December 10 Mindfulness and Lifestyle Medicine

This Monday, Miles will facilitate.

After finishing my medical training in public health and preventive medicine I became aware I had to apply what I had learned to my own life. I was a husband and father of young children with a demanding job, and I saw my blood pressure periodically spiking to disturbingly high levels.  Stress was an important contributor to this problem.  Even more stress was created when I ruminated intensely on whether I was on the way to repeating patterns within my family history including fatal heart attacks at young ages and severe & chronic anxiety and depression. Wanting to live healthily and also to see my children grow up, and even to see grandchildren someday, I began searching for an effective way to deal with my health challenges.

My training in public health and preventive medicine taught me that the leading causes of death in the United States, including heart disease & stroke, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and chronic lung diseases, are all related to the choices we make in our daily lives. When health care providers and educators teach about “lifestyle medicine” they can focus on six “buckets” or areas of concern: diet, exercise, sleep, social support, stress management and avoiding toxins. Below are some observations from my 25 years of personal experience.

Diet: inspired by a talk at a yoga retreat about 25 years ago I removed meat and poultry from my diet (but retained occasional fish/seafood.) This change was motivated by health concerns, by feelings of compassion for animals, and by memories of dissecting cadavers in gross anatomy class. (It also helped that a yoga teacher pointed out that gorillas are vegetarians and are really strong!) An additional dietary change was cutting way back on butter, cheese and other sources of saturated fat and trans fats (which are only now, 25 years later, being removed from our food supply by the Food and Drug Administration).  It took a couple of decades, but now my wife and adult son are pretty much on the same program—maybe someday my daughters too!

Exercise: For many years I have been exercising, usually for a half hour, six days a week.  If I am anxious about something, exercise helps takes the edge off and maybe even allows time and space for some new insight into coping with the source of stress.  Hiking in the woods, or even just walking on a quiet tree-lined street, is not only enjoyable exercise for me but also an opportunity to “bathe” in nature.  I love the upbeat mood that always follows exercise!

Sleep: Although a good night’s sleep is key to recharging my batteries, sometimes I will awaken in the middle of the night and not easily fall back to sleep due to worry, something I ate, some unresolved issue or who knows why?   When this happens, one natural sleep aid that I like is to lie in bed under the covers and do a gentle version of yogic breathing called ujjayi.  Although there is some technique involved, essentially this is just following regular breathing like we commonly do in meditation.  The last few years, I have also noticed that alcohol (especially red wine) can lead to more sleep interruptions, so the solution for that is clear!

Social support: At the end of my daily yoga practice, I often seal it by dedicating its merits in concentric circles to my wife, children, extended family, friends, neighbors, the “difficult people” and everyone else.   The closer to the center of the circle, the more contact, trust, intimacy and mutual support there is.  For me now, sangha falls into the important friends-neighbors circle. TOMAIL NEWSLETTER

 

Stress management: Six days a week practice of yoga postures (asana) with meditation/savasana toward the end is a key anchor for my riding out not just the daily stresses but also the big ones like when my sister (who was single, with no parents alive or other siblings) passed away 3 years ago.  No matter what happens I always feel better physically, mentally and spiritually during and after yoga, so the practice simply reinforces itself.  If I miss more than a day, I just don’t feel right.  Sometimes I wonder what would happen if, because of some accident or illness, I could not practice asana.  It is reassuring to know, though, that as long as I am around, at least my breath will be around too and can be followed!

 

 

Avoiding toxins:  Although there are numerous serious and important environmental toxins to be concerned about, sometimes the toxins are of our own creation.  A couple of days ago, my wife had a skin biopsy performed by a physician who, a few days later, left a 6PM telephone message asking for a return call to obtain the biopsy results.  Too late to contact the physician the same day, the overnight uncertainty about the results opened the door to me (which I did not have to proceed through) to creating elaborate scenarios centered on devastating disease progression.   This imaginative exercise was, fortunately, restricted to my body-mind-spirit and had some paradoxical benefits (from the swamp’s mud grows the lotus!)  I tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to accept not knowing the biopsy results and to wait with equanimity.  Occasionally, though, I would return to my breath and grow enough compassion to prevent my sharing verbally with my wife the unhelpful catastrophic scenarios I was fabricating.  The next day, the results were obtained and were mainly reassuring.   So, chalk up another time-limited anxiety “hijacking”, with a bit of skillful means embedded in the event that can be built upon!

 

Monday evening together in our Dharma sharing we may reflect on and share about these three questions:

– What are some of the wholesome lifestyle choices we have made or are making?


– What are some of the less wholesome choices that we are still making?


– In what ways does (or might) mindfulness practice help us make more skillful choices?

You are invited to join us.  Below is the text of Thich Nhat Hanh’s fifth mindfulness training, 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.

* thanks to Mitchell Ratner for his catalytic and supportive involvement in some of the above text

December 3 Aspirations for Practice and Coming Home

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You have to come to the Buddha with all your suffering. Suffering is the path. By true suffering, you can see the path of enlightenment, the path of compassion, the path of love. According to the teaching of the Buddha, it is by looking deeply into the nature of your sorrow, your pain, of your suffering, that you can discover the way out. If you have not suffered, you can not go to the Buddha. You have no chance to touch peace, to touch love. It is exactly because of the fact that you have suffered, that now you have an opportunity to recognize the path leading to liberation, leading to love, leading to understanding.

--Thich Nhat Hanh


This Monday Mick will facilitate.


Practicing presence. At a recent class that I am in, we were asked to sit across from a partner and ask them repeating questions, without responding. The first question or inquiry was "What blocks you from being present?"  Each time the partner came to a pause, the question was asked again. This went on for about a minute and a half. The second question was "What supports you to be present?"


Answering a repeating question is an experience of unpeeling the layers of the mind to shine a light on answers that are in plain view and deep below the surface.  "What blocks you from being present?" and "What supports you to be present?" are powerful and helpful companions. The practice of mindfulness is, of course, a coming home practice. Our daily habits, of course, are running to be occupied, distracted and entertained practices. What blocks us from coming home? What brings us home? The umbrella over these questions is around our aspiration to practice and our larger aspirations.


Thich Nhat Hanh writes:


To aspire means to aspire to something. There should be a kind of deep desire that pushes you to go in that direction. That desire makes up the vitality of the person. Each of us needs to have enough vitality, joy, an aspiration, a deep desire. So it is good to sit down and look deeply to recognize the deepest desire in us. Without this, a person is not very much alive. When we speak of an "aspirant", we think of the will that is there in the person. If that person is determined to go in that direction, it is because there is a force that is pushing them. That force is the deepest desire that we can find in us.


People often come to the practice of mindfulness, meditation or Buddhism because of pain, suffering, dis-ease. We bring the pain and sorrow that has been born from our family, environment and life experience. The practices and teachings give us a path, a way to transform our suffering and to experience healing. With the practice of mindfulness and meditation, we can look deeply into our suffering and begin to see the roots and conditions that have led to suffering.


In doing so we become more connected to ourselves, others and the world as we open our hearts to all of the above. To transform, heal, and see clearly, we take the path of the brave warrior in coming home to the present moment, to stillness, to silence.

Reflections on Practice

How has my practice of mindfulness, expanding my capacity for understanding, love, and compassion, helped me to transform my own "ill-being"?

-- E.g. anxiety, anger, fear, depression, regrets, craving, heedlessness, despair, distractedness?

-- What are my specific, past and current, experiences of "ill-being"?

-- What are the challenges in the practice for me at this time?

-- Where do I meet resistance, discomfort, and fear?


Engaging Practice

How do I now use the practice of mindfulness in the context of my family, social life, workplace, and livelihood?

-- How could I do this even more?


From orderofinterbeing.org


Please note that this week is a Newcomers week, our facilitator will be at the  studio at 6:15 pm for a brief overview of the logistics of the evening and mindfulness practice.

November 26 Loving Speech and Deep Listening

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This Monday night, Susie will facilitate.  She shares:  

This week we are going to review together the Five Mindfulness Trainings, which are: 

  1. Reverence for Life

  2. True Happiness

  3. True Love

  4. Loving Speech and Deep Listening

  5. Nourishment and Healing 

I would like to focus our discussion on the fourth 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. * * *

Loving speech includes

-       breath,

-       intonation,

-       eye contact,

-       body language,

-       thoughts forming,

-       words,

-       sentences,

-       punctuations.

I know that words matter. At times I notice my speech comes straight from my programmed mind, and I hear the words after they come out that I really didn't mean to utter. It makes me rethink how much I really need to say. I wonder what is my motivation for speaking. Is it ego? Do I desire connection? Is it more comforting to fill the space with sound? Then I take a breath, and ponder the purpose of these utterances, sometimes before they've tripped out or after.

A life coach I was speaking with at a party said he witnesses people minimizing what they are about to say by apologizing or using words like "I guess I just..." or "It's probably me..." and sometimes end a declaration with "...anyways". Saying "I am sorry" when it's the other person's doing.

From Don Miguel Ruiz's classic book of Toltec wisdom, The First Agreement is Be Impeccable with Your Word.

Loving speech begins with how we speak to the self. Our speech is coming from the heart. How kind is our self-talk? Can we forgive self for the imperfections of our human existence? We have anger, frustration, toxic feelings that can be soothed with compassionate encouragement and gentle voice.

