Standing Up and Coming Home

Lion’shead Peony, Photo by Celia

“I stand up for you.

You stand up for me.

We stand up together.

And this is how we do it.

I care for you.

You care for me.

We care together.

This is how we do it.” ~Larry Ward, Senior Dharmacharya

“We all have to suffer less in order to restore some kind of balance within ourselves. Only then can we engage in meaningful and collective efforts to build peace in the world.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh, Calming the Fearful Mind: A Zen Response to Terrorism

“I am part of this universe. The air is part of this universe. With each breath, the universe changes. With each inhale, the universe changes. With each exhale, the universe changes.” ~Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, In Love With the World: A Monk’s Journey Through the Bardo’s of Living and Dying.

Dear Friends,

These are exciting and unprecedented times. In the recent weeks we have witnessed a world-wide awakening to responsibility and accountability. As we are called to witness Rayshard Brooks’ killing by police, we are also seeing White bodies standing with Black bodies calling for justice and change. This is a big shift and it is time. My purpose in writing this is to call us all in to witness change happening and to see that sometimes things appear to happen slowly and sometimes they appear to happen very quickly. I also want to acknowledge that unrest, fear, instability, and continuing conflict can take a very real toll on our physical and mental wellbeing. Black and Brown bodies who have lived with the understanding that they are not safe have an inherited heightened level of stress and vigilance. I have heard both outrage and a bittersweet relief that when the whole world saw the lynching of a Black man, the whole world responded with swift condemnation and mourning. This response is overdue and seeing what happened on the streets of Minneapolis and Atlanta made it very clear that living in a Black body—we are less safe in this world than if we are in a White body.

For White people right now, I have heard shock and heartbreak and there is broken trust in the system they believed supported justice. For People of Color there is the heartbreak of once again seeing oppression and murder. For all of us in this world, living with the Corona virus, job insecurity, the increasing polarization of political and social differences, all bodies are feeling this vigilance and exhaustion. We are longing for a safe home, for comfort, and predictability and finding more instability each time we turn on the news. We know that for systems to change, sometimes things need to fall apart. No political regimen, no system, no country, no being is exempt from impermanence. Change is hard on us and we are in a time of profound and rapid change. We may wonder where can we find a calm center of rest, where is home now?

Thich Nhat Hanh (2010) writes, “I don’t suffer because I’ve found my true home (p. 8).” This home is not limited to a specific location, even confined to a country. “Thanks to mindfulness, I was able to find my true home in the here and now (p. 12) …Our true home is the place without discrimination, without hatred (p. 13).” Thay tells us, when we can touch into this moment, we can rest free from worries about the past and fears about the future. The peace and stability we are able to produce in this present moment creates the next moment. Coming home to ourselves is a way to stop, rest, and heal…which we need to do in order to engage in the heavy lifting that is required of us.

As one teacher described the Buddha’s teaching on the three universal marks of existence, “Everything keeps changing; it will shake you up and it’s not personal.” Right now, we are shook. We are tired and there is more to be done. I am calling us all in to find rest in the midst of unrest, in this moment that is filled with the potential of change and with real hope. Our ability to care for ourselves and to recognize that we are already co-creating the future with each breath we take—the universe is different. Each thought we produce changes our minds and hearts. The way we think, speak, and act creates a mark on the world and on our consciousness. Our freedom is paired with responsibility which includes responsibility for caring for ourselves, for finding our own ability to come home to ourselves, to have faith that enlightenment is inevitable.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Reference:

Nhat Hanh, T. (2010). Together we are one: Honoring diversity celebrating our connection. Parallax: Berkeley, CA.

Here are some opportunities to practice:

A link to Resmaa Menaken’s free 5 day workshop to heal racialized trauma https://www.resmaa.com/

link to an article Dharma teacher Cheri Maples wrote about being a Buddhist Cop, https://www.lionsroar.com/a-buddhist-cops-approach-to-justice/

Please click to see a sutra study offering from Dharma teacher Larry Ward:July 15th, 7 pm, online. Join Larry as he offers study and practice with the Lokavipatti Sutta: The sutra on the Failings of the World. https://www.thelotusinstitute.org/calendar/sutra-study

The Karma of the Present Moment

After the Storm. Photo by Celia

“I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear?”

~ Dr. Martin Luther King

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” ~ Mother Theresa

“We only need to be still and things will reveal themselves in the calm water in our heart.”  ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear friends,

As I start writing this, I am wondering what I can say to give some perspective to the unfolding events in our country. There is a deep sadness, some fear, and real hope for change as I witness what looks like the sea turning. We are seeing karma unfolding. Every action has its roots is what has come before. The country we live in has a painful history of greed, ignorance, and delusion that allowed America to believe it was moral and just to kidnap, enslave, and own another being based on the color of their skin. The full effect of over 350 years of violence and exclusion has never been fully reckoned. When we hear about white individuals with power killing Black and Brown skinned individuals without power, we are seeing the continuation of the brutal legacy of buying and selling humans, the  legacy of the lie that we are worth less if our skin is dark.

2,600 years ago, the Buddha left the life of extreme privilege and protection to understand what leads to suffering and what leads to the end of suffering. He broke with convention and spread the new doctrine that our station in life is not determined by our birth and social class. He changed the meaning of noble from one who is born into a life of privilege and honor, to the ennobling acts we do which create nobility in ourselves. He discarded the tradition of caste that kept people stuck in limited roles. He accepted all who came to end suffering, the poor, the privileged, even a serial killer and most radical of all—women.

He taught a new way of understanding ourselves and our world and saw that all suffering stems from the three constantly burning fires of greed, hatred and fear, and the ignorance or delusion that keeps us from seeing the truth.

As a white person, I know my race has committed atrocities in the name of greed, hatred, and delusion. If I believe that my personal history and my ancestor’s history of victimization and oppression exempts me from responsibility, I am not facing the truth that I too am included in this systemic hierarchy of privilege.

