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.

April 3 Examining the Sensational Experience of our Emotions

This Monday Ben will facilitate.

He shares:

The Language of LIDDS.

I have found the Language of LIDDS very helpful for examining the sensational experience of my emotions. 

LIDDS stands for:

  • Location
  • Intensity
  • Direction
  • Depth
  • Size

Notice the difference between these two representations of anxiety.

When I write I feel anxiety.

Versus when I write:

When I write I feel sensation in my mid chest(location). It's not very intense but it's there.(intensity). It's not very deep in my body but it seems to move upward.(depth, direction) Its size is skinny and long, from my chest to my throat.(size)

The first is an expression of what I'm feeling with a word and the second is LIDDS.

The question I would like to address on Monday night is why being able to examine an emotional experience in term of its location, intensity, direction, depth, and size is valuable to the mindfulness practitioner.  If you would like to participate, I encourage you to bring an emotion with you in the form of a story you can share in with the group. And while you share your story, I encourage you to share your experience using the Language of LIDDS.  

Looking forward to sitting with you,

Ben

March 27 Loving Our Earth

This Monday Camille will facilitate.

Dear Sangha,

As Earth Day approaches on April 21, and the end of the Environmental film festival winds down, I become worried (as usual) about the changes in the environment brought about by our uses and misuses of this beautiful Planet.   I have given a lot of thought as to what I am doing to make this Earth a better place - and I find that I can easily judge myself and others about what we aren't doing, what we need to do and perhaps what we are doing wrong.  Hence I get frustrated and end up wallowing in my suffering about this.

I remembered reading Thich Nhat Hanh's book "Love Letter to the Earth" a while ago and decided it was a good time to reread it and perhaps find a way to help me work through my worry and frustration and once again appreciate that connection to Mother Earth.

In one of his letters Thay writes..."Dear Mother Earth:  I bow my head before you as I look deeply and recognize that you are present in me and that I'm a part of you.  I was born from you and you are always present, offering me everything I need for my nourishment and growth.  My mother, my father, and all my ancestors are also your children.  We breathe your fresh air.  We drink your clear water.  We eat your nourishing food.  Your herbs heal us when we're sick.  You are the mother of all beings."

"I promise to keep the awareness alive that you are always in me, and I am in you.  I promise to be aware that your health and well-being are my own health and well-being.  I know I need to keep this awareness alive in me for us both to be peaceful, happy, healthy, and strong."

These words of Thay's are some of his many words of wisdom that I would like to share with you on Monday night.  I am already feeling nourished just writing them down in this note to you as I look forward to seeing you all on Monday night.

Namaste, Camille

March 20 Letting Go of Fear

This Monday Alison will facilitate.

She shares:

This week's Monday night Opening Heart Mindfulness Community Sangha reading comes from Deborah Eden Tull, the founder of Mindful Living Revolution, who recently spoke on the topic of "Letting Go of Fear - Finding Courage in the Face of Uncertainty" at a Worldwide Insight dharma discussion on March 5, 2017.

"Even though we know fear does not serve us, we often allow it to stop or limit us. We might not even be aware of the ways it drives us and makes us smaller than we are. Though we might think we can control life, there is little we can actually control. If we are honest, we can say that the human experience involves some form of uncertainty and disappointment every single day. Death is the only thing we actually know with certainty will happen to us in this life.

We suffer when we resist our innate vulnerability and view it as a weakness, rather than embrace it with acceptance.  We try to build scaffolding and protection in the form of future planning, goal-setting, and gated communities to cope with the innate uncertainty with which we live. We have myriad ways to guard against, defend, escape, protect ourselves, and turn away from the vulnerability that is actually the key to our authentic power and our shared compassion for one another.

Each time we turn away from vulnerability, we give away our power to a story that we are not adequate to meet our life experience.  The surrounding environment we create for ourselves-with its walls, barricades, and defenses-reflects our fears and therefore reinforces states of fear. We live in a vulnerable state, yet by avoiding this reality we are never put in touch with the resilience of our deeper being.

