Showing Up

Oct. Bluffs

Mohegan Bluffs, Block Island. Photo Barbara Richardson

“As a species we should never underestimate our low tolerance for discomfort.”

“Transformation occurs only when we remember, breath by breath, year after year, to move towards our emotional distress without condemning or justifying our experience.”

“Attending to our present-moment mind is and body is a way of being tender towards self, towards other, and towards the world. This quality of attention is inherent in our ability to love.”

All quotes from Pema Chodron, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times.

Dear Friends,

It’s a chilly October evening as I write this. Today I saw vermillion sugar maples and the rain is reminding me that in not so many weeks it will be snow. Recently, I’ve caught hold of some germs and found myself feeling shivery and waking up with painful sinuses. The cold symptoms don’t bother me much, but I do find it’s much harder to meditate when I am sick, breathing is harder and the body doesn’t feel so wide awake or keen on sitting. But I still do it even though my mind is not serene and my body would rather be in a bathtub. I am wondering why do we meditate? Isn’t it easier and more time effective to find a therapeutic medication to take the edge off the anxiety and give a little glow to our reality?

I know from experience that meditation is the way to come home to myself. Pema Chodron calls it, “learning to stay.” Human neurobiology is programmed to run away and avoid when things get difficult. There is a reason that flight is the first response to threat when the sympathetic nervous system is activated. If we just could get a snack, get more comfortable, find a really good ergonomically designed chair so my neck wouldn’t hurt, then I would be able to meditate. Meditation is the process of dropping in and befriending the self. When we practice meditation even on those days when it’s hard or simply another task to get through, we are doing two things. The first is the act of stilling the mind, beginning with calming the body. Secondly, the act of repetition encourages the body/mind to feel safe because we continue to show up despite external and internal conditions, when it’s cold and rainy and when the sun is shining.

If you’ve been meditating for a while, you probably have set a certain standard for your meditation and will discern if this was a “good” or “bad” meditation. We get particularly enamored of those good meditations when we feel solid and connected and the body is easy, tranquil, and strong. And we are equally dismissive of those meditations where the mind darts from the supermarket to the email we need to finish, to the necessity of finding a roofer, or maybe the dog has lymes disease, or the kid does, or I do and what about the neighbor who has a sign up endorsing the wrong political candidate…

What I have learned about these sub-par meditations is that they are testimonials to showing up for ourselves non-judgmentally just as we are. We are not trying to squeeze ourselves into the mold of a Buddha or saint. When we meditate, it’s an opportunity of connecting and accepting ourselves as we are in this moment. There is nothing to get rid of. The anxious mind is noted and seen with compassion—of course it’s busy; it’s afraid to get things wrong. We can be equally accepting of ourselves when we have a “good” meditation and recognize that there are innumerable conditions, our circumstance, our teachers, our physical health that all contributed to creating this transitory experience of calm and stillness.

When we meditate we also remember that we have a body. Most of us, most of the time, are disconnected from our bodies. If we are a person of color working in an historically white institution, a single mother trying to support her family and care for her young children, a person of non-conforming gender, someone who comes from a Muslim country and is categorized as a threat, or living with a chronic illness, all of these conditions create an internalized vigilance and an often unconscious fear which may manifest as physical tension. When we continue to show up and inquire about how we are, we encourage the body to relax. We engage with our un-recognized fear and actively let the body know it’s safe and let go of our vigilance even for a short amount of time.

How present we are with ourselves influences how relaxed and safe we feel. When we train to bring compassionate, loving acceptance to our situation, to the feelings in the body/mind we lay down the neural pathways that support continuing this activity of checking in, getting curious, and accepting what is. This week, I am saying, “this is how it is right now.” This phrase comes from meditation teacher and mother, Kalama Masters, who gives retreats on equanimity and impermanence. Showing up for ourselves regardless of our internal weather develops our trust in ourselves and our ability to befriend ourselves no matter what the outside conditions. Recently a friend told me, “there’s no good or bad meditation. There’s only meditation.” It’s about showing up, showing up, and showing up some more.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Relax your body

Advertisements

Changing Habits of Change

Buddha and the artichokes

Buddha and the artichokes in Judith’s garden. Photo by Celia

“If we take something to be the truth, we may cling to it so much that when the truth comes and knocks on our door, we won’t want to let it in.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh

“Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth”

~Pema Chödrön

 When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

“As long as our orientation is toward perfection or success, we will never

learn about unconditional friendship with ourselves, nor will we find

compassion. ”

~Pema Chödrön

Dear Friends,

I hope you are well and riding the waves of change with some amount of ease and equanimity. This past weekend, several sangha members and I attended a retreat titled Bringing Mindful Speech to Life offered by Plum Village tradition dharma teacher and Nonviolent Communication (NVC) trainer Peggy Smith. The retreat combined Plum Village practices of mindful sitting, walking, and eating with NVC training. For many of us, this training really rocked our world. We learned that we are communicating in a system grounded in right and wrong thinking, based on blaming, punishing, and manipulation to get our needs met. Waking up to recognize our compliance in this systemic enactment of violence was a shock. We saw examples of how our habitual responses to suffering, even ones we thought of as mindful, or compassionate, actually blocked the necessary empathetic resonance that allows true compassion to take place.