For those of us who meditate, we know that the more we engage in meditation and deep looking, the more we show up for what’s happening in our lives. Meditation is not a way to escape from our reality and from pain. Meditation is a way to be with it. Stepping into a larger capacity we have the opportunity to find the strength to wake up.

There is a world that is frustrated and angry because of the need for justice and accountability. There are people around the world who are standing up to the legacy of this inheritance.

In Christianity we learn we are our sibling’s keeper. In Buddhism we learn, we are our sibling. This is the understanding of Interbeing. That we are all capable of the same actions if our conditioning were that of others. We also see that we are not able to stand apart from what is happening. If we are Black, we are caught in this system of oppression and if we are white, as much as we would rather it be different, we are also caught in this system of oppression. As white allies, we can act as anti-racists honestly facing and checking our bias and seeing ourselves as not just good individuals, but as part of the white race.

Thich Nhat Hanh wrote a poem in 1978 in response to helping the Vietnamese boat people. Call me by my True Names tells us that we are both victim and victimizer, “I am the twelve year old girl, refugee on a small boat, who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate. And I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.” He writes that if he were raised with no hope, with few resources and learned that violence was the only way to get what he needed, he too would be capable of the same actions.

In response to what is happening in our country, I am writing in the footsteps of my teacher Thay.

Breathing in, I clearly see the roots of racial suffering in my land. The injustice of the Europeans who claimed the land of the First Peoples. I know that the poison of greed enabled European settlers to rob the land and lives of the First People who cared for the land and animals of America for centuries. I know if I were raised in a different time and place, I too would be a colonist who displaced native culture and I too am the First people whose lives and culture is shattered by white colonialism.

Breathing out, I am aware that my land is still connected to the indigenous people who cared for it. Breathing in and out, my heart is filled with sadness at the injustice and oppression of the Native people of America at the hands of white people.

Breathing in, I can clearly see the flowering of discrimination as white European Americans kidnapped Black citizens to buy and sell them as possessions. Breathing out, I know the poison of delusion & greed, fueled this violence and ignorance. Breathing in and out I heartily regret the actions of my race who acted in ignorance, fear, and greed and deprived others of their rights and lives. Breathing in, my heart is weighed down by the continued loss of life, threat, and disadvantages of my Black and Brown skinned siblings who are afraid for their lives.

As I breathe, I know that if I too am the white police officer, a son, a father, a husband who deprives another of breath, and in my fear, shoots a Brown skinned son, father & husband. And I am the Black son, father, and husband who is shot, and suffocated. I am not separate from either of these beings.

I see myself as the young man fueled by pain and hopelessness who smashes store windows and sets fire to cars and as the store owner who loses their livelihood because of my frustration and rage. I make space in myself to hold all this pain.

Breathing in and out, I know that I too am the Brown skinned person without papers in the US, who escaped a life of poverty. I am also the white ICE agent who arrests and deports those without papers and separates their children from their parents because I am following orders.

I am the Neo-Nazi who rallies and believes that one religion and race is superior. I am the Jewish student who is shot attending temple during the High Holy days. I can clearly see the roots of ignorance and hatred that make this possible. I know that if my life were different, I too would be capable of these things.

Breathing in I am the transsexual women who is beaten for using a public bathroom. I am also the ones who beat her. I am not different from these people. I can clearly see the seeds of fear that fuels this hatred and violence.

Breathing in and out, I see that the toxins of ignorance, hatred, fear, and greed have brought poison into the body and consciousness of my country, America. I vow to practice transforming these afflictions, to create wisdom, kindness, and generosity which are the remedies to these wounds for myself and for my nation.

Knowing I am not separate from the constructs of racism and discrimination, I set my intention to practice clear seeing into my own unconscious bias around race, gender, religion, and economic inequality. I will look with compassion when I want to look away or deny that I am part of the white race which has created the dominant culture of power and repression. This is not different from our practice. Waking up to what is—is our practice.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Calligraphy by Thich Naht Hanh

Reference: Nhat Hanh, T., (1997). Call me by my true names; The collected poems of Thich Nhat Hanh. Parallax Press: Berkeley CA.

Be Yourself. Everyone Else is Taken

Blue jay in apple tree

Bluejay in Appletree, Photo by Celia

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”  ~Heraclitus

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” ~Haruki Murakami

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” ~ Khalil Gibran

 

Dear Friends,

I hope you are all well and enjoying this spring. It’s hard to believe that we had a snow squall a few weeks ago seeing the apple, peach, and cherry trees in bloom. In Connecticut we are starting to cautiously re-open businesses. I’ve seen a traffic jam on the major highway and full tables at open-air restaurants. Life can seem normal, by which I mean, pre-COVID, and sometimes it can seem very not-normal as I find myself never wanting to touch a doorknob with an ungloved hand ever again, or harboring a mistrust of lettuce. One thing which is true always but seems more dramatic and novel is that none of us has been here before. This changing time in the world is new for all of us.

And, there’s lots of advice…so many things to read. I have well-meaning friends who send me articles from different viewpoints about the “best” strategies we should take, about the failings of the government to keep us safe and how to keep ourselves safe. One person tells me about herd immunity and that we should be emulating Sweden. A medical doctor tells me I need to stay isolated…another medical friend says, “no we don’t need to do that, only certain people do.” A practitioner sends me a sign up for another webinar. I am told to treat this time as a retreat…Meditate four hours a day…Garden…Play your flute…Make a commitment to write each day…And when all else fails—bake.

photo of flowers during daytime

In Zen, we have gathas, practice poems to keep us anchored to our intentions as we go through the day. Several years ago when I began graduate school online, I was overwhelmed with anxiety around the technology, the updates, the daily check-in on the school platform…all of it stretched me thin with worry that I would miss out. Entering the online world, I would get swept up in anxiety and find myself holding tension in my shoulders and in my mind. I was afraid I wouldn’t see a critical piece of homework; I’d post a reply in the wrong place or I couldn’t open the attachment from the teacher, my computer would crash, the internet would go down…and so many more. During my time as an online student, all these things happened—and I managed to survive.

