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

 

 

 

 

Listen Like a Bodhisattva

Pink cloud

Pink Cloud and full moon. Photo by Celia

“We invoke your name, Avalokiteshvara. We aspire to learn your way of listening in order to help relieve the suffering in the world. You know how to listen in order to understand. We invoke your name in order to practice listening with all our attention and openheartedness. We will sit and listen without any prejudice. We will sit and listen without judging or reacting. We will sit and listen in order to understand. We will sit and listen so attentively that we will be able to hear what the other person is saying and also what is being left unsaid. We know that just by listening deeply we already alleviate a great deal of pain and suffering in the other person.”

~Invoking the Bodhisattvas, from the Plum Village Chanting Book

 

Dear Friends,

As practitioners, we learn about Right Speech, speech that is timely, true, spoken with kindness, with heartfelt-ness, and with a mind of goodwill. When we practice in community, we also have the opportunity to cultivate Right Listening. In our culture, we often listen to find out the views of others. We can listen for signs of political affiliation, for biases, for education level and for information. Our listening to others determines our comfort level. Are they like me or are they very different? We listen to position ourselves in the hierarchy of intelligence, money, and power. Are they dull or do they outshine me? We listen to find if it is safe to express ourselves openly, especially if the person we are listening to is our boss or holds a position of power. We listen to gather information so we can be safe and thrive or persuade others to think as we do. We listen from a place of self-interest to maximize our advantages. Our listening is a form of self- protection.

If you come to a Plum Village sangha, or if you are in a healing profession, you are taught to listen in a different way. The instructions at sangha include listening to hear what it is like for that other person. We are encouraged to aspire to the qualities of Avalokiteshvara, or Quan Yin, the Bodhisattva who listens to the cries of the world. The mission of this great being is to hear the voices of those who are suffering. When our pain is heard by another and we and our situation are held with compassion, there is often a profound shift. When another being can hold our pain with us, our burden is halved.

In order to listen like a Bodhisattva, we must be able to have the capacity to sit with another’s pain without trying to fix, to advise, to manage, spiritualize, or minimize their experience. We may say things that we believe to be helpful, but these expressions ward off any authentic connection. We’ve all been there and heard or said, “everything happens for a reason. We don’t get things we can’t handle. When one window closes, another opens. You need to let go…” and the list goes on. Or we ride over what the person is expressing and fill the space with our own experiences, “When that happened to me I…I know a friend who had the same thing and she…” Unwittingly we abandon the other person and shine our attention back on our own experience and our perceptions of how and what should be happening. This is false empathy because it does not allow the other to feel felt and understood; it keeps us in the foreground as the authority and denies the validity of another’s experience. If we find ourselves drawn into a quick comeback to fix the issue, we can silently tell ourselves, “Just listening, just listening.”

hillsideSometimes it’s hard for us to listen when we feel filled up with our own grief or sorrow. We may become frustrated and impatient when we hear about someone else’s confusion and fear. We may want the problem solved so we do not have to be close to these painful and unpleasant emotions. They may be too real and trigger these feelings in ourselves because we haven’t had the time or training to care for these feelings in ourselves. When we are under stress and filled with big emotions, we do not have room for more. Our ability to listen and to hear is only as large as the space we are able to create in ourselves. That’s why it is so important to take care of our own pain in order to show up for others.

Listening without rushing to solve or fix means that we trust the other person to find their own solution in their own time. When we rush to fix with advice, spiritualizing, or platitudes we do not allow the other person to develop their own agency. Most advice is not taken because it is not given to one who is ready to hear it. One of the factors of right speech is speaking at the right time. The time for advice is when it is wanted and it is truly beneficial for the other person.

The ability to listen to others requires us to first listen to ourselves, to take stock of what our emotional capacity is and to care for what is longing to be known in ourselves. Only when we can stop and care for our own wellbeing do we have the capacity to show up for others with real listening. We know the body and mind are one and all thought have a reverberation in the body. Being aware of and consciously releasing tension and contraction in the body are ways to create more solidity and equanimity in ourselves as we practice listening. When our body is calm our mind can be calm also. One of the greatest gifts we can give to someone we love is to listen with a calm mind.