Meditation teaches us how to relate to fear in an entirely different way.  It gives us the choice to see fear (False Evidence Appearing Real) clearly and to cultivate the equanimity and courage that is our birthright.

When we first come to meditation, even the groundlessness of awareness can seem frightening.  We are frightened by the possibility of letting go and expanding our experience of self.  Meditation can at first seem like sitting outside in the dark at night, but gradually we become curious about the darkness around us.  We learn to pay subtle attention as we sit in the dark, and to care for ourselves.  By continuing to sit with groundlessness, something within us changes, and the world around us changes too.  We begin to feel connected to the darkness, and rather than being fearful, we turn to greet fear with open curiosity.

I have been struck by the degree to which fear's volume has been turned up in my community and in our world. Whether it is personal fear of "How can I make it in a challenging economy?" or "What will become of what appears to be the rise of fascism in both the US and Europe?", it is my hope that we will see the invitation being offered, the invitation to transform our relationship with fear. Questions that I find helpful to ask are:

  • What if we did not take fear - or the sensations and thoughts associated with fear - personally? 

  • What does fear actually serve? 

  • How can we remember to pause and turn within in the face of fear, in order to access stillness and clarity?  

  • How can we cultivate authentic courage? And how can we both welcome and embrace fear while choosing courageous action?

I offer this teaching in Lovingkindness, 

Deborah Eden Tull"

 

You can find Ms. Tull's entire talk on this topic on March 5, 2017 at the Worldwide Insight website

I look forward to seeing everyone on Monday night!  Stay warm!

Alison

March 13 The Five Touchings of the Earth

On Monday Marie will facilitate.  

She shares:

Last Monday, we talked about our emotions and explored ways of taking care of them.  Several people talked about how their emotions have been influenced by previous generations, and tomorrow, we will build on this theme.  

On Monday night, we will practice the Five Touchings of the Earth, a guided meditation that gives us an opportunity to contemplate what has been transmitted to us by our blood, spiritual and land ancestors.  We can use this practice to selectively water the seeds in our consciousness, celebrating the wholesome seeds and transforming those that need to be transformed.   

If you are joining us on Monday, I invite you to reflect on your ancestors - be they family members, spiritual teachers, or people from your country/place of origin.  To what extent do you share their traits, emotions and/or ways of behaving?  Of these, which cause you suffering and which cause you joy?   Familiarizing yourself with these "well watered seeds" - or patterns - may help you to experience the guided meditation in more powerful ways.

 

If you would like to learn more about the Touchings of the Earth, please visit this Plum Village here

 

I look forward to being with you on Monday night.

 

Marie

March 6 How do we Take Care of our Fear, Anger and Sadness?

Dear Friends,

 

This week Annie will facilitate. 

 

All of us have felt fear, sadness, or anger, from time to time, and right now it seems that many of us are feeling these things even more. These kinds of strong feelings arise without warning and sometimes we don't know what to do with them.

 

Strong emotions have a lot to teach us about what's most important to us and what our past conditioning has been. The downside of fear, anger and sadness are that if we don't know how to take care of them, they can hijack us. This hijacking can leave us stuck in the painful emotions or cause us to act out in ways that don't serve us or those around us, which then pulls us right back into our painful emotions.

 

Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) often talks about how to take care of and transform our strong emotions that arise and often hijack us. In an interview with Oprah he described it this way:

 

"So you recognize that fear. You embrace it tenderly and look deeply into it. And as you embrace your pain, you get relief and you find out how to handle that emotion. 

 

And if you know how to handle the fear, then you have enough insight in order to solve the problem. The problem is to not allow that anxiety to take over. When these feelings arise, you have to practice in order to use the energy of mindfulness to recognize them, embrace them, look deeply into them. 