After the retreat, many participants left feeling both exquisitely grateful and exquisitely confused about how to practice right speech. Some may have been discouraged and wondered how to begin after having these entrenched societal patterns hard-wired into our brains after twenty or fifty years of communicating. If only wanting to change meant change would happen. The truth of changing habits is that it takes time, diligence, and lots of determination.

When we first begin to make a change in our lives, whether its conscious speech, awareness of our bodily responses or watching the judging mind, we introduce the mental suggestion to take note…and we do. We may find ourselves horrified at how many times during the day we fall into blaming others for our emotional response, or how often we think of Chinese food, sex, a new car, or give out our diagnoses and judgments of others as if they’re the truth. Pema Chödrön tells us that at the beginning of changing patterns we will see our habits all the time repeating with glaring consistency and vigor. We can start to believe that we are deeply flawed and incapable of change. But Pema tells us that seeing our habits is actually good news. It’s not that we are more judgmental, greedy, or mean-spirited than we ever were, it’s the fact that we are so sensitized to our actions. We have woken up to our formerly unconscious habit patterns.

One way to re-frame this thinking is to celebrate the times we catch ourselves in our old ways of thinking, speaking, and responding because this is our first step towards freedom—noticing. Buddhist monk, Anam Thubten, considers this step so essential he writes in No Self, No Problem: Awakening to Our True Nature, that each time we catch our minds wandering during meditation instead of lamenting and feeling despondent at how bad a meditator we are, we should celebrate and give ourselves a piece of chocolate. The noticing and returning the mind to the goal, whatever the goal is—staying present in meditation, or giving our self warm accompaniment when we feel the familiar shield of defense and the desire to retaliate—that is the very movement that creates the new habit of change.

This is a shift to compassion and changing two habits at the same time. When you find yourself messing up and doing the thing you don’t want to do, judging and responding from a place of fear and lack, yelling, or eating that piece of cheesecake, give yourself a reward of self-compassion for paying attention and gently return to what you do want to do. You can offer yourself Peggy Smith’s simple “of course.” Thich Nhat Hanh uses the phrase, “Darling, I am here for you,” or  you can try out “I care about this.” Experiment and find which words comfort and soothe the nervous system that tries so hard to keep us safe and happy. Of course, we fall into habits and repeat behavior. Of course, we do what we know best. It is hard work to change. Giving ourselves the gift of open-hearted acceptance can make changing habits a gentler and comforting process that leads to our greater freedom and connection with all beings.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Look

 

 

 

 

The Surprisingly Powerful Practice of Patience

Citrus-sinensis-L.-Osbeck

“Forbearance is the highest observance. Patience is the highest virtue. So the Buddhas say.” ~Dhammapada, verse 184

“And how does one, in protecting others, protect oneself? By patience and forbearance, by a non-violent and harmless life, by loving kindness and compassion.” ~Satipatthana Samyutta, No. 19

“There is no evil so great as anger. There is no religious practice so powerful as patience.” ~Shantideva’s Bodhisattvacaryavatara

Dear Friends,

Recently I heard an interview with Derek Black, a man raised by white supremacists and the subject of the new book, Rising Out of Hate. As a child, Derek was active in perpetuating the white supremacist message of division and intolerance. When he went to college he was befriended by Jewish students who invited him to Shabbos dinners—for two years. While there weren’t open discussions and debates to point out the mistaken ideas in Black’s thinking, these friends used patience and diligence to allow Derek to see his beliefs through the eyes of those he was taught were less than human. Today Derek Black speaks out about the erroneous foundational beliefs of white supremacy and must live with his earlier history of inciting hatred and violence. What so impressed me about this story was the courage, open-heartedness, and patience of Black’s Jewish friends. They did not use shame, blame, or recrimination, but with patience and their kind presence, they transformed the heart and mind of someone steeped in a lifetime of dualistic and discriminative ideologies.

