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Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

During my recent tour of India, I was reminded over and over that one definition of dukkha is unreliability. India is a truly magical place of great beauty and spirituality but travel can be challenging at times. When Westerners first encounter this, it can be unnerving as we expect systems to work consistently. But when this unreliability is met without our usual expectations of a specific outcome, we no longer suffer. In India, when our group was able to flow with the nature of the unknown, especially in relation to travel, we didn’t suffer. Indians learned this long ago and I observed how they meet this unreliability with equanimity. So in this case there was no dukkha. And we also observed impermanence when the challenge of travel led us into spectacular scenery and magical new places to see and experience.

After returning home from Nashville, I was driving to Tuesday night meditation when I encountered a major traffic jam on 1-440. I decided to take an alternate route via West End and Murphy Road. But many others had the same idea. West End was jammed with cars and I had to sit through four cycles of the light at West End and Murphy, each of which took nearly four minutes. I watched as the clock ticked away knowing I was running later and later. As I’m a punctuality freak, this was a little unnerving. But just as frustration was about to set in I remembered the lesson of unreliability from my travels in India; I exhaled and relaxed. All was well. When I arrived at One Dharma, about 15 minutes later than usual, I jokingly told our opening volunteer that I had turned over a new leaf and had thrown punctuality to the wind!

Here are a few words from Joseph Goldstein about dukkha as the inherently unreliable nature of things:

One way we experience dukkha, the unsatisfying, unreliable nature of things, is through the direct and increasingly clear perception of their changing nature. Many people have been enlightened by this one short teaching: “Whatever has the nature to arise will also pass away.”

But because this statement is so glaringly obvious we often ignore or overlook its deep implications. On the conceptual level, we understand this quite easily. But in our lives, how often are we living in anticipation of what comes next, as if that will finally bring us to some kind of completion of fulfillment? When we look back over our lives, what has happened to all those things we looked forward to? Where are they now? This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enjoy ourselves or enjoy pleasant experiences. It just means we need to remember the very transitory nature of that happiness and to deeply consider what our highest aspirations really are. Excerpted from “Mindfulness, A Practical Guide to Awakening.”

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At times like this, you may be tempted to let the momentum of anger and outrage pull you away from meditation practice. In fact, sitting still with anger can be very uncomfortable. But don’t let that stop you. Keep sitting – not to get rid of anger, if that’s what you’re feeling, but to become intimate with it. Welcome the discomfort. In the stillness we can allow our awareness, our love, to embrace the anger. What is it telling us at the heart level? Perhaps as we sit, as the dust settles a bit, we become more aware of the fullness of the anger and what accompanies it. For me, right now I encounter sadness and fear for our country. I also encounter a love that can’t be vanquished by hate. Tears flow and I find room in my heart for it all. The beauty and the ugliness – they all serve to awaken my heart and remind me to remain steadfast in love while standing against hate, prejudice and separation, whether in my own heart or in the world.

I’m reminded of these verses from the Shambhala Warrior training:

“In the crucible of meditation, bring forth day by day into your own heart the treasury of compassion, wisdom and courage for which the world longs.

Sit with hatred until you feel the fear beneath it. Sit with fear until you feel the compassion beneath that.

Do not set your heart on particular results. Enjoy positive action for its own sake and rest confident that it will bear fruit.

When you see violence, greed and narrow-mindedness in the fullness of its power, walk straight into the heart of it, remaining open to the sky and in touch with the earth.

Staying open, staying grounded, remember that you are the inheritor of the strengths of thousands of generations of life.

Staying open, staying grounded, recall that the thankful prayers of future generations are silently with you.

Staying open, staying grounded, be confident in the magic and power that arise when people come together in a great cause.

Staying open, staying grounded, know that the deep forces of Nature will emerge to the aid of those who defend the Earth.

Staying open, staying grounded, have faith that the higher forces of wisdom and compassion will manifest through our actions for the healing of the world.

When you see weapons of hate, disarm them with love.
When you see armies of greed, meet them in the spirit of sharing.
When you see fortresses of narrow-mindedness, breach them with truth.
When you find yourself enshrouded in dark clouds of dread, dispel them with fearlessness.

When forces of power seek to isolate us from each other, reach out with joy.

In it all and through it all, holding to your intention, let go into the music of life. Dance!”

 

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The election is over but for many the fallout continues. Many have shed tears, have experienced anger and fear and have shared their voices and mobilized into action. Just after the election, Leonard Cohen died, a great voice of love, loss and dharma. His words and songs have rung out over the last several days as people have listened to and shared their favorite songs and quotes. Many are so applicable to where we find ourselves at this time, and his words are also timeless. One that particularly resonated for me at the moment is “if you don’t become the ocean, you’ll be drowning every day.” This is not an easy practice, but in one sentence it brilliantly sums up dukkha and freedom from dukkha.

The day after the election I was heartened by a spontaneous act of love and kindness in our old neighborhood, the 12 South area, at the Islamic Center of Nashville. I have known the Islamic Center to be a wonderful part of the community. President Rashed Fakhruddin in particular has been a strong organizer for shared community, Interfaith connections and events. He has also been an outspoken voice for prevention of abuse against women.

