The Weight of Our Words

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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

 

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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

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Resources:

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

How to be a True Friend

Bluecliff Standing Buddha

Standing Buddha, BlueCliff Monastery

“If we live according to the Five Mindfulness Trainings, we are already on the path of a bodhisattva, one who lives for the sake of others. Knowing we are on that path, taking each step with our spiritual family, we are not lost in confusion about our life in the present or fears about the future.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

“The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes.” ~Pema Chödrön

“I consider non-violence to be compassion in action. It doesn’t mean weakness, cowering in fear, or simply doing nothing. It is to act without violence, motivated by compassion, recognizing the rights of others.” ~The Dalai Lama

Dear Friends,

I hope you are well and peaceful as we step into this season of change. We are witnessing big shifts in life, season, and dramatic environmental and political events. In New England especially, the fall is time to reflect upon change and impermanence. We see the green leaves turn yellow, red, and orange, ultimately leaving their homes, and returning to soil. We watch formations of birds flying to warmer weather and our bodies give us the message that we are vulnerable beings that need protection. As practitioners, we are heir to powerful protection when we live with the global ethical foundations of the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

At sangha, we recite the Five Trainings every month. Those who wish to may receive the transmission of the Five Trainings in a formal ceremony.  This is an opportunity to receive the support of the community that does their best to live with compassion for all beings. Taking the five trainings, or individual trainings, is not a promise of perfection but setting an intention to live in a way that does not harm ourselves or others. We step into the ancestral stream that dates back thousands of years and access the solidity and strength of our spiritual ancestors. For the next five weeks, I’d like to examine these trainings one by one.

To dispel the myth that mindfulness is passive, we need to look at the commonly used definition of mindfulness that comes from Jon Kabat Zinn (1994), the originator of MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction), “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” The word “non-judgmentally” can be problematic. Often folks hear this as a move towards indifference as if they are asked to observe events without context or principles. That is not mindfulness. That is numbing out from the reality and escaping the moral responsibility of humanity. More recently Zinn (2014) states, “When we use the word mindfulness in MBSR, we mean right mindfulness…. Woven into mindfulness is an orientation towards nonharming…. It is a nondualistic perspective from the very beginning, resting on an ethical foundation.” It is this ethical foundation, the Buddhist principles of sila [ethics], that are integral to mindfulness practice. The role of sila includes five aspects of conduct:1. non-harming, 2. generosity, 3. sexual responsibility, 4. loving speech, and 5. mindful consumption (not ingesting toxins). Thich Nhat Hanh and members of the monastic community took these early precepts the Buddha gave and present them in modern and relevant language. The introduction and full list of the mindfulness trainings are found at: https://plumvillage.org/mindfulness-practice/the-5-mindfulness-trainings/

The Five Mindfulness Trainings

The Five Mindfulness Trainings represent the Buddhist vision for a global spirituality and ethic. They are a concrete expression of the Buddha’s teachings on the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, the path of right understanding and true love, leading to healing, transformation, and happiness for ourselves and for the world. To practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings is to cultivate the insight of interbeing, or Right View, which can remove all discrimination, intolerance, anger, fear, and despair. If we live according to the Five Mindfulness Trainings, we are already on the path of a bodhisattva. Knowing we are on that path, we are not lost in confusion about our life in the present or in fears about the future.

The First Mindfulness Training: Reverence For Life 

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world. 

Looking at this training, we see our personal violence and the world’s violence growing from roots of anger, fear, greed, and intolerance. These mind states exist when we forget that we are part of each other. We believe the delusion of a small, ego-centered separate self and believe we are form instead of formation. When we touch the insight of Interbeing, we see that we all contribute to creating our present and future in each moment. This week, I invite you to contemplate this training. Can you notice when your anger, fear, greed, and intolerance come up? What thoughts trigger those feelings? For many of us it’s scarcity, believing that there’s a finite amount of good stuff and if you get, that means none for me. Most of us are not big-time killers, but we participate in small acts of violence, hard-heartedness, and judgment that close us down and divide.

