Forgiving

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

~Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear Friends,

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

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

Daily Forgiveness Meditation

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

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

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

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

Wishing you unconditional forgiveness for your own perfectly imperfect life.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

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Artwork credit: Professions for Peace.com

Unconditional Love

Outside Buddha

Meditating Buddha, Insight Meditation Society

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

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

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

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

May we all trust in our light,

Celia

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Calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hahn

Making Room for Joy

Cherry blossoms

Kwanzan Cherry blossoms-a source of joy.     

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

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

 

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

With three breaths,

Celia

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“Am I Sure?”

Acorn in hand

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. …live in the question.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet.

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”
~ Gilda Radner

“You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”
~ Max Ehrmann, Desiderata: A Poem for a Way of Life

“Understanding means throwing away your knowledge.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh quotes from Being Peace

“Anxiety, the illness of our time, comes primarily from our inability to dwell in the present moment.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear Friends,

Sometimes things don’t go the way we want them to. The plans we make and all our efforts fall short. We see this repeating in the political arena, in our relationships, and at work. The world doesn’t behave the way we want. Of course, we know as grownups, that this is life. Not getting our way is an aspect of dukkha, the suffering of not getting what we want, or getting what we don’t want. It’s understandable and easy to fall into dejection, to give up in defeat, to remove ourselves when we find the situation we find frustrating and uncomfortable. The untrained mind can react with rage, or create despair, or anxiety. As mindfulness practitioners we are supposed to know better. So, what can we do? How do we practice when we get shut down? A gift from Thich Nhat Hanh is the question, Am I sure?  If we answer yes, we ask again. The purpose of asking “am I sure” is to free the mind from the stories we make about the future. This is called papanca, or mental proliferation that originates from the notion of a self-construct.

 

When we ask, “am I sure,” we pause and look deeply into our situation. We can observe the arising causes and conditions that have created what we see as a problem. We can also examine what we believe the future will be. Almost always, the future we create in our minds is not the future that actually happens. How many times have we prepared for a conversation or an interaction that unfolded in a totally different direction than we planned? Our minds want to know the future to keep us safe and protect us from all dangers, but the truth is that we don’t know what’s going to happen. As sensitive and vulnerable organisms, we want to be certain we will be safe. We want to arm ourselves with just what we need. We are all boy scouts at heart determined to “Be Prepared.” But we don’t know. That is the frightening and wonderful truth. This realization opens us up to the Buddhist idea of Don’t know mind. In this space, there is possibility, because of impermanence.

You may know this teaching from the Chinese proverb of Sāi Wēng:

Sāi Wēng lived on the border and he raised horses for a living. One day, he lost one   of  his prized horses. After hearing of the misfortune, his neighbor felt sorry for him and came to comfort him. But Sāi Wēng simply asked, “How could we know it is not a good thing for me?”

After a while, the lost horse returned and with another beautiful horse. The neighbor came over again and congratulated  Sāi Wēng on his good fortune. But Sāi Wēng simply asked, “How could we know it is not a bad thing for me?”

One day, his son went out for a ride with the new horse. He was violently thrown from the horse and broke his leg. The neighbors once again expressed their condolences to Sāi Wēng, but Sāi Wēng simply said, “How could we know it is not a good thing for me?” One year later, the Emperor’s army arrived at the village to recruit all able-bodied men to fight in the war. Because of his injury, Sāi Wēng’s son could not go off to war, and was spared from certain death.

We see in this story what looks like loss can be gain. If we can tolerate abiding in Don’t know mind, like Sāi Wēng, we can learn to relax into uncertainty. This is not what our innate neurobiology tells us and the initial encounters with uncertainty are unpleasant, but with practice we can relax this grip of needing to have it our way.

Just as we cannot see the energy building beneath the ocean until it manifests as a wave and we do not see the enormous oak quietly waiting in the acorn, we cannot know all the innumerable conditions that affect outcomes. It is beyond our comprehension. As mindful practitioners, our highest priority is to maintain the purity of our consciousness. In mindfulness, we can come home to ourselves and recognize our feelings of disappointment, our sadness or dejection, without repressing them. With gentle mindful attention, we stay with what is arising with compassionate presence. Tending to our wellbeing in the moment, we come back to what we need now. Creating stability in this moment gives us solidity to meet whatever will arise in the future. As Thay says, “The present moment is the only moment available to us, and it is the door to all moments.” This is the truth that the quality of consciousness in this moment determines my next moment. This week please join me in inclusiveness, the practice of bringing friendliness to all of our emotions and thoughts and coming back home to the present moment. The amount of happiness, stability, and trust I possess right now contributes to my next moment. Am I sure? Yes!