Often when I listen, I imagine that it is me saying the words. When I find myself reacting with judgment, comparing, or criticizing, I come back to my body and breathe to my belly, letting my shoulders be soft, consciously releasing tension as I exhale. “Listening is enough,” I tell myself, “Just listen.” When I can stay with this openness, aware of the other and aware of my own presence, something shifts. Understanding appears. When I can offer the other person my non-judgmental attention, we are connected in the act of compassion. I become big enough to hold this shared pain without sinking and in the sharing—the pain is lessened. This is one of the ways out of suffering. This is a way we can become a presence of compassion in the world.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

When Someone Deeply Listens to You

by John Fox in Finding What You Didn’t Lose.

When someone deeply listens to you

it is like holding out a dented cup

you’ve had since childhood

and watching it fill up with

cold, fresh water.

When it balances on top of the brim,

you are understood.

When it overflows and touches your skin,

You are loved.

 

When someone deeply listens to you,

the room where you stay

starts a new life

and the place where you wrote

your first poem

begins to glow in your mind’s eye.

It is as if gold has been discovered!

When someone deeply listens to you,

your bare feet are on the earth

and a beloved land that seemed distant

is now at home within you.

Listen with compassion

 

 

Permission to Rest

tree carving.JPG

Dear Friends,

We’ve made it past the holidays and stepped into the New Year. This is the time of year when we live with less daylight and most of us spend more time indoors, especially in the bitter cold and snow. If we pay attention to what we see that in the natural world, there is something called “winter rest” that is slowly and quietly happening. The animals are in their burrows and the plants are in their dormant stage. Although they look quite still, all the while in these protected realms, there is photosynthesis and cell development going on in the buds and twigs. The trees use little water and sugar and take care of all the housekeeping involved in the growth cycle. They utilize this period of dormancy to prepare for the time ahead and the push of the lifecycle that responds to the changing conditions. If trees and plants don’t get to stop and attend to their own nutriments their lives are dramatically shortened. It’s the same way the engine that continually runs burns out earlier.

With the stripped-down landscapes, the leafless trees, and quiet gardens we have less to distract us in winter. There are no gardens to weed, no lawns to mow, or lakes we want to swim in. The cold and darkness beckon us to conserve ourselves for the longer days of spring. If we are farmers, we have a season of leisure in which to recommit to our most cherished ways of being. We all have fallow time when we can rest and restore our energy and our intentions.

Believing that there is a season of rest, may feel unrealistic or alien. In our world with electric lights, twenty-four-hour news cycles and unlimited access to technology we can be plugged in and feel productive any time of the day or night. We keep going despite the natural world which tells all the beings to slow down and rest. But true creativity and innovation don’t come from busyness. They are the children of stillness. This is the time of year we are invited to turn inward and renew our commitments to what really matters. The Buddha and sangha lived in tune with the cycles of the Earth and Shakyamuni Buddha gave a teaching on the example of Sariputta, also known as Upatissa:

“Settled at the root of a tree,

With shaven head, clad in a robe,

The elder foremost in wisdom

— Upatissa just meditates.

He has become calm and at rest,

Wise in speech and not self-centered;

He’s shaken off unwholesome states

— Like wind would leaves from a tree.

He has become calm and at rest,

Wise in speech and not self-centered;

He has plucked off unwholesome states

— Like wind would leaves from a tree.”

(Sariputta Thera: Keeping the Wheel Rolling, Thag.17.2, A.Olendzki trans, 2 November 2013, Access to Insight. BCBS Edition.) * See full license below.

I am reminded as we approach the belly of winter, of the richness of practicing with this change and with the continuation of this season. The fragility of life and impermanence become more pronounce and poignant in winter. We hear the call for quiet and are subject to the natural limitations that come with ice and snow. Our travels are restricted; we aren’t free to go when and where we choose. We learn that we are also animals whose lives are conditioned by nature.

I am sharing a poem I wrote a few years back reflecting on the ways the winter added to my practice. The conditions that can sometimes seem so hard can also teach us the patience to stay, even with change. Additionally, this season demonstrates Interbeing—our connection to this Earth and to the other beings who help create our safety and wellness.

Early Spring

Hidden bench

Don’t let the spring come too soon for I need more winter to humble me.

Let the cold climb beneath my covers,

creep between my cells into the sinew and marrow of my cozy bed.

Give me stinging winds blasting my cheeks; shock my toes with freezing water in my boot. Keep the landscape gray, and the skeleton branches forever barren.

Let all the birds be voiceless, absent from the world now quiet as a bone. Stay frozen and bleak until I am wind carved, hollowed out, an empty log that is only contour, swept free of flesh and waiting.

When I’ve become as wanting as

a stone,

knowing there is nothing left to eat

in the frozen ground. I watch hope slip on black ice

and shatter, smash into only this, only now.

This crystal moment of things as they are and the eye blink of knowing

just how easily my shell can be broken.  I see the crisp edges of helplessness

reminding me that I am not equipped to live alone in this world.

Stay until I am broken

and there is nothing to lean on and I know it’s only grace and kindness that keeps life alive.

The well must be empty before it can be filled.  Let me spill it all out,

the wanting, the leaning in, the desire for change and ease and what’s around the corner. Stay until I am empty, purified, made present and whole.

Stay, until I am—just arrived.

~  Celia Landman

My wish is that we all arrive in this winter with slowness and dignity that acknowledges our connection to something greater than our small selves. We can see we too are formed by the rhythm of this cosmos and know we belong to the natural world. With that understanding, I hope that we all can embrace rest and this time of simplicity that makes ready for something new, something that will come to us without effort or strain, the insight and wisdom that arrives when we give space to just be, to stop, to rest, and to heal our lives.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Be Still and heal.jpg

*©2005 Andrew Olendzki. You may copy, reformat, reprint, republish, and redistribute this work in any medium whatsoever, provided that: (1) you only make such copies, etc. available free of charge; (2) you clearly indicate that any derivatives of this work (including translations) are derived from this source document; and (3) you include the full text of this license in any copies or derivatives of this work. Otherwise, all rights reserved.

 

The Body is Always in the Present

Barkhampsted resevoir

Barkhamsted Reservoir, Photo by Celia

“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future; live the actual moment. Only this moment is life.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh”

“As soon as we wish to be happier, we are no longer happy.” ~Walter Landor

“Suffering usually relates to wanting things to be different than they are.” ~Allan Lokos

“The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.” ~Jon Kabat-Zinn

Dear Friends,

As we move closer to the holiday season and the coming year, life can seem to speed up. We are already making doctor appointments for the new year and planning, planning, planning. This is an essential part of taking care of ourselves, but planning can also interfere with our ability to be present. Whenever folks ask me how to practice present moment awareness, how to stop their minds from cartwheeling into the past and the future—the answer I give is always, start with the body.

For most of us, we have fluid patterns of opening to the time continuum. We may be driving, shopping, listening to someone else, meditating, or reading these words and our thinking self is leaning into the future, planning as a way to stay safe and protected, or leaning into the past working furiously to shift the experience of the past and develop more protection and understanding to apply to similar situations in the future.  All this mental activity centers around our primary goal of staying safe. We can see that this thought process comes from the basic need to care for ourselves and our loved ones. It’s rooted in the beautiful desire to save ourselves from suffering, but the price of this activity is exhaustion. All these maneuverings don’t really do the trick. In my lifetime, I’ve spent hundreds of hours preparing defenses to debates that never happened. All these hours of mental strategizing seemed crucial at the time but in retrospect, these are hours I’ve been absent from my life.

When we come back to the body, we have the opportunity to stop what Thich Nhat Hanh calls NST, or Non-Stop Thinking. If you go to a Plum Village monastery, something extraordinary happens every fifteen minutes. A bell rings and the entire community pauses and comes back to their breath. When we do this practice of consciously stopping and settling, noticing the body, the breath, and the mind, we are in the present moment. Basic practices include stopping and breathing in awareness three times before answering the phone, or before emailing or texting. I’ve made it a practice to breathe consciously three times before beginning to drive. We can build these pauses into our day and although this practice may seem simplistic, it has a profound cumulative effect upon the relationship we have to our body and to our ability to be present.

The body responds to being remembered and attended to. The mind and feelings are constantly asking to be seen and known. In only three breaths we can bring kind attention to the body and mind. In my own practice, I’ve added an element of self-care into these three breaths. When we stop and bring this warm accompaniment to ourselves, it’s like pouring out water from a full cup, releasing the buildup of stress that we unconsciously accumulate during the day. With the first inhale, I track the phenomena in the body. As I exhale, I image all tension leaving with my out-breath, flowing through the soles of my feet into the Earth which can hold everything. With the second inhale I investigate the quality of my mind and the emotions, accepting whatever is arising. As I exhale, I acknowledge this mental state silently with “of course,” or “I understand.” With the third inhale I say silently, “here,” and with the exhale, “now.” This practice encourages the body to release physical tension and lets the emotional states know they are understood without trying to change or manipulate them away. Remembering that we are here now, reconnects us with our power to be present with the vast experience of living our lives, leaving nothing out. We learn that we can trust ourselves to care for all our feelings, the pleasant, as well as the difficult. As we work with these practices that include the body, we can extend our periods of awareness and actually do that thing called “being present.”

Fogg viewAnother way to give ourselves the gift of presence is to create a small window of time using an hour or less to give ourselves completely to the task at hand. We can even set a timer if it helps us focus. Creating this small circle of time, we give ourselves permission to wholeheartedly do one thing whether it’s washing dishes or seeing patients. We allow ourselves to fully inhabit this window of time in our bodies, attending to what’s happening in and around us.

As we work with embodied awareness and come back to this moment, we can be playful with our attention. I enjoy asking teens what the texture of the body is at this moment: is it smooth, bubbly, spiky, sharp, soft, grainy, or rigid? And what is the color: gray, aqua, red, yellow, or purple? I’ve heard some very interesting responses and each one is unique to the person experiencing it. This type of inquiry and noting can teach us to be more stable and aware of our body’s singular vocabulary.

This body is a marvel of sensory processing. Coming back to the body means we can be alive to all our senses. We can feel the texture of the sheets as we lie in bed, the weight of the body touching the mattress, the head resting on the pillow. We can rest in the awareness of the colors of the sunset, taste the food we are eating, listen to the sounds of life all around us, smell the coffee before we drink it. When we turn our attention to the body, we automatically become present since this body is incapable of holding onto the past or projecting into the future. Doing things wholeheartedly, with our body and mind in the same place creates a source of stillness and restfulness that transcends schedules and gives us refuge even in busyness. Granting permission to focus, staying with our experience, bringing warmth and compassion to all of our experience is the path to a greater and greater capacity for presence.

For the holidays, please give yourselves the gift of your own attention and care. The more we are able to listen to ourselves without running, the more we become fluent in the language of our lives. We learn to stop leaning, to straighten and find the center where we can be with the whole of our lives, just as we are right now. The gift of acceptance, of compassion, and understanding can give us the strength to inhabit our lives fully, as they are, at this very moment.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

You are enough

 

Just Say No

Paper wasps

Paper wasps’ nest, photo by Celia

How very happily we live,

free from hostility

among those who are hostile.

Among hostile people,

free from hostility we dwell.

How very happily we live,

free from misery

among those who are miserable.

Among miserable people,

free from misery we dwell.

How very happily we live,

free from busyness

among those who are busy.

