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

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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

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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

 

It’s Not Personal

Bee Fountain

                         Bee Fountain photo by Barbara Richarson

 

“Be kind to every person, because each person has been asked to carry a great burden.” ~Attributed to Kabir

“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh

“There is no such thing as justifiable anger in Buddhism, for if one is in the right, one should not be angry, and if one is in the wrong, one cannot afford to be angry. Therefore, under any circumstances one should not become angry.” ~ R. Bogoda

“It is not enough to be compassionate, we must act.” ~ H.H. The 14th Dalai Lama

 

Dear Friends,

Many of us in this country have taken up new roles because of the political climate in our country during and post-election. More and more often, we are called upon to respond to injustice or discrimination and take stands, or protest governmental policies that devalue the earth and other living beings. For many of us it is difficult to take action and remain loving and peaceful while in the presence of those who march or speak out with the energy of righteousness and anger.

I recall Sister The Nghiem sharing the teachings she learned from Thây (Thich Nhat Hanh). He warns us about the energy of righteousness. When we act from a place of judgement, we go to war with ourselves and them. We separate ourselves out and practice discrimination and there is no peace inside of us. When we are right and the other is wrong, there is always a battle. Thich Nhat Hanh lived through two wars, the French, Vietnamese war and the American war, which we in the US call the Vietnam war. He witnessed the brutality and destruction of that comes from hatred, greed, and delusion. His students were killed; he saw his city destroyed and the multi-generational suffering that war brings to both conqueror and conquered. He has dedicated his life to peace and his greatest aspiration is to build a beloved community where peace is possible. You might say he is an expert on peace, because his life was shaped by war.

News reports stoke the fires of indignation and righteous outrage daily, no matter which side of the political aisle you are on. Many people wonder, if I don’t feel righteousness, Will I become a passive doormat? Does it mean that I must be meek and a dispassionate Buddhist, not showing any emotion? Am I supposed not to care?

I had an experience seven years ago while on retreat, that really showed me the difference between acting out of compassion and out of anger. On retreats, we share rooms with many other people and we were seven women together—with one bathroom. I had my ear plugs, the good silicone ones, and my melatonin, because it’s always hard for me to get to sleep in a strange place. I had just drifted off the first night, when I was awakened by the movements of the woman in the bunk below me sorting pills by flashlight. Someone else was crinkling a cellophane bag and during the night, the bathroom door opened and closed perhaps a dozen times. It seemed that no one actually believed this was the time to sleep. Keep in mind that we were observing noble silence.

As the retreat continued, I started to feel I was coming down with a cold and sleep became something of an obsession. I took little naps and tried to beat my roommates to bed for a half hour of actual sleep before the long night of rustling, flickering lights, alarms for medication, coughing, and bathroom visits began. The fourth night of the retreat was not a silent one. Because several of the women in the room were being ordained in the morning, they got up extra, extra, early and began showering. I lay in my bunk and steamed. I was sure I was getting sick. This was terrible. I would never do another retreat with these roommates. No one cared about me. Didn’t they realize how inconsiderate they were? This was supposed to be about mindfulness and no one was mindful of me! I was too mad to go back to sleep and there was too much buzzing and nervous excitement in the room. I got up, dressed, and hoped my roommates could see how much they made me suffer, but of course, we were still in silence.

I was the first person in the meditation hall that morning. I sat and felt some spaciousness and my irritation began to cool. When we have big reactions to present events often there is history that conditions our reactions. The feeling of anger calmed and I sat with what came next. It was saddness and the feeling that no one saw me, no one cared. There was long ago suffering from my childhood that was manifesting at this present moment. I held the little girl who felt overlooked so many years ago and told her that I would not abandon her. We were grown up now and I promised to take good care of her and make sure she was looked after. I could take care of the feeling of not being seen and cared for in this very moment. With a deep wish to care for myself, I realized that I needed to get sleep on retreat and I could camp in my own tent, tell the office and switch rooms, or go to a hotel. My realization that morning, was that the action I would take was the same action as when I was angry, but the motivation was a world apart. I had only love and concern for myself when I listened to my suffering. I could act without the sting of anger and hatred. I saw that my anger was the result of my unacknowledged suffering; the actions of my roommates were nothing personal. They weren’t doing it to me.

