August 21 Play the Ball Where the Monkey Dropped it

photo thanks to www.joesdaily.com

photo thanks to www.joesdaily.com

This week Annie will facilitate.

 

I recently read something Tara Brach wrote about English colonizers who were playing golf in Calcutta. Unfortunately, for them, monkeys were constantly picking up the balls and dropping them in a different place. She goes on...

 

The monkeys apparently were interested in golf too, and their way of joining the game was to go onto the course and take the balls that the golfers were hitting and toss them around in all directions. Of course the golfers didn't like this at all, so they tried to control the monkeys. 

 

First they built high fences around the fairway; they went to a lot of trouble to do this. Now, monkeys climb...so, they would climb over the fences and onto the course . . . that solution just didn't work at all. 

 

The next thing they tried was to lure them away from the course. I don't know how they tried to lure them-maybe waving bananas or something-but for every monkey that would go for the bananas, all their relatives would come into the golf course to join the fun. In desperation, they started trapping them and relocating them, but that didn't work, either. The monkeys just had too many relatives who liked to play with golf balls! 

 

Finally, they established a novel rule for this particular golf course: 

 

the golfers in Calcutta had to play the ball wherever the monkey dropped it. Those golfers were onto something!  

 

We all want life to be a certain way. We want the conditions to be just so, and life doesn't always cooperate. Maybe it does for awhile, which makes us want to holdon tight to how things are, but then things change. So sometimes it's like the monkeys are dropping the balls where we don't want them, and what can we do? 

 

Often we react by blaming...ourselves, or others or the situation.  We might become aggressive. Or perhaps we feel victimized and resign. Or sometimes we soothe ourselves with extra food or drink. But clearly, none of these reactions are helpful. 

 

If we are to find any peace, if we are to find freedom, what we need to do is learn to pause and say, 'Okay. This is where the monkeys dropped the ball. I'll play it from here, as well as I'm able.'

 

So how do we do that? 

 

What if you pause right now, and take a moment to be quiet. Can you think of a place in your life where things are not cooperating with how you would like them to be?  Whatever unfortunate place the monkeys have dropped a ball in your life, bring your focus to that. It could be something that happens in a relationship with another person, where you get reactive. 

 

What would it mean to 'play the ball' here? If you could tap into your deepest wisdom, your true compassion, how would you like to respond to these circumstances?
 

One of the great teachings in spiritual life is this: It doesn't matter what is happening.  What matters is how we respond. How we respond is what determines our happiness and peace of mind.

 

So how might you respond with presence, when you find the monkeys have dropped the ball in a difficult spot?

 

After our meditation session on Monday, we will read Tara Brach's story, and then have a chance to talk about how we might "play the balls" in our lives, just exactly where they are right now. We can see where the ball has landed in our individual lives -- who our friends and family are, where we live, what our health is like, and in our larger world -- the current political situation and the health of the earth right now. If we stop trying to change what came before, what do we do next? 

 

I look forward to seeing you on Monday. 

xo

annie.

August 14 Nurturing Compassion in Order to Serve

This week Bea will facilitate.

 

She says:

How adept are we in nurturing compassion within ourselves and with others? This past week before going to sleep I listened to different talks by Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) on You Tube. I wanted to ease myself to sleep wt the soothing voice of Thay and positive thoughts about mindfulness. 

 

In several videos Thay talked about being compassionate with our own suffering in order to be able to ease the suffering of others. As I read the interview below and listened to the videos, I asked myself how I practice compassion toward myself, if at all. 

 

One way to practice compassion with myself is to be kind with myself, which also means to indulge in the beauty of nature and appreciate its many bounties. This is the image of these wonderful flowers that I took at a farmer's market in Ithaca, NY... How do you practice compassion toward yourself? Does this practice help us to be more compassionate with the people we regularly interact with?

 

The below interview appeared in a Lion's Roar issue that dates back to July 1,2003. It is between Thich Nhat Han and John Malkin, a host with Free Radio Santa Cruz, CA:

 

In Engaged Buddhism, Peace Begins with You
 

John Malkin: Will you describe the origins of Engaged Buddhism and how you became involved in compassion-based social change?

 

Thich Nhat Hanh: Engaged Buddhism is just Buddhism. When bombs begin to fall on people, you cannot stay in the meditation hall all of the time. Meditation is about the awareness of what is going on-not only in your body and in your feelings, but all around you.

 

When I was a novice in Vietnam, we young monks witnessed the suffering caused by the war. So we were very eager to practice Buddhism in such a way that we could bring it into society. That was not easy because the tradition does not directly offer Engaged Buddhism. So we had to do it by ourselves. That was the birth of Engaged Buddhism.

 

Engaged Buddhism is just Buddhism. When bombs begin to fall on people, you cannot stay in the meditation hall all of the time. 
 

Buddhism has to do with your daily life, with your suffering and with the suffering of the people around you. You have to learn how to help a wounded child while still practicing mindful breathing. You should not allow yourself to get lost in action. Action should be meditation at the same time.
 

John Malkin: Why did you come to the United States for the first time in 1966, and what happened while you were here?

 

Thich Nhat Hanh: I was invited by Cornell University to deliver a series of talks. I took the opportunity to speak about the suffering that was going on in Vietnam. After that I learned that the Vietnamese government didn't want me to come home. So I had to stay on and continue the work over here. It was not my intention to come to the West and share Buddhism at all. But because I was forced into exile, I did. An opportunity for sharing just presented itself.

 

John Malkin: What did you learn from being in the United States during that time?

 

Thich Nhat Hanh: The first thing I learned was that even if you have a lot of money and power and fame, you can still suffer very deeply. If you don't have enough peace and compassion within you, there is no way you can be happy. Many people in Asia would like to consume as much as Europeans and Americans. So when I teach in China and Thailand and in other Asian countries, I always tell them that people suffer very deeply in the West, believing that consuming a lot will bring them happiness. You have to go back to the traditional values and deepen your practice.

 

John Malkin: What did you learn from Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement in the United States?
 

Thich Nhat Hanh: The last time Martin Luther King and I met was in Geneva during the peace conference called Paix sur Terre-"Peace on Earth." I was able to tell him that the people in Vietnam were very grateful for him because he had come out against the violence in Vietnam. They considered him to be a great bodhisattva, working for his own people and supporting us. Unfortunately, three months later he was assassinated.

 

John Malkin: What is your view of the current peace movement in the United States?

 

Thich Nhat Hanh: People were very compassionate and willing to support us in ending the war in Vietnam during the sixties. But the peace movement in America did not have enough patience. People became angry very quickly because what they were doing wasn't bringing about what they wanted. So there was a lot of anger and violence in the peace movement.

 

Nonviolence and compassion are the foundations of a peace movement. If you don't have enough peace and understanding and loving-kindness within yourself, your actions will not truly be for peace. Everyone knows that peace has to begin with oneself, but not many people know how to do it.

 

John Malkin: People often feel that they need to choose between being engaged in social change or working on personal and spiritual growth. What would you say to those people?

 

Thich Nhat Hanh: I think that view is rather dualistic. The practice should address suffering: the suffering within yourself and the suffering around you. They are linked to each other. When you go to the mountain and practice alone, you don't have the chance to recognize the anger, jealousy and despair that's in you. That's why it's good that you encounter people-so you know these emotions. So that you can recognize them and try to look into their nature. If you don't know the roots of these afflictions, you cannot see the path leading to their cessation. That's why suffering is very important for our practice.

 

If you don't have enough peace and understanding and loving-kindness within yourself, your actions will not truly be for peace. 
 

John Malkin: When the World Trade Center was destroyed, you were asked what you would say to those responsible. You answered that you would listen compassionately and deeply to understand their suffering. Tell me about the practice of deep listening and how you think it helps in personal situations, as well as in situations like the World Trade Center attacks.

 

Thich Nhat Hanh: The practice of deep listening should be directed towards oneself first. If you don't know how to listen to your own suffering, it will be difficult to listen to the suffering of another person or another group of people.

I have recommended that America listen to herself first, because there is a lot of suffering within her borders. There are so many people who believe they are victims of discrimination and injustice, and they have never been heard and understood.

 

My proposal is very concrete: we have to set up a group of people-a kind of parliament-to practice listening to the suffering of America. It's my conviction that there are people in America who are capable of listening deeply, with compassion in their hearts. We have to identify them, and ask them to come and help us. Then we will ask the people who suffer to come forward and tell us what they have in their hearts. They'll have to tell us everything, and that won't be easy for those listening.

 

If America can practice this within her own borders, she will learn a lot. The insight will be enormous, and based on that insight, we can start actions that can repair the damage done in the past.

 

If America succeeded in that, she could bring that practice to the international level. The fact is that people know America has the capacity to hit. To hit very hard and make people suffer. But if America does not hit, that brings her more respect and gives her more authority.

 

John Malkin: After the World Trade Center was attacked, even people who believe in nonviolence said, "This occasion requires some action and some violence."

 

Thich Nhat Hanh: Violent action creates more violence. That's why compassion is the only way to reduce violence. And compassion is not something soft. It takes a lot of courage.

 

When you express your anger, either verbally or with physical violence, you are feeding the seed of anger, and it becomes stronger in you. It's a dangerous practice. 
 

John Malkin: In Western psychology, we are taught that if we're angry, we can release that anger by, say, yelling or hitting a pillow. In your book, Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames, you offer a criticism of this method. Why do you feel that this doesn't help get rid of anger?

 

Thich Nhat Hanh: In Buddhist psychology, we speak of consciousness in terms of seeds. We have a seed of anger in us. We have a seed of compassion in us. The practice is to help the seed of compassion to grow and the seed of anger to shrink. When you express your anger you think that you are getting anger out of your system, but that's not true. When you express your anger, either verbally or with physical violence, you are feeding the seed of anger, and it becomes stronger in you. It's a dangerous practice.

 

That's why recognizing the seed of anger and trying to neutralize it with understanding and compassion is the only way to reduce the anger in us. If you don't understand the cause of your anger, you can never transform it.

 

John Malkin: Many people have the view that happiness and enlightenment are things that happen only in the future, and that maybe only a few people are capable of experiencing them. Enlightenment can seem like a very unattainable thing.