In Buddhism patience is one of the perfections or paramis (Pali) / paramitas (Sanskrit). The Buddha spoke of patience as the highest virtue we can cultivate. Patience is the necessary ingredient for our lives that leads to the jewel of equanimity and the power to stay the course. In our Western culture patience doesn’t look like a virtue or strength. If we are patient in our lives and desires, we are seen as weak and passive. Patience is not a popular trait. We want results, action and one of the best compliments in management is to be pro-active. In a world of “nip-it-in-the-bud” and “get ‘er done,” we do not look favorably upon patience. Patience is the virtue for wimps and the helpless who are incapable of taking action while things get worse and worse. Being patient is not only suspect, it is actively discouraged.

The story of change in Derek Black has me thinking about patience and the ability to affect change. Lasting change does not happen slowly. Think about the patience of the earth, the patience of the orange blossom that metamorphosizes into fruit, slowly over months, the patience of a drop of water that wears away solid rock, and the patience of the trees that take years to develop their heartwood.

The patience the Buddha spoke about has three facets, the first is our patience with others that allows us to maintain our mind of peace even if someone else is being…you know, an idiot. We can use what is translated as “forbearance,” to restrain ourselves from anger and meet our experience with understanding, compassion, and the mind of love. Patience reminds us that our priority is to maintain our own friendly and calm mind state, despite what others may do or say. We use our understanding and acceptance, our tolerance of others to help us speak and act from a place of balance and wisdom. This is not to say we are inactive or passive when we see injustice—but patience gives us the understanding that this view, or action from another wasn’t created in this instant. Patience takes the long road to create change as we saw in the transformation of Derek Black.

The second facet of patience supports our engagement with our spiritual path. We all know what it feels like to try all the time. We can become tired and lose our confidence that anything will ever change. This second type of patience encompasses what Dharma teacher Joanne Friday calls, “gentle diligence over time.” It is the patience that allows us to move forward with joy instead of pain. If we do not enjoy our spiritual path and integrate our practice into our lives, how will we ever sustain it enough to transform? Patience allows us to honor the pace of our lives and allow the natural order to unfold in its own time.

A few years ago on retreat, a friend shared one of his insights. I loved it so much, he wrote it for me and I put it next to my bed. His words, “Even on the same tree, all the flowers do not bloom at once,” reminded me each day to have patience with others and with myself. My journey does not look like anyone else’s. I am progressing in accord with my own karma—not someone else’s’ expectations.

The third type of patience is the patience that contains trust in own abilities and natural goodness. This is the patience that believes I too can become a Buddha. Looking at the path of renunciation and transformation, the whole enterprise may seem so vast and insurmountable we can easily doubt our abilities and become discouraged. There is the attitude of why even try because I have so many years of conditioning. It’s just too big. I am not worthy, or capable of such high goals. It’s safer to do what everyone else does and save the disappointment of trying. Patience gives us the willingness to do what seems insurmountable, in small daily increments that include kindness and joy to nourish our journey. This type of patience gives us the courage to say that I am worthy of ultimate happiness. I am worth the effort. Patience directly supports the next paramita of diligence in our lives and practice.

This week, you may like to reflect on how you have included patience in your life—and where it could help shore up your commitments. We all need to trust in our goodness and ability to wake up and live in the best way we know how. This can include the patience that gives us the strength to undergo chemo treatments that leave us depleted or make phone calls to politicians about policies that threaten the environment when it seems no one is listening. Patience is a wonderful companion that can wrap us in the protective cloak of kindness, knowing each action we do lessens suffering in the world and in ourselves.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

           The flower is made of non flower elements

A smile of gratitude to David Nelson for taking this photo and generously sharing it online.

The Unreliable Nature of Nature

Scottish Long View

Scottish Long View, photo by Barbara Richardson

“Thanks to impermanence, everything is possible.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh, Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers

“‘All conditioned things are impermanent’ — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering.” ~The Dhammapada

“Better it is to live one day seeing the rise and fall of things than to live a hundred years without ever seeing the rise and fall of things”. ~The Dhammapada

Dear Friends,

It’s been a while since I last wrote and much is different now. I am reminded daily of annica, or impermanence, one of the three marks of existence. I found out recently that the Pali canon records the Buddha teaching on annica over 100 times. Learning that, I don’t feel badly repeating this theme. The word we translate often as impermanence has a slightly different flavor in Pali, the language of the Buddhist scriptures.  The root word is nicca which scholar monk Thanissaro Bhikkhu translates as constant and dependable. The prefix a is used to indicate the opposite thus anicca means inconstant or undependable. These words contain the seeds of disappointment and frustration much more than recalling the natural condition of impermanence.