Among busy people,

free from busyness we dwell.

How very happily we live,

we who have nothing.

We will feed on rapture

like the Radiant gods.

 ~ Dhammapada:197-208

Sukhavagga: Happy

translated from the Pali by

Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Dear Friends,

Thanksgiving is four days away and as I read these verses from the Dhammapada I wish that you too are able to find the happiness of being non-busy among busy people. I want to reflect on taking our time and more specifically being in charge of our time. Although we consider ourselves (sometimes with pride) as the busiest and most stressed generation in the history of the world, busyness is not a new thing. Time is a commodity that has always had value, even 2,500 years ago, the Buddha observed the pain of busyness. We don’t often acknowledge our relationship with busyness. For most people, there is a verbal push back and we decry how busy we are—but there is a hook in busyness. Despite the pain and discomfort, there is also reward.

We may believe being busy validates that we are worthy. Being busy means we have a role and meaning in our lives. Not being busy in a busy world means we unpopular, unwanted, and lazy. Those who prioritize creating space and time in their lives are rather suspicious in this frenetic world. Busyness may be a habit that feels comfortable. When there is no tension and time is vast and unscheduled, we may feel rootless and without direction. Being busy creates a pace and energy that can feel natural and despite wishing things were otherwise—we may not know how to be with ourselves when we have time and space.

We are entering the holiday season and it is characterized by busyness. For those of us with families, planning meals and celebrations, coordinating travel, gifts, and lodging, may all take their toll and turn this time of year into a heap of chores and resentments. For those of us who are longing to claim their time as their own, can we consider what would happen if we put down our tasks and prioritized ease? What would come crashing down? Who would we disappoint? Would we miss the chance to be someone in our own eyes or in the eyes of another?

Frozen water

Recently I was in a situation where I listened to the yes that was coming out of my mouth while I experienced a whole-body response of opposition and burden. The situation was not a big one, but I was reluctant to say no. It felt awkward and selfish, but I did. I said no. The no was scary. It meant I wasn’t that person who rearranged my life and put another person’s schedule above my own. The no was revolutionary because it helped me keep a heart of loving kindness. When we forget we have a choice about our commitments—even if our choice is to do more than we want because we want to keep our job, we already understand that we are free. When we work and live from a place of “have to,” and victimhood, we have lost connection with the element of choice that gives all life dignity.

In the Good Samaritan Study, research demonstrated that it is not one’s desires and intrinsic compassion, but the amount of hurry in our lives that determines if we are altruistic participants in life. This study is especially significant to demonstrate when we are rushing, we cut ourselves off from opportunities to respond with kindness.

Doing less, prioritizing our own wellbeing and spaciousness and commitment to practice gives us the basic ground of stability that allows us to touch our bodhicitta, the awakened heart we all possess. Freedom from busyness leads to gentleness. Freedom from hostility leads to consideration. Knowing we are sovereign over our time and our lives, restoring the sanctity of choice in our lives gives us agency, the sense that we matter. All this leads us to happiness.

When we slow down, we can listen to ourselves and stop the fragmented activity of the mind. Buddhist scholar and translator, Nyanaponika Thera (1994) writes: “Slowing down the hurried rhythm of life means that thoughts, feelings, and perceptions will be able to complete the entire length of their natural lifetime. Full awareness will extend up to their end phase: to their last vibrations and reverberations. Too often that end phase is cut off by an impatient grasping at new impressions, or by hurrying on to the next stage of a line of thought before the earlier one has been clearly comprehended.” We don’t realize that when we rush, we are training the mind to ignore the condition of the body and to ignore what the heart is longing for. We don’t have the time to listen to ourselves. We sacrifice our happiness for approval or compliance.