 

Thich Nhat Hanh: Happiness and enlightenment are living things and they can grow. It is possible to feed them every day. If you don't feed your enlightenment, your enlightenment will die. If you don't feed your happiness, your happiness will die. If you don't feed your love, your love will die. If you continue to feed your anger, your hatred, your fear, they will grow. The Buddha said that nothing can survive without food. That applies to enlightenment, to happiness, to sorrow, to suffering.

 

First of all, enlightenment is enlightenment about something. Suppose you are drinking some tea and you are aware that you are drinking some tea. That kind of mindfulness of drinking is a form of enlightenment. There have been many times that you've been drinking but you didn't know it, because you are absorbed in worries. So mindfulness of drinking is already one kind of enlightenment.

 

If you can focus your mind on the act of drinking, then happiness can come while you have some tea. You are capable of enjoying that tea in the here and now. But if you don't know how to drink your tea in mindfulness and concentration, you are not really drinking tea. You are drinking your sorrow, your fear, your anger-and happiness is not possible.

 

To be aware that you are still alive, that you are walking on this beautiful planet-that is a form of enlightenment. 
 

Insight is also enlightenment. To be aware that you are still alive, that you are walking on this beautiful planet-that is a form of enlightenment. That does not come just by itself. You have to be mindful in order to enjoy every step. And again, you have to preserve that enlightenment in order for happiness to continue. If you walk like someone who is running, happiness will stop.

Small enlightenments have to succeed each other. And they have to be fed all the time, in order for a great enlightenment to be possible. So a moment of living in mindfulness is already a moment of enlightenment. If you train yourself to live in such a way, happiness and enlightenment will continue to grow.

 

If you know how to maintain enlightenment and happiness, then your sorrow, your fear, your suffering don't have a lot of chance to manifest. If they don't manifest for a long time, then they become weaker and weaker. Then, when someone touches the seed of sorrow or fear or anger in you and those things manifest, you will know to bring back your mindful breathing and your mindful smiling. And then you can embrace your suffering.

 

John Malkin: In meditation practice, it is very common for us to feel that our minds are very busy and that we're not meditating very well. What do you have to say about this?

 

Thich Nhat Hanh: Meditation is a matter of enjoyment. When you are offered a cup of tea, you have an opportunity to be happy. Drink your tea in such a way that you are truly present. Otherwise, how can you enjoy your tea? Or you are offered an orange-there must be a way to eat your orange that can bring you freedom and happiness. You can train yourself to eat an orange properly, so that happiness and freedom are possible. If you come to a mindfulness retreat, you will be offered that kind of practice so that you can be free and happy while eating your orange or drinking your tea or out walking.

 

It is possible for you to enjoy every step that you make. These steps will be healing and refreshing, bringing you more freedom. If you have a friend who is well-trained in the practice of walking, you will be supported by his or her practice. The practice can be done every moment. And not for the future, but for the present moment. If the present moment is good, then the future will be good because it's made only of the present. Suppose you are capable of making every step free and joyful. Then wherever you walk, it is the pure land of the Buddha. The pure land of the Buddha is not a matter of the future.

 

John Malkin: You have wondered whether the next Buddha will come in the form of a single person or in the form of a community. . .

 

Thich Nhat Hanh: I think that the Buddha is already here. If you are mindful enough you can see the Buddha in anything, especially in the sangha. The twentieth century was the century of individualism, but we don't want that anymore. Now we try to live as a community. We want to flow like a river, not a drop of water. The river will surely arrive at the ocean, but a drop of water may evaporate halfway. That's why it is possible for us to recognize that the presence of the Buddha is the here and now. I think that every step, every breath, every word that is spoken or done in mindfulness-that is the manifestation of the Buddha. Don't look for the Buddha elsewhere. It is in the art of living mindfully every moment of your life.

August 7 Thanksgiving in August... and Everyday

This Monday, Alison will facilitate.  She shares:

 

Every morning we have 24 brand new hours to live. What a precious gift!"Thich Nhat Hanh

 

During my morning meditation, I recently have been ending each session with a moment of gratitude.  I've found that it makes each day more spacious, my heart lighter, and my mind clearer.  So, in preparing for this Monday's sangha, I wanted to share a reflection on gratitude from Brother Phap Hai (Dharma Ocean), a senior monastic Dharma teacher at Deer Park Monastery and board member of the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation.  Although written on Thanksgiving Day 2016, it is relevant to all of our days!

 

Gratitude is a Necessity

December 5, 2016

By Br. Phap Hai

 

"We have our own Thanksgiving traditions here in Deer Park Monastery. As we've done for the past 15 years, we, friends from all walks of life, gathered under the ancient oak trees, in a place where the native owners ground acorns. We thanked the ancestors of this land and this land itself for its abundance. We also asked for forgiveness from this land for any mistakes we may have made. 

 

We Walk Among Tall Oaks

 

As the sweet sage smoke encircled us and rose slowly through the canopy, I was filled with gratitude - gratitude for the many gifts, surprises, and yes, practice opportunities this year has brought. Standing dwarfed under ancient oaks with so many friends as the wind rustled the canopy, I felt that we, in this time of seeming darkness, will be okay. These oaks were here long before us, and they will remain long after. We will be as oaks even as we walk amongst them. And we do walk among them. 

 

Van Jones, in a video that he shared on November 9th, invited everyone to stop, breathe, and build circles of support. Heart advice for these times indeed. What I took away from that comment was not only the necessity of gathering groups to share and look deeply on a regular basis, but also to reach out and build life-giving connections with those around us on a moment-by-moment basis. 

 

I recently flew to Mississippi. On the way there, I sat next to an amazing woman - a hero - who was one of the children who bravely desegregated her school in the 1960s. A tall oak. 

 

Then I sat next to an Arabic professor from Amman, Jordan, who was on a two-week visit - his first ever - to the United States, the fulfillment of a long-cherished dream. He shared just how surprised he was to be treated warmly and as family wherever he went. We spoke of the beautiful Arabic custom of hospitality and warmth, and he told me that this was what he wanted to offer to people here. It seemed to work. He showed me dozens of photos of him with smiling people in New York, in Boston, in New Orleans. Another tall oak. 

 

At the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, I spent time with a young man from South Chicago who gave up his home and all his belongings to move to the Deep South because he felt a call to be an instrument of healing, although he didn't know what that meant. Another tall oak. 

 

I spent a week with a twelve-year old boy who has been blind from birth and told me that for a long time he felt sad that he "couldn't see" until he realized that he sees more clearly with his heart than most of us do with our eyes. A tall oak indeed. 

 

Community is No Longer a Luxury; It is a Necessity

 

These are the people that we walk by each and every day, in the boarding line at the airport, on the bus, on the sidewalk. We walk among ancient oaks. Our circles of support are there each and every moment. The seeds that these great beings, these absolutely ordinary beings - you and me - plant will continue on long into the future. 

 

Most of all today I am grateful for community, grateful for the seeds of peace, inclusion, solidarity that have been sown by so many. It seemed to me this morning that community is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity. 

 

Gratitude is an 'Affirmation of Goodness'

 

We all know people who wear resentment like a shroud, tightly wound. I know I certainly do. But I have chosen not to live that way. Resentment is an insidiously ingenious poison. It starts so subtly - "that person took my parking space" - until it becomes a deeply rooted pattern in which we primarily notice what is going wrong in this moment, in each other, and in ourselves. 

 

Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and the world's leading scientific expert on gratitude writes that gratitude is "an affirmation of goodness." Gratitude is an affirmation of the goodness that is available within and around us, and within each person we meet. It is the active decision to choose to experience life and other people as a gift, rather than with a sense, however subtle, of entitlement. 

 

Gratitude does not mean to ignore or deny the hard, the heavy, the challenging, but rather it is an anchor, a resource that can help to prevent us from becoming the very thing that we struggle against.

 

Gratitude is a Necessity

 

I'll admit it, I am a bumper sticker nerd. I like bumper stickers. I noticed that one car in the parking lot today had a sticker that read, "Demand Peace." Sometimes, even with the very best of intentions, we become the thing that we struggle against. 

 

In Buddhism we speak of the world of red dust, the Saha World. Coming from Australia, this conjures a very vivid image in my mind of the kind of dust that coats your skin, gets in your eyes and ears and mouth and makes you feel as if you are suffocating. 

 

These past few weeks have felt this way for many. There are those who have felt this way each and every day of their lives, and we must not forget this. There are those standing right now for right of access to their own lands, to clean water, to the inalienable rights that should belong to all. 

 

A day of thanksgiving may seem almost inappropriate at times like these, but I say it is a necessity. It is a day in which we look within and around and actively rest in the shade of the ancient oaks that surround us. And in that spirit, the spirit of unity, togetherness, we continue the long journey hand in hand - a journey that includes everyone. 

 

Happy Thanksgiving to you."

 

Looking forward to sharing your experiences with gratitude (or anything else in your heart) this Monday.

Alison

 

 

Please note that this week is a New Comers week.  One of our facilitators will be at the studio by 6:30pm for anyone that will like an introduction to meditation and the logistics of our sittings. 

July 31 What are the Five Mindfulness Trainings?

This week Annie will facilitate and we will read the Five Mindfulness Trainings of Thich Nhat Hanh (see below for full text of the trainings) and then we will watch a video of some Plum Village monastics and lay friends talking about how we can live with the trainings.

 

In the video, former monk and longtime mindfulness practitioner, Michael Ciborski, talks about how the mindfulness trainings help keep us present to our daily choices and intentions:

 

If we corrected all the errors of production and consumption but none of us could smile, that would be a horrible place to be. It's very important that we have those elements also and that we stay aware of all of that. We are a part of the earth. Every step that we take, every decision we make in our daily life can bring us this tremendous sense of belonging and happiness that we are part of life, we're not something separate.

 

The problem isn't out there, the problem isn't in here, the joy isn't out there and I'm missing it, or it has to be given from here to there -- we are a part of the web of life. We belong to that. And that's healing, that's stabilizing in on one level, but it's also a responsibility on the other -- to be aware that our actions tohave that impact and to continually train. 

 

The Five Mindfulness Trainings are the perfect thing, in my point of view. The perfect tool because each day they call you back to hold the suffering and the joy. And to do your best in each moment to make a choice which brings about something wholesome, something good. 

 

After our meditation period, we will read the five trainings together and watch the short video. Then we will have time to share about how we practice aspects of mindfulness in our daily lives, regardless of whether we have formally received or practice the trainings. 

