This past week I returned from teaching a 5 day residential mindfulness retreat for teens. At the beginning of the retreat, teens who brought their phones turned them in for the week. Without fully knowing, these teens committed themselves to paying attention to themselves and each other.
As many here know I am a keen cyclist and love nothing more than getting out on my bike and heading for the proverbial hills. My last ride was with a close friend who I go out with frequently. As we get onto the quieter roads it's always a good chance to talk and check in with each other. As part of this conversation he confided that he had been feeling very anxious lately and that the climate change issue was really starting to cause him distress. He is a PhD scientist and said he genuinely felt like the frog in the fable being slowly boiled alive. It was clear that he had been thinking about this deeply which resulted in very real suffering. He did not want to ‘tune it out’ but equally felt powerless to do anything about it.
During last week’s Sangha, Annie shared her perspective on the “subtle distinction” between embracing versus suppressing unwelcomed emotions (e.g., anger, jealousy, and fear). As Annie explained, there is a distinction between wanting such emotions to “go back to our store consciousness and stay out of our mind consciousness” with the intention of banishing such emotions forever, which is simply not possible, and treating such emotions with love and compassion, so that our relationship with them is altered in a positive way with less suffering.
Many years ago, on a 10-day silent retreat, I had an insightful experience. While sitting in chilly meditation in a hall with 80 other yogis, someone got up an opened a window. Right away, a flash of anger arose in me, and I started telling myself a story about the entitlement of the man who opened the window.
Suddenly, my mind paused and I was able to see my anger arising. I had the realization that my anger was not something I could ever completely eradicate. Something in me had been believing that if I practiced meditation enough, I would be able to live anger-free for the rest of my life.
When I realized that I was never going to be able to be free of anger, a well of grief rose up, and I had to go into my room and wail and sob. I let go of my hidden dream of being free from the "unwholesome" seeds of anger, fear, greed, and delusion. I would never achieve a life of moral perfection.
Often times what we most remember and cherish from our lives are the moments when we felt deeply seen and cared for - and when others felt deeply seen and cared for by us.
Where we could bring our whole, authentic selves to others and be received in such a way that heals the cracks in our spirit that we didn’t even know was there. Where we are all cared for because we are all caring - giving freely, receiving freely, and inviting in freely.
But too often we are afraid of showing our whole, authentic selves to others. We live in a society that says we must conform to a certain standard of what’s “acceptable”, including how we look, what jobs we have, how we talk, and how we behave. So it can be scary to be different, to live unconventional lives, and to not fit into the system, even if it’s killing us slowly.
Please note that Sandra Kim’s visit is postponed by a week, to Monday, June 24th. We will start laying the groundwork for her visit tomorrow night by exploring the topic of togetherness.
The Plum Village website describes how sangha can play a role in our feeling connected: “In society, much of our suffering comes from feeling disconnected from one another. We often don’t feel a real connection even with people we live close to, such as our neighbors, our co-workers and even our family members. Each person lives separately, cut off from the support of the community. Being with the Sangha can heal these feelings of isolation and separation. We practice together, share a room together, eat side by side and clean pots together. Just by participating with other practitioners in daily activities, we can experience a tangible feeling of love and acceptance.
Thay often says that the sangha is a garden, full of many varieties of trees and flowers. When we can look at ourselves and at others as beautiful, unique flowers and trees, we can truly grow to understand and love one another. One flower may bloom early in the spring and another flower may bloom in late summer. One tree may bear many fruits and another tree may offer cool shade. No one plant is greater, or lesser, or the same as any other plant in the garden. Each member of the sangha also has unique gifts to offer to the community. We each have areas that need attention as well. When we can appreciate each member’s contribution and see our weaknesses as potential for growth we can learn to live together harmoniously. Our practice is to see that we are a flower or a tree, and we are the whole garden as well, all interconnected.”
Over the next week, please ask yourself some questions.
When do you have feelings of deep togetherness? What are the conditions - internal and external - that cause this feeling to arise? What gets in the way of that feeling and causes you to feel more isolated and apart? To what extent are you aware of these feelings and their underlying causes? To what extent are you longing for connection and/or protecting yourself by being apart? Does your practice and/or sangha help you to feel more connected, and, if so, how?