The beginning of any transformation requires noticing. We notice what our mind is doing without negative assessments and added violence. We all come with history and conditioning and have good reasons why we think the way we do. We can examine killing in our diet and our interaction with Mother Earth. Are we connected to the act of killing involved with eating animals and fish? Do we want to change our relationship with living beings from a dominating one to one of caring? Knowing that the habits of mind are just that—habits, we can look at the roots of violence, anger, and killing that lives in us, gently and compassionately. When we live with kindness towards ourselves and the rest of the planet, we lose our fear.

When I offer friendliness, and understanding to someone I disagree with, someone who is clearly acting from delusion, I notice a softness and openness in myself. Dropping my armor of judgment and separation, I feel curiosity and kindness towards this other person, who just like me, does not want to suffer. The way they go about it looks very different, but I can see that their motivation is the same as for all living beings. When I look with the eyes of connection, I stop attacking in my mind. I become harmless and when I can do that, I don’t need to be afraid. I put down my weapons of judgment and condemnation. The first mindfulness training teaches non-harming towards animals and all species we cohabitate with. When we give up practicing anger, violence, and hatred, we become a true friend.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Peace begins with your lovely smile

Calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

 

References

Gates, B. & Senauke, A. (2014). The thousand year view: An interview with jon kabat-zinn, Inquiring Mind 30(2).

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York: Hyperion.

 

The Jewel of the Sangha

 

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               Children handing out luminaries at the Peace Ceremony, Blue Cliff Monastery.                     Photo courtesy of Bruce Nichols

 

“Two thousand five hundred years ago, Shakyamuni Buddha proclaimed that the next Buddha will be named Maitreya, the ‘Buddha of Love.’ I think Maitreya Buddha may be a community and not just an individual.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Ven. Ananda said to the Blessed One, “This is half of the holy life, lord: admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie.”

“Don’t say that, Ananda. Don’t say that. Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life. When a monk has admirable people as friends, companions, & comrades, he can be expected to develop & pursue the noble eightfold path.”  ~Upaddha Sutta: Half (of the Holy Life) (SN 45.2), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

“Because you feel supported there, the sangha is the most appropriate setting and environment for the practice of looking deeply. If you have a sangha of two, three, maybe even fifty people who are practicing correctly—getting joy, peace, and happiness from the practice—then you are the luckiest person on earth.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear Friends,

In August, I attended the Together we are One retreat at Blue Cliff Monastery. This retreat brought monastics from Plum Village, France, Deer Park, USA, and Magnolia Grove, USA to Blue Cliff Monastery in Pine Bush, NY. We practiced together, as a fourfold sangha, monastic individuals and lay, coming together to co-create the legacy of the Buddha’s greatest gifts to the world, the beloved community, or sangha. These retreats we go on are a way to simplify our existence and remember what is truly important in our life and world. The Sangha is a community that takes care of each other. For me, participating in a community that cares about each other is an awakening to the potential of society. The experience of being in a totally safe place, where I am accepted and welcomed, is powerful medicine to counteract fear. Being in a collective, nurturing environment is especially healing for those who have lived through abuse, trauma, or feel the impact of the greed and self-obsession rampant in the world.

In the opening talk, a monastic quoted, “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to far, go together.” Practicing in a community devoted to creating understanding and harmony is a gift we can give to ourselves and to the world. The amount of peace and joy we create in our lives directly contributes to the peace in the world. We are all responsible for the integrity of our individual consciousness, that contributes to the collective. Thây tells us that the next Buddha is not an individual, it is a community and that community is already here.

The Sangha in Buddhism is one of the three jewels. Buddhists take refuge in these three strengths, the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. When we take refuge in the sangha, we take refuge in all three jewels, as the sangha contains the Buddha and the Dharma. The acceptance of the three jewels does not mean we worship a being or organization outside of ourselves but allows us to come home to the Buddha and the Dharma that live inside of us.

