Accepting Our Humanity is an Action

We are all watering seeds

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” ~Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom

“The insight of inter-being will help remove discrimination, fear, and the dualistic way of thinking. We inter-are — even suffering and happiness inter-are — and that is why the insight of inter-being is the foundation of any kind of action that can bring peace and brotherhood, and help remove violence and despair. That insight is present in every great spiritual tradition. We need only to go home to our own tradition, and try to reveal that, to revive that.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear Friends,

Recent events displayed a segment of America few of us want to see, much less take responsibility for. It doesn’t take much looking to dispel that myth that we are living in a post-racial world. We can clearly see the veil of ignorance and blindness that produces acts of discrimination, prejudice, and the belief that some people are lesser than others because of color, belief, or sexual identity continues. Perhaps you’ve heard this idea, or feel yourself, that, “my family came over recently, we were running from prejudice, from discrimination. We weren’t here for slavery. We weren’t Nazis. We have nothing to do with this. We didn’t make the problem.”  This sentiment reminded me of a story I read years ago where a woman is climbing the steps to a temple and sees a bucket of dirty mop water left by the entrance. She thinks, that is disrespectful to have a dirty wash bucket by the entrance to the temple. Who would do such a thing? It shows lack of care and mindfulness. The next day, on her way up the steps, the woman is irritated to see the bucket, still there, the water looking even worse than the previous day. Someone ought to clean that up, she thinks. This is a holy site. The third day, the woman sees the bucket again. She cleans it up.

This story shows how we can move from seeing the problem as totally separate from ourselves, to acting with wisdom and humanity in whatever situation we encounter. What responsibility do we have for the legacy of race-exploitation in America, fueled by greed? How are we associated with Neo-Nazi’s and hate speech? We didn’t start it. Aren’t we free from any accountability for this situation? The short answer is no. We aren’t exempt. As a human being living on this planet, no one is exempt from reality. We are that woman who walks up the temple steps, sees something very unattractive and thinks that those who came before me should have cleaned that mess up, but that didn’t happen.

The truth is that the fires of hatred, greed, and delusion are so easy to see in the other and so hard to see in ourselves. Looking at racism, Antisemitism, and hatred is uncomfortable. When we wish for those who disagree with us to be gone—at any price, we react with violence, and anger. We think we will be able to cure our suffering by eliminating this specific injustice, but the world doesn’t work like that. The issues we see are the manifestation of deep rooted causes and conditioning. Can we offer understanding to the greed, the hatred and the delusion we see in the world? Can we offer kindness and compassion to ourselves for our sadness, anger, and fear when we encounter hatred? Understanding involves getting past condemnation. Is it possible to see ourselves and those we disagree with and who act with violence and oppression, in the light of forgiveness?

Forgiveness doesn’t mean we have amnesia or believe that what is clearly not alright is alright. Forgiveness is not a pass. It means we don’t want to add the suffering of blame and hatred to our lives. Suspending our condemnation and looking with understanding into the causes and conditions that create extremists, terror, and oppression, is the path to peaceful action. If you would like to get more in-depth about the Buddhist path and living and acting with equanimity in the face of the world’s suffering, you can click this link to an article by Forest Monk and scholar, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, titled The Weight of Mountains.

Thây teaches us that we inter-are. We are more alike than un-alike and our thoughts, speech, and actions affect all our shared humanity. No human being is born all good or all bad. We are all made of a mix of these things and what is nourished is what we become. Take good care to water all the positive seeds in you and those around you. Wishing you compassion and gentleness in thoughts, words, and acts.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

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Walking, Sitting, Speaking, with Patience and Humility

Monk and Fawn

Monk picking a pear for a waiting fawn. BlueCliff Monastery

On one occasion, a monk asked Sekito: “How does one get emancipation?”

Sekito: “Who has put you in bondage?”

Sekito Kisen (Ch. Shitou Xiqian, 700–790)

Those who see worldly life as an obstacle to Dharma
see no Dharma in everyday actions.
They have not yet discovered that
there are no everyday actions outside of Dharma.
~Dogen

“The activist should change himself first; he should have a lot of understanding and compassion in his way of thinking and speaking. Then instead of criticizing and demanding, he can begin to help.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

 

Dear Friends

The weekend’s events in Charlottesville are extremely disturbing on many fronts. From the president’s tepid response to bigotry, racism, and terrorism, to the ongoing denial of the role this country played in the slavery and continued systematic discrimination of African-Americans. This country has never acknowledged or apologized for the theft of land from indigenous peoples and the ongoing role in their oppression. America has moved away from the idea of a melting pot and forgotten that she was born from the desire for religious freedom and tolerance. The promise of liberty and justice and the belief that all beings are equal and worthy, seems like a childish notion that is out of step with reality.