During this holiday week and the weeks ahead, I wonder what are we willing to let go of? What are we willing to renounce to give ourselves more space and ease? What aspect of doing can we release and along with it—perhaps the glossy image of ourselves as the superstar and achiever? Where can we be soft with our expectations and learn to forgive our undone and unfulfilled? Another aspect of this inquiry is to remember that even though we may feel helpless in the vortex of this mighty societal tide, we have a say in how we live. Instead of wondering how we are going to get it all done, putting our heads down and blindly pushing through until we can collapse in the New Year, we can remember that we are connected to all living beings on this planet and our welfare co-creates their welfare. Our happiness and suffering matters.

Instead of looking in from the outside and asking, “how am I doing?” we can flip the question and ask, “how is this for me?” Does doing this lead to ease and happiness for me and those around me? Does this activity connect me with my ability to love and support my deepest values? Can I work in a way that maintains my own dignity and supports the wellbeing of my body and mind or am I stretched thin? Could I love and accept myself if I said no? This week I challenge you in the words of Nancy Regan, to “Just say no.” Say no to taking on too much, to buying what no one needs, to being busy and small-hearted. In saying no to things that create smallness we say yes to what is infinite and available in our own stillness and solidity. We say yes to knowing our life in this moment instead of rushing past to get into that Door Buster Sale. Stay the course, slow down, take some breaths and remember that this moment is your life.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Stop Calligraphy

 

Giving and Receiving are One Action

Lichen

Forest floor, photo by Celia

“In Buddhism, we say there are three kinds of gifts. The first is the gift of material resources. The second is to help people rely on themselves, to offer them the technology and know-how to stand on their own feet. Helping people with the Dharma so they can transform their fear, anger, and depression belongs to the second kind of gift. The third is the gift of non-fear. We are afraid of many things. We feel insecure, afraid of being alone, afraid of sickness and dying. To help people not be destroyed by their fears, we practice the third kind of gift-giving. If you can help people feel safe, less afraid of life, people, and death, you are practicing the third kind of gift.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh. For a Future to Be Possible: Commentaries on the Five Wonderful Precepts

 

Dear Friends,

Several weekends ago, I attended a day of mindfulness where we examined the path of generosity, Dana Paramita. Giving has ancient roots in the Buddhist tradition. In Asia, monastics and teachers renounce their involvement in the world and can dedicate themselves entirely to meditation due to the generosity of the community and dana, the practice of generosity. Traditionally, Buddhist teachers give their teaching freely and for the benefit of the world which we share. In the milieu of capitalism and transactional giving, we are accustomed to getting and giving according to a balance sheet. We look for good deals and do not want to give—but always want to receive. This is seen as being savvy and a good businessperson, as someone who gains an advantage by paying less than another. To our Western sensibilities, the idea of perfecting our giving may seem foreign and even naïve, but what if we could see that there is no separation between the giver, the gift, and the receiver?

As a practitioner, I’ve heard this for a long time—and can understand it on an intellectual level as transcending the form of the gift and benefiting all involved, but I wanted to explore this idea more. Giving can seem limited to a time, person, season, linked to my own capacity to participate. I wanted to open my lens and see giving as greater than a time-specific donation or exchange.

Peeking Buddha

Zen teacher Norman Fischer (2014) writes  “A Zen practitioner about to eat a meal remembers that giving is life—that everything is giving, everything is given. There are no separate givers, receivers, or gifts. All of life is always giving and receiving at the same time.”  When I consider that giving is the same as the quality of attention and care, that it doesn’t begin and end, but can shift focus and move from an external to internal focus, I can begin to see the end of the belief in giving as just one moment, just one transaction. Buddhist scholar, Barbara O’Brien (2019) asks us to consider, “that there is no giving without receiving, and no givers without receivers. Therefore, giving and receiving arise together; one is not possible without the other.”

