Training the Grateful Heart

Isley, sunset

Isley, Scotland, Sunset. photo by Barbara Richardson

 

“It’s a funny thing about life, once you begin to take note of the things you are grateful for, you begin to lose sight of the things that you lack.”

~ Germany Kent

Waking up this morning I smile

knowing there are 24 brand new hours before me.

I vow to live fully in each moment,

and look at beings with eyes of compassion.

~ Thich Nhat Hanh, Morning Gatha

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”

~ A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”

~ Meister Eckhart

Years ago, I was relieved to read that humans have a biological inclination towards pessimism. That meant I wasn’t the only one. The perpetually cheerful people I knew were like a different species, not of my tribe. How did they wake up smiling each day and just be so dang cheerful all the time? Why couldn’t they take a vacation from enthusiasm and be depressed and negative for a few days? Not everything is so great. I wouldn’t miss an opportunity to put a pin in their bubble of happiness because it was so annoying.

I have learned much about gratitude and happiness. For most of us, it isn’t a natural trait. It’s a state we work to create. That’s right, we work on gratitude. Cultivate is another way to say we train, we prepare, we pay attention to, we expend effort to bring gratitude into our lives. For most of us, due to our heritage, our conditioning, our exposure to the media, and the innate propensity to track what can harm us, we focus on what’s wrong.

When we watch elite athletes, artists, or musicians, we get the idea that they are gifted. They came out of the womb super talented. What we don’t always see is the years of training and cultivation that is beneath what looks effortless. It is the same with any skill. Gratitude is a skill we can develop and not just for Thanksgiving. Gratitude is a shift in awareness. It is letting go of the deadly habits of judgment, comparing, and holding on. Gratitude opens us up to noticing what is alive in us and around us. What is going right for you today?

A few years ago, I was speaking to dharma teacher, Joanne Friday. She remarked that she was always amazed how smoothly the traffic ran, even with tie-ups and delays. She focused on all the millions of journeys that happened without accident, delay, or problems. How many people navigate roadways safely every day? We all tend to focus on the frustrating, the obstacles and getting rid of what’s in our way.

There’s a beautiful reminder of what we are given from Benedictine monk, Brother David Seindl-Rast. It’s a five-and-a-half-minute video on gratefulness, well worth the time. When we spend time bringing our attention to what is good in our lives, we change our minds. In Buddharakkhita’s translation of The Dhammapada, the second stanza reads, “Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow.” Several thousands of years later, we have fMRI’s that show us where we spend our time, creates neural connectivity. The brain is amazingly plastic, and we can actively create connection and synchronicity in our thinking. If we spend our time thinking about all that is wrong, all that we don’t have, we feel resentful and poor. When we spend our time appreciating what we do possess, we are suddenly rich and blessed.  This shows us that our happiness and contentment is a choice. Making this choice part of our lives requires diligence and attention. We can shift from a life of lack to one of abundance if we commit to this training.

Luckily, increasing gratitude activates the reward network in our brain. This leads to increased neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, and the generation of oxytocin, the hormone that signifies the presence of love. We feel an increased experience of well-being or happiness. Gratitude actually makes us feel better. We can think of this gratitude practice as an outward and inward gift. Sharing our appreciations and gratitude brings happiness to others and shifts our own neural path towards happiness. As we head into Thanksgiving here is the US, I send my gratitude for all of you for your kindness and practice, for your wise and compassionate hearts. Please know how wonderful it is to be in this world with you.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Every moment is a gift of life

 

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Add Some Play to Your Day

Blue cliff nuns

Nuns at Play, BlueCliff Monastery

 

 “We are never more fully alive, more completely ourselves, or more deeply engrossed in anything than when we are playing.” ~ Charles Schaefer

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

~ George Bernard Shaw

“We can live without religion and meditation, but we cannot survive without human affection.”

