Exploring Togetherness

Dear Friends,

Please note that Sandra Kim’s visit is postponed by a week, to Monday, June 24th.   We will start laying the groundwork for her visit tomorrow night by exploring the topic of togetherness.

The Plum Village website describes how sangha can play a role in our feeling connected:   “In society, much of our suffering comes from feeling disconnected from one another. We often don’t feel a real connection even with people we live close to, such as our neighbors, our co-workers and even our family members. Each person lives separately, cut off from the support of the community. Being with the Sangha can heal these feelings of isolation and separation. We practice together, share a room together, eat side by side and clean pots together. Just by participating with other practitioners in daily activities, we can experience a tangible feeling of love and acceptance.

Thay often says that the sangha is a garden, full of many varieties of trees and flowers. When we can look at ourselves and at others as beautiful, unique flowers and trees, we can truly grow to understand and love one another. One flower may bloom early in the spring and another flower may bloom in late summer. One tree may bear many fruits and another tree may offer cool shade. No one plant is greater, or lesser, or the same as any other plant in the garden. Each member of the sangha also has unique gifts to offer to the community. We each have areas that need attention as well. When we can appreciate each member’s contribution and see our weaknesses as potential for growth we can learn to live together harmoniously. Our practice is to see that we are a flower or a tree, and we are the whole garden as well, all interconnected.”

Over the next week, please ask yourself some questions.

When do you have feelings of deep togetherness?    What are the conditions - internal and external - that cause this feeling to arise?  What gets in the way of that feeling and causes you to feel more isolated and apart?  To what extent are you aware of these feelings and their underlying causes? To what extent are you longing for connection and/or protecting yourself by being apart?   Does your practice and/or sangha help you to feel more connected, and, if so, how?

I look forward to learning about your experience tomorrow (Monday, the 17th), and when Sandra joins us on the 24th, she will share how her practice has helped her care for the pain of disconnection with others and look deeply at its underlying source. Weaving together her Buddhist practice, anti-oppression analysis, and organizing work, she will share how she is able to consistently reconnect with herself and others and develop the deep togetherness we often long for.

Warmly,

Marie



The Four Immeasurables

The Four Immeasurables

This Monday, Mick will facilitate.  He shares:

The Four Immeasurables

May all beings enjoy happiness and the roots of happiness

May all beings be free from suffering and the roots of suffering

May they never be separated from the great joy, devoid of suffering

May they dwell in equanimity free from passion, aggression and prejudice

Over a year ago I offered a meditation on the Four Immeasurables. This week, I would like to offer another evening devoted to the topic. 

Throughout each day, each week, each month, we experience the wide range of emotions around love, renewal and inward looking, sadness, suffering and more.  Our mettle in being present with all of this, without getting pulled from our center, is tested by our experience of our inner world and the outer circumstances and events.

Cultivating Peace Within

Cultivating Peace Within

Welcome to Monday evening on Memorial Day with the Opening Heart Mindfulness Community.  This evening we will read the Five Mindfulness Trainings together with a focus on the First Mindfulness Training. Discussion will ink to last week’s engaging theme that Andy introduced on ‘forgetfulness and practices to help remembering’.

Mindfulness Trainings are meant as ethical guidelines that encourage us to remember ways that are helpful to lead lives full of peace, non-violence, compassion, understanding and love. On this special day of remembrance, I look forward to our time together.

Returning Home

Returning Home

This Monday night's facilitator, Andy, shares:

Over the last month or so I have been all consumed by travel, work and other life events. It has been a non-stop whirlwind of running, running, running with little, if any, time to stop and reflect. Maybe on a couple of occasions was I was able to catch myself and bring myself back into the present moment. Old habits die hard and I found myself back doing all the things I have been working so hard to undo these last few years. In many ways this was me ‘in my element’ and doing what I do best. Until I wasn't.  

Without going down the path of explaining the history of an old injury to my back let’s just say the last 10 days have been painful and definitely no ‘running, running, running.’

 So once again here I am, having just about caught myself (albeit painfully) and again I will start to breathe, take a mindful step, and come back to my true home. Just as when we sit and our mind wanders off, be it for a moment or what can feel like a lifetime, we know (hope) we will catch ourselves and come back to our breath.

Mindfulness and Singing

Mindfulness and Singing

In Plum Village, the Buddhist monastic community in France founded by Thich Nhat Hanh, there is regular singing and chanting at sangha gatherings.  At Plum Village retreat centers throughout the US and other countries, to share the practice and warm the heart, music is often at the heart of the tradition.  Like gathas, singing helps us return to the present moment.

When I was thinking about facilitating for our Monday night sangha gathering, and trying to reflect on what was present for me and what teaching I might share with you, I remembered a morning last week that had a heartwarming effect on me.  I share a weekly morning mindfulness/yoga practice with homeless men at a soup kitchen and after our sitting meditation, and mindful movements, I decided to share a song with them.  

Hold On Loosely

This week Mick will facilitate. He shares:

How do we cherish a present moment? How can we come to appreciate the life that we have and all that is here for us to enjoy? There is quite a difference in setting a timer for 10 minutes and sitting in silence versus meditating in the many moments of the day.

This slippery present moment. How do we get to “it” in order to be here, to switch off of auto-pilot. The slippery present moment can be filled with thoughts, with calm, with challenge, with ease. In thinking about it my mind goes back to the lyrics of a song from the 80’s.  38 Special sang"Hold on loosely but don't let go. If you cling too tightly, you're gonna lose control." While these lyrics from a song about a relationship can be helpful, we could use a little more to go on when it comes back to training the mind to the present moment.