After a few semesters of computer aversion, I wrote a gatha that I taped to my computer keyboard. Turning on my computer, many voices are calling to me. I promise to listen to myself and remember that caring for my body and mind is my highest priority. I aspire to be a presence of compassion for myself and everyone I encounter. While this reminder was not an instant cure-all for my feeling of overwhelm, it was a reminder that I could choose how I wanted to respond. Remembering that I had a choice allowed me to prioritize what was truly important to me.

When I remembered what my priority was, not being perfect, but taking care of my true home, my body and mind put things in perspective. I could take breaks. In one class, my teacher sent the class a link to the lying down desk which made my body so much happier for long hours of keyboard work. I worked when it was the right time for me. I listened to what was right for me…and I respected my capacity.

When we listen to how we are and what we are looking for we can create our own path. We can make our practice our own. Our practice does not look like everyone else’s. Even for those who live in a monastery and follow the same schedule of sitting, walking, eating, and working…their practice is not simply transferred to them from an outside source. Spiritual maturity requires we take responsibility for our own practice and make it our personal.

What I have found to be true is that our practice is made of what we do…and how we do it. It is a patchwork of our honest looking at our habits, the hurts that have healed and those which are still raw, our willingness to try and make mistakes, our ability to find soothing in our distress and our willingness to sit up with ourselves and hold our own hand when we can’t be comforted. It is made of celebrations when we don’t do the same thing, when we take a risk, are brave and vulnerable and we can see we have changed. Our true path is stitched together from all our woundedness, our celebrations, our ability to choose, authenticity, and failure…all of it create the path and the way we walk it. The two are not different. Our practice creates our practice.

The energy we invest in looking and clear seeing creates the foundation for how we practice. The essential ingredient is you. How do you want to be? What are you willing to do to commit to your own awakening? No one can answer these questions for you, nor can anyone do your practice for you. When we recognize that living with our own truth is more powerful and transformative than looking like a good practitioner following form without differentiation. We can start to make our practice our own. This is when things get exciting. This is when the practice of stopping and deep looking, making space for all our emotions can become integrated and truly support our life. This is not a dress rehearsal. As our teacher Thay says, This is it.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

11x17-master-sheet_0026_G026-This-is-It

 

Gratitude Means Taking in the Good.

Daffodil Hill

Daffodil Hill, Photo by Celia

Contentment is life living through you.

Joy is life living through you.

Satisfaction and strength

is life living through you.

He says don’t be afraid.

Don’t be afraid.

Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.

Let life live through you.

~ Hokusai

“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”

~ Meister Eckhart

“Light will someday split you open; even if your life is now a cage.”

~ Hafiz

Dear friends,

This weekend offered those spring days where the temperature of the air on my skin made me happy. I opened all the windows in my house, shut since fall, and let in the sweet air. This clean air, the gift of limited travel, and fewer emissions blew through my house and filled it with the hope of spring, new life, light, and growth. I felt Grateful. Grateful for this day, the gentleness of the weather and my being here to breathe in it.

Contact with the weather and spring itself brought up pleasant vedana, the second foundation of mindfulness as taught by the Buddha. Vedana is a Pali word that denotes the three feeling states which populate each moment of our lives, the pleasant, unpleasant, or neither pleasant nor unpleasant. As living beings, we excel at noticing unpleasant, especially when it involves pain or interferes with getting what we want. We get gold medals in noticing what is wrong, unfair, and threatens us. We get silver medals at noticing the pleasant. In fact, we unconsciously lean towards pleasant. We shift positions constantly to avoid discomfort, buy sheets with high thread counts, and read about how to create lives with nothing but pleasant experiences. The third state is likened to a radio station playing very faintly, too soft to notice until it gets turned up and we like or dislike it. This experience is the subtle one that usually slides below our awareness; we often try to add something to our experience to escape from the feeling of “nothing much” or neutrality which we can find boring. Understanding how we are pulled by these three constantly occurring mindstates is a way we can gain some freedom. We can understand that we are running from what is unpleasant or neither pleasant or unpleasant or running towards what promises some sweetness.

Narcissus

But how does gratitude fit in?  Gratitude is mindfulness and appreciation of the pleasant. It is metacognition, the awareness of the embodied response to pleasure, ease, and happiness. When we have gratitude, we are not clutching at an experience of pleasure, but resting in awareness—oh, the sun on my skin is like this. The scent of magnolia flowers is like this…ah, pleasant.

Folks on spiritual paths can hold themselves to some difficult standards and mistake numbness and neutrality for spirituality and equanimity. We can be afraid to celebrate goodness for fear of becoming swept away by it and committing that Buddhist sin of “getting attached.” We may feel guilty experiencing happiness and delight when so many people on this planet are suffering and mourning. We can forget that our present moment awareness includes what is pleasant and welcome. If we push away our own happiness and dull our awareness, we are not helping those who suffer by tamping down our joy—in fact, if we do not have the nourishment of ease and happiness, we have fewer resources to offer those who are suffering. Noticing the pleasant does not mean we become hedonists, living solely for sensual pleasure and gratification. Noticing the pleasant and seeing it occurring is a way we can bring our mindfulness, the compassionate awareness of moment to moment experience, into full flower.

Gratitude requires that we are fully present for what is good in our lives. If we have a sense of guilt or hint of unfairness—that we aren’t deserving or we should be appreciative of our good fortune because others are suffering, we effectively snuff out real gratitude. Evolutionary biologist, Paul Gilbert (2009) describes this type of obligatory gratitude as “part of our threat/self-protection system. There will be a tinge of feeling bad at not appreciating things…Genuine appreciation is learning to take joyful pleasure; it’s not about ought or should feelings” (p. 238). When we practice gratitude, we are creating a conscious suggestion to seek and notice the positive things that are occurring.