~ Dalai Lama

“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination.” ~ Albert Einstein

If you’ve ever visited a monastery in the tradition of Plum Village, you will see something that is unusual in monastic life, monks and nuns playing. Monastics play soccer with kids, score goals, run in circles. They play volleyball with each other and retreatants. They sing songs with hand gestures, laugh together, and make paper art. They do some serious playing. This is anathema to many religious traditions, especially for renunciants, but Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that play is central to our spiritual growth.

Thây gave a dharma talk to the monastics about balancing our spiritual lives to include, study, practice, work and play. Brother Phap Hai, in his 2015 book, nothing to it: ten ways to be at home with yourself, details these four aspects that help us to grow in happiness and wisdom. To deepen our understanding we read the dharma and listen to teachings, we train in meditation with our mind and bodies, we work to embody the bodhisattva ideal of ending suffering on earth and give our time to others, and we take time to do things that bring us joy. Allowing ourselves to play is what rejuvenates us. Play reminds of our capacity for joy and nurtures our reserves needed to study, practice, and give of ourselves. While it may seem undignified, or unbecoming to the status of a spiritual seeker, we need play to keep us from becoming strict and proud, from setting ourselves above others or losing our happiness and delight in living.

Brother Phap Hai tells us that, “The practice of play is really the practice of being at ease” (p.25).  He reminds us that “we need to bring the elements of ease, relaxation, and joy into our lives of spiritual practice” (p.28). If we are joyless in our practice, doing things because we should, we become tight and burdened by our practice. The Buddha said repeatedly, he taught only about suffering and the end of suffering. If our spiritual life creates more suffering, stress, and tension for us, we need to examine our practice. How are we balancing the four elements of spirituality in our lives? And how can we look at this next phase of our lives in the holiday season with the element of play? How do we play together with our families, our co-workers, and our friends?

As we head into the last few months of the year there is so much to do. For American’s we begin with Thanksgiving and progress into a frenzy of consumption with holiday gift giving and the countdown to the New year. For many, this season can feel like obligation and pressure. I want to stop and explore what is beneath all this preparation, all this shopping, feasting, and feting. It’s time to wake up to the constant impermanence in this changing world and be curious about who is sharing our lives and our table.

What if creating the holidays was not work, but play? When we give up the idea of perfection, we can add the element of play. If we grimly endure life’s events, this time of year can feel like one long obligation, a prison of unwanted traditions. When we look with the eyes of a child, we can ask, how can I enjoy this day? How can I enjoy these people, whom I may not see again in my lifetime?  We shift from obligation to opportunity.

Any occasion is an opportunity to share our lives and to create happiness. I remember a story by Lama Surya Das of the Dalai Lama’s visit to Yale University. “That evening, the formal hosts’ pedagogues all went to get him. After knocking on the Nobel Laureates door, they were greeted by a man in maroon lama robes wearing a Groucho Marx mask: eyeglasses, nose, and mustache. It was His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet himself, having a bit of fun. A jolly lama, indeed. This is a true story.” If the Dalai Lama can wear a plastic nose and furry acrylic eyebrows, what could you do to add some playtime to your life and to the lives of those we love? Let’s imagine ways our practice can include friendship, happiness, and delight. Let’s play at that.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Burrito meditation

Burrito Meditation, Courtesy of Chipotle

 

 

Staying Small

Islay, Scotland beach

Isley, Scotland. Photo by Barbara Richardson

“When we have a toothache, we know that not having a toothache is happiness. But later, when we don’t have a toothache, we don’t treasure our non-toothache. Practicing mindfulness helps us learn to appreciate the well-being that is already there.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ~Thornton Wilder