I look forward to learning about your experience tomorrow (Monday, the 17th), and when Sandra joins us on the 24th, she will share how her practice has helped her care for the pain of disconnection with others and look deeply at its underlying source. Weaving together her Buddhist practice, anti-oppression analysis, and organizing work, she will share how she is able to consistently reconnect with herself and others and develop the deep togetherness we often long for.
This Monday, Mick will facilitate. He shares:
The Four Immeasurables
May all beings enjoy happiness and the roots of happiness
May all beings be free from suffering and the roots of suffering
May they never be separated from the great joy, devoid of suffering
May they dwell in equanimity free from passion, aggression and prejudice
Over a year ago I offered a meditation on the Four Immeasurables. This week, I would like to offer another evening devoted to the topic.
Throughout each day, each week, each month, we experience the wide range of emotions around love, renewal and inward looking, sadness, suffering and more. Our mettle in being present with all of this, without getting pulled from our center, is tested by our experience of our inner world and the outer circumstances and events.
Welcome to Monday evening on Memorial Day with the Opening Heart Mindfulness Community. This evening we will read the Five Mindfulness Trainings together with a focus on the First Mindfulness Training. Discussion will ink to last week’s engaging theme that Andy introduced on ‘forgetfulness and practices to help remembering’.
Mindfulness Trainings are meant as ethical guidelines that encourage us to remember ways that are helpful to lead lives full of peace, non-violence, compassion, understanding and love. On this special day of remembrance, I look forward to our time together.
This Monday night's facilitator, Andy, shares:
Over the last month or so I have been all consumed by travel, work and other life events. It has been a non-stop whirlwind of running, running, running with little, if any, time to stop and reflect. Maybe on a couple of occasions was I was able to catch myself and bring myself back into the present moment. Old habits die hard and I found myself back doing all the things I have been working so hard to undo these last few years. In many ways this was me ‘in my element’ and doing what I do best. Until I wasn't.
Without going down the path of explaining the history of an old injury to my back let’s just say the last 10 days have been painful and definitely no ‘running, running, running.’
So once again here I am, having just about caught myself (albeit painfully) and again I will start to breathe, take a mindful step, and come back to my true home. Just as when we sit and our mind wanders off, be it for a moment or what can feel like a lifetime, we know (hope) we will catch ourselves and come back to our breath.
In Plum Village, the Buddhist monastic community in France founded by Thich Nhat Hanh, there is regular singing and chanting at sangha gatherings. At Plum Village retreat centers throughout the US and other countries, to share the practice and warm the heart, music is often at the heart of the tradition. Like gathas, singing helps us return to the present moment.
When I was thinking about facilitating for our Monday night sangha gathering, and trying to reflect on what was present for me and what teaching I might share with you, I remembered a morning last week that had a heartwarming effect on me. I share a weekly morning mindfulness/yoga practice with homeless men at a soup kitchen and after our sitting meditation, and mindful movements, I decided to share a song with them.
This week Mick will facilitate. He shares:
How do we cherish a present moment? How can we come to appreciate the life that we have and all that is here for us to enjoy? There is quite a difference in setting a timer for 10 minutes and sitting in silence versus meditating in the many moments of the day.
This slippery present moment. How do we get to “it” in order to be here, to switch off of auto-pilot. The slippery present moment can be filled with thoughts, with calm, with challenge, with ease. In thinking about it my mind goes back to the lyrics of a song from the 80’s. 38 Special sang"Hold on loosely but don't let go. If you cling too tightly, you're gonna lose control." While these lyrics from a song about a relationship can be helpful, we could use a little more to go on when it comes back to training the mind to the present moment.
Of course, Thay has provided a simple, and powerful way to help us attend to the present moment. In his book Present Moment, Wonderful Moment, Thay writes:
When I entered the monastery as a novice in 1942, Thay received a copy of Gathas for Everyday Use. Gathas are short verses which we can recite during our daily activities to help us dwell in mindfulness.