When we train our minds to notice, we actively change the neurobiology of our minds. Neural pathways are strengthened from repeated use. When we actively encourage ourselves to pay attention to the lovely and pleasant, this creates neurogenesis, new connections that further reinforce this behavior. Just like anything, the more we practice something, the better we get at it—our thought patterns are no exception. We can follow our innate bias and continue to dwell on the pain and suffering in our lives or we can balance our experience and train in gratitude—in awareness of the beautiful as well.

There’s a song form the Plum Village songbook which goes: “The realm of the mind is mine I can choose, choose where I want to be. Both heaven and hell I know equally well, the choice is up to me.” This week, I hope you can make the choice to find what is lovely and delights you, to find the gifts of the cosmos that we so often overlook because so much is wrong. Wishing you many moments of delight for all the flowers that are still blooming in this topsy turvy garden of our lives. Daffodil head

May we all trust our light,

Celia

 

References: Gilbert, P. (2009). The compassionate mind: A new approach to life’s challenges. New Harbinger: Oakland, CA.

Dont ignore suffering

Watering the Good Seeds

ferns close up

A family of ferns. Photo by Celia

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~ Maya Angelou

“Every child is born in the garden of humanity as a flower.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

The Four Mantras of True Love

“Darling. I am here for you.”

 “Darling. I know you are there for

 “Darling. I know you are suffering. I am here for you.”

 “ me.”Darling. I am suffering. Please help me.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh, From the Dharma talk, True love and the Four Noble Truths, October 14, 2013

Dear Friends,

How are you doing in all this? I am wondering if you have found a rhythm and some routine in our new normal. It appears that our quarantine will be with us for longer than some of us expected. There are more uncertainty and more fear in the world. This adds to our allostatic load, the amount of stress our bodies are exposed to. Increased stress in our environment, leads to greater burden on the basic physiology of the body to perform homeostasis. As a result, we have less physical and emotional energy and less resilience and capacity. If we are confined with our families, it can be tense. We long for our own space and for that partner to go…somewhere…anywhere, but here. The kitchen is too small. The food is boring and still, we are eating. There is nothing to do and yet, we are exhausted. We are vigilant and afraid, and the enemy is invisible and the people we love could be unwitting agents of illness and death. All we want to do is have some comfort, ease, and return to what was normal. This is a confusing and tough time when we are called in to manifest the highest qualities in ourselves—like gratitude.

Last weekend, I had the privilege of being with a virtual sangha of young folks. There were two sisters ages 2 and 8 on the video teleconference who lived in Manhattan. Their mom was immune-compromised, a single parent, who told us they had not been outside of their apartment in six weeks—and yet—the kid played, sang, breathed with the bell, and were kids.

During the call, we had a session of flower watering. Winton Hill, flowers Flower watering is a practice where we acknowledge the gifts of another person and let them know we see them; we appreciate their goodness and it makes a difference in our life. I watched the 8-year-old smile and light up as her mom described the beautiful qualities she saw in her daughter, her patience with her sister, the ways she was helpful, and dependable at home. The older sister watered the flowers of the little sister and they hugged. The mom watered the flowers of her little daughter saying she brought joy and laughter into their lives and kept them very busy. She hugged her kids and I could sense how delighted they felt to be seen for their goodness, for someone to appreciate their true intentions. This acknowledgment nourished these positive qualities in the family. It really was like rain, an essential nutriment for beautiful flowers to grow. 

ferns against granite

This simple practice can do wonders, create connection, and let those who feel left out know they are seen and their contributions are meaningful. When we take the time to verbally appreciate the qualities in our children, friends, and others which make our lives more wonderful, we are contributing to shaping their future. This appreciation adds to their confidence and creates the trust to continue to act with kindness. When we are seen for our good qualities, we feel free to be our authentic selves; we can relax, and others feel relaxed around us.

In America, the dominant culture stresses blame and judgment which can fuel disconnection and isolation. We are quick to criticize, find fault and see injustices; we don’t always take the time to say how we feel when we encounter goodness in others. Right now, gratitude is more important than ever. No one is certain about what the future holds. At this moment, while we are present on the Earth, what do we really want to tell people? What would we regret leaving unsaid? Telling someone you value them is a gift that costs nothing except our willingness to connect. This week, please consider all the people who make a difference in your life and in your day and let them know you are thankful for their kindness, for their humor, for their patience. Let them know how their being here impacts you and how they contribute to the world. When we can see our goodness through the eyes of another, we feel loved. Knowing we are loved is a legacy of priceless worth.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Dont ignore suffering

Making Meaning of our Lives

Rainbow

Today’s Rainbow. Photo by Celia

“At the beginning you may believe that the four Bodhisattvas are outside of us. If you practice steadily, you will see that you are also that Bodhisattva because you also have all of those qualities.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

“Even fear itself is frightened by the bodhisattva’s fearlessness.” ~Chogyam Trungpa

“A bodhisattva is someone who has compassion within himself or herself and who is able to make another person smile or help someone suffer less. Every one of us is capable of this.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

“Few of us are satisfied with retreating from the world and just working on ourselves. We want our training to manifest and to be of benefit. The bodhisattva-warrior, therefore, makes a vow to wake up not just for himself but for the welfare of all beings.” ~Pema Chodron

Dear Friends,

Sitting in my kitchen, I am wondering what is true for you? The responses to our shared situation are so varied and shift from moment to moment. I’ve talked to people who are feeling slight disruptions of life and those who are grieving the loss of connection and physical interaction, and those who feel like they are losing ground and fighting despair. I’ve seen in myself that what is meaningful in my life is created in community. Worldwide, we are seeing the loss of jobs and how much we value being engaged and useful. The lack of employment impacts our ability to care for ourselves and our families and is causing real anxiety and concern about our ability to survive. We may feel lost and rudderless as if we will be swept away by our inability to get things done, to make money and of course, to be useful. My inquiry right now is, what gives our lives meaning in this physically distant society?

