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

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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

The Weight of Our Words

IMG_8226

Leaves on the Path     Photo by me

 

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”

~ Mark Twain

“The truth must be presented in ways that others can accept. Words that damage or destroy are not Right Speech. Before you speak, understand the person you are speaking to. Consider each word carefully before you say anything, so that your speech is “Right” in both form and content.”

 ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

“You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.”

 ~ Siddhartha Gotama

“Speak when you are angry—and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.”

~Laurence J. Peter

 

Dear Friends,

I hope you are enjoying this new month and are listening to what your mind and body are calling for. This week I want to look at the fourth of The Five Mindfulness TrainingsLoving Speech and Deep Listening. The Five Mindfulness Trainings are a modern adaptation of the Buddha’s ethical guidelines given over 2,500 years ago:

Loving Speech and Deep Listening

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.

For many people, this is the most difficult training since to live in the world involves communicating. Every day we speak to people. We communicate in all of our relationships, personal and professional. We talk to strangers, our pets, and we often overlook how we speak to ourselves. Every day we experience a gamut of quickly changing sensations and emotions. A conversation may start off easily and happy, then quickly turn irritating and lead to bitterness. We may feel hurt and want to hurt the other person back, lashing out with accusations, cutting sarcasm, or punishing with our silence.

The fourth training is closely tied with handling our emotions, specifically our anger. If we do not know how to deal our anger we will run the risk of transmitting shame, fear, and violence. We also plant the seeds of this continued rage in the other person. I can speak to this and the transformation that occurred in my life using the fourth mindfulness training. I grew up in a family that had generational rage. As a child, I didn’t know that rage was abuse. I didn’t know about mirror neurons, part of the autonomic nervous system, that allow humans and high order animals to absorb behaviors. Witnessing a repeated activity, the neural patterns in the brain light up in the sequence of the observed action. This is the way babies learn. When we are raged at, there is intense shame, but the child who hides and fears also learns. We are trained to recreate our experience.

The first time I went to Sangha, we read the Five Mindfulness Trainings. The line that caught me was, “When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger.” That sentence could have been written in Vietnamese. I had no idea what that meant, nor had I ever experience anyone doing that. I only knew rage and silence. Caring for my anger sounded impossible. I mean, who does that? What did that even look like?

After several years of practice, I recognized that the rage I witnessed as a child was manifesting in me and through me. I was actively transmitting this rage to my children, exactly the way it was transmitted to me. I realized that I did not want to pass this family inheritance on. I wanted it to end with me.

I got my opportunity to put this into practice quickly enough. My kids made some mess and left it. It was the end of a long day and I was tired. I felt the familiar rise in me welling up, my rage coming to the surface. I couldn’t be near this mess and keep it together. Without a word, I walked out the door into darkness. Rain was falling. Every cell in my body was screaming for release. I took a step and felt my foot on the ground. I breathed. The rain hit my cheeks like someone else’s tears. I took another step. I couldn’t hold this feeling. It was too big. I couldn’t do this. I felt like I was tied to a chair, restrained. I wanted that rage so badly. It was a hunger in my body, the need to discharge this burden.

I didn’t know about neuro-receptor sites and how repeated behavior creates chemical addiction in the body. I didn’t know that anger and rage are rewarded with dopamine, the same way cocaine or alcohol reward the addict. I didn’t know that not being able to stop a behavior is called addiction. “Take a step. Breathe” I said. “Just this one. Just this one.”  I don’t know for how long I walked and breathed. It felt like a lifetime. When my rage stopped, I was outside in the cool air, breathing, feeling a new feeling—sadness. No one saw me, including myself. But I was standing there, ready and willing to listen and care for these feelings I had ignored for so long. The next time I broke the chain of rage was just as hard, but I lived through the first time, so I knew I could do it. The third time was easier. Each time I remember that I cannot speak when I am in the grip of this fury. There’s too much at stake.

This is what mindfulness does for me. It enables me to notice my feelings, the creeping irritation, the sadness, loneliness, the overwhelm. It lets me hold the hand of the little one who did not get shielded, who faced the rage alone. When she is scared, I can help her. We help each other. I know that the rage is not my fault—nor the fault of my ancestors. Now I am aware of sensations in my body. I stop. I hear the cry of need in me before it escapes as pain for those around me. My rage is cooled enough to see the loneliness and helplessness beneath it from long ago.

Dharma teacher Michael Grady once said, “when I don’t blaze away in anger, I don’t have as much apologizing to do.” I have found this to be true 100% of the time. When we learn to care for our emotions, we can be present for ourselves and learn to take care of others through our communication. We become aware of how important our words are. They are our legacy and our speech also creates our future. During this week I invite you to look at your communication, at the amount of kindness and understanding that are in your words, especially the silent words we speak to ourselves. Do we say things to ourselves we would never say out loud to anyone else? Do we treat ourselves with as much respect and care, as we do our closest friend? I hope the answer can be—yes! Loving speech is a heart practice, opening to listen to what we are needing—maybe it’s a break, some comfort, or just to hear we care about our pain. Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Darling, I am here for you.” Please use your gift of speech carefully, especially with our children. The future is at stake.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

 

Words-can-travel