May 21 Four Elements of Right Speech


This Monday Bea will facilitate. She shares:


In the book, The Art of Communicating, Thich Nhat Hanh presents the Four Elements of Right Speech. He says that in Buddhism there is a practice called the Ten Bodhisatva Trainings. Four of these ten trainings relate to Right Speech - we can also think of this as "Wise Speech." 


This type of speech focuses on being:


  1. Truthful - Tell the truth. Don't turn the truth upside down.
  2. Helpful - Being aware of your intention, your motivation. How can this be constructive?
  3. Timely. What is the best time to share your thoughts? Is the person ready to receive?  
  4. Kind: Use peaceful language. Don't use insulting or violent words, cruel speech, verbal abuse, or condemnation.


Please contemplate some of your most recent interactions with people and ask yourself whether you used Wise Speech or not. Also think about how you can practice using Wise Speech more often in our daily life. What comes easy and what does not come so easy?

May 14 We Are All Watering Seeds


This week Mick will facilitate. He shares:


A recurring theme in our Monday nights together is that of Coming Home.

Coming home.  Yes, we know our practice is to come home to the present moment wherever we may be.  And what do we find when we pause and come back to our body, our breath, our emotions.  In pausing we come into contact with the ten thousand joys and sorrows of life.  In that moment of being at the center we have the choice of how to respond and where to guide our attention.  We notice a great deal when we practice coming home.  In pausing we can see clearly that anger is present, that there is a knot in our stomach.  In pausing we can see clearly the smile of a loved one and the sunshine.  


With this recognition, this knowing, "right now, it's like this", we hold great power.


Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that we all hold many seeds within ourselves. We hold the seeds of love and compassion, along with the seeds of hatred and violence.


He shares:


Your mind is like a piece of land planted with many different kinds of seeds: seeds of joy, peace, mindfulness, understanding, and love; seeds of craving, anger, fear, hate, and forgetfulness.  These wholesome and unwholesome seeds are always there, sleeping in the soil of your mind.  The quality of your life depends on the seeds you water.  If you plant tomato seeds in your gardens, tomatoes will grow.  Just so, if you water a seed of peace in your mind, peace will grow.  When the seeds of happiness in you are watered, you will become happy.  When the seed of anger in you is watered, you will become angry.  The seeds that are watered frequently are those that will grow strong.

      -Thich Nhat Hanh in Anh-Huong & Hanh, 2006, 22


The seeds that are watered frequently are those that will grow strong.  The practice of watering seeds brings us to inquire, what seeds am I watering in myself, and in the people around me?  The first step of our practice is to pause, then recognize what is present, then choose how to be with what is there.  This explanation brings us to examine who we are practicing as gardeners to our own soil.  We can look deeply at our inner voice and our daily actions and habits.  Many of us have amassed experience on this path of mindful living.  After years of practice, the inner critic is still there. So is the voice that speaks kindly to yourself.  In our pausing, do we take the time to give ourselves credit for our practice, for watering our seeds of mindfulness and clear seeing? 


This Monday we will take time to reflect on our practice as master gardeners and to look at the presence and strength of our inner critic, and our inner positive voice that offers praise and credit.

May 7 Returning to Our True Home


On Monday, Miles will facilitate. He shares:


Home is both a physical place and an abstract notion. For some of us, home was a mostly happy place where we were born and raised. It formed our identity, our customs and habits, our ideas of what's right and wrong. For others, home can evoke many unpleasant experiences that were not only uncomfortable but also painful. And for yet others, home is a mixture of both or perhaps an elusive notion as we've moved from one home to another, sometimes multiple times. Later, as adults we may have been fortunate to create harmonious homes in a chosen location with loved ones.


My home of origin had some major challenges. My father was killed in an accidental mid-air collision of two commercial airplanes when I was four years old. My mother was understandably deeply grieved by this shocking event. Nonetheless, at first she seemed to manage well, carrying on as a homemaker. With my sister who was five years older, we moved from the suburbs to New York City. A couple years later, when a romantic relationship that appeared headed for marriage did not work out, my mother fell into a deep and prolonged depression that lasted, with some remissions, for my entire childhood (and the rest of her life, despite treatment). Too young to know how to help her, I found refuge in sports, friends, books and television. Sometimes, though, I sensed that aspects of a happy home life were missing, but then also wondered whether a harmonious and mutually supportive home was some fictional creation of television writers.   Fast forward many years and wife, who played a major role, and I managed to create-with the help of community and contemplative practice--a mostly happy home with our two children (and dog) that remedied many of the lacks of my home of origin.  


In a 1996 dharma talk at Plum Village*, "Returning To Our True Home" Thich Nhat Hanh discusses a more abstract notion of home. As a way to find our true home, Thay essentially asks us to practice putting lyrics to the subtle soundtrack of our lives since birth--the uninterrupted sequence of breaths. He says:


There is a very simple gatha, a simple verse for you to practice. You might like to learn it today. When you breathe in, you say, "I have arrived," and when you breathe out, you say, "I am home." According to this practice, your true home is in the here and the now, and our practice is the practice of arriving every second into our true home, which is the present moment, the only moment when life is available. We have been running all our lives to the past, to the future, to our projects. Now it is time to go home. And if you go home and look and touch deeply, you'll be surprised to see that what you are looking for is already there. Peace is available.


This is a practice. Paradoxically loss, even catastrophic loss, can allow a practice to flower and suffuse ourselves and our lives. A major loss in Thay's life was being exiled from his native Vietnam. For him, losing his physical, concrete home provided the impetus to find his true home:


It was precisely because I did not have a country of my own that I had the opportunity to find my true home. This is very important. It was because I didn't belong to any particular country that I had to make an effort to break through and find my true home. The feeling that we are not accepted, that we do not belong anywhere and have no national identity, can provoke the breakthrough necessary for us to find our true home.


From Thich Nhat Hanh, "At Home in the World"


When we know how to take care of our [body and] feelings-when we know how to generate joy and happiness, and how to handle a painful feeling-we can cultivate and restore a happy home in the present moment. And when we know how to generate the energies of understanding and compassion, our home will be a very cozy, pleasant place to come back to. But if we're not able to do these things, we won't want to go home. Home is not something to hope for, but to cultivate. There is no way home; home is the way.


This Monday, you're invited to share your experiences of home. Has home been an important part of your life-a joy, a sorrow, a conundrum? What role, if any, does your practice have or do you hope it to have? What does home mean to you now? What kind of home do you hope to build for you and yours?

