Celebrate Everyday

Daffodil head 2

Daffodil head. Photo by Celia

“Ever since happiness heard your name, it has been running through the streets trying to find you.”  ~Hafez

“Rejoicing in the good fortune of others is a practice that can help us when we feel emotionally shut down and unable to connect with others. Rejoicing generates good will.” ~Pema Chodron

“Everything that is made beautiful and fair and lovely is made for the eye of one who sees.” ~Rumi

“This is your celebration.” ~Kool and the Gang

Dear Friends,

Now that Thanksgiving is over, Americans, once again, are plunged into the vortex of consumption. We can shop all night and day and contribute to the important fourth-quarter earnings that keep our fiscal world spinning. Gift giving is linked to celebration in our culture and comes to us as virtuous consumption, distilled from religious traditions. Our holiday shopping buoys the weighty dictates of capitalism and the Consumer Confidence Index. Maybe it’s my imagination, but holiday marketing this year seems earlier and more unapologetically fierce than ever. While I appreciate cultivating generosity, the obvious commercial manipulation to make us want what we don’t need and can’t afford seems such a poor substitute for what we are really longing for.

All the marketing in the world can’t make us believe that we will truly be happy when we get the just right thing. We know that that new computer or cell phone won’t really be the catalyst for connecting with others or make us less lonely. We know that our new weave won’t guarantee that others accept us for who we are or bring us someone to love us for our authentic self. I am looking at what we are really searching for during our hours trolling through Amazon Wishlists checking off the gifts we are obliged to buy. What do we want to celebrate? Not stuff, not momentary happiness.

I believe we are all looking to go deeper and to celebrate the gifts we have already been given. When we recognize the abundance in our lives, we can celebrate every day. There’s a celebration in seeing the generosity of the Earth, the beauty of kindness in others and in ourselves, the delight in someone who makes music, sings or creates beautiful food. That may sound naïve and impossible, but when we consider what Interbeing is—the knowledge that all rely on each other to support our lives much more than we know, we can celebrate what we have already been freely given.

Dance in the kitchen and celebrate that you can still dance despite the pain in your knees and your 1980’s dance moves. Celebrate that you can feed your friends and those you don’t know. Celebrate that you have a quarter to give away to the woman sitting by the subway and that you have laundry to be washed. Celebrate the good in others and in yourself. Our feelings are worth celebrating, the happiness and sadness that let us be fully present to experience life and this body we have on loan—that allows us to engage in the process of being a human on Earth and the energy of life that enables us to wake up each day.

Celebrate when a spontaneous thought of generosity appears, the wish to help, the desire to see a world free from violence and inconsideration. Allow someone else’s point of view to matter as much as our own and celebrate dropping our judgment to find out what happened to make them speak with hatred. Find the celebration in the sweet sharpness of the pomegranate seeds that we did not have to tend, but grew healthy and fertile without our worry. Knowing what causes suffering…that first drink, eating all the cheesecake, texting that person who is not good for us, and we don’t do it—that’s a celebration. In our grief, we can celebrate that we have a friend we trust to understand. There are celebrations waiting for us everywhere we look. Where is your celebration hiding today? Celebrating this life is the realization of our interbeing. We don’t do it alone. Get a little retro with this video and start the party early. Let happiness be your default mode. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GwjfUFyY6M

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Dont ignore suffering

Advertisements

Being Compassion Wherever We Go

Snow Clouds

Snowclouds. Photo by Celia

“The Buddha told Ananda, ‘You still listen to the Dharma with the conditioned mind, and so the Dharma becomes conditioned as well, and you do not obtain the Dharma-nature. It is like when someone points his finger at the moon to show it to someone else. Guided by the finger, that person should see the moon. If he looks at the finger instead and mistakes it for the moon, he loses not only the moon but the finger also. Why? It is because he mistakes the pointing finger for the bright moon.'” ~Shurangam Sutta

“The teaching is like a raft that carries you to the other shore. The raft is needed, but the raft is not the other shore. An intelligent person would not carry the raft around on his head after making it across to the other shore. Bhikkhus, my teaching is the raft which can help you cross to the other shore beyond birth and death. Use the raft to cross to the other shore, but don’t hang onto it as your property. Do not become caught in the teaching. You must be able to let it go.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh from Old Path White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha

“We have to continue to learn. We have to be open. And we have to be ready to release our knowledge in order to come to a higher understanding of reality.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

 

Dear Friends,

In our lives, we have lots of training. Some of us were taught the forms of practice in our root religious traditions. We may have gone to classes to become good Christians, Muslims, Jews, or Buddhists. We may go on retreats to learn techniques of meditation or do mindfulness training, yoga training, or some form of wellness practice. In all these endeavors there’s a point of integration when we take the practice off the cushion or the mat and we bring it into our lives. I’ve heard this described as the way we learn to dance. At first, we count steps and follow the outline, but after repeated practice, the body learns what to do and we can respond to the changing music with grace and ability. In the same way, our practice gets into our bones and we learn to respond skillfully to what is happening.

