Putting an End to Hatred

Ginko

Ginko and denim. Photo by Celia

“I entrust myself to earth,

Earth entrusts herself to me.

I entrust myself to Buddha,

Buddha entrusts herself to me.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh, from Being Peace.

 

“Without being

peace, we cannot do anything for peace. If we cannot smile, we

cannot help other people to smile. If we are not peaceful, then

we cannot contribute to the peace movement.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh, from Being Peace.

 

“Hatreds never cease through hatred in this world; through love alone they cease. This is an eternal law.”

~Dhammapada, Verse 5, Narada Thera trans.

 

“We are committed not to kill and not to let others kill. We will not support any act of killing in the world, in our thinking, or in our way of life.”

~The Twelfth Mindfulness Training. The nuns and monks of Plum Village.

 

Dear Friends,

Yesterday I took refuge in the three jewels, the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha sharing a day of mindfulness with the Greater Hartford Sangha. I left with deep gratitude for the gift of sharing my day with a community dedicated to alleviating suffering in the world. I was so glad that I had the nourishment of the three refuges yesterday as I learned about the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill. I felt huge sadness and grief for the families and victims of the shooting. As I sat with these feelings, I was aware of the rage in me fed by the desire for all beings to be safe and valued. I saw my thoughts go into blame and judgment and turns towards punishment. I’ve grown up in a society that believes punishment equals justice and that punishment is a useful strategy for getting people to change their behavior. If we are a parent we know what punishment does; it teaches our children to be afraid or to be sneaky. Punishment, isolation, and shame are enculturated ways we believe we can effect social change. But how effective is punishment? The U. S. Bureau of Justice in a 2018 update reports that 5 out of 6 state prisoners were rearrested within 9 years of release. It seems that punishment is an expensive and misguided attempt to create change that ignores the basis of violence and hatred.

Buddhist scholar and monk Bhikkhu Bhodi writes that it is the root of ignorance or delusion (avijja/ Pali, avidya/ Sanskrit) that leads to suffering.  Ignorance is not a pathological condition. It is not evil or bad; it is simply a misperception. This is the ignorance that creates the mental confusion or blindness leading to separation and hatred and forgets we inter-are. It is the ignorance that creates in-group and out-group distinctions. It’s the “I making and my making” that leads us to grab hold of the disastrous strategies of greed, hatred, and violence with the mistaken belief they will keep us safe. Writing this I am grateful that I know the usefulness of anger AND extremely grateful I have entrusted myself to the care of the Dhamma which teaches me what to do with my anger so it does not need to become hatred. Anger is a powerful message that something needs our attention. Anger, just like pain, is signal to us that there is something harmful and hurtful going on and we need to take wise action to alleviate suffering in ourselves and others.

The Buddha had a profound understanding of human nature and the innate desire to protect oneself and one’s clan. He gave a teaching on five ways to put an end to hatred that tells us when someone is acting and speaking with violence and out of the delusion in a separated protected self, it is as if they have fallen severely ill, are alone in a strange place without food or medicine and shunned by all others. “And as for a person who is impure in his bodily behavior & verbal behavior, and who does not periodically experience mental clarity & calm, how should one subdue hatred for him? Just as when there is a sick man — in pain, seriously ill — traveling along a road, far from the next village & far from the last, unable to get the food he needs, unable to get the medicine he needs, unable to get a suitable assistant, unable to get anyone to take him to human habitation.…” (Aghatavinaya Sutta: Subduing Hatred). The Buddha tells us that viewing those who act with hatred and delusion through our veil of ignorance and condemnation will only enforce the belief in separation and fuel the cycle of hatred and violence. He tells us it is our task as practitioners is to pick up this ill and isolated person, provide food and medicine to help restore them to health and wholeness of body and mind and most importantly to put down our ignorance and do what feels so counter-culture—to understand that violence is a sign that someone is sick and suffering and care for the person who does harm.