I hope you can join us,



A deep bow to Scott Schang of the Stillwater sangha for some of the text and quotes from Thay. The personal story is mine.

Note that this is a newcomers week. Please come at 6:15pm for a brief introduction to our sitting. 

April 30 Listening and Loving Speech


On Monday, Mick will facilitate. He shares:


This week Mick will facilitate and share on The Fourth Mindfulness Training: Deep Listening and Loving Speech.

In the Buddhist tradition the Fourth Mindfulness Training is always described as refraining from these four actions:

  1. Not telling the truth. If it's black, you say it's white

  2. Exaggerating, you make something up, or describe something as more beautiful than it actually is, or as ugly when it is not ugly.

  3. Forked tongue, you go to one person and say one thing and then you go to another and say the opposite.

  4. Filthy language. You insult or abuse people.                                   (Thich Nhat Hanh, For A Future To Be Possible, p. 55)

In conjunction with refraining from speech that is unskillful, in practicing the Fourth Mindfulness Training we commit to cultivating loving speech and deep listening.


As mindfulness practitioners when it comes to loving speech, and refraining from unmindful speech the scales are probably tipped in your favor. It's likely that the majority of the time you are able to follow and practice this training.


Many years ago, I heard a talk from a monk about knowing your blind spots when it comes to your mindfulness practice. He spoke about getting familiar with the situations, settings, and people that react impulsively or to be pulled out of skillful speech and action.

Surely this applies to losing patience in traffic or frustrations at work. This knowing your blind spots also is extremely applicable to the practice of deep listening and loving speech.


In commenting on listening deeply and loving speech Thay shares a saying in Vietnamese,

"It doesn't cost anything to have loving speech." He continues:

We only need to choose our words carefully and we can make other people happy. To use words mindfully, with loving kindness, is to practice generosity. We can make many people happy just by practicing loving speech.

(Thich Nhat Hanh, For A Future To Be Possible, p.44)


Remembering that whenever we speak and whenever we listen we are affecting two people.  Our mindfulness in speaking and listening can have tremendous and far reaching ripples.


In our current time of instant, mass communication, fake news, etc, how truly are we connected.  In commenting on this topic, Thay shares that:


Never in the history of humankind have we had so many forms of communication...

But we still remain islands. There is so little communication between the members of

One family, between individuals in society, and between nations. We suffer from so many

Wars and conflicts. We surely have not cultivated the arts of listening and speaking....

The universal door of communication has to be opened again. When we cannot communicate we get sick, and as our sickness increases, we suffer and spill our suffering on other people.

(Thich Nhat Hanh, For A Future To Be Possible,  p. 48-49)


We need to look deeply into ourselves to recognize our blind spots around the arts of speaking and listening. This Monday night we can take the time to look deeply into our practice of loving speech and deep listening and the ripple effects on our lives.

April 23 Celebrating Earth Day: Our Connection with the Earth & the Earth's Connection with Us


On Monday, Marie will facilitate. She shares:

Today (Sunday) is Earth Day: a wonderful opportunity to pause, to reconnect with the earth and to reflect on our relationship with the earth - in mind, in body and in spirit. 

For much of my life, I felt (and acted) like an ant - running across the earth with great industriousness, largely focussed on outcomes. Yes, I appreciated the earth, worried about it and took actions to help heal it. That said, I seldom felt genuinely connected with the earth; in the parlance of Thay (see below), my thoughts and actions were predicated on a dualistic view. About fifteen years ago, I was at a retreat with our (then) young son. During walking meditation in a field, the Dharma teacher said: "with each step, imagine that the soles of your feet are gently kissing the earth." Our son, who was holding my hand, looked up at me and said - with a wide grin: "Mummy, the earth must love this!" This observation, which I have repeated to myself hundreds of times since, has helped to wake me up. 

As Thich Nhat Hanh writes in Lion's Roar, we are not separate from the earth: 

We think that the earth is the earth and we are something outside of the earth. But in fact we are inside of the earth. Imagine that the earth is the tree and we are a leaf. The earth is not the environment, something outside of us that we need to care for. The earth is us. Just as your parents, ancestors, and teachers are inside you, the earth is in you. Taking care of the earth, we take care of ourselves.  


When we see that the earth is not just the environment, that the earth is in us, at that moment you can have real communion with the earth. But if we see the earth as only the environment, with ourselves in the center, then we only want to do something for the earth in order for us to survive. But it is not enough to take care of the earth. That is a dualistic way of seeing.


We have to practice looking at our planet not just as matter, but as a living and sentient being. The universe, the sun, and the stars have contributed many elements to the earth, and when we look into the earth we see that it's a very beautiful flower containing the presence of the whole universe. When we look into our own bodily formation, we are made of the same elements as the planet. It has made us. The earth and the universe are inside of us. 


When we take mindful steps on the earth, our body and mind unite, and we unite with the earth. The earth gave birth to us and the earth will receive us again. Nothing is lost. Nothing is born. Nothing dies. We don't need to wait until after our body has disintegrated to go back to Mother Earth. We are going back to Mother Earth at every moment. Whenever we breathe, whenever we step, we are returning to the earth. Even when we scratch ourselves, skin cells will fall and return to the earth.


Breathing in, I know Mother Earth is in me. Breathing out, I know Mother Earth is in me....

I think of the earth as a bodhisattva, a great and compassionate being. A bodhisattva is a being who has awakening, understanding, and love. Any living being who has awakening, peace, understanding, and love can be called a bodhisattva, but a bodhisattva doesn't have to be a human being. When we look into a tree, we see the tree is fresh, it nourishes life, and it offers shade and beauty. It's a place of refuge for so many birds and other creatures. A bodhisattva is not something that is up in the clouds far away from us. Bodhisattvas are all around us. A young person who has love, who has freshness, who has understanding, who offers us a lot of happiness, is a bodhisattva. The pine standing in the garden gives us joy, offers us oxygen, and makes life more beautiful.  


When we say that earth is a beautiful bodhisattva, this is not our imagination. It is a fact that the earth is giving life and she is very beautiful. The bodhisattva is not a separate spirit inhabiting the earth; we should transcend that idea. There are not two separate things-the earth, which is a material thing, and the spirit of the earth, a nonmaterial thing that inhabits the earth.

Our planet earth is itself a true, great bodhisattva. It embodies so many great virtues. The earth is solid-it can carry so many things. It is patient-it takes its time moving glaciers and carving rocks. The earth doesn't discriminate. We can throw fragrant flowers on the earth, or we can throw urine and excrement on the earth, and the earth purifies it. The earth has a great capacity to endure, and it offers so much to nourish us-water, shelter, food, and air to breathe.


