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