Gathas are the original reminder, long pre-dating the reminders that people set on their phones. While phone reminders cue us to do, Gathas cue us to beawake and aware. These phrases help to bring us into a present moment, a wonderful moment.
In Present Moment, Wonderful Moment Thay writes about practicing with Gathas:
When we practice with gathas, the gathas and the rest of our lives become one, and we live our entire lives in awareness.
This helps us very much, and it helps others as well.
We find that we have more peace, calm, and joy, which we can share with others.
Here are two Gathas.
Waking up this morning, I smile.
Twenty-four brand new hours are before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment
and to look at all beings with the eyes of compassion
BRUSHING YOUR TEETH
Brushing my teeth and rinsing my mouth,
I vow to speak purely and lovingly
When my mouth is fragrant with right speech,
a flower blooms in the garden of my heart
Many people use gathas as a way to build and strengthen their mindfulness.
People write them down and post them around the house or carry them in their pocket.
Others write their own gathas.
The practice of mindfulness as taught by Thay is a Coming Home practice. We learn to come home to our body, to our breath and the present moment. Gathas are another avenue on which to come home.
This Monday we will read several gathas and have time to share and reflect on how we return to ourselves to be aware and awake.
When someone asks, "Do you care? Do you care about me? Do you care about life? Do you care about the Earth?", the best way to answer is to practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings. This is to teach with your actions and not just with words. If you really care, please practice these mindfulness trainings for your own protection and for the protection of other people and species. If we do our best to practice, a future will be possible for us, our children, and their children.” From “For A Future To Be Possible” by Thich Nhat Hanh
This week we will look more deeply at the sense impressions we consume and consider whether and how we are taking in toxins, especially with regard to listening and reading the news.
In the Fifth Mindfulness Training it says:
..I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations...
I have heard many friends talk about how they can no longer watch or listen to the news because they feel it is making them sick. So they take a news fast or they stop paying attention to the news at all.
Think about what happens when we take in toxic foods and medicines. They make us sicker and/or they make our children and future generations sick. It's complicated by the fact that some foods and medicines make us feel worse before they make us better. So feeling bad isn't necessarily an indicator of toxicity.
Toxic information, then, would be information that makes us sicker or makes future generations sick. Some information, like strong medicine, may make us feel uncomfortable and unwell at first, but serve to motivate us to be and do in ways that create a better outcome for all.
For me, this translates into being aware of when I am taking in difficult information, such as watching videos of violent police abuse or shooting unarmed Black men, and making sure I am taking the right "dose".
The right does for me is one that will spark awareness, compassion and motivation and not cause me to collapse in despair.
The reverse is also my practice - to enjoy taking in laughter in the form of funny movies and TV shows. I try my best not to overuse them to simply numb out and escape.
How do we know how much is the right amount? Just like medicine, we sense into our bodies and minds and see whether the medicine we are taking in (in this case our sense impressions) are having a healthy/wholesome or unhealthy/unwholesome effect on us and therefore on the greater world.
When we consume more than the appropriate dose, we may get overwhelmed, be chronically angry or depressed or have difficulty talking about anything other than what we saw or heard. If we are taking too low of a dose, we may end up disconnected from our own empathy and compassion.
Some questions we might ask ourselves:
Does listening to the news the amount I listen each day cause me to feel hopeless or on edge or does it generate compassion and energy for helping?
When and if I stop listening to the news, do I end up living in a bubble of delusion and simply ignore the suffering of others?
Does reading about suffering cause me less distress than watching a video?
How strong does the information source need to be in order to spark my empathy?
What intake of information allows me to feel I can live in harmony with my values?
After our sitting and walking meditation this week, we will read the Five Mindfulness Trainings together (see below for full text of the trainings) and focus on this Fifth training. After, we can share our experiences with calibrating taking in the right about of information that is non-toxic for us or whatever is on our hearts.
I look forward to seeing you.
The Five Precepts are not prohibitions to restrict our freedom, and they are not an authority, which we have no choice but to follow. The precepts are the fruit of our mindfulness and experience. Because we are mindful, we can see that the precepts protect us and our happiness, as well as that of those with whom we live. We take the vow to receive and practice the precepts in order to preserve our freedom and happiness in days to come.