 In the Buddhist tradition siilabbata-paraamaasa, “grasping at precepts & practices,” is one of the five lower fetters from the list of the ten that binds us to Samsara, the repeating habits of causing suffering for ourselves. This means getting bound up in the appearance of doing things right and believing that fulfilling one’s obligations is equivalent to practicing real compassion and wise action. So, what does it mean to be devoted to our spiritual progress and practice but not attached to form? This means making our practice our own.

What does an integrated practice look like? Our lives are unique and as Jack Kornfield reminds us, in the eons of human development, there has never been this person on the planet who is you. We are all unique and have our own individual history and life situation and that life situation is constantly changing. When we believe that we satisfy our intentions for compassion and growth through our forms of practice, we set ourselves up for disappointment and frustration when the outside conditions of life don’t support us in fulfilling our goals. And we miss the opportunities to bring these practices to the relational world.

So, we may wake up and your dog is sick, and we have to call out of work and take her to the emergency vet and we don’t get to sit and meditate, or the pipes freeze and burst in the bathroom and we have to give up our weekend retreat to find a plumber and a carpenter to make repairs. We may be very diligent at saying our compassion phrases and blessing the strangers in the grocery store, but when our elderly neighbor needs a ride to the drug store, we don’t want to sacrifice our Qigong time and drive her. In our lives, we are called upon to be the embodiment of our training and our fundamental desire to wake up and alleviate suffering in the world.

Being unattached to forms and rituals may include the need to forgive ourselves for not doing what we want and doing what is necessary. The karma-phala, the karmic fruit of practice is apparent in our quality of heart in the moments when we are called upon to respond. Do we begrudge the time spent buying our kid winter boots because we have more spiritual projects to attend to, or can we carry our intention to befriend ourselves into that project as well? The practice of compassionate presence and non-abandoning ourselves becomes wedded to our being and we can practice mindfulness of the body, of our emotions, and compassionate care of ourselves and others, no matter what is happening.

With holidays coming and the demands of family and society ramping up, I encourage us all to practice some forgiveness and realism regarding our practice. Maybe this means letting go of our consistent meditation streak on the Insight Timer app or giving ourselves understanding when we only have time for three breaths to center ourselves before sleep. But be realistic, can we make time for our formal practice? Is it supporting what we do in our lives? If doing the practice creates more pain—that’s a signal that we need to change the plan. Practice is a crucial support for developing our own stillness and insight AND how do we make it our own? I’d love to hear some of the many ways your kindness is manifesting in the world. Drop a line, if you have time.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

The way out is the way in

I am Thankful for my Friends

Purple orchids

Purple Moth Orchids. Photo by Celia

Friendship is the most constant, the most enduring the most basic part of love.

~Ed Cunningham

The friend who is a helpmate,

the friend in happiness and woe,

the friend who gives good counsel,

the friend who sympathises too  —

these four as friends the wise behold

and cherish them devotedly

as does a mother her own child.

~Digha Nikaya 31

Friends show their love in times of trouble, not in happiness.

~Euripedes

It’s good to see Noble Ones.

Happy their company  —  always.

Through not seeing fools

constantly, constantly one would be happy.

 ~Dhammapada, Verse 206

Dear Friends,

It’s a cold night in Connecticut and we had snow flurries yesterday while parts of California are burning and folks are losing their house and lives. I am imagining that anyone in that position is struggling with grief and fear, dislocation, despair, and longing for physical safety. I hope those who are losing homes and neighbors have good friends who can comfort them and let them know they are not alone. We are not born to be solitary beings. We all do better with support and community and the kindness of friends can help make tragedy more bearable when we are met with compassion.

Friendships according to the Buddha are not only a way to make life more enjoyable, but are an essential ingredient in waking up. It’s recorded in the Upaddaha Sutta when Ananda asked the Buddha if good spiritual friends are half the holy life, the Buddha replied “Don’t say that, Ananda. Don’t say that. Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life” (Upaddha Sutta, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, trans.). The Buddha repeatedly counseled his followers to seek Kalyanamittata [good friendships]. While friendships with those who are not interested in waking up can lead us off the path, friendships with those who are wise and have an evolved spiritual practice can guide and be a support for us.

When we experience doubt or the pain in our lives seems too heavy for us alone, we can borrow the skillful qualities of others. We can find strength and renew our confidence in our own goodness and capability through the examples of others. When we see someone do something we would like to do, we learn how to do it ourselves. The more we are witness to kind speech, thoughtful generosity, or patience, the more realistic living those virtues becomes. The Buddha tells us the one who wants to have a peaceful and calm life will spend their time with the “young or old, who are advanced in virtue. He [She] talks with them, engages them in discussions. He [She]emulates consummate conviction in those who are consummate in conviction, consummate virtue in those who are consummate in virtue, consummate generosity in those who are consummate in generosity, and consummate discernment in those who are consummate in discernment. This is called admirable friendship” (Dighajanu Sutta, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, trans.) Emulating friends we admire is a way to catch the contagion of goodness and faith in our own ability. Our wise friendships are not limited by time and space; we can use the example of Mother Theresa’s steadfast compassion and humility when we feel wearied by so much suffering around us, or Nelson Mandela’s nonviolence and patience when we witness injustice and unfairness, or in the face of personal attack or prejudice, borrow the equanimity of the Buddha who did not hate or condemn his cousin Devadatta, although he tried to assassinate the Buddha killed three times. Making a place in our lives for those we admire and see as wise, gives us the courage to be bravely true to our most cherished intentions.

