October 16 Deep Listening

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This Monday night Mick will facilitate.

Last week a number of sangha members went to a weekend retreat taught by Anam Thubten. Among his many teachings,

one in particular stood out. Of the thousands of practices encountered on the spiritual path, he highlighted one particular practice of self inquiry. This practice involves coming back to the present moment and checking in with yourself many times a day to ask "what is the state of my mind?". This is an inquiry that can only be examined through the practice of

deep listening.With deep listening we can take this self inquiry a step further and deeper to observe and attend to the mind, thoughts and emotions. Throughout the course of each day, from the moment we awaken, until the moment that we fall asleep, we are inundated with inner and outer chatter. The consumption of what we hear and what we listen too has a profound effect on the state of our minds. There are days when our minds are like a ship at sea being tossed about by the waves. Mindfulness practice, and specifically the practice of deep listening can help us to find stillness amidst the waves.

Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) talks about engaging in deep or compassionate listening with the ones we love. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey he said:

 

 

Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty her heart. You don’t argue. If you do, she loses her chance. You just listen with compassion and help her to suffer less. One hour like that can bring transformation and healing.

 

The practice of deep listening is at the heart and the core of mindfulness practice. Thay teaches that your sitting practice is composed of, and generates mindfulness, concentration and insight. These three energies come about through learning to listen deeply to ourselves. Before we can be there to listen deeply to a loved one, we need to come home to ourselves and listen deeply. We can take the instructions for listening deeply to a loved one as instructions for ourselves. In a talk from 1991, Thay spoke again about deep listening and relieving suffering. 

 

We all know that if we love someone, if we truly want to make someone happy, the first thing we must cultivate is the art of listening, because listening is very healing. If we spend time listening to the pain of the person we love, he or she will be relieved. And listening without judging releases pain.

Practice listening with all our attention and open heartedness. We will sit and listen without any prejudice. We will sit and listen without judging or reacting. We will sit and listen in order to understand. We will sit and listen so attentively that we will be able to hear what the other person is saying and also what the other person is leaving unsaid. We know that, just by listening deeply, we alleviate a great deal of pain and suffering in the other person.’

 

Usually we are able to listen practice open hearted listening towards others more easily than towards ourselves. As we look into deep listening we can ask ourselves a few questions.

When and how do I listen to myself. Do I listen often? Without judging?  What do I do when I recognize the state of my mind?

When and how do I listen to the people in my life?  Do I listen often? Without judging? How do I respond or react when I listen to the people in my life.

 

I look forward to our sharing on deep listening this Monday night.

 

Below is a link with a 3 minute excerpt of Thay talking with Oprah about deep listening

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyUxYflkhzo

October 9 The Sacredness of Everything

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On Monday, Marie will facilitate.  She shares:

 

With tragedies unfolding across the world and across this country, I have been exploring practices that bring me peace, strength, and yes, dare I say it, joy.   In fact, experiencing peace and joy helps me to generate more strength and resilience.  But, how can we do this, in a world that is so full of suffering?   

 

In his book, Embracing Each Moment, Anam Thubten writes about "the sacredness of everything."  

 

"Sacredness is not as a belief system, it is a timeless truth.  It is always there, just like the clouds in the sky.  Just like the trees growing in the mountains, sacredness is always there.  It is part of existence.  The consequence of losing our connection with this truth can sometimes by quite dangerous.  And when we lose this understanding, we develop a mechanical relationship with the world, within as well as without.  We develop a mechanical relationship with ourselves and also with the outer world, the world of nature, and with humanity as a whole."

 

How can we feel this sacredness?  We can pause and step free of our machine-like mind.  "The moment you allow yourself to become completely aware of what you are doing, there is a pause in your consciousness.  In that pause, your conditioned mind is no longer operating there is a restudies, and if you allow yourself to be in that restedness, then you may feel this sacredness everywhere; the awareness of this sacredness becomes the true medicine."

