I Resolve not to get rid of Anything

interconnection in the tree

Tree Interbeing. Photo by Celia

 

“Go back and take care of yourself. Your body needs you, your feelings need you, your perceptions need you. Your suffering needs you to acknowledge it. Go home and be there for all these things.”

“To take good care of ourselves, we must go back and take care of the wounded child inside of us. You have to practice going back to your wounded child every day. You have to embrace him or her tenderly, like a big brother or a big sister. You have to talk to him, talk to her. And you can write a letter to the Little child in you, of two or three pages, to that you recognize his or her presence, and will do everything you can to heal his or her wounds.”

“To meditate means to go home to yourself. Then you know how to take care of the things that are happening inside you, and you know how to take care of the things that happen around you.” ~All quotes by Thich Nhat Hanh

 

Dear Friends,

As we head towards the end of the year, there is the summation of our goodness, our badness, and the wish to be better. The New Year’s resolution is an interesting part of our calendar. In this resolve, we make a vow to stop eating so much, to stop gambling, or being addicted to cigarettes, alcohol, narcotics, shopping, pornography, to start exercising and keeping better hours, to eat healthier, to love even our enemies, to risk more, to work harder, be stronger, more diligent, to meditate twice a day, to begin to meditate, to stop thinking bad thoughts about those who don’t agree with us, and to be kind to all beings—always. We identify all the ways we do not enact true kindness and want to believe with the turn of the calendar we can leave our negative thoughts, our ugly habits in the previous year. And to some extent, we can be new in the sense that we can always start again. We are constantly laying down new neural connections, even up to the moment of death, there is neurological change. But we are not actors who end one miniseries and appear in the next as someone totally different, fresh and unencumbered by the past. We bring our conditioning and habits wherever we go.

Years ago, I was on a plane reading Suzuki Roshi’s book, Not Always So: Practicing the True Way of Zen, and I heard the teaching that there is nothing to get rid of. I put the book down in my lap and looked around the plane in wonder. I felt so light and free with this awareness that I didn’t have to work for years to become a different person to be worthy of waking up. I wanted to ring the call button for the flight attendant—did they know that there was nothing to get rid of? Did anyone else on my flight realize all the time spent trying to transform our lives and become worthy of other’s love and our own was unnecessary? Furthermore, we can’t do it. We don’t get rid of our stuff. We don’t just get over it, or let it go without doing the work of being with it. All our beliefs, words, and actions have a story. We do not do anything without good reason. When I want to get rid of a behavior or way of thinking through will-power, I am doomed to fail. We can’t muscle our way through to enlightenment.

Thich Nhat Hanh invites us to stop and come home to ourselves. When we do this, we stop searching outside ourselves to look and feel better.  We start to listen to what’s beneath our desires. When we see how we are caught and look at what we are doing we can ask what is the need beneath the behavior? Beneath the lust, we can hear the body’s cry of loneliness. Beneath the greed is the fear of annihilation, and under the rage, the truth that I am not considered. When we listen, we can hear these pieces of ourselves calling out for our attention. If we were children, we would cry out, express these needs as sobbing for help. As grown folks, we don’t cry out, but the sadness, the wanting comfort and care, the feeling that we need to be more, the unmovable discomfort, it’s still there.

These are places where we would rather not go because they call upon us to offer tenderness that we do not believe we deserve. It’s easier to condemn and hate ourselves for being weak, lazy, or indulgent, that to open to the part of us that is so deeply needing our love. If we expand this thinking into our society, it can seem bizarre, even frightening, to look at those who are enacting greed, hatred, and delusion with kindness. Just like our hurtful behavior tells a story of lack, of need, and of wrong beliefs, the people on the surface are symptoms. Until we as a country can look at what we cannot bear and collectively listening to the suffering, to the cries of the hurting, only then can we get to the why.

We can make laws, social reforms, and enact public policy, but in a country where in 2007 approximately 2.4 million people with black skin were part of the penal system, far more than the 1.7 million who were enslaved according to the 1850 U.S. census, we cannot say this is an equal and colorblind society and that the suffering has stopped (Alexander, 2010). We can’t say that we’ve gotten over, or let go of our brutal history. When we fall in line with the societal values that suppress our kindness, our cooperation, and our need to listen to the cries of our suffering and others, we reject our potential for wholeness and perpetuate an unjust and inhuman society.

We are incredibly sensitive beings. I bet we can remember any hurt or injustice that was ever perpetrated on us—and we can remember any kindness as well. The denial of our feelings in our bodies and minds tells us that we cannot be trusted to hold our own pain. But we are the only ones who know what we are looking for. We are the ones who know what we are crying out for and how to make ourselves whole. We stop. We calm. We listen and heal. It is not something that anyone else can do for us. Each one of us is uniquely gifted with the right medicine for what we are longing for.

