Meeting Myself With Kindness, Right Now

Sunset over Tapping Reeve Meadow. Photo by Celia

Upajjhatthana Sutta

The Five Remembrances

I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.

I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.

I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.

All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change.

There is no way to escape being separated from them.

My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions.        

My actions are the ground upon which I stand.

translated by Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear friends,

As I write this, Wednesday evening, I am feeling heartbroken about the division and lack of shared reality in our country. While I do not have control over what is unfolding in Washington, I do have responsibility for how I respond to this news. I can allow myself to be pulled into speculation and fear, hatred, and separation, or I can do what is a radical act, stop breathe, find my center, and come back to myself. I can cultivate calm and stability in myself and allow my words and actions to align with my Bodhisattva intentions. I know I can’t do the big work of continuing to love others if I feel rocked and off center. My highest priority is to be a presence of care for myself at all moments.

When I judge and condemn my responses to the failed coup in Washington and to the extent of the poison in our government, I am creating a cycle of violence in myself. When I can respond to myself with understanding and concern for my fears and outrage, I am ending the cycle of harm against myself. Doing this I can find some ground, not judging myself for failing to be an enlightened being, but offering myself compassion and living as a Bodhisattva, beginning with myself.

We are called on to be Bodhisattvas of our time. This does not mean becoming a mystical deity or a monastic on a mountain top. A bodhisattva is a person who remembers the truth of Interbeing, of belonging. As Mother Theresa reminds us, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” When we think about belonging to each other, our minds go in the opposite direction of hatred, greed, and delusion. If my mind is rooted in thoughts of care and compassion, and I am able to see how I am connected to these beautiful qualities, I have a wider lens than the one that categorizes people as good and bad. This lens of care and compassion show me that the wellbeing of all of us, directly affects my wellbeing. I see that there is a lot less separation than I’ve been taught. This pandemic has showed us that lesson starkly. Shantideva, the 8th century Monk who wrote beautiful books of poetic teachings defines the bodhisattva vow, the remembering our belonging, like this,

“May I be a protector to those without protection,

A leader for those who journey,

And a boat, a bridge, a passage

For those desiring the further shore.

May the pain of every living creature

Be completely cleared away.

May I be the doctor and the medicine

And may I be the nurse

For all sick beings in the world

Until everyone is healed.”

The Buddha taught that our actions have consequence. This is the meaning of Karmā—action. Action includes not only our physical actions and our words, karmā also includes our thoughts. Our deeds and words can be recorded and replayed, it is more difficult to see our how our flickering, ephemeral thoughts contribute to our legacy. Thoughts become the tonal quality of our lives. As thoughts repeat and strengthen, they increasingly lead us to into hell realms, or towards liberation. We can clearly see how our thoughts become our beliefs and our beliefs shape our words and our deeds. These three actions bear our signature; they are our creations, and our karma is created from this inheritance. My kindness or unkindness to myself directly affects how I engage with others.

Right now, I am asking, how are my thoughts leading to healing the pain of the world? How are my words and my actions contributing to healing this pain that I and others feel? How am I creating a heaven or hell here on Earth? When there is so much delusion fueling hatred and violence, I can chooses to pause and to come back to myself and nourish what is good and beautiful in me.

I can work to dismantle white supremacy in myself and in the world and release myself from the pain of continuing this brutal legacy. When I am refreshed and solid I can move towards opening my heart. When I engage with myself and my own capacity with gentleness, I refuse to perpetrate violence on anyone, including in myself. I give myself the time and support I need to reconnect with my intention to be a source of love for all beings. It is easy to close my heart to others and give them a negative label so I can kick them out of my heart. Loving and compassionate understanding does not mean agreeing with or permitting harm. Loving others means we can hold them accountable for the consequences of their actions. Loving others means we care about how things are for all of us, not simply my own group. It is possible to have justice without hate.

Living the way of mettā, unconditional loving, is an advanced practice. The Buddha was a practical teacher and told his students he only taught what was possible, “Abandon what is unskillful, monks. It is possible to abandon what is unskillful. If it were not possible to abandon what is unskillful, I would not say to you,” (AN 2.19, Thanissaro B. trans). This practice of loving others must firstly include ourselves, neither straining, shaming, or pushing ourselves for our responses of fear and outrage to the violence and division in our country. If we condemn ourselves for our responses we are continuing to inflict violence upon the world.