When we act from a place of care and compassion, we may call our representatives, march in a protest, write letters, or run for office. Our outward acts may look the same as others, but there is a different energy that motivates us. We all get triggered when we see or hear accounts of injustice, or hear that our friends and family have been slighted, hurt, or misunderstood. We all have the seeds of anger in us, but it’s what we do with them that matters. It’s how we care for our suffering that creates the ability to act without hatred and anger. Caring for our suffering gives us the spaciousness to act from compassion and freedom from taking it all personally. We absolutely can act in the world. We can take a stand and speak our truth and do so with the energy of love, of caring deeply for ourselves and others, with no desire to punish.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

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Dwelling in the Pleasant Moment

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“Our purpose is to enjoy all the wonders of life.”  ~Thich Nhat Hanh

“Most people are forgetful; they are not really there a lot of the time.”

 ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

“You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk through desert for a hundred miles repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

~ Mary Oliver

Dear Friends,

I received some good news recently. It was the reminder that these human lives we all have, these same ones that can seem so difficult and present so much struggle, are also a vehicle for joy. It is hard to remember that our purpose is to enjoy life when we see violence and hatred played out on the global stage, when our bodies are in pain, and basic goodness sounds like a marketing campaign for natural food, more that an identifiable human trait. It is a good practice to remind ourselves that it is OK to enjoy things, even when there is suffering around us. In fact, it is necessary to actively cultivate our appreciation of joy and noting its arrival. According to neuroscience, our thoughts, feelings, and sensations are produced by both mind and body. We cannot selectively numb our minds. When we numb our pain, we numb our joy. We believe that we can tough out the painful, mindful it away, and what’s left will be happiness, but that isn’t what happens. When we dismiss our pain and suffering, we learn to abandon ourselves. Thich Nhat Hanh tells us to hold our suffering like a drop of water in a river, embracing it completely. This way our bodies and minds know we are taking good care of them. This is the art of caring for our suffering. In the same way, we can fully embrace the joy in our lives, holding it tenderly. It is vitally important to cultivate our happiness because that is what gives us the capacity to be present for ourselves when things get tough.

A practice I use and recommend to others comes from a book called Ten breaths to Happiness, by Dharma teacher, Glen Schneider. This small book offers a powerful practice for noting and cultivating happiness. Often when we have a happy moment we push past, trying to find the problem, leaning towards the future with a list of projects and expectations. It is difficult and sometimes frightening to remain right here in the pleasant moment. This habit of threat vigilance is partly what kept our gene line alive through the millennia, but unchecked this mental tendency can create lives filled with anxiety and stress.

Glen writes that the time it takes to make a neural connection in the brain is about thirty seconds, or ten breaths. When we observe a pleasant feeling, a beautiful sight in nature, or hear music that makes us smile, we can develop the habit of stopping. We give ourselves over to this experience, relax our bodies and look deeply at the beautiful blooming sunset, or the face of our beloved. We notice where we experience delight in our bodies and minds. We make ourselves wholly present with this feeling for ten full breaths. This awareness and practice creates a neural path to happiness. As we build our mind maps and lay down more experiences of happiness, there is a greater connectivity. We actually notice more opportunities for happiness during the day. It’s like a muscle we exercise that gets stronger with repetition. We can increase our capacity for happiness by increasing our awareness and appreciation of the moments of happiness that exist in our lives. Please join me as we strengthen this habit of happiness by stopping and being present for our joy, ten breaths at a time.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

interconnection in the tree

A whole world in a tree root.

Playing in the Mud

“No Mud, No Lotus.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

 

“May you be able to receive the fruits of suffering.” ~ John O’Donohue

 

“Mindfulness is the willingness and capacity to be equally present with all events and experience with discernment, curiosity, and kindness.” ~ Christina Feldman

 

 

Dear Friends,

 

There’s a misperception about mindfulness I bumped into this week. A new acquaintance commented she was surprised I still encountered difficulty with equanimity and attachment to outcome, even though I have been practicing mindfulness for some time. I often think it would be wonderful if by practicing mindfulness and meditation we could eradicate these unpleasant states of mind. We would never get angry, feel anxious, worry about what others think about us, and generally avoid all the painful feelings in our lives. In cases of big E enlightenment, when we become fully enlightened Buddhas, the causes of suffering are uprooted. The fetters or defilements are destroyed, “removed it from its soil like a palmyra tree, brought it to utter extinction, incapable of arising again” (The discourse on the Snake Simile, MN 22). For most of us, full Buddhahood is a work in progress and our habits of mind transform slowly, and sometimes, very slowly. Transformation is evident when we become aware of our irritation before it becomes full blown anger and we offer kindness and support to ourselves. We may check in with our stomach and emotions before we finish off the whole quart of Ben and Jerry’s, or we might notice that a friend hasn’t returned our text and wonder what’s going on, without taking it as a personal affront. These subtle shifts in our perception are enlightenment. We have a choice about the way we respond to the stimuli in our lives.           

The practice of mindful awareness includes the non-judgmental acceptance of our unique life experience. We can go further and call it kindness or friendliness towards our thoughts, sensations, and feelings. Our practice invites us to examine the amount of kindness or aversion we allow ourselves with unpleasant states. Can we be OK, not being OK?  If we are looking for a life with only happiness, joy, and comfort, we will be disappointed, big-time, because life is not like that. The entirety of living encompasses the full range of our experience. Bringing compassionate awareness and care to all our states is our practice. As the Irish poet John O’Donohue wrote, “May you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease.” When we are able to be with our discomfort without making it bad or wrong, without pushing it away, we open the door for a new relationship to our suffering.

           

Thich Nhat Hanh writes about the happiness we experience after a toothache, when the pain is gone. He calls this the happiness of a non-toothache. “You know deeply at that point that not having a toothache is happiness. Yet later, when you don’t have a toothache, you forget and do not treasure your non-toothache” (Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life). When we are pain free, we think that’s the way it should be—keep it coming. It is only when we are in touch with this suffering that we can experience joy when the suffering abates. This is the practice that I encourage you to try on this week. Ask, when am I free from suffering? Is there a moment of OK even in the turbulence of anxiety or insecurity? Can we be happy that our teeth, our knees, our … (fill in body part) are pain free? Where is there ease in the midst of my pain? It might be a very small moment, seeing dogs play, or the comfort of cool air after the heat of the sun, something so small, it gets overlooked. I hope you will find your lotus that is waiting for you. Trust that it’s there, even if your path is full of mud.

 

May we all trust our light,

 

Celia

No mud no lotus

Calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

Forgiving

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“Because we are human beings, we cannot avoid making mistakes. We might have caused someone else to suffer, we might have offended our beloved ones, and we feel regret. But it is always possible for us to begin anew, and to transform all these kinds of mistakes. Without making mistakes there is no way to learn, in order to be a better person, to learn how to be tolerant, to be compassionate, to be loving, to be accepting. That is why mistakes play a role in our training, in our learning, and we should not get caught in the prison of culpability just because we have made some mistakes in our life. “

~Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear Friends,

Have you ever had those moments where you felt like you were driving off a cliff, but you couldn’t turn the wheel. The times when you knew you were acting unmindfully, but you watched yourself get deeper and deeper and just couldn’t break free from the power struggle. One Dharma teacher described it as, “waving to yourself as you go over the waterfall.” I think we’ve all been there. Despite all our training and resolve, we say the wrong things, we act in ways we know will harm ourselves or others. Our fear, habit, or resistance keeps us bound up with our desire to control others, or push for the results we want. In these moments, where we see our missteps and are disappointed and discouraged, we can remember that we all make mistakes and we can start again.

When we offer forgiveness to ourselves, we create a spaciousness that removes our blame and judgement about our failings and lets us begin again. We all come up short of our expectations sometimes. We all come from complicated backgrounds and relationships that can influence us in unconscious ways that we do not always recognize until we are reenacting the past. A practice I do every day is offering forgiveness. In this way, I can shine light on the hurts and judgements from the day.  By caring for my suffering, I keep the small resentments from becoming larger ones. Here is my adaptation of the classic Buddhist forgiveness meditation:

Daily Forgiveness Meditation

I bring awareness to my body. I recognize the ways I have hurt my body today, both knowingly and unknowingly. I have not always listened to my body and I sometimes ignore my hunger, tiredness, fatigue, and pain. I do not always care for my body with exercise or healthy food. Maybe I ingested food and drink that brings toxins into my body. But now, to the extent that I am able, I offer myself forgiveness for how I have hurt my body. I make a commitment to care for my body and not abandon myself. Just as my body loves me and always does the best it can, I promise to be there to support my body.

I bring awareness to the ways I have hurt myself, both knowingly and unknowingly, through my thoughts, words, and deeds. Sometimes, I place unrealistic expectations upon myself or create impossible to do lists that I cannot accomplish. I have been harsh and critical of my abilities. To the extent I am able, I offer myself forgiveness for my lack of understanding of my own suffering and dissatisfaction with myself. I give myself permission to be human and to make mistakes. I release myself from the prison of perfection and from responsibility for other’s thoughts and feelings. To the degree I am able, I forgive myself for what I perceive are my imperfections and love and accept myself exactly as I am right now, without any expectation that I will ever be different than I am right now.

I bring awareness to the way I have hurt another, both knowingly and unknowingly, through my thoughts, speech, or actions. Understanding that the inability to care for my suffering only brings more suffering, I make the commitment to offer compassionate attention to my thoughts, perceptions, and emotions, so I will be capable of kindness and compassion. To the extent that I am able, I release myself from blame and offer myself forgiveness for my mistakes. Giving myself understanding and offering myself gentleness, I release myself, as best I can, from judgement, blame, and disappointment because of my unskillful thoughts, speech, and actions.

I bring awareness to the ways I have been hurt, both knowingly and unknowingly, by another’s thoughts, speech, or actions. I recognize that my highest priority is to the purity of my consciousness and holding onto judgement, hatred, and revenge, not only damages my relationships, but hurts myself as well. Knowing that forgiveness is not possible until I have fully understood the depth of my own suffering created by another, I vow to care for my hurt with mindful compassion. Recognizing that those who cannot take care of their own suffering, cause suffering in others, to the extent I am able, I offer understanding and forgiveness to the other person and free them from my judgement, dislike, and blame. To whatever degree possible, I offer this person the same freedom as myself, the right to make mistakes, to be imperfect, and fully human.

Wishing you unconditional forgiveness for your own perfectly imperfect life.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

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Artwork credit: Professions for Peace.com

Unconditional Love

Outside Buddha

Meditating Buddha, Insight Meditation Society

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” ~Jalaluddin Rumi

“In the past, you may have been animated by the energies of hatred, violence, and blaming, but through the practice of looking deeply, those energies can be gradually transformed into understanding and compassion. Compassion helps us understand others, even those who have caused our suffering. With compassion and loving kindness in us, we suffer much less.” ~ Thich Nhat Hahn

“Once you overcome the hatred within your mind, you will discover that in the world outside, there is no longer any such thing as even a single enemy.” ~Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

Dear Friends,

I just returned from an eight day metta [loving kindness] retreat with Sharon Salzberg, Oren J. Sofer, and Mark Coleman. The practice of metta, sending loving kindness to ourselves and others, is derived from Brahmanic teachings that pre-date the Buddha. Sharon Salzberg spoke about meaning of the word metta. The use of the words, “loving kindness” is rather unusual and sounds odd in colloquial English usage. The meaning that she finds encompasses the spirit of the word is connection. It is with the intention of connection that we send these wishes for good health, safety, and happiness to ourselves and others. The Buddhist metta practice comes from the metta sutta, the discourse on love, in which the Buddha exhorts his followers to cultivate a boundless, loving heart free from enmity, without excluding anyone. To practice this, we repeat a series of three or four phrases with the intention of alleviating suffering and wishing happiness and joy to ourselves and others.

Some of the traditional phrases are: May I (you) be free from inner and outer harm and danger. May I (you) be safe and protected. May I (you) be free of mental suffering or distress. May I (you) be happy. May I (you) be free of physical pain and suffering. May I (you) be healthy and strong. May I (you) live in this world happily, peacefully, joyfully, with ease. We repeat three or four of these phrases, first for ourselves, then for a benefactor, or someone easy to love, for a neutral person (someone we do not know) and then for a mildly difficult person (classically called the enemy) and ultimately for all beings.

One of the teachings from Sharon Salzberg, that stood out for me, was the idea of metta as a gift. It is an offering, a prayer, or a wish. If our metta has the quality of obligation or is conditional, it is not a gift. If we only send metta to those who meet our ethical standards, are innocent and kind, or if there is a desire for love and force or control in our offering, it is not a gift. It’s like giving someone a sweater, then demanding they wear it every day. The gift becomes constricting and imprisoning, or when we offer metta and there is a grasping—we cling to the idea that this person needs to be healthy, needs to be safe, we feel an urgency and desire to control the situation, then the gift is not freely given, but comes with expectation and demands. I imagined my metta, my wishes for those I know, and do not know, to be well, safe, and happy, like gauzy scarves. I offered, light unburdening gifts.

Sharon Salzberg made the important distinction that when we send sending metta to those we find difficult, those who violate human rights, or are not kind, this is not an endorsement of their actions, or need to be friendly with these people. When we send loving kindness and the wish for happiness to people who are child abusers, rapists, or human traffickers, we are not saying that the actions of these people are acceptable. Their actions are far from ok, but there is an enigmatic aspect to metta. It is the ability to hold all beings—those who perpetrate suffering and those who are victims, both equally in our hearts. Mark Coleman described this paradox as something the heart can hold, but not the mind. We cannot think our way into loving all people; it is beyond rational thought. It is a heart practice, the ability to send our love and wishes for happiness to the predator and to the prey that is consumed.

Metta does not mean that there will be not suffering. Life inevitably takes life. Animals eat other animals to live; there is greed, hatred and delusion that creates violence, separation, and judgement. But metta is an antidote to this. Metta steps beyond the discernment of worthiness into the realm of reverence for all life, just because it is life. It is the relinquishment and freedom from judgement. It can seem irresponsible and wrong to offer metta to those we believe are capable of harm and may even consider evil, but this is a practice of stretching. We start with the place of least resistance then work up as our capacity grows, so please do not begin with the worst person you can think of right away. We extend our realm of kindness little by little, not exceeding our capacity, until we have uncovered the boundless heart that Shakyamuni Buddha described and “cherish all living beings; Radiating kindness over the entire world: Spreading upwards to the skies, And downwards to the depths; Outwards and unbounded, Freed from hatred and ill-will” (Metta Sutta). Offering and holding this love also means that we offer the same love and consideration towards ourselves. When we practice loving kindness, we cherish ourselves and do not need to fear that we will become a martyr, or emotional doormat, and lose our ability to make difficult decisions. Metta can actually help us see more clearly what is the kindest course of action for ourselves.

This week please enjoy trying out some of your own metta phrases. I like to sit and ask, “what am I longing for?” I listen to what needs healing or care and send that wish to myself for a week, a month, or longer. Find what resonates for you. What are you longing to hear? Is it the wish for safety, for acceptance or love? Maybe you need rest or simple kindness? Some phrases I like and use are: May I (you) be strong and healthy. May I (you) care for myself happily, May I trust my goodness. May I feel safe, or it’s ok to feel safe. May I be happy with what I have. May I be kind. May I respect myself. May I accept myself as I am. May I be here for myself.  Try out some phrases on the folks you love and those you find mildly difficult. See what happens when you practice while walking or driving. What does it feel like to offer the gift of “May you be happy,” to a stranger in the supermarket line? In practicing metta, we have the opportunity to send love and well wishes to those who accompany us in this life, if we approve of them or not. Using metta practice we can purify our thoughts and our intentions and connect with those we can easily love and those we find challenging. Metta works on us in both directions, outwards and in, transforming the barriers we have put in the way of giving and receiving love.

May we all trust in our light,

Celia

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Calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hahn

Making Room for Joy

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Kwanzan Cherry blossoms-a source of joy.     

“We can smile, breathe, walk, and eat our meals in a way that allows us to be in touch with the abundance of happiness that is available.  We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living.  We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma, and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house, and so on.  But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive.  Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity.  We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment.”               ~Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step

“When you think everything is someone else’s fault, you will suffer a lot. When you realize that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn both peace and joy.” ~ H.H. The Dalai Lama

 

Dear Friends,

Recently, a man asked me how to add more joy to life without losing judgement and thinking everything in life is rosy? As we looked into this question, we spoke about the bias in our culture towards cynicism. We associate a negative, doubting outlook with intelligence. Those who see the good in situations and people are labeled as simple, naïve, and unsophisticated. We want to be smart and savvy, not simpletons. In our society, we believe it is safer and wiser to look with skepticism and see the worst in every situation, the rotten core in all apples. Psychologist and mindfulness teacher, Rick Hanson writes, “Your brain evolved a negativity bias that makes it like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones. Therefore, a foundation for happiness is to deliberately weave positive experiences into the fabric of your brain and your self.” This negativity bias is part of our evolutionary strategy. We remember what or who has hurts us with remarkable accuracy and detail, while the positive interactions are far less valued. Dr. Baumeister, a Professor of psychology at Florida State University, studied this tendency to grasp the negative and ignore the positive. His research showed that five positive interactions are necessary to mitigate the negative effects of one unpleasant experience.  He gave a remedy for this phenomenon in a 2002, NY Times interview, “Many good events can overcome the psychological effects of a bad one.”  This is not our natural tendency.

Adding joy and happiness sounds like an uphill battle against this natural negativity protection. It takes sustained effort to increase our happiness. This may sound counter-intuitive. We believe that joy and happiness are spontaneous creations. If the world offered us more joy, we’d be happier—right? If only my house was nicer, my car was better, my kids listened, then I’d be happy. But as we experience life and see others who have professional success, wealth, and all the conditions of happiness. We can see that above a basic life sustaining level, things don’t contribute to happiness. When we rely on  outside conditions to provide our happiness, we will be disappointed. The world is not responsible for our happiness. We are.

If you haven’t seen this wonderful documentary, I am, click on this link to access the film. In 2007, Hollywood director, Tom Shadyac, suffered a head injury that left him with post-concussion syndrome and severe depression. He set out to find out what is the truth about life:

“Shadyac found that more – in his case, a 17,000-square foot art-filled mansion, exotic antiques, and private jets — was definitely less.   “What I discovered, when I began to look deeply, was that the world I was living in was a lie,” he explains.  ‘Much to my surprise, the accumulation of material wealth was a neutral phenomenon, neither good or bad, and certainly did not buy happiness.’  Gradually, with much consideration and contemplation, he changed his lifestyle.  He sold his house, moved to a mobile home community, and started life—a simpler and more responsible life –  anew.”

Tom Shadyac also learned about the human capacity for kindness. Recognizing that all beings carry seeds of compassion, kindness, and love in them as well as hatred, ignorance, and greed, allows us to see that there is a choice where to place our thoughts. We can see only the bad, or only the good. But if we see that both exist together, we can encourage and work to grow the goodness in ourselves and others. Bringing joy to ourselves and others does not preclude the loss of common sense. We can see the balance. That is the middle way, the way of morality, concentration, and wisdom.

A practice that helps being more joy is the ability to relax and feel safe in our bodies. Relaxing and allowing the body to rest are not default modes. Usually during the day, we are doing tasks, trying to get things done, to earn our titles, our positions and income. Our bodies can carry all our busyness and stress. If we do not stop and allow the body to be quiet and safe, we perpetuate tension and agitation. All living beings need rest. To experience deep relaxation, find a comfortable spot to lie down, click on this MP3 of Total Relaxation offered by Sister Dan Nghiem. This is a body scan where we practice softening and sending gratitude to all parts of the body. When we rest, and come back to ourselves, we give our bodies and minds the opportunity for healing. When we feel safe and relaxed we can experience joy. We cannot feel tension, worry, and joy at the same time.

Thich Nhat Hanh tells us we need to spend time relaxing every day, so we can be fresh and lovely for ourselves and others. This is not a Pollyanna feel-good practice. This is a source of strength, so we have the capacity to be present for the non-joyful stuff in our lives and the world. We need to cultivate joy to have the resilience to be fully present with the suffering. This is not a recipe to exclude our pain and discomfort—but to include both aspects of existence. Joy and happiness only arise if there is space in our lives and in our bodies. Our emotions are not separate from our physical state. This week I invite you to ask, how can I make room for joy in my life? Enjoy finding your answer.

 

With three breaths,

Celia

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