The issues of race, entitlement, fear, and separation are not going away, nor seeming to get any better. In fact, they feel like they are getting worse. As people of conscience, what can we do to help heal the separation and injustice we see?  We can start with the idea of non-blame and taking care of our determination for a peaceful solution. Thây teaches us that the enemies to peace are despair and the energy of righteousness.

We may think we are the only ones on the planet who believe that there is basic goodness in all beings and that for the shift of circumstance, I too could be born into conditions that support racism, sexual orientation discrimination, and violent oppression of minority groups. If I grew up in a different home and had different conditioning, I too could be that angry and full of hate. The need to dominate others is a form of suffering. When I see hatred and discrimination, I want to remember that suffering creates more suffering and my desire to punish others is the same impulse as the desire to defeat another. Acting with compassion requires humility and understanding that I am not separate from those who seem so different st first glance.

Thich Nhat Hahn gives us some essential teachings about working for peace, when there is no end in sight. At the question and answer session in 2013 at The Art of Suffering Retreat a practitioner asked, “What is the hardest thing that you practice?”

Thây answered:

“Not to allow yourself to be overwhelmed by despair; that is the worst thing that can happen to you. When the war in Vietnam was going on, it seemed it would last forever. Young people asked, ‘Dear Thây , do you think that the war will end soon?’ It was very difficult to answer because if Thay said, “I don’t know,” then the seed of despair would be watered in them. So Thay had to breathe in and out a few times, and then say: ‘Dear friends, the Buddha said that everything is impermanent, so the war must be impermanent also. It will end someday. Let us continue to work for peace.’ If you are surrounded by friends and co-workers who have the same kind of vision and understanding, you will succeed. You cannot do it alone., he responded that not allow yourself to be overwhelmed by despair; ‘that is the worst thing that can happen to you. When the war in Vietnam was going on, it seemed it would last forever.’”

Thây told the people of a village that was destroyed by bombs and rebuilt seven times:

“Dear friends, the Buddha said that everything is impermanent, so the war must be impermanent also. It will end someday. Let us continue to work for peace.” If you are surrounded by friends and co-workers who have the same kind of vision and understanding, you will succeed. You cannot do it alone…If you have a lot of anger in you, you cannot achieve peace. You have to be peace before you can do peace. You need to know how to write a love letter to your president and your congress, to tell them that you don’t want the war. If you write a strong, angry letter, they will not read it. Thây  was able to help end the war in that way. If you understand suffering and can help compassion to be born in you, you will be free from despair and anger, and you can help the cause of peace.”

Thây teaches us that we need to keep our courage and desire alive. We are not alone in striving for peace. We have come a long way and those who have gone before must have felt that things would never shift. Those who continue to live in marginalized circumstances, to be threatened and feared because of their religion, color, or sexual orientation understand we are in this for the long haul. Knowing that our words make a difference and not letting anger or weariness strip away our determination, we can do what we always do. We can walk mindfully, speak the truth, engage to help those who are vulnerable and afraid. We can do all these things kindly, gently, and with great care for ourselves and for all beings.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

 

Please Call Me by My True Names

Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow—
even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope,
the rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when Spring comes,
arrives in time to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond,
and I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay his
“debt of blood” to my people
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion. ~Thich Nhat Hanh

My Secret Double Agent: Judgement

Lotus with honey bee

Lotus with Honey Bee

“Fear is born from arming oneself.

Just see how many people fight!

I’ll tell you about the dreadful fear

that caused me to shake all over:

Seeing creatures flopping around,

Like fish in water too shallow,

So hostile to one another!

— Seeing this, I became afraid.”

 ~The Buddha, Excerpt from the Attadanda Sutta: Arming Oneself

“The wild geese do not intend to cast their reflection. The water has no mind to receive their image.” ~Zenrin Kusho

“Not by harming life

does one become noble.

One is termed noble

for being gentle to all living things.”

~The Buddha, Excerpt from the Dhammatthavagga Sutta: The Judge

 

Dear Friends,

This past week, I’ve had a few conversations about the habit of judging. Addiction seems like a more accurate word, since judging feels like an unstoppable force that arises despite all efforts to let it go. As tender and vulnerable mammals, we did not get to the top of the food chain without a legacy of vigilance and judging. It’s hard wired in our neurobiology to assess situations and individuals to determine safety or risk. Looking at my judgement this week, I had a few thoughts about this very active part of my mind. I would wager, that most of us have an unacknowledged movie that plays continually in our minds. It’s called, What the World Should Look Like, According to Me. When someone bumps up against this vision of how things should be, there’s an immediate reaction. I’ve realized that my judgement, which looks like it’s doing some good work–keeping me safe, is actually a double agent, working for the side of continued suffering.