The word refuge can have two meanings. One is a place of shelter where we can rest, the other is to escape from danger. Thay speaks of the need to find refuge:

“When a situation is dangerous, you need to escape, you need to take refuge in a place that is safe, that is solid. Earth is something we can take refuge in because it is solid. We can build houses on earth, but we cannot build on sand. The sangha is the same. Mindfulness, concentration, and insight have built up sanghas and individuals that are solid, so when you take refuge in the sangha, you take refuge in the most solid elements.”

When we take refuge, we are making a commitment to carry the remembrance of the three jewels with us and to rest and trust in the Buddha in ourselves, the wisdom and understanding that is part of us, in our own experiential truth of the way or the path and to benefit from the teachings of the ones we deem wise, that is the refuge in the Dharma. Committing ourselves to the flowering of compassion in the world, that is taking refuge in the sangha. It is trusting the potentiality of our luminous mind that lives in us all and actively participating in creating peace in our own corner of the world.

Being on retreat in a large cooperative community is challenging as well as supportive. There are many opportunities for our habits of indignation, righteous anger, and irritation to manifest. Working with the understanding that other people’s behavior is not personally directed at me and that unacknowledged suffering, creates more suffering can help us get free from our strong reactions and feelings of hurt of anger. On retreat, there are many folks in one room and there are always bathroom lines, food lines, and days where we don’t get enough sleep. Part of our practice is learning how to care for ourselves, even with difficulties, even when we don’t get our own way, when we are late for lunch get only beet soup. Thay tells us that this is part of our path:

“In the sangha, there must be difficult people. These difficult people are a good thing for you—they will test your capacity of sangha-building and practicing. One day when that person says something that is not very nice to you, you’ll be able to smile and it won’t make you suffer at all. Your compassion will have been born and you can embrace him or her within your compassion and your understanding. Then you will know that your practice has grown.”

The opportunity to go on retreat is a gift we can give ourselves and others. We may all develop strength and wisdom when we practice alone, but holding others’ suffering and experiencing our own suffering held by those who care for us and the world is the best way I know to build loving kindness, compassion, equanimity, and plenty of sympathetic joy.  Please take the opportunity to uncover the treasure of the compassionate community waiting for you.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

If you would like to find a sangha near you practicing in the Plum Village tradition please go http://www.mindfulnessbell.org/directory/ for a listing of sanghas worldwide.

To read the entire article about sangha by Thich Nhat Hanh click on this link: from Lion’s Roar https://www.lionsroar.com/the-practice-of-sangha/

Sister Dang Nghiem shared a beautiful Dharma talk on Trauma and Beginning Anew from the Together we are One retreat at Blue Cliff. Some of the content may be difficult. She speaks plainly about physical and sexual abuse and healing. Please use your discretion.Sister Dang Nghiem, Trauma and Beginning Anew

Triple Gem

Calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

 

“I take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha
Until I attain Enlightenment.
By merit accumulations from practicing generosity and the other perfections
May I attain Enlightenment, for the benefit of all sentient beings.” ~Buddhist traditional prayer.

Accepting Our Humanity is an Action

We are all watering seeds

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” ~Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom

“The insight of inter-being will help remove discrimination, fear, and the dualistic way of thinking. We inter-are — even suffering and happiness inter-are — and that is why the insight of inter-being is the foundation of any kind of action that can bring peace and brotherhood, and help remove violence and despair. That insight is present in every great spiritual tradition. We need only to go home to our own tradition, and try to reveal that, to revive that.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear Friends,