When we recognize the virtues, the talent, the beauty of the earth bodhisattva, love is born. You love the earth and the earth loves you. You would do anything for the well-being of the earth. And the earth will do anything for your well-being. That is the natural outcome of the real loving relationship. The earth is not just your environment, to be taken care of or worshiped; you are each other. Every mindful step can manifest that love.


With each step the earth heals us, and with each step we heal the earth.

Part of love is responsibility. In Buddhism, we speak of meditation as an act of awakening. To awaken is to be awake to something. We need to be awake to the fact that the earth is in danger and living species on earth are also in danger. When we walk mindfully, each step reminds us of our responsibility. We have to protect the earth with the same commitment we have to protect our family and ourselves. The earth can nourish and heal us but it suffers as well. With each step the earth heals us, and with each step we heal the earth.  


When we walk mindfully on the face of the earth, we are grounded in her generosity and we cannot help but be grateful. All of the earth's qualities of patience, stability, creativity, love, and nondiscrimination are available to us when we walk reverently, aware of our connection. 

Over the next few days (and beyond), I invite you to explore your connection with the earth. When do you feel most connected? What does the connection feel like and how do you nourish it? 

On Monday night, we will listen to a part of beautiful talk by Thay, Moving Beyond the Idea of "Environment" and then share from our experience. On Wednesday morning, in the place of our usual morning Sangha at Circle Yoga, we will celebrate Earth Day by walking the Labyrinth at American University at 7:00am (see announcement below).

With a bow of gratitude for our practice together.


April 16 Resting in the River


This Monday night, Mary will facilitate.  She shares:


Tonight I would like to explore with you the importance of rest to heal our body and our mind. What should be simpler than resting? Just be still and heal. Right. Not so easy. I remember never enjoying nap time in kindergarten. I always had something more fun in mind to be doing. What is that something driving me to keep on doing? As hard as I try, my habit energy pops up with yet something else that needs to be done even if it might be just creating something fun 'to do'. Just being seems more challenging and difficult to achieve than just doing. Do we lack permission from ourselves and our culture to 'be'? Does it not feel good enough or worthy enough to simply be? I was recently prescribed 15 minutes daily of the yoga corpse pose/shavasana by my doctor. A prescription to rest. Interesting and challenging. I don't manage it everyday. Maybe it's why I've been drawn to meditation and yoga and silence since my early 20's. Maybe deep inside, my highest wisdom knows how desperately I need to rest and just be quiet -- and meditation and yoga offer such tools and silence is the container. Sanctioned times and space where I can rest, be calm and quiet-- and not feel guilty that I need to be doing something else. When I think of my mother, my father, and my grandparents, I see this same energy of doing, of restlessness, of many lifetimes back has this energy accumulated? Now there is a lot of outside encouragement to do. Maybe the outside voice drowns out the quieter inner voice, that's waiting to for its turn, waiting to be listened to and followed. And it's not only western culture. I've seen it in people in so many parts of the world.


Thich Nhat Hahn expounds on this subject in his teaching Resting in the River:


"Resting is a very important practice; we have to learn the art of resting. Resting is the first part of Buddhist meditation. You should allow your body and your mind to rest. Our mind as well as our body needs to rest. The problem is that not many of us know how to allow our body and mind to rest. We are always struggling; struggling has become a kind of habit. We cannot resist being active, we struggle all the time. We even struggle in our sleep.


It is very important to realize that we have the habit energy of struggling. We have to be able to recognize a habit when it manifests itself because if we know how to recognize our habit, it will lose its energy and will not be able to push us anymore.


We have to practice in order to be able to transform this habit in us. The habit of struggle has become a powerful source of energy that is shaping our behavior, our actions and our reactions.


When an animal in the jungle is wounded, it knows how to find a quiet place, lie down and do nothing. The animal knows that is the only way to get healed-to lay down and just rest, not thinking of anything, including hunting and eating. Not eating is a very wonderful way of allowing your body to rest. We are so concerned about how to get nutrition that we are afraid of resting, of allowing our body to rest and to fast. The animal knows that it does not need to eat. What it needs is to rest, to do nothing, and that is why its health is restored."


In our consciousness there are wounds also, lots of pains. Our consciousness also needs to rest in order to restore itself. Our consciousness is just like our body. Our body knows how to heal itself if we allow it the chance to do so. When we get a cut on our finger we don't have to do anything except to clean it and to allow it the time to heal, because our body knows how to heal itself. The same thing is true with our consciousness; our consciousness knows how to heal itself if we know how to allow it to do so. But we don't allow it. We always try to do something. We worry so much about healing, which is why we do not get the healing we need. Only if we know how to allow them to rest can our body and our soul heal themselves.


But there is in us what we call the energy of restlessness. We cannot be at peace with ourselves. We cannot be peaceful. We cannot sit; we cannot lie down. There is some energy in us to do this, to do that, to think of this, to think of that, and that kind of restlessness makes us unhappy. That is why it is so important for us to learn first of all to allow our body to rest. We have to learn how to deal with all our energy of restlessness. That is why we have to learn these techniques of allowing our body and our consciousness to rest."


If you care to read more, this Lion Roar online offering includes this teaching and a pertinent introduction: Click here.


Before coming on Monday, please take time to reflect on some questions:

  • When you fall sick in your body, have you looked into your mind/consciousness to see what is there?
  • Does resting come easily for you or do you have to push yourself to rest?
  • What helps you to seek the rest you need to rejuvenate and heal?

I look forward to seeing you on Monday night and learning from what you would like to share. 




April 9 Mindful Rituals, Mindful Practice


This Monday Bea will facilitate.  She shares:


For the past few months, I have been sitting every morning at 7am for twenty minutes with at least one other mindfulness practitioner. We use a free conference call line to dial in and sit together. I wake up, walk to the kitchen, put a pot of water on the stove, wait for it to boil, pour the water on the ground coffee beans and allow a few minutes for it to settle. I watch the ground coffee dance around the pot for a while: at first a bit agitated, then slowly surrendering itself to gravity. I take a deep breath and anticipate the delicious taste of freshly brewed coffee. When it is ready, I pour it in the hand-made clay mug that we bought last summer in Ithaca, New York. I feel the warmth of the coffee coming through the clay mug as I hold it tightly in between my hands and remember the summer day we strolled through the Ithaca farmer's market and met the potter who sold us this elegant yet unpretentious mug. I sip the coffee slowly and enjoy the silence of the house while my daughter is still sleeping. Then I unfold my yoga mat, place my meditation cushion on it and look out of the living room window. There are three enormous pine trees outside my window. One of them has a branch that looks like a hand mudra, with the index finger touching the thumb. I set my intention to start the day peacefully and then I dial in and open the conference call line. We started this ritual being two and now we are four. Last week, a neighbor asked me if she too could join our morning meditation every now and then.


Rituals are powerful if we are present to the moment. If we are not, they become habits fueled by what Thay refers to as "habit energy." In the book, "Beyond the Self: Teachings on the Middle Way" Thay says:


"Our habit energy is what causes us to repeat the same behavior thousands of times. Habit energy pushes us to run, to always be doing something, to be lost in thoughts of the past or the future and to blame others for our suffering. And that energy does not allow us to be peaceful and happy in the present moment."

"The practice of mindfulness helps us to recognize that habitual energy. Every time we can recognize the habitual energy in us, we are able to stop and to enjoy the present moment. The energy of mindfulness is the best energy to help us embrace our habit energy and transform it."


There are plenty of things I do every day that have now become routine. Every day, I brush my teeth, I get dressed, I cook, I eat meals, I clean the dishes, I take the metro, I check emails, I say good morning to the neighbor and to my colleagues, I listen to the news and I do my work. Unfortunately, I am not always present. I realize that I am often driven by "habit energy." I would hate for my morning meditation to just become another thing I do to feel good about myself or to check off the list!


In the book Peace is Every Step of the Way, Thay writes about "Eating Mindfully."


A few years ago, I asked some children, "What is the purpose of eating breakfast?" One boy replied, "To get energy for the day." Another said, "The purpose of eating breakfast, is to eat breakfast." I think the second child is correct. The purpose of eating is to eat.


Eating a meal in mindfulness is an important practice. We turn off the TV, put down our newspaper, and work together for five or ten minutes, setting the table and finishing whatever needs to be done. During these few minutes, we can be very happy. When the food is on the table, and everyone is seated, we practice breathing: "Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile," three times. We can recover ourselves completely after three breaths like this.


Then we look at each person as we breathe in and out in order to be in touch with ourselves and everyone at the table. We don't need two hours to see another person. If we are really settled within ourselves, we only need to look for one or two seconds, and that is enough to see. I think that if a family has five members, only about five or ten seconds are needed to practice this "looking and seeing."


After breathing, we smile. Sitting at the table with other people, we have a chance to offer and authentic smile of friendship and understanding. It is very easy, but not many people do it. To me, this is the most important practice. We look at each person, and smile at him or her. Breathing and smiling together, is a very important practice. If the people in the household cannot smile at each other, the situation is very dangerous.


After breathing and smiling, we look down at the food in a way that allows the food to become real. This food reveals our connection to the earth. Each bite contains the life of the sun and the earth. The extent to which our food reveals itself depends on us. We can see and taste the whole universe in a piece of bread! Contemplating our food for a few seconds before eating, and eating in mindfulness, can bring us much happiness.


Having an opportunity to sit with our family and friends and enjoy wonderful food is something precious, something not everyone has. Many people in the world are hungry. When I hold a bowl of rice or a piece of bread, I know that I am fortunate, and I feel compassion for all those who have no food to eat and are without friends or family. This is a very deep practice. We do not need to go to a temple or a church in order to practice this. We can practice it right at our dinner table. Mindful eating can cultivate seeds of compassion and understanding that will strengthen us to do something to help hungry and lonely people be nourished.


In order to aid mindfulness during the meals, you may like to eat silently from time to time. Your first silent meal, may cause you to feel a little uncomfortable, but once you become used to it, you will realize that meals in silence bring much peace and happiness. Just as we turn off the TV before eating, we can "turn off" the talking in order to enjoy the food and the presence of one another.


So, my questions for you are these: are your rituals driven by habit energy or are they a mindful practice? What do you do to strengthen your mindful practice every day? What happens when you slow down and are truly present? Is it possible to slow down in Washington D.C. or when we have a "busy" lifestyle? Think about rituals, any ritual, that enables you to truly be in the moment? How do you feel in that moment? And how does that moment nourish the rest of your day?


With gratitude, for taking a moment to sit together and to practice mindfully.



April 2 Forgiveness Practice


This Monday April the 2nd Mick will facilitate.  He shares:


Mindfulness practice is a path to the heart. In stillness, and in silence, we traverse this path to come closer to the heart. We approach the protective outer layer and notice where and how the heart is closed. We notice 

and feel the softness and the spots where we can open to let ourselves and others into our heart. So many of the holdings of the heart and the hard places have been built around regrets and resentments. As we give ourselves the gift of stopping, the gift of coming closer to ourselves to develop mindfulness of feelings, there comes a yearning to let go. In his book, Healing Into Life And Death, Stephen Levine shares:


It is in passing through the holdings around the heart that the power of forgiveness becomes most evident. Forgiveness allows us to let go of the curtains of resentment, the filters to life that have kept us so lost in the mind. Forgiveness softens the clinging and allows our holdings to sink a bit more deeply into the healing heart.


Following Levine's guidance in a meditation on Forgiveness we can

"Begin to reflect for a moment on what the word "forgiveness" might mean. What is forgiveness? What might it be to bring forgiveness into one's life, into one's mind?" As with all of our mindfulness practices, we start where we are. We begin by slipping into the cracks of the heart to soften just this much. The practice of cultivating forgiveness opens us to releasing our own suffering and to looking deeply into all suffering. The practice of cultivating forgiveness is a practice of loving-kindness and healing. Thich Nhat Hanh says that, "Understanding is the practice of looking deeply." When we forgive, we don't condone despicable acts or everyday slights, but we do open a bit more to look deeply with some understanding of the causes and conditions around words and actions. We open our life, our mind, our heart, a bit more.


This Monday night during our second sitting we will do a forgiveness practice. This practice traditionally involves extending forgiveness to someone who we have some resentment toward. Then you picture someone who is unforgiving toward you, and reach out with an openness to be forgiven. Lastly, you offer forgiveness to yourself to soften self-judgment and to enliven kindness.


Forgiveness, healing, dissolving long standing issues and clinging. I look forward to our exploration together.


"The holding around the unresolved, the unapproached has become so cramped close that it seems to take considerable effort to soften it back to its natural openness. But forgiveness acts almost as a kind of lubricant to allow the yet held to slip lightly away".

----Stephen Levine


I look forward to our time together.