Being the fruit of mindfulness, the precepts are the embodiment of enlightenment, which is the Buddha himself. They are the embodiment of the Dharma, which is the path shown by the Buddha. They are also the embodiment of the Sangha, the community of all those who have taken up the path. Practicing the Five Precepts is to be one with the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. To recite the precepts is an exercise in mindfulness of their teachings and a way of looking deeply at the benefits of keeping them. – Thich Nhat Hanh
The Five Mindfulness Trainings
Reverence For Life
Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non- attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.
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.
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
Monday, April 22, Bea will facilitate. She writes:
Today is my father’s birthday. He turns 81 years old. It is also Easter Sunday and a few days after Passover. It is another opportunity to pause and celebrate the gift of life. But do we really need a special day to do this? Isn’t every day that we are alive a reason to celebrate? Every birthday we are reborn. Every holiday we are awakened. Every spring we are given life.
From Thích Nhất Hanh, “No Death, No Fear”:
“Sometimes people ask you: "When is your birthday?" But you might ask yourself a more interesting question: "Before that day which is called my birthday, where was I?"
Ask a cloud: "What is your date of birth? Before you were born, where were you?"
If you ask the cloud, "How old are you? Can you give me your date of birth?" you can listen deeply and you may hear a reply. You can imagine the cloud being born. Before being born it was the water on the ocean's surface. Or it was in the river and then it became vapor. It was also the sun because the sun makes the vapor. The wind is there too, helping the water to become a cloud. The cloud does not come from nothing; there has been only a change in form. It is not a birth of something out of nothing.
Sooner or later, the cloud will change into rain or snow or ice. If you look deeply into the rain, you can see the cloud. The cloud is not lost; it is transformed into rain, and the rain is transformed into grass and the grass into cows and then to milk and then into the ice cream you eat. Today if you eat an ice cream, give yourself time to look at the ice cream and say: "Hello, cloud! I recognize you.”
Meet me here
where silence roars
where stillness is dancing
where the eternal is living and dying.
Meet me here
where you are not you
where you are It
and It is unspeakable.
There are many pathways to stillness. Pathways that bring us back to what lies underneath the thoughts, emotions, and stories. Underneath and behind all of the movements of the inner and outer world, there lies it. It is unspeakable.
There is an inner yearning, or a voice that calls “meet me here”. It calls us to return to stillness, to spaciousness, to what is always there. As Adyashanti writes, it is a place or space “where you are not you, where you are it.”
The practice of mindfulness is a practice of letting go. The “here” that he writes about may be too esoteric or distant. We can bring this “here” closer in order to let go of the idea of striving to reach the all encompassing “here”, “where silence roars where stillness is dancing.” Part of here is the state of mindful awareness. The awareness that we are breathing in and out. The awareness that emotions and thoughts are moving through our bodies and minds. Meet me hereis the call to the present moment to light the lamp of mindfulness. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches and reminds that:
We have a lamp inside us, the lamp of mindfulness which we can light anytime. The oil of that lamp is our breathing, our steps, and our peaceful smile. We have to light up that light of mindfulness so the light will shine out and the darkness will dissipate and cease. Our practice is to light up the lamp.
Thich Nhat Hanh, Your True Home
Here exists on many levels. When we light the lamp of mindfulness, the darkness of delusion is seen clearly and overcome. The call of Meet me herecalls us to pause before we speak, or to put away our phone in order to eat or walk in mindfulness. The call of Meet me heresteers us towards our cushion, to sangha and to retreat.
This Monday night we have the opportunity to share about how we each experience the call to awareness, to stillness and silence.
You might like to drop these questions into your consciousness--
When did I first feel, and hear the call to mindfulness, to stillness, and silence?
What is my present experience of my Meet me here voice? When does it arise, to what does it call me?
Where and when do I feel and experience thehere that Adyashanti writes about?
I look forward to our time together.
Meet Me Here
Join me here Now
where there are no points of view.
slip under good and bad
right and wrong
worthy and unworthy
sinner and saint
Meet me here
where everything is unframed
and not understanding
Meet me here
where silence roars
where stillness is dancing
where the eternal is living and dying.