I am reminded of the Great Vow of the Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, “until the hells are empty, I will not become a Buddha. I will remain until every sentient being is liberated.” Each Bodhisattva offers us ways to stay connected to the intention to care for others, even though we may not be physically present with them. Our intentions are powerful. They are what creates meaning in our lives. In Buddhist thought, intention is what creates karma, or the results of our thoughts, words, and physical actions.

Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that there are four qualities of mindfulness: compassion and loving kindness, great understanding and wisdom, and action and vows. We need the mind of love and wisdom in order to take action and have the nourishment to continue acting in accordance with our intentions when things are difficult.  He reminds us, “When you love, you have to act. If you say that you have a lot of love but you don’t do anything then that is not love that is merely lip service.” When we invoke the Bodhisattvas’ names, we call upon these qualities in ourselves. Thay speaks about these same four qualities in the life of a Bodhisattva which enable us to bring compassionate action in alignment with our deepest values. “The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara illustrates the first aspect, love. Manjushri Bodhisattva represents great understanding. Samantabhadra is Great Action and Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva the Great Vow. In Mahayana temples usually the ears represent Avalokitesvara, Manjushri by the eyes and Samantabhadra by the hand.”  We see that the intention to be awake and to be of service requires us to hear the needs of others, the see what is useful and do able and the will to make it happen.

I know in our sangha we have those who are living Bodhisattvas.Spring Dandelions

They are writing cards to the elderly, calling friends, reconnecting with relatives and offering homes and support for those who are mourning. Taking our place as Bodhisattvas, we use our gifts to continue to act despite the limitations and adversities. As we take time to consider our roles in this new society, what makes us come alive for ourselves? How can we manifest the desire to connect, to care for others and in doing so, care for our own sense of meaning and contribution? Sometimes it’s a simple phone call or a text, a message of care, a trip to the supermarket for an elderly friend, sometimes it’s walking someone’s dog, or leaving a pot of pansies on a doorstep. Our actions can take many, many forms, but what is the connecting thread in all of these is the mind of love, the understanding of our own and collective aspirations and the ability to act, the mind that finds a way to love—even in this.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

I am here for you

All quotations from a Dharma Talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh on January 15, 1998  in Plum Village, France.

 

Leaving the Door Open

Daisy

Daisy. photo by Celia

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”

 ~Thich Nhat Hanh

“Feel the feelings and drop the story.” ~Pema Chodron

“This is one of the peculiar problems of our culture: we are terrified of our feelings. We think that if we give them any scope and if we don’t immediately beat them down, they will lead us down into all kinds of chaotic and destructive actions.

But if, for a change, we would allow our feelings and look upon their comings and goings as something as beautiful and necessary as changes in the weather, the going of night and day and the four seasons, we would be at peace with ourselves.”

~ Alan Watts

 “Peace isn’t an experience free of challenges, free of rough and smooth, it’s an experience that’s expansive enough to include all that arises without feeling threatened.” ~Pema Chodron

 

Dear friends,

I am wondering, as I write this lying in bed, how many of you are feeling a little blah or low energy amid all this uncertainty? Or maybe you are feeling a lot blah, and understandably exhausted because of the new technology you are being asked to learn and implement in a flash? Or maybe you’re feeling relieved that things are slower, or really scared, or guilty that you aren’t feeling gratitude for your health at this moment and instead are frustrated by the lack of sports or availability of lentils at the market? I offer us all a great big, “yes,” to it all. The changes we are all encountering are enormous, even if our lives are relatively unaffected if we already work from home and live a solitary, sanitized life, we are all connected to this tremendous chain of reactions, worries, and feelings that are spilling into our homes via television, internet, and social media.

Some of us are finding it difficult to hold all this information and the reverberations of global suffering, worry, and anger. We may find we spiritualize and attempt to dismiss our worry and overwhelm as just thoughts we don’t have to believe—or to get entangled with the suffering and find it hard to focus. We can’t read or do anything but watch the news and get some satisfaction that we know all the current infection rates and death statistics. Like it or not, as embodies being who share space on this planet, we have a response to this collective upheaval. When we are able to acknowledge that we are affected, without suppressing, denying, or become swallowed by our feelings—we can begin to calm our nervous system and to allow our feelings to come and go—the way feelings do.

People I have spoken to are impacted by learning new technology and being challenged by working at home, trying to stay at a distance, feeling scared of contamination and despite the lack of doing, there’s a tangible feeling of anxiety and unrest in the world. This morning, I listened for about half an hour to the news. Afterward, I noticed that even that much exposure created a response in my limbic system. I was afraid, angry, blaming, there were flashes of despair and wondering. It was like an electrical storm. When I stopped and sat and left the door open to all these flashes of information, my feelings manifested, fed by the conditions of listening to collective fear and suffering—and then, when they were no longer fed—they left.

I’ve noticed that recognizing and allowing what is can feel like we are doing the opposite of what we should be doing. We would like to be patient and positive, the people who are unflustered by the empty shelves at grocery stores and respond with equanimity when our children ask us for the fifth time if they can go visit their friends and we say no. But sometimes we aren’t equanimous. Sometimes we are hurting because everyone around us is hurting. Being honest about what’s manifesting in us is one way stop the struggle and be able to relax into what is. My dog Daisy has offered me a very apt analogy.