Recent events displayed a segment of America few of us want to see, much less take responsibility for. It doesn’t take much looking to dispel that myth that we are living in a post-racial world. We can clearly see the veil of ignorance and blindness that produces acts of discrimination, prejudice, and the belief that some people are lesser than others because of color, belief, or sexual identity continues. Perhaps you’ve heard this idea, or feel yourself, that, “my family came over recently, we were running from prejudice, from discrimination. We weren’t here for slavery. We weren’t Nazis. We have nothing to do with this. We didn’t make the problem.”  This sentiment reminded me of a story I read years ago where a woman is climbing the steps to a temple and sees a bucket of dirty mop water left by the entrance. She thinks, that is disrespectful to have a dirty wash bucket by the entrance to the temple. Who would do such a thing? It shows lack of care and mindfulness. The next day, on her way up the steps, the woman is irritated to see the bucket, still there, the water looking even worse than the previous day. Someone ought to clean that up, she thinks. This is a holy site. The third day, the woman sees the bucket again. She cleans it up.

This story shows how we can move from seeing the problem as totally separate from ourselves, to acting with wisdom and humanity in whatever situation we encounter. What responsibility do we have for the legacy of race-exploitation in America, fueled by greed? How are we associated with Neo-Nazi’s and hate speech? We didn’t start it. Aren’t we free from any accountability for this situation? The short answer is no. We aren’t exempt. As a human being living on this planet, no one is exempt from reality. We are that woman who walks up the temple steps, sees something very unattractive and thinks that those who came before me should have cleaned that mess up, but that didn’t happen.

The truth is that the fires of hatred, greed, and delusion are so easy to see in the other and so hard to see in ourselves. Looking at racism, Antisemitism, and hatred is uncomfortable. When we wish for those who disagree with us to be gone—at any price, we react with violence, and anger. We think we will be able to cure our suffering by eliminating this specific injustice, but the world doesn’t work like that. The issues we see are the manifestation of deep rooted causes and conditioning. Can we offer understanding to the greed, the hatred and the delusion we see in the world? Can we offer kindness and compassion to ourselves for our sadness, anger, and fear when we encounter hatred? Understanding involves getting past condemnation. Is it possible to see ourselves and those we disagree with and who act with violence and oppression, in the light of forgiveness?

Forgiveness doesn’t mean we have amnesia or believe that what is clearly not alright is alright. Forgiveness is not a pass. It means we don’t want to add the suffering of blame and hatred to our lives. Suspending our condemnation and looking with understanding into the causes and conditions that create extremists, terror, and oppression, is the path to peaceful action. If you would like to get more in-depth about the Buddhist path and living and acting with equanimity in the face of the world’s suffering, you can click this link to an article by Forest Monk and scholar, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, titled The Weight of Mountains.

Thây teaches us that we inter-are. We are more alike than un-alike and our thoughts, speech, and actions affect all our shared humanity. No human being is born all good or all bad. We are all made of a mix of these things and what is nourished is what we become. Take good care to water all the positive seeds in you and those around you. Wishing you compassion and gentleness in thoughts, words, and acts.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

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Walking, Sitting, Speaking, with Patience and Humility

Monk and Fawn

Monk picking a pear for a waiting fawn. BlueCliff Monastery

On one occasion, a monk asked Sekito: “How does one get emancipation?”

Sekito: “Who has put you in bondage?”

Sekito Kisen (Ch. Shitou Xiqian, 700–790)

Those who see worldly life as an obstacle to Dharma
see no Dharma in everyday actions.
They have not yet discovered that
there are no everyday actions outside of Dharma.
~Dogen

“The activist should change himself first; he should have a lot of understanding and compassion in his way of thinking and speaking. Then instead of criticizing and demanding, he can begin to help.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

 

Dear Friends

The weekend’s events in Charlottesville are extremely disturbing on many fronts. From the president’s tepid response to bigotry, racism, and terrorism, to the ongoing denial of the role this country played in the slavery and continued systematic discrimination of African-Americans. This country has never acknowledged or apologized for the theft of land from indigenous peoples and the ongoing role in their oppression. America has moved away from the idea of a melting pot and forgotten that she was born from the desire for religious freedom and tolerance. The promise of liberty and justice and the belief that all beings are equal and worthy, seems like a childish notion that is out of step with reality.