March 26 Marching for Our Lives: Mindfulness Must Be Engaged


This Monday, Bea will facilitate.  She shares:


I am writing this the Thursday before the actual march, which is scheduled for next Saturday. I have been waiting for this march for a long time. I have marched for women. I have marched for science. I have marched for the rights of indigenous people, and I have marched for climate change. Over the last 12 months, the bulk of my physical exercise has come from these marches. But the most obvious one, the march for gun reform, had not yet happened. It took another school shooting and the death of 17 high school students to wake us from our stupor. It did not happen after Sandy Hook. It did not happen after San Bernardino. It did not happen after Las Vegas. So why now? Why are we willing to stop what we are doing, come together as a community, and finally say: "Enough is enough. Something has to change." And will "they" listen? The elected officials? The decision makers? Those who claim to represent us? 


In Peace is Every Step, Thay writes a chapter on "Mindfulness Must be Engaged." 


He writes, "When I was in Vietnam, so many of our villages were being bombed. Along with my monastic brothers and sisters, I had to decide what to do. Should we continue to practice in our monasteries, or should we leave the meditation halls in order to help the people who were suffering under the bombs? After careful reflection, we decided to do both-to go out and help people and to do in mindfulness. We called it engaged Buddhism. Mindfulness must be engaged. Once there is seeing, there must be acting. Otherwise, what is the use of seeing?


We must be aware of the real problems of the world. Then, with mindfulness, we will know what to do and what not to do to help. If we maintain awareness of our breathing and continue to practice smiling, even in difficult situations, many people, animals and plants will benefit from our way of doing things. Are you massaging Mother Earth every time your foot touches her? Are you planting seeds of joy and peace? I try to do exactly that with every step, and I know that our Mother Earth is most appreciative. Peace is every step. Shall we continue our journey?"


After 9/11 happened in the U.S., Thay went on a 9-day fast to empathize with all those who were affected and suffering by this tragic event. He called it his "prayer in action." 


So, when it comes to gun violence in America, do we get involved only when we are directly affected by it or do we stand with those who have lost loved ones? Do we tune out when we hear of yet another unarmed black man being shot by the police or do we say something? Do we know if our member of congress is funded by the NRA or if our pension fund is supporting companies that manufacture weapons and related accessories? 


What is our prayer to action when it comes to gun violence in America? What is our role as mindful practitioners? Can we sit and meditate, or do we go out and march or do we do both? What is right for each one of us?


And on a Buddhist perspective on guns, I found this article by Greg Snyder in the February edition of Lion's Roar particularly interesting. If you have time, I invite you to read it.


In gratitude,


March 19 Healing the Inner Child


This Monday, Susie will facilitate.  She shares:


As grown ups we believe we are all grown up. In reality we hold inside of us our inner child. We hold inside the pre-natal consciousness from when we swam around in our mother's womb. In her womb, we felt love when she felt love, and we felt fear when she felt fear, and the full range of reactions and emotions and physical manifestations within.


At birth we became aware we had to survive. We had a super-consciousness, a higher understanding, an awareness that was perfect. We were born divine.


As we grew, we had experiences, thoughts, emotions and dreams. We experienced what was soft, warm and comforting as well as pain, hunger, fear and discomfort. We learned to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Our experiences ranged from pleasurable to traumatic, and our brain recorded all of this. Thich Nhat Hahn speaks of the inner child in his books, and in a meditation that we will listen to together.


Through our sitting practice, walking practice, and breathing practice we have the opportunity to quiet the mind, listen to our inner child, and care for our inner child.


Please join us at 7pm for meditation and sharing.



Excerpts from Thich Nhat Hahn's Book, Reconciliation: Healing the Inner Child


When we become aware that we've forgotten the wounded child in ourselves, we feel great compassion for that child and we begin to generate the energy of mindfulness. The practices of mindful walking, mindful sitting, and mindful breathing are our foundation. With our mindful breath and mindful steps, we can produce the energy of mindfulness and return to the awakened wisdom lying in each cell of our body. That energy will embrace us and heal us, and will heal the wounded child in us.


You have to talk to your child several times a day. Only then can healing take place. Embracing your child tenderly, you reassure him that you will never let him down again or leave him unattended. The little child has been left alone for so long. That is why you need to begin this practice right away. If you don't do it now, when will you do it?


With practice, we can see that our wounded child is not only us. Our wounded child may represent several generations. Our mother may have suffered throughout her life. Our father may have suffered. Perhaps our parents weren't able to look after the wounded child in themselves. So when we're embracing the wounded child in us, we're embracing all the wounded children of our past generations. This practice is not a practice for ourselves alone, but for numberless generations of ancestors and descendants.


Our ancestors may not have known how to care for their wounded child within, so they transmitted their wounded child to us. Our practice is to end this cycle. If we can heal our wounded child, we will not only liberate ourselves, but we will also help liberate whoever has hurt or abused us. The abuser may also have been the victim of abuse. There are people who have practiced with their inner child for a long time who have had a lessening of their suffering and have experienced transformation. Their relationships with their family and friends have become much easier.


The people around us, our family and friends, may also have a severely wounded child inside. If we've managed to help ourselves, we can also help them. When we've healed ourselves, our relationships with others become much easier. There's more peace and more love in us.


Walking with Our Ancestors


When we were only four years old, we probably thought: I'm only a four-year-old child, a son or daughter, a little brother or sister. But in fact, we were already a mother, already a father. All past and future generations were there in our body. When we take a step on the green grass of spring, we walk in such a way that allows all our ancestors to take a step with us. The peace, joy, and freedom in each step will penetrate each generation of our ancestors and descendants. We walk with the energy of mindfulness, and with each step we see countless generations of ancestors and descendants walking with us.


We are a continuation of the stream of life. Maybe our parents weren't able to appreciate us, but our grandparents and our ancestors wanted us to come into life. The truth is that our grandparents, our ancestors, always wanted us to be their continuation. If we can know this, we will not suffer so much because of our parents' behavior. Sometimes our parents are full of love and sometimes they are full of anger. This love and anger comes not only from them, but from all previous generations. When we can see this, we no longer blame our parents for our suffering.

March 12 The Collective Energy of Mindfulness and Peace Generated by Chanting


This Monday March 12th, Camille will facilitate.  She shares:


After walking meditation tonight and in lieu of the traditional second sitting, we will watch and listen to a segment of a video dharma talk by Thich Nhat Hanh from August 14, 2011 on "Awakening the Heart" with chanting and music by the Plum Village Monastics.