 

To consider: 

  • Where have we chosen to live in ways that support life, happiness, true love, mindful speaking and wholesome consumption? 
  • Where do we diverge or struggle? 
  • Are the trainings even in alignment with our deepest intentions? 
  • What are our intentions for our lives, and how do we live into them?

 

Looking forward to being with all of you.

 

with love,

annie.

 

The Five Mindfulness Trainings:

The Five Mindfulness Trainings are offered as suggestions that can help  support our mindfulness practice; they provide a compass with which to orient our lives.  They are not commandments or Buddhist dogma. They represent a vision of all our spiritual ancestors for a global spirituality and ethic and are a concrete expression of a path of wisdom and true love, leading to healing, transformation, and happiness for ourselves and for the world.

To practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings is to cultivate a way of life which can remove all discrimination, intolerance, anger, fear, and despair. Following this way of life, we are not lost in confusion about our life in the present or in fears about the future.

1. Reverence For Life

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non- attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.

2. True Happiness

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.

3. True Love

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.

4. Loving Speech and Deep Listening

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.

5. Nourishment and Healing

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth. 

If you want to receive the trainings, you can do so at a U.S. monastic retreat, at one of the monasteries during a retreat, or on the first weekend in January in Oakton, Virginia with Thich Nhat Hanh’s niece, Anh Huong and her husband Thu Nguyen. When someone receives the trainings, they also are given a lineage name to practice with. Please talk to or send an email to Annie or Marie if you are interested.

July 24

This Monday Miles will facilitate.  He shares:
 

The dharma term emptiness (in Pali, sunyata) has generated enough discussion and writing to fill a lot of space!  Why so much interest?  At least in part because many dharma teachers have for many centuries seen it as a fundamental aspect of our world.  Does living with emptiness mean, as a nihilist might say, that nothing matters or means anything?  Thich Nhat Hahn advocates instead an inspiring view of emptiness that skillfully weaves in his concept of interbeing.  He writes:

 

We do not have a stem linking us to our mother anymore, but when we were in her womb we had a very long stem, an umbilical cord. The oxygen and the nourishment we needed came to us through that stem. Unfortunately, on the day we call our birthday, it was cut and we received the illusion that we are independent. That is a mistake. We continue to rely on our mother for a very long time, and we have several other mothers as well. The Earth is our mother. We have a great many stems linking us to our mother Earth. There is a stem linking us with the cloud. If there is no cloud, there is no water for us to drink. We are made of at least seventy percent water; the stem between the cloud and us is really there. This is also the case with the river, the forest, the logger, and the farmer. There are hundreds of thousands of stems linking us to everything in the cosmos, and therefore we can be.

 

The interbeing and our web of connectivity that Thay so well describes and feels is clear: independent forms are empty.  A deeper level of this interbeing is introduced when he writes:

 

Do you see the link between you and me? If you are not there, I am not here; that is certain. If you do not see it yet, look more deeply and I am sure you will see. This is not philosophy. You really have to see.

 

It is interesting that Thay asks whether we see such a fundamental level of connection, and then writes that if we do not, we should look more deeply and really see it.  So let's accept his invitation and consider on Monday what he means, whether we may have experienced this level of interbeing and, if so, in what context.  

 

A wave on the ocean has a beginning and an end, a birth and a death. But Avalokiteshvara tells us that the wave is empty. The wave is full of water, but it is empty of a separate self. A wave is a form that has been made possible, thanks to the existence of wind and water. If a wave only sees its form, with its beginning and end, it will be afraid of birth and death. But if the wave sees that it is water and identifies itself with the water, then it will be emancipated from birth and death. Each wave is born and is going to die, but the water is free from birth and death.

 

So you see there are many lessons we can learn from the cloud, the water, the wave, the leaf-and from everything else in the cosmos, too. If you look at anything carefully and deeply enough, you discover the mystery of interbeing, and once you have seen it you will no longer be subject to fear-fear of birth, or fear of death. Birth and death are only ideas we have in our minds, and these ideas cannot be applied to reality.

 

Full realization of interbeing?  Although not there yet, I feel on the path that leads there and look forward to joining you for a walk there on Monday.  Deep gratitude to Annie for responding to my question about emptiness and interbeing by referring me to an article by Thich Nhat Hahn from the August 6, 2012 issue of Lion's Roar entitled The Fullness of Emptiness, from which the above quotes were extracted.

July 17 The Heart of Being vs. Doing

This Monday Bea will facilitate.  She shares:
 

I would like to build on last week's topic by Marie: The Art of Resting, because even in resting I find that I often have a "to do list" and expectations on how to rest and on how much time I allocate to "restful" activities.  Sometimes I think that if I lived outside of a bustling city, more in tune with nature, I would find it easier to rest but is this truly so?  Maybe I am always in a doing versus being mind, even when I attempt to rest...

 

This write up is extracted from an article entitled, The Difference Between "Being" and "Doing" by Zindel Segal published October 27, 2016 in Mindful magazine.

 

THE "DOING" MODE

The ruminative state of mind is a variant of a much more general mode of mind that has been called the "doing" mode.  The job of this mode of mind is to get things done - to achieve particular goals that the mind has set.  These goals could relate to the external world - to make a meal, build a house, or travel to the moon - or to the internal world of self - to feel happy, not make mistakes, never be depressed again, or be a good person.  The basic strategy to achieve such goals involves something we call the "discrepancy monitor": a process that continually monitors and evaluates our current situation against a model or standard - an idea of what is desired, required, expected, or feared. Once this discrepancy monitor is switched on, it will find mismatches between how things are and how we think they should be.  That is its job.  Registering these mismatches motivates further attempts to reduce these discrepancies. But, crucially, dwelling on how things are not as we want them to be can, naturally enough, create further negative mood.  In this way, our attempts to solve a "problem" by endlessly thinking about it can keep us locked into the state of mind from which we are doing our best to escape.

 

There is nothing inherently wrong with this doing mode.  In fact, quite the reverse: This approach has worked brilliantly as a general strategy for solving problems and achieving goals in the impersonal, external world-whether those goals be as humble as buying all the items on our weekly shopping list or as lofty as building a pyramid.  It is natural, then, that we should turn to this same doing mode when things are not as we would like them to be in our personal and internal worlds - our feelings and thoughts, or the kind of person we see ourselves to be.  And this is where things can go terribly wrong.

 

But before we go on to describe how, it is important to forestall any possible misunderstanding.  We are in no way suggesting that the doing mode necessarily causes problems - it does not.  It is only when, doing mode "volunteers for a job it can't do" that problems arise.  In many, many, areas of our lives, doing mode volunteers for a job it can do, and our lives are the better for it.  To make the distinction clearer, we call problematic applications of this mode driven-doing, as opposed to the more general doing.

 

If we look closely, we will see the driven-doing mode in action in very many areas of our lives.  Whenever there is a sense of "have to," "must," "should," "ought," or "need to," we can suspect the presence of doing mode.

 

How else might we recognize the driven-doing mode subjectively?  Its most common feature is a recurring sense of unsatisfactoriness, reflecting the fact that the mind is focused on processing mismatches between how we need things to be and how they actually are.  Driven-doing mode also involves a sense of continuously monitoring and checking up on progress toward reducing the gap between these two states ("How well am I doing?").  Why? Because where no immediate action can be taken to reduce discrepancies, the only thing the mind can do is continue to work on its ideas about how things are and how they should be, in the hope of finding a way to reduce the gap between them.  This it will do over and over again.

 

In this situation, because the "currency" with which the mind is working consists of thoughts about current situations, desired situations, explanations for the discrepancies between them, and possible ways to reduce those discrepancies, these thoughts and concepts will be experienced mentally as "real" rather than simply as events in the mind. Equally, the mind will not be fully tuned in to the full actuality of present experience.  It will be so preoccupied with analyzing the past or anticipating the future that the present is given a low priority.  In this case, we are only aware of the present in a very narrow sense: The only interest in it is to monitor success or failure at meeting goals.  The broader sense of the present, in what might be called its "full multidimensional splendor," is missed.

 

Driven-doing underlies many of our reactions to everyday emotional experiences-we habitually turn to this mode to free ourselves from many kinds of unwanted emotion. It follows that we can use such everyday emotional experiences, and other reflections of the general driven-doing mode of mind, as training opportunities to learn skills that enable us to recognize and disengage from this mode.


THE "BEING" MODE

In being mode, the mind has "nothing to do, nowhere to go" and can focus fully on moment-by-moment experience, allowing us to be fully present and aware of whatever is here, right now.

 

The full richness of the mode of "being" is not easily conveyed in words-its flavor is best appreciated directly, experientially.  In many ways, it is the opposite of the driven-doing mode.  The driven-doing mode is goal-oriented, motivated to reduce the gap between how things are and how we think we need them to be; our attention is narrowly focused on these discrepancies between actual and desired states.  By contrast, the being mode is not devoted to achieving particular goals.  In this mode, there is no need to emphasize discrepancy-based processing or constantly to monitor and evaluate ("How am I doing in meeting my goals?").  Instead, the focus of the being mode is "accepting" and "allowing" what is, without any immediate pressure to change it.

 

"Allowing" arises naturally when there is no goal or standard to be reached, and no need to evaluate experience in order to reduce discrepancies between actual and desired states.  This also means that attention is no longer focused narrowly on only those aspects of the present that are directly related to goal achievement; in being mode, the experience of the moment can be processed in its full depth, width, and richness.

 

Doing mode involves thinking about the present, the future, and the past, relating to each through a veil of concepts.  Being mode, on the other hand, is characterized by direct, immediate, intimate experience of the present.

 

Doing and Being differ in their time focus.  In doing, we often need to work out the likely future consequences of different actions, anticipate what might happen if we reach our goal, or look back to memories of times when we have dealt with similar situations to get ideas for how to proceed now.  As a result, in doing mode, the mind often travels forward to the future or back to the past, and the experience is one of not actually being "here" in the present much of the time.  By contrast, in being mode, the mind has "nothing to do, nowhere to go" and can focus fully on moment-by-moment experience, allowing us to be fully present and aware of whatever is here, right now.  Doing mode involves thinking about the present, the future, and the past, relating to each through a veil of concepts.  Being mode, on the other hand, is characterized by direct, immediate, intimate experience of the present.