 

It's like a mother when the baby is crying. Your anxiety is your baby. You have to take care of it. You have to go back to yourself, recognize the suffering in you, embrace the suffering, and you get relief. And if you continue with your practice of mindfulness, you understand the roots, the nature of the suffering, and you know the way to transform it."

 

When I first heard him talk about embracing our emotions like a crying baby, I thought it made sense, but I wasn't sure exactly how to do it. What helped me, and what I practice now, is a combination of Thay's teaching and the practice called Inner Relationship Focusing. Like sitting meditation, it's a practice we can turn to again and again whenever we feel triggered and caught in our reactivity. 

 

Monday we will go through some simple steps that I use to notice, care for, validate and transform fear, anger and sadness.  The practice below often, but not always, helps me move out of stuckness and reactivity, and act in clear and concrete ways that reflect my deepest intentions to benefit to all beings and not add more suffering to the mix.

 

Here are the basic steps:

 

(1) Pay attention to the crying baby of suffering -- the fear, anger or sadness triggered by whatever is happening. Turn toward the suffering especially as it manifests in your body.

 

(2) Embrace the emotion with compassion toward the part of you that is feeling scared, angry or sad. Identify with the larger You who can hold the smaller part of you that is in pain -- just as when a baby cries, the first think you do is pick it up and cradle it. Right away you will feel a little better.

 

(3) Find out what it needs. As you hold the reactive emotion, you can see what it is really wanting or not wanting for you. There's a reason it's crying. It may be as simple as it wanting you to know how it feels. Or it may be worried that if you don't act you will be hurt, or perhaps it doesn't feel cared for. A baby can't tell us directly what is wrong, and in the same way parts will need us to pay gentle and close attention if we are to understand why this part feels so reactive.

 

(4) Empathize. Once you have embraced the part and understood why it is so upset, you can empathize with it. Given the limited information and understanding that this reactive part has, it's no wonder that it is scared, angry or sad. Just as you would do with a small child, you can let your part know that you understand why it feels the way it does. At the same time, you stay present in mindfulness which allows you to see that more is possible.

 

(5) Act from presence. If you are settled in your mindful presence -- the parent holding the baby -- and you have taken the time to understand why this part is scared, angry or sad, your decisions will be made with confidence and clarity, instead of being controlled by the fear, anger or sadness. This practice doesn't take away the feelings, it just means you don't identify with the feelings as who you are. Instead, you are the one who can hold the scared, angry or sad parts and still live your life from your deepest intentions.

 

After walking meditation, Annie will offer a guided meditation to help us recognize and embrace our strong emotions, especially our fear, anger and sadness. After that, we will have time to share about the strong emotions we are dealing with right now, and how we can work with them to guide us into skillful action rather than hijack us into unskillful action or despair. 

 

I look forward to seeing you all there. It's the first Monday of the month, so we will have a 30 minute newcomer's session from 6:15-6:45 pm. If it's your first time in the group or you want a refresher, please join us!

 

With love,

Annie.

February 27 Can We Save Compassion?

This week Annie will facilitate. 

 

This morning on twitter, The Death of Compassion is trending. It's based on an article by Charles M. Blow of The New York Times, in which Mr. Blow shares his opinion about the ways in which the current conservative coalition is showing even less compassion than during the Reagan era. He also suggests that because "the Trump phenomenon is devoid of compassion" we [I'm assuming he is referring to we liberals and progressives] need not try to find any compromise points with those who "promote and defend bigotry, misogyny and xenophobia." 

 

As mindfulness practitioners and students of the Buddha, our practice is based on compassion. What do you think about what Mr. Blow writes? If both sides give up on compassion, what happens next?

 

On Monday, after our sitting period, we will listen to an excerpt from a talk by the esteemed Dr. Jan Willis, who in addition to being an author and a professor of Religion at Wesleyan University, is also a teacher and scholar, practitioner (for more than 40 years) and teacher of Tibetan Buddhism.  