An example of the hidden working of judgement could go like this: if my world view values generosity, my judgement may say, “Look at that! She took all the credit for that work and didn’t acknowledge anyone else. She’s out for herself.” Or it may go in the opposite direction, “Wow, they gave their car to charity. I’ll never feel comfortable giving a big donation like that. They are so much better than me.” No matter what judgement I have, the act of judging separates me out from the other and actually encourages fear. When I judge someone as less than myself, there is the thought that I am not safe, my world view is challenged. I need to get away. When I judge that I am less than, I am vulnerable to the same judgement from someone else and I am not safe either. If there is a feeling of equality, then there is an identification we are the same and joined in a fragile bubble together. The idea that, you feel what I do, leads to disregarding the individual physical and emotional differences every unique being possesses. The double agent of judgement, who seems like a friend, in reality gives us more fear, more anxiety, takes us out of ourselves, and brings more suffering. One thing I’ve learned about judging is that it doesn’t change anything, it only makes me righteous, doubtful, or delusional.

The Buddhist scriptures are very clear about judging. Judging is called, Attachment to Views. The Buddha is reported as saying that all views, “equal, superior, or inferior,” are all flawed (SN IV.9). “Those who seize at perceptions and views go about butting their heads in the world” (SN IV.9). Attachment to views is one of the mind states that must be abandoned if we are to become unbound and wake up to reality.

This non-attachment to views does not mean that all views are fine—Go ahead and act badly; it’s all concepts. Buddhist Monk and scholar Thanissaro Bhikkhu, writes, “An important point to notice is that attachment to views must be abandons through knowledge, and not through skepticism, agnosticism, ignorance, or a mindless openness to all views” (1993, p.62). The knowledge is gleaned from personal experience and confidence in the path of truth and beauty, The Ennobling Eightfold Path. This path contains, morality, practice, and wisdom. We know that not all actions, beliefs, and words are kind, useful, or contain wisdom. Not judging doesn’t mean we become blind to this. We become aware of how judging pulls us out of our own experience and arms us. Judging gives the ammunition to start wars, both large and small. For me, the first step is recognizing the harm I do to myself when I judge, that going along with this cozy, familiar, judgy path is going to take me to an unsafe place.

This week, I invite you to practice awareness of judgement with me, to recognize the duplicitous nature of this habit and to reject the conditioned pull to judge. Returning awareness to the body is a great antidote to the judging mind, asking, what am I doing now? What do I feel in my body? Sending loving kindness to myself and wishing for my safety and freedom, when I catch myself judging, is another way to be kind to myself and my addiction. Bringing my mind to this long-standing pattern is going to be a challenge for me, but I am confident, it will pay off.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

relax-your-body

References

Bhikkhu, T. (1993) The mind like fire unbound: An image in the early buddhist discourses. Barre, Massachusetts: Dhamma Dana Publications. Retrieved from: file:///C:/Users/rick/Documents/mindlikefire00thanmiss.pdf

A Gift for our Ancestors

mini mushrooms

Mini Mushroom Family in Moss

Very little grows on jagged rock.
Be ground. Be crumbled,
so wildflowers will come up
where you are.

You have been stony for too many years.
Try something different.
Surrender.

~Rumi, excerpt from A Necessary Autumn Inside Each.

Stop trying to be somebody.

Just be whoever you are,

Mindfully sitting, walking, eating.

Just practice mindful awareness.

Don’t be concerned with being someone.

Because you are someone already,

Just as you are.

Who needs to be aware of this.

~William Menza

“If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear Friends,

It’s very important in our culture to be somebody. Not just anybody, but somebody who embodies our highest values, does brave things, transcends the past, someone we can be proud of. We are schooled from an early age, there are no limits to what we can accomplish if we put our minds to it. Relying upon ourselves, we can go wherever our dreams take us.…. That is so much responsibility. It is a huge burden to be faced with creating our life’s worth, as this small, single person…alone. Whatever we are is up to us. Talk about pressure, no wonder teens are stressed out and anxious.

What I am noticing is the spinning, twisting in the wind experience that people who are young, and those who are old, and those in between, experience as a feeling of separation. We are cut off at the roots. We do not have an ancestral lineage to hold us. We are up against the whole world. In the Plum Village Tradition, I learned a practice, called Touching the Earth. This involved prostrating to my ancestors. That means to bow and touch the Earth with gratitude for all my ancestors, including the Earth, the water, the sun, the air, all the conditions that gave me life and continue to do so.