May we all have the courage to abide calmly with uncertainty,

Celia

 

NOT-KNOWING

We do not fear that,
what we usually think of as death,
but the uncertainty, that may accompany it.
It’s the not-knowing that scares us,
because our whole, past life was built upon knowing
– to be safe from the sudden loss of our self,
even if this loss is only seemingly,
because it is not possible to lose that, what we truly are.
Every effort, as well that, what we may regard as very noble,
is ultimately an attempt to escape this uncertainty.
It is the look into this abyss, which bottom we don’t recognize,
we are afraid of,
because this look brings us in contact with that feeling,
that feels like a fall from those heaven of being borne.
All our fears always go back to this primal fear.
However, we will always fall again
– if we search for those heavens, which are coming and going.
And yet, those who think they die, maybe they are closer to the truth,
than those, who never consider themselves to be fallen from that heaven,
because their illusion is exactly proportional to the realization.
Then a miracle may happen,
as it might only happens once every 1000 Eons,
and a great sinner becomes a great saint,
and in the midst of death blossoms life,
and the world and God are no longer different from each other.

© Barbara-Paraprem, 2014

Sangha and the Power of Change

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Sangha Members marching for climate protection

“We have all known the long loneliness, and we have found that the answer is community.” ~Dorothy Day

“What do most people say on their deathbed? They don’t say, ‘I wish I’d made more money.’ What they say is, ‘I wish I’d spent more time with my family and done more for society or my community.’” ~David Rubenstein

“We say, ‘I take refuge in sangha,’ but sangha is made of individual practitioners. So you have to take care of yourself. Otherwise you don’t have much to contribute to the community because you do not have enough calm, peace, solidity, and freedom in your heart. That is why in order to build a community, you have to build yourself at the same time. The community is in you and you are in the community. You interpenetrate each other. That is why I emphasize sangha-building. That doesn’t mean that you neglect your own practice. It is by taking good care of your breath, of your body, of your feelings, that you can build a good community.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Dear friends,

I just returned from the People’s Climate March in Washington D. C. I rode on the bus, round trip from New York City to Washington with One Earth Sangha.

The founder, the Venerable Bhikkhu Bhodi, gave a talk as we rode to D.C. He repeated the Reverend Martin Luther King’s words, invoking “The fierce urgency of now.” He spoke passionately about what is at stake if we who live in industrialized nations continue to consume resources at our current rate: the loss of lives, new strains of pathogens and epidemics that spring from the alteration in climate, food shortages, geographically specific trauma for the poorest and most vulnerable populations, political instability, and the rise of tyranny that threatens society. He encouraged us as practitioners to act both personally and communally to dispel the combination of greed and delusion that surrounds the world’s response to this threat.

 

Personally, we can practice purifying our minds to promote contentment and simplicity. We are taught that the key to happiness is through consumption. Experience proves this wrong, but we may be unwilling to let go of our ideas of success and status regarding what we own, drive, and where we vacation. If we devote our lives to work and money there is little time for relationships, family and developing communication with nature. Paying attention to how satisfying our cravings impact the world’s well being is part of cultivating a heart of compassion. We can develop wisdom to understand the long-term consequences of our actions. We can increase the capacity of our heart and look at the suffering of those around the world in Somalia, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Yemen, Bangladesh and the Marshall Islands who are already suffering from drought, floods, food shortages and epidemics related to climate. We can reduce our meat consumption and shift towards a plant based diet. Even one meat free day a week helps reduce our carbon footprint. We can grow vegetables or buy from small producers. Currently, conventional agriculture uses petroleum based soil inputs, this combined with the use of machinery and transportation accounts for 32% of the nation’s carbon emissions.