Meet me here
where you are not you
where you are It
and It is unspeakable..
Meet me here where all points of view
merge into a single point
that then disappears.
Meet me here
before there ever was something
before there ever was nothing
Meet me here
where everything speaks of this
where everything has
always spoken this
where nothing is ever lost or found
Meet me here
Through meditation, I have a new-found fascination with emotions! As a child, I grew up in a household where emotions were not artfully addressed. In other words, “how we felt” did not receive a lot of attention. Through meditation, I’ve learned not only that emotions are part of one’s DNA but they need to be acknowledged, pondered, and embraced – the good, the bad and the ugly – with an eye towards watering those that are more beneficial to happiness and peace.
Lately, the strong emotion that has been cropping up is regret. My Mom died last May and in the aftermath of her death, my siblings and I uncovered a treasure trove of pictures of her as a teen and 20-something. They reflected a fun-loving, vivacious and beautiful young woman surrounded by friends. They were truly a revelation – showing a completely new aspect of a person I thought I knew, a person who often seemed to dwell in negativity. This picture and just the awareness that she is gone (except for my skewed memories), has been sending me into keen moments of “regret” – that maybe I should have tried harder to communicate, maybe it was my fault that our relationship was sometimes strained, that I did not choose to spend more time with her, and that maybe I had never really listened to her.
Regret in spades. So, how do we address that sticky, painful emotion?
Thich Nhat Hahn starts, as always, with the concept of being present:
When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love. . . .
Around us, life bursts with miracles – a glass of water, a ray of sunshine, a leaf, a caterpillar, a flower, laughter, raindrops. If you live in awareness, it is easy to see miracles everywhere. Each human being is a multiplicity of miracles. Eyes that see thousands of colors, shapes, and forms; ears that hear a bee flying or a thunderclap; a brain that ponders a speck of dust as easily as the entire cosmos; a heart that beats in rhythm with the heartbeat of all beings. When we are tired and feel discouraged by life’s daily struggles, we may not notice these miracles, but they are always there.
To dwell in the here and now does not mean you never think about the past or responsibly plan for the future. The idea is simply not to allow yourself to get lost in regrets about the past or worries about the future. If you are firmly grounded in the present moment, the past can be an object of inquiry, the object of your mindfulness and concentration. You can attain many insights by looking into the past. But you are still grounded in the present moment.
Thay’s wise words and my meditation practice have helped me to focus and embrace the regret, to treat it kindly, and to return to the present without getting lost in a miserable bog of self-doubt and lack of compassion for the life I actually led with my Mom, which had both beautiful and dark moments. While my “emotion of the week” has been regret, the above principles are useful for addressing in a fruitful way all of the strong, negative emotions we encounter as part of simply being human.
I look forward to seeing everyone on Monday night!
Marie will facilitate. She shares
This week, we will build on last week’s discussion of deep listening and focus on mindful speech. Specifically, we’ll explore those instances when it is difficult for us to speak mindfully and share practices that can help.
Recently, I’ve had a life circumstance that has challenged my ability to speak mindfully. The situation involved an aging family member who lives alone. She is, in my view, physically at risk of falling and is, also in my view, unwilling to do what was needed to live alone safely. While I’ve added the “my views” to this text, they are seldom in my thoughts. Instead, my head has been brimming with “the facts” and “the solutions”. And, with every new accident (there have several), I became more convinced of my views and tried, in various ways, to convince her and/or other family members of what needs to be done. Can you see where this is going?
In “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching”, Thay writes that “Right speech is based on Right Thinking. Speech is the way for our thinking to express itself aloud. Our thoughts are no longer our private possessions. We give earphones to others and allow them to hear the audiotape that is playing in our mind… Deep listening is at the foundation of Right Speech. If we cannot listen mindfully, we cannot practice Right Speech. No matter what we say, it will not be mindful, because we’ll be speaking only our own ideas and not in response to the other person. In the Lotus Sutra, we are advised to look and listen with the eyes of compassion. Compassionate listening brings about healing...