 

In her talk, Dr. Willis talks about the 8th century Buddhist monk and philospher Shantideva and his teachings on The Way of the Bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva is someone who travels on the path of liberation not only for their own benefit, but for the purpose of liberating all beings. She or he, generates bodhicitta through mindfulness practice and lives guided by compassion or the wish to alleviate the suffering of all living beings. For an excerpt from The Way of the Bodhisattva please go to the bottom of the newsletter.
 

Shantideva says:

 

"May the supreme and precious bodhichitta

Take birth where it has not yet done so;

Where it has been born may it not decrease;

Where it has not decreased may it abundantly grow."

 

Dr. Willis differentiates between metta, or loving kindness -- the wish for all beings to be happy -- and bodhicitta, the mind of enlightenment which wishes for all beings to be free of suffering. She says that bodhicitta arises naturally from our insight into the nature of interdependence, or as Thich Nhat Hanh says, our inter-being.

 

Here's is one way in which I practice contemplating the arising of bodhicitta (as they say, Buddhists love lists):

 

(1) I am not responsible for this whole universe because I am just one light in a sky full of stars, I am not better than or more important than anyone else.

(2) I am also not not responsible for the universe because I am just as capable as the next person. I am no less than anyone else.

(3) And, I am not equally responsible for the universe because I am not separate from anyone else.

(4) My freedom is only possible when others are free as well. If one being anywhere is suffering, then I will suffer either now or at some future point. It's in my best interest to help others awaken. And yet, #1, 2, and 3 are also true.

 

Dr. Willis goes on in her talk to discuss how it feels when we have that bodhicitta. She describes a moment in which she was a young girl and choking on food. Her mother rushed in, reached down her throat, got the food out, stood up and promptly passed out. This is a moment in which her mother had bodhicitta. She was fully aware that her life was bound up in the life of her child. Shantidva says this about how we feel when we are in that state:

 

"All the joy the world contains

Has come through wishing happiness for others.

All the misery the world contains

Has come through wanting pleasure for oneself."

 

Could it be that we are actually at our happiest when we are aware of and acting out of inter-being?  Not putting ourselves first, last or equal, but seeing how we are integral to the whole with everyone and everything else.

 

After we listen to some of what Dr. Willis has to say, we can discuss bodhicitta and the "Death of Compassion." How might you revive compassion and generate bodhicitta in your life? Do you want to? How have you done so in the past? Do you feel resistance to any of the four parts of bodhicitta I suggested above? What else are you thinking about these days with regard to compassion, your life, and the universe?

 

I look forward to connecting with you on Monday.

 

Much love,

annie

February 20 Strong As a Mountain: Staying Rooted in the Midst of Chaos

This Monday, Ben is facilitating.  He shares:

 

Dear OHMC community, allow me to reintroduce myself.  It has been over a year since I have facilitated a sitting.  My littlest has just turned one and bedtimes are no longer such a fight, so here I am.  My post is themed after this Spring's Opening Heart Mindfulness retreat titled:

 

Strong As a Mountain: Staying Rooted in the Midst of Chaos

 

Below is a story of chaos and how I rooted myself in the practice of mindfulness to manage the situation.  I encourage you to read the story but if you don't have the time, know that it ends with gratitude.  

 

For discussion on Monday please consider how mindfulness has made you strong as a mountain and are you able to find gratitude in the midst of chaos?

 

Speaking of chaos, both of my daughters are developing ways to fight against their parents and each other to get what they want.  Allegra has become a negotiator.  Even at the age of three she can come up with clever deals that enable her to get what she wants.  Before it was body language now she has become more sophisticated.  Lilliana doesn't have language yet so when she wants something, it's all body language and sound.  

 

For the most part, their fight doesn't bring out the fight in me.  There are times however when it does.  The other day I was drained, totally whipped out.  Allegra wouldn't brush her teeth, Lilliana was not going to sleep, and I had had enough.