 

In our outreach, we can support political candidates who value the earth and believe climate change is real. We can sign online petitions, write letters to our representatives and let them know we vote with attention to climate protection. We can put our money where our heart is and move investments from fossil fuel to clean energy alternatives. We can lobby congress for a carbon tax on polluters and to end the 37.5 billion dollars of annual subsidy the U.S. government pays to fossil fuel companies. We can become activist and take direct action to block climate destroying projects, like mega-pipelines, Dakota Access and the Keystone XL. Bhikkhu Bhodi ended his talk by urging us all to become involved with a larger climate change action groups, such as 350.org or the Sierra Club.

 

What is clear to me as I listened to these powerful words and walked in solidarity with other Buddhists and climate protectors, was that we need sangha to help us act in both small ways and large. The sangha made my being at the march possible. Traveling with my sangha siblings, the journey became peaceful and the anxiety of logistics and schedules melted away. We enjoyed our steps and our peaceful presence. We took comfort in the fact that there are so many people working with “fierce urgency.”  The sangha gives us inspiration; it nourishes our commitment to do what is often difficult and unpleasant. Taking a stand against injustice can feel frightening, or hopeless, especially when we act alone, but in the company of sangha we are supported and support each other. Knowing that we have friends who understand that every action we do contains compassion and peace, gives us solidity to continue our daily practice of caring for the earth. The Buddha urged his followers to keep the company of the wise ones. Nourished by the sangha, we have the energy to act in our own lives. Bringing our presence and voice to the sangha we support each other and create a change that moves beyond our small worlds into shifting the global veil of greed and delusion that threaten all sentient life on the earth, our only home.

With gratitude for sharing our planet,

Celia

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Take Care of Your Mother

Magnolia bud

Magnolia bud with cap

“You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming.” ~Pablo Neruda

“The garden of love is green without limit and yields many fruits other than sorrow or joy. Love is beyond either condition: without spring, without autumn, it is always fresh.” ~Rumi

“I think that no matter how old or infirm I may become, I will always plant a large garden in the spring. Who can resist the feelings of hope and joy that one gets from participating in nature’s rebirth?” ~Edward Giobbi

“To live in the present moment is a miracle. The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green Earth in the present moment, to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh, Touching Peace: Practicing the Art of Mindful Living

Dear Friends,

Happy Easter! Happy Passover! Happy Solstice! Spring is here. The new begins again. We see the evidence of growth and the energy of life all around. The spring reminds us that there is growth and change even when the world looks like winter, all frozen and solid. Not everything is what it seems on the surface. In Buddhism, there is an idea called signlessness or animitta (Sanskrit) or animitto (Pali). This is the freedom from being caught by signs and outward appearance. We recognize signlessness when the lakes are frozen solid, but we know when conditions are different, the ice will become water, mist, or vapor. We are not caught in a fixed and permanent idea of ice remaining permanently ice. The same is true for all appearances. Nothing that is created stays in one form. Babies are born, grow, age, become senior citizens and ultimately die. The material body transmutes back into Earth elements, water and gas. There is nothing inherently human about our forms.

Thich Naht Hanh writes, “Until we can break through the signs, we cannot touch reality. As long as we are caught by signs round, square, solid, liquid, gas—we will suffer…. When we free ourselves from signs we enter the heart of reality.” This freedom involves looking in to the nature of things. All things are made of other things. Thay tells us:

We get caught in the sign of “self,” because we think there are things that are not self. But when we look deeply, we see that there is no separate independent self, and we become free from the sign of self…. We separate humans from animals, trees and rocks, and feel that the non-humans, the fish, the cows, the vegetation, the earth, the air, the seas—are all there for our exploitation. Other species also hunt for food, but not in such an exploitative way. When we look deeply at our own species, we can see the non-human elements in it, and when we look deeply at the animal, vegetal, and mineral realms, we see the human element in them…When we pollute the so-called non-living species, like the air or the rivers, we pollute living beings as well. If we look deeply into the  interbeing of living and non-living beings, we will stop acting this way. (1998, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings)

Training to see past the conventional separation of things, into their coming, going and interdependence is essential to the understanding of signlessness. This ability to perceive the world as changing and fluid is at the core of the desire to care for the earth. This realization is an awakening to how interconnected and dependent we are on the planet. Indeed, the earth appears to be a separate element from the human, but with a little examination we can see that we are inextricably intertwined. The sign of the earth is replaced by the softening and expansion of the idea of self. We see the boundaries and edges of the small self dissolve and include the environment and all life on earth. Conversely, the entire universe is making the life of this self, down to the smallest single celled animal possible, providing food, atmosphere, and light.