Of course, Thay has provided a simple, and powerful way to help us attend to the present moment.  In his book Present Moment, Wonderful Moment, Thay writes:

When I entered the monastery as a novice in 1942, Thay received a copy of Gathas for Everyday Use. Gathas are short verses which we can recite during our daily activities to help us dwell in mindfulness. 

Gathas are the original reminder, long pre-dating the reminders that people set on their phones. While phone reminders cue us to do, Gathas cue us to beawake and aware. These phrases help to bring us into a present moment, a wonderful moment.

In Present Moment, Wonderful Moment Thay writes about practicing with Gathas: 

When we practice with gathas, the gathas and the rest of our lives become one, and we live our entire lives in awareness.

This helps us very much, and it helps others as well. 

We find that we have more peace, calm, and joy, which we can share with others.

Here are two Gathas.

 WAKING UP

Waking up this morning, I smile.

Twenty-four brand new hours are before me.

I vow to live fully in each moment

and to look at all beings with the eyes of compassion

 

BRUSHING YOUR TEETH

 Brushing my teeth and rinsing my mouth,

I vow to speak purely and lovingly

When my mouth is fragrant with right speech,

a flower blooms in the garden of my heart

  

Many people use gathas as a way to build and strengthen their mindfulness.

People write them down and post them around the house or carry them in their pocket.

Others write their own gathas.

The practice of mindfulness as taught by Thay is a Coming Home practice. We learn to come home to our body, to our breath and the present moment. Gathas are another avenue on which to come home. 

This Monday we will read several gathas and have time to share and reflect on how we return to ourselves to be aware and awake.

The Toxicity of Information - How Much News is Too Much? The Fifth Mindfulness Training

When someone asks, "Do you care? Do you care about me? Do you care about life? Do you care about the Earth?", the best way to answer is to practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings. This is to teach with your actions and not just with words. If you really care, please practice these mindfulness trainings for your own protection and for the protection of other people and species. If we do our best to practice, a future will be possible for us, our children, and their children.” From “For A Future To Be Possible” by Thich Nhat Hanh

This week we will look more deeply at the sense impressions we consume and consider whether and how we are taking in toxins, especially with regard to listening and reading the news.  

In the Fifth Mindfulness Training it says:

..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 have heard many friends talk about how they can no longer watch or listen to the news because they feel it is making them sick. So they take a news fast or they stop paying attention to the news at all. 

Think about what happens when we take in toxic foods and medicines. They make us sicker and/or they make our children and future generations sick. It's complicated by the fact that some foods and medicines make us feel worse before they make us better. So feeling bad isn't necessarily an indicator of toxicity.

Toxic information, then, would be information that makes us sicker or makes future generations sick. Some information, like strong medicine, may make us feel uncomfortable and unwell at first, but serve to motivate us to be and do in ways that create a better outcome for all. 

For me, this translates into being aware of when I am taking in difficult information, such as watching videos of violent police abuse or shooting unarmed Black men, and making sure I am taking the right "dose". 

The right does for me is one that will spark awareness, compassion and motivation and not cause me to collapse in despair.

The reverse is also my practice - to enjoy taking in laughter in the form of funny movies and TV shows. I try my best not to overuse them to simply numb out and escape. 

How do we know how much is the right amount? Just like medicine, we sense into our bodies and minds and see whether the medicine we are taking in (in this case our sense impressions) are having a healthy/wholesome or unhealthy/unwholesome effect on us and therefore on the greater world.

When we consume more than the appropriate dose, we may get overwhelmed, be chronically angry or depressed or have difficulty talking about anything other than what we saw or heard. If we are taking too low of a dose, we may end up disconnected from our own empathy and compassion.  

Some questions we might ask ourselves:

  • Does listening to the news the amount I listen each day cause me to feel hopeless or on edge or does it generate compassion and energy for helping?

  • When and if I stop listening to the news, do I end up living in a bubble of delusion and simply ignore the suffering of others?

  • Does reading about suffering cause me less distress than watching a video?

  • How strong does the information source need to be in order to spark my empathy?

  • What intake of information allows me to feel I can live in harmony with my values?

After our sitting and walking meditation this week, we will read the Five Mindfulness Trainings together (see below for full text of the trainings) and focus on this Fifth training. After, we can share our experiences with calibrating taking in the right about of information that is non-toxic for us or whatever is on our hearts.

I look forward to seeing you. 

with love,

annie.

  

========

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

 

===

The Five Mindfulness Trainings

Reverence For Life

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

True Happiness

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

True Love

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

Loving Speech and Deep Listening

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

Nourishment and Healing

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

 

How old are you?

Monday, April 22, Bea will facilitate. She writes:

Today is my father’s birthday. He turns 81 years old. It is also Easter Sunday and a few days after Passover. It is another opportunity to pause and celebrate the gift of life. But do we really need a special day to do this? Isn’t every day that we are alive a reason to celebrate? Every birthday we are reborn. Every holiday we are awakened. Every spring we are given life.

From Thích Nhất  Hanh, “No Death, No Fear”:

“Sometimes people ask you: "When is your birthday?" But you might ask yourself a more interesting question: "Before that day which is called my birthday, where was I?" 

Ask a cloud: "What is your date of birth? Before you were born, where were you?"

If you ask the cloud, "How old are you? Can you give me your date of birth?" you can listen deeply and you may hear a reply. You can imagine the cloud being born. Before being born it was the water on the ocean's surface. Or it was in the river and then it became vapor. It was also the sun because the sun makes the vapor. The wind is there too, helping the water to become a cloud. The cloud does not come from nothing; there has been only a change in form. It is not a birth of something out of nothing.