The Buddha warns of friendships with those who engage in bad habits, of drinking, gambling, gossip, lying, harsh speech, sexual misconduct, who are lazy and do not seek any transformation, are ungenerous or give gifts without care or believe that they make a difference. Hanging around with this crew will likely not advance your path towards enlightenment and most likely add some heavy karmic load to your luggage. But for those who are capable of discernment and knowing what true friendship is, they are able to find others, “who are endowed with conviction, conscience, concern; who are learned, with aroused persistence, unmuddled mindfulness, & good discernment” (Dighajanu Sutta, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, trans.).

The Buddha was called a physician who cured suffering and a teacher, but he also thought of himself as a worthy friend for his followers to rely on. It is the Buddha’s commitment to friendship and the compassion for his followers that created the conditions to end their suffering. He tells Ananda that “It is in dependence on me as an admirable friend that beings subject to birth have gained release from birth, … from aging, …release from death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair” (Upaddha Sutta, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, trans.). The body of the Buddha is no longer in this realm, but the energy of the Buddha’s friendship lives on in the sangha, the community that supports and guides us as we all travel together.

As I write this I am thinking of all the opportunities for care and togetherness we have in this lifetime. The physical presence of the sangha who encourages us with their kind eyes and gentle speech, examples of those who have gone before and show us the way to walk with strength and conviction, and the wise teachers we include in our lives who demonstrate kindness, generosity, and fearlessness.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

joyfully together

 

 

 

Resting in Not Knowing

snail and terrier

Sami meets Snail. Photo by Barbara Richardson

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” ~Socrates

“Meditation is not to escape from society but to come back to ourselves and see what is going on. Once there is seeing, there must be acting. With mindfulness, we know what to do and what not to do to help.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

“We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear Friends,

The reason this letter is later than usual is that I felt confused. There are so many conflicting and troubling news items swirling around, so much tension in the US on the eve of mid-term elections and the 24-hour news cycle that keeps feeding fear and speculation about the future. Much of me wants to hide out and remove myself from the growing divisiveness in the political process through some pleasant distraction. Paying attention to what is going on in me, I recognized that this tension is driven by the desire to know how things will be and imagine that this knowledge will keep me safe. I wanted clarity before I began to write and what came through as truth is that I don’t know. I am 100 percent certain that I do not know what will happen. Just writing that helps my nervous system relax.

This is part of the Buddhist practice of “Don’t know mind.” There is a release and clarity when we stop trying to grasp what is unknowable. We cannot know the future. Each day, I hear pundits talking about what will happen if interest rates rise, if a different political party is elected, if there is a spike in oil rates, if house prices rise and fall, if the stock market leaps or plummets. There is an endless stream of “what if,” thinking. The only thing that is certain is that the future is unpredictable, fluid, and the law of impermanence applies to it all. When I allow myself to fall into future speculation around the construct of me as a small individual self, this is called papañca (Pali). Papañca is described as mental proliferation. We’ve all had that experience of picking up a particular worry or concern and twisting it about in our minds, turning it to view the best case scenario, then the worst, and all possibilities in between. In the words of the Greek philosopher Seneca, “There is nothing so wretched or foolish as to anticipate misfortunes. What madness it is in your expecting evil before it arrives!” Even when we do anticipate misfortune, we anticipate something. We expend lots of energy and time defending against or preparing to engage in what we think will happen. This habit of leaning into the future not only takes us out of the present moment, vigilance also activates a stress response in the body, which robs us of our wisdom.

There is a wonderful clarity to not knowing and opening to the idea that I can rely on myself to respond wisely as events unfold. There are strength and confidence in neither leaning into the past or future, but returning to center in the present moment. So, what is the best way to prepare for the unknown? Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that the future is made directly from the present. The amount of peace, clarity, and discernment I possess right now creates the next moment. We see this in the way we answer a text or email when we are triggered and get a defensive or hostile response, or in the way we take the time to meet someone’s eyes and let them know they matter and receive a smile in return. The amount of peace, happiness, or fear and resistance in my heart when I act is directly linked to my future and the conditions I create around me. This week, I invite you to come back to the present moment, to remember that preparation for the future begins with each breath as an opportunity for fear, speculation, and tension, or for stillness, insight, and wisdom. Let’s not forget the power we do possess—the choices we make for a heaven or hell in this moment.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

The country of the present moment