 

The being mode involves a shift in our relation to thoughts and feelings. In doing mode, conceptual thinking is a core vehicle through which the mind seeks to achieve the goals to which this mode of mind is dedicated. This means, as we have seen, that thoughts are seen as a valid and accurate reflection of reality and are closely linked to action.  In doing mode, the relationship to feelings is primarily one of evaluating them as "good things" to hang on to or "bad things" to get rid of.  Making feelings into goal-related objects in this way effectively crystallizes the view that they have an independent and enduring reality.

 

By contrast, in being mode, the relation to thoughts and feelings is much the same as that to sounds or other aspects of moment-by-moment experience. Thoughts and feelings are seen as simply passing events in the mind that arise, become objects of awareness, and then pass away. In the being mode, feelings do not so immediately trigger old habits of reactions in the mind or body directed at hanging on to pleasant feelings or getting rid of unpleasant feelings.  There is a greater ability to tolerate uncomfortable emotional states. In the same way, thoughts such as "do this, do that" do not necessarily automatically link to related actions, but we can relate to them simply as events in the mind.

 

"Allowing" arises naturally when there is no goal or standard to be reached, and no need to evaluate experience in order to reduce discrepancies between actual and desired states.  In being mode, there is a sense of freedom and freshness as experience unfolds in new ways.  We can be responsive to the richness and complexity of the unique patterns that each moment presents.
 

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts next Monday. 

July 10 The Art of Resting

On Monday, Marie will facilitate.  She shares:

 

Summertime can be a wonderful time to rest and replenish.  Often, we make plans and go away - visiting places where "to do" lists don't exist or connecting with friends and family. This summer, I'm not taking holidays, and while this is deliberate, it is sometimes disconcerting. At times, I find myself wondering: how will I manage the demands of the fall if I don't get away and have some down time? While I enjoy hearing about the holidays of others, occasionally, I have a "pang".

 

Fortunately, some night time reading - and day time practicing - has helped me develop a different perspective. In his book No Self, No Problem, Anam Thubten describes meditation as "the art of resting", and writes that "inner rest is the sacred ground on which we meet the light of enlightenment."

"Meditation is about resting completely.  Not just physically resting, but resting completely. Compete rest includes letting go of all forms of mental effort. Mind is always busy doing something. Mind has a very huge job to do. It has to sustain the universe. It has to sustain existence, because if our mind collapses, then there is no universe.... There is nothing there when the mind stopes maintaining this virtual reality. There is no universe. It's like riding a bicycle. When you ride a bicycle, you have to constantly keep pedaling. If you pause, the bicycle doesn't run on its own; it just falls over.  In the same way, as long as we don't create this imaginary world, it just collapses. Whatever you call it, samsara, reality or illusion, it collapses. It collapses because there is no one there working constantly to perpetuate it.   

 

Because of this, the mind feels like it has a big responsibility: to constantly construct and perpetuate this world of illusions. So, to rest means to pause, to pause from working very hard, to pause from continuously constructing this world of illusions, the dualistic world, the world that is based on the separation between self and other you and me, good and bad

 

When you completely take away the ego mind, the creator of this illusory world, then realization is already there and truth is automatically realized.  Therefore, the heart of Buddhist meditation practice is to relax and to rest.

 

We think we know how to rest. However, when we meditate, we discover that the mind has a tendency to work constantly, to exert effort and to attempt to gain control over reality. Mind is not peaceful or relaxed.  We find different layers of mind's effort. This is quite amazing to notice when we sit.  At first we think: "Oh - my mind is completely serene and peaceful".  But if we keep paying attention to our consciousness, we see that there is a very subtle effort.  This is the mind exerting effort, trying to have control over reality.  Maybe mind is seeking enlightenment.  Maybe mind is trying to transcend ego.  Or, we might think: "I don't like what I am experience right now.  There is pain in my joints".   Maybe mind is trying to....whatever... finish the meditation session.

 

Mind is always making up stories.  It is always writing the cosmic script. Therefore, the idea of resting completely involves letting go of all of this. Let go of all the thought. Let go of all the mind's effort and completely be in that natural state of your mind, the truth, the "what is" and then realization is already there."

On Monday, after our first sitting and walking meditation, we will have a guided meditation. I hope you will join us to practice the "art of resting" and to share your experiences with resting and replenishing from within.  

 

Warmly,

Marie

July 3 The Heart of Creativity

This Monday Bea will facilitate.  

 

This week I have been thinking a lot about the creative process of reconnecting with the self and of feeling grounded. Is there a connection between creativity and Buddhism? In these complex times that we live in, can creativity be a means to a more peaceful existence, or a way to let go of our frustrations and emotions? Can art offer us a safe space to express ourselves? We know that Thich Nhat Hanh is a poet. So how is Buddhism enhancing his personal creativity? After I did some research online, I realized that many artists-be they writers, singers, musicians or painters-speak openly about their spiritual practice, and how that it is intimately connected to their creative work. Here is an interesting piece I came across by Aleksandra Kumorek, a writer, director, and lecturer in Berlin. The source is The Mindfulness Bell, a journal on the art of mindful living. It was published in the spring of 2014 and it mentions one of our teachers here, in our community... before our Monday night practice, think about your own creative process, and how your practice relates to it? How do your nurture that space within yourself?

 

The Heart of Creativity

The work of artists, creative practitioners, and those working in the media has an impact on the collective consciousness. But which seeds are being watered? What would it look like to live and work according to Buddhist ethics? How can we be part of a wholesome, supportive community of creative practitioners?

"Together we are one," reads a calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh. This statement became the motto of the first retreat organized by the Mindful Artists Network, which took place at Findhorn, Scotland, in June 2013. Fourteen dancers, musicians, actors, writers, and visual artists from Germany, Great Britain, and Canada came together at the Victorian retreat center, Newbold House, in order to meditate, dance, celebrate, and practice creativity. Under the spiritual guidance of Sister Jewel (Dharma teacher in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh) and Sister Hai Nghiem, and with co-facilitation by the network founders Susanne Olbrich and me, this newly formed "tribe" spent a weekend enjoying the magical Scottish midnight sun.

 

In the opening ceremony, everyone placed an object or image on the "altar of creativity"--something that represented each person's connection to his or her individual creative source. It was an act of consciously joining the great stream of our ancestors, inspirations, and influences. This marked the beginning of an intense weekend of shared joys and tears, dances and performances, deep reflection, and heartfelt laughter.

 

In addition to sitting and walking meditations, the focus was on creative practice. Sister Jewel introduced the InterPlay method and dance meditation, which helped us connect deeply with ourselves and with each other. In the large, walled garden of Newbold House, groups created mandalas from natural materials and then gave impromptu performances. In small groups, we reflected on ethics and the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

 

An informal tea ceremony provided a frame for participants to present their own creative work: music, dance, painting, sculpture, performance, movies, photography, and poetry. One of the particularly memorable artists was a most uncommon "Zen" master: a clown who works with terminally ill children in hospitals and who made us laugh that night.

 

By the time we parted Sunday afternoon, we'd grown into a loving community that had brought Thich Nhat Hanh's statement to life: Together we are one, indeed. We couldn't resolve the world's problems during this weekend, and living our lives lovingly and mindfully will continue to be a challenge for each one of us. We know we must not allow the seeds of greed, stress, and competition, which are so dominant in our society, to be watered. We must remain true to our way of compassion and non-harming in everyday work. But we know that we no longer walk this path alone."

 

See you Monday evening.

Namaste,

Bea

June 26 Practicing Mindful Conversation: The Fourth Mindfulness Training

This Monday Annie will facilitate.  

 

We will discuss The Five Mindfulness Trainings, and focus our conversation around the fourth Mindfulness Training: Loving Speech and Deep Listening:

 

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. 

 

Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. 

 

I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. 

 

I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.

 

What does this teaching mean to you? How do we transform, rather than suppress, our anger in order to speak to someone with whom we are angry without making the situation worse? 

 

My biggest challenge practicing with this training is with my family, specifically my partner. When I am angry with friends or strangers, I rarely raise my voice, use snotty sarcasm or words that diminish them. But when my partner pisses me off, it happens. And yet, my relationship with my partner means so much more to me, and how we communicate has a bigger impact on my own happiness.

 

Mindfulness of my emotional state is the key for me. When I am able to notice that I'm getting angry, I can make a choice to take a deep breath, really look at my partner and see that he's the one I love (or as my sister would say, "he's my person"), or even take a time out in the bathroom. Any of those actions gives me the time I need to calm myself down enough to notice what might be beneath the anger bubbling up in me.

 

After calming down, there's still a need to process the anger. What part of me is being triggered and why? When I'm at my best, I take loving care of the part of me that's upset, and I dive deep enough under the anger to find and feel the fear or sadness is beneath it. This kind of loving care is what Thich Nhat Hanh is talking about when he suggests to "gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness."

 

It all starts with pausing and recognizing that we are about to spew some words that will not inspire confidence, joy, and hope. That's one reason that this training is so helpful for me. 

 

On Monday, after our meditation period, we can talk about some of these questions:

 

What's your story around anger and (un)mindful speaking? How and when have you been able to pause and transform the underlying feelings? When haven't you? How can you take loving care of your feelings so you can speak to your loved ones from a place of freshness and ease?


I look forward to seeing you then. xo annie.

 

A few notes about the Five Mindfulness Trainings:

 

These trainings are not commandments or Buddhist dogma, they are a offered as suggestions to support mindfulness practice by providing us with a compass with which to orient our lives. They represent a vision of all our spiritual ancestors for a global spirituality and ethic and are a concrete expression of a path of wisdom and true love, leading to healing, transformation, and happiness for ourselves and for the world. To practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings is to cultivate a way of life which can remove all discrimination, intolerance, anger, fear, and despair. Following this way of life, we are not lost in confusion about our life in the present or in fears about the future.

 

"The Five Precepts are not prohibitions to restrict our freedom, and they are not an authority, which we have no choice but to follow. The precepts are the fruit of our mindfulness and experience. Because we are mindful, we can see that the precepts protect us and our happiness, as well as that of those with whom we live. We take the vow to receive and practice the precepts in order to preserve our freedom and happiness in days to come.