Sooner or later, the cloud will change into rain or snow or ice. If you look deeply into the rain, you can see the cloud. The cloud is not lost; it is transformed into rain, and the rain is transformed into grass and the grass into cows and then to milk and then into the ice cream you eat. Today if you eat an ice cream, give yourself time to look at the ice cream and say: "Hello, cloud! I recognize you.” 

Meet Me Here

Meet me here

where silence roars

where stillness is dancing

where the eternal is living and dying.

 

Meet me here

where you are not you

where you are It

and It is unspeakable.

---Adyashanti

There are many pathways to stillness. Pathways that bring us back to what lies underneath the thoughts, emotions, and stories. Underneath and behind all of the movements of the inner and outer world, there lies it. It is unspeakable.

There is an inner yearning, or a voice that calls “meet me here”. It calls us to return to stillness, to spaciousness, to what is always there. As Adyashanti writes, it is a place or space “where you are not you, where you are it.”  

The practice of mindfulness is a practice of letting go. The “here” that he writes about may be too esoteric or distant. We can bring this “here” closer in order to let go of the idea of striving to reach the all encompassing “here”, “where silence roars where stillness is dancing.” Part of here is the state of mindful awareness. The awareness that we are breathing in and out. The awareness that emotions and thoughts are moving through our bodies and minds. Meet me hereis the call to the present moment to light the lamp of mindfulness. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches and reminds that:

We have a lamp inside us, the lamp of mindfulness which we can light anytime. The oil of that lamp is our breathing, our steps, and our peaceful smile. We have to light up that light of mindfulness so the light will shine out and the darkness will dissipate and cease. Our practice is to light up the lamp. 

Thich Nhat Hanh, Your True Home

Here exists on many levels. When we light the lamp of mindfulness, the darkness of delusion is seen clearly and overcome. The call of Meet me herecalls us to pause before we speak, or to put away our phone in order to eat or walk in mindfulness. The call of Meet me heresteers us towards our cushion, to sangha and to retreat. 

This Monday night we have the opportunity to share about how we each experience the call to awareness, to stillness and silence. 

You might like to drop these questions into your consciousness-- 

When did I first feel, and hear the call to mindfulness, to stillness, and silence?

What is my present experience of my Meet me here voice? When does it arise, to what does it call me?  

Where and when do I feel and experience thehere that Adyashanti writes about?

I look forward to our time together.

---Mick

  

Meet Me Here

by Adyashanti                   

 

Join me here Now

where there are no points of view.

slip under good and bad

right and wrong

worthy and unworthy

sinner and saint

 

Meet me here

where everything is unframed

before understanding

and not understanding

 

Meet me here

where silence roars

where stillness is dancing

where the eternal is living and dying.

 

Meet me here

where you are not you

where you are It

and It is unspeakable..

 

Meet me here where all points of view

merge into a single point

that then disappears.

 

Meet me here

before there ever was something

before there ever was nothing

 

Meet me here

where everything speaks of this

where everything has

always spoken this

where nothing is ever lost or found

Meet me here

Regret

Through meditation, I have a new-found fascination with emotions!  As a child, I grew up in a household where emotions were not artfully addressed.  In other words, “how we felt” did not receive a lot of attention.  Through meditation, I’ve learned not only that emotions are part of one’s DNA but they need to be acknowledged, pondered, and embraced – the good, the bad and the ugly – with an eye towards watering those that are more beneficial to happiness and peace.

Lately, the strong emotion that has been cropping up is regret.  My Mom died last May and in the aftermath of her death, my siblings and I uncovered a treasure trove of pictures of her as a teen and 20-something. They reflected a fun-loving, vivacious and beautiful young woman surrounded by friends.  They were truly a revelation – showing a completely new aspect of a person I thought I knew, a person who often seemed to dwell in negativity.   This picture and just the awareness that she is gone (except for my skewed memories), has been sending me into keen moments of “regret” – that maybe I should have tried harder to communicate, maybe it was my fault that our relationship was sometimes strained, that I did not choose to spend more time with her, and that maybe I had never really listened to her. 

Regret in spades.  So, how do we address that sticky, painful emotion?

Thich Nhat Hahn starts, as always, with the concept of being present:

When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love. . . .

Around us, life bursts with miracles – a glass of water, a ray of sunshine, a leaf, a caterpillar, a flower, laughter, raindrops.  If you live in awareness, it is easy to see miracles everywhere.  Each human being is a multiplicity of miracles.  Eyes that see thousands of colors, shapes, and forms; ears that hear a bee flying or a thunderclap; a brain that ponders a speck of dust as easily as the entire cosmos; a heart that beats in rhythm with the heartbeat of all beings.  When we are tired and feel discouraged by life’s daily struggles, we may not notice these miracles, but they are always there.  

To dwell in the here and now does not mean you never think about the past or responsibly plan for the future.  The idea is simply not to allow yourself to get lost in regrets about the past or worries about the future. If you are firmly grounded in the present moment, the past can be an object of inquiry, the object of your mindfulness and concentration.  You can attain many insights by looking into the past.  But you are still grounded in the present moment.

Thay’s wise words and my meditation practice have helped me to focus and embrace the regret, to treat it kindly, and to return to the present without getting lost in a miserable bog of self-doubt and lack of compassion for the life I actually led with my Mom, which had both beautiful and dark moments.  While my “emotion of the week” has been regret, the above principles are useful for addressing in a fruitful way all of the strong, negative emotions we encounter as part of simply being human.  