This is a life-altering practice and requires some deep and honest looking at how we create a dangerous “other” and feed the cycle of violence and hatred in our own lives. Ask yourself who is it ok to hate? The KKK? Nazis? White nationalists? Terrorists? Joining together in our communities, who do we hate? When we practice hating, just like any skill, we get better at it. This week please look to see the usefulness in your anger, the beautiful desires for equality and justice that lie beneath anger and judgment and then, go deeper. See how we can act to remove what is the real danger—ignorance. On Tuesday, please take your compassion to the polls and do your best to elect those who can transcend the delusion of separation, those who remember that we all belong to each other.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

           Wrong perceptions

 

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Showing Up

Oct. Bluffs

Mohegan Bluffs, Block Island. Photo Barbara Richardson

“As a species we should never underestimate our low tolerance for discomfort.”

“Transformation occurs only when we remember, breath by breath, year after year, to move towards our emotional distress without condemning or justifying our experience.”

“Attending to our present-moment mind is and body is a way of being tender towards self, towards other, and towards the world. This quality of attention is inherent in our ability to love.”

All quotes from Pema Chodron, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times.

Dear Friends,

It’s a chilly October evening as I write this. Today I saw vermillion sugar maples and the rain is reminding me that in not so many weeks it will be snow. Recently, I’ve caught hold of some germs and found myself feeling shivery and waking up with painful sinuses. The cold symptoms don’t bother me much, but I do find it’s much harder to meditate when I am sick, breathing is harder and the body doesn’t feel so wide awake or keen on sitting. But I still do it even though my mind is not serene and my body would rather be in a bathtub. I am wondering why do we meditate? Isn’t it easier and more time effective to find a therapeutic medication to take the edge off the anxiety and give a little glow to our reality?

I know from experience that meditation is the way to come home to myself. Pema Chodron calls it, “learning to stay.” Human neurobiology is programmed to run away and avoid when things get difficult. There is a reason that flight is the first response to threat when the sympathetic nervous system is activated. If we just could get a snack, get more comfortable, find a really good ergonomically designed chair so my neck wouldn’t hurt, then I would be able to meditate. Meditation is the process of dropping in and befriending the self. When we practice meditation even on those days when it’s hard or simply another task to get through, we are doing two things. The first is the act of stilling the mind, beginning with calming the body. Secondly, the act of repetition encourages the body/mind to feel safe because we continue to show up despite external and internal conditions, when it’s cold and rainy and when the sun is shining.

If you’ve been meditating for a while, you probably have set a certain standard for your meditation and will discern if this was a “good” or “bad” meditation. We get particularly enamored of those good meditations when we feel solid and connected and the body is easy, tranquil, and strong. And we are equally dismissive of those meditations where the mind darts from the supermarket to the email we need to finish, to the necessity of finding a roofer, or maybe the dog has lymes disease, or the kid does, or I do and what about the neighbor who has a sign up endorsing the wrong political candidate…

What I have learned about these sub-par meditations is that they are testimonials to showing up for ourselves non-judgmentally just as we are. We are not trying to squeeze ourselves into the mold of a Buddha or saint. When we meditate, it’s an opportunity of connecting and accepting ourselves as we are in this moment. There is nothing to get rid of. The anxious mind is noted and seen with compassion—of course it’s busy; it’s afraid to get things wrong. We can be equally accepting of ourselves when we have a “good” meditation and recognize that there are innumerable conditions, our circumstance, our teachers, our physical health that all contributed to creating this transitory experience of calm and stillness.

When we meditate we also remember that we have a body. Most of us, most of the time, are disconnected from our bodies. If we are a person of color working in an historically white institution, a single mother trying to support her family and care for her young children, a person of non-conforming gender, someone who comes from a Muslim country and is categorized as a threat, or living with a chronic illness, all of these conditions create an internalized vigilance and an often unconscious fear which may manifest as physical tension. When we continue to show up and inquire about how we are, we encourage the body to relax. We engage with our un-recognized fear and actively let the body know it’s safe and let go of our vigilance even for a short amount of time.

