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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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Seven Treasures of the Heart

Over this past weekend, I finished watching a talk by Brother Phap Hai, which he gave at Deer Park Monastery on June 21st, 2018. I watch a fair amount of Dharma talks online and I found this one in particular to be very powerful. If you’d like to check it out, click here. Side note: if you’re like me and it’s helpful to watch talks in segments, there are good stopping/pausing points in this talk at 17.40 and 31.05 (the total run time is 54.55).

From Brother Phap Hai’s talk:

“The fundamental insight of Buddhism is that if we look deeply into our lives, into our situation, with appropriate attention, then the path reveals itself naturally.”

 

Seven Treasures of the Heart

as offered by the Buddha in the Dhana Sutta

1. Confidence

2. Mindfulness trainings

3. Self-reflection

4. Concern

5. Listening

6.Generosity

7. Discernment

____________

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Transitions

I’ve been investing intentional practice around the fact that my stepson is growing older and will soon be “out there,” left to his own devices, since even before he entered high school, so as not to not experience what I’ve heard so many parents of senior-year students speak to, in terms of being caught off guard and full of sorrow that their kids were all grown up and moving out. It seemed to me a rather implausible reality that a parent should feel so suddenly disjointed at the prospect of their child reaching a certain young-adult maturity level, as though they somehow didn’t see it coming all the years of their youth and moving out to start a life of their own wasn’t part of the deal.

But now I sorta get it.

Despite all my efforts to look deeply into the nature of impermanence and work to develop my practice in the art of letting go, just the other day I suddenly realized that my husband and I’s time with my 18-year old stepson is incredibly short. I did the math. Given how our residential schedule is lined out in our parenting plan – a schedule we’ve up-held diligently since he was at the tail end of first grade – we have a total of three remaining weeks with him until he graduates from high school, at which point he will be choosing to live full time with his mom and stepdad.

Just this morning I came across a lovely quote from Jack Kornfield on twitter, which states: To let go does not mean to get rid of. To let go means to let be. When we let be with compassion, things come and go on their own.

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Posted by on March 23, 2018 in Everyday Practice

 

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Living A Better Life

The Buddha said: If we keep death in front of us, if we are aware of it, we will live better lives.

Last fall, in preparation for a session of walking meditation that our sangha hosted at a local cemetery, I fashioned together a card-sized collage of pictures of friends and family members who’ve passed away, whether recently or many years ago. I continue to use this collage card as a bookmark in my spiral-bound notebook journal, which I write personal account entries in a few times a month. Encountering this bookmark of collaged pictures affords me the ability to practice staying in touch with the preciousness of life, by keeping death in front of me.

At the time of putting the collage together, I also saw fit to include three people who were still alive but nearing the end of their currently held life-cycle: my grandmother Claire, who’s since passed away, and my grandmother Mary and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, who are both still very much alive. I included these individuals as a practice of deepening my sense of gratitude and also further developing my ever-growing understanding of impermanence.

It’s easy to think that calling to mind our loved ones that have passed away will be too painful. It’s easy to avoid connecting with the memories of our dearly departed friends and family members and to occupy our minds with a cascade of other matters. But when we develop a way to actively practice staying in relationship with those who’ve passed away – with the nature and reality of death itself – the initial pain that will likely crop up for us will have the opportunity to become transformed into a furthering opening of the heart.

At first, and for a little while, it was uncomfortable for me to look at the collage card I put together. To connect with the images and memories of so many loved ones who’ve passed away was rather startling and unsettling. But, once again, everything takes practice. Truly. Now that I’ve been encountering this card – one side collage and one side a picture of my friends David and Alison from their joint memorial service last summer – on a regular, ongoing basis, I’m finding that the discomfort has largely dissipated.

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Two Broken Down Cars

…two broken down cars, and a partridge in a pear tree.

I just found out that sometimes both your car AND your husband’s car are dead in the water at the same time. Yeah. It’s not great.

What I’ve thankfully learned over the years in having a mindfulness practice, is that a good practitioner isn’t someone who never experiences stress or inner afflictions. A good practitioner is someone who’s diligent and is able to use the tools of the practice in order to not have the stress, or whatever affliction is at hand, running the show. If stress were a theater actor, a good practitioner understands that it will sometimes have a part in the play, but they’ll know how to not cast it as the main character.

As new practitioners, it can be easy to think that to live a spiritual life means we have to hide certain parts of our self or cover over certain difficult emotions. But this is not the case – doing this is called spiritual white-washing.

Mindfulness isn’t about getting anywhere else or doing anything different – it’s about directly experiencing things just as they are, and keeping our wits about us in the process. With diligence, over time, our mindfulness practice has the capacity to create a strong foundation in affording us the ability to stay well-grounded in the midst of, say, having 2 cars that are broken down. To see the stress associated with whatever’s going on and to also not lose sight of the bigger picture.

So, while it’s rather stressful having our household’s two vehicles be DOA, it could be worse! I mean, really. We could be on fire.

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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Self-Acceptance

If we were to encounter a magic lantern in an enchanted wood that came with a directive that our 3 wishes had to be about self-improvement, most of us could easily come up with a few things right off the bat about ourselves that we’d like to change. We all have stuff that we have little to no ability to change about who we are, but we REALLY wish we could.

My longest running and most prevalent “something to change” would be the decreasing but still ongoing companion of Acne. I guess it makes some kind of sense that since I was into boys at an early age, that I would wind up developing early, too. And perhaps in an effort to teach me the graces of humility at an early age, accompanying my amply sized chest grew the red, swollen marks of acne. Through middle school, high school, and my two years of college, acne was a varying but constant presence, strewn plainly across my face for all to see and sometimes marvel at. It was my crippling weakness, my deflater of self-esteem, self-worth, and self-acceptance. And ultimately, by way of debilitating levels of agony and disappointment, my greatest teacher.

I firmly believe that every single excruciating thing that has ever happened to us has the potential to wake us up to something. Every experience has the capacity to be used for growth or deflation, depending on how we use it.

Just as every tool can be a weapon, so too can every weapon be a tool.

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Posted by on December 10, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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