The struggle ends when the gratitude begins. ~Neale Donald Walsch

Dear Friends,

This past week, a tropical storm blew through the North East and left many of us without electricity. We are used to what we are used to and any type of change can feel threatening and unsettling. My road was without power for four days and when it was restored, there was a surge that blew out our modem and then, no internet or phone service. Neighbors expressed discomfort and aversion. What I observed in my own thoughts during this time, was the habit to move towards comfort and how quickly irritation, frustration, and uncertainty crept in—even with this relatively small shift. My house had a generator for heat, water, and fridge and I was still out of sorts. I thought of the people in Puerto Rico who are living without power and will be for months. I know many of them have nothing left. The hurricane brought a river of toxic mud that turned everything it touched into garbage. What was fascinating, was that when I became curious about my mind state, I could observe this phenomenon of clinging to what I think of as “normal,” when in fact, it’s not the norm. It’s the condition of well-being that we take for granted.

Thich Nhat Hanh talks about this phenomenon in the joy of a non-tooth ache. We all know the pain of a toothache or can imagine how debilitating that is. If we have a toothache, then it’s gone, we are full of gratitude and joy, but we don’t wake up a week later still overjoyed. The happiness from a non-toothache fades quickly. The same happiness at having lights that work, water from a tap and being able to look at our email from home fades after a day or two and all these wonderful conditions we live with become the way life is supposed to be. We are entitled to electricity and all that comes with it.

We do this when we are sick. There’s a first glorious moment when we breathe through an un-stuffy nose, but we don’t think—I am so glad I am not clogged up every night after we are well. We look for the newest problem and let the small non-problems slide by. We look for the big dramatic things to feel thankful for and miss out on what is happening all the time in us and around us.

I try to practice staying small. This is a way to recognize the often-overlooked reasons for happiness. I start with the body and what’s happening in this small space I inhabit. Does anything feel good today? Any areas that are healthy and well?  I’m not on an intravenous drip or a ventilator, so I am off to a good start. I consider if I have enough food. Seldom is there any lack and that’s easily remedied by a trip to Stop n Shop. Not so, for many in the world. What else is going well? What am I doing and why? If I am writing, is it a chore or a pleasure? When I reflect, it is a privilege to share my thoughts with others, so that’s a good thing too. This doesn’t mean that I paint a rainbow on a terrible time, but being aware of what is working, and all the times there are no traffic jams, that really helps ease the fear of discomfort when it arises. Even in the power outage, I could use the Internet at the library, or go eat at a restaurant. That is also a privilege.

This week, perhaps, take some time to stay small and reflect on the areas of goodness and wellbeing right here, right now. The cup of tea in your hand, or the presence of a beloved pet, the ability to read and comprehend, all the small things we forget are gifts when we’re busy thinking about the obstacles to getting what we want. There’s goodness right here waiting for us to discover it.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Wilting flowers

Imagine you, but Better

Dumfries Scotland, tuba players

Tuba players. Dumfries, Scotland. Photo by Barbara Richardson

“We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize.”  ~Thich Nhat Hanh

“You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.” ~Pema Chödrön

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.”

~William Blake

“Reality can be beaten with enough imagination.”

 ~Mark Twain

 

Dear Friends,

I remember back when I was in junior high. It was in seventh grade when I saw a ninth-grade boy in his Converse high-top sneakers and army jacket, maybe he even had razor stubble and I thought to myself, how will I ever be that old? And then I had the thought that maybe one day I’d drive a car, but no, that was inconceivable. Perhaps that’s why I waited until I was in college before I tried it.

There’s an element of imagination and visualization in all change and transformation. We can’t imagine ourselves as babies, dependent and helpless, but we all came through that stage of life. In Buddhism, we spend time thinking about change and especially about transformation. This is essential for all human beings who want to live and die with grace and peace. If we don’t recognize and accept our ceaselessly changing bodies and life situations, we create suffering for ourselves and others. We see this is our elders who are taken by surprise, or angered by the effects of aging and react with fear and disbelief when they realize the experience of death also applies to them individually. Whatever you call it, resistance, unwillingness, or just inability to perceive these shifts, that lack of imagination can get us stuck.