 

As I've experimented with this teaching, I've discovered something I'll call an "invitation" to connecting with sacredness.  The invitations vary, depending the stimulus around me.  I might notice the colors of a dahlia in bloom as I walk to the car and then stop to drink in the beauty of that vision (instead of hurrying to the car).  Or, it could be listening to a child and realizing that, despite their words, what they really want is a cuddle (instead of a reaction to their words).  The more aware I am, the more invitations I see.  The more invitations I see (and accept), the more aware I am of the sacredness of everything.  And then, what really helps me is to seek out the invitations.  I might have read the newspaper, feel devastated and react with the mechanical mindset that Thubten describes.  However, if I seek out an invitation, I can reconnect with that sacredness and strengthen my connection with the world, inside and out. 

 

What "invitations" move you to connect with the sacredness that is always there?  I hope you will share these with us on Monday night.  Please feel free to bring something, if the "invitation" is tangible. 

October 2 Mindfulness and Nature

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This Monday Miles will facilitate.  

 

He shares this text written by Thay, and published in his book Love Letters to the Earth (2013). It is part of the practice of "Touching the Earth". 

 

"Touching the Earth" is the name Thay has given to the practice of combining a contemplative text with a deep, mindful, full-body prostration on the ground.

 

Touching the Earth is part of the daily mindfulness practice in Plum Village and in practice centers around the world, and is usually done after a session of sitting meditation. One person is a bell master, another person reads the text out loud, and the whole community touches the earth (makes a full body prostration) at the same time after having heard the text being read. We allow the words to fall gently like rain, and slowly penetrate our consciousness, where they can bring about insight, deep healing and transformation. 

 

Thay wrote: 
 

"Dear Mother Earth, EACH MORNING WHEN I WAKE UP you offer me twenty-four brand new hours to cherish and enjoy your beauty. Every miraculous life-form-the clear lake, the green pine, the pink cloud, the snow-capped mountaintop, the fragrant forest, the white crane, the golden deer, and the extraordinary caterpillar-each one has been born from you. So too has every brilliant mathematician, every skilled artisan, and gifted architect. And looking deeply I can see that it is you who are the greatest mathematician, you the most accomplished artisan, and you the most talented architect of all. A simple branch of cherry blossoms, the shell of a snail, or the wing of a bat-each bear witness to this amazing truth. It is my deep wish, dear Mother, to live in such a way that I am awake to each of your wonders, and nourished by your beauty. I cherish your precious creativity, and I smile to this gift of life."
 

Our Washington, DC, metro area has recently been enjoying beautiful fall weather. Later this month, many of the trees' leaves will burst forth in a hectic explosion of color. Walking outdoors in a park or some other natural setting is a wonderful way to awaken and bear witness to the beauty and brilliance of nature. (If we are not mindful of our natural surroundings, such as being glued to our "smart" phone, the positive effect is diminished.) Tuning in to nature's rhythms is to tune in to our own rhythms since we too are natural phenomena, and nature's rhythms often differ from those of our modern civilization. Thus returning to nature is to return to ourselves and will encourage our protecting it.  

On Monday we will explore how is being present in nature a meditation? How can we awaken to each of nature's wonders and nourish ourselves and others by her beauty?  What inspiring--not necessarily dramatic--experiences have we had in nature?

If you enjoy this practice, you may like to download the full PDF set of 10 Texts of Touching the Earth to Mother Earth.

 

This Monday, Oct 2nd is a Newcomers week.  

September 25 Love is What We DO

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This week Annie will facilitate.

 

 We will read the Five Mindfulness Trainings, and focus a on the third mindfulness training: True Love. (All Five Trainings at the bottom of this email). This topic is especially on my mind, as our first child is about to get married. What is True Love?

 

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

 

Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends.  I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. 

 

Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness - which are the four basic elements of true love - for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.

 

After the meditation period, we will read the trainings together and then listen to a portion of this conversation between bell hooks and Sharon Salzberg.  (we will listen from around minute 19, but it's really good and you might want to listen to it all!)