This pandemic has shown us that we are all far more connected than we knew. What we think, say, and do matters, in the mundane and in the public arena and in our hearts. If we vow to walk the path of nonviolence, the path of gentleness with ourselves, we contribute to creating the world in which I hope to live one day. If we chose to walk the path of separation and violence and self-condemnation, we create a hell for ourselves and others. The choice is ours.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

“Kusala Sutta: Skillful” (AN 2.19), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 4 August 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an02/an02.019.than.html .

Don’t Hit the Fast-forward Button

Buddha with cranes, photo by Celia

“And the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: “Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!”[58]

This was the last word of the Tathagata.”

~”Maha-parinibbana Sutta: Last Days of the Buddha” (DN 16), translated from the Pali by Sister Vajira & Francis Story

For everything there is a season,

and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

a time to tear, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

a time to love, and a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace.

~Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
(English Standard Version Bible)

Dear friends,

Last week, I honestly looked at my desires and saw how much I wanted to fast forward life, to be past this election, past the pandemic. I wanted it over and was not looking forward to living through the process of having these things unfold moment by moment. I had real resistance to this pain of uncertainty and the not knowing. When I was able to stay present with the discomfort with compassion, something shifted. I don’t know exactly the catalyst. I do know that there was a moment of joy when I recognized that I have been taught how to hold my suffering. I know what to do and I am doing it.

There is a joy that comes when we do not abandon ourselves, when we have the confidence to stay present and to say, “I got you. I am here for you, no matter what.” I come back to this self-compassion over and over. It is the most transformative and powerful medicine I have received from my practice. Showing up and knowing that no matter how good or how bad, I have the resources to stay.

The Buddha’s teaching on the Eight Worldly Winds, also called the vicissitudes, has helped me put my experience into perspective. 2,600 years ago, the Buddha said, “Monks, these eight worldly conditions spin after the world, and the world spins after these eight worldly conditions. Which eight? Gain, loss, status, disgrace, censure, praise, pleasure, & pain. These are the eight worldly conditions that spin after the world, and the world spins after these eight worldly conditions. (Lokavipatti Sutta: The Failings of the World, T. Bhikkhu, trans.)”

In this ancient teaching, we can  see the universality of loss and pain. We encounter this in the first Noble Truth, that suffering, or stress exists. We also know that there are causes and reasons for suffering. This is the second Noble Truth. When we see the causes for suffering and discomfort in our lives, this gives us understanding and clarity. Recognizing these conditions leads us to the Third Noble Truth, that there is the opposite of suffering. The law of impermanence teaches that nothing can exist forever, this too will change. It cannot stay the same.

 I can feel lots of compassion for us as a country and a world, longing for this pandemic to end, longing for racial justice, for change, for hope. And I remember a teaching by Buddhist nun Pema Chodron who was caught in distress. Her teacher asked her to notice the years of habits it took to for her to get into that state and to know it would take a while to get out. As a country, we have been planting the painful and violent seeds of racial inequality for more than 400 years. It takes time to uproot those dangerous vines long interwoven in the culture of America. This requires staying with the frustration, the discomfort, and the exhaustion. If we know how to show up when we are in pain, we will have more ability to be the hand that risks discomfort by pulling out the creeping thorns by the roots.

When we leave our experience, we lose the opportunity to develop trust in ourselves. As we learn to stay with the difficult and painful with compassion, we also learn how to titrate—not to exceed our capacity—to have a touch and go relationship with suffering that can help us to stay in self-trust. This is already the Fourth Noble Truth, stepping onto the path of practice ascribed by the Buddha. This path is powerful medicine to strengthen us against the forces that can overwhelm and destabilize our minds and hearts.

In 2013, Thich Nhat Hanh gave a series of retreats titled, The Art of Suffering. I remember him saying that he would never want his children to go to heaven if there were no suffering there. They needed suffering—a little bit, not too much—to grow and to stretch. They also needed to experience suffering to know what the end of suffering feels like. There could be no heaven if there was no opposite of heaven. This is the law of non-duality. Nothing can exist by itself alone. It needs a counterbalance or opposite to allow it to be known.