The Buddha told Venerable Ananda in the Uppaddha Sutta, that good spiritual friends are the whole of the path. These are the people in our lives who show us what the qualities of kindness, generosity, and compassion look like so we can imagine and enact them. Acknowledging an example of wisdom, restraint, or generosity is a way to shift these qualities from lofty aspirations to everyday events. This is demonstrated by the Dhammapada verse, “Mind is the forerunner of (all good) states. Mind is chief; mind-made are they. If one speaks or acts with a pure mind, because of that, happiness follows one, even as one’s shadow that never leaves” (Narada Thera, trans., 1993, p. 5). This means that what I think and believe about myself, the quality of character I inhabit does make a difference to my own happiness and to the happiness of others. The willingness to see ourselves as capable and deeply connected to the strength of our ancestral stream can give us solidity and inspire us to become what we value.

Imagining ourselves living in accordance with our highest principles does not mean we will become narcissists, believing we are perfect faultless beings.  Wondering if we are becoming vain and full of spiritual pride is a great indicator that we have some self-reference and aren’t floating in the superiority conceit. Believing and visualizing our goodness can offer us connection and release us from the egoic desire to be better than and actually save us from the no-win struggle of less than, greater than, or equal to. If I believe I possess goodness, I don’t need to convince the world and be combative. I will be able to see how to live beautifully, with courage, humility, and compassion for all beings. I invite you to imagine what your life would look like if you arrived at your own goodness, no need to strive. It’s already in you.

What would your day look like today if you saw yourself as complete? How would your life be different if you were free from judgment and worry? Can you imagine your pure mind where happiness follows you like a faithful shadow? This week I invite you to spend some time getting to know the body/mind/heart of your highest self. See what happens when you wake up and recognize your true nature, your own capacity for holiness.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

 

People have a hard time letting go

Who’s to Blame?

Winton Hill Farm, Scotland

Winton Hill Farm, Scotland. Photo by Barbara Richardson

 

“When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

“We habitually erect a barrier called blame that keeps us from communicating genuinely with others, and we fortify it with our concepts of who’s right and who’s wrong. We do that with the people who are closest to us and we do it with political systems, with all kinds of things that we don’t like about our associates or our society.

It is a very common, ancient, well-perfected device for trying to feel better. Blame others…. Blaming is a way to protect your heart, trying to protect what is soft and open and tender in yourself. Rather than own that pain, we scramble to find some comfortable ground.”

~Pema Chödrön

“They blame those who remain silent, they blame those who speak much, they blame those who speak in moderation. There is none in the world who is not blamed.”

~Gotama Buddha, from the Dhammapada, verse 227.

 

Dear Friends,

It’s another breathtakingly beautiful day in New England with blue skies and mild weather. While natural disasters and human-engineered disasters are affecting much of the country and the world, those living in the Northeast can escape some extreme weather and suffering, but there is always the internal landscape of habitual suffering to work with. That is our weather pattern we carry with us. We all have conditioned habits and triggers that bring us into reactive habits of mind. One habit that is particularly deadly is the habit of blame. In many households or workplaces, when something is unpleasant, broken, or perceived as wrong, the first question is always, “Who did this?” There is an immediate vigilante hunt for the perpetrator and an assignment of blame.    

Blaming cuts off compassion, compassion for self and for others. Blaming also leads to battles. There is a difference between responsibility and blame. Not blaming does not mean we allow harm and cruelty to happen. We have a responsibility to act with compassion for ourselves and all beings. We also have the ability to utilize loving speech. Blame is never spoken with love, gentleness, or kindness. Blaming always seeks to punish and separates us from them. We can be innocent, blameless, and just, while they are bad, thoughtless, or just mistaken. Blaming does not help the one who assigns blame or the one who is blamed. Blaming is a sure way to increase defensiveness, shame and create an unsafe environment. If there is blame in a relationship, there is always anger. If there is blame as work, there is resistance and fear.