 

In this conversation, bell hooks shares about love and says, "The question of love is a question of what to DO." And this is very similar to the third mindfulness training which describes what we do to take care of our loved ones and the four elements of true love: loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness. How we love is about what we do, not how we feel.

 

bell hook's definition of love is acting with:

  • care 
  • commitment 
  • knowledge 
  • respect 
  • responsibility 
  • trust

After we listen to bell and Sharon, we will have the chance to listen and share about our own love relationships and what the most important aspects of love are for each of us. How do you define love and what do we DO for our intimate love relationships? 

 

I look forward to connecting with you then.

xo

annie.

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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.

September 18 Celebration and Determination

This Monday night Camille with facilitate.

 

She shares:

 

I have been thinking a lot about all the devastation that has been happening in the world recently - in particular, the natural disasters - the hurricanes in Texas and Florida, the floods in South Asia, and the fires in the west.  I have been thinking about what I should be doing and worrying about what I'm not doing.

 

Last Sunday at our Earth Holder Sangha gathering, we discussed the theme "Celebration and Determination" as a way to process the recent lost and devastation that so many have suffered from in the recent natural disasters of our beloved mother earth. The Earth Holder Sangha is an affinity group within the Plum Village Community that is guided by Buddhist ethics and inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings.  Their goal is to bring together a community that inspires a collective awakening for the future of our planet.  They aim to be more conscious and aware of how much the earth gives to us, and how we can give back to her.  I joined the group at a retreat in 2015 in hopes it would help my environmental activism is serving the earth and all beings.

 

I'm sure like me - many are trying to figure out how to celebrate and find determination amidst all the suffering.  So this is what I learned from that sangha and from various readings that are helping me sort it all out: 

 

One very positive way of thinking about celebration is to celebrate life and what's not wrong. This idea - as we have read many times in Thay's readings - can bring joy and happiness to all and help reduce suffering.  Maybe celebrating all the earth has given to us rather than focusing on all that she has taken away can help us find more gratitude. 

 

And as we overcome grief we can also celebrate.  Instead of focusing on ourselves with worry, we can also celebrate and give thanks as people come together to support those that will undoubtedly become stronger after this experience.

 

As for determination? It's the determination to face these events without anger and without grasping for results or outcome that we can connect further in the present moment and be with their pain and discomfort in order to see it clearly.  If I try not to rush or panic I will have more to offer to all.  If I take the time to stop and meditate, I can find that calm and determination that our facilitator was talking about.  But of course this is not always easy and often really hard for me to remember.

 

I have recently been reading Pema Chodron's book "When Things Fall Apart."  She has inspired me, as many teachers have, when she talks about meditation in the book and how the "very moment is the perfect teacher."  She says,

"How we stay in the middle between indulging and repressing is by acknowledging whatever arises without judgment, letting the thought simply dissolve, and then going back to the openness of this very moment. That's what we're actually doing in meditation.  Up come all these thoughts, but rather than squelch them or obsess with them, we acknowledge them and let them go.  Then we come back to just being here.  We simply bring our mind back home.  After a while, that's how we relate with hope and fear in our daily lives.  Out of nowhere, we stop struggling and relax.  We stop talking to ourselves and come back to the freshness of the present moment."

 

So with gratitude, appreciation and determination - I send love and light to all those who are suffering from these natural disasters and to our mother earth.

 

I look forward to seeing all of you and sharing a Plum Village song and some readings with you on Monday night.

 

In light and love,

 

Camille

September 11 A New Quality of Silence

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This week Fabiola will facilitate:

 

She shares:

 

This Monday night I would like to share Roger Cohen's beautiful op-ed piece in the New York Times on July 14, 2017 titled "Sons Without Fathers".  He writes:

 

"There is no preparation for the loneliness of a world from which the two people who put you in it have gone. The death of parents removes the last cushion against contemplating your own mortality. The cycle of life and death becomes internal, bone-deep knowledge, a source now of despair, now of inspiration. The earth acquires a new quality of silence."