 

I knew I had had enough because my body said so.  My experience in that moment was a surge that collapsed and expanded inside and up and down the front of my spine.  The outward surge came forth has a harsh "Allegra, that's enough", the inward collapse was the feeling of despondence, a downward, heavy, dirty, yucky, tired, brown, murky, feeling.  Not unfamiliar, this feeling came with memories of other times I've felt this way, and in a flash this moment was every moment I've ever felt this way to include times when I have been truly depressed and full of self loathing.  I had had enough and enough being enough meant that it was time to force the issue in my favor.  Daddy is stronger and more powerful and you will do as I say!!!

 

At that point Allegra began crying, that woke up Lilliana who my wife had almost gotten to sleep, and she began crying.  The collapsing feeling got company.  Shame.  

 

So here's the picture.  On the outside I've got two kids crying.  One kid has to brush her teeth and put on PJs, the other is now awake and crying.  On the inside there is a kinda turmoil.  My thoughts recognize my problem.  In a flash an internal environment erupted.  My management of my internals failed and I projected them on my children.  This failed to remedy the situation and made it worse.  My mind is flashing memories of other times I've fallen into similar situations, and now I'm getting hit with shame: I teach people mindfulness for Pete's sake.  I am on the losing end of this situation and all this has happened in under a minute.

 

Knowing I was getting my butt kicked by my life in the moment, I did the first thing I could think of, I grabbed the blue whale shaped water bucket and began making a really big waterfall in the tub.  The weight of the water in my hand, the sound of the water splashing down into the tub shifted the moment.  Allegra stopped crying, curious of the sight and sound of falling water.  I focused on the feeling of the changing weight of the bucket as the heaviness disappeared as the water emptied.  I made my spine a little straighter, I took a deep breath.  As Allegra stopped crying so did Lilliana.  My focus on the present disrupted my internals, and I began taking steps back to neutral.  

 

After the girls went down I began the process of reassessing the situation.  I should have done this, and I should have done that.  But then I remembered.  I felt the blanket with my toes.  I felt the pillow with the back of my head.  I felt my breath.  I felt the movement of air up and down in my throat.  I recognized the draw of my energy to think, to analyze, but I choose to be grateful.  I started small, the blanket, the mattress, the pillow, then I got bigger more sophisticated I started languaging in my mind the way this chaos brought out the practice, and how the practice led me to gratitude.  Before I fell asleep I felt gratitude for the chaos.

February 13 Dealing with the Knots of Anger

This Monday Bea will facilitate.  

She shares:

 

This week I would like to share with you some thoughts about anger. Lately I have been experiencing a lot of anger and this is starting to wear me down. I have been angry at someone I consider a close friend because she does engage politically the way I want her to engage. She does not read the news, does not call her members of Congress, does not write letters to denounce what is happening, and does not seem bothered by what I am perceive to be a direct attack on our individual and collective rights. I have also been angry at some of my co-workers because they do not understand the challenging position I am in and make it worse by micromanaging me. I have felt anger towards my daughter because her grades are not where I think they should be, and at my new dentist because I have been having a toothache ever since she replaced a filling. I am also angry at Metro because my daily commute is a nightmare, prices keep going up and service gets worse. The list could go on and on. So you see? This is quite exhausting. I am tired of being angry and of justifying my anger by passing judgment on others. All I want to do is sleep and make the anger and the suffering that comes from it go away...

 

Thich Nhat Hanh talks about loosening the knots of anger through mindful practice. As I was perusing the Lion's Roar website, I came across an article on this very subject. Thay talks about transforming the pain within ourselves as a necessary step to find happiness. According to the Buddha's teachings, he writes, the most basic condition for happiness is freedom. Freedom from the mental formations of anger, despair, jealousy and delusion. These mental formations are described by the Buddha as poisons. As long as these poisons are in our heart, happiness cannot be possible.

