Don’t Try to be a Good Practitioner

No photo description available.

 

I posted this on my personal Facebook page this morning (along with the pic above):

Since January, I’ve been choosing a new card every Monday from Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Everyday Peace Cards: 108 Mindfulness Meditations” to read and reflect on for the span of one-week. Yesterday, I chose this card out at random: Peace is contagious. Seems a good fit for the times we find ourselves in.

Just as a virus is contagious and transmittable to others, so too are such things as fear, panic, worry, and despair. And, thankfully, such things as peace, joy, ease, understanding, and solidity are also contagious and transmittable.

Please know that I am here for anyone in need of extra support. Dear friends, I am here for you. We are here for each other.

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In case you can’t read the card above in the pic, it says:

If you have been able to embrace your in-breath and your out-breath with tenderness, you know that they in turn embrace your body and your mind. If you have practiced meditation, you have already discovered this. Peace is contagious. Happiness is contagious.

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A little while after posting,  I thought to myself: Hmm. Oh dear. What if certain people read that post and receive a different message than I’m intending? A message people translate into: “Oh great. Now in order to be a “good mindfulness practitioner” it means I can’t be stressed out or worried about what’s going on in the wake of covid19. But the things is: I AM stressed out and worried, so I’m totally doing it wrong! I’m not a good mindfulness practitioner!”

The above scenario is a worse case situation to my heart’s calling, as someone sincerely invested in helping to support other mindfulness practitioners in the Thich Nhat Hanh tradition and simply people in general. Whenever I write something practice related and post it on one of my many online platforms –  which is to say: pretty much every day – I am actively aware of how people might misunderstand or misinterpret what I’m saying. It’s a risk I choose to take, but I do not take it lightly.

So, this is me wanting to send out the bat signal to say:

Sweet community, whether we know each other or not,

whether you are a mindfulness practitioner or not,

please do not try to be a “good practitioner.”

Please do not think that to worry or to be fearful

translates to your being a “bad Buddhist” or a bad anything.

 

The teaching on Peace is Contagious

does not preclude us from experiencing feelings

of worry, upset, fear, or distress.

This is not an either/or situation.

Every time we take good care of our fear when it arises;

every time we take good care of our worry when it arises;

this too is a way we practice to cultivate peace.

Here is a short poem I wrote this morning and posted on my writer’s Facebook page:

Imagine I were lone paddling
in a kayak towards you,
growing larger and larger
as I drew closer and closer.

Imagine, as you began to see my face
with more detail,
you could feel my great affection
for you;
see it in my naked, shining eyes.

Imagine I docked my humble craft
on the pebbled shores
where you stood;
joined you on the solid ground;
greeted you with a warm smile,
and wrapped my arms around you
and never let go.

Deer Park, Day 16

Sunday February 23rd, 2020
Day 16

Dharma is the path
Of understanding and love
Sangha is the way

Early morning, time un-jotted down (tearoom)

Something I just read and enjoyed from Wisdom Within, teaching and poetry of Zen Master Tue Trung Thuong Sy (1230-1291):

“If you follow a routine and don’t truly live the profound meaning, you will become a robot. Tue Trung just tried to take them out of the land of robots.”

The land of robots. Love it.

Walk in Zen, sit in Zen,
then you will see the lotus blooming in fire.
When your will becomes weak, strengthen it.
When your place is peaceful and suitable, just stay there.

– Tue Trung

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Being an island unto our self and practicing the better way to live alone (both teachings in our tradition) might sit in paradoxical confusion for many of us when paired with our tradition’s pronounced focus on community building and taking refuge in the sangha. Thay has said: “even the Buddha without a sangha cannot do much.” What then are we to make of this? Non-duality is a tricky, sticky mess for most of us.

Both things are true. As practitioners, we apply effort in both directions: cultivating self-sovereignty AND cultivating community. It’s not one OR the other, it’s both.

I think this can be especially confounding to us because we so easily get caught in form. But as from the book in the mention above, if we follow a routine and lose the meaning and spirit of it, we become like robots. Form is beneficial and important but only so much that we keep it infused with the spirit of why we’re engaging with it.

___________

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Deer Park, Day 15

Freshly mulched Circle Garden :)

Saturday February 22nd, 2020
Day 15

I finished a book
Free to pursue other things
A small weight lifted

4am (tearoom)

Mark the day, mark the time. It’s 4am and I’ve done it. I just finished Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I made it all the way through. It’s a miracle. Okay, well, not a miracle but it is astounding. If someone were to ask me what the book is about, the honest truth (my truth) would be: I really have no idea. If pressed (which: who does that about a book?), I guess I’d say something seemingly meaningful but actually avoidant like: it’s a coming of age story; a finding who we are story; a story about running until there’s no where left to run.

So I read the book and this morning I finished the book. So, that’s a thing that happened. In two-weeks time spent at a monastery, I read the 530-page book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

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Percolation: The other day, as our work crew was readying to fill the 1988 Toyota with mulch down at the gate, someone mentioned having a preference of shovel. He said he’d been working with it the last few mulching times and gotten to know how it handles, and thus, preferred to use a particular one. Someone else joked: Ah, so you’re attached to it, to which I lightly (and surprisingly) chimed in: I think there’s a difference between attachment and making efficient use of a tool, or something to that effect. As Buddhist practitioners, I think this is a topic that is in need of unpacking. Tossing around the word ‘attachment’ doesn’t do us any favors if we don’t know what it means for our own self and what our motivation or end-game is with it.

Too often, this word gets used with a jilted tone or in a snide manner in a skewed context. It’s not at all helpful to tell someone else when you feel they’re attached to something. It’s also not helpful to patronize someone about it. “Now, now, be a good Buddhist and don’t be attached.” Blech. Who wants to be treated like that? (And I’m coming from experience here. I’ve heard long-term practitioners chide people, myself included, like this.) Spiritual whitewashing is something I have very little tolerance for. As soon as I get even the slightest hint that someone isn’t being sincere or isn’t well-grounded or is caught in the form of the practice, I high-tail it the other way.

In my way of thinking, connecting with others and gravitating towards certain people and certain things is not necessarily attachment. I also don’t think all preferences equate to being attached. For me, attachment is a rigid structure for denying the truth and reality of impermanence. It involves relying on someone or something or some experience to be a certain way in order to make us feel a certain way. When we’re attached, there’s something we want to have stay the same and not change. So, in my view, I think there’s potentially a way to be in close relationship with others and to have likes and interests without being “attached.”

And, as with most things, there’s a spectrum when it comes to attachment, so in a sense, preferences are an attachment, they’re just on the low end of the spectrum. Where any particular attachment falls on the spectrum I think depends on how quickly we are able to shift gears when something unexpected happens. If we prefer a certain shovel, for example, but our shovel is unavailable, we might say: Oh darn. Well, that’s okay, this other one will do. Sure we would’ve liked to have had access to the other shovel but it’s not a big deal to use a different one. It’s on the very low end of the attachment spectrum.

It’s this low end of the spectrum area that has me thinking that perhaps to label it all as attachment, does the actual strong-natured, unhealthy style attachment a disservice. It’s kind of like if we use the word love and say I love you to our BFF and then also say I love this hamburger. When the same word is used to describe two very different situations, doesn’t the meaning of the word suffer? I think it does.

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Deer Park, Day 11

Tuesday February 18th, 2020
Day 11

Thick fog crescent moon
Yawning to let in more air
Testament of life

4:50am (tearoom)

A heavy fog has rolled in, perfuming the air with an ocean rich moisture that has puffed up my hair with a frizz I remember from my youth spent on the East Coast, a couple hours inland from the Jersey shoreline.

I’ve not been writing much poetry since I’ve been here, mostly just my one-a-day haiku. Mostly I’ve been journaling and reflecting on the Dharma and making observational notes. I’ve been lightly wondering why this is so. I’ve landed on a few things: 1. I’ve not been reading any poetry since I’ve been here. 2. I’m living the poetry here, experiencing it with all my senses; I’m in absorption mode. 3. Writing poetry, like all things, goes in cycles; it ebbs and flows.

There are mice scurrying and scuffling in the walls of the tearoom as I write. There are hidden mouse friends everywhere here; inside many of the walls of most/all of the buildings. I used to find it concerning back when I first started coming here. Now, for reasons I’m not quite sure about, I find them strangely comforting. Perhaps it’s because I know they are part of the landscape here and to disown them is to disown this place too, in a way.

To say: “This is okay, yep, I accept this part over here; I give my stamp of approval to this stuff because it aligns with my world view of how things should be” to some things and to others say: “Nope, no; I do not agree or accept or approve of that part over there; this does not align with my world view, which means it’s bad and wrong and worthy of discrimination” is pretty much the crux of all forms of suffering. It’s also an incredibly false and illusory way of regarding the world.

So, I figure I can start with loving up on the mice, and then dance wider from there.

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Back from retreat

I arrived home on Tuesday night, after spending 2.5 weeks at Deer Park Monastery in southern California, based in the Plum Village Buddhist tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. The above sign is a practice teaching in our tradition. To say that we have arrived, we are home means: right here and now in the present moment, the only moment we can be truly alive.

I took hundreds of photos and amassed a retreat daily log journal totaling 55-pages, sitting at 24,183 words. In the past, I’ve shared each journal entry while on retreat at DP. This time around, I’m not sure if I’ll do that or not. I’m not sure how interesting they really are to read day-in and day-out. (If you have thoughts you’d like to share in this regard, please do!)

So for now, I thought I’d share a few retreat reflections (and pepper in a few of my favorite pics).

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Stop Struggling

One of my new practices for 2020 is to enfold one card per week into my routine from Thich Nhat Hanh’s set of Everyday Peace Cards, 108 Mindfulness Meditations.

On Mondays, I pick out a new card and then I read it every day for the next week. In just the past 3-weeks, I’m finding that the teaching on the card then naturally percolates and bubbles up for me throughout the week and helps to inform my daily practice. And sometimes I’ll do a bit of free-form writing in my journal about the card’s teaching as well.

The card shown above is the one I’ve worked with this past week: Stop Struggling.

As soon as I first read it last Monday, I chuckled aloud. You have struggled in the past, and perhaps you are still struggling – but is it necessary? No. Struggle is useless. Stop struggling.

In part, I reckon that I find it funny cuz it’s true. And in part, I reckon I find it funny because Thay just slices right into the heart of things and tells it like it is, making it sound so easy to do, when in my view of reality it often seems impossible. So I find it funny because I know how stubborn I can be!

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May I Be Useful, May I Be Kind

Every morning, I end my sitting meditation session with a short gratitude practice involving three gratitude-infused prostrations to the earth and then I stand and do one final standing bow, where I say inwardly to myself:

In gratitude for this one more opportunity to live today,

may I be useful, may I be kind.

I fashioned the Zen enso in the pic above using a newly acquired calligraphy pen and a super thick Sharpie.

In early December, I posted this pic on my home sangha’s Facebook page (Be Here Now Community) where, to date, it has “reached” 1,556 people. Of the 72 people who clicked on an emoji for the post: 71 people either liked or loved it and 1 person chose the sad icon. The person who was saddened by the post, commented: Can I be un-useful…..? So I am not good enough as I am….? 😢💔

I chose not to respond to this person’s comment, as I didn’t feel that a FB comment reply would be a skillful way to have any sort of meaningful dialog take place, and would likely only serve to create more confusion. However, I really appreciated this person’s comment; it’s been a subject of mild reflection for me ever since. I greatly appreciate learning how people hear and receive the Dharma. It helps me to better understand where people are coming from and to perhaps make adjustments in how I might share the Dharma with others, as someone who is highly invested in doing my best to unpack certain elements of the teachings that can often and easily be misunderstood or left unclear.

My reflections centered around this person’s comment include: if I was asked this question in person, what would I have said?; what message do I think they received from my post?; how can I flesh this out more?; how might I respond in such a way that won’t be more damaging or add further to this person’s confusion/sorrow?

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