 

My father passed away almost three months ago. Now, I really understand what Roger Cohen means when he writes that his life has acquired a "new quality of silence".  I find myself seeking silence more and more in my life.

 

I miss my father deeply.  This is not a new feeling for me.  I left the north of México 20 years ago.  So, my relationship with my father, was mostly the emotional umbilical cord that we shared.  My favorite moments with him where full of silence.  We would read the newspaper together, simply enjoying each other's presence.  We would share books.  He always had a stack of Spanish books ready for me.  We would take walks together, usually barely speaking.

 

He was an early riser, probably left over training from his years at the seminary.  When he was five years old, he left his parent's home and went to live among priests and friars. He spent the next seven years surrounded by prayer and the occasional bed-wetting.  I think this experience thaught him the value of silence.  He usually was up at 4:30am.  I know that he cherished these early hours of the day.  He always had a softness to his smile as he greeted us with a plate full of freshly cut papaya.

 

My father gave himself fully to his work and his family, he seldom used words to express his love for us.  It is ironic, because he spoke three languages.  I learned early on in my life that if I wanted to feel love by him, I needed to understand that he would not say it in words.  He would express his love in simple actions, never in grand gestures.  For him, love was an action not a word. 

 

I am so grateful to our sangha and the support it provides to my life.  It is interesting how Cohen uses the word "cushion" when he expresses what is removed from our life when we lose a parent.  For me, sitting on my cushion in the middle of my day, gives me so much comfort and strength to accept the uncertainty I feel.  It is not always easy to rock my baby of fear and loss.  These days, I sometimes must cling to my breath to be able to stay present.  Thankfully, silence softens me.

 

I think when Cohen writes that he sees the world as a "condemned man" is another way to say that he sees the world in the present moment.  The death of my father has connected me more with the sky and the trees and the sun.  I see now, that for us to be fully alive, we need to fully accept the certainty of death.  It has ignited my curiosity, and connected me with my dad.  His curiosity was one the quality I admired the most about him.  At his desk, you would find a copy of Facebook for Dummies next to an underlined copy of the Spanish translation of the Koran. 

 

On Monday night, I invite us all to share what makes us feel fully alive and present.  What makes us connect with the preciousness of life?  Do we mediate on the certainty of death, knowing it will come to us all?  Can we invite the light of impermanence into our lives in an active way? 

 

It is always a joy to facilitate our time together. I look forward to being among you all.

Fabiola

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Three Poisons: Anger, Greed and Ignorance


Anger, Greed, Ignorance

In Buddhist teachings, the term 'kilesa' (in Pali) or 'klesa/klesha' in Sanskrit, is translated as 'poison','defilement', 'affliction', or sometimes 'unwholesome root'. In any case, it refers to those states that most separate us from our own enlightenment, or awakening. Working to recognize these states as they arise in our consciousness, and to discover and release their roots in our psyche, is a foundation part of Buddhist practice.

 

As with most Buddhist concepts, exact teachings and translations differ between Buddhist branches. Some sutras mention 5 poisons, others 10, but the three poisons of anger, greed and ignorance are the most common, and considered the root poisons. They are the states that most clearly lead to suffering (dukkha) and obscure our recognition of our true nature. Each of them also has several 'companion', or associated, emotions and states:

 

Anger is associated with any rejecting or aversion-oriented emotion, such as hatred, animosity, being judgmental, hyper-critical, or easily irritated. These are all manifestations of 'otherizing' - separating ourselves from others and pushing something or someone away. The object of our aversion might even be an idea, as in the case of highly polemical political beliefs or other exclusionary belief systems.

 

Greed is related to any destructive desire or lust, covetousness, materialism, stinginess, possessiveness, jealousy, or a hoarding instinct. The operative words of this poison are 'must have','more' and 'mine'. When manifesting this state we are trapped in the idea that we must have something, or have more of it - whether a thing, a person, an addiction or an emotion - in order to be happy, and all else becomes lessened in our awareness.

