In a Moment, in a Breath: 55 Meditations by Roshi Joan Halifax

- through Francois Leclercq

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Roshi Joan Halifax. At

And now for something a little different from Nachaya's Book Corner: instead of a book review, this month we have In a moment, in a breatha new set of oracle-esque cards from revered American Zen teacher and scholar Roshi Joan Halifax, founder of the Upaya Institute and Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

There are 55 boldly illustrated good-sized cards – original artwork by Roshi Joan – in this collection, each bearing a mediation or contemplation. They bring together the Buddhist teachings which are, by design, intended to ground us, to stretch us and our ego, to make us grow, to remind us of the precepts and contemplative practices of the lojong and encourage Tonglen, because these practices are known in the Tibetan tradition. They bring us into the present moment while expanding our awareness into more meaningful areas.

Each card contains instructions for posture and preparation of the mind, and some are accompanied by recitations or points to consider, the latter printed in a distinct color, making them clearly visible from the instructions. These are bite-sized meditations, reasonably simplified but with much more depth than it first appears.


I received this collection in May, which gave me some time to familiarize myself with the cards. Since I'm not new to the world of divination and oracle cards and already own a few, I was curious and eager and reasonably well seasoned to see how these fared in the hand. In comparison, the size sits well between some of the playing card sized decks we see and the larger decks, giving a good solid feel without being so large that they become hard to shuffle. They're contained in a neat hinged box, with a ribbon to help get them out. The accompanying manual comes in the form of an accordion set of thicker cards bearing an explanation of said cards, the history of the art and suggestions on how to use them.

And how to use them is, according to Roshi Joan's suggestion, ultimately up to the user.

In my introduction I called them "oracle-esque", but they are clearly meditation cards rather than a prophesying tarot deck and, unlike the divination sets, we can see which elemental family each card belongs to if you look at them. while you mix - a point I'll get to in a moment. Here I will briefly touch on the idea of ​​using these cards in the same way as oracle cards.


My long-standing preference for any type of divination has been to keep a concise thought in my mind (phrasing is important here because one can phrase a question too ambiguously or unintentionally have more than one thought, etc.) Specificity of the wording makes it clear what the problem is, and the problem will often come with a visceral feeling, which goes beyond the intellect. Since these are meditation cards, I have found that closing my eyes and having a thought similar to "Which meditation/wisdom of meditation is most appropriate for me right now" or "What meditation do I need for my problem regarding *** *? and allow a card to become apparent.

Part of my professional background has been with symbolism and color, and the relationship between the psyche, the emotional body, and healing. I am also a professional visual artist, so this is not a comparison but an artistic and psychological observation. We all have subtle appeals to certain visual stimuli. Certain images, especially in tarot cards, are layered with complex symbolism. Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot is one of the most culturally and disciplinaryly diverse decks. Conversely, the sumi-e-esque simplicity of an abstract representation of the elements after the stillness of deep meditation speaks in a symbolic language closer to the mind of the beginner without intellect.

As this deck of cards by Roshi Joan is a meditation deck, rather than peeling back layers of images for deeper meaning, the paintings speak to something profoundly deep, worthy of contemplation without being the focus in itself. They aptly represent an umbrella concept with the emphasis being on related meditation. They are the “family of elements” in which this meditation finds its home. Joan explains her illustrations in the game manual, and her reasons have psychological and cultural support. For example, the long revered black enso speaks to all things cyclical and manifest from the blackness of the prima materia– the primal material of everything, on the mundane and subtle levels, and so it is the obvious choice for the “family” of cards that relate to coming home wisely to the quantum realm of creation.


Meanwhile, "being with death" is something we will all face one day, and it has been central to Roshi Joan's teachings for about 30 years. She has lectured, trained medical professionals and individuals in hospices, and spent many years visiting women and men on death row. And that's something I can feel in these cards – they're not easy come-and-go angel type cards; they won't make you feel magical every time you read it. And that, I think, is not a bad thing.

These cards are a wonderful addition for those who may find meditation a challenge or those who think they could benefit from the help of a third party, or simply reminders of mindfulness, expanded awareness and the lojong et Tonglen practices. As Roshi Joan suggests in the manual, they can be read and practiced in the order they occur, or simply selected one day at a time as the focus for those 24 hours, without an iota of divinatory use. They can help calm the monkey mind and contemplate the deeper nature of our transient existence and our relationships with ourselves and others. And some won't be easy.


As I mentioned earlier, Roshi Joan has spent many years with people at the end of life, lessons that I believe are infused into these 55 Organized Meditations. We will all face death, so learning to be with death is a deep meditation that can lead us to live life with more compassion, wisdom and dignity, which is ultimately what I believe the collection of Roshi Joan's meditations aims to achieve.

I find these maps, the words, illustrations and practices they express, which are, of course, based on deep traditional Buddhist wisdom, both enjoyable to handle and very thought provoking. And since many of us struggle to fit meditation into our busy lives, the regular morning practice of turning a card can help pave the way for a deeper and more expansive connection to the day. Something we can all benefit from.

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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