I grew up in New England where we did not do much bowing, let alone, lying on the floor, or ground to show reverence, but this practice showed me a way to join with a larger presence and shifted my perception of who I am. I learned to bow with humility and thanks to my blood ancestors, the ones who gave me life. Thanking them for the beautiful qualities in myself and allowing the Earth to hold the energy of the not so beautiful qualities I inherited as well. My blood ancestors are still alive in me; I inherited their DNA, their traits and genetic material. I am their continuation. In this way, I see them alive in me right now.

I learned to bow and give my thanks and my regret to the Earth and all my land ancestors. The one’s who came before me, who cultivated the soil, the ones who fled from injustice, the ones who were exploited, the ones who were cruel and ignorant to indigenous people, or who were kind. I acknowledge the people I will never know, who make my existence possible, who lived in this place, this state, this country, with all their skills and weaknesses.

I touch the Earth for all my spiritual ancestors, the Buddha, my teachers, the lineage that goes back thousands of years, for my parents’ spiritual teachers, for Moses, and Jesus, Abraham, Mohammad, Allah, and God, who are all part of the stream of wisdom and love that manifests on Earth. When I do these practices, I am not a small separate self, a weak, little me, who needs to find their way in the world. I am a tsunami, a crashing wave of inevitability. I come from the depths of the universe and encompass the highest and best teachings of understanding; how can I be small? How can I be lost? When I touch my connection to my ancestors, I am found and there is no wandering, but a homecoming.

This week, I invite you to make an offering to your ancestors. Perhaps that will be a whispered, “thank you,” to a tall white pine, a letter of thanks to those who risked their lives to flee from a war, or a beautiful shell laid on your altar. This practice reminds us that we don’t need to craft a new identity. We don’t have to forge a future that is built on Teflon. We have deep roots. They are holding us to this Earth, to this body, this breath, to all those we love. We are connected in more ways than we can see. The universe is holding our place; it’s always been here, in the midst of those who love us and made this life for us, with their lives.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Ancestor quote

Call It Suffering

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“You cannot save people. You can only love them.” ~ Anais Nin

“We need, in love, to practice only this: letting each other go. For holding on comes easily; we do not need to learn it.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke
“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage.

Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”  ~Rainer Maria Rilke

 

Dear Friends,

The Buddha said the first noble truth is that dukkha exists. The word dukkha has many nuanced meanings, dissatisfaction, illbeing, wanting things to be other than they are, not getting what we want and getting what we don’t want. Dukkha encompasses the full range of mental and physical states from dissatisfaction and discontent to physical pain and discomfort. The common translation of suffering does seem apt. It covers a lot of ground. For some of us, the very word suffering is reserved for big stuff—cancer, terminal illnesses, extreme poverty, or starvation. Even the word suffering can be problematic, signifying weakness and conjuring images of mothers holding feverish babies in refugee camps. That’s where suffering lives. Those of us living in the first world who are reasonable healthy, comfortable, and able, we don’t suffer. Suffering doesn’t exist in the West. We know better.

A few years ago, I mentioned that everyone suffered to a fellow practitioner. He replied that he didn’t suffer, other people did. Despite his addictions to consumption and working, and despite his feelings of isolation and loneliness, he was not suffering. Clearly, he did not equate suffering with the difficulties present in his own life. Loving kindness teacher Sharon Salzberg tells us that our jealousy, our anger, our judgement, all of those things we consider character flaws, they are all states of suffering. Can we call this stuff by its true name, suffering? What then?

Unacknowledged suffering manifests in all different ways, addictions, unsafe behavior, criticism, rage, stress related illness, and general ill-humor. Our suffering doesn’t stay put in our bodies; it spills out and touches all of us collectively. As a society, we pay millions of dollars yearly for addiction related treatments, medical interventions for stress, lost productivity and incalculable amounts of pain in broken families and relationships. Addiction starts with the desire escape the present situation, whether it contains stress, anxiety, physical pain, agitation, or boredom. What if we called addiction suffering? How would that change our judgement of addicts?

For me, when I call my unhappiness, my remorse, loneliness, or anxiety, suffering, something shifts. And while I may have wanted to squish my resentment and jealousy, found them ugly and shameful, when I see them as suffering, I soften. I tell myself that everyone suffers. Suffering is a part of life. It’s not just bad behavior on my part. My suffering needs to be cared for. My suffering calls out to be understood, not dismissed as a character flaw or a weakness. Suffering requires our attention and our love to soothe it. We all suffer, in the big and small ways that life provides each of us. No one’s suffering is more worthy than another’s. It’s all suffering; it just looks different.

This week you may like to try using the word suffering when you see it arising in yourself. Acknowledging and caring for suffering includes recognizing that it is not a permanent state. It is not a personal affliction, but a call to listen and to understand. Make a vow to be there for your suffering and take good care of it. When we truly care for our suffering, we truly care for others. I am reminded of that old blues song with the line, “when things go wrong, go wrong with you, it hurts me too.” We are responsible for caring for our own suffering and our happiness. We directly add to the amount of suffering in the world. Caring for our unique suffering is the work of living a compassionate life. Our suffering is calling to us; please listen.