 

Ignorance is at the root of all the poisons, and is built upon our basic misunderstanding of ourselves as separate and 'other' from our natural being, or enlightenment. Related states are delusion, passivity, being easily manipulated, and a lack of self-awareness.

 

We all have certain manifestations of these poisons that are our personal Achilles heel. Working deliberately to uproot them in our mind is an important part of the path. Doing so is not a matter of simply repressing them, or seeking to not express them by controlling our words or actions (although this can be a useful first step.) Instead, we need to honestly acknowledge them, and seek to clearly understand how they arise within ourselves. We need to recognize our triggers, and emotional patterns that contribute to them taking root. Meditation and mindfulness are important tools for helping gain the clarity and self-awareness required to do this practice.

 

Vajrayana or Tantric Buddhist lineages also focus on these poisons as energies that take root in our subtle or energy bodies through karma and conditioning, and include energy practices for releasing them from these levels. Some traditions include breathe-based meditation practices designed to help us specifically surface and release the energies of the three poisons from the subtle levels of our being. Chakra, or energy center, practices work in a similar way. The focus is not only on releasing blocks, but on transmuting the raw energy behind these emotions.

 

For example, when the raw, aggressive energy that is normally behind anger is cleared of negativity, it supports positive, assertive, balanced action in the world. When the clinging behind greed is cleared, the raw energy behind it supports an awareness of emptiness, or 'pure space', within which nothing is needed. And when the energy behind ignorance, or a sense of separateness, is dispersed, we are able to experience the bliss of oneness and a true knowledge of our interconnectedness with all.

 

These are simple examples, but they point to an important point when working with the three poisons - that it is important to not to get caught up in punishing ourselves, or guilt, but instead to focus on acceptance and self-knowledge. Meeting ourselves where we truly are at, starting from a place of acceptance, is a cornerstone of all Buddhist practice. Otherwise, we may repress negative emotions instead of releasing and dispersing them, and then we cannot own the corresponding gifts that can accompany true insight. The three poisons are part of the human condition, and although they may lead us to make mistakes in life, it isn't part of the Buddhist model to punish ourselves for them. Instead, we note when they arise, we practice, and we move forward, with increased lovingkindness towards both ourselves and others

September 4 Going back to Basics

This week Annie will facilitate.

 

We will be meeting on Labor Day, the first week of the new "year," so I thought we might go back to some basics: 

 

Why do we practice? What does it mean to practice

 

I learned from Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) that there are two parts to any meditation practice. The first part called samatha. To practice samatha is to stop and simply bring our mind back to our breathing, over and over again. This is what we start with when we sit on our meditation cushions.

 

As Thay describes so beautifully in his poem Froglessness (full poem at the bottom of my note): 

 

The first fruition of the practice

is the attainment of froglessness.

When a frog is put

on the center of a plate,

she will jump out of the plate

after just a few seconds.


Our mind jumps off the plate over and over again. So our first practice, samatha, is learning to come back to the plate, come back to the breath.

 

If that were all we ever did, we would find ourselves much calmer and more centered. But, we are cautioned by Zen masters, that is not enough. The deeper purpose of putting the frog back onto the plate is to understand the frog. What is driving the frog to jump? I have found this to be a very deep question.

 

Why are we thinking about our boss while we are sitting on the cushion? Why do we suddenly feel fear, anger, or sadness? Must I always jump when a thought arises? 

 

When we are able to bring our minds back to our breath, back to our experience in this very moment, we start to understand our minds, little by little. With understanding and with a loving and gentle touch, we can begin to transform the habits that have been causing suffering for ourselves and others.

 

This deep looking at our own minds is called vipasana. It's the second part of the practice. Although we need samatha in order to practice vipasana, we are continue practicing samatha in order to grow our ability to return the frog back to her plate. And we continue to watch our minds to see what thoughts, beliefs and feelings are controlling us in any given moment. We do both.