Daisy is one of my rescue dogs. I didn’t meet Daisy before she came to my house. My daughter picked her out from a website because she was fluffy and had pretty eyes. Daisy was one of two dogs who were suspected of having Parvo, a highly contagious disease for dogs. Daisy and her littermate were kept confined indoors in a small area and saw one woman who took care of them. Daisy spent three days being trucked to us from South Carolina. When she arrived in my life, at three months old, she didn’t know what grass was and was terrified of noises. She barked at men, distrusted shopping carts, trash cans, ladders, and anything that moved quickly. Three years later, Daisy is reasonably well adjusted. She is a highly effective watchdog, bred to guard sheep. She has decided that I am her sheep. She may look like she’s sleeping, but she tracks if I make a move towards the door or put on my shoes; she’s ready. She is on guard to protect me from the cats who want attention and intervene if any humans dare to get close to me—including my spouse.

When I sit and meditate, have a Zoom meeting, or want a quiet phone call, if I think closing the door to the anxious Daisy will give me peace, I am mistaken. After a few minutes, there’s whining, scratching and it doesn’t stop. She lies down and waits; she makes more inventive noises. She becomes very distracting. When I open the door, she is excited and circles, checks me with her nose repeatedly—she is once again, distracting—her anxiety is reignited. She doesn’t let me out of her sight, and I can sense she’s on alert, knowing she might be banished.

What I have learned, is that when I leave the door open, Daisy comes in quietly. She lies down; she gets up and leaves. She comes back. She’s quiet. She isn’t frenzied about being in the room because she can come and go. She has permission to be there. She doesn’t touch me repeatedly with her wet nose or look at me with that wounded dog look. She is so quiet that sometimes I notice her, sometimes, I don’t. It’s the same with our emotional states. When we create these boundaries and set up conditions of shame and aversion, we increase the tension and anxiety we are trying to mitigate. When we open the door to what is there, we can learn to notice its coming and going without making it wrong, forbidden, or even something special. Feelings come and go. That’s the nature of feelings.

And please remember that there are no wrong feelings. Leaving the door open lets them come and go, lets them relax and know they too have permission to be here. We don’t have to carry them and to be bowed down by them. They can come and go knowing they are all allowed, they all belong.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

We Inter are

If you have some time and would like to listen, Nishant Garg and I take a deeper look into mindfulness, self-compassion, and forgiveness. Here’s the link http://nishantgarg.me/2020/03/24/celia-landman

And an article by me in this month’s issue of EPIC Magazine on Fierce Compassion. https://epicmag.org/pdfs/tricountyct-march-april-2020/?page=12

A Prayer for the Pandemic

I am home cyclamen

Windowsill, Photo by Celia

“Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing,

there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,

the world is too full to talk about.

Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’

doesn’t make sense any more.” ~Jelaluddin Rumi

 “True self is non-self, the awareness that the self is made only of non-self elements. There’s no separation between self and other, and everything is interconnected. Once you are aware of that you are no longer caught in the idea that you are a separate entity.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

“Everyone is so afraid of death, but the real sufis just laugh: nothing tyrannizes their hearts. What strikes the oyster shell does not damage the pearl.”

~Jelaluddin Rumi

Dear Friends,

I’ve never experienced a pandemic before, never seen rampant fear and the reality of suffering so prevalent. In these uncertain times, I am very thankful for my practice. Especially for the understanding of the three marks of existence or the three characteristics, anicca [impermanence], anatta [non-self], and dukkha [the understanding that suffering exists in life]. One teacher, whose name sadly, I do not know, summed it up as, “Everything keeps changing. It’ll shake you up, and it’s not personal.” We are seeing the truth of this teaching in the world.

The Buddha taught that all things, including our lives, are compound, conditioned phenomena made possible by supporting causes and conditions. When the surrounding environmental conditions shift, maintaining what was is no longer possible. This can be delightful when we heal from an illness or when that loud neighbor finally moves out. This truth can be sorrowful when someone gets ill or dies. We see that existence is only possible when the proper conditions that support it are in place. This is the teaching of non-self, knowing that we are held on the Earth by an array of support that includes oxygen, water, the sunshine that grows our food, by the nurture of our ancestors who gave birth to us and cared for us as a baby and child. We are constantly being formed.

In the Zen tradition, we say we are not the same or different than we were, we are a continuation. We are a process not a product and we keep changing. This is not a self that needs propping up, but a collection of life energy. When we can see past the rigid partition separating our life and all other beings, we can begin to soften the voice of the self that sees everything in terms of how it affects me. Things happen because of causes and conditions and are the result of actions. We are not victims of the world and life is not doing things to us personally. This pandemic is not personal, even when it causes us pain.

We are a country of doers and the recommendations, handwashing and staying home, essentially not doing, may seem like non-action. We want a vaccine. We want real medicine. We want to know we will be OK. Right now, we are seeing that the solidity of life, is not as solid as we thought. This is impermanence. We are not born with a guaranteed expiration date. We are always at risk, always vulnerable, but right now, we see it clearly. The result of seeing impermanence is that we understand we are not as separate and stable as we wish and that engenders fear, which is dukkha.

Last week, the stock market plunged and the newscaster commented that “fear outstripped greed.” It takes a lot to knock out greed, but fear for our lives is doing the trick. When things are uncertain we have difficulty. Naturally, we want stability and routine. As a species, we crave to know all the risks and how to stay safe. We suffer when we are vulnerable and unsure. One item this pandemic is showing us is that we belong to each other. We are more connected than we imagined.

I’ve seen the beautiful videos of those in isolation singing out the windows in Italy. We know that the air is cleaner over Wuhan than it was two weeks ago and that everywhere folks are reaching out to each other despite the barriers. We are learning what matters to us all and that if one of us suffers, we all suffer. We are collectively learning to stop. We have nowhere to go and nothing to do right now. Let us make good use of our time on this Earth.

I send this simple prayer for all of us.

A Prayer for the Pandemic

Where there are anxiety and fear, may we find our still center even in the midst of this.