This chanting is a practice of meditation in the name of Avalokiteshvara the Bodhisatttva of deep listening. In listening to and understanding his own suffering, he was able to find compassion to heal and transform. He could then listen to the suffering of others to help them also transform their suffering.


Being able to look at our own suffering can be very challenging - the first challenge is to admit we are suffering and then when we recognize it, we are afraid of it and of the despair and sadness deep inside. A friend once asked me why I practiced Mindfulness and I gave him about ten different reasons why it was helpful to me - the one he focused on was the "suffering" piece. And he said "I don't suffer, why should I practice". I remember thinking the same thing once, until I realized I was hiding my suffering, pretending it wasn't there, and running away from it. The practice as Thay says is "not to run away from suffering but to hold it dearly and it will show you the way of transformation and healing."


When the monastics chant this meditation they are chanting "with mindfulness and the energy of concentration and compassion."  As we listen to them chant we may notice that this collective energy of mindfulness and peace may "penetrate into our bodies and release tension and reduce pain" allowing us to feel more peaceful.  


After the chanting we will have time to reflect on how it may have helped us come back to our breath and release pain and tension in our bodies and suffering in our hearts, and to also share our experiences with other ways we might find to ease our suffering and find peace.


I look forward to seeing you all and to the collective energy of this sangha as I know together we bring more peace and compassion to the world.


Much love, Camille

March 5 Bringing Your Mind Home to Your Body: What Brings You Back?


On Monday, Marie will facilitate. She shares:


As I was buffeted about by the wild winds of this week's storm, I noticed how this extreme weather helped to "bring me home".  On Friday, I spent several hours in a technology shop helping my mother choose a computer.  When we emerged from the depths of the mall, the driving rain felt wonderful - not exactly comfortable - but wonderful nonetheless.  Why?  Because it brought my mind back to my body.  It woke up my senses, which, in turn, helped to connect my body and my mind (interestingly, the experience of being insulated inside a mall for hours, coupled with my intense focus on "getting the job done, and done well" had short circuited this connection.)   While we'd had a "successful" shopping trip, in terms of the outcome, we were both completely fried.  Later, I wondered: if I had remembered to come back to my breath whilst I was inside the shop, would I have felt as depleted? 


"In breathing and sitting, there is no breather or sitter.  There is just the breathing, there is just the sitting." "When you say 'The wind blows', it is very funny.  If it does not blow, how can it be the wind?  It is like saying 'The rain is raining.'  If it is not raining, how can it be rain?  The same is true for thinking. The thinker and the thought-they are not separate things; they are one." 

(Dharma Talk by Thich Nhat Hanh in Estes Park, August 2011)


Thay tells us, your "breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts.  Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again."   I have found this to be true, and my practice helps me to remember to use my breath as an anchor and to strengthen this connection.  While this usually works when I'm meditating and when I notice that I'm agitated/delighted, I can lose this connection when my critical thinking fires up.  Lying in bed that night, listening to the wind and rain, I realized that the sounds of nature are, for me, another bell of mindfulness: they help me to come back to my breath and create a bridge between my body and my mind.


What brings your mind home to your body?   How has this changed over time?Please join us on Monday night, when we will share our experiences and learn from each other: 


What connects our minds with our bodies? 

When and how do we access this and how does it feel?


In the interim, you might enjoy this guided meditation on bringing our minds and bodies together as one:  





Please note that this week it is a Newcomers Week.

February 26 True Love

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This Monday Mary will facilitate. She shares:


Welcome to Monday evening with the Opening Heart Mindfulness Community. This evening we will read the Five Mindfulness Trainings together and then focus our attention on the Third Mindfulness Training: True Love.


Tonight gives me the opportunity to share the delightful and beautiful bicycle story from Tricycle online collection, "Love Becomes Her" by Nicole Daedone. I referred to it last week during dharma sharing time. Click here to read it. May it enrich your day and bring a smile to your face.


I think about the times in my life when my sexual misconduct brought suffering to others...and then, sooner or later, bingo, the suffering came rolling back on to me... call it karma or cause and effect or realize it's likely due to us all being so interconnected. What hurts someone directly or indirectly has reverberations which may land immediately or sometime in the future. This is not hypothesis but my experience. 'Treat others as I want to be treated' quietly resounds over and over in my mind.


In this third training, rather than lingering on what not to do (the big potholes on the road of life that block true love), I find myself gravitating to the final sentences that suggest what actually to do:


"Seeing that body and mind are in unison, 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, I know that I will continue beautifully in the future."


As the bicycle story illustrates, it's common to fall into the trap of applying our cultural materialistic tendencies to all matters including spirituality and love. We keep looking outside ourselves for sources of our happiness and love:


"We believe that love is to be found within another person. But, in truth, love is found in the animating quality of our attention... when we use our attention to touch and open the deeper truth in a person, we not only catalyze the experience of love, we become love. The source of love is revealed to be within us; we no longer have to go looking for it somewhere outside.


What made any bike that Maria possessed seem so desirable was the very love she lavished on it. The glow was not in the bike itself, but in her relationship to it. Like bicycles, people become more desirable when we are attentive to them. Their most lovable qualities reveal themselves to us only after we have begun to love them. Loving is the polish. Loving draws out the Buddha-nature. Anything and anyone we cherish and care for comes alive with the glow of our attention." 


Keep in mind that the five mindfulness trainings are designed as guidelines to support our mindfulness practice. They point us in the direction to reduce suffering in ourself and in others. These trainings were originally designed as precepts for lay practitioners by the Buddha and have been modernized by Thich Nhat Hanh and his community of practitioners. They are practices of compassion and understanding that can lead to healing, transformation and happiness for ourselves and for the world. Nearly all spiritual traditions have some equivalent guidance. 


Visit OHMC website to read the Five Mindfulness Trainings. 


After reading the Five Mindfulness Trainings together, we will have time to share from our own experience in True Love.


A few questions to ponder:

  • What has helped you have more True Love in your life?
  • What is holding you back?
  • What have you experienced when you lavished your attention on someone or something, animate or inanimate? Examples: baby, sick person, lover, dog, cat , garden, etc.
  • Why is it is often easier to shower compassion and loving kindness on a stranger than to those in your immediate household, family or workplace?  

I look forward to learning from you and your experience on Monday night.  


Honoring the Love in you all,



February 19 Four Immesurables


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


This past week we had Valentine's Day, The Olympics, Chinese New Year/New Moon and another tragic school shooting.  In other words, as a whole we have experienced the wide range of emotions around love, renewal and inward looking and great sadness, suffering and more.  Our mettle in being present with all of this, without getting pulled from our center, has been greatly tested. 