The Buddha directed his followers to use stillness and meditative concentration to come to the awareness of the “signless concentration of the heart.” Dwelling in this place we touch “suchness,” the truth of things. When we peek into this still place, we see that our lives and the lives of all beings are interconnected in a matrix of energy. In this spirit, we can honor ourselves and the planet this spring, observing that the future of the earth and all living beings is in each one of our hands. That we are made only of the elements from the earth, sky and air, we contain all and it contains us. The earth needs us and we cannot survive without her. The spring tells us to stop in the sunshine, to rest and feel the relaxation that permeates our bodies. This is our heritage and the gift of spring. Let us remember to give the gift back, to honor and cherish the earth.

With three breaths,

Celia

I am in love with Mother Earth

Daffodil head 2

All Clear

Crane-Hand-Signals-Label-CRANE-400_1000

“I have noticed that people are dealing too much with the negative, with what is wrong. … Why not try the other way, to look into the patient and see positive things, to just touch those things and make them bloom?” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

“Inner peace is the key: if you have inner peace, the external problems do not affect your deep sense of peace and tranquility…without this inner peace, no matter how comfortable your life is materially, you may still be worried, disturbed, or unhappy because of circumstances.” ~Dalai Lama

 

Dear Friends,

Who gives us permission to feel safe? Is it the news media who declares peace and tranquility, survey results, or the Gross National Product?  What happens in our bodies and minds when we feel safe? I have been thinking about the idea of being safe and trusting since reading a teaching by Jack Kornfield where he writes, “May I trust this world.” This sentence totally stopped me.  What does he mean, to “trust this world?” My first response was it’s not safe to trust this world. I will be unprepared, a little fish going over a precipice, or end up as lunch for a sharp-eyed heron. “No,” I told myself, “you can’t feel safe. It is too dangerous a world. You will let your guard down, start giving your passwords to strangers and send money to that African Price who emailed you. No, don’t do it!”  

In a 2016 New York Times article titled,  We’re Seeing a Trend Toward Less Violence in the World, author, Emma Ashford writes, “For an American, the odds of dying in a terrorist attack is an astronomically unlikely one in 45 million.” But, that’s not what it feels like. Our felt sense of safety or threat is largely built upon our perceptions. Unless we are living in a conflict zone, we often find ourselves responding to threats that are largely due to our thinking, not the reality of the situation. So, what is the resistance to feeling safe and trusting? There is the notion that if I give myself permission to feel safe, I will lose my vigilance and become prey. Keeping this body and life conditions safe is the primary job of our subcortical brain. Unlike the later evolved prefrontal cortex that uses rational thought and can be compassionate, delay gratification and reward, the more primitive limbic responses react swiftly with cascades of neurochemicals to protect our bodies. The sympathetic nervous system response is so vigilant that we do not realize that this transformation is occurring, according to Harvard health:

After the amygdala sends a distress signal, the hypothalamus activates the sympathetic nervous system by sending signals through the autonomic nerves to the adrenal glands. These glands respond by pumping the hormone epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) into the bloodstream. As epinephrine circulates through the body, it brings on a number of physiological changes. The heart beats faster than normal, pushing blood to the muscles, heart, and other vital organs. Pulse rate and blood pressure go up. The person undergoing these changes also starts to breathe more rapidly. Small airways in the lungs open wide. This way, the lungs can take in as much oxygen as possible with each breath. Extra oxygen is sent to the brain, increasing alertness. Sight, hearing, and other senses become sharper. Meanwhile, epinephrine triggers the release of blood sugar (glucose) and fats from temporary storage sites in the body. These nutrients flood into the bloodstream, supplying energy to all parts of the body.

All of these changes happen so quickly that people aren’t aware of them. In fact, the wiring is so efficient that the amygdala and hypothalamus start this cascade even before the brain’s visual centers have had a chance to fully process what is happening. That’s why people are able to jump out of the path of an oncoming car even before they think about what they are doing.

This system is a masterpiece of integrated organization and terrific at keeping us alive.  With all this automated gear in place, why would it be scary to trust the world? What is the benefit of keeping up this extra mental protection? I sat with this question and experimented with the feeling of safety. What happens when I feel safe? What shifts in my mind?