You have to practice breathing mindfully in and out so that compassion always stays with you. “I am listening to her not only because I want to know what is inside her or to give her advice. I am listening to her just because I want to relieve her suffering.” That is called compassionate listening...
Sometimes we speak clumsily and create internal knots in others. Then we say “I was just telling the truth.” It may be the truth, but if our way of speaking causes unnecessary suffering, it is not Right Speech. The truth must be presented in ways that others can accept. Words that damage or destroy are not Right Speech. Before you speak, understand the person you are speaking to. Consider each word carefully before you say anything, so that your speech is “Right” in both form and content. You have the right to tell another everything in your heart with the condition that you use only loving speech.”
Have you any situations in your life where it is difficult to speak mindfully? What makes it hard to listen deeply and to speak lovingly? Have you had experiences where you’ve been able to change the trajectory? What happened and how did you do it?
Please bring your experiences and insights on Monday night, and we will share what we are learning.
Once a month on a Monday night we focus on the five Mindfulness Trainings and as a group recite each of them. This gentle reminder to come back to the core ethical and behavioral precepts of the practice is something I personally find very helpful. Just like when my mind wanders off chasing the next thought pattern so my own behavior can wander off, and so regularly reviewing the trainings is a helpful ‘nudge’ to get back on track.
This month I thought we would focus on the fourth mindfulness training Loving Speech and Deep Listening. Specifically, I thought we might focus on the deep listening (also sometimes called compassionate listening) portion of this training as each month this is one where I know I need to recommit to the practice and work harder.
Reflecting on this I find that I have three specific difficulties when it comes to listening:
· Things I am hearing trigger thoughts in my own mind and before I know it I am focused on these thoughts and have stopped listening to the person talking;
· My natural tendency is one of problem solving and so my computer brain is running problem / solution routines so that I can provide answers even though I am not being asked a question; and
· If someone talks in a long-winded manner and I have something I want to say, I will inevitably interrupt them mid-sentence and share my “amazing” insight or thought.
The last of these is rude and I know it irks people, and I hate this habit too, but just like the other two it has proven hard to break.
In wanting to improve this practice Thay has much to teach us. He describes “that when we listen with compassion, we allow ourselves to be empty without any prejudices, without any preconceived ideas. We listen not to judge or criticize; we just listen so as to give the other person the chance to express themselves”.
Digging deeper into this concept Thay goes on to explain that:“even if the person says things that are full of wrong perceptions, full of bitterness, you are still capable of continuing to listen with compassion. Because you know that listening like that, you give that person a chance to suffer less.”
So if the 5MT’s and Thay’s words help us focus on how to practice and improve I am still intrigued as to why I / we find it so hard to be better listeners. One of the best books I have read which hits on this issue was by behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman. In his book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” he explains how we all have two modes of thinking. Type 1thinking is: fast, unconscious, automatic but often error prone. Type 2thinking is: slow, conscious, effortful, but more reliable.
It appears to me that practicing Deep Listening is about reminding us that listening not only helps us to be more compassionate and through this compassion help the listener, but also helps us to become better in seeing things as they truly are and not as our Type 1 mind might suggest things are.
Please, think about your own successes (and challenges) with the practice of deep listening. How do you seek to improve this practice? How can other practices such as sitting, walking, sangha help us to improve?
I look forward to practicing my own deep listening as you share about your own practice.
This week Camille will facilitate.
In reflecting on last week's sharing "who is sangha" - Annie talked about the importance of the sangha and how in this community and this collective practice we can help heal ourselves, each other, and the world. I didn't really have a chance to share - but I was feeling deeply grateful for the sangha at that moment - so much so - that I just wanted to listen and absorb the collective energy of everyone there. So this week - I wanted to take the opportunity to continue the discussion on sangha, share some of my thoughts about what it has meant for me, and finally share some of a video clip of Thay's thoughts on sangha with the monastics chanting the song of Avalokiteshvara.