The issues of race, entitlement, fear, and separation are not going away, nor seeming to get any better. In fact, they feel like they are getting worse. As people of conscience, what can we do to help heal the separation and injustice we see?  We can start with the idea of non-blame and taking care of our determination for a peaceful solution. Thây teaches us that the enemies to peace are despair and the energy of righteousness.

We may think we are the only ones on the planet who believe that there is basic goodness in all beings and that for the shift of circumstance, I too could be born into conditions that support racism, sexual orientation discrimination, and violent oppression of minority groups. If I grew up in a different home and had different conditioning, I too could be that angry and full of hate. The need to dominate others is a form of suffering. When I see hatred and discrimination, I want to remember that suffering creates more suffering and my desire to punish others is the same impulse as the desire to defeat another. Acting with compassion requires humility and understanding that I am not separate from those who seem so different st first glance.

Thich Nhat Hahn gives us some essential teachings about working for peace, when there is no end in sight. At the question and answer session in 2013 at The Art of Suffering Retreat a practitioner asked, “What is the hardest thing that you practice?”

Thây answered:

“Not to allow yourself to be overwhelmed by despair; that is the worst thing that can happen to you. When the war in Vietnam was going on, it seemed it would last forever. Young people asked, ‘Dear Thây , do you think that the war will end soon?’ It was very difficult to answer because if Thay said, “I don’t know,” then the seed of despair would be watered in them. So Thay had to breathe in and out a few times, and then say: ‘Dear friends, the Buddha said that everything is impermanent, so the war must be impermanent also. It will end someday. Let us continue to work for peace.’ If you are surrounded by friends and co-workers who have the same kind of vision and understanding, you will succeed. You cannot do it alone., he responded that not allow yourself to be overwhelmed by despair; ‘that is the worst thing that can happen to you. When the war in Vietnam was going on, it seemed it would last forever.’”

Thây told the people of a village that was destroyed by bombs and rebuilt seven times:

“Dear friends, the Buddha said that everything is impermanent, so the war must be impermanent also. It will end someday. Let us continue to work for peace.” If you are surrounded by friends and co-workers who have the same kind of vision and understanding, you will succeed. You cannot do it alone…If you have a lot of anger in you, you cannot achieve peace. You have to be peace before you can do peace. You need to know how to write a love letter to your president and your congress, to tell them that you don’t want the war. If you write a strong, angry letter, they will not read it. Thây  was able to help end the war in that way. If you understand suffering and can help compassion to be born in you, you will be free from despair and anger, and you can help the cause of peace.”

Thây teaches us that we need to keep our courage and desire alive. We are not alone in striving for peace. We have come a long way and those who have gone before must have felt that things would never shift. Those who continue to live in marginalized circumstances, to be threatened and feared because of their religion, color, or sexual orientation understand we are in this for the long haul. Knowing that our words make a difference and not letting anger or weariness strip away our determination, we can do what we always do. We can walk mindfully, speak the truth, engage to help those who are vulnerable and afraid. We can do all these things kindly, gently, and with great care for ourselves and for all beings.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

 

Please Call Me by My True Names

Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow—
even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope,
the rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when Spring comes,
arrives in time to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond,
and I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay his
“debt of blood” to my people
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion. ~Thich Nhat Hanh

My Secret Double Agent: Judgement

Lotus with honey bee

Lotus with Honey Bee

“Fear is born from arming oneself.

Just see how many people fight!

I’ll tell you about the dreadful fear

that caused me to shake all over:

Seeing creatures flopping around,

Like fish in water too shallow,

So hostile to one another!

— Seeing this, I became afraid.”

 ~The Buddha, Excerpt from the Attadanda Sutta: Arming Oneself

“The wild geese do not intend to cast their reflection. The water has no mind to receive their image.” ~Zenrin Kusho

“Not by harming life

does one become noble.