Where there are anger and frustration at confinement, may we give ourselves permission to rest.

Where there is loss of income and fear for our family’s wellbeing, may we be willing to trust that there are kindness and support in this world.

Where there is disregard for others, may we remember that simple acts of renunciation—staying home and non-doing, can save lives.

Where there are panic and hoarding, may we open to generosity and recognize that we belong to each other.

Where there are denial and dismissal, may we embrace all people’s feelings with respect and consideration.

Where there are vulnerable lives, may we be a continued presence of compassionate care.

Where there is impatience, may we enjoy slowing down and find ease.

When we feel like victims, may we know this situation is not personal.

Where there is anxiety for our health and those we love, may we understand that these bodies are subject to natural laws.

Where there are despair and hopelessness, may we know that we are life without end.

When we are irritable and grumpy, may we remember that we are here to love each other.

When we are overwhelmed, may we stand in the beauty of the natural world.

When we don’t want to do this anymore, may we look at ourselves with the tenderness of a mother holding a frightened child.

When we fear for our lives, may we remember we exist beyond the beginning and end of this limited body.

When we feel alone, may we remember that each one of us is connected to all the lives, the stars, and planets and that we belong to this Earth.

When we are confused, may we know how to stop and listen to our wisdom.

And when we are scared, may we reach into the world and find our family is here, with us all along.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Be there for eachother

 

 

 

The Thorn in my Heart

Lotus with honey bee

Bee on a lotus, photo by Celia

“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”

“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”

“The seed of suffering in you may be strong, but don’t wait until you have no more suffering before allowing yourself to be happy.”

~All quotes by Thich Nhat Hanh

I’ve been seeing some suffering in myself and others recently and it has me looking at the first Noble Truth which is most often translated as “suffering exists.” The Buddha describes suffering in the Dammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting Rolling the Wheel of Truth, “Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is suffering, sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief, and despair are suffering; association with the loathed is suffering, dissociation from the loved is suffering, not to get what one wants is suffering…” [1]The Buddha continued that this ennobling truth about suffering is to be fully understood so we can move towards seeing the causes of suffering, the path and ultimately the way out, the end of suffering. While the first truth tells us this state of dissatisfaction in real, the dissolution of suffering is also real, so we can see that suffering is not a permanent life sentence.

Some teachers find it helpful to make a distinction between pain and suffering. We have the equation from Shinzen Young, “suffering equals pain times resistance.” There is the oft-invoked statement that pain is unavoidable while suffering is optional. Suffering sounds like we’ve made a bad choice. Merriam Webster Dictionary describes suffering as a “conscious endurance of pain or distress,” which adds the element of knowing to lasting pain. I think what gets a bad rap about suffering, is not that it exists, but in the sustaining it, the way we keep it going after the event, after everyone goes home from the party and we are left chewing over all the times we forgot people’s names or how no-one used coasters or complimented the faro salad.

lotusThe word the Buddha is recorded as using is dukkha, which literally refers to an ill-fitting hub of a wheel giving it a wobbly roll. Dukkha according to the Venerable Ajahn Sumedho is translated as “incapable of satisfying,” or “not able to bear or withstand anything.” The word is nuanced and includes the full range of painful experiences, from the store being out of my favorite brand of oat milk, to the death of a loved one. Dukkha includes all things we find unsatisfactory, painful, or irritating.

In the Attadanda Sutta, the Buddha spoke about being afraid of the hostility he saw in people. Only when he discerned that there was a thorn in their hearts that could be removed—he saw what would ease this hatred and violence. This is how he describes removing the thorn, ‘“For whom there is no “I-making”/All throughout the body and mind/ And who grieves not for what is not/ Is undefeated in the world. For whom there is no “this is mine”/ Nor anything like “that is theirs”/Not even finding “self-ness,” he/ Does not grieve at “I have nothing.”’[2]

The line that really resonates with me is “who grieves not for what is not.” This is the judgment and subsequent dissatisfaction that arises from inserting my preference between the event and myself. This is the resistance that does not want things to be as they are because they are untidy, hurtful, and unsatisfactory. This situation is not giving me what I want…at all. This is especially true when we encounter others who are suffering. It is this energy of friction, this rawness, that is the thorn.

The nun Patacara who lived at the time of the Buddha spoke about this thorn, “My thorn, indeed, has been removed! Buried in the heart, so hard to see. That grief which had overcome me— Grief for my son — has been dispelled.” [3] For me, whether I call it pain or suffering is not the point. It is the thorn that we insert into our hearts that drives this mass of suffering.

One way to bring our mindfulness to the way we pierce our hearts is to notice our thoughts as we suffer. When we notice our reactivity to an event, we can check in with our belief and our response. We can start with the question, “how is this event wrong?”  and notice our emotional response to the wrongness. Are we apathetic, frustrated, confused, irritated because we wanted something else? When I can stop and see my grievance, such as, “those kids are rotten,” or  “she shouldn’t be behaving like that,” or “he’s got to stop drinking,” I can uncover the thorn in my heart—the friction which comes from wanting this different for me. Dharma teacher John Martin uses the simple check-in question, “is suffering present?” The answer becomes clear—of course there is!

There’s the suffering of the other person who is perhaps tired, angry or caught in addiction, and then there’s the suffering or dissatisfaction of myself who wants it to change. When we see suffering, the best medicine is to notice it for what it is—suffering. Then we can ask, “what am I adding to the suffering?”Water jewel

This doesn’t mean we walk by cruelty and injustice with a happy smile as suffering blossoms all around us. It means that when we take action—it’s not personal. The suffering isn’t coming at me. It’s just suffering, the stuff that life is made from. We can learn that suffering is not the problem, the grief we feel for wanting something different is. This is the thorn that comes with the territory of self-interpretation—the arena of I, me, and mine. When I step outside of this narrow focus, I can see the suffering for what it is…suffering, pain, dislike, wanting something better. This business of thorn removal takes some time and determination—but the reward the Buddha spoke of is to be “undefeated in the world.” I think this also means we are undefeated by the world—capable, resilient, and healed.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Dont ignore suffering

[1] “Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting Rolling the Wheel of Truth” (SN 56.11), translated from the Pali by Ñanamoli Thera. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 13 June 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn56/sn56.011.nymo.html .

