Words and Writing
by Abigail Somma
What the Hummingbirds Taught Me (excerpt from forthcoming book. copyright 2019)
My life as a meditator began when my children were nothing more than a spark of divine imagination. The impetus to begin, I imagine, was the same as it is for many people: desperation. When the late 20s depression hit hard – in a way I could no longer ignore – I was working at the World Bank in Washington DC and I could imagine that there was probably nowhere in the world where I belonged less than at the World Bank in Washington DC. My creative impulses and spiritual yearnings felt deeply out of place in the colossal global institution tasked with ending global poverty, but simultaneously servicing thousands of career-oriented egos. Depression forced a reckoning with all that wasn’t working in my life and a serendipitous encounter with a self-help book prompted setting an impossible goal: moving to New York City to become a playwright.
Only in the most peripheral way, with a handful of barely-compensated productions, has that ever actually happened. But whether fortunate or unfortunate, I wouldn’t know it for many years to come and my commitment at the time was steadfast. When my World Bank contract ended, I promptly moved to New York City and began writing my first play.Upon moving, I also began an earnest search for a new spiritual home to replace the Unitarian Church I had left behind in DC. Much of the first few months were spent “spirituality-shopping” in search of a new sanctuary. Another Unitarian Church was the logical choice, but after trying out services at two different locations, as well as a few similar institutions, I still hadn’t come across the right fit. Nothing struck me with the calm resonance that says, “a-ha, yes, this.”
The search continued until one evening I found myself sitting in a Buddhist meditation class at a non-denominational church on NYC’s East Side. How I got there exactly I don’t actually remember, though one could presume Google was involved. Class was a mix of both guided meditation and lecture about Buddhist philosophy. The teacher seated in front radiated calm, secure and loving energy. He spoke about emptiness and impermanence and freedom from suffering and other things I really need to hear. In some respects, the class wasn’t all that different from therapy; but the intentional breathing, the purposeful stillness were new. A gentle wave of knowing crept in: ah-ha, yes, this.
Though I wasn’t particularly interested in becoming a Buddhist, the class offered a level of insight I’d been missing up to that point and it brought me to a place I’d scarcely explored before – inside my own consciousness. For about five years, I spent Monday nights after work in that non-denominational church gently untangling what had felt tightly tangled for years; and what I discovered there – both by going to class and by bringing class back home – brought a degree of sheer relief: most of what was happening in my mind was gobbly-gook; my thoughts weren’t the be all and end all; and a lot of them weren’t trustworthy, weren’t true and weren’t even me. Thank God.
The late-20s depressive crash had been very instructive in teaching me what would become the most important goal in my life: to never feel that freaking awful again. Sure, hard times would come, rough patches would show up, but I could fill my toolbox, so to speak, so that when the hard stuff came, I’d be able to handle it. While I had tried therapy, anti-depressants, energy healing and all the other usual and unusual suspects, meditation became my number one well-being tool. And it was often more than a tool. Once settled into deep meditation, it felt like transportation, a ticket to another realm of reality. It’s not that time spent in meditation – in the vast realm of consciousness – felt more real than my normal, waking hours, but it wasn’t less real either. It was real in a different way. In meditation, I could call up the image of deceased loved ones and experience them in a way that felt alive to me; or I could imagine a former partner, with whom I no longer had any physical contact, and make peace with our severance. Meditation allowed for entering a universe only as big or as small as the imagination; and perhaps most intriguingly, it provided a space to change my energy or vibration, which began to impact my experience in what we know as reality. Yes, I began to realize, consciousness is the next frontier.
Many of my plays are focus on the spiritual or contemplative aspects of life. Beneath the Hush, a Whisper was inspired by UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold. After his mysterious death, a book of spiritual reflections called Markings (or Waymarks in the original Swedish) was found at Hammarskjold’s bedside. In this play, Hammarskjold is revered and admired from afar by a colleague who seeks to understand his reserve.
A ten minute play, Winter Retreat, has been performed in NYC, Los Angeles and Sydney, Australia. Subsequently, it has been expanded into a longer play called The Gratitude Journal.
Babies and Their Keepers
Three high school friends reunite after twenty years, brought together by the birth of new baby Casper. On the evening they meet, the story of Theresa Schmidt, a two year old victim of child abuse, is all over the news and has the entire community captivated. The very different life circumstances of these two babies – Casper, a newborn who was so desperately wanted, and Theresa, neglected and fighting for her life – unravel over the course of the evening.
Articles & Essays
When my twins were one and a half years old, I decided to become a meditation teacher. The initial intent wasn’t wholly to be a meditation teacher, but rather to get a much-needed break from my life. The way I explained it to my partner and co-parent was a little different. I told him this course would move my career in a direction that was more meaningful. It made sense for long-term planning. It was an investment in the future. The fact that it would also be a weekly sigh of relief didn’t seem worth mentioning.
“The concept of mindful diplomacy might be new to many, but the visionary United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold was already thinking about it back in the 1950s. In 1957, Hammarskjold oversaw the creation of a meditation room at UN Headquarters “dedicated to silence in the outward sense and stillness in the inner sense.” While the actual room now largely serves as a tourist attraction, the concept behind it is finally catching up with Hammarskjold’s vision as people increasingly turn inward for answers—and increasingly find scientific evidence validating that choice. Studies have shown that compassion and composure, the very traits that can lead to diplomatic success, are learnable skills. But the willingness to explore them and the humility to try something new are paramount. Mindful diplomacy may be the pathway to the progress we seek, and even to peace itself.”