In the retreat, Thay spoke about staying present with our suffering, owning it, being available for it. When I want to fast forward through my life and wish it all away, I deny that I have competency and the presence to take care of myself. I forget my own resilience and strength and dodge whatever I see coming out of fear and reactivity instead of taking a breath, feeling my feet on the ground and connecting with my deepest intention, the realization of cessation, freedom, or nibbana. When I know suffering, and also know my own ability to accompany myself, I know the end of suffering.

Liberation is the act of non-abandoning is a way I show myself kindness and trust. I trust that I can be there for me. I trust that my presence liberates myself from the prison of helplessness, from rushing through. I can call upon my supports, my ancestors and those I admire who have lived through wars, through oppression, through situations that I have not experienced in my life time and they still found their freedom. Freedom is a way to reclaim our power.

The more our culture is infiltrated by algorithms that direct us towards what to feel, what to believe, who to trust, the more we are manipulated by what is outside of us. Returning to ourselves, to reclaim our freedom and our innate goodness is a radical act of self-accompaniment. We are truly free when we know that we have our own support no matter what comes, and we are ready, excited even to meet that challenges of accompanying ourselves.

When we have touched the benefits of practice, of meditation, stillness, and centering, we are able to return to the place in us. We learn over time that this is not dependent upon conditions. It is determined by our commitment to our own liberation, our own enlightenment. Enlightenment is the promise that we are born with the ability to live in the classroom of our lives and to learn what is necessary for us. Enlightenment is the stilling and the end of our desire to make this moment any different. We do this practice, not by giving up, but by straightening up.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Trusting Myself is the Ground of Safety

Vermont Farm, Photo by Celia

“The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.”

 ~Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays

“Self trust is the essence of heroism.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

“For it is in your power to retire into yourself whenever you choose.”

~Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

“Can we hear the birds singing and the wind in the pines? Can we see the green mountains, the white clouds, the golden moon? The Pure Land is available in the present moment.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear Friends,

In New England, we are seeing the Maples turn red and crimson, feeling the cooler air, and hearing the calls of the geese navigating their trip south. This is impermanence. This change doesn’t feel threatening or alarming, in fact, it creates delight and nostalgia. We look to see this change each year. This is one example of impermanence and adjustment, or resilience. Recently, I was speaking to a friend about what makes safety. Globally we are feeling unsafe and how can we find internal safety when so much feels threatening and unsafe?

It’s important to look at what creates safety. We feel safe when we trust we are protected from danger. Trust is a specific understanding created over time relating to consistency. When a person, event, or situation repeatedly demonstrates a quality, we trust that is what will manifest. We trust that snow is cold, that night follows day. We trust our dearest friends to be warm and welcoming and that our least favorite people will continue to act in ways that conflict with our values. One area that we tend to overlook, is how we trust ourselves. Right now, how are we trusting ourselves? The quality of confidence and trust we have in ourselves is the source of safety we can expect to find in the world. Another way to say this is, the most important trust relationship we have is with ourselves and that will inform the quality of all other trust relationships in our lives.

So, how are we entrusting ourselves to our own care right now? Are we making space to hold our uncertainty and fear with tenderness or are we running from it into distraction and consumption which fuels more uncertainty? We all know that this world and our lives are impermanent and the bodies we inhabit are subject to change. Even though we see and experience these changes all the time, we don’t recognize how we are made to adjust and adapt.

One practice which comes from Buddhist teacher Donald Rothberg, is noting impermanence. He offers a practice of spending ten minutes a day seeing how things change. When we consistently contact this truth, the fear and resistance around uncertainty shifts and change becomes normalized. Is also helpful, to notice how we have adapted to impermanence and inform ourselves about our own resilient capacity. We can notice this in the small and large. Highlighting that when we were sick in the past, we went to the doctor and we got help. We can notice that when the temperature changes, we get out the winter clothes and create warmth and wellness for ourselves. Most of us learned how to drive a car, call an Uber, or use public transportation to go where we need to.

Noting how we are adaptive and resilient strengthens our confidence in our ability to care for ourselves and for others. We can look at this through a larger collective lens too, when we saw George Floyd murdered in the street, millions of people took action. Globally, we are creating vaccines; we are collectively invested in healing the planet; we are capable of responding with adaptation, creativity, and stamina. This is the strong and flexible nature we all possess.

The mind cannot be in two states at the same time. We cannot be in fear and in trust simultaneously. Those two things may flicker and wobble, but each has a distinct neural pattern and network. When we nourish these seeds of confidence in our own abilities and in our collective abilities, we create a safety and trust that is in harmony with flux. We can trust that whatever comes, we are adaptive and have the strength and resilience to show up for ourselves.

