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Manjushri

We invoke your name, Manjushri. We aspire to learn your way, which is to be still and to look deeply into the heart of things and into the hearts of people. We will look with all our attention and openheartedness. We will look with unprejudiced eyes. We will look without judging or reacting. We will look deeply so that we will be able to see and understand the roots of suffering, the impermanent and selfless nature of all that is. We will practice your way of using the sword of understanding to cut through the bonds of suffering, thus freeing ourselves and other species.

– from the Plum Village Chanting & Recitation book

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3/12

There is similar language in this verse as there was in the last verse on Avalokiteshvara, but instead of saying “listen” it says “look.” This makes sense, as Avalokiteshvara is the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion and Manjushri is the Bodhisattva of Great Understanding. Compassion and understanding are closely related.

Perhaps to listen is with the heart and to look is with the mind. Both parts are necessary to create the whole picture of self, and to come into full relationship with the world.

It’s easy to regard these Bodhisattva verse teachings as pertaining to our actions relating to other people but it’s also important to apply these to our self. When I am able to look at myself with unprejudiced eyes and without judging or reacting, it is only then that I can truly offer those same curtesy’s to others.

How I treat myself inwardly translates directly to how I treat others externally. There is no separation.

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3/14

…the impermanent and selfless nature of all that is. When I am in touch with nature of impermanence and selflessness (which is another way of saying: interbeing), which underpins all of life in every situation, then I am able to see and understand more clearly the roots of my own suffering. Most – if not all – suffering stems from seeing things/people/self as permanent/fixed in place and/or seeing things/people/self as being separate/disconnected entities.

How much time and energy do we expend in wishing that a particular moment was other than as it is?! Probably a lot.

Part of this verse involves a profound understanding of how everything is part of life – nothing and no one is separate. That goes for: bad days, inclement weather, feeling hurt by someone, stubbing our toe, anger, heartbreak, stress, a flat tire, that gal we don’t like who works at our grocery store, that politician we wish weren’t in office, and so on. Using the sword of understanding to cut through the bonds of suffering, involves cultivating the art of full acceptance of what is going on, verses getting caught in wishing things/people to be different to the extent that it causes us to fight against the reality of what’s unfolding around us.

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3/15

To understand deeply means to have insight penetrate through our surface knowings and our intellectual processing. Just as we must get out of our own way in order to listen deeply, we must do the same in order to look deeply.

We must get out of the way of our ego and limiting notions and social constructs of thought, in order to look deeply into the heart of things and into the hearts of people.

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Avalokiteshvara

Statue of Avalokiteshvara at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC

 

We invoke your name, Avalokiteshvara. We aspire to learn your way of listening in order to help relieve the suffering in the world. You know how to listen in order to understand. We invoke your name in order to practice listening with all our attention and open-heartedness. We will sit and listen without any prejudice. We will sit and listen without judging or reacting. We will sit and listen in order to understand. We will sit and listen so attentively that we will be able to hear what the other person is saying and also what is being left unsaid. We know that just by listening deeply we already alleviate a great deal of pain and suffering in the other person.

– Chanting from the Heart, Parallax Press, 2006, p. 30

As mentioned in my last post, I plan on sharing my journal entries and the answers to the three questions I put together for use in our newly formed Bodhisattva Reflection Group. Today marks the end of week one in our five week practice. It never ceases to amaze and delight me how powerful it can be to put even just a small amount of intention into something in particular – whether it’s practice related or otherwise. Simply reading this Bodhisattva verse each day over the last week was enough to spur a number of insights and understandings.

It’s like when you go from never hearing about, say, visiting Yellowstone National Park and then when you start setting your sights on wanting to venture there, you suddenly find yourself encountering mentions of it all over the place. I find most things are like that, and working with the Bodhisattvas is no different.

Now, I didn’t journal every day. I journaled when I felt called to. Here’s what resulted:

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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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Fused

I find myself wonderfully infused with a wealth of fantastic sources of input over the last few days. I’ve started reading the book pictured above: You Are Now Less Dumb by David McRaney. I watched a really good talk given by an OI member in Thay’s tradition at Google on the nature of self-compassion. And I watched another talk given by someone my husband has been getting into lately, an author, speaker, and neuroscientist named Sam Harris. Three powerhouse gents, I would say. Each one taking his own slant on helping to support the human collective.

