Meditation helped teacher of teens be able to manage their struggles
Because many of her 18 years of teaching were working with troubled teens, Mary Naber saw the need for helping them with anger management. She also realized she needed to be calm and patient in interacting with them.
That began her path to learning and teaching passage meditation, which focuses attention by repeating words of prayers, texts and sayings from many of the world's faith traditions.
She said passage meditation is "designed for the western 'monkey mind' of multi-tasking, distractions and moving fast."
"Passage meditation helps us change our lives, starting where we are," said Mary. "We don't need to change our beliefs. It's a universal practice that people from many backgrounds, traditions and beliefs can incorporate in their spiritual path."
From seven years of work with IBM in the 1970s in Northern California, she learned to repair typewriters. When first she moved to Spokane in the early 1980s, she did that.
"I was asked to fix the typewriter at the Spokane Buddhist Temple. It turns out that the Rev. Fuji fixed me," said Mary.
Involvement with that community reinforced meditation and introduced her to resources and leaders in the nonviolence movement, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi.
A primary resource has been Sri Eknath Easwaran's book, Gandhi, the Man, The Story of his Transformation. It teaches passage meditation. She has visited his Blue Mountain Center for Meditation (BMCM) many times in Tomales, Calif.
For the 11th year, Mary, who meditates regularly, is offering an "Introductory Passage Meditation Workshop" from 6 to 7:30 p.m., Tuesdays, from Feb 5 to 26, at the Spokane Buddhist Temple, 927 S. Perry St.
The sessions include video instruction, discussion and half an hour of meditation on words that embody a person's ideals to drive them deep inside their consciousness.
"In passage meditation, we choose passages. Easwaran has compiled passages from different traditions. He often start people with the prayer of St. Francis, assuming many are connected to churches," she said.
There are Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi, Gandhi's teachings, Native American texts and Kabir and other mystics' sayings, as well as many Christian passages.
"Our lives are shaped by our minds. We may become what we think," the Buddha said.
Mary introduces people to eight steps of passage meditation: 1) pick a passage, based on their reality; 2) memorize it to repeat as a mantram or mantra to steady their minds when they feel angry or agitated; 3) practice slowing down throughout the day; 4) have one-pointed attention; 5) train the senses; 6) put others first; 7) find spiritual companionship, and 8) spiritual reading from many traditions.
She said many who come to the workshops are in a hurry, but ready to slow down and focus their lives.
Her own practice of meditation 30 minutes twice a day helps her find peace and calm to make positive changes in stressful situations.
Mary, who is used to exercising her body as a cross country skier and runner—in November she ran a marathon in Athens, Greece, with two friends—knows she needs to exercise her brain.
In college, she had begun exploring meditation.
After graduating in 1971 from San Jose State with a bachelor's degree and in 1972 with teaching credentials at Sonoma State, she worked just three months teaching junior high before she began working with IBM for six years.
"I was idealistic then—and now," she said.
Mary took three months to ride a bike across the U.S. Then, concerned about the threat of nuclear war, she decided to enjoy life working at a ski area at Tahoe a few years.
Mary fell in love and moved with the man to Spokane. She decided to complete a master's degree in special education in 1985 at Whitworth.
While studying, she worked with troubled children at Tamarack Center. After two years, District #81 asked her to teach behaviorally disturbed teens at Sacajawea Junior High for a year. Then she taught math and science to hurting teens for about six years at Excelsior Youth Center.
Next she worked at the district's Skills Center with disabled youth seeking vocational training—learning auto body repair, construction, welding, cooking, graphic arts, nursing and veterinarian skills.
"I felt valued and helpful," she said.
The need to teach anger management in these schools led her to explore meditation further.
While at Excelsior, she began meditating, realizing, "I needed to help myself to help others," said Mary, who also took classes in peace studies and anger management.
"I progressed from looking at the world in negativism. For years, I had gone to Al-Anon at least twice a week because of relationships with alcoholic or addicted people," she said.
"By meditating, however, something changed for me. I have gained a sense of the unity of life, moving from feeling alone, in darkness and hopelessness, to feeling in love. I didn't trust, and all of a sudden I felt I belonged and was loved."
"I still may get angry, but we need to take responsibility for our own ignorance and disconnection," she said.
Meditation empowers her to show compassion one-on-one, like helping a mother with her children, or taking care of her 90-year-old mother.
Along with meditating, Mary is involved in the Spokane Buddhist Temple. She explained that the Buddha's teachings on "the four noble truths" are sometimes compared to a physician diagnosing an illness and prescribing a treatment.
• The first truth tells what the illness is: "Life is suffering."
• The second tells what causes the illness: attachments to people, things and ideas.
• The third holds out hope for a cure: letting go of attachments.
• The fourth is the practice of Buddha's Eight-Fold Path.
"I feel connected to people now," she said.
"Buddha does not focus on what we do wrong, but on there being 10,000 paths to truth. Buddhism encourages us to question—to listen to what people have to say and see if it works for us and helps us be good people," Mary said. "Buddhism has given me confidence."
When she started attending, the temple had about 25 Japanese and three white members. Many of the Japanese had been in area internment camps, settled here and found community at the temple, she said.
"It was a rude awakening for me to learn about the internment camps," Mary said. "I have learned from their experience of losing everything, but not complaining."
Over time, more non-Japanese came to the temple wanting to know about Buddhism. Now there are only four Japanese people.
"It's not a big enough congregation to have a minister. We have three lay ministers and a supervising minister in Seattle," she said.
A few members know the language and keep up traditions, teaching other members.
"We have learned to prepare sushi, senbei and other dishes, and learned obon dancing," Mary said.
Nine years ago shortly after she retired, Mary went to Spokane's Sister City in Nishinomiya, Japan and taught English to junior high students for two years.
Meditation also gives her strength to work for social justice.
Mary is also one of Spokane's Raging Grannies, who wear old-fashioned granny clothes and sing funny songs that advocate for social justice. Many songs are take-offs on familiar songs.
"I feel I make a difference as a Raging Granny," she said of the group that includes 12 others. She is also involved with the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane.
Through PJALS she also does nonviolence training for people willing to be a nonviolent presence at Pride Parades, Planned Parenthood, Unity in the Community, and protests about coal trains and other peace and justice issues.
Mary has also experienced the value of intercultural connections through her many years of involvement with the Fall Folk Festival. As volunteer coordinator, she has learned about and helped connect people with the different cultures in Spokane. She has also encouraged people to connect with their own cultural heritages.
"The festival is a way to let people meet people of different cultures and discover they are like them," she said.
Through meditation, social justice work or intercultural awareness, Mary feels she has found her true self.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, February, 2019