As I looked deeper, I could see that the giver cannot be left out of the gift. The Buddha described the experience of true generosity and joyful giving, “There is the case where the donor, before giving, is glad; while giving, his/her mind is bright & clear; and after giving is gratified. These are the three factors of the donor.” (AN 6.37, Dana Sutta: Giving, Thanissaro Bhikkhu trans.) This makes the intention of the giver joyful in the beginning, the middle and the end. In preparing to give either, my time, my money, my attention, a meal, or my assistance, I can ask “how is this for me right now?” Perhaps the most important aspect of the gift is checking in with ourselves and our intention. Have we given ourselves enough care to support this act of giving? If my gift is too big and leaves me exhausted, impoverished, and distressed—it did not consider me and is not true generosity. Looking at this process as a fluid expression of care—being able to offer a gift may feel like joy, instead of obligation.

As we head into the season of giving, I encourage you to look at how you are when giving. Does it feel dry and transactional, merely clicking the buy button on the Amazon wish list to fulfill an expectation? What would make the holidays feel more authentically connected to giving with non-attachment, without even expecting thanks? Years ago, I gave my time, money, and considerable effort to help someone who did not thank me. I was extremely hurt and confused because not only was my gift treated with disregard, it was rebuffed and dismissed. I spoke to a Dharma teacher to help understand. He said, “Maybe you did too much.” When we stretch and give beyond what is comfortable, we may lose our balance and become attached to the outcome.

Giving with attachment means we expect something—thanks, acknowledgment, or appreciation—maybe a gift in return. A question to ask ourselves before we give, is “Can I be ok if there is no response to this gift? Can I still give without wanting anything in return?” If the answer is no, perhaps the gift is too big or our heart needs some safety. Perhaps we need to look at our relationship and our intention to give. We may be caught in the duality of believing we are “the savior,” or we give to gain an advantage.

Knowing when we need to give to ourselves is also a component of giving. Caregivers cannot give without giving to themselves—a gift is not generosity of it hurts ourselves and creates discomfort and instability for ourselves and our families. Giving needs to include the three qualities of the gift. The wellbeing and intention of the giver, the gift itself, and the purity of the receiver. The Buddha described the receivers as worthy when they are free from greed, hatred, and delusion—when they can accept the gifts without clinging, pushing away, or receiving gifts as personal extensions of the self. These three components, intention, the gift, and the quality of the receiver, can remind us that we are not entering a discrete season of giving, but that giving is always here whether we acknowledge it or not. It is always transpiring in each breath, in each mouthful of food, in a smile and a word of kindness, in the temper tantrum we did not have on the phone with the health care representative—it all is giving—it all is receiving.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

If you have a chance, listen to this inspiring 7-minute podcast on the culture of giving. What Do You Give IF You Don’t Have Anything? http://howdoyoulive.com/podcast/podcast-006-nipun-mehta/

You are enough

 

 

 

 

Empty Means Full

Fall Maples

Changing leaves. Photo by Celia

“Let there be an opening into the quiet

that lies beneath the chaos,

where you find the peace

you did not think possible

and see what shimmers within the storm.” ~ Jan L. Richardson

 “Create a clearing in the dense forest of your life and wait there patiently, until the song

that is your life falls into your own cupped hands and you recognize and greet it.”

~ Martha Postlewaite

“Now, looking through the slanting light of the morning window

toward the mountain presence of everything that can be

what urgency calls you to your one love?

What shape waits in the seed of you

to grow and spread its branches

against a future sky?” ~ David Whyte

“Treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.” ~Rumi

 

Dear Friends,

There was frost on the ground this morning. The dogs were delighted and came back jostling and excited by the cold. I was less delighted seeing the wilted sweet potato vine and thinking I really should pull it out, thinking about December and wondering when the earth will freeze hard enough to burst the terra cotta pots that I should really move indoors. The clocks turned back last week and for us in New England, this time can be filled with trepidation. The daylight hours shrink, and the sun sets before five o’clock. There is letting go—the leaves falling from trees, the letting go of warmth, of the summer flowers and growth—and with these shifts comes the tendency to look at change as a hardship and frame it in the negative. When we believe we can lose things, we look at the world with the perception of loss and deprivation. We believe that our world can become empty of light and warmth but when we understand change and the truth of emptiness, the ebbing of what we are accustomed to can be an opportunity.