We may repeat what we heard our parents say, and we are caught off guard when the words unexpectedly slip out - for better or worse. Most recently, I have been remembering and journaling about the hurtful speech I grew up hearing. It makes me sad for the small child I was, and yet it's very helpful to be aware of it. I am grateful I survived this period in my life, and when I hear those phrases in my head, I practice self-care and re-parenting as much as possible. I get to break the pattern, and replace cruel speech with loving speech.

Begin with self, and say -

"Good Morning My Darling! What did you dream about?"

(I am always the first person up in my house. This is on a card by my bed that I see when I wake up.)

"How can I be my own best friend today?"

(Put this on a post it in your kitchen or bathroom.)

"I am enough!"

(I write this on my hand when I need a reminder.)

When we have enough for ourselves, we can then give to others. What words are you using that are unkind to you or others around you? What words are in you that don't support your true self, and don't support the true nature of the people in your life that you love the most, and the stranger too? Monday, we will come together to support each other in lovingly letting these harmful words go, and make space for the words that resonate with you in this moment.

To me, deep listening means I listen wholeheartedly. I try to practice listening reflectively - repeating the words I am hearing in my mind so I know I am completely aware of what the person in front of me is saying. I try to remember to breathe in while I am listening, and stay present. I listen without preparing a response while the other is speaking to me, without the ego interfering and worrying, without thinking about how I can fix this person or their problems. Of course I don't do all of this all the time - hello!

I have always been on a quest to be more aware. This life takes a lifetime and I will get there as long as it takes. Will you join me? I hope so. See you Monday!

In love and light,

Susie


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The Five Mindfulness Trainings


The Five Mindfulness Trainings represent the Buddhist vision for a global spirituality and ethic. They are a concrete expression of the Buddha's teachings on the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, the path of right understanding and true love, leading to healing, transformation, and happiness for ourselves and for the world. To practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings is to cultivate the insight of interbeing, or Right View, which can remove all discrimination, intolerance, anger, fear, and despair. If we live according to the Five Mindfulness Trainings, we are already on the path of a bodhisattva. Knowing we are on that path, we are not lost in confusion about our life in the present or in fears about the future.


Reverence for Life

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating 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.

November 19 Which of the Six Realms do you hang out in?

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This Monday night, Mary will facilitate.  She shares:  


I have wanted to share for some time my notes from a retreat given by Pema Chodron and her long-time assistant, Tim Olmstead. They brought to everyday life the ancient Tibetan Buddhist teachings on the Six Realms. Rather than a traditional description of the six possible places of reincarnation after death, they focus on how these teachings can help us to be free now.

We often hear that the ground of our being, our basic nature is basic goodness. I wonder why I don't feel like that every day, every moment. The Six Realms are a paradigm that describes when we lose contact with this natural state of being. And when we get disconnected with our true nature, we get stuck in a realm.

"The Six Realms are our styles of being stuck-and when we become interested with open curiosity, when we turn the lights on our lives, we understand the realm(s) in which we habitually operate. Most people favor one or two realms as their 'go-to' realms. The 'carrot' is our imagination of what life could be like to be free from the prison of these realms --- that's why we have heros like Buddha, Christ and so many others. They provide us the evidence that it is possible.

  1. Hell realm: "you're against me" in opposition to everything; heat; fight; angry, enraged mind; hatred; can't distinguish if it's really happening or if it's your state of mind.

  2. Hungry Ghost realm: "there is never enough" or "I am never enough"; insatiability; deficiency; impoverished mind; even when there is enough, it's never satisfying.

  3. Animal realm: "just trying to get by"; head down; determined; survival mode; a fear of being eaten.

  4. Human realm: "if only I had"; if only, if only I had ... more friends, more time, more money, better looks, better spouse, better job, better house.

  5. Jealous realm: "I am the best" or "that's just how it is and I'm right"; competitiveness; jealousy; one-up-man.

  6. God realm: "luxury of obliviousness"; accompanied by a certain amount of wealth as have everything you need; bliss meditation; when things go wrong, check into a spa.

We bring intentionality to our awareness anytime we knowingly and intentionally bring our awareness to something. There are 3 types of awareness: Normal awareness; intentionally bringing our awareness/attention to something; and pure awareness/calm abiding/shamata when the knowingness no longer needs to have an object.

There is a difference between being lost in emotions versus being present to them; being used by our emotions versus using them. The skill we work to develop in this practice is the ability to hold and embrace our circumstance with awareness. Like all skills, this takes time to develop. Run in, run away, pull out, jump back in-do it in short, small bites. In order to open it out, to empty the realm, we need to open up the doors of the prison of that realm. This gesture of being willing to embrace our experience with that curiosity-just like a mother embraces her child-that is what heals, what empties the realm. Along the way, we learn how far we can go, in small bites; it's a process of coming closer. In order to empty the realm, we have to know it completely and intimately.

"The beauty of a relationship to things is that a relationship crafts intimacy and intimacy creates understanding and understanding creates love."

From Anais Nin


This attitude of warmth, understanding and love is healing. Awareness is the panacea. We learn to talk to ourselves like we'd want a friend to talk to us-with warmth, with empathy.

When we really understand ourselves, we automatically become interested in others' selves. Through this doorway, we connect to other people, to the world-- it develops our empathy, curiosity and warmth that melt the realm. Without meditation, we don't become familiar with this quality of awareness.

Space is the metaphor for our basic nature. Nothing can harm space.

It's because we are who we are and realize that we have all this stuff that we are even motivated to work to become enlightened-to be free from what imprisons us. You benefit people through what you thought was your weakest, most broken, part. It cuts through your denial, your pride, your ignorance-it opens us up and connects us to others-it's our humanness. It becomes your skill, your way to help others. These become doorways to our freedom.

What ultimately starts to soften things is accepting yourself the way you are. Brain science tells us that our emotions last only 90 seconds if we don't feed and reinforce them with the narrative. Meditation is a method to let the story line go. Feel what you feel without the narrative. "

Tonight after walking meditation, we will practice the process of emptying realms together during the second sitting period.

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

Bowing to the light within you,

Mary

November 12 Bitter and Blissful Awakenings

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On Monday, Marie will facilitate.  She shares:  


This week, we will reflect on how our consciousness and/or our lives have changed since we first started to practice.  I began thinking about this last month whilst on retreat with Rinpoche Anam Thubten.  He gave a Dharma talk on the three stages of spiritual practice and described that, in the last stage, one recognizes and transforms the five poisons (hatred, pride, greed, jealousy and ignorance).  He shared that, in his experience, "bitter awakenings" have been more important, more transformational, than blissful awakenings.  When one sees that one is deluded - hooked on an inner poison - one can recognize this, look deeply into this experience and find freedom.   In "No Self, No Problem", he writes: 

When we come to the spiritual path, we have to... be certain that we are not adding another illusion on top of the illusions we already have.  When we look into our consciousness we see that we have many illusions.


What is our main illusion?  The illusion is that I am real.  I am truly existent.  This final illusion is the one we want to hold on to.

There are stages we go through on the path of dissolution and sometimes the first stage is a bit painful.  Sometimes it has a bitter taste because it is painful to lose what we are attached to...  Did you ever experience going through your old clothes, pictures and paperwork and find that you have a lot of things that are totally useless?  They are useless, yet when we have to make the radical choice to throw them away it is painful because we have great memories attached to them.  We wore that tee shirt when we fell in love...  For these reasons, dissolving illusions can sometimes be very painful...  


What is transcendent wisdom?  It is a direct momentary process of dissolving all illusion right now in this very moment.  It is dissolving the illusion of pain, sorrow and hatred.  It is dissolving the illusion of self...


It is good to lose everything sometimes.  It is good to get out of the straight jacket and get free from everything that has been imprisoning us throughout many lifetimes.  It is truly liberating to lose all of our cherished illusions, including the illusion of self.  Giving up all mental exertion, especially the mental exertion we use to sustain the illusion of "I", the illusory separation between the self and the other.  When we give up this effort, then suddenly all illusions just go away.  We really don't have to do anything.  It's all about stopping.  We simply stop perpetuating and holding on to illusions.  The illusions don't have their own life force.  They are ready to dissolve in each and every moment.  It's just a matter of tie.  When we wholeheartedly decide to no longer sustain the illusions, they collapse.


If we close our eyes for a few moments and pay attention to our mind, we see that somebody is working very hard.  Their main work, their full time employment, is to come up with concepts, ideas and story lines about the past, present and future with one clear goal: sustaining illusory reality.  This full time employee is called "ego".  It's story line is "I'm good. I'm bad.  I don't have enough. Somebody hurt me.  I'm too old.  I'm too young and so forth.  All these are concepts produced by ego...


However, when we decide wholeheartedly to no longer sustain illusions all of this collapse.  It takes a lot of energy to keep producing the story lines to feed the nonexistent, illusory reality. Suddenly, when we stop producing concepts and ideas, when we stop feeding that illusory reality, when we stop associating with the ego, it is very simple.  The moment we stop associating with ego it just immediately ceases right there.  And in that moment, we fall in love with the truth.  

What has been your experience?  If you reflect back on how you were before you started practicing relative to how you are now, what has changed?  Can you identify the source of these changes - in terms of insights or transformation?  To what extent have your awakenings been bitter or blissful, and what are the implications for your practice going forward?