The last reminder from the Buddha before his death was an exhortation to keep impermanence in the forefront of our minds and to remember that everything we see, think, feel, and experience is made of composite things that depend upon the whole universe to support their existence. This includes our thoughts, our bodies, our emotions, all people, all regimes, all ideologies, every bank, every government, and country in the world. They will all change and they will all end. Thanissaro Bhikkhu translates the Buddha’s last words as ‘“I exhort you, monks: All fabrications are subject to decay. Bring about completion by being heedful.’ Those were the Tathagata’s last words.”

The Buddhist worldview sees everything in a constant flux of shifting conditions. I have noticed my tendency to create groupings of years: this was my childhood, spent in this house with these friends, and then this is where I lived as a young adult with these interests and friends. The next phase was as a mother with children growing up in a new town. Each portion of my life is packaged into a manageable chunk, separated by location and time. In reality, there are no demarcation lines, no separation the day we stop being a child, or change the day we turn 21, get married or divorced. We create these mental compartments which we assign time and place to. If we look at our lives, they are unfolding against a fluid and inconstant backdrop. And we share in this unpredictability.

Our bodies, minds, and emotions are constantly arising and passing away and we are powerless to hold back the aging, sickness, and ultimate death of these bodies. We can clearly see that when we focus on the unreliable nature of the world and ourselves, we touch suffering [dukkha] and anatta, or not-self. These three, dukkha, annica, and anatta comprise the three marks of existence or three characteristics. They are basic truths of living in these bodies we cannot control and being part of the system that constantly falls into balance and out of balance. One teacher summarized these three teachings as, Everything changes. It will shake you up and it’s not personal. Buddhist peace activist and teacher, Donald Rothberg recommends reflecting on impermanence for five minutes a day, noting that everything we see, the house, the car, folks in a hurry to get to work, all the infrastructure and everything that meets our eyes is subject to change and decay. It’s all going away—even us.

This understanding can help give us the long lens of equanimity to see how things really are and to unclench from what seems so important, fixed, and permanent. The notion of change and fluidity means that although what we love will change, what we don’t love will change also. As Thich Nhat Hanh points out, we have infinite possibilities because nothing is forever—and we can be part of this wave of change, for the better.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

images

Opening To This Moment

Rocky Shore

Rocky Shore. Photo by Celia

“If, by forsaking a limited ease, he would see an abundance of ease,

the enlightened man would forsake the limited ease for the sake

of the abundant.”

~ Dhammapada 29

“When things go wrong, don’t go with them.”

~ Elvis Presley

“Seek no intimacy with the beloved and also not with the unloved, for not to see the beloved and to see the unloved, both are painful.”

“Therefore hold nothing dear, for separation from the dear is painful. There are no bonds for those who have nothing beloved or unloved.”

~ Dhammapada 201-211

Dear Friends,

I am spending some time this week on a small island eight miles off the coast in the Atlantic ocean. Day-trippers come, people on boats, families, wedding parties—it’s busy and bustling with expectations of beach days, good waves, and summer memories. It is a wonderful opportunity for me to note the wanting mind, my own and others around me. This is a fundamental practice for releasing ourselves from the bondage of our thoughts through seeing wanting and not wanting, the two sides of tanha, often translated as craving.

It is more common to think of craving regarding something we ingest, some delicious food or drink. We don’t often think of craving as not-wanting. But not-wanting can be as painful as wanting. We crave peace and quiet and are irritated and dismayed with the unwanted noise and crowds. We crave the perfect weather for our vacation week—and take the rain as a personal affront. We may long for in-depth conversations that re-establish long-ignored connections and feel frustrated when we don’t feel understood or listened to. We may crave the smell of wild beach roses and a breeze to cool us. While there is nothing unwholesome about having a preference or enjoying our experience, the problems begin when we attach our happiness to the fulfillment of this wanting, especially if it is something beyond our control.

When our happiness rests on the fulfillment of our wishes by another or any external conditions we are as the Buddha describes “fettered.” True freedom allows us to chose our own internal weather and returns our own self-authority despite external conditions. In the Dhammapada, the Buddha is quoted as saying:

“Encircled with craving, people hop round and around like a rabbit caught in a snare.

Tied with fetters and bonds they go on to suffering, again and again, for long.”

The snare is the desiring mind that moves towards and away from what it wants and doesn’t want. All this chasing of perfection, in reality, is exhausting and unfulfilling work and even if we do crack the code and find the perfect moment, the perfect breeze, the most delicious food, the just right person to share it with—it doesn’t last. Something always keeps changing.

So how do we get free? The first step is to notice with a gentle mind this phenomenon that we have in common with all living beings, wanting ease. When we can offer ourselves compassion and understand our desires as strategies to keep us safe, cared for, or viewed in a certain way we give ourselves the opportunity to be present with what is actually unfolding right in front of us. Showing up, fully present at this moment can delight us in ways we never imagined. When we loosen our grip on our desires, sometimes we find that there is beauty and perfection enough—without the struggle. When we release the control around how things should be, we can experience trusting our abilities to meet the demands of our realities.

A benefit of trusting ourselves is that we may find some unexpected delights when we let go of our programmed agenda. Today we saw seals floating out by the North light, the complex mosaics of the rocks in tidal pools, and there was an adorable yellow warbler ruffled by the waves. This island is still hot and humid, still full of vacationers with big expectations and expensive flip flops, but there is also a choice. The question I am asking is, “is it enough?” Is this ocean enough for me to find beauty? Is this person I am with delightful enough? Do we have enough value, enough time, enough life? The more I consider this, the question changes and becomes, “Can I be enough for this moment?” Because this moment with all its complexity and interwoven conditions is already enough. This moment keeps offering me innumerable opportunities and possibilities, but only if my mind is open to let in the possible.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Be free where you are

Simplicity, Renunciation, and Lessons From the Toad at the Front Door

Humble toad

My teacher of simplicity, the humble toad

“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned to buy things they don’t want to impress people they don’t like.” ~ Will Rogers

 “Order your soul. Reduce your wants.” ~Saint Augustine

“Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.” ~ Isaac Newton

“We can travel a long way and do many things, but our deepest happiness is not born from accumulating new experiences. It is born from letting go of what is unnecessary, and knowing ourselves to be always at home.” ~ Sharon Salzberg

 “Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.” Lin Yutang

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”~ William Morris

Dear Friends,

August brings “Back to School” signs and the reminder that for some of us, life will change dramatically in a few weeks. August can signal the bittersweet end of leisure and the beginning of back to school, work, and the serious task of preparing for the winter. My family is moving house this month and we are working diligently to reduce our possessions and pack them up. I am filled with the desire for the simplicity of the monastic life where one’s possessions amount to three robes and a begging bowl. I’ve had to face the reality that the dozens of single socks I’ve held onto for the last six years, hoping to one day reunite with their long lost mates will forever remain unpaired. I was astonished at the number of writing implements we own and dismayed by the tangled skeins of electrical chargers and adapters that belong to defunct technology or broken toys, a result of planned obsolesce.

Life is feeling complicated with mortgage applications, escrow, and all the legal stuff of home selling and buying. A few weeks ago, I participated in a group meditation where we were asked to find what felt complex and what felt simple, right this moment. The complex was a cracked boiler expansion tank and the simple was being here, present in this breathing body that feels contact with the cushions beneath me, and the sounds that come to my ear. This awareness of simplicity in the midst of complexity requires renunciation. The renunciation of the planning, worrying mind. The world offers complexity everywhere we turn, on the news, in our political structure, and our economics. It’s easy to live in complexity. It’s much harder and takes intentional action to live simplicity.

My best teacher of simplicity this summer has been a toad who lives behind the pile of chair cushion on my front stoop. Shifting the cushions I heard a soft chirp and saw a palm-sized toad situated between two cushions. This shaded nook was the toad’s home during the day. I came back days later and peeked. The toad was still there… and nothing else. There was no bedding, no straw, or bits of food, nothing, but the toad resting in the coolness. This image stayed with me for days, the toad that needed nothing, except to stay cool during the heat of the day. This being that trusted that each night there would be adequate food, enough insects to feed on and during the day there would be a space to find safety and shade. This toad had no pockets for possessions and lived in absolute trust and accord with the natural order.

We humans manipulate so much in our environments we forget that we too must live in accord with the natural order. We cannot escape from our biological and environmental realities. We all must reckon with how we live on this earth and the true price of complexity. This week you may like to explore mindfulness of simplicity and complexity and ask, how much do I really need to be ok? What can I let go of? Maybe it’s the growing stash of takeout soy sauce packets or striving for a job with a bigger paycheck and lots more responsibility and hours. What does living simply on the earth look like for you?

This inquiry can deepen to include the perception of the body and emotions. We can ask, what feels complex right now? Where does complexity live in the body and how does it feel emotionally? And then, what is simple right now? What is the body/mind experience of finding simplicity? What would it feel like to live a day in simplicity? For simplicity requires diligent renunciation of the habits of proliferation, greed, acquisition, and the habit of fear. All of which our culture tells us will keep us safe and well, but what is our lived experience of complexity? Does it really make us happier and more peaceful? At each moment we do have the ability to choose where to place our mind and whether we want to live simply or not.

I know my life will include complexity. It is inescapable, but my teacher, that modest toad on the front stoop, reminds me that life can look different. Even when the tasks at hand are complex, touching into the always available presence of body and mind awareness is simple, but not easy.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Lion_s_Roar_You_Have_Enough_1_grande

Not Abandoning Ourselves

James' feet

James’ feet. X-ray by Dr. McHugh.

“It is important to expect nothing, to take every experience, including the negative ones, as merely steps on the path, and to proceed.”

 “I would like my life to be a statement of love and compassion–and where it isn’t, that’s where my work lies.”

 “The heart surrenders everything to the moment. The mind judges and holds back.”

~ All quotes by Ram Dass

Dear Friends,

What if right now, reading this, wherever you are, life is as good as it will ever be? And it is. That moment is already past and whatever level of satisfaction or discomfort was there is already flowing into the next moment and the next. We live in a culture devoted to half of life’s experiences and we strategize to keep our sadness and loneliness away with events and achievements. We design campaigns and create boundaries of responsibility so we will never know how it feels to be ashamed, afraid, or helpless. We make room in our hearts for what is welcome and flattering, while edging out the unwanted, believing if we just try a little harder, we can have this life a little sweeter, a little less stressful and lots easier. There was an advertising slogan a few years back that declared, “You can have it all.” The publicists were talking about light beer, but in life, we don’t want it all. We want only what we want.

Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us, “This is it.” Life is not a dress rehearsal that we repeat until we get it just right; it’s happening now. And what if we are never kinder, wiser, healthier, smarter, or wealthier than we are in this moment? Are we enough as we are right now to make this moment count and meet it as we want to be? Can we stop trying to manipulate this moment and rest in our own capacity to meet the edges of what is unpleasant and unwanted? The more we can get comfortable with the range of our mind, the more we can make space to include everything and allow it to be.

rain closeup.png

Raindrops in a puddle. Photo by Celia

This allowing can stop the push and pull of wanting the half of the whole and surprisingly lessen the power of the unwanted. When we don’t push back we can give the unwanted the freedom it needs to rise and fall without the struggle of dislike that makes it so painful. Another way to frame this is, “it’s ok to not be ok.” Pain is part of each life. Even at the best times, we may find a shading of sadness or fear. It’s ok to see the darkness or unwanted in ourselves and let it come and go without feeding it with opposition.

Including everything with the knowledge that our purpose is to meet ourselves where we stand just as we are is what I call the practice of non-abandoning, or inclusivity, leaving nothing out.  When we set our intention to stay connected and present to all of our emotional life, we can meet each interaction with kindness and understanding. This week, you may like to try setting an intention of non-abandoning and put your acceptance of whatever is arising in you, as your first priority. This diligence to stand beside ourselves creates a framework of care for ourselves. When we can hold ourselves with this kind attention, we naturally bring our capacity for care to the world. When we stay present and do not abandon ourselves we can make this moment count. Developing the capacity to show up for ourselves means we don’t have to wait for a perfect future to be here now, fully present, engaged, and grounded in unshakeable love.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

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

Take your vacation any time

Soil and Story Cappucinos

Non-dairy cappuccinos from Story and Soil, Hartford, CT

 “My body is my first home. Breathing in, I arrive in my body. Breathing out, I am home.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh

“Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning  not to panic—this is the spiritual path.” ~ Pema Chodron

“We humans have lost the wisdom of genuinely resting and relaxing. We worry too much. We don’t allow our bodies to heal and we don’t allow our minds and hearts to heal.”

 ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear Friends,

The wind is blowing through the trees making the leafy rustling music of summer at its peak. The air is humid and the excitement about warm days and no snow is long past. We’ve settled into the belly of summer’s hazy warmth with the lure of hammocks and afternoon naps. Some lie on towels in the park or catch rays at the beach, but we all get the message. It’s summer—relax.

For many of us, summer is vacation time when we give ourselves permission to take time from our busyness and relax. But we don’t have to reserve relaxation for a week’s vacation at the beach. A daily dose of relaxation can help bring well-being into our bodies and minds.

Every day our body carries our worries, our thoughts, and the physical story of our lives. The mind is not separate from the body and the body is responsible for transmitting sensory information which informs the mind, such as pain, or the perception of unfairness. When the mind registers danger or discomfort it sends neurotransmitters across neural pathways in milliseconds. These excitatory messages prepare the body for action and the body automatically responds and tenses. This tension is perceived by the mind as confirmation of threat while the body reinforces the brain’s warning message by releasing stress hormones creating a tighter and more contracted body. This is the definition of a stress loop, the body and mind reacting to the signals of fear emanating from each other.StressLoopPainMuch of the time, the danger the mind is reacting to is fear of the future which creates vigilance. When vigilance becomes a habit, it can easily slide into anxiety which is the opposite of relaxation. Relaxation during the day is a way to discharge the tension in the body and mind and care for the fearful heart. Relaxing during the day doesn’t mean you have to lie on the floor or even move from where you are. The experience of relaxation involves the willingness to release defensiveness and rest in a quiet, contented body and mind.

If you ever visit a Plum Village tradition monastery, you will notice the bells. There are bells to sit, bells to stand, bells for meal times, bells for activities, and bells from the clocks sounding every fifteen minutes. At each bell, the whole community stops and breathes for at least three deep breaths. In three breaths we can pause, soften the face muscles, and release the tension from the body, and allow the mind to rest. Sometimes, in three breaths we can remember there are reasons to smile. In just three breaths we can diffuse the building tension and vigilance and give ourselves back to the present moment. There is even an app that can help.

Like many folks, I spend a lot of time looking at screens. After two hours on the computer, my shoulders are up by my ears and there’s lots of tension in my neck and upper back. Many days, I’ll use the mindfulness bell app and every fifteen minutes practice stopping, breathing and relaxing and bring some peace to my body. In three breaths I consciously relax my shoulders, my jaw and let my body and mind know I am here and I care. This small practice makes a big difference in my day. Interestingly, on the days I stop and remember to relax, there’s the impression of more time in my day and definitely more ease.

This week, even if you don’t get to practice coming back to the body and mind every fifteen minutes, try out the practice of stopping and relaxing several times a day. Before starting the car to drive in rush hour is an excellent time to breathe and relax the body, before picking up the phone, or before the first bite of a meal. Three breathes takes about fifteen seconds, not a long time for something that can be so beneficial. Building these small sips of relaxation into our day can bring about long-term transformation. Some people like the stopping and breathing so much, they take five or ten breaths. Daily relaxation is a way to take our vacation into our work day and our lives, to rest, even when we work.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Relax your body

Finding the present moment to heal the anxious heart

Lilly and Queen Anne's Lace

Lilly and Queen Anne’s Lace. Photo by Celia

“The future is not even here yet. Plan for it, but do not waste your time worrying about it.
Worrying is worthless.
When you stop ruminating about what has already happened, when you stop worrying about what might never happen, then you will be in the present moment.
Then you will begin to experience joy in life.”

“Anxiety, the illness of our time, comes primarily from our inability to dwell in the present moment.” 

“There is no enlightenment outside of daily life.”

All quotes from Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear Friends,

Today I read the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings with friends. Each time I read them they arrive in my life in a different way. Today, I was struck by number seven, Dwelling Happily in the Present Moment and the message of cultivating our own happiness and joy through our attention to the present in the midst of an anxious world. The training begins:

“Aware that life is available only in the present moment, we are committed to training ourselves to live deeply each moment of daily life. We will try not to lose ourselves in dispersion or be carried away by regrets about the past, worries about the future, or craving, anger, or jealousy in the present. We will practice mindful breathing to be aware of what is happening in the here and the now.”

More and more I hear the words, “living in uncertain times” referring to climate change and the polarized political spheres worldwide. These issues are truly disturbing and vast, creating a myriad of responses, from social activism, outrage, to increased anxiety, or apathy. We hear about genocide and wars, the rate of species extinction, and children with automatic weapons. There’s upheaval in every sphere of the world if we look. So with all this going on, how can we not be carried away by fear and worries about the future? Wouldn’t fear, worry, and protection be a natural response to this uncontrollable world?

We can consider whether the world actually is more unpredictable than it used to be? Is there more worry in a life than there was in the time of the Buddha, Jesus, or Muhammed when a cut finger could result in death from infection? There has always been uncertainty. There have always been disasters and the threat of loss. It may seem irresponsible to attempt to be happy in the unfolding turmoil, but our happiness and solidity are not to be mistaken for denial of indifference. Living happily, attending to what we are engaging in at the present moment is the way to stay with our intention to care and to give longevity to our actions. And, present moment awareness, paying attention to what is happening in me and around me right now, is the medicine to heal the anxiety of worry. We believe we can solve the problems of a future that has not yet arrived and spend our time bracing ourselves for eventualities that may never happen. If our minds are constantly spinning about what might happen, we will end up exhausted and miss the opportunities that exist right in from of us.

Attending to the present moments and what is unfolding in and around us is the best way to take care of the future. We have an instinct to muscle through unpleasantness until it all gets sorted out. We don’t want to stop and be with what is happening at this moment because it is painful. The imaginary future moments, when the world has been saved, or a different administration is elected, sound much better and much more relaxing—that’s when I’ll relax. I can’t afford to let my guard down now.

This habit of leaning into the future is just like all habits, something that increases with use. When we push off contentment and the possibility of happiness, thus we train our minds. We won’t be able to stop and smell the roses in the future, because we are so good at ignoring the roses in the present. We can give ourselves permission to stay with our own range of awareness and our ability to take care of what is arising right here and now from washing the dishes to creating a resistance movement. Whatever we engage in, we can be present for it fully and find that in doing so, there is no space left for the worry to seep in.

When we are immersed in our lives, we honor ourselves and our work through our own attention. We can be grateful for our own commitments, our good hearts, and give ourselves the time and attention to follow through on what we do. In this way, we save ourselves from worry and speculation and we can be truly useful and a source of joy right here and now.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Breathe you are alive

Irritation is a pain in the heart

Butterfly on daisy

Butterfly resting on Judith’s daisy. Photo by Celia

“If you do not know how to take care of yourself, and the violence in you, then you will not be able to take care of others. You must have love and patience before you can truly listen to your partner or child. If you are irritated you cannot listen. You have to know how to breathe mindfully, embrace your irritation and transform it.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

“…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.” ~Pema Chodron

“Others may be harmful, but I shall be harmless, thus should I train myself.” ~ The Buddha, Kakacupama Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya 21

Dear Friends,

This past week was one of those weeks where it felt like everyone was making life more complicated than it needed to be. I could tell my frustration level was rising and my equanimity sagging. I thought about escaping to a spiritual retreat, taking a week in silence where no one would speak to me or complain. That sounded like heaven, but a retreat is temporary and there’s always something in our lives we can find that’s irritating, some relative who lets us down, a political figure who speaks without thinking, emails asking for clarifications about clarifications. Irritation is inversely correlated to the amount of self-compassion, love, and understanding available in ourselves. If we haven’t been sending ourselves loving kindness, if we haven’t practiced stopping, breathing and calming our body, showing care for our own situation and capacity, then we will exhaust our fund of equanimity, compassion, and care and quickly fall into illbeing [dukkha].

Although irritation can seem like small potatoes in the realm of unwholesome thoughts, it is also called ill-will and categorized as one of the five lower fetters and is a direct forerunner to aversion or hatred, one of the three root poisons that creates the conditions for suffering in ourselves and the world. When we feel irritation, we don’t need to wait months, or even seconds to experience illbeing; we have an immediate mind and body sensation of discomfort. Just the state of experiencing irritation is already suffering.

The Buddha stated that he taught only the knowledge of suffering and the release from suffering. In a comprehensive talk to his son Rahula, the Buddha instructed him in a variety of methods to guard the mind against irritation, “Develop the meditation of good will. For when you are developing the meditation of good will, ill-will will be abandoned. Develop the meditation of compassion. For when you are developing the meditation of compassion, cruelty will be abandoned. Develop the meditation of appreciation. For when you are developing the meditation of appreciation, resentment will be abandoned. Develop the meditation of equanimity. For when you are developing the meditation of equanimity, irritation will be abandoned,” from the Maha-Rahulovada Sutta (Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Trans.).

To develop this mind of good will, consider in the moment of irritation, how much good will is present towards ourselves or another? Usually, in irritation, all thoughts are projected outward to the other person or condition. We believe that’s where the change needs to happen—out there. That person needs to stop being annoying and then I’ll be fine. But when we engage in the habit of irritation, we no longer offer our support and friendship to ourselves. Falling into irritation we abandon ourselves. Sending ourselves loving kindness is the way to transform our aversion, hatred, and anger. Accepting what is without fear or distrusting ourselves is the remedy for irritation. That sort of acceptance requires a base of goodwill, or kindness, and self-care. Appreciating others dislodges resentment and the urge towards cruelty is abandoned when we cultivate the desire to protect others.

On a spiritual path, sometimes, we have smooth and easy progress, then we hit some turbulence and the going gets a bit rougher. We may act in ways we know are not helpful, and even though we know better, we find ourselves doing it anyway. We may observe ourselves chewing on thoughts of dislike and revenge and end up disappointed in ourselves.

The good news is that we have immeasurable opportunities to begin again in mindful awareness. Beginning with being present for ourselves, we may want to comfort ourselves the way we would a friend, to tell ourselves, “I understand. It’s ok, I am here for you,” or use Thich Nhat Hanh’s mantras of, “Darling, I am here for you” and “I know you suffer.” We can promise to care for ourselves in our discomfort and recognize external irritation as a cry from the heart for our own help. Reminding ourselves that “this is how it is right now,” or “may I be at ease with the changing conditions,” or simply, “I care,” can give us confidence in our ability to meet all the conditions we encounter. Although the world keeps sending stormy weather, we have the potential to keep a calm, still place of shelter within us at all times. In the coming weeks, I am planning on carving out more time to fill up my treasure store of self-compassion, and when I have saturated my own heart with care, to be that understanding presence for another who may have no resources left in their heart.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

The way out is the way in