May we all trust our light.

Celia

People have a hard time letting go

Making Our Practice Our Own

bks-iyengar-in-peacock-pose-light-on-yoga-1966

B.K.S. Iyengar in the Peacock Pose

“Meditation can help us embrace our worries, our fear, our anger; and that is very healing. We let our own natural capacity of healing do the work.”   ~Thich Nhat Hanh

“Whatever has the nature of arising has the nature of ceasing.”   ~The Buddha

“Meditation could be said to be the Art of Simplicity: simply sitting, simply breathing and simply being.”  ~ Dilgo Khyentse Rimpoche

 

Dear Friends,

It’s a natural habit to compare ourselves. In yoga class, we may sneak a look at who can do the advanced posture, who is the most flexible, or who can sit the straightest and not move during meditation. We put ourselves and others in categories of achievement based on appearance. That student who can sit without moving while in full lotus: they’re a good meditator. I can only sit in a chair and I need to shift my posture; my practice isn’t as good. We all want to do things right and be accomplished, but our practice is not about looking perfect or living up to traditional ideals.

 

I was at a workshop last weekend on trauma-informed facilitation and it made me think about the relationship of our experience and how we practice now. Trauma-informed meditation takes into account that all of us have lived through either “small t trauma,” or “big T trauma.” For some folks, closing their eyes and exploring sensation in the body may trigger fear, discomfort, or even panic, if the experience activates memories of abuse. This workshop was helpful for me, as a facilitator, to understand that giving options and choices about how we meditate is a necessity Some of us feel panicky when we focus on the breath, or moving through the body during deep relaxation. Closing our eyes may make us feel vulnerable and unsafe and is not a prerequisite for meditation. Giving people the option to move, or leave the room, if big emotions arise can help provide a feeling of choice and control. Often for those who have survived trauma, bodily feelings are not accessible, as a learned protection. Not feeling sensation is as valid as feeling sensation. It is the quality of attention we bring to the experience and our concentration that is meditation, not the content.

 

Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that the past is alive in every cell of our body. When we listen to what is true for us, we will understand how we can sit, walk, and live to help us heal the past in the present. This is not to say, we do not ever do anything difficult. We challenge ourselves to grow in diligence and concentration, but always with kindness. It’s important for all of us to be aware that there are causes and conditions that create each individual. What is comfortable for me, may be unpleasant for someone else. For some of us, sound may be a good anchor for meditation, for others, the breath. We can recognize what helps us reach a state of concentration and clarity, without attaching to form. In the Tibetan tradition, meditators have a soft, lowered gaze. Some meditators prefer walking meditation to sitting, as the activity and concentration on the soles of the feet is a safe body sensation for them.

 

For all of us, we have certain practices that we connect with more than others. This week, please notice what helps you to feel safe during your practice. What is compassionate for you? Experiment with eyes open or closed, with using the breath as an anchor, or an exterior object, such as sound. Is it helpful to feel the shifting bodily sensations, or not? Take some time to get to know your world of practice. When we take the time to listen deeply to our own joy and difficulties, we water the seeds of healing the past with compassionare action, right now.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Be Still and heal

 

 

I Wonder

Clouds over Quassy

 

“He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.” ~ Albert Einstein

“The world will never starve for want of wonders, but for want of wonder.”

~G. K. Chesterton

“Anything looked at closely becomes more wonderful.” ~ A.R. Ammons

Dear Friends,

Maybe you’ve experienced this modern phenomenon? In a typical conversation when a question arises, or a statement is made, within seconds, smart phones are consulted, veracity and sources are confirmed or denied, and the truth is found. This rush to fast facts is what led a relative of mine to christen a prominent search engine company, “The Wonder Killer.” We rush to escape from the abyss of uncertainty and we can know anything in seconds. We can tell our friends the length of the Great Wall of China, where hummingbirds migrate to in the winter, and the life expectancy of a giraffe in rapid succession and without moving much except our fingers. This fast knowledge is akin to fast food that arrives quickly and can satisfy our immediate hunger, but is not always the best choice to nourish the deeper part of ourselves. When we get our information prepackaged and do not spend time with the process of wonder and discovery, there is a disconnect from the journey towards a felt sense of knowing. The quick knowledge from my smart phone is not wisdom from experience or observation, but a commodity. We see this extrapolated throughout the world. We don’t know where our bottled water comes from and where all the plastic ends up; we don’t see that there really is a living being who died to make those cute animal shaped nuggets we eat with a fun dipping sauce; we don’t bother to look at the landfills where all the inexpensive clothes we discard end up and investigate the true cost of fast fashion on the environment and the wellbeing of those who manufacture it. We are encouraged to live this way, with quick consumption and the constant refilling of our desires, so we don’t have time to question what’s beneath the packaging. Our growth economy depends on this constant fast turnover, but it has a big price tag. The relational aspect of observer and observed and wholeness is lost we get stuff fast and effortlessly.