I look forward to seeing everyone on Monday night!

Namaste, 

Alison

 

 

Mindful Speech in Challenging Moments

Marie will facilitate. She shares

This week, we will build on last week’s discussion of deep listening and focus on mindful speech.   Specifically, we’ll explore those instances when it is difficult for us to speak mindfully and share practices that can help.  

Recently, I’ve had a life circumstance that has challenged my ability to speak mindfully.   The situation involved an aging family member who lives alone.   She is, in my view, physically at risk of falling and is, also in my view, unwilling to do what was needed to live alone safely.  While I’ve added the “my views” to this text, they are seldom in my thoughts.   Instead, my head has been brimming with “the facts” and “the solutions”.    And, with every new accident (there have several), I became more convinced of my views and tried, in various ways, to convince her and/or other family members of what needs to be done.  Can you see where this is going?

In “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching”, Thay writes that “Right speech is based on Right Thinking.  Speech is the way for our thinking to express itself aloud.  Our thoughts are no longer our private possessions.  We give earphones to others and allow them to hear the audiotape that is playing in our mind…    Deep listening is at the foundation of Right Speech.  If we cannot listen mindfully, we cannot practice Right Speech.  No matter what we say, it will not be mindful, because we’ll be speaking only our own ideas and not in response to the other person.  In the Lotus Sutra, we are advised to look and listen with the eyes of compassion.  Compassionate listening brings about healing...

You have to practice breathing mindfully in and out so that compassion always stays with you.  “I am listening to her not only because I want to know what is inside her or to give her advice.  I am listening to her just because I want to relieve her suffering.”  That is called compassionate listening...

Sometimes we speak clumsily and create internal knots in others.  Then we say “I was just telling the truth.”  It may be the truth, but if our way of speaking causes unnecessary suffering, it is not Right Speech.  The truth must be presented in ways that others can accept.  Words that damage or destroy are not Right Speech.  Before you speak, understand the person you are speaking to.  Consider each word carefully before you say anything, so that your speech is “Right” in both form and content.   You have the right to tell another everything in your heart with the condition that you use only loving speech.”

Have you any situations in your life where it is difficult to speak mindfully?   What makes it hard to listen deeply and to speak lovingly?   Have you had experiences where you’ve been able to change the trajectory?  What happened and how did you do it?   

Please bring your experiences and insights on Monday night, and we will share what we are learning.

Warmly

Marie

Opening Your Ears and Mind for Deep Listening

Once a month on a Monday night we focus on the five Mindfulness Trainings and as a group recite each of them. This gentle reminder to come back to the core ethical and behavioral precepts of the practice is something I personally find very helpful. Just like when my mind wanders off chasing the next thought pattern so my own behavior can wander off, and so regularly reviewing the trainings is a helpful ‘nudge’ to get back on track. 

This month I thought we would focus on the fourth mindfulness training Loving Speech and Deep Listening. Specifically, I thought we might focus on the deep listening (also sometimes called compassionate listening) portion of this training as each month this is one where I know I need to recommit to the practice and work harder.

Reflecting on this I find that I have three specific difficulties when it comes to listening:

·       Things I am hearing trigger thoughts in my own mind and before I know it I am focused on these thoughts and have stopped listening to the person talking;

·       My natural tendency is one of problem solving and so my computer brain is running problem / solution routines so that I can provide answers even though I am not being asked a question; and

·       If someone talks in a long-winded manner and I have something I want to say, I will inevitably interrupt them mid-sentence and share my “amazing” insight or thought. 

The last of these is rude and I know it irks people, and I hate this habit too, but just like the other two it has proven hard to break.

In wanting to improve this practice Thay has much to teach us. He describes “that when we listen with compassion, we allow ourselves to be empty without any prejudices, without any preconceived ideas. We listen not to judge or criticize; we just listen so as to give the other person the chance to express themselves”.

Digging deeper into this concept Thay goes on to explain that:“even if the person says things that are full of wrong perceptions, full of bitterness, you are still capable of continuing to listen with compassion. Because you know that listening like that, you give that person a chance to suffer less.”

So if the 5MT’s and Thay’s words help us focus on how to practice and improve I am still intrigued as to why I / we find it so hard to be better listeners. One of the best books I have read which hits on this issue was by behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman. In his book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” he explains how we all have two modes of thinking. Type 1thinking is: fast, unconscious, automatic but often error proneType 2thinking is: slow, conscious, effortful, but more reliable.

It appears to me that practicing Deep Listening is about reminding us that listening not only helps us to be more compassionate and through this compassion help the listener, but also helps us to become better in seeing things as they truly are and not as our Type 1 mind might suggest things are. 

Please, think about your own successes (and challenges) with the practice of deep listening. How do you seek to improve this practice? How can other practices such as sitting, walking, sangha help us to improve? 

I look forward to practicing my own deep listening as you share about your own practice.

-      Andy

Further Resources:

A short talk by Thay on Deep Listening

 

 

 

The Collective Energy of the Sangha

This week Camille will facilitate.