 

Being the fruit of mindfulness, the precepts are the embodiment of enlightenment, which is the Buddha himself. They are the embodiment of the Dharma, which is the path shown by the Buddha. They are also the embodiment of the Sangha, the community of all those who have taken up the path. Practicing the Five Precepts is to be one with the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. To recite the precepts is an exercise in mindfulness of their teachings and a way of looking deeply at the benefits of keeping them."  - Thich Nhat Hanh

June 19 How do we become a Fearless Samurai?

This Monday Bea will facilitate.  She shares:

 

This week I want to share with you some thoughts about fearlessness. How do we become a Fearless Samurai? How do we become one with fear? What does this look like? And, in the spirit of this past week’s potluck conversation at Mary’s house, how do we overcome the fear to ask others for help if, and when, we are in need? In other words, how do we make friends with fear and be OK with it?

 

Between now and Monday night, if you have time to read this week’s message, please ask yourself what are you most afraid of and what do you tell yourself when you experience fear? Also ask yourself, whether you are afraid to ask for help when you are in need? Do you fear the words, “No, I cannot help you”? Do you fear being rejected or judged or perceived to be weak? How much of your ego is in the way of your response? What can you do to confront fear in a mindful and fearless manner?

 

Thich Nhat Hanh, February 11, 2013 in Awakin.org:

 

Most of us experience a life full of wonderful moments and difficult moments. But for many of us, even when we are most joyful, there is fear behind our joy. We fear that this moment will end, that we won’t get what we need, that we will lose what we love, or that we will not be safe. Often, our biggest fear is the knowledge that one day our bodies will cease functioning. So even when we are surrounded by all the conditions for happiness, our joy is not complete.
 
We may think that if we ignore our fears, they’ll go away. But if we bury worries and anxieties in our consciousness, they continue to affect us and bring us more sorrow. We are very afraid of being powerless. But we have the power to look deeply at our fears, and then fear cannot control us. We can transform our fear. Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.
 
The first part of looking at our fear is just inviting it into our awareness without judgment. We just acknowledge gently that it is there. This brings a lot of relief already. Then, once our fear has calmed down, we can embrace it tenderly and look deeply into its roots, its sources. Understanding the origins of our anxieties and fears will help us let go of them. Is our fear coming from something that is happening right now or is it an old fear, a fear from when we were small that we’ve kept inside? When we practice inviting all our fears up, we become aware that we are still alive, that we still have many things to treasure and enjoy. If we are not pushing down and managing our fear, we can enjoy the sunshine, the fog, the air, and the water. If you can look deep into your fear and have a clear vision of it, then you really can live a life that is worthwhile. 

The Buddha was a human being, and he also knew fear. But because he spent each day practicing mindfulness and looking closely at his fear, when confronted with the unknown, he was able to face it calmly and peacefully. There is a story about a time the Buddha was out walking and Angulimala, a notorious serial killer, came upon him. Angulimala shouted for the Buddha to stop, but the Buddha kept walking slowly and calmly. Angulimala caught up with him and demanded to know why he hadn’t stopped. The Buddha replied, "Angulimala, I stopped a long time ago. It is you who have not stopped.” He went on to explain, “I stopped committing acts that cause suffering to other living beings. All living beings want to live. All fear death. We must nurture a heart of compassion and protect the lives of all beings.” Startled, Angulimala asked to know more. By the end of the conversation, Angulimala vowed never again to commit violent acts and decided to become a monk.
 
How could the Buddha remain so calm and relaxed when faced with a murderer? This is an extreme example, but each of us faces our fears in one way or another every day. A daily practice of mindfulness can be of enormous help. Beginning with our breath, beginning with awareness, we are able to meet whatever comes our way.
 
Fearlessness is not only possible, it is the ultimate joy. When you touch nonfear, you are free. If I am ever in an airplane and the pilot announces that the plane is about to crash, I will practice mindful breathing. If you receive bad news, I hope you will do the same. But don’t wait for the critical moment to arrive before you start practicing to transform your fear and live mindfully. Nobody can give you fearlessness. Even if the Buddha were sitting right here next to you, he couldn’t give it to you. You have to practice it and realize it yourself. If you make a habit of mindfulness practice, when difficulties arise, you will already know what to do.

 

See you Monday evening.

Namaste,

 

Bea

June 12 Am I Dreaming?

This Monday Marie will facilitate.  She shares:

 

I recently returned from a silent retreat with Anam Thubten, a Tibetan teacher, whose teaching was both profound and playful.  On Monday, I would like us to share our experience with one of his teachings: asking ourselves the question "Am I dreaming?

 

Rinpoche describes two types of dreaming: the type that happens at night, whilst we are sleeping, and that which happens during the day, when our minds construct a "reality" based on our thoughts and judgements.  Most of the time, we are captured by thoughts, judgements and feelings, and this "reality" becomes the prism through which we view and relate with the world. One, single thought can proliferate and become numerous storylines that explain and justify past and future actions.  We become lost in our personal stories, and many of our "problems" are symptoms of this dream, this "unwareness".  In a way, it's like being caught in a sticky web from which it's difficult to extricate ourselves, yet there are some important differences that make our situation much better than that of the average fly.  First, we usually don't realize that we are caught; second, the web is of our own making, which means that, third, we can drop the web and free ourselves - at any time.  

 

How do we free ourselves?  The first step is to realize that we are dreaming.   How can we be "caught" in something we created?  It doesn't sound possible, yet many of us have spent time in this place.  Our thinking mind creates the dream, which might be about ourselves or someone else, and is reinforced by judgement, emotions and/or actions.  Oftentimes, the patterns of our dreams are are familiar: "Oh, there he/she goes again..."   We tell ourselves that we don't need to listen or pay attention, because we "know" what will happen. We anticipate what he/she will think, feel and do - and how we will respond - that is what happens, again and again.  No wonder we are so sure that we "know"!

 

Many of our problems are symptoms of this unawareness.  Mark Twain once said:  "I have had many problems in my life and most never happened."   

 

Over the next few days, I invite you to pause throughout your day and ask yourself:  Am I dreaming?  Recognize when you are lost in thought, and gently bring yourself back to rest in the present moment.  Please focus on resting in the present moment, as opposed to rejecting dreams or castigating yourself for dreaming.

 

On Monday night, we will share our experiences with this practice.

 

Warmly,

Marie

 

PS Anam Thubten will be offering a public talk and weekend retreat in DC in early October.   You learn more about his teachings and calendar go here.

June 5 When Giving is All We Have

This Monday Jenny will facilitate.  She shares:

 

As the end of a challenging teaching year draws to a close, I find myself considering what giving really means, and why it is that we feel called to give. I also find myself thinking about individual students I've taught this year, and what giving has meant for them, whether words, actions, or offering presence.

 

This year, I had a student come in at the very beginning of the year feeling as if no one gave to her. She felt that because no one gave to her, she should not have to give to others. She felt angry with her circumstances. She felt in pain. Sometimes, she loudly expressed this. Other times, her body was very still and her voice quiet. One day, a couple months back, there was a moment where she was called to give. For some reason which will only ever be known or understood by her, it felt necessary in that moment to give to someone else, and she made the choice to do so. She called upon the generosity we all have living inside of us, and she gave what was needed, to and for someone else. I can't say that she changed drastically overnight. I can't tell you that from that moment forth, she gave, every moment, every single time. But she did learn, in that experience, that sometimes giving is both all we have, and that it can be enough. She learned that something she had to offer was of use to someone else, and through that realization, she came to understand that others just might have something to give to her. She learned to open her heart, in small doses, in sometimes careful measurements, in often earned skepticism, but began to open nonetheless. My greatest hope for her is that her heart will never close again, to the often bewildering and uncharted world around her.

 

I tell this story to urge us to think about the idea of giving. Not about the automaticity of it, not about the "shoulds" it can often feel surrounded by, but perhaps about why we feel called to give, or even what can feel hard about it. In these rather charged times for our country, when our interconnected lives are feeling rather unknown and even frightening, I find myself considering that giving may indeed be all that we have.

 

When we come together on Monday evening, after our quiet sit and our walking meditation, I'd love to read the poem by Alberto Rios together, consider the idea of "giving" and what it means for us as individuals and as a broader community.

 

Poem: "When Giving Is All We Have" by Alberto Rios

One river gives its journey to the next.

 

We give because someone gave to us

We give because nobody gave to us

 

We give because giving has changed us.

We give because giving could have changed us.

 

We have been better for it,

We have been wounded by it-

 

Giving has many faces. It is loud and quiet,

Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

 

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,

But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

 

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,

Mine to yours, yours to mine.

 

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.

Together we are simple green. You gave me

 

What you did not have, and I gave you

What I had to give-together, we made

 

Something greater from the difference.

May 29 The Five Mindfulness Trainings

his Monday Alison will facilitate.  

 

Once a month, the Opening Heart Mindfulness Community Sangha will be focusing on the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

 

Reverence For Life

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.

 

True Happiness

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and 

reverse the process of global warming.

 

True Love

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness - which are the four basic elements of true love - for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.

 

Loving Speech and Deep Listening

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.

 

Nourishment and Healing

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.

 

As explained by Thich Nhat Hahn:

The Five Mindfulness Trainings are one of the most concrete ways to practice mindfulness. They are nonsectarian, and their nature is universal. They are true practices of compassion and understanding. All spiritual traditions have their equivalent to the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

 

The first training is to protect life, to decrease violence in one-self, in the family and in society. The second training is to practice social justice, generosity, not stealing and not exploiting other living beings. The third is the practice of responsible sexual behavior in order to protect individuals, couples, families and children. The fourth is the practice of deep listening and loving speech to restore communication and reconcile. The fifth is about mindful consumption, to help us not bring toxins and poisons into our body or mind.

 

The Five Mindfulness Trainings are based on the precepts developed during the time of the Buddha to be the foundation of practice for the entire lay practice community. I have translated these precepts for modern times, because mindfulness is at the foundation of each one of them. With mindfulness, we are aware of what is going on in our bodies, our feelings, our minds and the world, and we avoid doing harm to ourselves and others. Mindfulness protects us, our families and our society. When we are mindful, we can see that by refraining from doing one thing, we can prevent another thing from happening. We arrive at our own unique insight. It is not something imposed on us by an outside authority.

Practicing the mindfulness trainings, therefore, helps us be more calm and concentrated, and brings more insight and enlightenment. 