How do we continue on amidst the 10,000 joys and sorrows of life.  This past week I received an article from a friend on Thich Nhat Hanh's teaching on The Four Qualities of Love.  These qualities are also know as the Four Brahma Viharas, or Four Divine Abodes.  The qualities are Loving Kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy and Equanimity.  They are know in Buddhism as the Four Immeasurables.


These four are called the Four Immeasurables because they are directed to an immeasurable number of sentient beings, and because the wholesome karma produced through practicing them is immeasurable. The four are also called the sublime states of mind because they are like the extraordinary states of mind of the gods.  More on the practice here


Now more than ever we need to breathe through these challenging times present in us and around us.  We breathe to settle the mind and body. We breathe to reconnect with ourselves.  We breathe to connect with the wider web of suffering and joy through practicing compassion, love, sympathetic joy and equanimity.  


When we connect through the Four Immeasurables we are reminded that we are not separate entities, but connected parts of the vast web of life.  Our experience of compassion, the wish for another to be free of suffering, reminds us of our interconnectedness or interbeing. We feel the pain of the families in Florida, we feel love towards our family, we feel joy for accomplishments of those close to us, or for an Olympian whose story of resilience and success touches our heart. 


Amidst all of the words and teaches let me boil it down to this.  We struggle, we thrive, we experience joy, love sadness and suffering, often in one day.  It comes back to the ever present question, how do we be with it all?

We are part of a wider web, remember?  One way to be with it all is to remember, and connect with the fact that just as I suffer, so do millions of others in the same way.  We all experience the wide range of joys and sorrows in the midst of our unique lives.  So, then what?  We cultivate our connectedness by returning to and connecting first with our body and our breath, then with our smaller circles of support.  In these places and spaces we receive support and are reminded of our interbeing.  We are not alone.  We have our mindfulness practice to come home to, and we have this sangha and the the other sanghas in our life of family and friends. 


All of this is very nice food for thought, food for the mind.  Because real felt experience is greater than intellectual knowing, this week after our walking meditation we will engage in a meditation in which we will explore and experience Compassion, Loving Kindness, Sympathetic Joy and Equanimity.


I look forward to our time together.



February 12 To Loves Means to Be There

This week, Annie will facilitate. 


After our meditation period, we will watch a segment of a video dharma talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) at Google Headquarters in 2011. In this segment, Thay speaks about the gift of attention, the foundation of mindfulness practice. He says:


"To love means to be there for your beloved one. And to be there, for me, is not a good intention, a desire --  it is a practice. In order to be there, you need to breathe in mindfully and bring your mind home to your body. Or you might like or practice walking meditation."


I have lately been reading the writings of French activist and mystic, Simone Weil. About attention, she says:


“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity."


One of my beloved poets, Mary Oliver, says in her book Our World:


"Attention without feeling, I began to learn, is only a report. An openness — an empathy — was necessary if the attention was to matter." 


After we take in the video of Thay, we will have time to share our reflections on how, why, and when we pay attention. What blocks or distracts our attention? What brings us back to the moment?


I look forward to seeing you then.


with love,


February 5 Meditation is about Resting Completely


This Monday, Marie will facilitate.  She shares:


When you meditate, to what extent are you resting?  It can be all too easy for me to have "meditation" as an item on my to-do list and then bring an element of effort on to the cushion.  I am meditating, but am I resting?


In his book No Self, No Problem, Anam Thubten writes that: 


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


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


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


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


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


I find it refreshing, in fact liberating, when I remember and practice these words.  On Monday, we will have an opportunity to practice in this way together and to share our experience.  After our first sitting and walking meditation, we will have a guided meditation.  I hope you can join us.




January 29 The 5 Mindfulness Trainings



This Monday, Camille will facilitate.  She shares:


Welcome to Monday evening with the Opening Heart Mindfulness Community.  This evening we will read the Five Mindfulness Trainings together.  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, that can lead to healing, transformation, and happiness for ourselves and the world.  These trainings are not commandments or dogma, but are guidelines or suggestions to help support our mindfulness practice as a compass to orient our lives.  All spiritual traditions have their equivalent to the Five Mindfulness Trainings.


To read all Five Mindfulness Trainings, please visit our sangha's website.


This evening I would like to focus on the fourth training, Loving Speech and Deep Listening.  A few months ago I facilitated with you and focused on "Truthfulness and Loving Speech".  So this evening I would like to share some thoughts and words about Deep Listening.  Thich Nhat Hanh talks about deep listening and loving speech as a way to "restore communication and reconcile".  When I shared last time about the practice of loving speech and truthfulness - I didn't share that I hadn't truly come to terms with deep listening which is the first step to true communication.   I'm pretty sure I can speak lovingly and kindly - and express myself for others to understand me - but I know from personal experience that deep listening has to come first.  I am often hearing others but not always listening with compassion and non-judgement.


My lack of ability to listen deeply sometimes seems to come from fear.  I am afraid if I listen to a loved one or a friend too deeply that I will have to solve a problem, or give advice, or agree when I don't really want to agree.  I guess in some way I have not "transformed my inner suffering, hatred or fear" as Thay offers.  It really does prevent me from understanding others, and making peace with them and therefore it becomes difficult to sustain more meaningful relationships.


This paragraph from Thay's book "Happiness" struck a chord with me:


"You have to practice breathing mindfully in and out so that compassion always stays with you.  You listen without giving advice or passing judgment.  You can say to the other person, "I am listening to him because I want to relieve his suffering."  This is called compassionate listening.  You have to listen in such a way that compassion remains with you the whole time you are listening.  That is the art.  If halfway through listening, irritation or anger comes up, then you cannot continue to listen. You have to practice in such a way that every time the energy of irritation and anger comes up, you can breathe in and out mindfully and continue to hold compassion in you.  It is with compassion that you can listen to another."  No matter what the other person says, even if there is a lot of  strong information and injustice in his ways of seeing things, even if he condemns or blames you, continue to sit very quietly breathing in and out."  I guess this is the secret of making peace with others and the world - offering them an opportunity to be heard.


It would be wonderful to hear from you on Monday evening - and also a wonderful opportunity to practice our ability to offer deep listening to one another.


Please enjoy this poem "Deep Listening"  by Mary-Elizabeth Cotton:


Let us listen....