The first change is in muscle tension. The muscles soften and there is a feeling of softening and gravity. There is more feeling of presence and spaciousness. Instead of a protective, guarded posture, the spine straightens, and the head lifts. The face muscles smooth and maybe a smile dares to bloom. The interior changes include a slowing down, a solidity, and internal stillness. There is less reactivity and less mental tension. I notice that even though nothing in my exterior world is different, I am different. Trust in the world is also a trust in myself, a confidence that I am able to meet whatever situation arises. In this state of trust, or safety, there is less nervous energy and a greater ability to think clearly.

There is a practice that was prescribed to me when I felt apprehension before traveling to India alone: imagine that all other beings are enlightened and they are all our teachers. Whatever they bring to us, that is the lesson we need to learn. With this in mind, all the world and all beings become our liberators. As Dharma teacher, Joanne Friday says, the Universe keeps sending us the lesson, until we learn it. If I look at the Universe as a teacher, then I can trust in the vastness of its wisdom and compassion.

When I practice with trust and safety, I give myself permission to experience those feelings. The phrase, “May I trust this world,” sounds to my ear, like something far away in the future–when I win the lottery or become enlightened. But if I tell myself, “It’s Okay to feel safe. It’s Okay to trust the world,” that slight difference gives me permission and the power to enact that in this moment. That is the practice I am using daily and it is making a difference—especially when I drive! I remember that safety and trust do not mean I am powerless and dependent. Trusting this world means that I am trusting myself.

All clear sign

May we all find our own path to inner peace,

Celia

Be beautiful be yourself

What’s Yours is Yours

March snow at Tranquility Farm

The last of March snow at Tranquility Farm

“The fact is that when you make the other suffer, he will try to find relief by making you suffer more. The result is an escalation of suffering on both sides.”~ Thich Nhat Hanh, Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames

 

“When you say something really unkind, when you do something in retaliation your anger increases. You make the other person suffer, and he will try hard to say or to do something back to get relief from his suffering. That is how conflict escalates.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh, Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames

 

 “In true love, there is no pride.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh, Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames

 

Dear Friends,

One of the hardest things for me to do is refrain from responding when I perceive I am being insulted. There is an overwhelming desire to convert the mind of someone who thinks ill of me and let them know they are mistaken. I am not who they think I am. That person is selfish and nothing like me. You’ve got it all wrong. I know many people have a difficult time when they feel insulted by others, especially from a mistaken perception.

I recently read the Akkossa Sutta, also known as, The Insult. The sutta recounts a discourse between the angry Brahman, Akossa, and the Buddha. Hearing that a fellow clansman had renounced his possessions and become a follower of the Buddha, Akossa seeks out the Buddha and delivers a verbal dressing down, complete with cursing and abuse. This in itself was surprising to me. I had imagined that the Buddha’s magnificent calm, which protected him from a raging elephant and a murderer, would disarm the hostility in any person before they could utter an angry or disparaging word. But no, an angry person is apparently harder to subdue than an elephant. Hearing the insults, the Buddha does not respond by defending, empathizing, or explaining, instead he begins to teach. 

The Buddha asks Akossa when acting as a host, if your guests do not eat the food you offer, who does it belong to? Akossa answers that the food remains the possession of the host, not the guest. The Buddha uses this visual metaphor to underscore his next statement, “That with which you have insulted me…that with which you have berated me: that I do not accept from you. It is all yours, brahman. It’s all yours.” The Buddha’s example shows the ownership of abuse. If one does not meet anger with anger, but remains aware that there is a choice, the insulting words remain the possession of the one who spoke them. This is an enlightened way of saying, “I am rubber you are glue.” When we do not accept the validity of the negative words offered, there is no need to defend ourselves.

The Buddha goes on to say:

You make things worse when you flare up at someone who’s angry. Whoever doesn’t flare up at someone who’s angry wins a battle hard to win. You live for the good of both—your own, the other’s—when, knowing the other’s provoked you mindfully grow calm.

These words were so wise, they calmed the angry Brahmin and he renounced his worldly life and became a monk on the spot.

My initial reaction was Wow! The wow is from what the Buddha calls, winning “the battle hard to win. It is hard to not respond when we are provoked and not accept the negative criticism offered by an angry person. This involves renouncing the habit of being offended.