I am not writing about this because I am some enlightened being who never uses her phone to find out answers, or never buys a new $5 tee-shirt, and despite my lectures, my partner still buys cases of bottled water. I am in the world. I do use my phone for quick answers—a lot and I wish I could be really disciplined and buy only ethically produced clothing, but it is more expensive and that $45 shirt will end up with a coffee stain the next day. So, I am not exempt, but I want to be awake when I make these choices and maybe buy one tee shirt, not five, or remember to bring a water bottle, so I don’t always have to get a new plastic one. A big realization I had is that when I do find out fast facts on the internet, they leave just as fast as I consume them. I haven’t earned the knowledge.

Recently, I’ve gotten more interested in the phenomenon of being with questions and the thought, feelings, and sensations that uncertainty creates. There is an ancient tradition of contemplation that encourages wonder and personal discovery. This is the idea of sitting with something and allowing it to unfold. We have questions called Koans which are contemplation topics that are designed to stop cognitive thought and open us up to experience this wonder in our mind and body. These questions are not something that we can answer quickly, or get insights from unless we have a relationship with them. Developing the ability to stay with wonder and not knowing is also the practice of building our capacity for uncertainty. When we rush to fast answers we create the inability to tolerate discomfort. There’s a cultural assumption that it isn’t OK to not know; it isn’t OK to feel uncertain. Even small discomfort can’t be tolerated and we see this in the rush to fill the moment with something better than this, something more satisfying. We check our social media, exercise, or consume so we won’t have to tolerate this moment, this unpleasantness of not-knowing.

For years I have had a koan at work and rest with me. I happened upon it in a book so long ago I can’t remember where it comes from and my Internet search couldn’t find it! It goes like this: You can’t go forward. You can’t go backwards. You can’t stay still. What do you do? At first, I tried to find a clever solution. Maybe you jump up? That’s neither still or forward or backward, but I knew that answer wasn’t right. I had irritation and discomfort with this koan, because it seemed like one of those puzzles that everyone could solve but me. I gave up and just let it be in the background. Today, after many years of not consciously looking at this, an insight appeared to me, when I thought of this question. My understanding had matured and ripened and it was like cracking an egg, a whole different world appeared out of the closed shell. My understanding is based on my mind and body knowledge and your understanding will be your own. This week I invite you to wonder, to stay with the question and watch what happens, to watch the intricate procession of ants to their nest, to behold the coming together and dissolution of clouds, or to sit with a deep question. Thich Nhat Hanh speaks about this in a dharma talk, “In Zen circles, sometimes they may give you a subject of meditation to ponder: ‘Tell me, novice, what did your face look like before your grandmother was born?’ That is a very nice invitation to go on a journey to find your true self, your true nature, the nature of no-birth and no-death.” This is an invitation to fall into wonder and slow wisdom. Allow yourself the true nourishment of being with a question. It’s OK not to know the answer today.
May we all trust our light,

Celia

 

It’s Not Personal

Bee Fountain

                         Bee Fountain photo by Barbara Richarson

 

“Be kind to every person, because each person has been asked to carry a great burden.” ~Attributed to Kabir

“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

“There is no such thing as justifiable anger in Buddhism, for if one is in the right, one should not be angry, and if one is in the wrong, one cannot afford to be angry. Therefore, under any circumstances one should not become angry.” ~ R. Bogoda

“It is not enough to be compassionate, we must act.” ~ H.H. The 14th Dalai Lama

 

Dear Friends,

Many of us in this country have taken up new roles because of the political climate in our country during and post-election. More and more often, we are called upon to respond to injustice or discrimination and take stands, or protest governmental policies that devalue the earth and other living beings. For many of us it is difficult to take action and remain loving and peaceful while in the presence of those who march or speak out with the energy of righteousness and anger.

I recall Sister The Nghiem sharing the teachings she learned from Thây (Thich Nhat Hanh). He warns us about the energy of righteousness. When we act from a place of judgement, we go to war with ourselves and them. We separate ourselves out and practice discrimination and there is no peace inside of us. When we are right and the other is wrong, there is always a battle. Thich Nhat Hanh lived through two wars, the French, Vietnamese war and the American war, which we in the US call the Vietnam war. He witnessed the brutality and destruction of that comes from hatred, greed, and delusion. His students were killed; he saw his city destroyed and the multi-generational suffering that war brings to both conqueror and conquered. He has dedicated his life to peace and his greatest aspiration is to build a beloved community where peace is possible. You might say he is an expert on peace, because his life was shaped by war.