 

Thay gives us concrete instructions on how to transform the craving, anger and confusion within us. He talks about Knots of Anger and says that,

 

"In our consciousness there are blocks of pain, anger and frustration called internal formations. They are also called knots because they tie us up and obstruct our freedom. When someone insults us or does something unkind to us, an internal formation is created in our consciousness. If you don't know how to undo the internal knot and transform it, the knot will stay there for a long time. And the next time someone says something or does something to you of the same nature, that internal formation will grow stronger. As knots or blocks of pain in us, our internal formations have the power to push us, to dictate our behavior.

 

After a while, it becomes very difficult for us to transform, to undo the knots, and we cannot ease the constriction of this crystallized formation. The Sanskrit word for internal formation is samyojana. It means "to crystallize." Every one of us has internal formations that we need to take care of. With the practice of meditation, we can undo these knots and experience transformation and healing. Not all internal formations are unpleasant. There are also pleasant internal formations, but they can still make us suffer. When you taste, hear or see something pleasant, then that pleasure can become a strong internal knot. When the object of your pleasure disappears, you miss it and you begin searching for it.

Pleasant or unpleasant, both kinds of knots take away our liberty. That is why we should guard our body and our mind very carefully, to prevent these knots from taking root in us."

 

Thay says that we need to treat anger with tenderness...

 

"Mindfulness does not fight anger or despair. Mindfulness is there in order to recognize. To be mindful of something is to recognize that something is there in the present moment. Mindfulness is the capacity of being aware of what is going on in the present moment. "Breathing in, I know that anger has manifested in me; breathing out, I smile towards my anger." This is not an act of suppression or of fighting. It is an act of recognizing. Once we recognize our anger, we embrace it with a lot of awareness, a lot of tenderness.

 

When it is cold in your room, you turn on the heater, and the heater begins to send out waves of hot air. The cold air doesn't have to leave the room for the room to become warm. The cold air is embraced by the hot air and becomes warm-there's no fighting at all between them.

 

We practice taking care of our anger in the same way. Mindfulness recognizes anger, is aware of its presence, accepts and allows it to be there. Mindfulness is like a big brother who does not suppress his younger brother's suffering. He simply says, "Dear brother, I'm here for you." You take your younger brother in your arms and you comfort him. This is exactly our practice.

 

To grow the tree of enlightenment, we must make good use of our afflictions, our suffering. Practitioners of meditation do not discriminate against or reject their internal formations. We do not transform ourselves into a battle field, good fighting evil. We treat our afflictions, our anger, our jealousy with a lot of tenderness. When anger comes up in us, we should begin to practice mindful breathing right away: "Breathing in, I know that anger is in me. Breathing out, I am taking good care of my anger." We behave exactly like a mother: "Breathing in, I know that my child is crying. Breathing out, I will take good care of my child." This is the practice of compassion.

 

If you don't know how to treat yourself with compassion, how can you treat another person with compassion? When anger arises, continue to practice mindful breathing and mindful walking to generate the energy of mindfulness. Continue to embrace tenderly the energy of anger within you. Anger may continue to be there for sometime, but you are safe, because the Buddha is in you, helping you to take good care of your anger. The energy of mindfulness is the energy of the Buddha. When you practice mindful breathing, and embrace your anger, you are under the protection of the Buddha. There is no doubt about it: The Buddha is embracing you and your anger with a lot of compassion.

 

When you are angry, when you feel despair, you practice mindful breathing, mindful walking, to generate the energy of mindfulness. This energy allows you to recognize and embrace your painful feelings. And if your mindfulness is not strong enough, you ask a brother or a sister in the practice to sit close to you, to breathe with you, to walk with you in order to support you with his or her mindfulness energy. Practicing mindfulness does not mean that you have to do everything on your own. You can practice with the support of your friends. They can generate enough mindfulness energy to help you take care of your strong emotions."

 

See you Monday evening.