What we are invited to reject is abuse and angry tirades that have nothing to do with us. We do not need to take them personally. It sounds delightful to be free from others’ anger and judgement, but why is it so hard to not grasp onto the harsh words, even when we know they don’t reflect truth? One reason is our innate biological protective nature calls us to respond, to protect our bodies and our territory. When someone’s words contradict the self-image I want to project and that I am attached to, it can be intolerable. My conditioned reactivity is powerful and following the Buddha’s example requires practice.

The Buddha shows us the fruit of “mindfully grow calm” in the face of an attack. This calm is not just for our own benefit, but for the “good of both.” If we do not engage and pick up the other side of an argument, there is no argument. As in so many examples, when we care for ourselves and our consciousness, we care and protect the other. Non reactivity is a path to caring for ourselves. This involves awareness of the body’s responses, caring for our thoughts, perceptions, and feelings, so when the heat is on and there is the energy of anger present we can choose to come back to ourselves, to our breath and stability instead of lashing out. This is the way of creating peace through our cultivated mindfulness. Developing our equanimity and strengthening our resolve to care deeply for our consciousness and for the welfare of others is the path of peace.

With three breaths,

 

Celia

The Tyranny of Letting Go

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“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 Naht Hanh

“Our practice is to accept ourselves without any expectation that we will be any different.”  ~Joanne Friday

Dear Friends,

Has anyone ever told you that “you need to let go,” or to “get over it?” How did that advice land in your body and your mind? It does depend on who the advice is coming from, the tone and the timing, but for many folks, those helpful words are anything but helpful. There is a tacit understanding in that message to let go of, or get over a situation, that the person who is suffering from a repetitive thought or difficult feeling, is not doing a very efficient job of processing these thoughts or the event. While in Buddhism, we understand the truth of creating our own mind states, uttering these words to someone who is not ready to receive them is not what the Buddha thought of as wise speech. This is advice that often cannot be utilized by the recipient. Often, this urging to let go of, or get over a problem, stems from the hearer’s inability to bear another’s suffering. We all have a right to our suffering and to the way out of our suffering. There is an unexamined inclination to use a “one size fits all” approach with the hope that this reminder will speed things up—and escape our own, or another’s pain.

 For some, the idea of changing the thought, or non-identification with a painful thought, is enough to release from grief or sorrow, but for many others it is not. In my experience, hearing the admonishment to “let go,” my problem quadruples. From my original problem, there is a second problem; the suffering I am experiencing is now pointed out as clearly my fault. The third problem is that my unskillful thinking is burdensome to the person who mentioned it and the fourth, is that I can’t just let it go-or I would have done so. My stuckness becomes much more of a problem as the original painful thinking. This compounding of problems creates more tension, wrongness, and more suffering. This notion of the basic wrongness of my actions and thoughts may contribute to creating a war myself.

While there is great freedom and happiness when we do let go. Letting go comes about from a process, not via an external or internal wish or desire. Letting go comes from deep looking at the nature of our suffering.  Tibetan Nun, The Venerable, Thubten Chodron, says that we must fully realize the depth of our hurt and suffering and care for our hurt, before we can forgive another. This is also the teaching of Thich Nhat Hanh, whose teaching is based on not getting rid of any feelings. “After recognizing the feeling, becoming one with it, calming it down, and releasing it, we can look deeply into its causes, which are often based on inaccurate perceptions.  As soon as we understand the causes and nature of our feelings, they begin to transform themselves.” We learn to accept all states of our being, and tenderly embrace whatever is arising with loving kindness.

Dharma teacher Joanne Friday speaks about, “no expectation that we will ever be any different,” this total acceptance without judgment or blame can create a space where transformation and insight may become possible. It is this paradox of allowing what is not welcome that gives us the permission to be fully present with the pain, the irritation, or sadness that is arising.  Our process may look very different from our friends, but we are all born to experience our unique form of suffering in each of our lives. It is our birthright. We do not need to sweep away our process of suffering and healing, however long it takes, to make ourselves more beautiful and pleasing.