How present we are with ourselves influences how relaxed and safe we feel. When we train to bring compassionate, loving acceptance to our situation, to the feelings in the body/mind we lay down the neural pathways that support continuing this activity of checking in, getting curious, and accepting what is. This week, I am saying, “this is how it is right now.” This phrase comes from meditation teacher and mother, Kalama Masters, who gives retreats on equanimity and impermanence. Showing up for ourselves regardless of our internal weather develops our trust in ourselves and our ability to befriend ourselves no matter what the outside conditions. Recently a friend told me, “there’s no good or bad meditation. There’s only meditation.” It’s about showing up, showing up, and showing up some more.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Relax your body

Changing Habits of Change

Buddha and the artichokes

Buddha and the artichokes in Judith’s garden. Photo by Celia

“If we take something to be the truth, we may cling to it so much that when the truth comes and knocks on our door, we won’t want to let it in.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh

“Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth”

~Pema Chödrön

 When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

“As long as our orientation is toward perfection or success, we will never

learn about unconditional friendship with ourselves, nor will we find

compassion. ”

~Pema Chödrön

Dear Friends,

I hope you are well and riding the waves of change with some amount of ease and equanimity. This past weekend, several sangha members and I attended a retreat titled Bringing Mindful Speech to Life offered by Plum Village tradition dharma teacher and Nonviolent Communication (NVC) trainer Peggy Smith. The retreat combined Plum Village practices of mindful sitting, walking, and eating with NVC training. For many of us, this training really rocked our world. We learned that we are communicating in a system grounded in right and wrong thinking, based on blaming, punishing, and manipulation to get our needs met. Waking up to recognize our compliance in this systemic enactment of violence was a shock. We saw examples of how our habitual responses to suffering, even ones we thought of as mindful, or compassionate, actually blocked the necessary empathetic resonance that allows true compassion to take place.

After the retreat, many participants left feeling both exquisitely grateful and exquisitely confused about how to practice right speech. Some may have been discouraged and wondered how to begin after having these entrenched societal patterns hard-wired into our brains after twenty or fifty years of communicating. If only wanting to change meant change would happen. The truth of changing habits is that it takes time, diligence, and lots of determination.

When we first begin to make a change in our lives, whether its conscious speech, awareness of our bodily responses or watching the judging mind, we introduce the mental suggestion to take note…and we do. We may find ourselves horrified at how many times during the day we fall into blaming others for our emotional response, or how often we think of Chinese food, sex, a new car, or give out our diagnoses and judgments of others as if they’re the truth. Pema Chödrön tells us that at the beginning of changing patterns we will see our habits all the time repeating with glaring consistency and vigor. We can start to believe that we are deeply flawed and incapable of change. But Pema tells us that seeing our habits is actually good news. It’s not that we are more judgmental, greedy, or mean-spirited than we ever were, it’s the fact that we are so sensitized to our actions. We have woken up to our formerly unconscious habit patterns.

One way to re-frame this thinking is to celebrate the times we catch ourselves in our old ways of thinking, speaking, and responding because this is our first step towards freedom—noticing. Buddhist monk, Anam Thubten, considers this step so essential he writes in No Self, No Problem: Awakening to Our True Nature, that each time we catch our minds wandering during meditation instead of lamenting and feeling despondent at how bad a meditator we are, we should celebrate and give ourselves a piece of chocolate. The noticing and returning the mind to the goal, whatever the goal is—staying present in meditation, or giving our self warm accompaniment when we feel the familiar shield of defense and the desire to retaliate—that is the very movement that creates the new habit of change.

This is a shift to compassion and changing two habits at the same time. When you find yourself messing up and doing the thing you don’t want to do, judging and responding from a place of fear and lack, yelling, or eating that piece of cheesecake, give yourself a reward of self-compassion for paying attention and gently return to what you do want to do. You can offer yourself Peggy Smith’s simple “of course.” Thich Nhat Hanh uses the phrase, “Darling, I am here for you,” or  you can try out “I care about this.” Experiment and find which words comfort and soothe the nervous system that tries so hard to keep us safe and happy. Of course, we fall into habits and repeat behavior. Of course, we do what we know best. It is hard work to change. Giving ourselves the gift of open-hearted acceptance can make changing habits a gentler and comforting process that leads to our greater freedom and connection with all beings.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

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