News reports stoke the fires of indignation and righteous outrage daily, no matter which side of the political aisle you are on. Many people wonder, if I don’t feel righteousness, Will I become a passive doormat? Does it mean that I must be meek and a dispassionate Buddhist, not showing any emotion? Am I supposed not to care?

I had an experience seven years ago while on retreat, that really showed me the difference between acting out of compassion and out of anger. On retreats, we share rooms with many other people and we were seven women together—with one bathroom. I had my ear plugs, the good silicone ones, and my melatonin, because it’s always hard for me to get to sleep in a strange place. I had just drifted off the first night, when I was awakened by the movements of the woman in the bunk below me sorting pills by flashlight. Someone else was crinkling a cellophane bag and during the night, the bathroom door opened and closed perhaps a dozen times. It seemed that no one actually believed this was the time to sleep. Keep in mind that we were observing noble silence.

As the retreat continued, I started to feel I was coming down with a cold and sleep became something of an obsession. I took little naps and tried to beat my roommates to bed for a half hour of actual sleep before the long night of rustling, flickering lights, alarms for medication, coughing, and bathroom visits began. The fourth night of the retreat was not a silent one. Because several of the women in the room were being ordained in the morning, they got up extra, extra, early and began showering. I lay in my bunk and steamed. I was sure I was getting sick. This was terrible. I would never do another retreat with these roommates. No one cared about me. Didn’t they realize how inconsiderate they were? This was supposed to be about mindfulness and no one was mindful of me! I was too mad to go back to sleep and there was too much buzzing and nervous excitement in the room. I got up, dressed, and hoped my roommates could see how much they made me suffer, but of course, we were still in silence.

I was the first person in the meditation hall that morning. I sat and felt some spaciousness and my irritation began to cool. When we have big reactions to present events often there is history that conditions our reactions. The feeling of anger calmed and I sat with what came next. It was saddness and the feeling that no one saw me, no one cared. There was long ago suffering from my childhood that was manifesting at this present moment. I held the little girl who felt overlooked so many years ago and told her that I would not abandon her. We were grown up now and I promised to take good care of her and make sure she was looked after. I could take care of the feeling of not being seen and cared for in this very moment. With a deep wish to care for myself, I realized that I needed to get sleep on retreat and I could camp in my own tent, tell the office and switch rooms, or go to a hotel. My realization that morning, was that the action I would take was the same action as when I was angry, but the motivation was a world apart. I had only love and concern for myself when I listened to my suffering. I could act without the sting of anger and hatred. I saw that my anger was the result of my unacknowledged suffering; the actions of my roommates were nothing personal. They weren’t doing it to me.

When we act from a place of care and compassion, we may call our representatives, march in a protest, write letters, or run for office. Our outward acts may look the same as others, but there is a different energy that motivates us. We all get triggered when we see or hear accounts of injustice, or hear that our friends and family have been slighted, hurt, or misunderstood. We all have the seeds of anger in us, but it’s what we do with them that matters. It’s how we care for our suffering that creates the ability to act without hatred and anger. Caring for our suffering gives us the spaciousness to act from compassion and freedom from taking it all personally. We absolutely can act in the world. We can take a stand and speak our truth and do so with the energy of love, of caring deeply for ourselves and others, with no desire to punish.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

peace15105ee28ccd3

Dwelling in the Pleasant Moment

mushroom

“Our purpose is to enjoy all the wonders of life.”  ~Thich Nhat Hanh

“Most people are forgetful; they are not really there a lot of the time.”

 ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

“You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk through desert for a hundred miles repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

~ Mary Oliver

Dear Friends,

I received some good news recently. It was the reminder that these human lives we all have, these same ones that can seem so difficult and present so much struggle, are also a vehicle for joy. It is hard to remember that our purpose is to enjoy life when we see violence and hatred played out on the global stage, when our bodies are in pain, and basic goodness sounds like a marketing campaign for natural food, more that an identifiable human trait. It is a good practice to remind ourselves that it is OK to enjoy things, even when there is suffering around us. In fact, it is necessary to actively cultivate our appreciation of joy and noting its arrival. According to neuroscience, our thoughts, feelings, and sensations are produced by both mind and body. We cannot selectively numb our minds. When we numb our pain, we numb our joy. We believe that we can tough out the painful, mindful it away, and what’s left will be happiness, but that isn’t what happens. When we dismiss our pain and suffering, we learn to abandon ourselves. Thich Nhat Hanh tells us to hold our suffering like a drop of water in a river, embracing it completely. This way our bodies and minds know we are taking good care of them. This is the art of caring for our suffering. In the same way, we can fully embrace the joy in our lives, holding it tenderly. It is vitally important to cultivate our happiness because that is what gives us the capacity to be present for ourselves when things get tough.