The Buddha said over 2,500 years ago that we are all subject to blame. There will always be praise and blame because blame is a basic defensive response to threat. If we are guiltless, we are safe. Blame protects us on an elementary survival level. Blame is like any other mental formation. The first step in releasing ourselves and others from the damage of blame is to notice. When we are blamed, we can notice, how does it feel?

 In my experience, being blamed is intensely painful, both physically and mentally. We can begin to shift our painful feelings, by trying to stay with the response to blame as sensation, to look with curiosity at the energy in our skin, the tightness in the body, perhaps the rush of adrenaline. We can pull ourselves back from our ingrained habitual response of defending, freezing, or collapsing. Do we try to appease, or lash out and blame someone else? Conversely, we can notice if we tend to blame others. Do we look for the people who caused whatever political upheaval that is happening now and separate ourselves out with hatred and condemnation? Do we spend time finding fault with others who we believe complicate our lives? What is our blame strategy? Perhaps we save all the blame for ourselves?

When we remember the Buddha’s teaching of the Five Keys for Right Speech, “It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will.” We will know how to speak to ourselves and to others, with open hearts, humility, and kindness, free from blame.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Words-can-travel

Dumfries Scotland, hills

Dumfries Hills, Scotland ~Photo by Barbara Richardson

“’Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain. Breathing out, I feel solid.’ Solid as a mountain, that is our practice. You learn to be solid in your sitting position and then you will learn to be solid in your way of walking. You will be solid in your way of driving. You will be a solid driver. When you cook your dinner, you can practice your solidity, also.”  ~Thich Nhat Hanh

 “Don’t hate the circumstance, you may miss the blessing.” ~Marshall B. Rosenberg

“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you- A  joy.” ~Rumi

“Classifying and judging people promotes violence.” ~ Marshall B. Rosenberg

 

Dear Friends,

Autumn is happening. It’s so human to assign a separation to the cycles of the year when really, there is no beginning of Autumn. Autumn would begin with the birth of the trees and the first rotation of the planet. When we look at what we think of as Autumn, falling leaves, cooler temperatures, shorter days, we see the origins in the inevitability of creation. Truly there is no start and end date, only constant transformation. In the words of the French scientist Lavoisier, “nothing is born and nothing dies.”

We want to separate and make solid. This can give us the feeling of ground beneath our feet in this fluctuating world. One aspect of this that came up for me this week was control. I am working on a group project and found myself wrestling with the demons of wanting to control the finished product. There’s a rigidity and a correctness when we want to control. There is a lack of trust and release. Holding onto control when the events and situation are beyond our jurisdiction is incredibly painful, so why do we do it?

As far as I can tell, it is part of our primitive biological adaptation. In the primitive mind, there are only two states, safe and not safe. When our senses tell us, there is anything remotely painful or concerning, we have a strong reaction and resist. We believe that we can protect ourselves from annihilation since that’s what unsafe means. For me this week, unsafe means compromising on a written report, certainly not a life-threatening event, but my mind doesn’t see it that way. When we get sucked into the vortex of wanting to control, we forget that we do have a choice. A dear friend of mine told me years ago, “It’s my habit to be a victim. I forget that I always have a choice, even if it is to do nothing. That’s still a choice.” I need to remember that.

When I recognize that I have a choice and see the reasons for engaging in the activity I am in, it releases me from victimhood. I have agency. I can always say no. I can always choose to do something else, or recognize my desires and needs beneath the task that seems to be thrust upon me. The creator of Non-Violent Communication, Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D. writes, “As you explore the statement, ‘I choose to . . . because I want…,’  you may discover the important values behind the choices you’ve made. I am convinced that after we gain clarity regarding the need being served by our actions, we can experience those actions as play even when they involve hard work, challenge, or frustration.” When we remember our sovereignty over ourselves, we recognize that we are not powerless children and despite all the vastly changing conditions and uncertainty, I do have a choice about the quality of my mind. If I can release the grip of what is outside my control and come back to choosing to be peace, choosing to be aware of the tension and relaxation in my body, and this breath. In that moment I become a free person.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Living Mindfully Living Peacefully