I inhabit the body of a cisgender white skinned female for this lifetime. I cannot escape the reality that my life is easier and safer than if I had brown or black skin and much safer than if I were born a brown or black skinned male. As a society we embody a world where there is marginalization, there is injustice, and there are deep wounds that are calling out for us to lean in and listen, to do the hard work of opening to the things we would rather not look at and that we hope someone else will solve. Being present to this great wound with kindness, that is resistance. It is resisting the societal pull that tells us to buy something and shut up the sobbing in us and our country. It is resistance to look to ourselves to find the balm for our own loneliness, our disconnection, to lean into our greed, to say, “darling, what are you afraid of?” To hold prejudice and hatred like a sick child who needs healing, this is radical love, radical vulnerability, and radical trust. I do not know any other way to wholeness than through the very thing that looks so fearsome.

This year, my resolution is to lean in with as much tenderness and kindness as I can hold. Not resolving to be better or different, but resolving to be available for myself. To listen to the story of my whole life and reclaim my wholeness through this willingness to listen with gentleness. To have the courage to hear the brokenness. Not throwing anything away, I learn the way to healing, first with myself and then the world. Wishing us all a fierce gentleness for ourselves and all beings this holiday and new year.

May we all trust our light.

Celia

The way out is the way in

 

References

Alexander, M. (2010). The new jim crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. The New Press: New York, NY.

Suzuki, S. (2003). Not always so: Practicing the true spirit of zen. Harper Collins: New York, NY.

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What Right, Right Now?

white fern

Ghost Fern, Photo by Celia.

 

What gets between us and happiness?

This is an important inquiry in our lives. When you’re really happy ask yourself, what’s going on? What’s going on inside you when you’re really happy? ~Tara Brach

“Each minute we spend worrying about the future and regretting the past is a minute we miss in our appointment with life- a missed opportunity to engage life and to see that each moment gives us the chance to change for the better, to experience peace and joy.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh, Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life

“Happiness is here and now.

I have dropped my worries.

Nothing to do. Nowhere to go.

There’s no need for hurry.

Happiness is here and now.

I have dropped my worries.

Something to do. Somewhere to go.

But, there’s no need for hurry.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh

 

Dear Friends,

I hope you are well and happy and enjoying your moments. For many people, this is an exciting and joyful time of year, but for some, it’s stressful, demanding, and fraught with expectations and obligation. Often, the holidays feel like something to be endured, as if we’re holding our breath until January second until we can relax and return to our routine. For many of us, happiness is something that will happen once all the work is finished, the shopping done, all the presents and visits are over and the obligations are complete.

We know from neuroimaging that how we train our minds creates the functional connections of thought. This is called neuroplasticity. The regions and connections in our brains that are used repeatedly become strong, denser, and more active, resulting in faster and more direct activation. Neuroscientist Willoughby Britton says that every thought we have is micro-surgery in our brain. This means that every thought we have changes the physical structure and function of our brain.

When we spend our days leaning into the future and waiting to be happy, what are we practicing? What kind of neural infrastructure are we creating? We are learning to ignore the present moment and focus on the future promise of happiness when we are finished with chores, our education when we get the promotion, or move to Seattle. What we often find is that when we get the thing we’ve been trying for, the quiet moment, the completed list of projects, we can’t enjoy it. That’s because we do not know how to stop and find contentment in this moment. We’ve learned to only feel alive when we’re chasing a goal. When we arrive, we find deflation and disappointment. It’s not exactly what we thought. We don’t know how to relax, to find happiness and contentment in not striving.

Thich Nhat Hanh explains, “The present moment is the substance with which the future is made. Therefore, the best way to take care of the future is to take care of the present moment. What else can you do?” If I wait until all my chores are done to find some happiness and joy in my life, I will never find it, because I am training in pushing forward. I am not training in the practice of happiness.

Stopping and recognizing my goodness and my gifts is counter-culture in our capitalistic society. If I believe that I have enough, that I am enough, I don’t need to buy a new car to feel my worth. The belief that I can have happiness right here and now won’t keep the economy growing. A consumer society needs us to feel lacking and desperation in order to fill our emptiness with smartphones and devices that promise happiness and connection but cannot deliver on their promise.  Nothing that we buy or achieve will fill the void of not enough. That can only come from trusting our own worth. If I believe I am enough, I may stop working so hard and chasing promotions and opportunities because my peace, relationships, and well-being are more important than being regarded by others as successful.

The Buddha encouraged us to be with the body in the body. This means stopping planning and doing and dropping back into an embodied presence. Slowing down and feeling what is happening in this body and mind. Insight meditation teacher Narayan Liebson asks us to consider how much metta (loving kindness) is in our hands. This means infusing our actions with kindness, caring, and compassion. Ask yourself, how can my hands transmit kindness today? My eyes, my thoughts, and words? Can I spend a day being kindness in action? When we open up to connecting with a larger identity, we stop seeing the world as something we need to conquer and overcome, and we can gradually learn to practice finding joy, contentment, and solidity right here, right now. So please take a moment to consider, what’s right with me, right now. That is how we train to create the habit of happiness.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Lion_s_Roar_You_Have_Enough_1_grande

This Precious Human Life

Painting on the bluffs

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

 

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

~Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace.

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

~H.H. The XIV Dalai Lama

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

~Thich Nhat Hanh

 

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Dont ignore suffering

Take my Advice

beach stones

Beach stones, photo by Barabra Richardson

 

“Avoid giving advice, even if it asked for.

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

~Order of Interbeing website. Dharma sharing guidelines.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Be there for eachother