I look forward to us sharing our experiences on Monday night.


Warmly,Marie  

November 5 The Life and Teachings of the Buddha - Shantum Seth

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This week Annie will invite the bell for dharma teacher Shantum Seth who will speak to us about the life and teachings of the Buddha. Shantum's full bio is below.  You can listen to him talk about his Buddhist journey here.


Shantum leads tours of the Buddhist sites in India and Nepal and was the teacher of Annie's trip to India in 2016. Shantum has been a student of Thich Nhật Hanh for several decades and has been a friend of Annie's for many years. You will definitely enjoy his talk!
After our meditation period, Shantum will talk, and then we will have some time to ask him questions and share about our practice.* 
More about Shantum:Shantum Seth is a teacher, social development worker and a man of peace with Indian roots and a world experience not easily found in one person.

He is an ordained teacher (Dharmacharya) in the Zen lineage of the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, and the foremost guide to the sites associated with the Buddha. He has been leading highly acclaimed pilgrimages 'In the Footsteps of the Buddha' and other amazing journeys of discovery throughout India and parts of South Asia since 1988. His tours have been featured in The New York Times and on the BBC/PBS's "Story of India" (www.buddhapath.com).

He advises the Government of India's Ministry of Tourism and Culture and was instrumental in initiating the Endogenous Tourism program for the United Nations Development Program where he worked for 15 years. He has used his considerable experience to contribute to a number of books, including "Walking with the Buddha," "Planting Seeds..., Sharing Mindfulness with Children," and "Volunteers against Conflict."

Shantum has been in demand as a guest speaker at many forums including to the Young President's Organization, the UNDP executive board, the Chicago Council for Global Affairs, the Confederation of Indian Industries and at a number of museums and universities East and West.

He is actively involved in the non-profit trust Ahimsa, which is pioneering work on 'Mindfulness in Education' and setting up a centre for this purpose in the foothills of the Himalayas (www.ahimsatrust.org). While at the University of East Anglia in England, studying Development Studies, he titled his thesis 'Ahimsa Shoes', basing it on Gandhian economics. 

An itinerant traveler himself, he has visited more than 50 countries and has lived in England, the USA and France. He now lives with his wife, two daughters and parents in the suburbs of Delhi, India.

In many ways Shantum is an exciting window to today's India. He helps the world understand, interpret and value a multi-faceted civilization and its people.


*Although this is the first Monday of the month, there will be no newcomer's orientation this week. If you are new, feel free to join us at 7 pm and we will welcome you and let you know what to expect.

October 29 True Happiness

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This Monday, Camille will facilitate.  She shares:


Dear Friends,

This evening we will read together the Five Mindfulness Trainings (see below). These trainings, translated for modern times by Thich Nhat Hanh, are ways to practice mindfulness with compassion and understanding. While they are trainings -if practiced regularly, Thay says they can "help us be more calm and concentrated and bring more insight and enlightenment".

I would like to focus on the Second Mindfulness Training this evening - True Happiness. This training talks about taking an active role in social justice, generosity towards others, and reducing suffering in myself and others, recognizing that my happiness and the happiness of others is not separate. For me this training is both a challenge and a blessing.

When I listen to the news or read books about the suffering of others, or when I experience personal suffering, I can often retreat and huddle in a corner not wanting to believe or accept what is true. My flight response begins as an easy way out but all too soon becomes painful. It often takes lots of time, energy, meditation, and breathing to coax myself into the realization that this is just adding to the suffering. Sometimes I am able to practice metta or loving kindness toward myself and begin to feel healing take place, and sometimes even confident and energized enough to think I can save the world. At that time when we are able to practice self compassion is when we are then able to spread joy and happiness to others.  

In Thay's book "For A Future To Be Possible; Commentaries on the Five Mindfulness Trainings", he says, "even with metta as a source of energy in ourselves, we still need to learn to look deeply in order to find ways to express it. We do it as individuals, and we learn ways to do it as a nation. To promote the well-being of people, animals, plants and minerals, we have to come together as a community and examine our situation, exercising our intelligence and our ability to look deeply so that we can discover appropriate ways to express our metta in the midst of real problems".  

I hope to continue to find more ways to practice generosity and mette and serve those in need. I invite you to consider this practice and think about how it might manifest itself in your daily life.

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

With love, Camille

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The Five Mindfulness Trainings
The Five Mindfulness Trainings represent the Buddhist vision for a global spirituality and ethic. They are a concrete expression of the Buddha's teachings on the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, the path of right understanding and true love, leading to healing, transformation, and happiness for ourselves and for the world. To practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings is to cultivate the insight of interbeing, or Right View, which can remove all discrimination, intolerance, anger, fear, and despair. If we live according to the Five Mindfulness Trainings, we are already on the path of a bodhisattva. Knowing we are on that path, we are not lost in confusion about our life in the present or in fears about the future.
Reverence For LifeAware 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 HappinessAware 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 stop contributing to climate change.
True LoveAware 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 ListeningAware 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 HealingAware 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.

Link to Plum Village website.

October 22 Creativity and Buddhism

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This Monday, Bea will facilitate.  She shares:


This week I have been thinking a lot about the creative process to reconnect with the self and to feel 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 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

October 15 Past, Present, Forward...

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On Monday Night, Mick will facilitate our sitting.  He shares:


This past Thursday October 12 was the 92nd birthday/continuation day of Thich Nhat Hanh, aka Thay. On this day I was moved to reflect on Thay's teachings and life and how they have impacted my life. Thay's teachings and reminders have been a guiding source in my life for over 20 years.


Driving to work on Thursday and listening to one of his talks I felt refreshed and energized in experiencing that just like the breath and the body, the teachings are something that are always there for us whenever we are ready to step out of the mind and into the present moment. We always have the capacity to pause, to stop and breathe and take care of ourselves. One of the greatest fruits of the practice for me over the years has been the practice of learning to be with strong or challenging feelings.


Thay teaches that the strong feelings are impermanent and that we can find a shelter from the storm. He writes:


When a feeling of sadness, despair, or anger arises, we should stop what we are doing in order to go home to ourselves and take care. We can sit or lie down and begin to practice mindful breathing. The daily practice of breathing can be very helpful. A strong emotion is like a storm, and when a storm is about to arrive, we should prepare so we can cope with it. We should not dwell on the level of our head and our thinking but bring all our attention down to the level of our abdomen. We may practice mindful breathing and become aware of the rise and fall of our abdomen. Breathing in, rising; breathing out, falling. Rising, falling. We stop all the thinking because thinking can make the emotion stronger.

(Planting Seeds: Teaching Mindfulness to Children, by Thich Nhat Hanh. pp 183-184)


The simple, yet powerful practice of mindful breathing can help us to be stable in midst of turmoil. Even if the emotions do not go away, we can notice and observe the nature of the feeling and how it is moving through our mind and body.


Thay teaches that we are like the tree in a storm:


The mind is the top of the tree, so don't dwell there; bring your mind down to the trunk. The abdomen is the trunk, so stick to it, practice mindful, deep breathing, and after that the emotion will pass. When you have survived one emotion, you know that next time a strong emotion arises, you will survive again. But don't wait for the next strong emotion to practice. It is important that you practice deep, mindful breathing every day.

(Planting Seeds: Teaching Mindfulness to Children, by Thich Nhat Hanh. pp 183-184)


On Thay's Continuation Day I reflected on how the practice of mindfulness has shaped my life in the past, and the present. I also thought about how I want to continue to live and practice and share Thay's teachings. Being with strong feelings is just one of the teachings/practices that stood out for me.


In coming together on Monday we can share on this practice and also take time to reflect and share on how Thay's teachings have influenced you in the past, the present and how you would like to continue into the future.

Please find the link for the full article with an update on Thay's health.


Also, you can go here to find the text for Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Thich Nhat Hanh, the source of all the quotes and belly breathing below.


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Belly BreathingWhen a feeling of sadness, despair, or anger arises, we should stop what we are doing in order to go home to ourselves and take care. We can sit or lie down and begin to practice mindful breathing. The daily practice of breathing can be very helpful. A strong emotion is like a storm, and when a storm is about to arrive, we should prepare so we can cope with it. We should not dwell on the level of our head and our thinking but bring all our attention down to the level of our abdomen. We may practice mindful breathing and become aware of the rise and fall of our abdomen. Breathing in, rising; breathing out, falling. Rising, falling. We stop all the thinking because thinking can make the emotion stronger.We should be aware that an emotion is only an emotion; it arrives, stays for some time, and then passes, just like a storm. We should not die just because of one emotion. We should remind young people about this. We are much more than our emotions, and we can take care of them whether we are feeling anger or despair. We don't think anymore, we just focus 100 percent of our attention on the rise and fall of the abdomen and in that moment we are safe. Our emotion may last five or ten minutes but if we continue to breathe in and out, we will be safe, because mindfulness is protecting us. Mindfulness is the Buddha in us, helping us practice belly breathing...We are like a tree during a storm. If you look at the top of a tree, you may have the impression that the tree can be blown away or that the branches can be broken anytime, but if you direct your attention to the trunk of the tree and become aware that the tree is deeply rooted in the soil, then you see the solidity of the tree. The mind is the top of the tree, so don't dwell there; bring your mind down to the trunk. The abdomen is the trunk, so stick to it, practice mindful, deep breathing, and after that the emotion will pass. When you have survived one emotion, you know that next time a strong emotion arises, you will survive again. But don't wait for the next strong emotion to practice. It is important that you practice deep, mindful breathing every day.- Thich Nhat Hanh

October 8 The Five Touchings of the Earth

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This Monday night, Camille will facilitate.  She shares:


Dear Friends,

For our gathering this evening, we will practice the 5 Earth Touching's (see full text below). Touching the Earth is a practice developed by Thich Nhat Hanh to help us connect with the many different aspects of who we are: our blood and spiritual families; the country we live in; and all beings- animals, plants and minerals. "When we are connected to our roots, to all that sustains us, we are happy and solid, no longer isolated and lonely. When we touch the Earth, we breathe in all the strength and stability of the Earth and breathe out our suffering" (Thich Nhat Hanh - from Plum Village web site). 