            Just for awhile

            let us silence our minds

            and open our hearts


            Just for awhile

            let us listen from within




            not to gain knowledge

            not to formulate questions



Look forward to seeing you soon,  with love, Camille

January 22 - Practice Saying Yes


This Monday, Mick will facilitate- January 8 he was planning to share this topic but we canceled due to weather. 

 He shares:


Last month I had the good fortune of participating in a 5 day retreat. One of the main themes and teachings of the retreat was to say YES. Say yes to whatever arose along the continuum of joy and ease to frustration and resistance.


This whole idea of saying yes makes for a worthy retreat theme. In essence we were being asked to say YES to sleeping in a different bed, and eating food we might not like. Of course this practice went deeper into bringing mindful awareness to the fluctuations of mind and body as we sat, and walked, and ate in silence.


Before we can say yes or no to anything there must be observation and awareness. This is the practice and the path. Dharma/Meditation teacher Larry Yang writes about this in his book Awakening Together:


The path of spiritual practice is often called purification of the heart.  We don't have a choice about what we purify--rather, what needs purifying shows up in our lives. The question is whether we can be mindful enough to be present to it. 


In essence, saying yes is about meeting our experiences and our mind with awareness and with an intention to be with, rather than to fix or change. 


Larry Yang adds:


If we see our suffering clearly it will change and transform. When we do not see suffering clearly, it continues to feed itself.


In the retreat setting one has the time and space to wrestle, dance, and see clearly into suffering.  With a daily practice we have that chance as well.  We have the chance to recognize and meet suffering with gentleness and kindness.


This meeting is really the act of letting go, the act of saying yes when we can, as best we can. 


  Reflecting on saying yes, suffering and letting go--

  What do you want to say yes to?

  How do you relate to suffering on and off the cushion?

  What is your experience of letting go and grasping?


I look forward to our time together.



January 15 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: Are We Using the Skillful Means He Taught Us?


This Monday, on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Annie will facilitate.


We will begin with this quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


"So, if you're seeking to develop a just society, they say, the important thing is to get there, and the means are really unimportant; any means will do so long as they get you there? they may be violent, they may be untruthful means; they may even be unjust means to a just end. There have been those who have argued this throughout history. But we will never have peace in the world until men everywhere recognize that ends are not cut off from means, because the means represent the ideal in the making, and the end in process, and ultimately you can't reach good ends through evil means, because the means represent the seed and the end represents the tree." -- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., from 1967 A Christmas Sermon on Peace


Many of us may feel we want to join with Dr. King and his spiritual ancestors to take a stand against the injustices we are seeing the in the world today. If you're like me, you may wonder, Am I using the kind of means that he spoke about?


There is a surprising Buddhist text on Skillful Means - the Upaya Kausalya Sutra - in which the Buddha, in one of his past lives, this one as a sea captain, was transporting 500 merchants. He discovers (in a dream) that one of the passengers is actually a robber, intent on killing all the rest and stealing their goods. The Buddha sea captain knows that if he does nothing many people die and the robber will suffer terrible karmic consequences. But, if if he tells the other merchants, they will kill the robber and they will suffer the karmic consequences. So "with great compassion and skill in means" he kills the robber. He himself takes the karmic consequences of the murder, but in the sutra it suggests that, although the killing brought about negative consequences for the Buddha, it was less so because the captain's actions were done with sincere compassionate intentions. (Description of this sutra can be found in Peter Harvey's book, An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics.)


Apart from the unlikely idea that one robber could kill 500 merchants, or that we should kill someone as a result of our dream images (this would not be a good practice for me), this sutra challenges our thinking about means and ends and how to determine whether our actions are beneficial. Will our actions lead to more awareness and more loving kindness, in the long run?


Clearly the means we use matter, but how can we learn whether we are practicing the kind of skillful means that Dr. King spoke about, and how can we gain confidence in making wise choices about how to act?  What helps me most of all is listening to some of our greatest spiritual teachers. But doing so, I can begin to understand and approximate skillful means for myself. 


Here is some wisdom on skillful means:


"With mindful walking, our steps are no longer a means to arrive at an end. When we walk to the kitchen to serve our meal, we don't need to think, 'I have to walk to the kitchen to get the food.' With mindfulness, we can say, 'I am enjoying walking to the kitchen,' and each step is an end in itself. There is no distinction between means and ends. There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way. There is no way to enlightenment, enlightenment is the way."  Thich Nhat Hanh from Reconciliation: Healing the Inner Child


"To me, all the work I do is built on a foundation of loving-kindness. Love illuminates matters. And when I write provocative social and cultural criticism that causes readers to stretch their minds, to think beyond set paradigms, I think of that work as love in action. While it may challenge, disturb and at times even frighten or enrage readers, love is always the place where I begin and end." -- bell hooks, interview with Thich Nhat Hanh


"So someone who carries a gun, such as a police officer or prison guard, can also be a bodhisattva. He or she may be very firm, but deep within there is the heart of a bodhisattva. Our task is to help prison guards and police officers, as well as prisoners and gang members, recognize and cultivate their bodhisattva nature." -- Thich Nhat Hanh, Peaceful Action, Open Heart: Lessons From the Lotus Sutra


"I think that this sense of meaning and purpose is really important in our lives, but I think at the same time there's a Zen perspective that's a little different. which is: you're wholeheartedly in this moment, mindfully practicing not necessarily moving at snails place, there's a kind of egolessness there. You don't need as well to have meaning and purpose in one way, but in the other way meaning and purpose is important because you come from a place where what you're doing is not selfishly oriented, but it's really about benefitting others." -- Roshi Joan Halifax, on Synchronicity 


“If I want to deprive you of your watch, I shall certainly have to fight for it; if I want to buy your watch, I shall have to pay for it; and if I want a gift, I shall have to plead for it; and, according to the means I employ, the watch is stolen property, my own property, or a donation. Thus we see three different results from three different means. Will you still say that the means do not matter?”  ― Mahatma Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance


"Anger has within it wisdom, and that wisdom is clear seeing."  -- Roshi Joan Halifax, on Synchronicity 


How does skillful means manifest in your everyday life? Do you ever act out of the oft-heard quote, "the ends justify the means"? How are you skillful or unskillful in your own movement toward personal enlightenment? What about in your actions toward collective liberation? How do you know when you're acting skillfully?


When have you sacrificed your presence, loving-kindness, or self-care in pursuit of righteous goals? Do you feel that was the best choice?  What might you be willing to do in order for your candidate to win an election? Do your actions feel like skillful means?


On Monday, after our meditation period, we will read these quotes and ask ourselves some of these questions together. Your voice in our discussion is so valuable, I hope to see you there.


with love,