One is termed noble

for being gentle to all living things.”

~The Buddha, Excerpt from the Dhammatthavagga Sutta: The Judge

 

Dear Friends,

This past week, I’ve had a few conversations about the habit of judging. Addiction seems like a more accurate word, since judging feels like an unstoppable force that arises despite all efforts to let it go. As tender and vulnerable mammals, we did not get to the top of the food chain without a legacy of vigilance and judging. It’s hard wired in our neurobiology to assess situations and individuals to determine safety or risk. Looking at my judgement this week, I had a few thoughts about this very active part of my mind. I would wager, that most of us have an unacknowledged movie that plays continually in our minds. It’s called, What the World Should Look Like, According to Me. When someone bumps up against this vision of how things should be, there’s an immediate reaction. I’ve realized that my judgement, which looks like it’s doing some good work–keeping me safe, is actually a double agent, working for the side of continued suffering.

An example of the hidden working of judgement could go like this: if my world view values generosity, my judgement may say, “Look at that! She took all the credit for that work and didn’t acknowledge anyone else. She’s out for herself.” Or it may go in the opposite direction, “Wow, they gave their car to charity. I’ll never feel comfortable giving a big donation like that. They are so much better than me.” No matter what judgement I have, the act of judging separates me out from the other and actually encourages fear. When I judge someone as less than myself, there is the thought that I am not safe, my world view is challenged. I need to get away. When I judge that I am less than, I am vulnerable to the same judgement from someone else and I am not safe either. If there is a feeling of equality, then there is an identification we are the same and joined in a fragile bubble together. The idea that, you feel what I do, leads to disregarding the individual physical and emotional differences every unique being possesses. The double agent of judgement, who seems like a friend, in reality gives us more fear, more anxiety, takes us out of ourselves, and brings more suffering. One thing I’ve learned about judging is that it doesn’t change anything, it only makes me righteous, doubtful, or delusional.

The Buddhist scriptures are very clear about judging. Judging is called, Attachment to Views. The Buddha is reported as saying that all views, “equal, superior, or inferior,” are all flawed (SN IV.9). “Those who seize at perceptions and views go about butting their heads in the world” (SN IV.9). Attachment to views is one of the mind states that must be abandoned if we are to become unbound and wake up to reality.

This non-attachment to views does not mean that all views are fine—Go ahead and act badly; it’s all concepts. Buddhist Monk and scholar Thanissaro Bhikkhu, writes, “An important point to notice is that attachment to views must be abandons through knowledge, and not through skepticism, agnosticism, ignorance, or a mindless openness to all views” (1993, p.62). The knowledge is gleaned from personal experience and confidence in the path of truth and beauty, The Ennobling Eightfold Path. This path contains, morality, practice, and wisdom. We know that not all actions, beliefs, and words are kind, useful, or contain wisdom. Not judging doesn’t mean we become blind to this. We become aware of how judging pulls us out of our own experience and arms us. Judging gives the ammunition to start wars, both large and small. For me, the first step is recognizing the harm I do to myself when I judge, that going along with this cozy, familiar, judgy path is going to take me to an unsafe place.

This week, I invite you to practice awareness of judgement with me, to recognize the duplicitous nature of this habit and to reject the conditioned pull to judge. Returning awareness to the body is a great antidote to the judging mind, asking, what am I doing now? What do I feel in my body? Sending loving kindness to myself and wishing for my safety and freedom, when I catch myself judging, is another way to be kind to myself and my addiction. Bringing my mind to this long-standing pattern is going to be a challenge for me, but I am confident, it will pay off.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

relax-your-body

References

Bhikkhu, T. (1993) The mind like fire unbound: An image in the early buddhist discourses. Barre, Massachusetts: Dhamma Dana Publications. Retrieved from: file:///C:/Users/rick/Documents/mindlikefire00thanmiss.pdf

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

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