Last week one of the questions Annie asked us was what we saw as our role in the sangha, and do we want it's support. In the first year I went to sangha I mostly sat and listened. I thought my role was to sit quietly, walk quietly, breathe quietly, and then listen attentively but also quietly. I thought it was pretty easy and that I could be a really good listener and really good at this practice - a piece of cake. I also thought it was mostly about me being there for others - and I didn't really need to share. Then I began to think that I should try and share, but went through a period of doubt that maybe I couldn't articulate what I wanted to say in a cohesive manner and that what I had to say was not "juicy" enough as one member of our community puts it. Or maybe I was just afraid or embarrassed of my suffering and that maybe talking would make it worse. All of this to say - I just wasn't understanding the whole concept.
Happily with lots of help and practice from friends, books, and sangha, I have been able to recognize my pain and suffering more and no longer have the fear of being overwhelmed by it or the fear of talking about it. For me the sangha has become a place of refuge where I know I have others who breathe, sit, and walk with me and open their eyes and ears to me and fully listen with open hearts. How wonderful to have a sangha community who listens without judging (not something that comes naturally at home). I finally recognized that I am there for them and they are there for me as well. The love and compassion is shared by all.
As Thay talks about suffering and how the sangha community can help, he says "the collective energy of the sangha can help with our suffering. The collective energy of mindfulness will penetrate our body and will help us to heal and relieve tension and anxiety in our body and reduce pain and suffering." He goes on to say "we behave like a drop of water in the heart of a river. We allow the whole river to embrace and transport us as a drop of water. The sangha can transport us if we open our hearts. As a drop of water we say - dear sangha - please help me, alone I cannot embrace it by myself so please help me embrace my pain and sorrow."
I invite you to continue to think about how the sangha can support you and how you can support the sangha.
During this Monday night gathering - we will watch part of a recording of a plum village retreat where Thay talks about the sangha, about suffering, and about how chanting can help us stop our thinking and allow the energy of mindfulness and compassion penetrate into our body and mind. I hope you enjoy listening and will have an opportunity to relax, sit back, and enjoy taking refuge in the sangha.
I look forward to seeing and sharing with you on Monday night.
In love and light,
I remember many years ago, one of our sangha (mindfulness community) members, someone with whom I had practiced for many years, went off on a trip to "find himself." He traveled to Asia and spent many weeks in a forest monastery in Thailand. Then, he went on to Plum Village and spent several months practicing there during the winter rains retreat.
Bringing light to issues ofThe Mud, The Lotus
This Monday night, Mick will facilitate.
Many come to the practices of mindfulness and meditation looking for a permanent relief from their suffering. As we take that first courageous moving of body to cushion, and take part in looking inward, we discover that there is no getting rid of thoughts and emotions. There is no getting rid of the outward afflictions and influences either. The end game of enlightenment where all troubles vanish is a mirage. By the time we undertake the practices of mindfulness and meditation and wake up to Inner world and the outer world through mindfulness, it is too late for us. Too late for us to go back to sleep, to late for us to ignore our inner and outer world.
Herein lies the challenge of living mindfully. We don’t always feelbetter, but we feel better. We feel and recognize more deeply the sunshine and the sorrow in us and around us. Feeling better, can often mean that we feel more deeply our pain.
Thich Nhat Hanh teaches about the mud and the lotus. No Mud, No Lotus.
“It is possible of course to get stuck in the “mud” of life. It’s easy enough to notice mud all over you at times. The hardest thing to practice is not allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by despair. When you’re overwhelmed by despair, all you can see is suffering everywhere you look. You feel as if the worst thing is happening to you. But we must remember that suffering is a kind of mud that we need in order to generate joy and happiness. Without suffering, there’s no happiness. So we shouldn’t discriminate against the mud. We have to learn how to embrace and cradle our own suffering and the suffering of the world, with a lot of tenderness.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh, No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering
As mindfulness practitioners it is important to reflect and inquire, “ What do I do when I am feeling covered in mud and overwhelmed by suffering?” The mud is always there and in getting overwhelmed by the mud we lose sight of the sunshine, the lotus.
The mud, or suffering is a given of existence. The lotus, or happiness is also a given. Mindfulness practice gives us a way to be with both, to hold both simultaneously and in balance. We fluctuate from high to low, sorrow to sunshine, mud to lotus.
This Monday we will have the chance to reflect and share on how you experience and navigate The Mud and The Lotus. I look forward to the time together.