Our suffering and the time we need to fully realize the depth of suffering is as unique as our fingerprint. Often, we create more suffering in our vain attempts to elude our feelings. Spiritual teacher and humanitarian, J. Krisnamurti writes:

This escape is a waste of energy. Not to escape in any form from the ache, the pain of loneliness, the grief, the shock, but to remain completely with the event, with this thing called suffering is that possible? Can we hold any problem hold it and not try to solve it try to look at it as we would hold a precious, exquisite jewel? The very beauty of the jewel is so attractive, so pleasurable that we keep looking at it. In the same way if we could hold our sorrow completely, without a movement of thought or escape, then that very action of not moving away from the fact brings about a total release from that which has caused pain.

We all suffer and heal in our own time. Do not rush through this process. Our pain is the furnace that burns through the impurities to uncover our precious core, our natural goodness that is never damaged, only hidden.

May we all awaken to the kindness in our hearts,

Celia

 

Be beautiful be yourselfcalligraphy by Thich Naht Hanh

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

To Tell The Truth

Jizu

The Bodhisattva Jizu, or Ksitigarbha, from the Yale Collection

“Someone avoids false speech and abstains from it. He speaks the truth, is devoted to truth, reliable, worthy of confidence, not a deceiver of people.” ~The Buddha

“In the case of words the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, unendearing and disagreeable to others, he does not say them.” Abhaya Sutta (MN 58)

“Speak the truth, but not to punish.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

 

Dear Friends,

Speak the truth. When the Buddha spoke about right speech, the first component he included was abstaining from false speech. This seems straight forward, as in don’t tell a lie, but then there’s the truth and there’s our subjective truth and maybe there’s the truth the way we would like it to have unfolded. How do we tell the truth?

Another component of right speech is abstaining from harsh speech. The Buddha describes this as using “such words as are gentle, soothing to the ear, loving, such words as go to the heart, and are courteous, friendly, agreeable to many” (AN 10:176) This does not mean the Buddha wanted folks to walk around spouting pleasantries and avoiding being direct, or saying things that may be hard to hear.

The Buddha tells Prince Abhaya that there are three criteria that one must use to decide if something is worth saying. Is the statement true, is it beneficial, and is it rooted in kind speech? A critique that points out damaging ingrained habits may be hard to hear. The Buddha had a sense of what was the right time to deliver criticism that was true and useful, but was not agreeable to the recipient.  The Buddha also told the Prince, if the words were true, endearing, but unbeneficial, I do not say them. This rules out empty praise or flattery that inflates someone else’s ego and perhaps benefits our greed. If the words were true, beneficial, and endearing, there is a sense of timing, knowing when to say them. This is kindness.

Only words that are useful are spoken. We do not ridicule, use sarcasm, or detract from someone to recompense ourselves for a slight. There is no place for words that do not move the speaker and recipient towards the path of true liberation. Everything is done with timing and an eye towards the receptivity of the listener. Is the recipient capable of  taking in this message? When is the optimal time to say the difficult or the unwanted but necessary?

 Societies where there is truth telling and reliability create trusting environments. When the truth becomes covert, subjective to interpretation, and there is confusion and doubt, there is a break in the community. There is no trust. Scholar monk, Bhikku Bhodi writes:

People can live together in society only in an atmosphere of mutual trust, where they have reason to believe that others will speak the truth; by destroying the grounds for trust and inducing mass suspicion, widespread lying becomes the harbinger signaling the fall from social solidarity to chaos. (Bhodi, The noble eightfold path: The way to the end of suffering, p. 27)

When we as a society doubt that others are speaking the truth, we have a problem. Sadly, it appears this describes the time we live in. There is a cloud of diversion, deception, and impenetrability on the political stage. Daily, we hear conflicting news stories and reports that lead to greater doubt and mistrust. Trust is essential to move forward in unity.

Each individual is sovereign over their own dominion of right speech. We may work to instill this virtue in our children, bring compassionate truth telling into our professional and on-line life, but we do not control another’s right or wrong speech. This is out of our jurisdiction. During this time of fuzzy truth and distrust, part of our practice is to remain a beacon of right speech. Our practice calls us to be devoted to truth, reliable, and worthy of confidence. We strive to follow the fourth mindfulness training, “Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope” That is the practice. To continue to use kindness, to grow hope and to be a light of truth shining through the darkness of doubt.

May we all walk in the light of truth,

Celia

Buddha's feet

Buddha’s footprints, from the Yale Collection