This is not a guarantee that there will not be pain or illness, or death, but we can trust that we have the strength to be present for whatever comes our way. That is how we are designed. We are capable of creating this awareness and nourishing our solidity each day when we make time to stop and care for our consciousness. Returning to ourselves, not abandoning ourselves to speculation, to fear and mind wandering, trains us to trust ourselves. This is the foundation of safety.

The Buddha told his followers, “Everything we cherish and hold dear today, we will have to let go of and be separated from in the future. In not too long a time, I will also pass away. Therefore, I urge you to practice being an island unto yourself, knowing how to take refuge in yourself and not taking refuge in anyone or anything else” (Nhat Hanh, 2007, p. 310). This relationship with ourselves is the most important relationship in our lives. Learning to take refuge in ourselves, despite changes and uncertainty gives us safety independent of any external events.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Reference: Nhat Hanh, T. (2007) Chanting from the heart: Buddhist ceremonies and daily practice. Parallax: Berkeley, CA.

Mourning Creates Space for Love in Our Hearts

“Freedom is not given to us by anyone; we have to cultivate it ourselves. It is a daily practice… No one can prevent you from being aware of each step you take or each breath in and breath out.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh

“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.”

~Pema Chödrön

“What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”

~Helen Keller
Butterfly on Butterfly bush, photo by Celia

Dear Friends,

Last weekend I went to a local farmers’ market. Standing apart, in masks, we waited for each person to choose their produce. I watched hands testing the ripeness of tomatoes and cantaloupes, picking up eggplants, and putting them down. I didn’t feel safe and I noticed protection and judgment creating armor around my heart. As I paid and moved from the line, I saw two children sitting with their mother beneath a tree eating strawberries, enjoying the perfectly ripe sweetness on a summer’s day. Tears came to my eyes and I felt the sadness of loss, of mourning what was so extraordinary that day, the simplicity of ease, of pleasure, and safety.

Often when I talk about mindfulness, people want to know, how can mindfulness protect me from my pain? The answer is that mindfulness doesn’t take away what is painful. Mindfulness can help us make room for our pain and give us the capacity to hold it with loving awareness. I call this, “not abandoning,” and it is the core of my practice.

When I registered how deeply I felt the loss of ease, of welcome, and safety, I stopped and allowed the sadness and mourning. I felt it in the tears that came to my eyes, in my skin, and the pull in my throat and the feeling of my body closing around my heart. These emotions and sensations are hard to be with. As a nation and a world, we are encountering moments that stop us, moments where we see starkly what we have lost, who we have lost, and how we have lost each other.

This awareness of my suffering and the suffering of the collective is the heart work that allows us to show up for our mourning and loss. This sadness and grief when held with mindful, loving awareness tills the soil and prepares the ground in our heart’s garden. It germinates the seeds of tenderness and longing we all possess. Our mourning tells us we are vulnerable and connected to all beings. Our mourning shows us what is so important: connection, welcome, love, and a world where Black, Brown, and white bodies can all feel safe.

As I write about my sadness, a soft rain is falling on the straw-colored grass, bringing it back to life. Even in the short hours from dark until mid-morning, the grass seems greener, fresher, and more alive. This is aniccā, the Sanskrit word for impermanence and continuation. When I encounter that place of sadness in me, it has already shifted. I wrap myself in this moment, in the soft rain, the benevolence of nature watering her children. This mourning has cleared space in me to see what is still beautiful, the blue jay calling from the pines, the grass being born again, the kindness of the rain and my heart softens, welcoming back the ability to love what it loves, even when it feels so far from my grasp.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

My “No” creates my “Yes.”

Apple Hill, photo by Celia
“I will try, like them
to be my own silence:
and this is difficult. The whole
world is secretly on fire. The stones
burn, even the stones they burn me.
How can a man be still or
listen to all things burning?
How can he dare to sit with them
when all their silence is on fire?” from In Silence, by Thomas Merton

"Any attempt to change a situation either politically or otherwise should be based on the transformation of our own consciousness."
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
"We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize." ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Four Noble Truths

That both I and you have had to travel and trudge through this long round is owing to our not discovering, not penetrating the four truths. What four? They are the noble truth of dukkha; the noble truth of the origin of dukkha; the noble truth of the cessation of dukkha; and the noble truth of the way to the cessation of dukkha. ~DN 16 (with dukkha left untranslated)

I’ve been thinking about the Four Noble Truths and how they manifest in my life. What I find is the more I understand my suffering, the more I can see how I create the conditions that lead me to heaven or to hell. When I engage in compassionate awareness of my thoughts and beliefs, I take the first step towards creating a life that meets me with kindness.