From the good to the bad to the ugly, we are each an assembly of the scattered sources of input fused together into one collection we call the self. And it’s easy to forget the importance of closely monitoring what’s coming in through our sense impressions. Because it all matters. Every single drop of it. It all makes a difference in how we show up in life – and how we continue to show up in life.

Here’s an excerpt from the book I mentioned and picture above, which I found so glorious that I read it aloud to both my husband and 18-year-old stepson on separate occasions:

You see, being smart is a much more complicated and misunderstood state than you believe. Most of the time, you are terrible at making sense of things. If it were your job, you would long since have been fired. You think you are a rational agent, slowly contemplating your life before making decisions and choices, and though you may sometimes falter, for the most part you keep it together, but that’s not the case at all. You are always under the influence of irrational reasoning. You persist in a state of deluded deliberation. You are terrible at explaining yourself to yourself, an you are unaware of the depth and breadth of your faults in this regard. You feel quite the opposite, actually. You maintain an unrealistic confidence in your own perceptions even after your limitations are revealed.

David McRaney from You are Now Less Dumb

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From OI member Tim Desmond’s talk at Google, published on February 23rd, 2018:

“There’s a capacity that we can develop that allows us to stay human. To be able to stay present. To be able to care and stay connected in whatever situation we find ourselves in.”

He goes on to talk about how this capacity is that of generating mindfulness. Later, he speaks about how we must pair both qualities of compassion and equanimity together, in order to be in balance. Compassion without equanimity leads to burnout and compassion fatigue. Equanimity without compassion leads to lack of empathy and indifference. To pair both together means to say: Whatever is going on is okay, and I’m here for you.

If you’re interested in checking out Tim’s talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tV9VeNE_R1g

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Allowing Others To Be As They Are

This is me crafting a response to a friend that I thought might prove helpful to post here as well. Recently, a friend approached me inquiring about how I was able to manage the ability to stop trying to control my husband. She had spoken to my husband, Mike, and learned that one of the components in his journey of getting clean and sober 5 years ago, while simultaneously healing from a long bout of depression, involved the work I was doing on myself, centered around, among other things, letting go of being so controlling.

With the crucial support of Alanon (a 12-step group aimed at helping people who have loved ones struggling with addiction), I was able to learn a key element in regards to how to cultivate my own sense of deep-rooted joy and happiness, which was to detach from Mike with love. Detaching with love was an alien concept at first. I was clumsy around it and fumbled with it for a while as I tried to understand what it meant, in a real-life application sort of way. But I slowly started to figure it out, using a slightly adapted version of the Serenity Prayer as a guiding principle along the way (see my own re-worded iteration above).

It is my opinion that most of us do not really and truly know that we are not in the position to change other people. I think we have an intellectual grasp that we cannot change others, but when it comes down to it, we think we’re right and others are wrong on a routine basis. And as long as we think our way of doing things is the right way –  maybe even the ONLY way – then we will continue to try to assert control over others, especially those closest to us, in an effort to get them to change.

5 years ago, the work I was doing on myself could be summed up with this statement: I was learning how to take responsibility for the quality of my own well-being. One of the biggest pieces of doing this work involved coming to see how much I heaped the quality of my well-being onto Mike. How oftentimes my mood depended on his. How I allowed his actions to affect my attitude and outlook. I came to see that as long as my mood, disposition, attitude, and outlook relied on his, I was powerless. If I was needing him to be a certain way in order for me to be a certain way, I was going to be miserable, and stay that way.

I’ll take the issue of cleanliness, as an easy and workable example. I am someone who greatly appreciates, and on some level really needs, a sense of spacial orderliness and cleanliness. However, one look through the window into his truck cab, and you would clearly see that my husband could care less about such things. I spent years and years being the sort of wife who mastered the common and destructive patterns of being passive-aggressive: huffing and puffing my way around him picking up dishes and dirty clothes, stomping around on my way to take out the trash or mow the lawn, and washing dishes or cleaning the house with the manic energy of the Tasmanian Devil. And, of course, no master passive-aggressive would be complete without having their own well-cultivated Tone of Voice, indicating to those that know them best to Watch the F*** Out. I remember my mom’s Tone of Voice while growing up. Like mother like daughter.