[2] “Attadanda Sutta: Arming Oneself” (Sn 4.15), translated from the Pali by Andrew Olendzki. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 2 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/snp/snp.4.15.olen.html .

[3] “Pañcasata Patacara: The Soothing of Grief” (Thig 6.1), translated from the Pali by Andrew Olendzki. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 2 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/thig/thig.06.01.olen.html .

Claiming our Inheritance

paperwhites

Narcissus, Photo by Celia

“The bud

stands for all things,

even for those things that don’t flower,

for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;

though sometimes it is necessary

to reteach a thing its loveliness,

to put a hand on its brow

of the flower

and retell it in words and in touch

it is lovely

until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing”

~ Saint Francis and the Sow

BY GALWAY KINNELL

“Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is freed from incoming defilements. The well-instructed disciple of the noble ones discerns that as it actually is present, which is why I tell you that — for the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones — there is development of the mind.”

~Pabhassara Sutta: Luminous (AN 1.49-52), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013).

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself you have built against it.” ~Rumi

 

Dear Friends,

I am writing this evening about something I’ve encountered in both young and not so young individuals. It’s what we call self-hatred. At this moment you may be nodding with understanding. You may know the voice that criticizes, the numbness around receiving admiration, and the constant feeling that somehow people will see that you aren’t quite right—not put together properly and barely holding yourself together. Or, perhaps, the words self-hatred are something beyond your reality—something you have heard of, but due to either your own work or the blessing of having a supportive, connective upbringing, you can clearly see yourself as ultimately lovable and worthy of being loved. If you fall into the second category, that’s wonderful—and if you fall into the first category, you have a great opportunity to learn how to suffer less.

In our country, we have a robust culture of self-improvement. Beyond the healthy desire to create wellbeing and integrate healthy habits into our lives, some of us come from a deficit where we believe we are less than. One of the most telling aspects of this belief is the inability to believe we are worthy of receiving help—and the inability to believe we are loveable. If we were raised to be seen and not heard, to be a helper and not ask for much…attention, affection, understanding, or consideration, we may have the mistaken idea that needing some care makes us a burden and we are a problem to be solved, an interruption in other people’s lives.

This belief in our smallness belies our true nature as beings who carry a lineage of connection to the past and are connected to all things in the present. This is the understanding of “interbeing.” That not only do we carry the genetic information, the love, and teaching of our blood and spiritual ancestors, we are also part of this Earth. We belong on this planet as much as the stones, the trees, and all living things.

Isley, sunset

Isley, Scotland. Photo by Barbara Richardson

Something that I love about the Buddhist way of thinking is the belief in our basic goodness. In the West, there is a cultural belief that we are fundamentally sinful and if we trusted our own wisdom, we would become some sort of greedy Godzilla monster wrecking everything with our unskillfulness. The Buddhist path teaches us that we are pure luminous light. We are love at our core, and when we get out of our own way, we can trust this awakened heart-mind to be a presence of love and compassion for ourselves and others. We don’t have to be afraid of what is in us because it is purity. Our true nature is holiness.

It may be frightening for some of us to consider who we would be if nothing were wrong with us—if there was nothing to fix, to strive for; what if everything belonged? What would it be like to believe we were a Buddha in the making for a day, an hour, five minutes?

A well-known story from Dharma teacher Sharon Salzberg recounts how she spoke to the Dalai Lama in 1990, at the Mind and Life Institute Conference and asked him what he thought of self-hatred. He was absolutely baffled by this concept. He explained that this was wrong thinking because we all have Buddha-nature. Buddha-nature is part of the Mahayana lineage and includes the belief that all sentient beings, even insects—contain the seeds of awakening and all beings can become Buddha. The Mahayana Uttara Shastra from the 4th Century, C.E. declares, “This clear luminous nature of mind is changeless as space. It is not afflicted by desires and so on, the adventitious stains, which are sprung form incorrect thoughts” (Arya Asanga, recorded by Arya Maitre, translated by Rosemarie Fuchs, 1999).  If we believe that we all contain the seeds of enlightenment and are descendants of the Buddha, how is it possible to hate and denigrate that inheritance?

One practice I’ve found that can help us connect with our own ability to see ourselves as worthy is through visualization of our beloved. This visualization works equally well utilizing a visualization of someone who is alive or someone who has passed. Our beloved can be a teacher, a grandparent, a dog, a cat, or a child. Holding the image of someone dear to us, someone who is delighted to see us, we can see their face and their happiness, feel their delight at our being with them. This is an opportunity to investigate what arises in the presence of a beloved. How are our shoulders, our hearts, our minds? What is the quality of our consciousness at this moment?

Holding this image of a beloved one, we can meet their gaze and radiate our own happiness and appreciation back to them. For some of us, it may be helpful to hear that this being totally understands and forgives us. We may want to offer our forgiveness to this being as well. Touching into a relationship of love, practicing receiving love and consciously noting what it feels like in the body/mind to actively receive it, can help removes some of the protection and defense we have built around our hearts.

When we practice opening our hearts to ourselves and the loveable qualities we possess, we learn to be unafraid to offer this love to others. Our hearts become more radiant and fearless. We can begin to believe that we are made of an unstainable purity of mind and believe it is our birthright. When we allow ourselves to experience the inherently loveable qualities in ourselves through another’s eyes, we can gradually fill the void of unworthiness in ourselves and trust that we are worthy of love, worthy of care, a Buddha to be.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

love like a Buddha

Calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh