This Precious Human Life

Painting on the bluffs

Painting on Mohegan Bluffs, Block Island, RI. Photo by Barbara Richardson

 

“Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. They are within us and all around us, everywhere, anytime.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace.

“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”

~H.H. The XIV Dalai Lama

“Each one of us is sovereign over the territory of our own being and the five elements we are made of. These elements are form (body), feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness. Our practice is to look deeply into these five elements and discover the true nature of our being—the true nature of our suffering, our happiness, our peace, our fearlessness.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh

 

Dear Friends,

The first time I heard the phrase, “this precious human life,” I wondered what was so precious about it?  There are 7.6 billion humans on this planet, being born, dying, suffering, and enjoying. Being born a human didn’t seem an extraordinary accomplishment or any type of accomplishment. Looking around, I saw some dogs that were living very enviable lives and being a moth or a butterfly seemed like an alright existence, beautiful albeit fleeting. What made being human a distinction?

The Buddha told his monks, if the world was covered in water and there was a wooden yoke that floated untethered around the globe, the chances of a blind turtle living at the bottom of the sea who surfaces once every hundred years placing his head through that wooden yoke—those are the same odds of being born as a human. Slim indeed. The Buddha goes on to say, the chances of human birth are slight, but the chances of being born into a time where there is a fully realized Buddha who has given you teachings and the opportunity for enlightenment, those odds are even smaller.

This lifetime is the only one we have at this moment. We are given the gifts of a human body to experience this world in all its pleasure and pain. This body and this life are our unique classroom for learning our life’s lessons that bring us closer to wisdom. From an evolutionary standpoint, we as humans are the highest, most evolved creatures on the planet (unless the stories about aliens are true). Modern humans are classified as homo sapiens. The words sapiens means wise or knowing. We are the people with wisdom or at least the capacity for wisdom. We are the only species that can become enlightened and extinguish the fires of greed, anger, and delusion. We are endowed with a brain and thought system that unravels genetic codes, DNA sequences, and is investigating the nature of life and the micro precision of creation. With all this mind power and potential, we as a species become responsible. We are not the overlords of the earth, that can deplete it and discard it. We can see the effects of our interventions on our earth and see that we are dependent upon the health of our environment for all life to continue. Our actions and attitudes matter.

Homo sapiens are the privileged ones whose actions can affect not only our own species but all other species on this planet. We have power as human beings. We have autonomy and the choice about what we do, unlike animals who react with innate species-specific responses. We are free to make our lives and our own choices. As Thây reminds us, we are sovereign over our bodies, our thought, speech, and actions. We are uniquely fortunate to be in the position to have a human life—and to make good use of this precious opportunity, for our benefit and for the welfare of all who inhabit this home.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Dont ignore suffering

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Take my Advice

beach stones

Beach stones, photo by Barabra Richardson

 

“Avoid giving advice, even if it asked for.

In general, it is helpful to always use the word “I” instead of the word “you”. Speaking from our own experience eliminates the opportunity to give advice. If someone asks for advice and a practice that we have worked with comes to mind it is fine to share our experience rather than telling someone what she or he should do.”

~Order of Interbeing website. Dharma sharing guidelines.

“Advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill.”

~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

“If you listen too much to advice, you may wind up making other people’s mistakes.”

~CROFT M. PENTZ, 1001 Things Your Mother Told You

“Good advice offering requires knowing a person very, very well. So well, in fact, that you may know more about them than they know about themselves in certain situations. Then, good advice is loving and given out of love. It is never to control or manipulate. Then, it is giving information; just giving, not enforcing, information. And lastly and most importantly, after advice is given, the outcome is let go of completely, trusting that the other person will take it, leave it, or ponder it.”

~ANNE WILSON SCHAEF, Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much

 

Dear Friends,

I hope you are well, happy, and finding some ease today. One habit that’s been on my mind is the desire to advise. The first time I noticed this, I was in a dharma sharing group at Blue Cliff monastery and one of the guidelines was “avoid giving advice.” We were to practice deep listening, listening with the express intention of hearing what it was like to be the other person. This guideline was not only included in the dharma sharing circle but in the sangha in general. No advice.

I was dismayed to find that I had a strong habit of giving advice. I had never noticed how quick I was to offer helpful suggestions, to give names, websites, “try this. It worked for me.” I also saw that I came from a lineage of advice givers.

Once I stopped feeling ashamed of my unmindful habit, I took a deep look. I was uncomfortable with the unhappiness and suffering I saw in the other person. I wanted them to feel better, to be better, to be happy and healed—fast. And I noticed conversely, how spending time with someone who repeatedly said, “you should really….” Left me feeling small and diminished after the visit. In her advice I heard, you’re doing it all wrong. You clearly do not have the skills to meet these challenges and you aren’t trusted. It felt a lot better to give unsolicited advice than receive it.

I often think, if wisdom traveled by ear, my kids wouldn’t have to go through what I did to learn. But the truth of life is that we don’t always learn from words. We need the mud to grow the lotus. We need to find our own way out. When we rush to advice—especially unsolicited advice, we stop looking at our own situation and apply our remodeling powers towards someone else. It is always easier to fix someone else’s life than our own. If only they would do this, or follow this diet, or stop that, then they’d be all set.

When we give advice, we reduce our capacity to be with suffering, our own and the other person’s. The practice of equanimity is the recognition that all beings suffer, despite my wishes for them. They are heirs of their karma and their happiness and suffering are made from their life choices. I cannot shift that no matter how hard I try to steer. And, they often do not follow our gems of advice. Almost four hundred years ago, the French physicist, philosopher, inventor, and mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote, “People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.” To truly allow others their own journey, we must offer them space and time. Their wisdom and insights come from their lives and our task is to listen, to try and understand their struggles, and to love them, just as they are.

When we practice looking at our own desire to control, to fix, and manage. We can ask, “what’s keeping me from accepting what is? What’s bothering me about the suffering?” For most of us, what we can’t bear to see in others is the same stuff we can’t tolerate in ourselves. When we see something that calls for fixing, this is an invitation to become curious. We can look at that confusion, weakness, indecision, or failings in ourselves and ask, what does this feel like for me? Generally, there’s some shame beneath the behavior that fuels the rush to remove what we see as wrong. Never underestimate the power of shame.

This is not to say we lose our common sense and stop helping, or let people endanger their safety. If I go into my parents’ home and the gas burner is blazing away with nothing cooking. I don’t think, “Oh this decision is not what I’d choose. It may be a problem, but it’s their karma.” No, I turn the stove off and tell them what I saw to make them more aware of what’s happening. We do what is needed in the real world to keep people safe. I am speaking about being present with other’s choices that bring confusion, pain, or unwanted consequences.

Offering our own experience is different from unsolicited advice. We can share our struggles without attachment to outcome and without the intention of control and the energy of dissatisfaction found in advice. I often say, “advice is like manure. If I ask for it in my garden, it’s a wonderful gift that makes the flowers and vegetables grow. If I don’t, it’s a pile of poop in my living room.” Not a dainty simile, but I think it gets the point across.

Please use your social interactions with family and colleagues to pay attention to what comes up for you. What is it that you can’t tolerate in others and yourself? The old expression is so true, “you spot it, you got it.” What a different world it would be if we all paid attention to “what we got”—and let others do the same—and I need to follow my own advice.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Be there for eachother

Resting in your smile

Islay horse

Islay horse, Scotland. Photo by Barbara Richardson

 

“The practice of mindfulness should not be tiring but rather, it should be energizing. But when we recognize that we are tired, we should find every means possible to rest.”

~Plum Village Website

“Scientists are coming to recognize the effects of the mind on physical health. The sense of relaxation associated with inner peace involves not only being physically at ease. If you are nagged by worry or seething with anger, you’re not really relaxed. The key to relaxation is peace of mind. The relaxation gained from alcohol, drugs or just listening to music may seem attractive, but it doesn’t last.”

– His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Resting is a very important practice; we have to learn the art of resting. Resting is the first part of Buddhist meditation. You should allow your body and your mind to rest. Our mind, as well as our body, needs to rest.

~Thich Nhat Hanh

“When you begin to see life from the point of view that everything is spontaneously arising and that things aren’t coming at you or trying to attack you,’ in any given moment, you will likely experience more space and more room to relax into.

Your stomach, which is in a knot, can just relax. The back of your neck, which is all tensed up, can just relax. Your mind, which is spinning and spinning like one of those little bears that you wind-up, so it walks across the floor, can just relax.”

~Pema Chodron

 

Dear Friends,

There is a beautiful word—relax. It promises the feeling of ease and release. Another equally valuable word is rest. We know that the opposite of relaxation and rest is tension and exhaustion. These conditions bring on stress, but Americans as a group resist resting, both physically and mentally. We have a disease of busyness. Thich Nhat Hanh (1998) writes that “There is in us what we call the energy of restlessness. We cannot be at peace with ourselves. We cannot be peaceful. We cannot sit; we cannot lie down. There is some energy in us to do this, to do that, to think of this, to think of that, and that kind of restlessness makes us unhappy. That is why it is so important for us to learn first of all to allow our body to rest” (Lions Roar, Resting in the River). We cannot keep running and expect to be calm, centered, and at ease. The amount of hurry and restlessness in the mind is also held in the body. The body and mind are interconnected and inform each other.

If our bodies are tight and constricted, the brain receives a message that it is in danger. This activates our efficient and lightning fast protection system and we fire up the cortisol and the adrenalin. This cascade of stress hormones and neurotransmitters tells the body that the situation is really unsafe. The body reacts by further tightening and we are caught in a stress feedback loop. These types of interdependent reactions can lead to long-term anxiety, adrenal fatigue, depression, and despair.

The body needs rest to repair and prepare. The mind needs rest to have the emotional and intellectual capacity to be present and available, but something so basic and essential as rest takes low priority in our online, constantly connected lives. In a commentary on the Sutra of the Full Awareness of Breathing, Thich Nhat Hanh (2008) observes, “Human beings have lost confidence in their body. We don’t know how to rest. Mindful breathing helps us to relearn the art of resting. Mindful breathing is like a loving mother holding her sick baby in her arms saying, “Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of you, just rest” (p. 56, Breathe, you are alive!). Our bodies desperately want us to listen. They speak to us constantly, but often we are too involved in our projects or we are unwilling to listen. When we practice stopping and listening to the body, the body responds. The body can relax when it knows it is cared for.

This ability to stop, to rest, and relax is critical to our ability to be peaceful. On retreat a few years ago a young person asked Thây how do you create a calm mind. Thây answered that he relaxed his body. Something so simple can have profound results. When we attend kindly to the amount of tension or ease in the body, we develop the muscle of relaxation and calm. The body needs to know it’s considered and the mind needs to stop, attend, and embrace any difficulty in the body.

Here’s a link to Sister Jewel leading a 45-minute total relaxation. If you have time, lie down, close your eyes and take a vacation from doing. Let yourself listen to what the body is asking for, send the body love and compassion and let it know that it is safe. When the body receives the message that the world is safe, the body softens and can rest and heal. Scientists have found that something so seemingly insignificant as a smile, triggers inhibitory neurotransmitters and increases our wellbeing. Smiling actually makes us happier and deactivates our bodies defense system. We all have time to smile, even if we can’t stop doing. Try some mindful smiling this week and see how it makes you feel. Maybe someone will smile back and then two people will be smiling. 

 

May we all trust our light,

Celia

 

Peace begins with your lovely smile

Training the Grateful Heart

Isley, sunset

Isley, Scotland, Sunset. photo by Barbara Richardson

 

“It’s a funny thing about life, once you begin to take note of the things you are grateful for, you begin to lose sight of the things that you lack.”

~ Germany Kent

Waking up this morning I smile

knowing there are 24 brand new hours before me.

I vow to live fully in each moment,

and look at beings with eyes of compassion.

~ Thich Nhat Hanh, Morning Gatha

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”

~ A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

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

~ Meister Eckhart

Years ago, I was relieved to read that humans have a biological inclination towards pessimism. That meant I wasn’t the only one. The perpetually cheerful people I knew were like a different species, not of my tribe. How did they wake up smiling each day and just be so dang cheerful all the time? Why couldn’t they take a vacation from enthusiasm and be depressed and negative for a few days? Not everything is so great. I wouldn’t miss an opportunity to put a pin in their bubble of happiness because it was so annoying.

I have learned much about gratitude and happiness. For most of us, it isn’t a natural trait. It’s a state we work to create. That’s right, we work on gratitude. Cultivate is another way to say we train, we prepare, we pay attention to, we expend effort to bring gratitude into our lives. For most of us, due to our heritage, our conditioning, our exposure to the media, and the innate propensity to track what can harm us, we focus on what’s wrong.

When we watch elite athletes, artists, or musicians, we get the idea that they are gifted. They came out of the womb super talented. What we don’t always see is the years of training and cultivation that is beneath what looks effortless. It is the same with any skill. Gratitude is a skill we can develop and not just for Thanksgiving. Gratitude is a shift in awareness. It is letting go of the deadly habits of judgment, comparing, and holding on. Gratitude opens us up to noticing what is alive in us and around us. What is going right for you today?

A few years ago, I was speaking to dharma teacher, Joanne Friday. She remarked that she was always amazed how smoothly the traffic ran, even with tie-ups and delays. She focused on all the millions of journeys that happened without accident, delay, or problems. How many people navigate roadways safely every day? We all tend to focus on the frustrating, the obstacles and getting rid of what’s in our way.

There’s a beautiful reminder of what we are given from Benedictine monk, Brother David Seindl-Rast. It’s a five-and-a-half-minute video on gratefulness, well worth the time. When we spend time bringing our attention to what is good in our lives, we change our minds. In Buddharakkhita’s translation of The Dhammapada, the second stanza reads, “Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow.” Several thousands of years later, we have fMRI’s that show us where we spend our time, creates neural connectivity. The brain is amazingly plastic, and we can actively create connection and synchronicity in our thinking. If we spend our time thinking about all that is wrong, all that we don’t have, we feel resentful and poor. When we spend our time appreciating what we do possess, we are suddenly rich and blessed.  This shows us that our happiness and contentment is a choice. Making this choice part of our lives requires diligence and attention. We can shift from a life of lack to one of abundance if we commit to this training.

Luckily, increasing gratitude activates the reward network in our brain. This leads to increased neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, and the generation of oxytocin, the hormone that signifies the presence of love. We feel an increased experience of well-being or happiness. Gratitude actually makes us feel better. We can think of this gratitude practice as an outward and inward gift. Sharing our appreciations and gratitude brings happiness to others and shifts our own neural path towards happiness. As we head into Thanksgiving here is the US, I send my gratitude for all of you for your kindness and practice, for your wise and compassionate hearts. Please know how wonderful it is to be in this world with you.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Every moment is a gift of life

 

Add Some Play to Your Day

Blue cliff nuns

Nuns at Play, BlueCliff Monastery

 

 “We are never more fully alive, more completely ourselves, or more deeply engrossed in anything than when we are playing.” ~ Charles Schaefer

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

~ George Bernard Shaw

“We can live without religion and meditation, but we cannot survive without human affection.”

~ Dalai Lama

“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination.” ~ Albert Einstein

If you’ve ever visited a monastery in the tradition of Plum Village, you will see something that is unusual in monastic life, monks and nuns playing. Monastics play soccer with kids, score goals, run in circles. They play volleyball with each other and retreatants. They sing songs with hand gestures, laugh together, and make paper art. They do some serious playing. This is anathema to many religious traditions, especially for renunciants, but Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that play is central to our spiritual growth.

Thây gave a dharma talk to the monastics about balancing our spiritual lives to include, study, practice, work and play. Brother Phap Hai, in his 2015 book, nothing to it: ten ways to be at home with yourself, details these four aspects that help us to grow in happiness and wisdom. To deepen our understanding we read the dharma and listen to teachings, we train in meditation with our mind and bodies, we work to embody the bodhisattva ideal of ending suffering on earth and give our time to others, and we take time to do things that bring us joy. Allowing ourselves to play is what rejuvenates us. Play reminds of our capacity for joy and nurtures our reserves needed to study, practice, and give of ourselves. While it may seem undignified, or unbecoming to the status of a spiritual seeker, we need play to keep us from becoming strict and proud, from setting ourselves above others or losing our happiness and delight in living.

Brother Phap Hai tells us that, “The practice of play is really the practice of being at ease” (p.25).  He reminds us that “we need to bring the elements of ease, relaxation, and joy into our lives of spiritual practice” (p.28). If we are joyless in our practice, doing things because we should, we become tight and burdened by our practice. The Buddha said repeatedly, he taught only about suffering and the end of suffering. If our spiritual life creates more suffering, stress, and tension for us, we need to examine our practice. How are we balancing the four elements of spirituality in our lives? And how can we look at this next phase of our lives in the holiday season with the element of play? How do we play together with our families, our co-workers, and our friends?

As we head into the last few months of the year there is so much to do. For American’s we begin with Thanksgiving and progress into a frenzy of consumption with holiday gift giving and the countdown to the New year. For many, this season can feel like obligation and pressure. I want to stop and explore what is beneath all this preparation, all this shopping, feasting, and feting. It’s time to wake up to the constant impermanence in this changing world and be curious about who is sharing our lives and our table.

What if creating the holidays was not work, but play? When we give up the idea of perfection, we can add the element of play. If we grimly endure life’s events, this time of year can feel like one long obligation, a prison of unwanted traditions. When we look with the eyes of a child, we can ask, how can I enjoy this day? How can I enjoy these people, whom I may not see again in my lifetime?  We shift from obligation to opportunity.

Any occasion is an opportunity to share our lives and to create happiness. I remember a story by Lama Surya Das of the Dalai Lama’s visit to Yale University. “That evening, the formal hosts’ pedagogues all went to get him. After knocking on the Nobel Laureates door, they were greeted by a man in maroon lama robes wearing a Groucho Marx mask: eyeglasses, nose, and mustache. It was His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet himself, having a bit of fun. A jolly lama, indeed. This is a true story.” If the Dalai Lama can wear a plastic nose and furry acrylic eyebrows, what could you do to add some playtime to your life and to the lives of those we love? Let’s imagine ways our practice can include friendship, happiness, and delight. Let’s play at that.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Burrito meditation

Burrito Meditation, Courtesy of Chipotle

 

 

Staying Small

Islay, Scotland beach

Isley, Scotland. Photo by Barbara Richardson

“When we have a toothache, we know that not having a toothache is happiness. But later, when we don’t have a toothache, we don’t treasure our non-toothache. Practicing mindfulness helps us learn to appreciate the well-being that is already there.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ~Thornton Wilder

The struggle ends when the gratitude begins. ~Neale Donald Walsch

Dear Friends,

This past week, a tropical storm blew through the North East and left many of us without electricity. We are used to what we are used to and any type of change can feel threatening and unsettling. My road was without power for four days and when it was restored, there was a surge that blew out our modem and then, no internet or phone service. Neighbors expressed discomfort and aversion. What I observed in my own thoughts during this time, was the habit to move towards comfort and how quickly irritation, frustration, and uncertainty crept in—even with this relatively small shift. My house had a generator for heat, water, and fridge and I was still out of sorts. I thought of the people in Puerto Rico who are living without power and will be for months. I know many of them have nothing left. The hurricane brought a river of toxic mud that turned everything it touched into garbage. What was fascinating, was that when I became curious about my mind state, I could observe this phenomenon of clinging to what I think of as “normal,” when in fact, it’s not the norm. It’s the condition of well-being that we take for granted.

Thich Nhat Hanh talks about this phenomenon in the joy of a non-tooth ache. We all know the pain of a toothache or can imagine how debilitating that is. If we have a toothache, then it’s gone, we are full of gratitude and joy, but we don’t wake up a week later still overjoyed. The happiness from a non-toothache fades quickly. The same happiness at having lights that work, water from a tap and being able to look at our email from home fades after a day or two and all these wonderful conditions we live with become the way life is supposed to be. We are entitled to electricity and all that comes with it.

We do this when we are sick. There’s a first glorious moment when we breathe through an un-stuffy nose, but we don’t think—I am so glad I am not clogged up every night after we are well. We look for the newest problem and let the small non-problems slide by. We look for the big dramatic things to feel thankful for and miss out on what is happening all the time in us and around us.

I try to practice staying small. This is a way to recognize the often-overlooked reasons for happiness. I start with the body and what’s happening in this small space I inhabit. Does anything feel good today? Any areas that are healthy and well?  I’m not on an intravenous drip or a ventilator, so I am off to a good start. I consider if I have enough food. Seldom is there any lack and that’s easily remedied by a trip to Stop n Shop. Not so, for many in the world. What else is going well? What am I doing and why? If I am writing, is it a chore or a pleasure? When I reflect, it is a privilege to share my thoughts with others, so that’s a good thing too. This doesn’t mean that I paint a rainbow on a terrible time, but being aware of what is working, and all the times there are no traffic jams, that really helps ease the fear of discomfort when it arises. Even in the power outage, I could use the Internet at the library, or go eat at a restaurant. That is also a privilege.

This week, perhaps, take some time to stay small and reflect on the areas of goodness and wellbeing right here, right now. The cup of tea in your hand, or the presence of a beloved pet, the ability to read and comprehend, all the small things we forget are gifts when we’re busy thinking about the obstacles to getting what we want. There’s goodness right here waiting for us to discover it.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Wilting flowers

Imagine you, but Better

Dumfries Scotland, tuba players

Tuba players. Dumfries, Scotland. Photo by Barbara Richardson

“We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize.”  ~Thich Nhat Hanh

“You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.” ~Pema Chödrön

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.”

~William Blake

“Reality can be beaten with enough imagination.”

 ~Mark Twain

 

Dear Friends,

I remember back when I was in junior high. It was in seventh grade when I saw a ninth-grade boy in his Converse high-top sneakers and army jacket, maybe he even had razor stubble and I thought to myself, how will I ever be that old? And then I had the thought that maybe one day I’d drive a car, but no, that was inconceivable. Perhaps that’s why I waited until I was in college before I tried it.

There’s an element of imagination and visualization in all change and transformation. We can’t imagine ourselves as babies, dependent and helpless, but we all came through that stage of life. In Buddhism, we spend time thinking about change and especially about transformation. This is essential for all human beings who want to live and die with grace and peace. If we don’t recognize and accept our ceaselessly changing bodies and life situations, we create suffering for ourselves and others. We see this is our elders who are taken by surprise, or angered by the effects of aging and react with fear and disbelief when they realize the experience of death also applies to them individually. Whatever you call it, resistance, unwillingness, or just inability to perceive these shifts, that lack of imagination can get us stuck.

The Buddha told Venerable Ananda in the Uppaddha Sutta, that good spiritual friends are the whole of the path. These are the people in our lives who show us what the qualities of kindness, generosity, and compassion look like so we can imagine and enact them. Acknowledging an example of wisdom, restraint, or generosity is a way to shift these qualities from lofty aspirations to everyday events. This is demonstrated by the Dhammapada verse, “Mind is the forerunner of (all good) states. Mind is chief; mind-made are they. If one speaks or acts with a pure mind, because of that, happiness follows one, even as one’s shadow that never leaves” (Narada Thera, trans., 1993, p. 5). This means that what I think and believe about myself, the quality of character I inhabit does make a difference to my own happiness and to the happiness of others. The willingness to see ourselves as capable and deeply connected to the strength of our ancestral stream can give us solidity and inspire us to become what we value.

Imagining ourselves living in accordance with our highest principles does not mean we will become narcissists, believing we are perfect faultless beings.  Wondering if we are becoming vain and full of spiritual pride is a great indicator that we have some self-reference and aren’t floating in the superiority conceit. Believing and visualizing our goodness can offer us connection and release us from the egoic desire to be better than and actually save us from the no-win struggle of less than, greater than, or equal to. If I believe I possess goodness, I don’t need to convince the world and be combative. I will be able to see how to live beautifully, with courage, humility, and compassion for all beings. I invite you to imagine what your life would look like if you arrived at your own goodness, no need to strive. It’s already in you.

What would your day look like today if you saw yourself as complete? How would your life be different if you were free from judgment and worry? Can you imagine your pure mind where happiness follows you like a faithful shadow? This week I invite you to spend some time getting to know the body/mind/heart of your highest self. See what happens when you wake up and recognize your true nature, your own capacity for holiness.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

 

People have a hard time letting go

Who’s to Blame?

Winton Hill Farm, Scotland

Winton Hill Farm, Scotland. Photo by Barbara Richardson

 

“When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. 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.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

“We habitually erect a barrier called blame that keeps us from communicating genuinely with others, and we fortify it with our concepts of who’s right and who’s wrong. We do that with the people who are closest to us and we do it with political systems, with all kinds of things that we don’t like about our associates or our society.

It is a very common, ancient, well-perfected device for trying to feel better. Blame others…. Blaming is a way to protect your heart, trying to protect what is soft and open and tender in yourself. Rather than own that pain, we scramble to find some comfortable ground.”

~Pema Chödrön

“They blame those who remain silent, they blame those who speak much, they blame those who speak in moderation. There is none in the world who is not blamed.”

~Gotama Buddha, from the Dhammapada, verse 227.

 

Dear Friends,

It’s another breathtakingly beautiful day in New England with blue skies and mild weather. While natural disasters and human-engineered disasters are affecting much of the country and the world, those living in the Northeast can escape some extreme weather and suffering, but there is always the internal landscape of habitual suffering to work with. That is our weather pattern we carry with us. We all have conditioned habits and triggers that bring us into reactive habits of mind. One habit that is particularly deadly is the habit of blame. In many households or workplaces, when something is unpleasant, broken, or perceived as wrong, the first question is always, “Who did this?” There is an immediate vigilante hunt for the perpetrator and an assignment of blame.    

Blaming cuts off compassion, compassion for self and for others. Blaming also leads to battles. There is a difference between responsibility and blame. Not blaming does not mean we allow harm and cruelty to happen. We have a responsibility to act with compassion for ourselves and all beings. We also have the ability to utilize loving speech. Blame is never spoken with love, gentleness, or kindness. Blaming always seeks to punish and separates us from them. We can be innocent, blameless, and just, while they are bad, thoughtless, or just mistaken. Blaming does not help the one who assigns blame or the one who is blamed. Blaming is a sure way to increase defensiveness, shame and create an unsafe environment. If there is blame in a relationship, there is always anger. If there is blame as work, there is resistance and fear.

The Buddha said over 2,500 years ago that we are all subject to blame. There will always be praise and blame because blame is a basic defensive response to threat. If we are guiltless, we are safe. Blame protects us on an elementary survival level. Blame is like any other mental formation. The first step in releasing ourselves and others from the damage of blame is to notice. When we are blamed, we can notice, how does it feel?

 In my experience, being blamed is intensely painful, both physically and mentally. We can begin to shift our painful feelings, by trying to stay with the response to blame as sensation, to look with curiosity at the energy in our skin, the tightness in the body, perhaps the rush of adrenaline. We can pull ourselves back from our ingrained habitual response of defending, freezing, or collapsing. Do we try to appease, or lash out and blame someone else? Conversely, we can notice if we tend to blame others. Do we look for the people who caused whatever political upheaval that is happening now and separate ourselves out with hatred and condemnation? Do we spend time finding fault with others who we believe complicate our lives? What is our blame strategy? Perhaps we save all the blame for ourselves?

When we remember the Buddha’s teaching of the Five Keys for Right Speech, “It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will.” We will know how to speak to ourselves and to others, with open hearts, humility, and kindness, free from blame.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Words-can-travel

Dumfries Scotland, hills

Dumfries Hills, Scotland ~Photo by Barbara Richardson

“’Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain. Breathing out, I feel solid.’ Solid as a mountain, that is our practice. You learn to be solid in your sitting position and then you will learn to be solid in your way of walking. You will be solid in your way of driving. You will be a solid driver. When you cook your dinner, you can practice your solidity, also.”  ~Thich Nhat Hanh

 “Don’t hate the circumstance, you may miss the blessing.” ~Marshall B. Rosenberg

“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you- A  joy.” ~Rumi

“Classifying and judging people promotes violence.” ~ Marshall B. Rosenberg

 

Dear Friends,

Autumn is happening. It’s so human to assign a separation to the cycles of the year when really, there is no beginning of Autumn. Autumn would begin with the birth of the trees and the first rotation of the planet. When we look at what we think of as Autumn, falling leaves, cooler temperatures, shorter days, we see the origins in the inevitability of creation. Truly there is no start and end date, only constant transformation. In the words of the French scientist Lavoisier, “nothing is born and nothing dies.”

We want to separate and make solid. This can give us the feeling of ground beneath our feet in this fluctuating world. One aspect of this that came up for me this week was control. I am working on a group project and found myself wrestling with the demons of wanting to control the finished product. There’s a rigidity and a correctness when we want to control. There is a lack of trust and release. Holding onto control when the events and situation are beyond our jurisdiction is incredibly painful, so why do we do it?

As far as I can tell, it is part of our primitive biological adaptation. In the primitive mind, there are only two states, safe and not safe. When our senses tell us, there is anything remotely painful or concerning, we have a strong reaction and resist. We believe that we can protect ourselves from annihilation since that’s what unsafe means. For me this week, unsafe means compromising on a written report, certainly not a life-threatening event, but my mind doesn’t see it that way. When we get sucked into the vortex of wanting to control, we forget that we do have a choice. A dear friend of mine told me years ago, “It’s my habit to be a victim. I forget that I always have a choice, even if it is to do nothing. That’s still a choice.” I need to remember that.

When I recognize that I have a choice and see the reasons for engaging in the activity I am in, it releases me from victimhood. I have agency. I can always say no. I can always choose to do something else, or recognize my desires and needs beneath the task that seems to be thrust upon me. The creator of Non-Violent Communication, Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D. writes, “As you explore the statement, ‘I choose to . . . because I want…,’  you may discover the important values behind the choices you’ve made. I am convinced that after we gain clarity regarding the need being served by our actions, we can experience those actions as play even when they involve hard work, challenge, or frustration.” When we remember our sovereignty over ourselves, we recognize that we are not powerless children and despite all the vastly changing conditions and uncertainty, I do have a choice about the quality of my mind. If I can release the grip of what is outside my control and come back to choosing to be peace, choosing to be aware of the tension and relaxation in my body, and this breath. In that moment I become a free person.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Living Mindfully Living Peacefully

Nourishing our Hearts, Bodies, and Mind

Isley draft horse

Draft Horse, Islay Scotland. Photo by Barbara Richardson

 

“We have to look deeply to see how we grow our food, so we can eat in ways that preserve our collective well-being, minimize our suffering and the suffering of other species, and allow the earth to continue to be a source of life for all of us. If, while we eat, we destroy living beings or the environment, we are eating the flesh of our own sons and daughters. We need to look deeply together and discuss how to eat, what to eat, and what to resist.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching

 

“Then he said, ‘Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.’”

~Luke 12:15

“the purpose of a rose is to be a rose. Your purpose is to be yourself. You don’t have to run anywhere to become someone else. You are wonderful just as you are.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching

 

“The world has enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not for every man’s greed”

~Mahatma Gandhi

 

 

Dear Friends,

This week we are looking at the fifth mindfulness training. The five trainings are the Buddhist vision of a global ethic. The original five precepts were guideline the Buddha gave lay followers over 2,500 years ago. These guides are protections that create conditions for a happy life.

Nourishment and Healing

 

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the earth.

The fifth training invites us to consider our relationship with our consumption and the desires that fuel it. There is a tendency to keep very busy to ward off unwanted feelings that creep in when there is quiet, or we are left alone with ourselves. We may exercise, shop, eat, watch TV, organize, work, engage in a myriad of activities that fill our days and lives and keep our sadness, loss or loneliness away. Many people use food to take themselves out of this moment. Food can alter moods and is a great distraction, but it is also a problem when we eat because we want this moment to be different than it is. We may injure our health, binge, and purge, carry excess weight, or compulsively exercise and diet. All these behaviors stem from what Thây calls, not being able to handle our suffering. We look for ways to escape from our pain.

Thây tells us when we have a craving, be it for alcohol, cigarettes, food, drugs, anything that comes from a desire for escape, try to wait ten minutes before indulging in the craving. In ten minutes a lot can change. We may find that we aren’t dying for the chocolate cake, or the desire for a drink is replaced by tiredness, or we realize that asking that stranger for their phone number is really deadly to our marriage vows. Observing craving can help us see that craving is like anything else, it comes and it goes. It is also categorized as a hindrance to our spiritual progress. Craving keeps us stuck repeating behaviors we know aren’t good for us or takes us out of the present moment.

When we stop and look deeply at what is driving our behavior and our consumption we have the opportunity to make wiser choices. There is a saying about indulging in our cravings, “Just because the dinner bell rings, doesn’t mean I have to answer it.” Craving is like any neurological phenomena, the more we give in and practice responding to the craving, the stronger that neural connectivity becomes. Craving cannot be satisfied by giving in to the behavior. Repeated indulgence only makes it stronger. It requires a lot of compassion and small steps to change our ingrained habits.

A New York Times article about binge eating highlights the practice of slow, mindful eating at Blue Cliff Monastery in New York. When we slow down, turn off the TV, don’t eat in front of the computer, we can give our attention to what we are doing. As we eat, we are invited to notice the texture, the smell, the color of this food. We can consider where this food came from, who grew it, how did it get on my plate? When we eat mindfully and chew thoroughly, we slow down and feel satisfied with eating less. When we attend to ourselves the body notices and is thankful. Mindful eating is a wonderful way to connect with the healing and generous world we live it. Our food can be a gift to the body, instead of a quick bite eaten on the run.

We can stop and feel the warmth of the water in our teacup, smell the aroma of the tea. Consider the time it took for these leaves to grow to maturity, the hands that harvested and packaged them, The journey of this tea to my store. The connection to our livelihood and the money earned that allowed the purchase. The body of mine that is receiving the taste, scent, and warmth of this tea and all the layered and far-reaching connections that made this simple cup of tea possible.

This week I invite you to eat a meal mindfully or drink a cup of tea with great care. Silently considering each mouthful as it nourishes our body. Consuming nutrients and information with reverence for the earth and for all life forms invites us to slow down and treat ourselves the way we would a cherished guest. Nourishing the body and the mind with beautiful food and careful curation of media input, we give ourselves the most valuable gift, the time to savor and enjoy our lives.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

 

Dont ignore suffering