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

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Dwelling in the Pleasant Moment

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“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

Forgiving

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“Because we are human beings, we cannot avoid making mistakes. We might have caused someone else to suffer, we might have offended our beloved ones, and we feel regret. But it is always possible for us to begin anew, and to transform all these kinds of mistakes. Without making mistakes there is no way to learn, in order to be a better person, to learn how to be tolerant, to be compassionate, to be loving, to be accepting. That is why mistakes play a role in our training, in our learning, and we should not get caught in the prison of culpability just because we have made some mistakes in our life. “

~Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear Friends,

Have you ever had those moments where you felt like you were driving off a cliff, but you couldn’t turn the wheel. The times when you knew you were acting unmindfully, but you watched yourself get deeper and deeper and just couldn’t break free from the power struggle. One Dharma teacher described it as, “waving to yourself as you go over the waterfall.” I think we’ve all been there. Despite all our training and resolve, we say the wrong things, we act in ways we know will harm ourselves or others. Our fear, habit, or resistance keeps us bound up with our desire to control others, or push for the results we want. In these moments, where we see our missteps and are disappointed and discouraged, we can remember that we all make mistakes and we can start again.

When we offer forgiveness to ourselves, we create a spaciousness that removes our blame and judgement about our failings and lets us begin again. We all come up short of our expectations sometimes. We all come from complicated backgrounds and relationships that can influence us in unconscious ways that we do not always recognize until we are reenacting the past. A practice I do every day is offering forgiveness. In this way, I can shine light on the hurts and judgements from the day.  By caring for my suffering, I keep the small resentments from becoming larger ones. Here is my adaptation of the classic Buddhist forgiveness meditation:

Daily Forgiveness Meditation

I bring awareness to my body. I recognize the ways I have hurt my body today, both knowingly and unknowingly. I have not always listened to my body and I sometimes ignore my hunger, tiredness, fatigue, and pain. I do not always care for my body with exercise or healthy food. Maybe I ingested food and drink that brings toxins into my body. But now, to the extent that I am able, I offer myself forgiveness for how I have hurt my body. I make a commitment to care for my body and not abandon myself. Just as my body loves me and always does the best it can, I promise to be there to support my body.

I bring awareness to the ways I have hurt myself, both knowingly and unknowingly, through my thoughts, words, and deeds. Sometimes, I place unrealistic expectations upon myself or create impossible to do lists that I cannot accomplish. I have been harsh and critical of my abilities. To the extent I am able, I offer myself forgiveness for my lack of understanding of my own suffering and dissatisfaction with myself. I give myself permission to be human and to make mistakes. I release myself from the prison of perfection and from responsibility for other’s thoughts and feelings. To the degree I am able, I forgive myself for what I perceive are my imperfections and love and accept myself exactly as I am right now, without any expectation that I will ever be different than I am right now.

I bring awareness to the way I have hurt another, both knowingly and unknowingly, through my thoughts, speech, or actions. Understanding that the inability to care for my suffering only brings more suffering, I make the commitment to offer compassionate attention to my thoughts, perceptions, and emotions, so I will be capable of kindness and compassion. To the extent that I am able, I release myself from blame and offer myself forgiveness for my mistakes. Giving myself understanding and offering myself gentleness, I release myself, as best I can, from judgement, blame, and disappointment because of my unskillful thoughts, speech, and actions.

I bring awareness to the ways I have been hurt, both knowingly and unknowingly, by another’s thoughts, speech, or actions. I recognize that my highest priority is to the purity of my consciousness and holding onto judgement, hatred, and revenge, not only damages my relationships, but hurts myself as well. Knowing that forgiveness is not possible until I have fully understood the depth of my own suffering created by another, I vow to care for my hurt with mindful compassion. Recognizing that those who cannot take care of their own suffering, cause suffering in others, to the extent I am able, I offer understanding and forgiveness to the other person and free them from my judgement, dislike, and blame. To whatever degree possible, I offer this person the same freedom as myself, the right to make mistakes, to be imperfect, and fully human.

Wishing you unconditional forgiveness for your own perfectly imperfect life.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

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Artwork credit: Professions for Peace.com