Nourishing our Hearts, Bodies, and Mind

Isley draft horse

Draft Horse, Islay Scotland. Photo by Barbara Richardson

 

“We have to look deeply to see how we grow our food, so we can eat in ways that preserve our collective well-being, minimize our suffering and the suffering of other species, and allow the earth to continue to be a source of life for all of us. If, while we eat, we destroy living beings or the environment, we are eating the flesh of our own sons and daughters. We need to look deeply together and discuss how to eat, what to eat, and what to resist.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching

 

“Then he said, ‘Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.’”

~Luke 12:15

“the purpose of a rose is to be a rose. Your purpose is to be yourself. You don’t have to run anywhere to become someone else. You are wonderful just as you are.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching

 

“The world has enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not for every man’s greed”

~Mahatma Gandhi

 

 

Dear Friends,

This week we are looking at the fifth mindfulness training. The five trainings are the Buddhist vision of a global ethic. The original five precepts were guideline the Buddha gave lay followers over 2,500 years ago. These guides are protections that create conditions for a happy life.

Nourishment and Healing

 

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the earth.

The fifth training invites us to consider our relationship with our consumption and the desires that fuel it. There is a tendency to keep very busy to ward off unwanted feelings that creep in when there is quiet, or we are left alone with ourselves. We may exercise, shop, eat, watch TV, organize, work, engage in a myriad of activities that fill our days and lives and keep our sadness, loss or loneliness away. Many people use food to take themselves out of this moment. Food can alter moods and is a great distraction, but it is also a problem when we eat because we want this moment to be different than it is. We may injure our health, binge, and purge, carry excess weight, or compulsively exercise and diet. All these behaviors stem from what Thây calls, not being able to handle our suffering. We look for ways to escape from our pain.

Thây tells us when we have a craving, be it for alcohol, cigarettes, food, drugs, anything that comes from a desire for escape, try to wait ten minutes before indulging in the craving. In ten minutes a lot can change. We may find that we aren’t dying for the chocolate cake, or the desire for a drink is replaced by tiredness, or we realize that asking that stranger for their phone number is really deadly to our marriage vows. Observing craving can help us see that craving is like anything else, it comes and it goes. It is also categorized as a hindrance to our spiritual progress. Craving keeps us stuck repeating behaviors we know aren’t good for us or takes us out of the present moment.

When we stop and look deeply at what is driving our behavior and our consumption we have the opportunity to make wiser choices. There is a saying about indulging in our cravings, “Just because the dinner bell rings, doesn’t mean I have to answer it.” Craving is like any neurological phenomena, the more we give in and practice responding to the craving, the stronger that neural connectivity becomes. Craving cannot be satisfied by giving in to the behavior. Repeated indulgence only makes it stronger. It requires a lot of compassion and small steps to change our ingrained habits.

A New York Times article about binge eating highlights the practice of slow, mindful eating at Blue Cliff Monastery in New York. When we slow down, turn off the TV, don’t eat in front of the computer, we can give our attention to what we are doing. As we eat, we are invited to notice the texture, the smell, the color of this food. We can consider where this food came from, who grew it, how did it get on my plate? When we eat mindfully and chew thoroughly, we slow down and feel satisfied with eating less. When we attend to ourselves the body notices and is thankful. Mindful eating is a wonderful way to connect with the healing and generous world we live it. Our food can be a gift to the body, instead of a quick bite eaten on the run.

We can stop and feel the warmth of the water in our teacup, smell the aroma of the tea. Consider the time it took for these leaves to grow to maturity, the hands that harvested and packaged them, The journey of this tea to my store. The connection to our livelihood and the money earned that allowed the purchase. The body of mine that is receiving the taste, scent, and warmth of this tea and all the layered and far-reaching connections that made this simple cup of tea possible.

This week I invite you to eat a meal mindfully or drink a cup of tea with great care. Silently considering each mouthful as it nourishes our body. Consuming nutrients and information with reverence for the earth and for all life forms invites us to slow down and treat ourselves the way we would a cherished guest. Nourishing the body and the mind with beautiful food and careful curation of media input, we give ourselves the most valuable gift, the time to savor and enjoy our lives.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

 

Dont ignore suffering

The Weight of Our Words

IMG_8226

Leaves on the Path     Photo by me

 

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

~ Mark Twain

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

 ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

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

 ~ Siddhartha Gotama

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

~Laurence J. Peter

 

Dear Friends,

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

Loving Speech and Deep Listening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May we all trust our light,

Celia

 

Words-can-travel

Loving Begins With Me

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“Every child is born in the garden of humanity as a flower. Each flower differs from every other flower. There are many messages in our society that tell us, even when we’re young people, that there’s something wrong with us and that if we just buy the right product, or look a certain way, or have the right partner, that will fix it. As grown-ups, we can remind young people that they’re already beautiful as they are; they don’t have to be someone else.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

“When we feed and support our own happiness, we are nourishing our ability to love. That’s why to love means to learn the art of nourishing our happiness.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

“Follow the three R’s: – Respect for self. – Respect for others. – Responsibility for all your actions.” H.H. The Dalai Lama

 

Dear Friends,

I hope you are well and enjoying what your life is offering you. This week We are continuing to look at The Five Mindfulness Trainings, focusing on the third,

True Love.

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.

This training is especially important for young people. The messages and images we see in the media and in entertainment depict couples in sexual situations as the natural progression of relationship. While sexual relationships are a healthy and sacred part of a committed relationship, what we don’t see much in the media, or on screens, is the idea that sexual relationships are significant. They mean something. In the media and in real life, overtly sexual messages, clothing, and behavior means popularity and makes one worthy of desire. For young people, this includes “hooking up,” before dating. This is a euphemism for meeting to have sex before getting to know the other person. Sex is not tied to a relationship, or to any feelings other than desire. Modern media tells us that sex does not involve any emotion other than lust.

Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “Our bodies have areas that we do not want anyone to touch or approach unless he or she is the one we respect, trust, and love the most. When we are approached casually or carelessly, with an attitude that is less than tender, we feel insulted in our body and soul. Someone who approaches us with respect, tenderness, and utmost care is offering us deep communication, deep communion. It is only in that case that we will not feel hurt, misused, or abused, even a little. This cannot be attained unless there is true love and commitment. Casual sex cannot be described as love. Love is deep, beautiful, and whole.” As sensitive and complex beings, we recognize that bodies and minds are not separate entities. What we do with our bodies affects our minds and what we do with our minds affects our bodies.

When we are involved with another person sexually, this is the most vulnerable and intimate act two people can share. Sex without love and care does damage to our hearts that only want to be loved and valued. We do not treat our bodies with tenderness when we expose ourselves to empty sex. We discount our worth and throw away our value to try to satisfy loneliness, desire, or novelty. But our body and our mind know when we are loved and considered and when we are not. They work together. Psychology has discovered that trauma, both mental and physical, resides in the body. What happens to our bodies has consequence for our entire lives. We learn that sex, no matter what we call it is not casual. It is significant. Learning to cultivate our authentic presence, to listen to ourselves is the first step in being able to offer our true presence to another. We need to know that we are capable of caring for our own joy and sadness before we have the capacity to care and love for anyone else. True love begins with ourselves.

This week I invite you to look non-judgmentally at the example of True Love you are living. What ways do you cultivate loving kindness, compassion, joy, and inclusiveness? How do you offer the gift of true presence and communication to your beloved, to yourself? Take twenty minutes with a cup of tea to sit and listen to what is in your heart and your mind. Give yourself the gift of your own love and your most precious gift, your time.

 

May we all trust our light,

Celia

 

Be Still and heal

Calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

Reference:

Nhat Hanh, T., 1993, For a future to be possible: Commentaries on the five wonderful mindfulness trainings. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press.

Happiness, Yours, Mine, Ours

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“Generosity brings happiness at every stage of its expression. We experience joy in forming the intention to be generous. We experience joy in the actual act of giving something. And we experience joy in remembering the fact that we have given.”

~Gautama Buddha

“Generosity is the most natural outward expression of an inner attitude of compassion and loving-kindness.”

~Dalai Lama XIV

“Generosity is an activity that loosens us up. By offering whatever we can – a dollar, a flower, a word of encouragement – we are training in letting go.”

~Pema Chodron 

Dear Friends,

I hope you are all safe and comfortable after the week of hurricanes and devastation. This past week highlighted our second Mindfulness Training, True happiness. The complete list of The Five Mindfulness Trainings can be Found at https://plumvillage.org/mindfulness-practice/the-5-mindfulness-trainings/

The Second Mindfulness Training: True Happiness

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.

This month saw communities and individuals practicing generosity, rescuing people from flooding, and danger, sharing food, resources, and housing. We also heard of acts that let us know the fires of greed, anger, and delusion are still burning in some. For me, the acts of kindness and generosity, greatly outweigh the negatives.

Witness people in distress stimulates an innate desire to free others from suffering, for their own happiness and our happiness as well. The act of true generosity the Buddha describes above has its roots in the intention of giving resulting from compassion, the desire—and action, that helps another get free from suffering.

As we read in the Second Mindfulness Training, the impulse to share our time, energy, and material resources, springs from joy, not from obligation or duty. When we look at a situation and think, “How can I help? What can I do to make our lives better?” We acknowledge that we are part of the situation and that the experience of suffering and happiness is collective. Then we can offer our services and resources without fear.

We know that happiness and unhappiness do not stay in individual boxes. Happiness and suffering spill beyond our human boundaries. Happiness and suffering spread through families, neighborhoods, and around the globe. We can’t build a wall around our happiness to keep it separate. That just isn’t how life works. If we look at a situation and think, “I don’t want this problem to ruin my good time,” or, “How long will this take me away from my projects, my life?” We have a very different attitude, one of scarcity and separation. Then the gift of giving is not happy in the intention, in the act, and we feel resentful at the remembrance of giving. Giving with joy doesn’t see the act of giving as a transfer of energy, property or time, giving with joy believes that our actions benefit us as well. When we act from compassion we have faith that the happiness we help create is our rightful inheritance as citizens of this planet. Our happiness is a shared concern.

Thich Nhat Hanh speaks about offering our time as a precious gift of generosity. Through deep listening and our whole-hearted attention, we have the ability to lift the despair and isolation of another.

“The Second Precept is a deep practice. We speak of time, energy, and material resources, but time is not only for energy and material resources. Time is for being with others — being with a dying person or with someone who is suffering. Being really present for even five minutes can be a very important gift. Time is not just to make money. It is to produce the gift of Dharma and the gift of non-fear” (Nhat Hanh, 1993).

Living is a full-time job and our lives can feel too crammed full of obligations to have the freedom to give this precious and rare gift. This week as we look further into the Second Training, please consider your time as a gift of great value. Who and what do you give this valuable gift to? Do you try to fill up moments with business so there is no opportunity to listen to your body and mind? Can you give the gift of your time this week, to listen to someone in need—your own self, or another? Making a list of all our conditions of happiness can help us recognize that we do possess abundance often overlooked. Seeing our own goodness and our gifts can bring ease, knowing we have enough peace and stability to offer it to others.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

leaf calligraphy

Resources:

Nhat Hanh, T., 1993, For a future to be possible: Commentaries on the five wonderful precepts. Berkeley, CA: Parallax.