In reflecting on last week's sharing "who is sangha" - Annie talked about the importance of the sangha and how in this community and this collective practice we can help heal ourselves, each other, and the world.  I didn't really have a chance to share - but I was feeling deeply grateful for the sangha at that moment - so much so - that I just wanted to listen and absorb the collective energy of everyone there.  So this week - I wanted to take the opportunity to continue the discussion on sangha, share some of my thoughts about what it has meant for me, and finally share some of a video clip of Thay's thoughts on sangha with the monastics chanting the song of Avalokiteshvara.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s thoughts on sangha

Last week one of the questions Annie asked us was what we saw as our role in the sangha, and do we want it's support.  In the first year I went to sangha I mostly sat and listened.  I thought my role was to sit quietly, walk quietly, breathe quietly, and then listen attentively but also quietly.  I thought it was pretty easy and that I could be a really good listener and really good at this practice - a piece of cake.  I also thought it was mostly about me being there for others - and I didn't really need to share.  Then I began to think that I should try and share, but went through a period of doubt that maybe I couldn't articulate what I wanted to say in a cohesive manner and that what I had to say was not "juicy" enough as one member of our community puts it.   Or maybe I was just afraid or embarrassed of my suffering and that maybe talking would make it worse.  All of this to say -  I just wasn't understanding the whole concept.

Happily with lots of help and practice from friends, books, and sangha, I have been able to recognize my pain and suffering more and no longer have the fear of being overwhelmed by it or the fear of talking about it.   For me the sangha has become a place of refuge where I know I have others who breathe, sit, and walk with me and open their eyes and ears to me and fully listen with open hearts.   How wonderful to have a sangha community who listens without judging (not something that comes naturally at home).   I finally recognized that I am there for them and they are there for me as well.  The love and compassion is shared by all.

As Thay talks about suffering and how the sangha community can help, he says  "the collective energy of the sangha can help with our suffering.  The collective energy of mindfulness will penetrate our body and will help us to heal and relieve tension and anxiety in our body and reduce pain and suffering."  He goes on to say "we behave like a drop of water in the heart of a river.  We allow the whole river to embrace and transport us as a drop of water.  The sangha can transport us if we open our hearts.  As a drop of water we say - dear sangha - please help me, alone I cannot embrace it by myself so please help me embrace my pain and sorrow." 

I invite you to continue to think about how the sangha can support you and how you can support the sangha. 

During this Monday night gathering - we will watch part of a recording of a plum village retreat where Thay talks about the sangha, about suffering, and about how chanting can help us stop our thinking and allow the energy of mindfulness and compassion penetrate into our body and mind.  I hope you enjoy listening and will have an opportunity to relax, sit back, and enjoy taking refuge in the sangha. 

I look forward to seeing and sharing with you on Monday night.

In love and light, 

Camille

 

 

 

Who is Sangha?

Who is Sangha?

I remember many years ago, one of our sangha (mindfulness community) members, someone with whom I had practiced for many years, went off on a trip to "find himself." He traveled to Asia and spent many weeks in a forest monastery in Thailand. Then, he went on to Plum Village and spent several months practicing there during the winter rains retreat. 

The Mud, The Lotus

Bringing light to issues ofThe Mud, The Lotus

This Monday night, Mick will facilitate.

Many come to the practices of mindfulness and meditation looking for a permanent relief from their suffering. As we take that first courageous moving of body to cushion, and take part in looking inward, we discover that there is no getting rid of thoughts and emotions. There is no getting rid of the outward afflictions and influences either. The end game of enlightenment where all troubles vanish is a mirage. By the time we undertake the practices of mindfulness and meditation and wake up to Inner world and the outer world through mindfulness, it is too late for us. Too late for us to go back to sleep, to late for us to ignore our inner and outer world. 

Herein lies the challenge of living mindfully. We don’t always feelbetter, but we feel better. We feel and recognize more deeply the sunshine and the sorrow in us and around us. Feeling better, can often mean that we feel more deeply our pain.

Thich Nhat Hanh teaches about the mud and the lotus. No Mud, No Lotus. 

“It is possible of course to get stuck in the “mud” of life. It’s easy enough to notice mud all over you at times. The hardest thing to practice is not allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by despair. When you’re overwhelmed by despair, all you can see is suffering everywhere you look. You feel as if the worst thing is happening to you. But we must remember that suffering is a kind of mud that we need in order to generate joy and happiness. Without suffering, there’s no happiness. So we shouldn’t discriminate against the mud. We have to learn how to embrace and cradle our own suffering and the suffering of the world, with a lot of tenderness.” 

― Thích Nhất Hạnh, No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering

As mindfulness practitioners it is important to reflect and inquire, “ What do I do when I am feeling covered in mud and overwhelmed by suffering?”  The mud is always there and in getting overwhelmed by the mud we lose sight of the sunshine, the lotus.

The mud, or suffering is a given of existence. The lotus, or happiness is also a given. Mindfulness practice gives us a way to be with both, to hold both simultaneously and in balance. We fluctuate from high to low, sorrow to sunshine, mud to lotus.

This Monday we will have the chance to reflect and share on how you experience and navigate The Mud and The Lotus. I look forward to the time together. 

 

The Five Mindfulness Trainings

Monday night we will focus on the five mindfulness trainings. After reading all five of them, I will spend time on the first training: to protect life, to decrease violence in oneself, in the family and in society.

This first training makes me think of a conversation I recently had with my partner about guns in America and the second amendment in the U.S. Constitution: the right to bear arms. When the founding fathers wrote this, the U.S. had just gained independence from the U.K. and there was not a national army. The right to bear arms was intended for a citizen’s militia to prevent the U.S. from having a standing army. The founding fathers believed that a free society needed to be able to defend itself. An official army was a threat to freedom. Despite more than 300 years since then, we still hold on to this Amendment as a fundamental right.

Is bearing arms then a fundamental right to protect life? Of course, this is a logic I do not understand. Afterall, now we have a military and law enforcement is paid for with our tax dollars. But our law enforcement is not always treating people fairly. The right to bear arms can also mean survival for a person of color in this country. It can mean ultimate protection from unjust treatment by the police. It is a perverse logic, that of using a weapon to protect a life. It is a logic often justifed in the society that we live in.