The first Noble Truth the Buddha asks us to understand and keep alive in our lives is “The Noble Truth of dukkha,” often translated as the Noble Truth of suffering (Digha Nikaya, Sutta 16). The word Dukkha is nuanced and relates to the pain of being in a body that gets sick and old. Dukkha encompasses the irritation and discomfort of constant maintenance since all things fall apart. The distressing recognition that what is truly lovely and good doesn’t last since it is made of moving parts and cannot be sustained independently is also how we encounter dukkha. We can’t imprison our happiness, our love, our good mood, and health. It all changes and we come smack up against what we don’t want, the angry person, the conflict, the sickness, shame, fear, someone getting what we want, frustration, painful bodies, getting what we don’t want, and the shared pain of those we love who are caught in their own sticky web of dukkha. Sometimes it seems as if the whole world is either caught in or fleeing from this wide net of suffering.

This can lead to the common misunderstanding that many folks have, that life is suffering. We know that life includes suffering, but it also includes the end of suffering. Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that when the Buddha said suffering (dukkha) exists, with that statement he also acknowledged the opposite of suffering, the sukha, the sweetness that exists as well. With the insight of “interbeing” the understanding that nothing exists independently, no thought, no person, or thing. The day does not exist without night, fullness without emptiness, the inbreath cannot exist without the exhale to make room for it, all things need an opposite to bring them into existence. Just the way we would not comprehend hot, if we did not know cold; when we acknowledge the challenges of dukkha, of what is unsatisfactory and unwanted, we can understand that there is also the sweetness of the end of dukkha.

We’ve all had those moments when we realized something painful ends and there’s a break in the clouds. Our internal sun comes out and we feel it in our bodies, they are more spacious and light, there is more air in our cells, our muscles lengthen, constriction and tension in the body and mind eases. The protection and fear around our heart softens and we can let the heart space be radiant and unafraid. We change from a fearful protected being to one that is integrated and part of this world. We rest in the awareness that while there are difficulties and challenges, there is a place of open awareness and understanding, a place to find that stillness in the midst of busyness where our busy minds and weary bodies find refuge and stillness simply by remembering choice and our powerful “no.”

The Second Noble Truth is the noble truth of the origin of dukkha, meaning that what we do, think, and say, are all ingredients for creating happiness of suffering. We have more choice and more power than we believe. Indeed, the world we live in trains us to feel lack and does not willingly give us an understanding of our own authority over our lives. What would happen if we decided we didn’t want to torture ourselves with wanting to look like that person in the magazine, to be that size, that successful? What would it do to our GNP if we decided we don’t want the promotion that means we will be glued to our computer for 11 hours a day? How would we step away from suffering if we say no to the fear and shame that keeps us quiet when white friends tell a hand-me-down joke that ends with white people laughing at an old fiction about Black people? How would we stop suffering if we say no to harsh speech that harms and divides when we long to illuminate and raise us all up?

The Third Noble Truth the Buddha shared is the cessation of dukkha or the way to happiness since the ending of suffering is happiness. How does your “no” lead you to happiness? Saying no when we bump up against words and actions that do not support our deepest values of kindness and consideration leads us directly to the Fourth Noble Truth, the path of mindful living. We can let our “no” to exploitation and lies, align us with Right Speech and Right Livelihood. We can practice letting our “no” keep our lives simple and free from overscheduling, over-commitment, and overwork. “No” means we can stop doing and learn to sit still long enough to find that quiet place and that peace we all have inside of us leading directly to Right View.