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Posted by on October 27, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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On Fear

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A week or so ago my husband Mike and I were discussing the topic of difficult emotions, in the context of our mindfulness practice. He mentioned being continually surprised by the common lack of mentioning fear, as one of the big prevailing emotions. Anger is referenced often, but seldom is fear spoken about. He posited that fear was, in fact, the root of all other difficult emotions. I agreed that anger, for instance, is not a root emotion, but a response to feelings of either hurt or fear. Most of what we feel arise as an emotion is rooted in another deeper layer of experience, often in our subconsciousness. But I never considered that fear may be what lies at the heart of all strong/challenging emotions. I took it as food for thought and have been chewing on it, so to speak, ever since.

When I first encountered the well-known quote by Marianne Williamson, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure,” I didn’t connect with her words and quickly sloughed them off. But now, years later, I understand. While I don’t presume to know how often this is true for others, I do know that a couple of years ago I discovered her insight to be true for myself. During a month-long retreat at Deer Park Monastery, I came to realize that I had a strong tendency of holding myself back from shining, which is what I refer to as our capacity to emit a certain inherent radiance when acting with joy and confidence in who we are and what we’re doing. I realized that what sat at the root of my trepidation, was fear. Fear of ego, fear of offending others or making them feel uncomfortable, fear of growing apart from certain loved ones by outshining them. Fear of becoming powerful beyond measure.

Ever since this light bulb of self-realization turned on, I’ve been slowly transforming this fear, working to dissipate it into the clear waters of understanding, where freedom resides. I’m learning the difference between egoism and self-confidence, and how it’s easy to confuse and misinterpret them. I’m learning that in holding myself back from shining, I’m also holding myself back from connecting fully, with both myself and others. I’m learning that to not shine as brightly as I can is to perform a disservice to who I am. And I’m learning to let go of over care-taking for people, by trying to affirm responsibility for their reactions, feelings,  and experiences.

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I’m learning to embrace the abilities and talents that I possess and shine as brightly as I can. It’s an ongoing process that continues to unfold and deepen. The more time I invest in becoming good friends with myself the more I see clearly about how important it is to develop this relationship – to relinquish my fear and embrace who I am with inclusiveness and ease.

Imagine the possibilities if more of us were less afraid of shining our light, helping to usher others forward to claim their own strength and wisdom. We all have the capacity to be the ones we’ve been waiting for.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2016 in Everyday Practice

 

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Peace Un-conference

Flyer from the Jeannette Rankin Peace center for the Peace Un-conference

Flyer picture for the Peace Un-conference                                           Presented by the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center

Yesterday my husband and I attended an all day event entitled Rising from the Ashes: How Do We Create Peace from Chaos, Confusion, and Conflict.  It was an un-conference sponsored by our local Jeannette Rankin Peace Center (JRPC).  Designing it as an un-conference is a reference to something called Open Space.  From their website:

Open Space Technology, or Open Space, is a meeting format discovered by Harrison Owen. There is much written about Open Space available in books and on the internet, and yet often the format defies description or explanation. It is much more easily experienced that written about.

The basic process of Open Space helps those participating in the event co-create an experience based on responsibility and passion. It is a very welcoming and very frequently fun process, and also one that can be challenging in the same way a good game is challenging. Open Space invites the participants to engage to a high degree.

 

Never having attended an Open Space setting before I could only imagine what to expect in terms of format and set-up.  I was, like many others, a little nervous.  The Five Principles of Open Space set me a little more at ease:

1. Whoever comes are the right people

2. Whenever it starts is the right time

3. Wherever it is, is the right place

4. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have, be prepared to be surprised! 

5. When it’s over, it’s over

And the one law of Open Space is called the Law of Two Feet:

If at any time during our time together you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet, go someplace else.

In this way, all participants are given both the right and the responsibility to maximize their own learning and contribution, which the Law assumes only they, themselves, can ultimately judge and control. When participants lose interest and get bored in a breakout session, or accomplish and share all that they can, the charge is to move on, the “polite” thing to do is going off to do something else. In practical terms, Owen explains, the Law of Two Feet says: “Don’t waste time!”

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