When I read or practice the Earth touchings, I think of my parents, who are still living, and all my grandparents who I knew, and their parents who I have heard about - and I feel the love and support of all of them and it makes me feel happy. When family, friends, neighbors, and teachers share their spiritual traditions and rituals I find that I am drawn to all of them and get excited to learn from them. It is a gentle reminder that we all possess the energy to create peace, love, joy, kindness and understanding.

The Earth Touching practice will involve bowing down or prostrating to the Earth, if this does not physically work for you - please honor your bodies and allow yourselves to be in a comfortable position - whatever that may be.

After this practice I invite you to think about how this affected you and how you might even consider writing your own text to go deeper into the practice.

Looking forward to being with you.

Peace, Camille

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The Five Touching's of the Earth

Modified from Plum Village Chanting Book 2002


- I -

In gratitude, I bow to my ancestors, my mother, my father and all generations of ancestors.

(Bell)
(All touch the earth) 
 

I see my mother as a young woman, smiling, vibrant, alive, innocent, with so many ideas and plans for the future. I can feel her energy in me fully. I see my father as a young man, fresh, at ease, determined, engaged, wanting to contribute to the world. I can feel his energy in me. I feel their eyes looking out of my eyes now.

I see my grandmother and grandfather on my mother's side and how they worked to raise my own mother in the best way that they could, and my grandmother and grandfather on my father's side and all of the difficulties that they faced. And I see all of my ancestors streaming back in time, whether they lived on this same land or another land, and I know that they worked hard in their lives in order for me to live my life now. I feel their joys and their sorrows, their expectations, and hopes, which have been passed down to me, in my very bones.

I carry in me the life,blood, experience, wisdom, happiness, and sorrow of all of these previous generations. I open my heart, flesh, and bones to receive the energy of insight, love, and experience transmitted to me by all my ancestors. The suffering and all the elements that need to be transformed, I am practicing to transform. I see all of their beautiful intentions and I feel love, compassion and sorrow for their hurts.  I pour out all of the negative habit energies and experiences I have received from my ancestors, into the support of Mother Earth beneath me, leaving only their inner goodness -- their Buddha nature -- in me.

I know that parents always love and support their children and grandchildren, although they are not always able to express it skillfully because of difficulties they themselves encountered. As a continuation of my ancestors, I bow deeply with gratitude for all that my parents, grandparents, and ancestors went through to provide me with life today.  I open myself to allow their energy to flow through me and I ask them for their support, protection, and strength.

(Pause) 
(Bell Tap) 
(All stand up)


- 2 -

In gratitude, I bow to all of the beings who have supported me on my spiritual journey.

(Bell) 
(All touch the earth)


I see in myself my teachers and friends, the ones who show me the way of love and understanding, the way to breathe, smile, forgive, and live deeply in the present moment. I see through my teachers all teachers over many generations and traditions, going back to the ones who began my spiritual family thousands of years ago.

I see the Buddha and the Bodhisattvas; Jesus and Mary; Moses and Abraham; Mohammed and the Sufi Masters; Krishna; Mother Earth and Father Sun, and the many wise and courageous women and men who have shown us the way. I see them all as my spiritual ancestors. Their energy has deeply transformed the world. Their energy has entered me and is creating peace, joy, understanding, and loving-kindness.

Without these spiritual ancestors, I would not know the way to practice to bring peace and happiness into my life and into the lives of my family and society. I open my heart and my body to receive the energy of understanding, loving-kindness, and protection from these awakened ones, and I send my deep gratitude to each and every one of them.  Without them, I would not have the capacity to truly be there for my life and my loved ones.

I know that I am the continuation of their teachings, and of the community of practice over many generations. I ask these spiritual ancestors to transmit to me their infinite source of energy, peace, stability, understanding, and love. I will try my best to use this energy to practice so that I can transform suffering in myself and in the world, and to transmit their energy to future generations of practitioners.

(Pause) 
(Bell Tap) 
(All stand up)


- 3-

In gratitude, I bow to the Earth and all of the Beings who live on it with me.

(Bell) 
(All touch the earth)


I see that I am whole, protected, and nourished by this Earth and by the living beings who have made life easy and possible for me through all their efforts. I see all those who have worked hard to build schools, hospitals, bridges, and roads, to protect human rights, to develop science and technology, and to fight for freedom and social justice, as well as those who have suffered as a result of being excluded from many of these institutions and the larger society.

I see myself touching all parts of this amazing planet - the blue sky and white clouds, the enormous beauty of the forests, the healing waters, and the solidity of the mountain ranges. I offer my intention to live in balance with all life on this Earth and I feel the energy of this land penetrating my body and soul, supporting and accepting me.

I vow to cultivate and maintain this energy and return it to support and protect the land, air, streams and oceans and animals. I will work to transmit this understanding to future generations. I vow to contribute my part in transforming the violence, hatred, ignorance and delusion that still lie deep in the collective consciousness of this society so that future generations will have more safety, joy, and peace. I ask this land for its protection and support and offer my gratitude for its wisdom, support, beauty, and for its infinite acceptance.  

(Pause) 
(Bell Tap) 
(All stand up)


- 4-

In gratitude and compassion, I bow down and transmit my energy to those I love.

(Bell) 
(All touch the earth)


All the energy I have received I now want to transmit to my father, my mother, everyone I love, and all who have suffered and worried because of me, and for me.

I know I have not always been mindful in my daily life, which may have caused my loved ones to suffer. I also know that those who love me have had their own difficulties. I see that they have suffered because they were not lucky enough to have an environment that encouraged their full development, and I feel compassion for their suffering. I transmit my energy to my beloved ones: my mother, my father, my brothers, my sisters, my husband, my partner, my wife, my daughter, my son; to the family of friends I have created around me; and to the husband, wife, partner, and children I may have in the future.

I transmit my energy so that their pain will be relieved, so they can smile and feel the joy of being alive. I want all of them to be healthy and joyful. I know that when they are happy, I will also be happy. I no longer feel resentment towards any of them. I ask my ancestors and spiritual teachers to focus their energies toward each of them, to protect and support them. I know that I am not separate from them. I am one with those I love.

I send my heart full of gratitude to those I love for their willingness hand-in-hand with me, even as imperfect as I am.

(Pause)
(Bell Tap) 
(All stand up)


- 5-

In understanding and compassion, I bow down to reconcile myself with all those who have made me or those I love suffer.

(Bell) 
(All touch the earth)


I open my heart and send forth my energy of love and understanding to everyone who has made me suffer, to those who may have destroyed much of my life and the lives of those I love.

I know now that these people have themselves undergone a lot of suffering and that their hearts are tight with pain, anger, hatred and delusion. I touch that pain and feel its sorrow and see that anyone who suffers that much will make those around him or her suffer. I know they may have been unlucky, never having the chance to be cared for and loved. Life and society have dealt them so many hardships. They have been wronged, abused and taught to hate. They have not been guided in the path of mindful living. They have been stripped of the innocence and joy of life. They have accumulated wrong perceptions about life, about me, and about us. They have hurt us and the people we love.

I ask my ancestors and spiritual teachers to channel to these persons who have made us suffer the energy of love and protection, so that their hearts will be able to open to receive love and blossom like a flower. I offer my deep wish that they can transform and experience the joy of living, so that they will not continue to make themselves and others suffer.

I see their suffering and do not want to hold any feelings of hatred or anger in myself toward them. I do not want them to suffer. I channel my energy of love and understanding to them and ask all my ancestors to help them to transform and to help me to forgive.

(Full Bell)
(All stand up)

(Bell to conclude the Touchings of the Earth.)



[This version of The Five Touching's of the Earth was adapted from the Plum Village Chanting and Recitation Book. Revised January 23, 2002, by the Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center and Annie Mahon, Opening Heart Mindfulness Community, November, 2015.]

October 1 Taking Care of Our Strong Emotions

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This Monday night, Annie will facilitate.  She shares:

Dear Friends,


Thich Nhat Hanh often talks about embracing our strong emotions. Taking care of them the way a parent takes care of a baby. First, we pick it up and just hold it. Then we find out what it needs and take care of it. Sounds simple, right? 


For years, I wondered just how to do that. And I've been asked this by so many mindfulness students over the years. Embracing emotions, like meditation and yoga, isn't something we can just read about. We have to actually practice it.  