A mother and son in the neighborhood took their chalk and wrote on the sidewalks in front of the Islamic Center. In her words: “This morning Hudson and I took our chalk down to the Islamic Community Center on 12th. We wanted to tell our neighbors that we love them and stand with them. A lot of folks stopped by and added their own messages of love. It was great to meet people and work together. To my Muslim friends and community members: I stand with you now, and if things do get worse, I will stand with you then too.” May we all stand with those who need our support.

Over the last month or so, my dharma talks have largely reflected my experience of the political climate. These talks have been focused on finding a skillful response to the situation, internally and externally. It is not always easy. Some of us may have to ask ourselves, “how do I digest broken glass?” “How do I stand where there is no ground?” When we truly experience groundlessness, new ground emerges. But even then we can’t cling. As the ground shifts, the appropriate response may change as well, it is not fixed. This fluidity, the recognition of impermanence, is vital to clear seeing in each moment and wise action.

My talks and blog posts over the last month have reflected the unfolding of events as I saw them. I’m not one to simply hand out cookies or bromides of hope (even though many of you know I do give out chocolate chip cookies after daylong retreats). I do suggest we do our best to take a courageous, no blinders look at what’s going on both internally and externally and to the extent we can, find a way to contribute and to keep compassion and kindness alive in our hearts.

A number of articles about this election season are here, along with the one above they include, “Becoming the Ocean,” “Staying Right Here,” and “Anxiety, Election Fallout and Finding Calm in the Storm.”

Several dharma talks related to this political season are here. The include “How Do You Digest Broken Glass,” “A Season of Politics and the Unwelcome Guest,” and “How To Hold Your Dharma Seat.”

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Before I think about moving forward, about kindness and a wise response, I need to stay right here. In this place of groundlessness, of vulnerability, of deep concern for the world and how things are today.

We talk a lot about practicing with groundless in the dharma, about letting the bottom fall out. That time is now. Do it if you can, let it happen. Don’t turn from your grief and fear, allow it. You don’t need to force yourself to think hopeful thoughts just now. This isn’t yet the time for that. Let yourself weep and know it deep in your heart, for yourself and the world.

Words aren’t enough right now, really nothing is, but here’s the poem that speaks to me in this moment, that cracks my heart open, as it often does in times of strife and suffering.

Please Call Me by My True Names

Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to, my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

– Thich Nhat Hanh

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This dharma talk was inspired by a woman named Marta Beckett who was a professionally trained ballet dancer in New York City. When her car broke down in Death Valley she saw an abandoned old theater and listened to the call of her heart and renovated it. She danced there many years with little to no audience until she was discovered. In the talk I explore how we can devote ourselves fully to our path with love and commitment, rather than seeking results, even when the terrain seems barren. In this way, we open to greater possibilities as unexpected and wonderful surprises often appear along the way.

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“When your mind feels tight and constricted, you can make more space.” You’ve probably heard this before about meditation practice, but what specifically are we talking about here? The problem isn’t that there’s a lack of space, but the way our minds perceive space, which is related to our identity.

Most people think of the boundary of the body as a point of identity. That is, my thoughts, feelings, perceptions, heart, personality, all reside within my body. So the body is home and herein lies myself. This is who I am and where I exist. Everything I’m made of is inside is me, what’s outside is not me, or it may be related to me but still separate.

This boundary is useful and necessary living in the world. But it also has limitations when we only perceive ourselves through this narrow lens.

At times we may know that our hearts, our love, extend beyond the body. We may also feel compassion for the suffering of others and sense the boundary melting a bit. True lovingkindness and compassion function as a relative expression of emptiness or not-self. They are like a river that flows from a reservoir within our heart. But the reservoir doesn’t dry up – it has an infinite source because it isn’t limited to our body.

When we meditate we begin to see this perceived boundary of the body dissolve, we see that what we think of as “me” doesn’t have a distinct beginning and ending point. This is a liberating insight and is often an early aspect of understanding not-self. At times, we may feel less compelled to put so much energy into simply solving our own problems and “fixing myself.” This brings to mind Lenoard Cohen’s famous poem:

“Ring the bells that can still ring
Forget your perfect offering
There’s a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”

If we only view difficult thoughts and emotions and as existing inside “me” there is often a feeling of tightness, a lack of space and confusion about what we should do. When the focus is mainly on myself, other conditions seem to disappear. Yet, as we sit, as our concentration deepens, the mental focus on self loosens up. The sensations of anger, sadness and fear are seen as conditions that arise and pass away and are not “myself,” even though we experience them in our bodies. As this happens, gradually, or perhaps quickly, a feeling of space opens.

When we understand that our minds are not simply in our physical bodies, our mental boundaries open and our awareness feels less constricted. From this perspective, our challenges and pain may still exist, but now the great sky of mind has room to include them all. We have access to our wise heart that sees conditions for what they are, without the limits of “inside and outside,” and our path becomes clearer.

“If you attain your true self, then if you die in one hour, in one day, or in one month, it is no problem. If you only do “fixing-your-body” meditation, you will mostly be concerned with your body. But some day, when it’s time for your body to die, this meditation will not help, so you will not believe in it. This means it is not correct meditation. If you do correct meditation, being sick sometimes is OK; suffering sometimes is OK; dying someday is OK. The Buddha said, “If you keep a clear mind moment to moment, then you will get happiness everywhere.” ― Zen Master Seung Sahn

To open your awareness to this clear mind, try my guided “Mind Like Sky” meditation here.

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