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I Think We’ve Got It Backwards

Okay. So, what I’m about to post here has taken me almost a year to flesh out and wrap my brain around. Here goes.

In our Buddhist practice tradition, we have this teaching: This is because that is. Short-handing it, it means: Everything happens for a reason, based on a myriad of causes and conditions. On a similar note, I see as though we have two large components of life backwards, and one leads to the other.

The first thing we commonly have backwards:

A) We often see and regard ourselves as being separate/independent/unique in times when we would do well to strengthen our ability to look with the eyes of interbeing and get in touch with our similarities, shared humanity, and true sense of connection.

and

B) We often see and regard ourselves as being the same in times when we would do well to cultivate a deeper understanding of our individuality.

___________

And because of this first thing we commonly have backwards, it leads to this second thing we commonly have backwards:

C) We try to lone-wolf it in times when we would do well to lean on our loved ones for care, support, and nourishment.

and

D) We rely on others in times when we would do well to cultivate and/or strengthen our sovereignty.

__________

So, D is because of B and C is because of A. This is because that is.

I realize this might be confusing, like I said: it’s taken me a year to flesh this out. Here are some practical examples that will hopefully help a bit (with corresponding letters that match with the points above):

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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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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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Snippets of thought

Last week, I attended a weekend of mindfulness up on the Flathead Lake, hosted by our sister sangha Open Sky, entitled: Be Still and Heal. To help lead it, they brought in Dharma teacher Barbara Newell (formerly Sister Pine in our Plum Village tradition).

I thought I’d craft this post in order to share some pics and a few things I jotted down in my journal over the course of the weekend.

Dec 8th, Early morning journal entry:

Words can do only so much to incite action. Therefore, we should be advised as to when to put them down, in order to lift our gaze and set to the work of embodying their application in our life.

Words are nothing on a page. Words are empty of value when left to swirl around like a goldfish in the murky waters of our minds. And yet, words matter like the pulling of tides. They matter like thunder approaching warning us to weather coming. They can pierce our thickened armor as though it weren’t made of steel, penetrating our hearts like an assassin’s blade. And if I were told I would die tomorrow, I would cling to them for salvation, solace, and camaraderie.

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Not Giving Up

In my last post, I shared: In regards to the friendship I’m currently in heartache over, I’ve come to realize – after much processing back and forth – that there is a way for me to keep my heart open to this person while also distancing myself from them.

Shortly after writing this, I came across a well-timed article on Twitter, entitled Why You Should Never Give Up on Anybody by Lodro Rinzler. Don’t you just love when things line up?

I clicked on the link right away and set to reading the article. Here it is, if you’d like to give it a gander.

I especially appreciated this segment from the article:

In the Buddhist tradition we refer to beings willing to keep their heart open no matter what as bodhisattvas. Bodhi is a Sanskrit word which can be translated as “open” or “awake.” Sattva can be translated from Sanskrit as “being” or “warrior.” It’s a person who is incredibly brave in maintaining an open heart, no matter what comes up in their life. This experience is something we can aspire to. The Zen master Seung Sahn once said, “Being a bodhisattva means when people come, don’t cut them off; when people go, don’t cut them off.”

I was so enjoying this article – that is, until I got to the end, where Lodro shared this practice:

HOW TO NOT GIVE UP

Pema Chödron is an American Buddhist teacher who has written extensively about the pain of a broken heart and I can’t recommend her work more highly. Below I have adapted an exercise she has recommended. It starts by taking a photo of the person you are having a hard time with and displaying it prominently in your home. This may initially cause you discomfort. So much of heartbreak is staying with our discomfort.

Every time you walk by the photo look at the being you are struggling with and simply say, “I wish you the best.” If that rings hollow to you instead say, “I know you are basically good” or “You’re not a jerk all the time.” Whatever phrase you choose, make it personal, but some version of acknowledging that they are not basically evil. Do this several times a day, whenever your gaze falls on the photo. Let your heart soften over time.

 

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Posted by on December 13, 2018 in Everyday Practice

 

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Restoring Balance

 

I wear a green shirt and brown pants every day that calls for me to leave the house and mingle with the weather and/or the people, which is to say, most days. My lounge-about/sleepwear, however, is slightly more varied, with purples and whites and grays. I have hoodies in brown and green but in the early mornings when I rise, perhaps in solidarity with the color of sky when I wake, it’s the black hoodie that makes the most sense to me to wear.

Yesterday morning, I grabbed a green hoodie because it was there and easy. I put it on, zipped it up, and set to making my tea and boiling my eggs, as though I hadn’t just monkeyed with the normal order of things.

I sat down at the table, next to a bobbing candle flame atop a beeswax base, and read the first few crisp pages of a new book I acquired the evening prior. But something wasn’t quite right. Like entering your house to discover a light left on that you knew you turned off, something was amiss. I knew straight away what it was: the green hoodie.

I got up and replaced it with the black one. Balance was restored.

Now, some might deem this an attachment I would do well to work on or an OCD moment I should tend to with greater skill. And if it weren’t for the fact that I was operating with self-connection in a spirit of befriending, verses that of compulsion and anxiety, I would readily agree. But I used my intelligence and made a conscious choice, and that makes a world of difference.

Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) is often instructing us to use our own intelligence when it comes to the use of the teachings and practice tools. This means that we would do well not to think that any one course of action can be applicable in all situations. This means that we must come to understand that to actualize the full breadth and spirit of the practice, we must be able to tune into our present moment experience and ascertain what’s called for, from our own perspective and knowledge, with clarity and ease. As our local dharma teacher Rowan says, and I just love: The classic Zen answer to any question is “it depends!” And it really does. The practice is not static or fixed in place. It’s alive, like the relationships we have with our dearest beloved.

My morning routine of communion with the greaterness that occupies space and time and joins us all miraculously together, is not something I find wise to mess around with. And if a black hoodie helps me in this process, then…shoot, I’m good with that.

 
 

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The Zen of Motorcycling

My new bike: Crow Rider (2009 Kawasaki Vulcan, 500)

 

We can read social media posts, online accounts, manuals, books, and anthologies all about motorcycles.

We can buy all the proper and fancy gear and gadgetry.

We can hang out with bikers; learn the culture; adopt the lingo; rally the biker spirit within.

We can become a MC enthusiast, going so far as to adorn our daily 4-tire vehicle with a bumper sticker that reads: “My other car is a motorcycle,” so everyone is sure to know.

We can even have a bike and trick it out with bells and whistles and state-of-the-art this and eye-catching that.

But none of this can teach us how to ride.

To learn, we have to get on the bike and cruise around.

We have to get comfortable wielding it to and fro; experience the subtleties; navigate turns and winding roads; practice how to stop at red lights without lurching around like a bucking bronco.

We can only know what it is to breathe in the fragrant tangle of pine trees or a freshly cultivated field of hay while going 70-mph on a bike by doing it. There is no other proper substitute aside from bearing direct witness.

And then to gain skill, we have to keep riding.

We have to keep lacing up our boots, firing up the engine, ratcheting on our helmet, and taking to the road.

 

 

 

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