So, what does embracing our strong emotions look like in practice? I've learned a lot about how to do this from Ann Weiser Cornell, the creator of Inner Relationship Focusing. She offers a concrete way to take care of the strong emotions as they arise, or even after-the-fact. 


I studied with Anne for years, and I've woven this Focusing practice into my mindfulness practice and I do it on a very regular basis. Like brushing my emotional teeth, it keeps me more centered and aware of what's really happening inside of me. It also keeps my strong emotions from building up or going into hiding.


On Monday, I'll share this practice with you so you can do it whenever you need it -- in the middle of your day, or as part of your meditation time. It's simple and a great adjunct to silent sitting meditation.


After our walking meditation, I will lead a guided meditation in noticing and taking care of our emotions. After that, we can share our experience with this practice, and consider how we can use this in our everyday lives. 


Looking forward to being together.
xo

annie.

September 24 The Five Mindfulness Trainings

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Mary will facilitate.  She shares:


The last Monday of each month, after sitting and walking meditations, we recite the Five Mindfulness trainings. The Five Mindfulness Trainings were adapted and updated by Thich Nhat Hanh based on the five precepts for lay people created during Buddha's time. 


Below is an excerpt from Thich Nhat Hahn's book Happiness: Essential MindfulnessPractices. 

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

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

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

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

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

In an interview with Thich Nhat Hahn conducted by Andrea Miller and published in Lion's Roar in January of 2013, he elaborates on the 5 Mindfulness Trainings:


"You created the five mindfulness trainings to be a distillation of four noble truths and the noble eightfold path. Can we talk a little about the five mindfulness trainings?


The first one is about protecting life and is motivated by the insight of interbeing and compassion. The second is about true happiness. True happiness is not made of fame, power, wealth, or sensual pleasure, but rather it's made of understanding and love. You don't need to run into the future to look for happiness. The capacity to live in the here and the now allows you to recognize so many conditions of happiness.


What about true love, the third mindfulness training?


Love and sexual desire-they are two different things. Sexual desire without mindfulness and compassion can cause a lot of suffering for you and for the other person. But true love always brings joy and happiness. According to this practice, sexual activity should not take place without love, understanding, and a deep commitment made known to friends and family. True love will not create suffering because it is based on the insight of interbeing. Your suffering is his suffering; her happiness is your happiness. So there's no longer any discrimination-harmony is possible, and fear and anger are not possible anymore.


Then the fourth mindfulness training is about compassionate listening and loving speech.


It has the power to restore communication and to bring reconciliation. If you learn how to practice the fourth mindfulness training, you can end relationship difficulties that may have lasted several years in just a few days of practice. You can bring back harmony, mutual understanding, and happiness. Then the fifth mindfulness training is about right consumption. Many people consume because they want to cover up the suffering inside. They don't need to eat but they eat in order to get rid of loneliness, depression, or despair. They read magazines, they go to the internet, they play music, they drive their car-all just to cover up and run away from their suffering. But by consuming these things, they bring more toxins, more violence, and more craving into themselves. In Buddhism the practice is to take care of your own suffering. If you understand your suffering, you will understand the suffering of the other person more easily. When you understand the suffering of the other person, you are not angry at him or her anymore, and you try to do or say something to help him or her suffer less. That means recognizing the suffering in the other person helps compassion to arise in you, and when there is compassion in your heart you don't suffer anymore. Instead, you try to help. Right consumption can help your family, your society. Right consumption can preserve the earth.


I understand that your international sangha is working to bring the practice of mindfulness into schools.


It is possible to bring this kind of practice into schools of each level. You don't have to use Buddhist terms. Maybe each week there is one hour of global ethics taught and every day teachers and students learn concrete things like how to breathe, how to relax, how to release the tension in their bodies. If teachers and students know how to breathe and walk in such a way that can help them be in the present moment, they will learn to appreciate the many conditions of happiness that they have. They will appreciate peace-not having to run under bombs-and they will appreciate not having to go ten miles to fetch water for drinking. There are so many conditions of happiness: going to school, evenings at home, family, having something to eat and a house to live in. Many children in the world don't have these things, so breathing and walking not only help the students to release tension, but they also help students to recognize the conditions of happiness that they have. This is the teaching of the Buddha: It is possible to live happily in the present moment. Teachers can train themselves to live like that, in order to help students to live like that. In Plum Village we have been training schoolteachers in many countries to do this work. We hope to bring the five mindfulness trainings into schools, not in terms of theory, but in practice. Now in Bhutan there is a course given to schoolteachers all over the country, training them to bring this practice into schools. In California we have talked with Governor Brown about this and he said that we will have to begin with a few schools first, so he asked us to train the teachers in two schools in Northern California. Then later, after publishing the results, we might make a proposal so that other schools can adopt the practice.


How does your sangha work with the five mindfulness trainings?


Every two weeks we come together to recite the five trainings and discuss how to better apply them into our daily life. This kind of practice can help reduce suffering very quickly and bring more happiness."


For the dharma discussion, we will focus on our personal experience with practicing these trainings. 

Can we cite examples in our lives where they have served as practical guides to finding greater ease, understanding and joy in our relationships? 


I look forward to being with you on Monday evening!

Namaste!

Mary

September 17 Balancing Individual Liberation with Collective Liberation

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This week Annie will facilitate.


I like to stay up with the news, for the most part. But, sometimes I get overwhelmed. Recently, several young adults told me that they don't plan to have kids because the world is such a mess. Millions of refugees are fleeing violence and instability, there is an increase in the polarization of political views, police violence is escalating against people of color, economic inequality is on the rise, wars are happening all over the globe, not to mention climate change. We don't know what is happening to our bodies as more and more of us, myself included, have autoimmune diseases; and some types of cancers are on the rise. There is a lot for all of us to worry about.
How can we keep from falling into despair or giving up?


The paradigm that has been most helpful for me in transforming my feelings of overwhelm and insufficiency is one I learned from the Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF) at a gathering last summer. It's Block, Build, Be, and it's based on Joanna Macy's three pillars of the Great Turning. Applying Block, Build, Be to my life lifts me out of despair and into action. It goes a long way to reducing my stress and allowing me to sleep at night.
The first element, Block, is a commitment to non-harming and not allowing harm to happen. As Thich Nhat Hanh says in the first of his Five Mindfulness Trainings:
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. (Red highlights are mine.)

Blocking means we are not just refraining from causing harm, but we are out there stopping others from causing harm, too. It may include going to a rally, sharing the work we are passionate about with other people, or resisting the tendency to go along with meannesses for the sake of "keeping the peace." Blocking harmful actions benefits the one being harmed, and, if you believe in karma or that you "reap what you sow," then in the long run, Blocking also benefits the one poised to do the harming.


But Blocking is just 1/3 of this practice.


Build
 is a commitment to creating the world we want to live in. Adrienne Maree Brown writes beautifully about this in her book, Emergent Strategy.

out beyond our children
beyond the end of time
there is a ceaseless cycle
a fractal of sublime
and we come to create it
to soil our hands and faces
loving loving and loving
ourselves, and all our places
-- adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy, p25

She goes on to say:


My dream is a movement with such deep trust that we move as a murmuration, the way groups of starlings billow, dive, spin, dance collectively through the air -- to avoid predators, and, it also seems, to pass time in the most beautiful way possible... here's how it works in a murmuration/shoal/swarm: each creature is tuned in to its neighbors, the creatures right around it in the formation... there is a deep trust in this: to lift because the birds around you are lifting, to live based on your collective real-time adaptations. In this way thousands of birds or fish or bees can move together, each empowered with basic rules and a vision to live. Imagine our movements cultivating this type of trust and depth with each other, having strategic flocking in our playbooks.
My personal practice of Building is learning to relate to other people in the way Brown describes. To connect more deeply with those in my immediate vicinity, to "love the one you're with", as Crosby Stills, and Nash sang to me over and over again in my youth. And from that love, build real community. And, for me, this is a harder task than it would seem. My habit and conditioning tug at me, telling me to stay at what seems the safer surface of relationships. I fear taking risks with people I don't know well. Resisting these inner voices, I try to get to know my neighbors better, invite friends over for tea and talk about what's happening in the world and what matters. I take the time to ask people what they think and feel. This is my growing edge.
The final 1/3 of the practice is Be.


Being may be the most challenging three elements. Being present and awake in times of suffering is difficult. Some part of me wants to spend every day in bed watching stand-up comedy on Netflix, chuck my phone, and drown myself in the chocolate fondant from the local bistro. And now and then, I need to do just that.
Thich Nhat Hanh taught something important about Being -- to Be is to Inter-Be. I can never be on my own, because my happiness depends on your happiness and your happiness depends on my happiness. Being is not a solo practice. If I fall into despair, I contribute to more suffering for you and everyone else. And if I help you, I am helping myself. So Being means I am open and engaged. It means I accept support from my meditation community, my teachers, and the authors and leaders I trust to help me Be a more fiercely compassionate person. And I pass that support on to others, too.
Being is also about knowing what harmful seeds I am carrying inside of me and how to transform them. My conditioning has created ticking bombs inside of me that could go off at any moment, harming a lot of people. In order to be someone who is contributing to healing means I need to heal myself first. I need to learn about the internalized biases lying dormant in my mind's store consciousness, ready to say and do violent and discriminatory things, and replace them with what I know to be true. (see Clearing the Weeds of Racism, Sexism, Homophobia, Transphobia, Ableism, and Economic Injustice). By doing this inner work, I can Be someone who rarely causes harm unknowingly. I can Be a refuge for myself and other people and have the freshness I need to keep Blocking and Building.
Living Block, Build, Be


The three aspects of this practice -- Block, Build, and Be -- inter-are with each other. Doing one is not enough. Sometimes we think that if we can simply Be a nice person or we if just Block all bad actions or Build something new, each in itself would be enough. This model suggests, and I would agree, we need all three. Block, Build, Be is a structure, an approach to each and every day. It's not another way to measure of our morality in order to find ourselves lacking, and it's not a goal. It's a shorthand reminder to put one foot in front of the other and do what we can do today for this messy, scary, and beautiful world.


After our meditation period, we will have a chance to share our thoughts about Block, Build, Be as a paradigm for inner and outer liberation. Is this a useful paradigm for you? What would make it more useful? Where do you block? Where do you build? and Where do you just Be?

September 10 Watering the Wholesome Seeds of our Practice

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This Monday night, Marie will facilitate.  She shares:
 

Last Monday, we explored the topic "Faith in our Buddhist practice".  This week, we will build on this theme and ask, at a practical level, what do we do in our practice that generates faith?  

 

Let's start off by defining faith.  In the Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh writes that:

 

"Faith is the confidence we receive when we put into practice a teaching that helps us to overcome difficulties and obtain some transformation.   

 

It is like the confidence a farmer has in his way of growing crops...    Faith does not mean accepting theory that we have not personally verified.  The Buddha encouraged us to see for ourselves.  Taking refuge in the Three Jewels (the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha) is not blind faith; it is the fruit of our practice.   

 

In Buddhism, our faith is concrete, not blind, not a leap.  It is formed by our own insight and experience.  When we take refuge in the Buddha, we express trust in our capacity to walk in the direction of beauty, truth and deep understanding, based on our experience of the efficacy of the practice.

 

When we take refuge in the Dharma, we enter the path of transformation, the path to end suffering.

 

When we take refuge in the Sangha, we focus our energies on building a community that dwells in mindfulness, harmony and peace.

 

When we touch these Three Jewels directly and experience their capacity to bring about transformation and peace, our faith is strengthened even further...

 

During the Buddha's last months, he always taught, "Take refuge in yourselves, not in anything else.  In you are the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.  Don't look for things that are far away.  Everything is in your own heart.  Be an island unto your self."

 

To me, it seems like a mutually reinforcing cycle; as one practices in ways that really make a difference in one's life, one generates more confidence, more faith, and then one wants to practice more deeply, and so on...

 

What are the practices that make a difference in your life?  Specifically, what do you do, how do you do it, and what impact does it have on your life?  

 

On Monday night, we will water the wholesome seeds of our practice.  By reflecting on what we are doing (as opposed to berating ourselves for what we're not doing), we can strengthen our practice and our faith.   

 

I hope you will join us.

September 3 Faith in our Buddhist Practice

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This Monday night, Bea will facilitate.  She shares:
 

This week I would like to focus our discussion and sharing on the topic of Faith in our Buddhist practice. During the summer, I spent one week in New Mexico and had the opportunity to visit Chimayo, a holy pilgrimage site nestled at the base of a range of mountains between Santa Fe and Taos. The picture I chose to accompany this week's discussion is from there and it captures the many offerings that people leave in the three chapels and spread around the grounds of the sanctuary.   

 

Like many other pilgrim and holy places, people come from all over the world to pray and spend time in Chimayo. It is quiet and peaceful there. There are not just rosaries hanging from rocks and fences but also hundreds of pictures of men and women in uniform and in the chapel of the baby Jesus, there are so many images of smiling children glued to the walls and small baby shoes hanging from the ceiling. One room had many crutches hanging from a wall, perhaps a sign of healing and the symbol of a miracle. It is impressive how many people put their faith in Chimayo and in similar places of worship. 

 

That visit made me think about faith in the Buddhist tradition and whether we too put our faith into something when we practice in this tradition or not. How appropriate is it to speak about faith in Buddhist practice? And if it is appropriate, is faith related to something outside or inside of us?  Can we have faith without attachment to outcome? Do we have faith in our capacity to return to our breath? Do we have faith in the sangha or in the monastics who devote their lives to mindful practice? 

 

As I walked through Chimayo, I felt the place was indeed special and sacred. I felt the beauty and strength of nature intertwined with spiritual depth and the power to heal. I have faith in the awareness that we are all interconnected and the holy site of Chimayo brought that out of me. In Buddhism, cravings and attachments are the cause of suffering. The offerings displayed at Chimayo are a testament to the suffering and pain that we humans experience but also to the impermanence of that suffering and the power of Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity.

 

Below is an extract from the first chapter of Teachings on Love, written by Thay:

 

"Happiness is only possible with true love. True love has the power to heal and transform the situation around us and bring a deep meaning to our lives. There are people who understand the nature of true love and how to generate and nurture it. The teachings on love given by the Buddha are clear, scientific, and applicable. Every one of us can benefit from these teachings.

During the lifetime of the Buddha, those of the Brahmanic faith prayed that after death they would go to Heaven to dwell eternally with Brahma, the universal God. One day a Brahman man asked the Buddha, "What can I do to be sure that I will be with Brahma after I die?" and the Buddha replied, "As Brahma is the source of Love, to dwell with him you must practice the Brahmaviharas-love, compassion, joy, and equanimity."

 

A vihara is an abode or a dwelling place. Love in Sanskrit is maitri; in Pali it is metta. Compassion is karuna in both languages. Joy is mudita. Equanimity is upeksha in Sanskrit and upekkha in Pali. The Brahmaviharas are the four elements of true love. 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, also.

 

The Buddha respected people's desire to practice their own faith, so he answered the Brahman's question in a way that encouraged him to do so. If you enjoy sitting meditation, practice sitting meditation. If you enjoy walking meditation, practice walking meditation. But preserve your Jewish, Christian, or Muslim roots. That is the way to continue the Buddha's spirit. If you are cut off from your roots, you cannot be happy.

 

If we learn ways to practice love, compassion, joy, and equanimity, we will know how to heal the illnesses of anger, sorrow, insecurity, sadness, hatred, loneliness, and unhealthy attachments... Love, compassion, joy, and equanimity are the very nature of an enlightened person. They are the four aspects of true love within ourselves and within everyone and everything."

 

How do you experience faith in mindful practice? Do you think you can have faith without attachment to outcome? What does that look and feel like to you?

 

See you Monday evening, September 3.

 

Bea

August 27 Don't Bite the Hook

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This Monday night Mick will facilitate.  He shares:
 

       Over the years, In conjunction with Thay's teachings, the teachings of Pema Chodron are a  reliable guide. Don't bite the hook. In many of her teachings Pema Chodron teaches that we are often like moths to the flame when it comes to playing out long time patterns of getting triggered or getting sucked in. Very often these emotional entanglements and instances of repeat occur with those closest to us. In conjunction to teaching us to not "bite the hook", Pema teaches to learn to stay with what is arising. In an article in Lion's Roar magazine entitled What to Do When the Going Gets Rough she writes:

 

So with this person who is scaring us or insulting us, do we retaliate as we have done one hundred thousand times before, or do we start to get smart and finally hold our seat?

Right at the point when we are about to blow our top or withdraw into oblivion, we can remember this: we are warriors-in-training being taught how to sit with edginess and discomfort. We are being challenged to remain and to relax where we are.

 

Part of our mindfulness practice is to know why we sit, why we turn our energy to observing our body, mind and thought patterns throughout the day.The theme of transformation and healing are often a goal and a by product of practice. We sit, we come to the sangha, we read, we write. We undertake these actions to learn how to "sit with edginess and discomfort". Pema Chodron continues:

 

The problem with following these or any instructions is that we have a tendency to be too serious and rigid. We get tense and uptight about trying to relax and be patient....it is helpful to think about the person who is angry, the anger itself, and the object of that anger as being like a dream. We can regard our life as a movie in which we are temporarily the leading player. Rather than making it so important, we can reflect on the essencelessness of our current situation. We can slow down and ask ourselves, 'Who is this monolithic me that has been so offended? And who is this other person who can trigger me like this? What is this praise and blame that hook me like a Ping-Pong ball from hope to fear, from happiness to misery?' This big-deal struggle, this big-deal self, and this big-deal other could all be lightened up considerably."

 

By stepping back and softening, often after we have bitten the hook, we can do as Pema teaches and lighten to recognize that there is an essencelessness to the situation.

 

Can we step back to recognize that the words or actions that someone has spoken that lead to our reaction are words and actions that come from that person's personal story or current struggle and suffering. This is the big deal struggle of bringing to much I, me, mine to the story.  By coming back to the heart, and the breath and the body, we give wisdom a chance to shine through. Wisdom, that reminds us that the challenging situation and person are our present moment teacher. Although it is not always easy to be with edginess and discomfort, the present moment gives us all that we need to practice.

 

Life itself will provide opportunities for learning how to hold our seat. Without the inconsiderate neighbor, where will we find the chance to practice patience? Without the office bully, how could we ever get the chance to know the energy of anger so intimately that it loses its destructive power?

 

Several weeks ago, Annie wrote about Thay telling a friend of hers that the sangha and books are important, but the present moment is our true teacher. Pema Chodron says similar in teaching about not biting the hook.

 

Each time we are provoked, we are given a chance to do something different. We can strengthen old habits by setting up the target or we can weaken them by holding our seat.

 

This Monday we will have the chance to explore and share about what happens when we get triggered. What is our experience of holding our seat and seeing clearly and of strengthening the less skillful habits of reaction? I look forward to our time together.

 

Mick

August 20 Attention and Awareness

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This Monday night Alison will facilitate.  She shares:
 

       On a nearly daily basis, a good friend of mine takes a lengthy walk in and around the town and outskirts of La Jolla, California. During the walk she takes pictures of beautiful things she finds and posts them as part of a pictorial blog on Facebook. Some days, the pictures are of artfully arranged colorful food on a plate. Other days, it is a stranger's beautifully woven hair, a bright blue door in a pale stone wall, light hitting the ocean at twilight or a cactus that has produced a stunning purple and lilac bloom. I enjoy her blog very much because it reflects her moment of attention to and awareness of the beauty that surrounds us that we oftentimes miss in our hurry to get somewhere or do something. I find it nourishing. Whether she consciously knows it or not, my friend is practicing mindfulness. And, her sharing is supporting the good seeds within me of gratitude and wonder.

 

       This same friend recently sent me an email about a practice called "Savoring."  According to the excerpt, found here

 

People who feel like time is abundant approach the present in two ways. There's the practical: they learn to be where they're supposed to be in enough time that they can relax. Then, the more daring psychological feat: they find ways to savor the space of time where they currently are.

 

Actively savoring the present stretches your experience of time. To savor is to feel pleasure, and also to appreciate that you are feeling pleasure. It takes normal gratification and adds a second layer to it: acknowledgment. That this appreciation expands time can be understood by thinking of the opposite. When you want time to pass quickly, you might wish yourself elsewhere. When you want to prolong something, you hold yourself right where you are.

 

As an example, the article shares an individual's accounting of summiting Colorado's Snowmass Mountain. When the hiker (researcher Fred Bryant) reached the top,

 

He was in awe of the physical grandeur, of course.But he also knew he'd likely never be there again, so he did more than enjoy the view. He embraced his friends and told them how happy he was to share this moment with them. He looked back into the past, recalling a back injury that had almost ended his climbing career. He let his mind go to a time when he thought he would never experience this moment. "The realization that it is here now intensifies my joy," he thought.

 

Bryant projected himself forward into the future and thought about how he might look back on this memory. He thanked God for enabling him to be there, and for creating mountains to climb. Then with "a strong sense of the fleetingness of the moment" and a desire "to remember this moment" for the rest of his life, he made special efforts to capture the scene. He turned in a deliberate circle and recorded small details: a forest of aspen and spruce, a river below. He noticed how his lungs felt, what he was smelling. He felt the cold. He selected a stone from the summit as a souvenir. He thought of sharing the memory of the mountain with his loved ones and thought of his late grandfather, who also loved outdoor adventures. Id. 

 

Bryant and his fellow hikers were not on the summit for more than ten minutes, but by savoring the moment, the experience and time itself became vaster. Id. (citing Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience, by Fred B. Bryant and Joseph Veroff.)

 

       To enhance this skill, Bryant and Veroff created a "Ways of Savoring Checklist" including, for example, trying to become more alert, taking deeper breaths, slowing down when in a happy or positive moment, and thinking of sharing the memory later with others. They also recommend a "Daily Vacation Exercise" where you set aside 10 to 20 minutes every day for a daily vacation exercise where you plan to do something enjoyable with limited distractions! During this time, "try to notice and explicitly acknowledge to yourself each stimulus or sensation that you find pleasurable. Identify your positive feelings, and explicitly label them in your mind. Actively build a memory of the feeling and the stimuli associated with it, close your eyes, swish the feeling around in your mind, and outwardly express the positive feeling in some way." Id. At the end of the week, you can think back over your seven mini-vacations. The importance of this practice is that, "Consciously lingering in pleasurable downtime reminds us we have downtime. And that can make us feel like we have more time than when it slips through our hands." See https://ideas.ted.com/whats-a-delightful-way-to-get-more-time-out-of-the-day-savoring/ 

Excerpted from the new book Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done by Laura Vanderkam. 

 

       In the same way that I am nourished by my friend's blog, I can see how doing such a "savoring" practice also would be nourishing - especially when we are living through a time in which negativity seems so predominant. We need to nourish our good seeds and make a conscious effort to remind ourselves of the beauty of this world and it inhabitants.

 

       Sharon Salzberg talks about this, as follows, in her book Real Happiness, the Power of Meditation:

 

"My experience is what I agree to attend to," the pioneering psychologist Williams James wrote at the turn of the twentieth century. "Only those items I notice shape my mind." At its most basic level, attention - what we allow ourselves to notice - literally determines how we experience and navigate the world. . . . Attention determines our degree of intimacy with our ordinary experiences and contours our entire sense of connection to life.

 

The concept and quality of our lives depend on our level of awareness - a fact we are often not aware of. You may have heard the old story, usually attributed to a Native American elder, meant to illuminate the power of attention. A grandfather (occasionally it's a grandmother) imparting a life lesion to his grandson tells him, "I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is vengeful, fearful, envious, resentful, deceitful. The other wolf is loving, compassionate, generous, truthful, and serene." The grandson asks which wolf will win the fight. The grandfather answer, "The one I feed." Id. at 35

 

       Ms. Shalzberg reminds us, however, that nourishing the good seed is "only part of the picture:"

 

True, whatever gets out attention flourishes, so if we lavish attention on the negative and inconsequential, they can overwhelm the positive and the meaningful. But if we do the opposite, refusing to deal with or acknowledge what's difficult and painful, pretending it doesn't exist, then our world is out of whack. Whatever doesn't get our attention withers - or retreats below conscious awareness, where it may still affect our lives. In a perverse way, ignoring the painful and the difficult is just another way of feeding the wolf. Meditation teaches us to open our attention to all of human experience and all parts of ourselves. . . . Meditation teaches us to focus and pay clear attention to our experiences and responses as they arise, and to observe them without judging them. That allows us to detect harmful habits of mind that were previously invisible to us. For example, we may sometimes base our actions on unexamined ideas. (I don't deserve love, you just can't reason with people, I'm not capable of dealing with tough situations) that keep us stuck in unproductive patterns. Once we notice these reflexive responses and how they undermine our ability to pay attention to the present moment, then we can make better, more informed choices. And we can respond to others more compassionately and authentically, in a more creative way. Id. at 36

 

       I look forward to sharing with you on Monday night your practice of nourishing the good seeds through attention, awareness and savoring, and being attentive to and addressing the painful and difficult as well in order to further enhance our ability to be present.

 

Namaste,

 

Alison

August 13 Discovering Who We Are Underneath

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This week, Annie will facilitate and we will listen to a recording of a section of Thay Thich Nhat Hanh's book, Fragrant Palm Leaves.


In this section (except can be heard here) Thay describes an awakening he had in 1962, while he was living in New York City, in which he realizes that he is "empty of ideals, hopes, viewpoints, or allegiances." In this hard won insight, he sees the truth of who he really is, and how each of us tends to allow ourselves to live under the rules and understandings that other people have passed down, rather than discovering them on our own. He prods us to consider whether we are really just living by someone else's rules and tries to inspire us to break out of this shell and touch the truth as it is in each moment. 

 

I love this section because I find myself often wanting to follow and accept society's standards and practices out of expedience, even when I know in my heart I don't agree with them. Rather than open myself to what is true for me in the moment, I get caught up in what I read, watch or hear about. So reading this section again, inspired me to really try to focus on the truth that exists for me in this moment. Thay once told a friend of mine that books and sangha are important, but that the present moment is our trueteacher. I hear that same teaching in this excerpt and I aspire to keep it in the forefront of my mind.

 

More of what he writes:

"I knew that this insight did not arise from disappointment, despair, fear, desire or ignorance. A veil lifted silently and effortlessly. That is all. If you beat me, stone me, or even shoot me, everything that is considered to be "me" will disintegrate. Then, what is actually there will reveal itself -- faint as smoke, elusive as emptiness - and yet neither smoke nor emptiness; neither ugly nor not ugly; beautiful, yet not beautiful. It is like a shadow on a screen..."

 

"I reject the yardstick others use to measure me. I have a yardstick of my own, one I've discovered myself, even if I find myself in opposition to public opinion. I must be who I am... 

 

"People judge themselves and others based on standards that are not their own.In fact, such standards are mere wishful thinking, borrowed from public opinion and common viewpoints. One thing is judged as good and another as bad, one thing virtuous and another evil, one thing true and another false. But when the criteria used to arrive at such judgments are not your own, they are not the truth. Truth cannot be borrowed. It can only be experienced directly."

After our first period of sitting and walking, I will offer a guided meditation and after that we will listen to the excerpt. Then, we will have the opportunity to share on whatever arises in our hearts about Thay's story. Some questions we might consider are: Have you had an insight of non-self or emptiness? How do you judge yourself and others -- by your own yardstick or someone else's? What do you feel is underneath the "outer shell" Thay refers to? And when are you the grasshopper on the blade of grass?