The second part of the sentence is really profound: to decrease violence in oneself. How are we violent with ourselves? Is it with actions, thoughts or others means? Are we violent with ourselves when we water the seeds of suffering: anger, fear, frustration, jealousy, sadness? How can we be gentle and kind with ourselves? And when we are kind to ourselves, are we better able to be gentle, kind and compassionate to others? Is being present with ourselves, listening to our body, mind and heart, a way to be non violent with ourselves? Is it harder to practice non-violence on us than on others? And how are the two connected?

Then comes decreasing violence in our families and in our society. Sometimes violence is subtle, passive aggressive, manipulative and persistent. It is a seed that creates suffering. It is not always outright violence with guns and the intent to murder and take life. Though that happens far too often as well. Being mindful and practicing mindfulness enables us to see how we can be passive aggressive and hurtful to others in our close circle and in the wider circle we live in.

Please, think about this mindfulness training and share how you interpret it in our Monday night Sangha. What do you do to practice this training with yourself, your family and the community you live in?

Thank You!

Bea

Power

In the current political climate, I sometimes feel overwhelmed and powerless.  So, in preparing for this Sangha on the President’s Day holiday, which was originally established to honor George Washington but now is viewed as a day to honor and celebrate all of our past and current Presidents – people we often view as very powerful – I became curious about Thich Nhat Hanh’s views on “power.”  

The following is an excerpt from Thay called “The Three Forms of Power”:

Many of us think that if we had a lot of power we could do whatever we wanted, and that this would make us very happy.  Indeed, many of us have some kind of power but because we don’t know how to handle the power, we misuse it and we create suffering for ourselves and for the people around us.  Money is a kind of power.  Fame is a kind of power.  Weapons are a kind of power.  A strong army is a kind of power.  A lot of suffering is caused in the world because people misuse their power.  They do this because they don’t have the power to be themselves.

In the Buddhist tradition, we speak of three powers. These are quite different than the power of fame, wealth, and competition.  These three kinds of power can make a person happy.  If you have these three kinds of power, then the other kinds of power like having money, fame, an army or weapons will never become destructive.

The First Power: Understanding

The first kind of power is the power of understanding.  We should be able to cultivate the power to understand our own suffering and the suffering of others.  This kind of understanding will bring about compassion that will reduce our own suffering.  When you understand, you are no longer angry; you no longer want to punish anyone. Understanding is a great power. It gives rise to compassion.

When you have sufficient understanding, you release all of your fear, anger and despair.  Understanding means understanding the roots of suffering in yourself, in others, and in the world.  We use the energy of mindfulness and concentration to look deeply into the nature of our suffering in order to gain understanding.  In Buddhism, we don’t speak of salvation in terms of grace.  We speak of salvation in terms of understanding. Understanding is like a sword that can cut through the afflictions of anger, fear, and despair.

The Second Power: Love

If you put a handful of salt into a bowl of water and stir it, the water will be too salty to drink.  But if you throw the same amount of salt into an immense river, the handful of salt can’t make the river salty.  The power of love is like the river.  If your heart grows, your heart has room for everyone.  When your heart is full of love, little irritations become like the handful of salt in the river.  They don’t bother you, and you don’t suffer anymore.

The energy of love can free you and also help free the people around you who suffer.  There are two ways to respond to difficulties you have with others.  In the first way, you have the desire to punish the person you believe has made you suffer.  You believe that you are a victim of someone else and you have the tendency to want to punish that person because he or she has dared to make you suffer.  You may feel tempted to retaliate and to punish them. But of course when the other person is punished, he or she suffers and wants to retaliate and punish you back. This is how the situation escalates. Yet, there is another way to respond. You can respond to suffering with the power of love.  When you look deeply, you realize that the person who has made you suffer also suffers very deeply.  He suffers a lot from his wrong perceptions, his anger, or his fear.  He doesn’t know how to handle the suffering in himself. If no one offers love and understanding, he becomes the victim of his own suffering.  If you look deeply with the eyes of love and see this, compassion will be born in your heart.  When compassion is born in your heart, you don’t suffer anymore, and you ease the suffering of others.

The Third Power:  Letting Go

The third power is the power to be able to detach and let go of our afflictions, such as craving, anger, fear, and despair.  When you have the power to cut away all these kinds of afflictions, you become a free person and there is no greater power than that. When you’re free, you can help so many people to suffer less.

We all have the energy of craving within us, but we can cultivate the power of being able to cut through this kind of energy.  We know that the object of our craving has brought us a lot of suffering and has brought other people around us a lot of suffering, too.  Mindfulness, concentration, and understanding, give us the power to overcome our attachment to our afflictions.

In the beginning, you believe that the objects of your craving are essential for your well-being and happiness.  You let your cravings have power over you.  But if you look deeply, you will recognize that these objects of craving are not true conditions for your happiness.  If you can see this, and you can cultivate the powers of love and understanding, then you’ll be truly powerful.

-Thich Nhat Hanh, Work, How to Find Joy and Meaning in Each Hour of the Day

The above is a lot to take in!  If it’s too much all at once, just focus on one of the three forms of power that Thay discusses that resonates most with you right now.  Some things to think about are:  When do I feel most and least powerful?  Have I ever experienced one or more of the three types of power that Thay discusses?  How might I incorporate those forms of power into my own life and relationships?

I look forward to seeing you on Monday night and hearing your thoughts!

Namaste,

Alison 

 

Exploring Equanimity: A Deeper Look

Last week, Andy helped us explore the topic of equanimity: what does it mean to you and how do you seek to practice this in your life? This week, we will continue with this theme, integrating more of Thay’s teaching and looking deeply at our own experiences with (or without) equanimity.

In “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching”, Thay describes the Four Immeasurable Minds – love, compassion, joy and equanimity. “They are called “immeasurable” because, if you practice them, they will grow in you every day until they embrace the whole world. You will become happier, and everyone around you will become happier too.”

Turning towards equanimity, specifically, one of its characteristics is the ability to see everyone as equal – not discriminating between ourselves and others. I don’t know about you, but for me, this is particularly difficult when I am in conflict. When you are strongly in disagreement with someone, to what extent can you …“shed all discrimination and prejudice, remove all boundaries between yourself and others? As long as we see ourselves as the one who loves and the other as the one who is loved, as long as we value ourselves more than others or see ourselves as different from others, we do not have true equanimity.

So, what can we do to practice equanimity? Thay is quite specific: “We have to put ourselves into the other person’s skin and become one with him if we want to understand and truly love him. When that happens, there is no “self” and no “other”. 

A summer breeze can be very refreshing; but if we try to put it in a tin can so we can have it entirely for ourselves, the breeze will die. Our beloved is the same. He is like a cloud, a breeze, a flower. If you imprison him in a tin can, he will die. Yet many people do just that. They rob their loved one of his liberty until he can no longer be himself. They live to satisfy themselves and use their loved one to help them fulfill that. That is not loving, it is destroying. You say you love him, but if you do not love his aspirations, his needs, his difficulties, he is in a prison called “love”. True love allows you to preserve your freedom and the freedom of your beloved. That is equanimity.

For love to be true love, it must contain compassion, joy and equanimity. For compassion to be true compassion, it has to have love, joy and equanimity in it. True joy has to contain love, compassion and equanimity. And true equanimity has to have love, compassion and joy in it. This is the interbeing nature of the Four Immeasurable Minds. You can watch Thay describe this in the video. 

While it is tempting to look at global and national events, and tell ourselves that equanimity is impossible, I invite you to start at home: look deeply at your relationships with family and friends. To what extent have you shed discrimination and removed boundaries? To what extent is your love possessive or liberating? If you notice a pattern, practice with that. Put yourself in the other person’s skin and see how that feels.

 Please bring your insights and experiences on Monday night. 

 

Practicing Equanimity

This Monday, Andy will facilitate. He shares:

I am not sure about you but in recent years the ability to be reached 24/7/365 has led to a number of perfectly fine days being brought to a screeching halt by an incoming email, text or call. Typically the message conveys a low level panic or anxiety that someone was experiencing and which they felt should be “forwarded”.Occasionally, it actually includes something serious and rarely something important and alarming (albeit even in these circumstances calm usually returns quickly). Maybe I was less sensitive to these ‘jolts’ in the past or maybe as I have gotten older they have become more regular, but either way I now recognize them as part of life. 

In the last couple of years as I have returned to a regular practice the term ‘equanimity’ has kept catching my eye. As a central tenet within Buddhism, equanimity (in Pali, upekkha) is one of the Four Immeasurables or four great virtues (along with compassion, loving kindness, and sympathetic joy). Upe means “over,” and kkha means “to look.” You climb the mountain to be able to look over the situation. In western language the term “equanimity” first entered the English language in the 17th century from the Latin “aequanimitas,” which comes from “aequus” (equal) and “animus” (mind). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it means “calmness and composure, especially in a difficult situation”. I am sure that similar concepts and language exist in most, if not all cultures.  

Thay has spoken about the importance of the practice of equanimity --remaining calm in trying circumstances -- and has described how equanimity can serve as a "balm of clear water to pour on the roots of our afflictions," to use a verse from "The Ceremony for Beginning Anew”, a section of which is included below: 

Please bring the balm of clear water
to pour on the roots of our afflictions.
Please bring the raft of the true teachings
to carry us over the ocean of sorrows.
We vow to live an awakened life,
to learn the path of true happiness, 
and to practice smiling and conscious breathing.
Diligently we live in mindfulness.

What does the term equanimity mean to you and how do you seek to practice this in your life? 

How do you deal with the difficult issues that arise and how does your own practice help?

I hope you will join us on Monday night.


 

 

True Happiness: One of the Five Mindfulness Trainings

This Monday, Bea will facilitate.

Tonight’s meditation is about the Five Mindfulness Trainings. We will read all of them together and I will focus on one specifically: True Happiness.

What follows are extracts from a talk that Thay gave on June 23, 2005 in Plum Village. You can find the full transcript of the talk here. Please reflect on how you practice happiness, what makes you happy, and how your happiness affects others.

“Happiness is a practice. We should distinguish between happiness and excitement, and even joy. Many people in the West, especially in North America, think of excitement as happiness. They are thinking of something, or expecting something that they consider to be happiness, and, for them, that is already happiness. But when you are excited you are not really peaceful. True happiness should be based on peace, and in true happiness there is no longer any excitement.

Suppose you are walking in a desert and you are dying of thirst. Suddenly you see an oasis and you know that once you get there, there will be a stream of water and you can drink so you will survive. Although you have not actually seen or drunk the water you feel something: that is excitement, that is hope, that is joy, but not happiness yet. In Buddhist psychology we distinguish clearly between excitement, joy, and happiness. True happiness must be founded on peace. Therefore, if you don’t have peace in yourself you have not experienced true happiness.