There’s an old Zen story about a Buddhist scholar named Tokusan and the Zen Master Ryutan who lived in China during the ninth century. The scholar was an expert on the Buddhist texts and wanted to discuss a fine point of the Dharma with Master Ryutan. Master Ryutan served tea to his guest while they spoke about the teachings. As Ryutan refilled the cup of the professor, who was explaining his views in great detail, the tea reached the brim of the cup and spilled over the edge onto the table. Tokusan couldn’t contain himself, “Stop!” He stared at the Zen master who was calmly pouring tea as it pooled into the floor. “The cup is overflowing.”

“Yes,” answered the Zen master. “You are like this cup. You come full of opinions and beliefs and you have no room for anything but your own ideas. For you to learn anything, first, you must empty your cup.”

Red leaves Blue skyWhen we are full of our ideas and concepts, we have no room for anything else. We don’t live in accordance with the Dharma which knows the truth of suffering, impermanence, and the truth that we are not a small, limited egoic self. When we are able to empty ourselves of certainty, of our ill will, and ignorance, what fills our cup? Are we insisting our cup stays full of the very same conditions we are accustomed to, the ones that cause of pain? Are we unwilling to let go of what we have outgrown even when we can see that everything is changing?

The language of the Buddha’s teachings is framed in negative terms with the highest plane of awareness being nirvana [extinguishing or cessation]. The Buddha taught the end of suffering, the unbinding of the ten fetters, and the doctrine of non-self. All this can sound very dry and reserved for people who don’t want to enjoy things or have some special ability to cheerfully live lives of deprivation and hardship. But what is the end of suffering—happiness, contentment, peace, and ease? What do we make room for when we empty ourselves of the egoic driven belief we are separate and alone? We become connected to everything and everyone that has even been on this Earth or will ever be here.

When we empty of our self, there is space for the recognition that someone else’s good fortune is not bound by the contours of their body—there is the realization of mudita [appreciative joy], the connectivity of kindness and happiness. Emptying our cup of prejudice and ignorance makes space for universal friendliness (mettā) for compassion (karuna), and wisdom (prajna, Sanskrit/ pañña, Pali). When we move away from our attachment to the idea of ourselves, we gain the freedom to make mistakes. We aren’t bound by how others see us—we gain authenticity and confidence.

When we understand we are empty of a separate self, we have the space to claim our true inheritance—our connectivity to what is wholesome and brave. There is no vacuum or empty space that isn’t filled with the mind of love (bodhicitta) that is always present. When we remove what the Buddha called the defilements, the ten fetters, we are released and free to see what has been there waiting the whole time. The seeds of enlightenment, of Buddhahood which are always present in us all—when we empty our cup enough, we can give these seeds the space and attention they need to flourish.

Removing the thorn of hatred from our hearts is like removing the blockage that restricted the circulation of love. When we see what we are full of, it is a very different experience than focusing on losing things. We’ve all experienced moments when we’ve felt that predictability and safety vanished—maybe when we heard of a tragedy in the world, the state of our Earth, or a personal change when we lost a job, money, a home or someone dear to us. These moments are the emptying of the cup. We stop believing that life is unfolding according to a script and we step onto what can be very shaky new ground. In these moments we have a choice about what we want to fill our cup with—fear and worry, or equanimity, compassion, and wisdom, which understands pain and knows that we are capable of meeting our own suffering and the suffering of others with love, wisdom, and balance.

The highest qualities of the mind and heart, the heart that quivers with the suffering of another and knows the way to help is not outside of us. These beautiful qualities are waiting patiently for us to make space so they can rise to the surface. The same way the trees shed their leaves to make room for new growth in the spring. We empty to fill with something. We cannot inhale until we’ve exhaled. Seeing we are always in the process of emptying, what do we want to fill our lives with, fear and resistance, or with understanding and compassion? The choice is ours and as we see the cup empty, we can smile, knowing that empty means we are ready to receive.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

we are already what we want to become