 

Looking forward to being with you all,

annie.

August 6 The Practice of Sangha

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This Monday Alison will facilitate. She shares:

 

Last Monday, Brother Phap Vu from the Deer Park Monastery in California visited our Sangha and shared some of his wisdom in a question and answer session. During the session, one of our Monday night practitioners expressed heartfelt gratitude to Brother Phap Vu and all the other monastics for their dedication to the practice. Specifically, she noted how it was a source of comfort to her to know that even when her own practice might have fallen short, at least in her own eyes, that the monastics were out in the world shoring up the mindfulness community through their dedicated practice.  

 

This was an interesting and moving exchange for me because I had never given much thought to the monastics in terms of their own practice of sangha and what it might mean to us as lay practitioners although I have an abundance of gratitude to the Opening Heart Mindfulness Community because, as Annie Mahon once expressed in one of her mindfulness workshops, sangha is essential because "it's too hard to do it alone."  

 

So, this week, I wanted to share some of Thich Nhat Hahn's thoughts on what is meant by sangha and explore further what sangha has meant to your own practice.   The following are excerpts from "The Practice of Sangha" by Thich Nhat Hahn:

 

"A sangha is a community of friends practicing the dharma together in order to bring about and to maintain awareness. The essence of a sangha is awareness, understanding, acceptance, harmony and love. When you do not see these in a community, it is not a true sangha, and you should have the courage to say so. But when you find these elements are present in a community, you know that you have the happiness and fortune of being in a real sangha."

 

********

 

"In the Buddhist scriptures it is said that there are four communities: monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen. But I also include elements that are not human in the sangha. The trees, water, air, birds, and so on can all be members of our sangha. A beautiful walking path may be part of our sangha. A good cushion can be also. We can make many things into supportive elements of our sangha. . . . It is said in the Pure Land Sutra that if you are mindful, then when the wind blows through the trees, you will hear the teaching of the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, the Eightfold Path, and so on. The whole cosmos is preaching the buddhadharma and practicing the buddhadharma. If you are attentive, you will get in touch with that sangha."

 

*******

 

"Sangha as our roots. I don't think the Buddha wanted us to abandon our society, our culture or our roots in order to practice. The practice of Buddhism should help people go back to their families. It should help people re-enter society in order to rediscover and accept the good things that are there in their culture and to rebuild those that are not. . . .

Suffering (dukkha) is one of the biggest problems of our times. First we have to recognize this suffering and acknowledge it. Then we need to look deeply into its nature in order to find a way out. If we look into the present situation in ourselves and our society, we can see much suffering. We need to call it by its true names-loneliness, the feeling of being cut off, alienation, division, the disintegration of the family, the disintegration of society.

Our civilization, our culture, has been characterized by individualism. The individual wants to be free from the society, from the family. The individual does not think he or she needs to take refuge in the family or in the society, and thinks that he or she can be happy without a sangha. That is why we do not have solidity, we do not have harmony, we do not have the communication that we so need.

The practice is, therefore, to grow some roots. The sangha is not a place to hide in order to avoid your responsibilities. The sangha is a place to practice for the transformation and the healing of self and society. When you are strong, you can be there in order to help society. If your society is in trouble, if your family is broken, if your church is no longer capable of providing you with spiritual life, then you work to take refuge in the sangha so that you can restore your strength, your understanding, your compassion, your confidence. And then in turn you can use that strength, understanding and compassion to rebuild your family and society, to renew your church, to restore communication and harmony. This can only be done as a community-not as an individual, but as a sangha.

 

*******

 

"We need a sangha. In my tradition we learn that as individuals we cannot do much. That is why taking refuge in the sangha, taking refuge in the community, is a very strong and important practice. When I say, "I take refuge in the sangha," it does not mean that I want to express my devotion. No. It's not a question of devotion; it's a question of practice. Without being in a sangha, without being supported by a group of friends who are motivated by the same ideal and practice, we cannot go far.

If we do not have a supportive sangha, we may not be getting the kind of support we need for our practice, that we need to nourish our bodhichitta (the strong desire to cultivate love and understanding in ourselves). Sometimes we call it "beginner's mind." The mind of a beginner is always very beautiful, very strong. In a good and healthy sangha, there is encouragement for our beginner's mind, for our bodhichitta. So the sangha is the soil and we are the seed. No matter how beautiful, how vigorous our seed is, if the soil does not provide us with vitality, our seed will die.

To practice right mindfulness we need the right environment, and that environment is our sangha. Without a sangha we are very weak. In a society where everyone is rushing, everyone is being carried away by their habit energies, practice is very difficult. That is why the sangha is our salvation. The sangha where everyone is practicing mindful walking, mindful speaking, mindful eating seems to be the only chance for us to succeed in ending the vicious cycle.

And what is the sangha? The sangha is a community of people who agree with each other that if we do not practice right mindfulness, we will lose all the beautiful things in our soul and all around us. People in the sangha standing near us, practicing with us, support us so that we are not pulled away from the present moment. Whenever we find ourselves in a difficult situation, two or three friends in the sangha who are there for us, understanding and helping us, will get us through it. Even in our silent practice we help each other.

In my tradition they say that when a tiger leaves the mountain and goes to the lowland, it will be caught by humans and killed. When practitioners leave their sangha, they will abandon their practice after a few months. In order to continue our practice of transformation and healing, we need a sangha. With a sangha it's much easier to practice, and that is why I always take refuge in my sangha."

 

******

 

"How a sangha helps us. The presence of a sangha is a wonderful opportunity to allow the collective energy of the sangha to penetrate into our body and consciousness. We profit a lot from that collective energy. We can entrust ourselves to the sangha because the sangha is practicing, and the collective energy of mindfulness is strong. Although we can rely on the energy of mindfulness that is generated by our personal practice, sometimes it is not enough. But if you know how to use that energy of mindfulness in order to receive the collective energy of the sangha, you will have a powerful source of energy for your transformation and healing.

Your body, your consciousness, and your environment are like a garden. There may be a few trees and bushes that are dying, and you may feel overwhelmed by anguish and suffering at the sight of that. You may be unaware that there are still many trees in your garden that are solid, vigorous and beautiful. When members of your sangha come into your garden, they can help you see that you still have a lot of beautiful trees and that you can enjoy the things that have not gone wrong within your landscape. That is the role that the sangha can play. Many people in the sangha are capable of enjoying a beautiful sunset or a cup of tea. They dwell firmly in the present moment, not allowing worries or regrets to spoil the present moment. Sitting close to these people, walking close to these people, you can profit from their energy and restore your balance. When their energy of mindfulness is combined with yours, you will be able to touch beauty and happiness."

 

******

 

In his writing, Thich Nhat Hahn goes on with sections on: (1) practice is easier with a sangha, (2) practicing in the sangha, (3) the sangha isn't perfect, and (4) I take refuse in the sangha.

Thay ends his article by noting how the sangha supports, protects and nourishes us:

"In the sangha there is stability and joy. The sangha is devoted to the practice of mindfulness, concentration and insight, and while everyone in the sangha profits from his or her own mindfulness, they can also take refuge in the collective energy of mindfulness, concentration and insight of the sangha. That is why there is a sense of solidity and security in the sangha. We are not afraid because the sangha is there to protect us. . . . Even when the sangha doesn't seem to be doing anything at all, in fact it is doing a lot, because in the sangha there is protection. . . . We keep the mindfulness trainings so that they protect us. The rest of the sangha will also be keeping the same mindfulness trainings and helping us. . . . Breathing in, I see that I am part of a sangha, and I am being protected by my sangha. Breathing out, I feel joy."

 

*******

 

"The dharma can protect you-dharma not in the sense of a dharma talk or a book-but dharma as the practice embodied by people like yourself. When you practice mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindful listening to the bell, you bring into yourself the elements of peace and stability, and you are protected during that time. You begin to radiate the energy of stability and peace all around you. This will help to protect your children and your loved ones. Although you may not give a dharma talk with your words, you are giving a dharma talk with your body, with your in-breath, with your out-breath, with your life. That is the living dharma. We need that very much, just as we need the living sangha."

 

(The full text of "The Practice of Sangha," which comes from Friends on the Path: Living Spiritual Communities (2002) can be found at Lion's Roar:  https://www.lionsroar.com/the-practice-of-sangha/. I encourage you to read the entire article which is full of Thay's usual wisdom!)

I look forward to seeing you on Monday night!

 

Namaste,

Alison

July 30 Visit from Brother Phap Vu

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This Monday night, brother Phap Vu will visit our sangha.  Join us in welcoming him to our community.  After our sitting, he will share some thoughts and then open the space for questions and sharing.

 

Brother Phap Vu was born in Chicago, Illinois but spent most of his life in Southern California.  He began practicing in the Dharma through the Chinese Chan tradition in the mid 90's.  In 2003 he was ordained as a buddhist monk in the Plum Village tradition, a Mahayana tradition, by Thich Nhat Hanh, and given the name Thich Chan Phap Vu.  Later, in 2011 he received the Lamp Transmission, a ceremony recognizing him as a Dharma Teacher.  For more information about his journey go here.

 

For more information about his practice please visit his blog.  For an opportunity to support the Dharma through contributions go here.