-Thich Nhat Hanh, Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices (2009)

 

See you on Memorial Day Monday!

Namaste, Alison

May 22 Real but not Tue

This Monday Miles will facilitate.  He shares:

 

The World Has Many High Bridges For Us To Cross

 

Beginning with Thay's excellent teaching on dealing with fear (and other strong feelings), the topic for Monday's discussion takes another step along this path with the sharing of an intelligent and beautiful dharma talk by the Tibetan (now American too) Buddhist teacher Tsoknyi Rinpoche.  

 

Key background is Thay's teaching that, in the throes of fear, 

 

"You calm your feeling just by being with it, like a mother tenderly holding her crying baby...You cannot hold your baby all the time and therefore you have to look in to him, to see the cause of what is wrong."

-from Peace is Every Step

 

Sometimes our fear and our other strong feelings, seem a lot more powerful than a little baby even though, they sometimes act like one.  

 

In an engaging and even funny talk available here, Rinpoche describes beginning to cross a mostly glass skyway at great height linking two tall buildings.  Suddenly hundreds of feet off the ground, fear gripped him, and he was unable to proceed: should I ask my monk friend to carry me across the skyway?  Jests aside, his cognitive mind (the neocortex) knew it was safe to proceed because other people were happily doing so, but his amygdala (reptilian brain) would have none of it.  Frozen there for a long time, an approach occurred to him; his neocortex "texted" his amygdala, saying "real but not true"-that is, accepting that the fear was real but was based on an inaccurate assessment/perception.  This message from the cognitive mind to the subtle body was wrapped in an envelope of lotus flowers! 

 

The lotus envelope showed the kindness and non-judgment of the cognitive mind towards the powerful feelings of the amygdala-reptilian brain. Kindness was the key, and the message "real but not true" had to be sent many, many times to really get through. Like Thay's mindful mother "holding the baby", Rinpoche dropped into his body, did not suppress, did not judge, and did not walk away.  Realizing that the fear stemmed from residue of his early life that he tried to comprehend, on the skyway he stayed with his fear and said: I am with you, but I am not joining with you.  So he had compassion for his fear, not empathy; that is, he did not merge with his fear.  There is a dance between being kind and not joining.  Kindness from the cognitive mind opens the emotional mind.  This builds trust, and transformation might happen--at the least, the lotus-enveloped message may get through: "real but not true."  Rinpoche indeed finally crossed the bridge and lived to tell this story.  

 

On Monday, we can all share our stories of crossing.  

May 15 Continuing our Parents

This week, Annie will facilitate. 

As Sunday is mother's day, we will read together the following excerpt from a dharma talk given by Thay Thich Nhat Hanh in 1997 about how we continue our parents. After that, we will have time to share our reflections of our parents and both the habit energies and the wisdom they have passed down to us.   
 

The full text of the talk is here.  Also a poem for Mother's Day by Maya Angelou is at the bottom of the email. 

 

Much love,

annie.
 

The habit energy is transmitted from generation to generation. The only way is to recognize that you are just the continuation of your father, your mother; you are him, you are her, and you are determined to practice to liberate you, to liberate him at the same time. That is your blood ancestor. Your ancestors have transmitted to you many positive seeds, but also many negative seeds. It is up to you to practice to develop the positive seeds and to diminish and to transform the negative seeds. The essential is to learn how to do it, learning from the Dharma, learning from the Sangha.

 

We know that the practice here is to cultivate mindfulness to be able to recognize the tendency, the habit energy, every time it begins to show itself. Not fighting, not suppressing, but just recognizing and embracing it with the energy of mindfulness so that it will not continue its course of destruction. If you allow it to go on its way, there will be damage done to you and to the people you love. You did not want to say that, you did not want to do that, but you said that, you did that anyway because you don't know how to take care of that habit energy. That is why there must be continued practice in order to generate the energy of mindfulness for the recognition and transformation of this habit energy.

 

And then there are your children and your grandchildren, your blood children. You know that they have inherited some of your habit energies. The habit energies you have received from your ancestors and also have transmitted to them. In each cell in your body you can find everything. Each cell of our body contains all the habit energies of all generations of ancestors.

 

You have heard of the techniques of cloning, and now we are in a position to be able to clone humans. They just take one cell and arrange to have that cell be in a position to reproduce another you. And that once again proves the teaching of the Buddha to be very close to the scientific findings of our times, that one contains the all. That is the teaching of the Avatamsaka, that one contains the all. So one cell in our body can contain the whole universe, can contain all our former generations, our ancestors. So you have transmitted all of that to your children and grandchildren. You don't know. It's very quick. But you have transmitted millions and millions of things to them in just one second or less. The positive and the negative at the same time you have transmitted. You are a link between your ancestors and your children. You have received and your have transmitted. You know that your children, if they are lucky, they will meet someone to help them to nourish the positive things and to transform the negative things. Otherwise, they'll carry you very far into the future without any chance of transformation and healing.

 

If you have the chance to practice, to do the work of transformation and healing, you may be able to help your child, your children, your grandchildren to do so. Because, if you are the continuation of your ancestors, your children are a continuation of you and you help link your children with your ancestors. You help your ancestors to link with your children.

 

The same thing is true with our spiritual ancestors. When I teach a young monk or a young nun or a young lay person, I always have the image that that young person is going to continue me and to continue my spiritual ancestors. So that the main thing for me to do is to transmit the best things I have received from my spiritual ancestors, only. I survive with my disciples. They will be my continuation. That is why I focus so much attention and energy and time and love toward the teaching, because that is the only way to be kind to my ancestors' transmission, transmitting the best.

 

When you practice meditation, which means to practice looking deeply into yourself, you see that your ancestors are still there in you. They are still there in you, alive, just because you are there. Look at this hand. You will say that this is my hand. Right, but not enough. This is also the hand of my mother. This is also the hand of my father. This is the hand of my ancestor. Remember when you were a small child. You had a fever and your mother came and she put her hand on your forehead, and felt so good. Your mother may have passed away, and you remember that lovely hand, that gentle hand, and you miss it. Still, if you look deeply into your hand, you see this is also your mother's hand. "Breathing in, I know this is also the hand of my mother. Breathing out, the hand of my mother is on my forehead." So, the hand of your mother is still available at any time. The hand of your father, the hand of your ancestors is always available, because your hand is there.

 

The idea of me and mine may be an obstacle. Yes, there is me, there is mine, but this is also him and his, her and hers. That is the fruit of the practice of looking deeply. This hand is also the hand of the Buddha. These feet are also the feet of the Buddha, because without the Buddha, I would not be able to make peaceful steps on this planet and to get the nourishment I need and all of us need. Without the Buddha, without my teachers, how could I have been able to walk peacefully with stability, with freedom and solidity, and with joy? This foot is my foot. This foot is also my mother's, my father's and of the Buddha's. Where else do I have to go to find my mother, my father and the Buddha? No, I don't have to go anywhere. I just touch myself deeply and I touch them all. They are always alive in me.

 

If you practice like that, alienation will no longer be a problem. You think you are too alone. Everyone has let you down. No, that is not true. That is an imagination. That is an illusion. The Buddha is always with you and Jesus is always with you. Your ancestors are always with you, your children also. They are always with you. Touch yourself and you can already touch your children. When you contemplate a lemon tree in spring, although you don't see any lemons yet, you may see some lemon blossoms, but you know the lemons are already there. Because the lemon tree is there, the lemon blossom is there, the lemons are there as fruit. 

 

So, even if you are a young person, you are not married yet, but if you touch yourself deeply, you can already see your children and grandchildren. A young monk, a young nun, who hasn't become a teacher, if he or she practices well, and she can touch herself and see already the presence of her disciples and grand disciples and great grand disciples in her. So, touching the present, you touch all the past and you touch all of the future, because the present moment includes all the past and all the future. If you touch one cell of your body, you touch all of your ancestors and you touch all your children and their grandchildren...


First you might think that some of your ancestors are not to your liking. They made mistakes. They did wrong things. Yes, they made mistakes, they did wrong things; but they are your ancestors. Your parents are your youngest ancestors. They may have done wrong to you and to other people, but they are your ancestors, your parents. You, yourself, you are not perfect. You have done good things, yes, but you have done also wrong things: to you, to your ancestors and to your children. Who are you not to accept them as your ancestors, as your parents? The ancestors, I know, some of you are perfect. I can look up to as my example, but some of you were weak and have made mistakes, but I recognize all of you as my ancestors. Because in myself, I realize that I have strength and also weaknesses. I also make mistakes. I also make people suffer; so who am I not to accept you? So you accept your parents, you accept your ancestors. So you feel much better.

---
 

Mother, A Cradle to Hold Me by Maya Angelou

 

It is true

I was created in you.
It is also true
That you were created for me.
I owned your voice.
It was shaped and tuned to soothe me.
Your arms were molded
Into a cradle to hold me, to rock me.
The scent of your body was the air
Perfumed for me to breathe.

Mother,
During those early, dearest days
I did not dream that you had
A large life which included me,
For I had a life
Which was only you.

Time passed steadily and drew us apart.
I was unwilling.
I feared if I let you go
You would leave me eternally.
You smiled at my fears, saying
I could not stay in your lap forever.
That one day you would have to stand
And where would I be?
You smiled again.
I did not.
Without warning you left me,
But you returned immediately.
You left again and returned,
I admit, quickly,
But relief did not rest with me easily.
You left again, but again returned.
You left again, but again returned.
Each time you reentered my world
You brought assurance.
Slowly I gained confidence.

You thought you know me,
But I did know you,
You thought you were watching me,
But I did hold you securely in my sight,
Recording every moment,
Memorizing your smiles, tracing your frowns.
In your absence
I rehearsed you,
The way you had of singing
On a breeze,
While a sob lay
At the root of your song.

The way you posed your head
So that the light could caress your face
When you put your fingers on my hand
And your hand on my arm,
I was blessed with a sense of health,
Of strength and very good fortune.

You were always
the heart of happiness to me,
Bringing nougats of glee,
Sweets of open laughter.

I loved you even during the years
When you knew nothing
And I knew everything, I loved you still.
Condescendingly of course,
From my high perch
Of teenage wisdom.
I spoke sharply of you, often
Because you were slow to understand.
I grew older and
Was stunned to find
How much knowledge you had gleaned.
And so quickly.

