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

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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

 

 

 

Who Belongs?

Symbols-statue-of-liberty-sunrise.jpg

“We have a Statue of Liberty on the East Coast of the U.S. But in the name of freedom, people have done a lot of damage to our nation and to other people. I think we have to make a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast in order to attain balance. Liberty without responsibility is not true liberty. You are not free to destroy.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, from Calming the Fearful Mind: A Zen Response to Terrorism.

“What the miser fears,

that keeps him from giving,

is the very danger that comes

when he doesn’t give.”

~ The Buddha (SN 1.32) 

“In true love, you don’t discriminate anymore. Whatever a person’s color, religion, or political beliefs, you accept them all with no discrimination whatsoever. Inclusiveness here means nondiscrimination.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh, from Buddha Mind, Buddha Body.

Dear friends,

Happy almost Independence Day. In three days we celebrate the 242nd birthday of America with fireworks, cookouts, and family picnics. We celebrate freedom from England and the birth of this nation that is now one of the most powerful players on the world stage. Right now in America, there’s the big question of “who belongs?” It may make us uncomfortable when we reckon with the legacy of this country and see that the immigrants who colonized this country are the ones making the regulations about who truly is worthy to be an American.

Beginning with the European colonization, we know of the displacement and genocide of native peoples, the kidnapping, and trafficking of enslaved lives to build a society for the benefit of white European settlers who did not acknowledge the lives, worth, or rights of those that enabled them to create this rich, powerful nation. And if we are paying attention, we see the inheritance of non-inclusion in the way our legal system works, in the disparate number of black and brown bodies who are incarcerated, killed by police, subject to violence or shot in neighborhoods where there is little intervention or investment from municipalities. The unrest that the current administration has brought to light is not new, it’s simply more blatant and visible. The embargo against Muslim immigration and the recent imprisoning children of unsanctioned immigrants are acts of terrorism designed to create fear and deliver a message of unmistakable separation and superiority, without considering our responsibility towards other lives, especially those of children. These are some of the unbeautiful parts of my country.

Recently I heard of a radical de-colonization idea that would send all immigrants back to their original countries. It made me consider as a third generation immigrant where I would go, to Germany, Belarus, Austria, or Israel? Would anyone take me in? After three generations in this country, where is home if not here? Where do we belong and what gives us the right to belong and not others?

Thich Nhat Hanh writes about “the practice of inclusiveness, kshanti paramita, the practice of helping your heart grow larger and larger all the time” (Buddha Mind, Buddha Body). Helping our hearts to grow large enough to include all beings in our compassion and to help all beings see the responsibility they hold for their thoughts, speech, and actions. Freedom without responsibility can be destructive, as Thay tells us. Responsibility keeps freedom from becoming greedy and selfish, encouraging a country that values the few at the expense of the many.

For America’s birthday, I am considering the legacy of this country. America’s legacy is tied to my legacy. I am part of this country whether I agree with the policies or not. This fourth of July my celebration will come as an awareness of the larger place this country has in the world, the America before a wall was built around its borders. I will celebrate the America based on generosity and compassion, the refuge for the poor, the hungry, the tired and those who are exhausted from trying to find their way home.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Look

 

Loving and Accepting: Good Medicine for Blame

Lotus with honey bee

Lotus and honey bee. Photo by Celia

“When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look into the reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce.”

 ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

“Blame is simply the discharging of discomfort and pain. It has an inverse relationship with accountability. Blaming is a way that we discharge anger.”

Brenè Brown

                                 “I pay no attention whatever to anybody’s praise or blame.                  I simply follow my own feelings.”

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Dear Friends,

Are you a blamer, or do you know a blamer? For most of us being in the company of a blamer for extended periods of time leads to some difficult moments. I am a recovering blamer. Over a decade ago, I first tried a practice of having a blame-free day. I made it all the way to 10:00 am when a friend commented that a task I agreed to do was undone. Not only did I defend myself, but I got down off my metaphorical high horse and cut off someone else’s head with my sword of blame. It was intolerable to be perceived as unreliable and I had to let my friend know—it was not my fault. After the blaming massacre, I was shocked at how automatic my response was and how I was willing to malign another person to save myself.  But save me from what? What would happen if I simply forgot to do what I said? What would be so wrong with making a mistake? For blamers, and recovering blamers, being seen as wrong or less than perfect can be excruciating.

Blaming others is a powerful tool which absolves us of responsibility and shame and allows us to remain as an innocent victim of the situation. Our egoic self remains pure and intact; there’s no risk of looking bad or feeling inferior. Shame researcher Brenè Brown points out that blame does not lead to accountability. Blame hijacks the mind into a frenzy of evidence seeking and does not go any further. Blame cannot consider reasons, understanding, or empathy. Blame seeks only to condemn and punish. It is the opposite of healing.

Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and arguments. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change.” Blame is nothing new. Over 2,600 years ago the Buddha is reported to have listed the qualities that make a monk difficult to be with and the qualities that make a monk welcome in the community:

“he does not accuse one who has corrected him; he does not disparage one who has corrected him; he does not correct in turn one who has corrected him; he does not evade the criticism by asking another question; he does not change the subject…he succeeds in explaining his behavior when corrected; he is not jealous and greedy; he is not hypocritical and deceitful; he is not stubborn and arrogant; he is not worldly nor does he cling to things that belong to this world and he does not find it difficult to let go. These, my friends, are the qualities that make it easy to approach and talk to him” (Nhat Hanh, Trans. Anumana Sutta, MN 15). The first time I read this, I was surprised that monks would evade the question and blame the one who points out a fault, all lawyerly tactics, and apparently not new.

At the heart of blame is a frightened small self and the belief that seeing one’s imperfections is unacceptable. There is a fierce impulse beneath the blame to keep the egoic image free from stains and we are willing to sacrifice another to maintain our own purity. This type of egoic fury does not care about relationships, justice, or truth, all it seeks is its own survival and status. Buddhist nun, Sister Khema, describes the rationale behind blame in a 1994 dharma talk titled Meditating on No-Self, “Now the blame that is levied at us is not the problem. The problem is our reaction. The problem is that we feel smaller. The ego has a hard time reasserting itself. So, what we usually do is we blame back, making the other’s ego a bit smaller too…So we are constantly in a quandary, and in constant fear.” Blaming is a habit that took time to root in oneself. It also takes time to uproot.

When something goes wrong, we have an opportunity to ask a different question. Instead of “who did this?” We can shift and consider, “how am I with this?” What is happening in the body and the mind? Is there a visceral feeling of agitation and intolerance? Where is it in the body and what is its story? What would happen if we didn’t blame, but made a vow to love and accept ourselves no matter what—even if we made a mistake? At the root of blame is a very young desire to keep safe and accepted, the way every child needs to feel they are safe and loved. This old way of adaptive thinking still believes that is we are in the right and righteous, our place in the group is secure. But blaming does the opposite. It creates division and bad feelings within families and communities and blocks the transformation of our own fear and intolerance beneath the blame/shame response.

There’s always time to change behavior and the first step is always to notice what we are doing, to stop and consider what would happen to us if we made a mistake? Can we stand beside ourselves even if we are imperfect, forgetful, we drop things, get lost, are late, are human? We can move from blaming others to accepting the full range of our experience with kindness, curiosity, and the confidence that comes from loving and welcoming all of ourselves without discrimination

May we all trust our light,

Celia

This is a link to a story about the habit of blaming from Mindful Magazine by Dr. Brenè Brown.

https://www.mindful.org/two-lessons-on-blame-from-brene-brown/

Be Still and heal

 

Kindness and Gratitude go Together

Dancing Lady Orchid

Dancing Lady Orchid. Photo by Celia

“I tell you, monks, there are two people who are not easy to repay. Which two? Your mother & father.” ~ The Buddha, Kataññu Sutta

“These two people are hard to find in the world. Which two? The one who is first to do a kindness, and the one who is grateful and thankful for a kindness done.”

~ The Buddha, AN 2.118

“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.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear Friends,

Happy Father’s Day to all the father’s in our lives. Today we celebrate the contributions of our fathers, their remembered kindness, and thoughts of how our ancestors contributed to our creation. We are all in debt, that is the undeniable fact of living. We are indebted to our parents for having us and for their or others’ care in raising, feeding, and educating us. We are tribal creatures and our lives are enhanced by many other beings who contributed time, money, and attention to our lives.

The family we were born into may not be what we would have ordered if we had a choice. Perhaps we wanted more communication, better food, our own room, or more attention—or maybe we didn’t want what we got, too many siblings, or no siblings, harsh discipline and violence, or no discipline, and the belief that no one cared. Whatever our family contained, we are the people we became in response to our conditioning and we are indebted to those who did show us kindness along the way. Scholar monk, Thanissaro Bhikkhu writes about the parents who were not kind and what is expected from the children of abusive parents, “Not only are they abusive to their children, but …[t]hey may demand an unreasonable level of repayment, involving actions that are downright harmful for you, themselves, and others. And yet this doesn’t cancel the debt you owe them for the simple fact that they’ve enabled you to live.” This is tricky stuff. This type of indebtedness does not mean we condone abuse or subject ourselves to further abuse because of the debt of our birth. In the Kataññu Sutta, the Buddha advises those who have parents who are unbelieving, immoral, stingy, and foolish to develop their own wisdom and goodness. By doing so we give the gifts of conviction, virtue, generosity, and discernment to parents who lack these traits through our own purity of consciousness.

Perhaps the most consistent predictor of family harmony is the intention of kindness in thoughts, speech, and actions which are met with gratitude. The Buddha is reported to have said, “Now what is the level of a person of no integrity? A person of no integrity is ungrateful and unthankful. This ingratitude, this lack of thankfulness, is advocated by rude people. It is entirely on the level of people of no integrity. A person of integrity is grateful and thankful. This gratitude, this thankfulness, is advocated by civil people. It is entirely on the level of people of integrity” (AN 2.31-32).  As the Buddha points out, those who practice kindness and those who give thanks for kindness received are rare and worth celebrating. When we encounter someone, who has gone out of their way to be kind to us, whether they are a parent, friend, or a teacher we are able to give them a gift in return, our gratitude.

It’s much easier to be grateful to non-humans, to the earth, the sky, the flowers and animals that make our lives more wonderful. It is much harder to be grateful to people who are kind and then act like people and say something unkind and harsh. We all make mistakes and we all need reminders. One of the most helpful rubrics is the Buddhist Five Factors of Right Speech. This is a checklist that can help us stay with the intention of kindness and non-harming. It is very beneficial to ask ourselves these questions before speaking: “Do I speak at the right time, or not? Do I speak of facts, or not? Do I speak gently or harshly? Do I speak profitable words or not? Do I speak with a kindly heart, or inwardly malicious” AN V (From The Patimokkha, Ñanamoli Thera, trans.). When we can answer these questions with the open-hearted intention of kindness, that is a tremendous gift of gentleness and wisdom for our family and all those we come in contact with.

Today is a good day to take inventory of those who we are grateful for and make an offering towards them. It may be a verbal acknowledgment of their efforts or the gift of non-reactive speech, it may be cultivating our own faith, virtue, generosity, and wise judgment to share with our parents and with the world. Becoming our best selves, being an asset to the planet and bringing healing to the injustices and brokenness in the world, is one of the best repayments of indebtedness. It is this fullness of gratitude that receives, spills over, and keeps giving, receiving, and giving.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

 

Click on this link to celebrate Father’s Day with a Dad joining his daughter’s ballet rehearsal because she had stage fright. From Joanne Friday

Reverence-_G044_-11x17-vertical

 

Liberate Your Happiness

June Peonies

June Peonies. Photo by Celia

“Equanimity means to let go, not to abandon.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

 “Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better to take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.” ~ Carl Jung

“If I did not think this path and its fruition were possible for you, I would not ask it of you. Because I know the path of immeasurable freedom is possible for you, therefore I ask it of you.” ~ The Buddha

Dear Friends,

This week I spoke with a woman was going through a very difficult time with her young adult daughter. She said that her happiness was wholly dependent upon her daughter’s wellbeing. If her daughter was in crisis, her day was shattered. Realistically, we cannot expect that our children won’t have difficulties or real crises in their lifetimes. We all face the pain of being present with loved ones who suffer. If we do not have children, we have parents, partners, and assorted pets that all will suffer, get sick, and one day be separated from us, but as practitioners we have a secret weapon to keep us balanced and resilient in the midst of change, distress, and uncontrollable outcomes, it’s the practice of equanimity.

Equanimity is one of the Brahmavihāras, the highest abodes, or as meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg calls them, “our best homes.”  Equanimity is often translated as balance or a spacious stillness of the mind and heart. With practice, equanimity can help soften the heart that contracts in fear and pain. It can lead to peace in the midst of the world unfolding in the way it does, not in the way we would like. It can help us stop struggling against what is and in acceptance, enable us to take actions that are rooted in wise and loving intention. Equanimity is the raft that can save us from sinking in the turbulent water of stress and hopelessness.

Thich Nhat Hanh (1998) describes equanimity as “nonattachment, non-discrimination, even-mindedness, or letting go” (p. 174). Nonattachment means that the openhearted caring and compassion is not reserved for times of success, or when things are easy and free from struggle. Equanimity does not discriminate between the self and the other. It creates a base of stability from which we can include all beings, all emotions, and all moments into our conservation of care, leaving nothing out. Equanimity increases our capacity to tolerate what is difficult and painful without letting conditions we cannot control overwhelm us.

The world is made of innumerable changing situations and we may understand intellectually that very little is in our control, yet there is resistance and struggle when we encounter events and experiences that make us and others suffer. Witnessing those we love in distress can be excruciating when we believe we are responsible for their happiness and suffering. We may believe if we exert ourselves, or find that just right combination of ingredients, we have the power to make someone else change, to stop being depressed, to seek medical treatment, or to stop engaging in harmful acts. We are attached to the outcome, to the health and wellbeing of another. When we are enmeshed in the belief that we can only be happy when others are free from pain, we give away our power to create our own happiness and peace.

Letting go of control and not taking responsibility for the thoughts, and actions of others and not accepting the responsibility for the consequences of these thoughts and actions may seem cold and indifferent, especially for a parent who is supposed to be loving and continually sacrifice for their children. Sacrifice that comes from a spacious calm heart contains the intention of love, but grasping onto fixing and changing another is rooted in fear and aversion. It is running from what is so painful to tolerate. True equanimity leads with the heart, includes the self and the other without discriminating between the two.

Resignation and the coldness of not caring are shallow stand-ins for real equanimity. Indifference or numbing to pain is the near enemy of equanimity, while the far enemy is clinging and attachment. Equanimity gives space and a wide perspective. It understands impermanence and that nothing stays the same. Equanimity knows the nature of suffering and that no one is immune. I describe equanimity as loving and allowing. We stay with the intention of care and love, but we open to the way things are and the uncontrollable reality of living in a vulnerable human body.

Equanimity gives us balance and evenness when we encounter the loka dhamma, The Eight Worldly Winds, or The Vicissitudes. These are four pairs of conditions we meet repeatedly during our lifetime: pleasure and pain, gain and loss, fame and disrepute, praise and blame. When we can let go of attachment to wanting only the pleasure, gain, fame, and praise and learn to stay still when we encounter the unwanted pain, loss, disrepute, and blame, we liberate our happiness from dependence upon the wildly fluctuating conditions of the world.

Practicing equanimity creates boundaries. We understand that our jurisdiction does not extend to others, no matter how much we want it too. We remain present, loving, and open hearted, but we are not bound to the success or failure, the health, and happiness of another. To practice equanimity meditation we come into stillness and find the place of wholeness and limitless capacity that resides in us all. From the ground of mindful, loving presence we envision our loved one who suffers. Holding both ourselves and the other with tenderness, we may repeat the traditional equanimity phrase from Sharon Salzburg’s (1995) book, Loving Kindness: The Revolution Art of Happiness: “All beings are the owners of their kamma. There happiness and unhappiness depend upon their actions, not upon my wishes for them” (p. 152). More modern phrases include “May we all accept things as they are. May we be undisturbed by the comings and goings of events. I will care for you, but I cannot keep you from suffering. I wish you happiness, but cannot make your choices for you” (Salzberg, p. 152). And an insightful phrase from Buddhist monk, Ajahn Sumedho is, “Right now, it’s like this for me” (or for you).

Meditation teacher Christina Feldman (2017) offers some beautiful equanimity phrases in her book, Boundless Heart: The Buddhist Path of Kindness, Compassion, Joy, and Equanimity. “May I embrace change with stillness and calm. May I deeply accept this moment as it is. May my home be a balance of wisdom and spaciousness” (Feldman, p. 117). “You are the parent of the choices you make and their outcomes and I cannot make those choices for you. May I rest in care and stillness in the midst of sorrow” (Feldman, p. 126-127).

Spirit Rock founder Jack Kornfield offers, “May I be balanced. May I be at peace. May I learn to see the arising and passing of all things with equanimity and balance. May I be open and balanced and peaceful.” An 18th Century Singhalese blessing translated by Buddhist scholar John Peacock guides readers to a place of understanding of what is ours and what is not:

“Life is but a play of joy and sorrow

May I remain unshaken by life’s rise and fall

I care for you deeply

But you are the parent of your acts and their fruit

And sadly I cannot protect you from distress” ( Feldman, p.125).

You may consider spending the week with one phrase that resonates with you or create your own equanimity phrase.

Remaining equanimous, rooted in kindness and the intention to relieve suffering while another is in pain, is an advanced practice. Make no mistake, this is the heavy lifting we train for. Making our home in equanimity we can learn to unclench our expectations and release ourselves from the imprisonment of suffering, theirs and ours. Cultivating equanimity is the way to stay present with the one who is suffering without becoming overwhelmed and turning away. This is what stretches our capacity and gives us the solidity of a mountain to meet all of our joy and all of our sorrow with an easy heart.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Click on this link for an update on Thay’s health from Sister Chan Khong’s interview in Lion’s Roar. He’s Getting Stronger Every Day.

 

Breathe TNH

Resources:

Feldman, C. (2017). Boundless heart: The buddhist path of kindness, compassion, joy, and

equanimity. Boulder, CO: Shambala.

Hanh, T. N. (1998). The heart of the buddha’s teachings: Transforming suffering into peace, joy,

and liberation. New York, NY: Broadway.

Salzberg, S. (1995). Loving kindness: The revolutionary art of happiness. Boston: Shambala.