A practice I use and recommend to others comes from a book called Ten breaths to Happiness, by Dharma teacher, Glen Schneider. This small book offers a powerful practice for noting and cultivating happiness. Often when we have a happy moment we push past, trying to find the problem, leaning towards the future with a list of projects and expectations. It is difficult and sometimes frightening to remain right here in the pleasant moment. This habit of threat vigilance is partly what kept our gene line alive through the millennia, but unchecked this mental tendency can create lives filled with anxiety and stress.

Glen writes that the time it takes to make a neural connection in the brain is about thirty seconds, or ten breaths. When we observe a pleasant feeling, a beautiful sight in nature, or hear music that makes us smile, we can develop the habit of stopping. We give ourselves over to this experience, relax our bodies and look deeply at the beautiful blooming sunset, or the face of our beloved. We notice where we experience delight in our bodies and minds. We make ourselves wholly present with this feeling for ten full breaths. This awareness and practice creates a neural path to happiness. As we build our mind maps and lay down more experiences of happiness, there is a greater connectivity. We actually notice more opportunities for happiness during the day. It’s like a muscle we exercise that gets stronger with repetition. We can increase our capacity for happiness by increasing our awareness and appreciation of the moments of happiness that exist in our lives. Please join me as we strengthen this habit of happiness by stopping and being present for our joy, ten breaths at a time.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

interconnection in the tree

A whole world in a tree root.

Playing in the Mud

“No Mud, No Lotus.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

 

“May you be able to receive the fruits of suffering.” ~ John O’Donohue

 

“Mindfulness is the willingness and capacity to be equally present with all events and experience with discernment, curiosity, and kindness.” ~ Christina Feldman

 

 

Dear Friends,

 

There’s a misperception about mindfulness I bumped into this week. A new acquaintance commented she was surprised I still encountered difficulty with equanimity and attachment to outcome, even though I have been practicing mindfulness for some time. I often think it would be wonderful if by practicing mindfulness and meditation we could eradicate these unpleasant states of mind. We would never get angry, feel anxious, worry about what others think about us, and generally avoid all the painful feelings in our lives. In cases of big E enlightenment, when we become fully enlightened Buddhas, the causes of suffering are uprooted. The fetters or defilements are destroyed, “removed it from its soil like a palmyra tree, brought it to utter extinction, incapable of arising again” (The discourse on the Snake Simile, MN 22). For most of us, full Buddhahood is a work in progress and our habits of mind transform slowly, and sometimes, very slowly. Transformation is evident when we become aware of our irritation before it becomes full blown anger and we offer kindness and support to ourselves. We may check in with our stomach and emotions before we finish off the whole quart of Ben and Jerry’s, or we might notice that a friend hasn’t returned our text and wonder what’s going on, without taking it as a personal affront. These subtle shifts in our perception are enlightenment. We have a choice about the way we respond to the stimuli in our lives.           

The practice of mindful awareness includes the non-judgmental acceptance of our unique life experience. We can go further and call it kindness or friendliness towards our thoughts, sensations, and feelings. Our practice invites us to examine the amount of kindness or aversion we allow ourselves with unpleasant states. Can we be OK, not being OK?  If we are looking for a life with only happiness, joy, and comfort, we will be disappointed, big-time, because life is not like that. The entirety of living encompasses the full range of our experience. Bringing compassionate awareness and care to all our states is our practice. As the Irish poet John O’Donohue wrote, “May you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease.” When we are able to be with our discomfort without making it bad or wrong, without pushing it away, we open the door for a new relationship to our suffering.

           

Thich Nhat Hanh writes about the happiness we experience after a toothache, when the pain is gone. He calls this the happiness of a non-toothache. “You know deeply at that point that not having a toothache is happiness. Yet later, when you don’t have a toothache, you forget and do not treasure your non-toothache” (Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life). When we are pain free, we think that’s the way it should be—keep it coming. It is only when we are in touch with this suffering that we can experience joy when the suffering abates. This is the practice that I encourage you to try on this week. Ask, when am I free from suffering? Is there a moment of OK even in the turbulence of anxiety or insecurity? Can we be happy that our teeth, our knees, our … (fill in body part) are pain free? Where is there ease in the midst of my pain? It might be a very small moment, seeing dogs play, or the comfort of cool air after the heat of the sun, something so small, it gets overlooked. I hope you will find your lotus that is waiting for you. Trust that it’s there, even if your path is full of mud.

 

May we all trust our light,

 

Celia

No mud no lotus

Calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh