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What Mindfulness Isn’t

I watched a video this morning of author and meditation teacher Susan Piver speaking as part of the Mindful Relationship Summit, happening for free online right now for a limited time. Her talk was entitled: A Celebration of Love, Mindfulness, and Passion. If you’re interested in signing up, go to: http://www.mindfulrelationshipsummit.com/?ref=ba4b546cf7

I really appreciated the way she spoke about what mindfulness is, and isn’t:

Mindfulness is not a synonym to calm. Mindfulness means being with what is. And sometimes what is is calm, and sometimes what is is terrifying. Mindfulness is not about converting everything into an equal tone, it’s about going in fearlessly into what you do experience, with your eyes, mind, and heart open – without knowing what you’re going to find.

This morning, I wrote this on my writer’s facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/InMindfulMotion/)

Today’s unexpected gratitude (and it’s only 8:30am!):

Around 1:00am this morning, our smoke/carbon monoxide detector began to chirp its low battery alert. At first, it sounded only sporadically, allowing us, eventually, to ignore it and fall back asleep. (You see, this particular alarm is both hard-wired into our electrical system and operates on a 9-volt battery, so the only thing to silence it would be to change its battery, of which we did not have replacement for.)

I woke up to my alarm at 5:00am only to discover that the low battery chirping had amped itself up to sounding once PER MINUTE. Yeah. Not great.

After taking a shower, through which I could still hear the incessant chirping (that’s how loud it was), I called Rosauer’s Grocery Store, to find out what their hours were, and was over- joyed to discover that they open every day at 5:00am. With wet hair and pajamas I immediately fled the house and headed there.

I was the sole customer in the store and wondered if the cashier who checked me out was at all curious why I was there at 5:20am buying only a 9-volt battery (a pack of two, actually, so that we now have a backup).

Thank you Rosauer’s, for opening your doors at the crack of dawn and for carrying 9-volt batteries!

P.S. I know it makes total sense but FYI: 5:30am is a super chill time to go grocery shopping.

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Words on the Fly

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Diversity Trainings

The Seven Trainings in Diversity
Written by Larry Yang in “Friends on the Path”, by Thich Nhat Hanh, compiled by Jack Lawlor, published in 2002.

Intro:

The practice of these trainings is an opportunity to begin the journey towards narrowing the experience of separation. As humans, we all participate in the harmful behaviors that these trainings are addressing. We all have been the perpetrator and victim, at one time or another. These trainings are for all of us, not just for any particular group or community.

The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings of Thich Nhat Hanh were an invaluable inspiration and nourishment of these trainings in diversity. Thich Nhat Hanh has written: “Many of today’s problems did not exist at the time of the Buddha. Therefore, we have to look deeply together in order to develop the insights that will help us and our children find better ways to live wholesome, happy, and healing lives.” This encouragement and suggestion becomes especially important with issues of diversity.

The invitation offered is to begin by transforming a piece of oppression, rather than being intimidated by the vastness of its suffering. The concept of “practice” presents itself as an incremental and cumulative process. The practice of diversity is also such a process. The hope is that this process can invite us into taking important steps in transforming our experience with oppression in deep and meaningful way.

(This intro was shortened from one that Larry Yang wrote himself)

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1. Aware of the suffering caused by imposing one’s own opinions or cultural beliefs upon another human being, I undertake the training to refrain from forcing others, in any way – through authority, threat, financial incentive, or indoctrination – to adopt my own belief system. I commit to respecting every human being’s right to be different, while working towards the elimination of sufferings of all beings.

2. Aware of the suffering caused by invalidating or denying another person’s experience, I undertake the trainings to refrain from making assumptions or judging harshly any beliefs and attitudes that are different or not understandable from my own. I commit to being open minded and accepting of other points of view, and I commit to meeting each perceived difference in another person with kindness, respect, and a willingness to learn more about their worldview.

3. Aware of the suffering caused by the violence of treating someone as inferior or superior to one’s own self, I undertake the training to refrain from diminishing or idealizing the work, integrity, and happiness of any human being. Recognizing that my true nature is not separate from others, I commit to teaching each person that comes into my consciousness with the same loving kindness, care, and equanimity that I would bestow upon a beloved benefactor or dear friend.

4. Aware of the suffering caused by intentional or unintentional acts of rejection, exclusion, avoidance, or indifference towards people who are culturally, physically, sexually, or economically different from me, I undertake the training to refrain from isolating myself to people of similar backgrounds as myself and from being only with people who make me feel comfortable. I commit to searching out ways to diversify my relationships and increase my sensitivity towards people of different cultures, ethnicities, sexual orientations, ages, physical abilities, genders, and economic means.

5. Aware of the suffering caused by the often unseen nature of privilege, and the ability of privilege to benefit a select population over others, I undertake the training to refrain from exploiting any person or group, in any way including economically, sexually, intellectually, or culturally. I commit to examine with wisdom and clear comprehension the ways that I have privilege in order to determine skillful ways of using privilege for the benefit of all beings, and I commit to the practice of generosity in all aspects of my life and towards all human beings, regardless of cultural, ethnic, racial, sexual age, physical, or economic differences.

6. Aware of the suffering caused to myself and others by fear and anger during conflict or disagreement, I undertake the training to refrain from reacting defensively, using harmful speech because I feel injured, or using language or cognitive argument to justify my sense of rightness. I commit to communicate and express myself mindfully, speaking truthfully from my heart with patience and compassion. I commit to practice genuine and deep listening to all sides of a dispute, and to remain in contact with my highest intentions of recognizing the Buddha nature within all beings.

7. Aware of the suffering caused by the ignorance of misinformation and the lack of information that aggravate fixed views, stereotypes, the stigmatizing of a human being as ‘other’, and the marginalization of cultural groups, I undertake the training to educate myself about other cultural attitudes, worldviews, ethnic traditions, and life experiences outside of my own. I commit to be curious with humility and openness, to recognize with compassion the experience of suffering in all beings, and to practice sympathetic joy when encountering the many different cultural expressions of happiness and celebration around the world.

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Zen is Right Here (Recommended Read)

This morning I started reading Zen is Right Here, which is compilation of short teaching stories and anecdotes of Shunryu Suzuki, who’s often called Suzuki Roshi. It’s a great read so far and I’m very much enjoying it – I also especially appreciate how short the stories and anecdotes are, as I wasn’t looking to launch into a long and heavily involved book.

From the book:

A student asked Suzuki Roshi why the Japanese make their teacups so thin and delicate that they break easily.

“It’s not that they’re too delicate,” he answered, “but that you don’t know how to handle them. You must adjust yourself to the environment and not vice versa.”

– Page 64

 

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Scatterings of Thought

I’ve been thinking about what this, my next blog post, would be about for the last few days but have had a hard time landing on just one idea to write about, as a few different practice-related topics have been bubbling around for me, as of late. So, I thought I’d just include a list of the topics along with a brief synopsis of each one, in an effort to get my creative juices flowing a bit. Please note: these scatterings of thought may not make a whole lot of sense just yet.

  1. There is a great importance to develop our relationship with solitude, stillness, and silence if we have a desire to get in touch with ourselves on a deeper level – which is not possible in the fray of everyday life. We need to cultivate a connection to the art of being in and of the world – not getting solely fixated on our doing nature, becoming distracted and dispersed.
  2. How do we best support loved ones going through difficult times? While it’s true that deep listening and loving speech go a long ways to help reduce the suffering of others, sometimes additional action is necessary. How do we best hold both of these truths: 1. We cannot support those who are not ready to receive it, despite how good our intentions are or how “right” we may be in our assessment of how their actions/behavior should change in order to benefit their situation.  2. Sometimes a loving intervention or decisive action may be in order, as oftentimes those who are struggling profoundly are unable/unequipped to ask for help. Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
  3. What tools do I feel, as a budding Dharma teacher, are most supportive for people to focus on in regards to getting started (and remaining) on the path of mindfulness, in the context of Thay’s tradition?
  4. Is the fact that my friendships and priorities are changing simply a natural unfolding, or is there something I’m missing that I should be actively working on to address or otherwise adjust?
  5. What is the balance between being self-possessed and strong-willed and not overshadowing/offending others? How much responsibility do I take on in regards to the feelings/thoughts/views of others – especially when I judge that others are often threatened by my strengths and what I have to offer and/or are highly sensitive people which tend to take things very personally and are overly dramatic in nature?
  6. When, if ever, is it appropriate to attempt to correct someone’s falsely held notions about something?

And the inner musings continue…

Ah, life. What a splendid manifestation it is!

 

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Sometimes, Things are Just Hard

It’s easy to sometimes regard the practice of mindfulness and/or meditation as being some kind of magical elixir (especially by new practitioners), as though we could (and should) use them to cure us of our woes and ailments – that somehow if we are mindful enough and meditate enough, we’ll be able to fix whatever it is we feel needs fixing. But, the truth is, sometimes, things are just hard. Having a mindfulness practice and sitting in meditation can strengthen our ability to stay present, balanced, and well-grounded in our own experience of whatever is unfolding – which can be invaluably beneficial – but, in the end, neither mindfulness or meditation can alleviate the causes and conditions of struggle, pain, sorrow, and so on. Our relationship with life can change, but life itself will always entail a certain degree of suffering, difficulty, challenge, and heartache.

What I’m trying to highlight here, is that it’s important not to use the practices of mindfulness and meditation to form some kind of emotional smoke-screen to hide or otherwise distort the simple and very real truth that sometimes life is just hard. And, in my experience, there is a strange and great relief in coming to this understanding. There is a powerful release in being able to simply state, with clear intent, that things are just hard sometimes – without trying to explain further or apologize or rationalize or sugar-coat something for someone else’s perceived benefit. Sometimes, things are just hard. End of sentence.

I recently watched a TED talk given by Susan Kaiser Greenland on the ABC’s of Attention, Balance, and Compassion. In her talk she stated that mindfulness isn’t about changing or fixing, it’s about understanding and being aware. And on one of her slides, it stated: Wisdom comes not from being perfect but from being present. I think we can get carried away and swept up in the false notion of perfection when it comes to a lot of things. But perfection is a relative construct – and I would go so far as to call it a farce.

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The Same & Different

I’ve been thinking lately about the importance of recognizing and holding both elements of sameness & non-sameness, when it comes to our relationships and interactions with others. Too often, we’re stuck in operating from the perspective of either one OR the other, rather than being able to blend both together. In other words, we either think: Yes, we’re all the same! We all have the same woes and struggles and the same desire to be happy. There is no separation. Or, we think: I’m right and that dude’s wrong! I’m like this and that person is like that and we’re on opposite/opposing sides, we are sooo different.

I feel as though this is a tricky topic to address. Many of the teachings foundational to mindfulness, or the Buddha, are of a rather complex nature and extremely easy to misunderstand or misinterpret. One of the biggest factors in this complexity is our western mindset. Our common cultural tendencies for goal-setting, intellectual processing, needing to see results, and our propensity for ego development, mental dispersion, and emotional disconnect. All of that is to say: This post might be a bit of a schlog to read, for a few different reasons.

I’m reminded of a great quote from Albert Einstein: If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. I love this insight and try to keep it in mind when writing, giving a talk, offering a consult, or helping to lead or guide a group. This post, however, may wind up being a clear indication that I need to further my understanding :)

Let’s see if I can whittle it down: If we think we are all ONLY the same, we lose sight of the variety of experiences, causes, and conditions that impact and affect others. If we think we are all ONLY different, we lose sight of our shared humanity, and reduce greatly our capacity for developing understanding and compassion. Hmm. That actually turned out pretty well as a simplified account of my own thoughts around this particular subject.

Non-duality is rather a tangled mess for our western minds to wrap themselves around. To deeply understand that life rarely, if ever, consists of a “this” or “that” arrangement takes a fair amount of time and practice, in order to untangle our thick web of misperceptions. We have a wealth of strongly held notions in regards to the many pairs of duality that we often get so stuck and mired down in: right/wrong, good/bad, yes/no, republican/democrat, happy/sad, same/different. In reality, the truth of life’s very essence most often resides in a mixture of both dualistic pairs happening at the same time. Rather than a situation or occurrence fitting neatly into the box labeled “right” or “wrong” the chances are more likely that it could fit into both boxes, simultaneously.

Ah, the great confusing beauty of the teachings around non-duality!

 
 

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