Mother, I have learned enough now
To know I have learned nearly nothing.
On this day
When mothers are being honored,
Let me thank you
That my selfishness, ignorance, and mockery
Did not bring you to
Discard me like a broken doll
Which had lost its favor.
I thank you that
You still find something in me
To cherish, to admire and to love.

I thank you, Mother.
I love you.

May 8 Accepting What Is

On Monday, Marie will facilitate.

 

She shares:

 

Over the last few weeks, I've had an opportunity to practice surrendering - a lot.  I had shoulder surgery, and, in order to maximize healing, I'm not using my left arm for three months.  

 

I am fortunate.  My family and friends have lovingly supported me in a myriad of ways; I have no reason to do anything "useful".  Despite the invitation/admonition to surrender, parts of me have rebelled.  The deeper I looked, the more I learned about myself - including my ego and my practice.  A dear friend came to visit and brought me a wonderful, and wonderfully timely book by Anam Thubten, No Self, No Problem.  In this book, Anam Thubten illuminates the path of going beyond the misconceptions of the ego to experience the reality of our true nature, which is already enlightened.

 

"Each of us has a strong desire to live a life free from all unwanted conditions: illness, misfortune, old age, and death.  As long as we are living in this human form it is impossible to have a life that is completely free from the conditions that we don't want: old age, illness, and other kinds of problems...

 

This primal desire for perfect conditions is a complex mixture of our instinctual impulse for physical comfort and our unconscious drive to be free from anything that even remotely reminds us of our fragility and mortality. As a result each of us constantly fantasizes about having an utterly perfect existence. We want to be in a paradise, in a heaven free from every circumstance we don't want to face. In all of human history, no one has actualized that kind of a life. Still we maintain and feed this childish fantasy that if we fight hard enough against reality, then sooner or later we will achieve this idealized life, free from all unwanted conditions and situations. Some of us work very hard fighting against reality.

 

In the same way, when we think that we have conflicts and hindrances, most of the time we can never actually find out where these conflicts and hindrances are. That's because they are only found lingering in our consciousness. Our consciousness is like a factory where we create all kinds of imaginary problems. It is a big factory.  People always suffer either consciously or unconsciously because they mistakenly believe that if they fight against reality then they will be able to achieve their fantasies...

 

So now the question is, how are we supposed to deal with the outer conditions of everyday life?  The answer is: acceptance.  We have to learn how to accept what is...  As the great Tibetan saint Patul Rinpoche said,

 

"When your belly is full and the sun is shining upon you, you act like a holy person.  But when negativities befall you, then you act very ordinary."  When things are going in the opposite direction (from what we want), it is very hard to accept what is.  The spiritual precept, the discipline that we have to try to maintain in our heart in all situations, is learning how to stay open in each moment.  When we are not ready to accept, we are completely under the jurisdiction of ego, and we don't accept anything...

 

Ego is the problem.  Sometimes ego is very spoiled, like a child who is constantly throwing tantrums.  Sometimes ego doesn't accept where we are.  Sometimes ego doesn't accept who we are... So what do we do?  All we can do is accept that and learn how to surrender to the flow of all events. When we accept the way things are, we are able to love everything and everybody... Lack of acceptance is conflict.  Conflict is pain... It is spiritual illness.  As long as our hearts are tormented by that pain, we do not have the strength to give our heart to anything, and because of that, it is impossible to bring about inner awakening...  Enlightenment, you see, is just another name for boundless love.

 

Buddha taught that everything is emptiness. Problems of life, even though they appear unending and recurring, are emptiness... What is the true method of purification?  The method of effortlessness.

 

True meditation is nothing but the art of abiding, without effort, where you don't try to get rid of anything. If you leave your mind as it is, you will see that nothing can bind you. In that awareness of non-doing, your thoughts are like ripples and your basic consciousness is like the ocean.... 

 

According to the path of effortlessness, don't attach to any of the positive thoughts and don't try to remove or transform the negative thoughts.    Observe and watch them without being changed, just like you watch the waves rising and going back to the water. They all dissolved. Negativity dissolves and suffering dissolves if you can do that. This is a more subtle form of acceptance. This is called the way of abiding."

 

Over the next few days, notice how you respond to different conditions - to what extent do you accept what is?  When is it easier to "abide" and what helps that to happen?  How has this changed over time, and where are your "edges" - the sticking points where you resist and are in conflict with what is?   How has your practice changed the way that you relate to what is?

 

I hope you will join us.

 

Warmly,

 

Marie

May 1 Becoming Earth Holders

This week Bea will facilitate.  

She shares and excerpt of a beautiful article title "The World We Have" by Thich Nhat Hanh published by Lion's Roar on April 6, 2017.  To read the complete piece please go here.  
 

"Our planet Earth has a variety of life, and each species depends on other species in order to be able to manifest and to continue. We are not only outside of each other but we are inside of each other. It is very important to hold the Earth in our arms, in our heart, to preserve the beautiful planet and to protect all species. The Lotus Sutra mentions the name of a special bodhisattva: Dharanimdhara, or Earth Holder, someone who preserves and protects the earth.

 

Earth Holder is the energy that is holding us together as an organism. She is a kind of engineer or architect whose task is to create space for us to live in, to build bridges for us to cross from one side to the other, to construct roads so that we can to go to the people we love. Her task is to further communication between human beings and other species and to protect the Earth and the environment. It is said that when the Buddha tried to visit his mother, Mahamaya, it was Dharanimdhara who built the road on which the Buddha traveled. Although the Earth Holder bodhisattva is mentioned in the Lotus Sutra, there is not a chapter devoted entirely to her. We should recognize this bodhisattva in order to collaborate with her. We should all help to create a new chapter for her, because Earth Holder is so desperately needed in this era of globalization.

 

When you contemplate an orange, you see that everything in the orange participates in making up the orange. Not only the sections of the orange belong to the orange; the skin and the seeds of the orange are also parts of the orange. This is what we call the universal aspect of the orange. Everything in the orange is the orange, but the skin remains the skin, the seed remains the seed, the section of the orange remains the section of the orange. The same is true with our globe. Although we become a world community, the French continue to be French, the Japanese remain Japanese, the Buddhists remain Buddhists, and the Christians remain Christians. The skin of the orange continues to be the skin, and the sections in the orange continue to be the sections; the sections do not have to be transformed into the skin in order for there to be harmony.

 

Harmony, however, is impossible if we do not have a global ethic, and the global ethic that the Buddha devised is the Five Mindfulness Trainings. The Five Mindfulness Trainings are the path we should follow in this era of global crisis because they are the practice of sisterhood and brotherhood, understanding and love, the practice of protecting ourselves and protecting the planet. The mindfulness trainings are concrete realizations of mindfulness. They are non-sectarian. They do not bear the mark of any religion, particular race, or ideology; their nature is universal."

April 24 Five Mindfulness Trainings

This week Mary will facilitate.  

We will read the Five Mindful Trainings.  These trainings originated from the Five Buddhist Precepts and were updated by Thich Nhat Hanh.  
 
The Five Mindfulness Trainings are one of the most concrete ways to practice mindfulness. They are nonsectarian, and their nature is universal. They are true practices of compassion and understanding. All spiritual traditions have their equivalent to the Five Mindfulness Trainings.  Please go here for the source of our text.
 

(Bell)

The Five Mindfulness Trainings are not commandments or Buddhist dogma, they are offered as suggestions to support mindfulness practice by providing us with a compass with which to orient our lives. They represent a vision of all our spiritual ancestors for a global spirituality and ethic, and are a concrete expression of a path of wisdom and true love, leading to healing, transformation, and happiness for ourselves and for the world. To practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings is to cultivate a way of life which can remove all discrimination, intolerance, anger, fear, and despair. Following this way of life, we are not lost in confusion about our life in the present or in fears about the future.

 

Reverence For Life

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals.

 

I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.

 

(Bell)

True Happiness

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting.

 

I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to working in a way that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.

 

(Bell)

True Love

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society.

 

Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy. I will cultivate loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness which are the four basic elements of true love for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future

 

(Bell)

Loving Speech and Deep Listening

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations.

Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into its roots, especially in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to release the suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will make daily efforts, in my speaking and listening, to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.


(Bell)

Nourishment and Healing

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming.

 

I will practice looking deeply into how I take in edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to use alcohol, drugs, gambling, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will make every effort to consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and our Earth.


(Bell) (Bell)


Please take note that this Monday is Newcomers week! 

Also, next Saturday April 29th, join mindfulness practitioners from in the Washington DC and Baltimore areas in support of the People's Climate's March in Washington.  More information below in the announcement section of this newsletter.   

April 17 Deeper Understanding of the Four Noble Truths

This Monday Mary will facilitate.

 

Tonight we will discuss our experience and insights into the Four Noble Truths from an interesting vantage point. I highlight several questions to ponder before we meet.

 

Ever think about your connection to the four elements of air, fire, water, and earth?  Can you find these elements in your body?  Did you ever think of yourself as being changeable like the weather?

 

Pema Chodron in her book Awakening Loving-Kindness comments:

It's said that when we die, the four elements -- earth, air, fire, water -- dissolve one by one, each into the other, and finally just dissolve into space. But while we're living, we share the energy that makes everything, from a blade of grass to an elephant, grow and live and then inevitably wear out and die. This energy, this life force, creates the whole world. It's very curious that because we as human beings have consciousness, we are also subject to a little twist where we resist life's energies.

 

Ever wonder why our default setting seems to be to resist the flow of life's energies?

 

In the Buddha's first teaching - called the 4 noble truths - he talked about suffering.  The First noble truth says that it's part of being human to feel discomfort.  Nothing in its essence is one way or another.  All around us, the wind, the fire, the earth, the water are always taking on different qualities; they are like magicians.  We also change like the weather.  We ebb and flow like the tides, we wax and wane like the moon.  We fail to see that like the weather, we are fluid, not solid.  And so we suffer.

 

The Second noble truth says that resistance is the fundamental operating mechanism of what we call ego, that resisting life causes suffering. Traditionally it's said that the cause of suffering is clinging to our narrow view, which is to say, we are addicted to "me".  We resist that we change and flow like weather, that we have the same energy as all living things. When we resist, we dig in our heels.  We make ourselves really solid.   resisting is what's called ego.

 

Ever wonder what might happen if you stopped resisting? What if you were able to flow from one situation to the next, acting more like the weather?