 

Noticing what is arising, we can say to ourselves, "This is what it feels like when anger arises" or "I'm noticing that I keep telling myself the story of my victimization." By simply noticing what is coming up, we loosen the grip of the thoughts and feelings, and we create more space for skillful words and action.

 

And as we develop more spaciousness, the goodness that lives in our heart-mind can arise naturally and take loving care of ourselves, our loved ones, and even those who we don't really like all that much. In doing so, we may be able to contribute a few drops of healing to the world. 

 

This is how I answer the question of how and why we practice. 

 

After our meditation period, we will have a chance to share our own experiences around meditation, how and why we practice. What inspires you to keep coming back to the cushion? Where have you sprinkled your drops of healing? What causes your frog to jump off the plate, and what brings her back?

 

I look forward to seeing you there.

much love,

annie.

 

p.s. Our community is looking for volunteers to be part of an "access team" to help us grow in our ability to be inclusive to all people who want to join us for meditation. Access team members' main job would be, during sangha, to ask who might need additional support such as more light, use of microphone, assistance getting up and down the stairs, a ride home, etc. and help pair people with the right solution. Please email me annie@rawmindfulness.com if you would like to join this group.

 

Newcomers week: If you are new, please arrive at 6:15 to have a short introduction to the logistics of the evening. 

 

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Froglessness

by Thich Nhat Hanh

 

The first fruition of the practice

is the attainment of froglessness.

When a frog is put

on the center of a plate,

she will jump out of the plate

after just a few seconds.

 

If you put the frog back again

on the center of the plate,

she will again jump out.

 

You have so many plans.

There is something you want to become.

Therefore you always want to make a leap,

a leap forward.

 

It is difficult

to keep the frog still

on the center of the plate.

You and I

both have Buddha Nature in us.

This is encouraging,

but you and I

both have Frog Nature in us.

 

That is why

the first attainment

of the practice--

froglessness is its name.

August 28 Five Mindfulness Trainings

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This week Mary will facilitate.

After meditation, we will recite the Five Mindfulness Trainings of Thich Nhat Hahn together. In our discussion period, we will focus on the the 4th training regarding mindful consumption. Reminder: these trainings were developed as supports to strengthen mindfulness, increase happiness and grow contentment in one's life. They are meant to be experimented with and evaluated as to the value they can add to one's life. (Go to the bottom of this newsletter for the full text of the trainings.)

In Buddhism, one practice is to employ an antidote as a way to undermine and uproot a negative habit energy or emotion. Greed is considered one of the three poisons. (Go to the bottom to read articule on Greed, Anger and Ignorance) that get in the way of our finding contentment and happiness. Greed is related to any destructive desire or lust, covetousness, materialism, stinginess, possessiveness, jealousy, or a hoarding instinct. The Dalai Lama says contentment is the true antidote to greed. Behind contentment often lies a sense of gratitude and a desire to be generous.

This week, I did an overdue cleaning of my meditation room. I got a lot of satisfaction perusing the stacks of dharma journals dating back 10+ years and dusting them off. Some I had read cover to cover when they arrived and others came at hectic times and had been barely opened. As I prepared to put them back into place, I got a little jolt. The voice said "why don't you select a few and pass the rest on to members of the sangha who might be interested and could benefit right now by reading them?" Someone said that when you give something precious to someone, that it tells that person you value them as precious.

I assembled a bag too heavy to lift of precious journals to pass along. By focusing on watering the seed of generosity in me, it loosened my grip a little on acquisition, stinginess and hoarding. I have a long, long way to go on acquiring less and letting go of more. It made me think about working more with antidotes to this and other habit energies I may have been born with and that have gotten too much watering and encouragement over the years. In Tai Chi, one redirects an opponent's energy and steps out of the way to bring a desired result. This indirect method of approaching greed by watering its antidotes of gratitude and generosity may end up being easier and more skillful to shift my paradigm. Maybe it could work with other deeply ingrained habit energies I have.

