 

Within that cradle, there is the possibility of radical acceptance, of meeting life just as it is, and being okay with that. Helen Keller, who certainly knew something about silence, said, "Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content."