 

The Third noble truth says that suffering ceases when we let go of trying to maintain the huge "me" at any cost.  This is what we practice in meditation. When we let go of the story line, we're left just sitting with the quality and energy of whatever particular "weather" we've been trying to resist.

 

Can you identify some repeating stories you tell yourself, drop the story line and try to identify the energy of whatever 'weather' you have been trying to resist?

 

The essence of the Fourth noble truth is that we can use everything we do to help us realize that we're part of the energy that creates everything.  If we learn to sit still like a mountain in a hurricane, unprotected from the truth and vividness and the immediacy of simply being part of life, then we are not this separate being who has to have things turn out our way. When we stop resisting and let the weather simply flow through us, we can live our lives completely.  It's up to us.

 

Can you stop resisting and insisting that the story work out the way you want it to and allow the weather to flow through you?

 

I encourage you to read the longer version of this excerpt below, stuffed full of beautiful teachings and insights. It may help to better understand from where all this resistance comes.

 

I look forward to sharing our 'weather' reports!

 

Warmly,

Mary

 

Awakening Loving-Kindness by Pema Chodron

Excerpt - Chapter 9

Weather and the Four Noble Truths

When the Buddha first taught, he could have taught anything. He had just waked up completely. His mind was clear and he experienced no obstacles -- just the vastness and goodness of himself and his life. The story goes, however, that it was difficult for him to express his experience; initially he decided not to teach because he thought no one would be able to understand what he was talking about. He finally decided that he would go out and he would teach because there were some people who would hear him. The interesting thing is that at first he didn't talk about the unconditional; he didn't talk about basic goodness, clarity, space, bliss, wonder, or openness. In the first teaching of the Buddha -- the teachings on the four noble truth -- she talked about suffering.

I've always experienced these teachings as a tremendous affirmation that there is no need to resist being fully alive in this world, that we are in fact part of the web. All of life is interconnected. If something lives, it has life force, the quality of which is energy, a sense of spiritedness. Without that, we can't lift our arms or open our mouths or open and shut our eyes. If you have ever been with someone who is dying, you know that at one moment, even though it might be quite weak, there's life force there, and then the next moment there is none. It's said that when we die, the four elements -- earth, air, fire, water -- dissolve one by one, each into the other, and finally just dissolve into space. But while we're living, we share the energy that makes everything, from a blade of grass to an elephant, grow and live and then inevitably wear out and die. This energy, this life force, creates the whole world. It's very curious that because we as human beings have consciousness, we are also subject to a little twist where we resist life's energies.

I was talking to a man the other day who has severe depression. When he gets depressed, he sits in a chair; he can't move. All he does is worry. He said that all winter long he sat in the chair, thinking that he ought to go bring the lawn mower out of the snow, but he just couldn't do it. Now that's not what I mean by sitting still. Sitting still, or holding one's seat, means not being pulled away from being fully right there, fully acknowledging and experiencing your life energy. So what happens? I can tell you my experience of it. I was sitting, doing the technique, when this bad feeling came along. Next thing I knew, I was thinking all kinds of things, worrying about something that's going to happen in September, worrying about who is going to take care of the minutest little details of something that's going to happen in October. Then I remembered: sitting still in the middle of a fire or a tornado or an earthquake or a tidal wave, sitting still. This provides the opportunity to experience once again the living quality of our life's energy -- earth, air, fire, and water.

Why do we resist our energy? Why do we resist the life force that flows through us? The first noble truth says that if you are alive, if you have a heart, if you can love, if you can be compassionate, if you can realize the life energy that makes everything change and move and grow and die, then you won't have any resentment or resistance. The first noble truth says simply that it's part of being human to feel discomfort. We don't even have to call it suffering anymore, we don't even have to call it discomfort. It's simply coming to know the fieriness of fire, the wildness of wind, the turbulence of water, the upheaval of earth, as well as the warmth of fire, the coolness and smoothness of water, the gentleness of the breezes, and the goodness, solidness, and dependability of the earth. Nothing in its essence is one way or the other. The four elements take on different qualities; they're like magicians. Sometimes they manifest in one form and sometimes in another. If we feel that that's a problem, we resist it. The first noble truth recognizes that we also change like the weather, we ebb and flow like the tides, we wax and wane like the moon. We do that, and there's no reason to resist it. If we resist it, the reality and vitality of life become misery, a hell.

The second noble truth says that this resistance is the fundamental operating mechanism of what we call ego, that resisting life causes suffering. Traditionally it's said that the cause of suffering is clinging to our narrow view. Another way to say the same thing is that resisting our complete unity with all of life, resisting the fact that we change and flow like the weather, that we have the same energy as all living things, resisting that is what's called ego.

Yesterday I began to be very curious about the experience of resistance. I noticed that I was sitting there with uncomfortable feelings in my heart and my stomach -- dread, you could call it. I began to recognize the opportunity of experiencing the realness of the four elements, feeling what it's like to be weather. Of course that didn't make the discomfort go away, but it removed the resistance, and somehow the world was there again. When I didn't resist, I could see the world. Then I noticed that I had never liked the quality of this particular "weather" for some reason and so I resisted it. In doing that, I realized, I re-created myself. It's as if, when you resist, you dig in your heels. It's as if you're a block of marble and you carve yourself out of it, you make yourself really solid. In my case, worrying about things that are going to happen is very unpleasant; it's an addiction. It's also unpleasant to get drunk again if you're an alcoholic, or to have to keep shooting up if you're a drug addict, or to keep eating if you have overeating addiction, or whatever it is. All these things are very strange. We all know what addiction is; we are primarily addicted to me.

Interestingly enough, when the weather changes and the energy simply flows through us, just as it flows through the grass and the trees and the ravens and the bears and the moose and the ocean and the rocks, we discover that we are not solid at all. If we sit still, like the mountain Gampo Lhatse in a hurricane, if we don't protect ourselves from the trueness and the vividness and the immediacy and the lack of confirmation of simply being part of life, then we are not this separate being who has to have things turn out our way.

The third noble truth says that the cessation of suffering is letting go of holding on to ourselves. By "cessation" we mean the cessation of hell as opposed to just weather, the cessation of this resistance, this resentment, this feeling of being completely trapped and caught, trying to maintain huge me at any cost. The teachings about recognizing egolessness sound quite abstract, but the path quality of that, the magic instruction that we have all received, the golden key is that part of the meditation technique where you recognize what's happening with you and you say to yourself, "Thinking." Then you let go of all the talking and the fabrication and the discussion, and you're left just sitting with the weather -- the quality and the energy of the weather itself. 

Maybe you still have that quaky feeling or that churning feeling or that exploding feeling or that calm feeling or that dull feeling, as if you'd just been buried in the earth. You're left with that. That's the key: come to know that. The only way you can know that is by realizing that you've been talking about it, turning it into worry about next week and next October and the rest of your life. It's as if, curiously enough, instead of sitting still in the middle of the fire, we have developed this self-created device for fanning it, keeping it going. Fan that fire, fan that fire. "Well, what about if I don't do this, then that will happen, and if that happens then this will happen, maybe I better get rid of such-and-such and get this and do that. I better tell so-and-so about this, and if I don't tell them that, surely the whole thing is going to fall apart, and then what will happen? Oh, I think I want to die and I want to get out of here. This is horrible and" Suddenly you want to jump out of your seat and go screaming out of the room. You've been fanning the fire. But at some point you think, "Wait a minute. Thinking." Then you let go and come back to that original fluttering feeling that might be very edgy but is basically the wind, the fire, the earth, the water. I'm not talking about turning a hurricane into a calm day. I'm talking about realizing hurricane-ness, or, if it's a calm day, calmness. I'm not talking about turning a forest fire into a cozy fire in the fireplace or something that's under your cooking pot that heats your stew. I'm saying that when there's a forest fire, don't resist that kind of power -- that's you. When it's warm and cozy, don't resist that or nest in it. I'm not saying turn an earthquake into a garden of flowers. When there's an earthquake, let the ground tremble and rip apart, and when it's a rich garden with flowers, let that be also. I'm talking about not resisting, not grasping, not getting caught in hope and in fear, in good and in bad, but actually living completely.

The essence of the fourth noble truth is the eightfold path. Everything we do -- our discipline, effort, meditation, livelihood, and every single thing that we do from the moment we're born until the moment we die -- we can use to help us to realize our unity and our completeness with all things. We can use our lives, in other words, to wake up to the fact that we're not separate: the energy that causes us to live and be whole and awake and alive is just the energy that creates everything, and we're part of that. We can use our lives to connect with that, or we can use them to become resentful, alienated, resistant, angry, bitter. As always, it's up to us.

April 10 Letting Go of Attachment to Our Views

This week, Annie will facilitate.  

In the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of Interbeing, Thich Nhat Hanh writes:

Aware of the suffering created by attachment to views and wrong perceptions, we are determined to avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. We are committed to learning and practicing non-attachment from views and being open to other's insights and experiences in order to benefit from the collective wisdom. 

Insight is revealed through the practice of compassionate listening, deep looking, and letting go of notions rather than through the accumulation of intellectual knowledge. We are aware that the knowledge we presently possess is not changeless, absolute truth. Truth is found in life, and we will observe life within and around us in every moment, ready to learn throughout our lives.

Studying this teaching over the years has begun to wear down my strong opinions and the tendency to think I know the "right" answer, or the "right" way to do something. But this habit of thinking I know the everlasting truth is strong, so it shows up again in various disguises -- politics, health, lifestyle. When it does, I often find suffering in its wake.

What really can we know for sure and what strongly held beliefs might be creating more suffering in our lives right now?  How can loosen our grip on, or even let go of some of them and what's it like to be without attachment to views?

After our meditation period, we can discuss all this and more!

Looking forward to being with you all,

Annie

 

Poem by  Sheri Hostetler
 
Instructions
Give up the world; give up self; finally, give up God.
Find god in rhododendrons and rocks,
passers-by, your cat.
Pare your beliefs, your absolutes.
Make it simple; make it clean.
No carry-on luggage allowed.
Examine all you have
with a loving and critical eye, then
throw away some more.
Repeat. Repeat.
Keep this and only this:
what your heart beats loudly for
what feels heavy and full in your gut.
There will only be one or two
things you will keep,
and they will fit lightly
in your pocket.