"...when you reflect upon the excesses of greed, you'll find that it leads an individual to a feeling of frustration, disappointment, a lot of confusion, and a lot of problems. When it comes to dealing with greed, one thing that is quite characteristic is that although it arrives by the desire to obtain something, it is not satisfied by obtaining. Therefore, it becomes sort of limitless, sort of bottomless, and that leads to trouble. One interesting thing about greed is that although the underlying motive is to seek satisfaction, the irony is that even after obtaining the object of your desire, you are still not satisfied. The true antidote of greed is contentment. If you have a strong sense of contentment, it doesn't matter whether you obtain the object or not; either way, you are still content." -- His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama (born 6 July 1935), from The Art of Happiness, The Right to Happiness; Inner Contentment

I look forward to hearing your experiences on working with consumption in its many cloaks and disguises. 

  • What has been your experience with finally attaining something that you have been desiring?

  • What is the influence of our culture on watering the seeds of greed?

Warm hugs,

Mary

August 21 Play the Ball Where the Monkey Dropped it

photo thanks to www.joesdaily.com

photo thanks to www.joesdaily.com

This week Annie will facilitate.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

So how do we do that? 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

I look forward to seeing you on Monday. 

xo

annie.

August 14 Nurturing Compassion in Order to Serve

This week Bea will facilitate.

 

She says:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

In Engaged Buddhism, Peace Begins with You
 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

August 7 Thanksgiving in August... and Everyday

This Monday, Alison will facilitate.  She shares:

 

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

 

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

 

Gratitude is a Necessity

December 5, 2016

By Br. Phap Hai

 

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

 

We Walk Among Tall Oaks

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Community is No Longer a Luxury; It is a Necessity

 

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

 

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

 

Gratitude is an 'Affirmation of Goodness'

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Gratitude is a Necessity

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Happy Thanksgiving to you."

 

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

Alison

 

 

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

July 31 What are the Five Mindfulness Trainings?

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

To consider: 

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

 

Looking forward to being with all of you.

 

with love,

annie.

 

The Five Mindfulness Trainings:

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

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

1. Reverence For Life

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

2. True Happiness

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

3. True Love

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

4. Loving Speech and Deep Listening

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

5. Nourishment and Healing

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

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

July 24

This Monday Miles will facilitate.  He shares:
 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

July 17 The Heart of Being vs. Doing

This Monday Bea will facilitate.  She shares:
 

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

 

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

 

THE "DOING" MODE

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


THE "BEING" MODE

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts next Monday. 

July 10 The Art of Resting

On Monday, Marie will facilitate.  She shares:

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Warmly,

Marie

July 3 The Heart of Creativity

This Monday Bea will facilitate.  

 

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

 

The Heart of Creativity

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

See you Monday evening.

Namaste,

Bea

June 26 Practicing Mindful Conversation: The Fourth Mindfulness Training

This Monday Annie will facilitate.  

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


I look forward to seeing you then. xo annie.

 

A few notes about the Five Mindfulness Trainings:

 

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

 

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

 

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

June 19 How do we become a Fearless Samurai?

This Monday Bea will facilitate.  She shares:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

See you Monday evening.

Namaste,

 

Bea

June 12 Am I Dreaming?

This Monday Marie will facilitate.  She shares:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Warmly,

Marie

 

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

June 5 When Giving is All We Have

This Monday Jenny will facilitate.  She shares:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

One river gives its journey to the next.

 

We give because someone gave to us

We give because nobody gave to us

 

We give because giving has changed us.

We give because giving could have changed us.

 

We have been better for it,

We have been wounded by it-

 

Giving has many faces. It is loud and quiet,

Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

 

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

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

 

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

Mine to yours, yours to mine.

 

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.

Together we are simple green. You gave me

 

What you did not have, and I gave you

What I had to give-together, we made

 

Something greater from the difference.