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Category Archives: Mindfulness Instruction

On Googling Meditation Images

(I’m only one chapter into this book and already I’m getting a lot out of it.

I’m hoping it will help me learn how to better support our sangha members dealing with trauma.)

 

This morning, I was googling meditation images. I was looking for one to accompany a quote I came across this morning in a new book I just started reading (see pic above), which I was posting on our sangha’s Facebook page: Be Here Now Community. Turns out, when you google meditation images, you kick up a lot of hoaky, woo-woo stuff.

Here’s the quote from the book I posted:

The practice of meditation is not a passive, navel-gazing luxury for people looking to escape the rigors of our complex world. Mindfulness and meditation are about deeply changing ourselves so that we can be the change that we see needed for the world.

– Larry Yang

Based on the images google showed me, it seems our collective understanding about meditation involves heightened experiences of transcendental bliss and ecstatic swells of elation. Apparently, if we practice sitting meditation, we should seek out such places as mountain tops overlooking the Himalayas, tropical beaches, or on a rock next to a waterfall. According to the images I came across, we would also be well served to meditate half-clothed – preferably in a sun-drenched locale – with well-defined abs. 

Geese. No wonder so many people are cynical about it or don’t stick with it once they try it. Unrealistic expectations much?

I wound up ditching my efforts to find a decent image of someone meditating to accompany the quote I was posting and used instead a calligraphy pic from Thich Nhat Hanh. I’m not interested in furthering misunderstandings about what meditation is through the usage of some romanticized/idealized image. So, here’s what I used instead:

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Posted by on February 15, 2019 in Mindfulness Instruction

 

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Right &…Regular? (part 2 of 2)

Image credit: I copied this from a talk I watched on Youtube by Sister Dieu Nghiem; she included this chart on a whiteboard. 

In continuance of the thread I started in part 1 of this post topic, I wanted to share a little bit more about right and regular.

Sister Dieu Nghiem mapped out this chart (image above) in a talk she gave back in October at Plum Village. Simply put, this chart represents the equation of what it means to have and develop right diligence. Right diligence involves: not watering the unwholesome seeds that lie in our consciousness, stopping to water the unwholesome seeds once they rise up and become a mental formation (or active state of mind), watering the wholesome seeds that lie in our consciousness, and continuing to water the wholesome seeds once they rise up and become a mental formation.

So, what then is regular diligence? Let’s say that someone has been meditating for a long time – we’ll say 5 years. And for those 5 years, they’ve been sitting every single day in the morning for 20-minutes. This equates to this person having sat a total of 36,500 minutes in meditation. However, despite the fact that they’ve been diligent in sitting every day for 20-minutes, they don’t really feel as though they’ve benefited very much at all from their practice (and neither do their loved ones, by the way). They are still just as restless, agitated, stressed out, overwhelmed at work, and short-tempered with their partner as they were when they were driven to starting a daily habit of meditation in the first place, 5 years ago. Yes, this person has been diligent in sitting but we couldn’t – and shouldn’t – consider this to be right diligence because it hasn’t increased this person’s ability to transform and heal.

As a recap from part 1: I recently watched a talk by Sister Dieu Nghiem on Youtube and she described wholesome habit energies as leading us in the direction of transformation and healing and unwholesome habit energies as that which leads us in the direction of suffering. And I think this explanation applies here, with the word wholesome equating to the word right. So we could say that right stands in accordance with a thought/word/action that propels us in the direction of transformation and healing.

In the Discourse on Youth and Happiness, it states:

Beings produce wrong perceptions concerning objects of desire. That is why they are caught in desire. Because they do not know what desire really is.

For our purposes here, I would translate this as there being an important difference between regular desire and right desire. In consulting with my old pal dictionary.com, desire is defined as such: to wish or long for; crave; want. In our current and modern time, I would define regular desire as incorporating the energetic components of craving, grasping, and attachment and right desire as incorporating such things as being realistically driven by determined will and being governed and propelled into action by a sovereign foundation rooted in solidity and ease. I regard right desire as enfolding the premise of what this meme offers, which I recently shared in a post a few days ago and is serving as my newly held encouraging anthem:

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Right &…Regular? (part 1 of 2)

Lately, I’ve been Dharmically churning around the usage of the word right, as it pertains to the Eightfold Path and also the nature of our Buddhist practice based teachings in general. The Eightfold Path (listed in the image above) consists of: Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.

But this word right can also apply to other facets of our practice as well – and simply life in general. I am coming to understand more and more how necessary it is to discern the differences between, for instance, such things as: desire & right desire; joyfulness & right joyfulness; individuality & right individuality; generosity & right generosity; technology & right technology; media & right media; friendships & right friendships; sexuality & right sexuality; and even practice & right practice.

First thing’s first, though. We must come to properly understand what the word right means and refers to, as our western minds often automatically insert the word wrong to counterbalance the inclusion of the word right, which is not only the improper conclusion to draw but also a potentially detrimental and harmful one at that. When we get caught up in the right & wrong game, it rarely – if ever – benefits our situation.

Let’s say we keep the word right in the mix, which honestly I’m wondering if that’s the most helpful thing to do when offering these teachings to our new and budding generation of young mindfulness practitioners. But let’s say we keep it in active use. What does right in this context of practice mean? Right for what? I recently watched a talk by Sister Dieu Nghiem on Youtube and she described wholesome habit energies as leading us in the direction of transformation and healing and unwholesome habit energies as that which leads us in the direction of suffering. And I think this explanation applies here, with the word wholesome equating to the word right. So we could say that right stands in accordance with a thought/word/action that propels us in the direction of transformation and healing.

But if we keep the word right, what do we call its counterpart? What do we call it when we’re moving in the direction that leads us towards creating and causing more suffering, for our self and/or others? Using the words right and unwholesome doesn’t seem quite fitting. What about right and regular? I’m not sure this is quite the ticket either, though I do feel it’s getting much closer to a more approachable and less misunderstood way of fleshing out these teachings.

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Interbeing, part 3

It’s one thing to say We’re all in the together or We’re all interconnected or We are not separate from one another, and a whole other thing to truly understand, actively engage in, and PRACTICE enfolding the truth of our interbeing nature into our daily lives.

If we don’t learn, investigate, and actively use the tools given to us in the fluid art of cultivating mindfulness, we run the very high risk of getting caught in theory, intellect, and notions. It’s super easy to read about mindfulness. It’s super easy to call ourselves a practitioner or a Buddhist or whatever label that tickles our fancy (spiritual, seeker…). It’s even easy to say we understand what the heck mindfulness is, when in actuality we have no freakin idea and are doing little to nothing in the taking action department.

There are a lot of things that sound good in the context of our practice tradition (by which I’m referring to the Plum Village tradition based in the teaching of Thich Nhat Hanh). Here are a few examples: mindfulness, interbeing, letting go, compassion, true love, ease, joy, liberation, transformation. These sound great right?! What lovey concepts! Ah. But they are NOT concepts in the realm of our tradition. As practitioners we must work to dislodge these and other teachings from being mere concepts/ideas that sound nice and turn them into workable, actionable turnings of body, speech, and mind.

What does it mean to look with the eyes of interbeing, as our practice encourages us to do? A big part has to do with our becoming observers of our physical, mental, and emotional landscape – and then eventually moving from observer to a dutiful and faithful guard of the Four Kinds of Nutriments that fuel and propel us: edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. In order to look through the lens of interbeing we must be able to look clearly and accurately inwards, at our own selves. We cannot do the work of connecting deeply with others and dissipating our divisions of separation if we’ve not learned how to properly get in touch and grow familiar with our own person.

The Buddha said that everything needs food in order to survive. Nothing can survive without nourishment/food. In order to develop our ability to engage with the world from a place of interbeing, we must be firmly in touch with what input we’re allowing to enter through our body and mind and the heart of our experience. As two of the nutriments in particular can often pose some confusion (volition & consciousness), I would like to offer my own spin:

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52-Weeks of Thank You’s

Typically, I’ve waited until either mid-year or the end of the year to share the new mindfulness practices I’ve taken up at the start of the new year, but I thought I’d share this one fresh out of the gate.

Inspired by an idea on the RandomActsOfKindness.org website, one of the new mindfulness exercises I’ve embarked upon for 2019 (as I like to enfold 2-3 new practices at the start of each year to help keep my practice fresh) is 52-Weeks of Thank You’s. I penned my third one this morning.

At first, I thought 52-Weeks of Thank You’s was synonymous with 52-Weeks of Gratitude but then as I thought more about it, I started wondering if maybe they were slightly different.

Saying: “I’m grateful for _____” is not the same as saying: “Thank you for ______.” There’s an energetic difference. One focuses on the self, as in: I am grateful for such and such, whereas the latter focuses on the other person, as in: Thank you for such and such.

As I was interested in focusing on the person I would be sending the note to, I decided to stick with calling it 52-Weeks of Thank You’s.

Prior to embarking upon this new practice, I wrote out the full list of names to send thank you’s to through the whole of 2019. Before I got into the swing of it, I had trouble coming up with who I would send thank you’s to. But once I got rolling and into the spirit of it, I wound up easily coming up with 52 names and then I ended with being disappointed that I had run out of weeks and had way more people to include. And not only did I include individual friends and family members but I also added a handful of organizations and local businesses. Another criteria I’ve set for myself is that each thank you note will be sent old school, via the U.S postal service. While sending email thank you’s would be far less time consuming and resource intensive, there’s something important that gets conveyed when someone takes the time to handwrite a card/letter/note and send it.

I made these labels to attach to each thank you note:

 

3 down – 49 to go! :)

 

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On Diligence

From the blog post of: https://stillwatersanghamn.wordpress.com/2014/09/09/right-diligence/

Excerpt from a Dharma Talk by Thich Nhat Hanh, June 11, 2009.

I prefer the term right diligence rather than right effort. Making efforts can make you tired, but when you are diligent, you don’t need to be tired.

I don’t want intensive practice, I want regular practice, diligent practice. There are those of us who practice very intensively for a few weeks and then after that abandon the practice. But there are those of us who practice regularly, not intensive but continuously, that will bring good results. That is why I prefer the word diligence.

Why do you continue to do it? Because I like it. That is a good answer. Because I enjoy doing that. That applies to the practice. If you don’t enjoy the practice you have to make an effort, you get tired, and finally you abandon the practice.

You continue to do it because you like it. It is not because you have to do it. Why did you practice sitting meditation. The best answer is: because I like it. Why do you practice walking meditation? Because I like it. . . .

That is true diligence, right diligence. We know that right diligence brings well-being. The practices of mindful walking, mindful breathing, smiling, bring well-being, happiness.

____________

There’s a very good reason as to why the quality of diligence is included in the Eightfold Path, the Five Powers, the Six Paramitas, AND the Seven Factors of Awakening in Buddhism. It speaks to the power of its incredible importance. Diligence is a critical component of developing a strong spiritual practice (whatever spiritual practice/religion we resonate with). And not just any kind of diligence, right diligence.

This morning, I was listening to a talk online by Sister Hoi Nghiem in our Plum Village tradition. She spoke about spiritual bypassing and described it as such: spiritual bypassing means that we think that we are practicing but actually we are not. She went on to say that if continue to run away from our suffering that we will never learn how to understand it, which is what is necessary in order to transform it.

The Sister is talking about right diligence. If we consider ourselves to be a practitioner in the Plum Village mindfulness tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh (TNH), we must cultivate right diligence in our daily lives, on a number of levels.

As the founder and program director of a weekly sangha, Be Here Now, since 2002, I have had the pleasure and fortune of being in continuous contact and relationship with many folks over our 16+ years of operation. One thing that has become clear to me is that the usage of the word diligence makes people shutter and scrunch their foreheads in mild to wild pangs of disapproval. Diligence is NOT sexy. If people are asking for suggestions or advice in relation to their practice and I use the word diligence at any point, the chances are good that they will mentally gloss right over that word and not allow it to penetrate and absorb. Or worse, they might just high-tail it to some other tradition or practice that doesn’t put emphasis on that quality all together.

As an aspiring Dharma-teacher-in-training, I am invested in finding creative approaches to such common obstacles and dilemmas. I am forever investigating for myself how to go about offering teachings in such a way that won’t send people off in an agitated huffy state of mind, body, and heartspace. Words matter. And I am interested in finding ways to talk about such things as diligence in modern ways and vernacular that maximizes approachability and minimizes the scare-factor.

As a student of Thay’s (aka TNH), I especially look to his teachings on this subject matter, to help inform me in the unfolding process of finding my own voice as a budding teacher:

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On Sovereignty

The definition on dictionary.com for the word sovereignty is as follows:

  • the quality or state of being sovereign, or of having supreme power or authority.
  • the status, dominion, power, or authority of a sovereign; royal rank or position; royalty.
  • supreme and independent power or authority in government as possessed or claimed by a state or community.

However, in regards to sovereignty as it pertains to a quality we can develop and strengthen in our daily life, which can help to bolster our mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being, this textbook definition is not so helpful.

For my purposes, I would define it as: the state of relaxing with solidity and ease, into all the parts of who we are.

My husband Mike and I are slated to give a joint talk at our meditation group, Be Here Now, tomorrow night. The title and topic of our talk is: cultivating sovereignty. Aware that this word is not common in our collective vernacular (here in the U.S anyway), we will start off by sharing each of our own working definitions that we’ve come up with. His is as follows: freedom and liberation from being governed by unskillful habit energies.

Sovereignty involves being able to carry our true home with us everywhere we go. While we will of course still experience difficult situations and the full gamut of human emotions, when the quality of sovereignty is strong within us, we will be able to maintain our calm and clear center, without getting uprooted by the winds that blow around us.

Sovereignty is akin to a tree. A tree trunk is upright, solid, and grounded (solidity). Its branches, however, go with the flow and bend in the wind and its leaves change, shed, and regrow with the turning of seasons (ease).

After offering my working definition, I plan on giving a couple of personal examples (see below) of how this quality has shown up for me in the last few months, to hopefully help give some context and illustrate how sovereignty can be a beneficial quality to invest our time and energy into. I mean, it’s all fine and well to teach about cultivating certain qualities and states of being, but I think it’s important to also speak to the why as well. Whether I want to speak about cultivating mindfulness, joy, a sitting meditation practice, sovereignty, or any other number of things, it’s good to offer at least a brief reference as to the potential benefits that watering these seeds can have on our everyday lives.

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