Training Yourself to Be Happy 

You have to cultivate happiness; you cannot buy it in the supermarket. It is like playing tennis: you cannot buy the joy of playing tennis in the supermarket. You can buy the ball and the racket, but you cannot buy the joy of playing. In order to experience the joy of tennis you have to learn, to train yourself to play. In the same way, you have to cultivate happiness.

Walking meditation is a wonderful way to train yourself to be happy. You are here, and you look in the distance and see a pine tree. You make the determination that while walking to the pine tree, you will enjoy every step, that every step will provide you with peace and happiness. Peace and happiness that have the power to nourish, to heal, to satisfy.

There are those of us who are capable of going from here to the pine tree in that way, enjoying every step we make. We are not disturbed by anything: not by the past, not by the future; not by projects, not by excitement. Not even by joy, because in joy there is still excitement and not enough peace. And if you are well-trained in walking meditation, with each step you can experience peace, happiness, and fulfillment. You are capable of truly touching the earth with each step. You see that being alive, being established fully in the present moment and taking one step and touching the wonders of life in that step can be a wonder, and you live that wonder every moment of walking. If you have the capacity to walk like that, you are walking in the Kingdom of God or in the Pure Land of the Buddha.

So you may challenge yourself: I will do walking meditation from here to the pine tree. I vow that I will succeed. If you are not free, your steps will not bring you happiness and peace. So cultivating happiness is also cultivating freedom. Freedom from what? Freedom from the things that upset you, that keep you from being peaceful, that prevent you from being fully present in the here and the now.

One nun wrote to Thay that she has a friend visiting Plum Village. Her friend did not take the monastic path; instead she married, and now has a family, a job, a house, a car, and everything she needs for her life. She’s lucky because her husband is a good man; he does not create too many problems. Her job is enjoyable, with a salary above average. Her house is beautiful. She thinks of her relationship as a good one although it is not as she expected; sure, you can never have exactly what you expect.

And yet, she does not feel happy and she is depressed. Intellectually she knows that in terms of comfort, she has everything. Many of us think of happiness in these terms, as having material and emotional comforts. Not many people are as successful as that friend, and she knows that she is fortunate. And yet she is not happy.

We Are Immune to Happiness 

We have the tendency to think of happiness as something we will obtain in the future. We expect happiness. We think that now we don’t have the conditions we think we need to be happy, but that once we have them, happiness will be there. For example, you want to have a diploma because you think that without that diploma you cannot be happy. So you think of the diploma day and night and you do everything to get that diploma because you believe that diploma will bring you happiness. And you forecast that happiness will be there tomorrow, when you get the diploma. There may be joy and satisfaction in the days and weeks that follow the moment you receive your diploma, but you adapt to that new condition very quickly, and in just a few weeks you don’t feel happy anymore. You become used to having a diploma. So that kind of excitement, that kind of happiness is very short-lived. We are immune to happiness; we get used to our happiness, and after a while we don’t feel happy any longer.

People have made studies of poor people who have won lotteries and have become millionaires. The studies found that after two or three months the person returns to the emotional state they were in before winning the lottery. From two to three months. And during the three months there is not exactly happiness; there is a lot of thinking, a lot of excitement, a lot of planning and so on––not exactly happiness. But three months later, he falls back to exactly the same emotional level as he was before winning the lottery. So having a lot of money does not mean you will be happy.

Perhaps you want to marry someone, thinking that if you can’t marry him or her, then you cannot be happy. You believe that happiness will be great after you marry that person. After you marry, you may have a time of happiness, but eventually happiness vanishes. There is no longer any excitement, any joy, and of course, no happiness. What you get is not what you expected. Then perhaps you know that what you have attained will not continue for a long time. Even if you have a good job, you are not sure you can keep it for a long time. You may be laid off, so underneath there is fear and uncertainty. This type of happiness, without peace, has the element of fear and cannot be true happiness. The person you are living with may betray you one day; you cannot be sure that person will be faithful to you for a long time. So fear and uncertainty is present also. To preserve these so-called conditions of happiness you have to be busy all day long. And with these worries, uncertainties, and busyness, you don’t feel happy and you become depressed.

So we learn that happiness is not something we get after we obtain the so-called conditions of happiness: namely, the material and emotional comforts. True happiness does not depend on these comforts; nothing can remove it from you. When we come to a practice center, we are looking to learn how to cultivate true happiness.

Happiness Is Impermanent 

Impermanence means that everything is changing, including the happiness that you are experiencing. The step you are making allows you to get in touch with the Kingdom of God, with the Pure Land of the Buddha, with all the wonders of life that bring happiness. But that happiness is also impermanent. It lasts only for one step; if the next step does not have mindfulness, concentration, and insight, then happiness will die. However, you know that you are capable of making a second step which also generates the three powers of mindfulness, concentration, and insight, so you have the power to make happiness last longer. Happiness is impermanent; we know the law of impermanence, and that is why we know that we can continue to generate the next moment of happiness. Just as when we ride a bicycle, we continue to pedal so that the movement can continue.

Happiness is impermanent but it can be renewed, and that is insight. You are also impermanent and renewable, like your breath, like your steps. You are not something permanent experiencing something impermanent. You are something impermanent experiencing something impermanent. Although it is impermanent, happiness is possible; the same with you. And if happiness can be renewed, so can you; because you in the next moment is the renewal of you. You are always changing, so you are experiencing impermanence in your happiness and in yourself. It’s wonderful to know that happiness can last only one in-breath or one step, because we know that we can renew it in another step or another breath, provided we know the art of generating mindfulness, concentration, and insight.”

See you Monday evening.

Namaste,

Bea