In interbeing, no does not exist without a yes. When we say “no,” what are we saying “yes” to, “yes” to kindness, to inclusiveness, to honesty, and to the most beautiful gift we can give ourselves, time to just be. Our “no” creates our “yes” which gives rise to these qualities that make our lives more wonderful and make our world a place we want to inhabit. We all have to work for our own salvation. There is no one-size-fits-all training or belief that will give it to us. The world we live in likes us better when we comply and say yes without questioning, “how is this for my heart, for my soul?” It is hard-won and sometimes heartbreakingly painful to look at what we have said yes to and to chose again to give ourselves the gifts that we didn’t believe we deserved, to give ourselves time, consideration, gentleness, and the recognition that we belong here, we matter, and we are more powerful than we have been taught.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Sticks & Stones

The Buck moon, Photo by Celia

“Every time I mess up is a chance to practice.” ~ Marshall B. Rosenberg

“We will do our best to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may make difficulties for us or threaten our safety.” ~ From the Ninth Mindfulness Training of the Order of Interbeing

“Our survival as a species depends on our ability to recognize that our well-being and the well-being of others are in fact one and the same.” ~Marshall B. Rosenberg

“Anger may be a source of energy, but when you are angry you are not lucid. You may say or do things that are destructive. That is why it’s better to use the energy of compassion or the energy of understanding. People should know that the energy of anger can actually be transformed into the energy of understanding and compassion. We don’t have to throw any energy away. We only need to know how to transform one form of energy into another.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear Friends,

I am breathing in and out with awareness as I write this. I want to acknowledge the aspect of change and transformation in this time—and for me, it feels monumental, even overwhelming as I look on the world I live in and see what I want to change. In the past six months, we have been forced to stop. All of us, to stop doing what we do and to see the interconnection that exists between us. As a species, we had the time and availability to have our hearts and minds penetrated by injustice and White bodied people had the opportunity to hear and see the pain, the heartbreaking consequences of White supremacy. White people did not have the luxury to believe it wasn’t happening in their neighborhood, and that somehow they are exempt from the responsibility of creating a new White culture that does not trade in violence and oppression.

If you are White reading this, I am wondering if you want to step away because this feels like someone else’s’ problem? If you are BIPOC reading this, I am wondering if you are feeling exhausted from a life dealing with this stuff and you don’t have the capacity to take in any more? And what I am wondering more and more, is how are we going to do this important work and stay connected without alienating each other? How am I going to talk to my White brothers and sisters about making space for non-White culture without scaring them, making them think they will be unsafe and unprotected. Without making them wrong and bringing more division? How do I stay connected to my Black brothers and sister’s who will wince when I say the wrong thing and sound like a White lady who does not understand that justice and equality are not causes that can be picked up and put down, but life and death for people who are born into Black skinned bodies? I am not going to tell People of Color that they need to be patient with the processing of White folks, who feel exhausted after a month of waking up to the nightmare of systemic racism and want to be soothed. I think it is time that as White people we need to start with ourselves. We need to hear the truth without running into defensiveness, denial or attacking. We need to breathe and stop, take care of the feelings we are experiencing, and come back to this issue, again and again, if we are going to make any real change.

Isley beach, Scotland. Photo by Barbara Richardson

 This is a time when we are tested and called to use Right Speech. We know we can create heaven or hell with our words. How do we remember that we belong to each other when we see that even among those who want the same thing, there is hurt, misunderstanding, and righteous indignation?  I look to the Buddha’s teaching about saying what is difficult, “In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, but unendearing & disagreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them” (MN 58.3). I think it is the right time and even as careful and kind as we are trying to be, we will hurt people and make them angry and get mad and invariably make the other person an enemy, unless we go slowly and do a lot of pausing.

When we have hurt others, the Buddha offers a path, “Having performed a verbal act, you should reflect on it… If, on reflection, you know that it led to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it was an unskillful verbal act with painful consequences, painful results, then you should confess it, reveal it, lay it open to the Teacher or to a knowledgeable companion in the holy life. Having confessed it… you should exercise restraint in the future.” (MN 61). The Buddha tells us that we should acknowledge the harm we cause with our speech. We do not make excuses and say the other person is too sensitive; we own the consequence of our action and work to do better—even when the intention was good, we own the pain of the outcome. This is an important point, as we navigate our relationships in the world. The refusal to acknowledge how our words land is an action that stems from aversion and delusion which in turn creates negative karma. We can see this easily when someone feels hurt or shamed by our words and starts avoiding interactions with us.

Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that, like it or not, we are in relationship with all beings on this planet. When we feel harmed by another, we tend to isolate and avoid as a way to protect ourselves and stay safe. We imagine that removing ourselves from another is a way we can punish them for unskillful speech. Thay (2013) writes, “We want to show the other person that without him or her we can survive very well. This is an indirect way of saying, ‘I don’t need you.’ But that’s not true. When we suffer, we need others. When we suffer, we should tell others we suffer, and we need their help” (p. 79). Thay gives us a mantra to remove the pride that keeps us stuck in isolation, judging, and hatred, “I suffer, please help” (p. 79). Right now, there’s a lot of suffering. If I believe I can get rid of those who are making me suffer—I am perpetuating the very culture of division, stratification, and blame that I am wanting to erase. I become part of the system that seeks to dominate and “win,” and have power over other beings and prove my side is “right.” We don’t ask our enemies for help. It feels too vulnerable. But that’s exactly what we need when we are hurting…we need help.

It feels huge right now to think about a paradigm shift in culture, where society is not based on the dualistic notion of winner and loser, or dominance and submission. It feels like a revolution of thought, the same one Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King spoke of, the creation of the beloved community. We can’t do this work when we dismiss and discount others when we leave them behind because they aren’t evolved enough. The only way we can do this is if we all pick up a rope and begin to turn this giant boat around. We need many hands; we need many hearts. I think of the Plum Village song, No Coming, No Going, and the lines, “because I am in you and you are in me,” this inseparable truth that we affect each other. We matter to each other and we need help. We are all suffering, please help us.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

References:

Nhat Hanh, T. (2013). The art of communicating. Harper One: New York, NY.

“Right Speech: samma vaca”, edited by Access to Insight. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dhamma/sacca/sacca4/samma-vaca/index.html

Standing Up and Coming Home

Lion’shead Peony, Photo by Celia

“I stand up for you.

You stand up for me.

We stand up together.

And this is how we do it.

I care for you.

You care for me.

We care together.

This is how we do it.” ~Larry Ward, Senior Dharmacharya

“We all have to suffer less in order to restore some kind of balance within ourselves. Only then can we engage in meaningful and collective efforts to build peace in the world.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh, Calming the Fearful Mind: A Zen Response to Terrorism

“I am part of this universe. The air is part of this universe. With each breath, the universe changes. With each inhale, the universe changes. With each exhale, the universe changes.” ~Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, In Love With the World: A Monk’s Journey Through the Bardo’s of Living and Dying.

Dear Friends,

These are exciting and unprecedented times. In the recent weeks we have witnessed a world-wide awakening to responsibility and accountability. As we are called to witness Rayshard Brooks’ killing by police, we are also seeing White bodies standing with Black bodies calling for justice and change. This is a big shift and it is time. My purpose in writing this is to call us all in to witness change happening and to see that sometimes things appear to happen slowly and sometimes they appear to happen very quickly. I also want to acknowledge that unrest, fear, instability, and continuing conflict can take a very real toll on our physical and mental wellbeing. Black and Brown bodies who have lived with the understanding that they are not safe have an inherited heightened level of stress and vigilance. I have heard both outrage and a bittersweet relief that when the whole world saw the lynching of a Black man, the whole world responded with swift condemnation and mourning. This response is overdue and seeing what happened on the streets of Minneapolis and Atlanta made it very clear that living in a Black body—we are less safe in this world than if we are in a White body.

For White people right now, I have heard shock and heartbreak and there is broken trust in the system they believed supported justice. For People of Color there is the heartbreak of once again seeing oppression and murder. For all of us in this world, living with the Corona virus, job insecurity, the increasing polarization of political and social differences, all bodies are feeling this vigilance and exhaustion. We are longing for a safe home, for comfort, and predictability and finding more instability each time we turn on the news. We know that for systems to change, sometimes things need to fall apart. No political regimen, no system, no country, no being is exempt from impermanence. Change is hard on us and we are in a time of profound and rapid change. We may wonder where can we find a calm center of rest, where is home now?

Thich Nhat Hanh (2010) writes, “I don’t suffer because I’ve found my true home (p. 8).” This home is not limited to a specific location, even confined to a country. “Thanks to mindfulness, I was able to find my true home in the here and now (p. 12) …Our true home is the place without discrimination, without hatred (p. 13).” Thay tells us, when we can touch into this moment, we can rest free from worries about the past and fears about the future. The peace and stability we are able to produce in this present moment creates the next moment. Coming home to ourselves is a way to stop, rest, and heal…which we need to do in order to engage in the heavy lifting that is required of us.

As one teacher described the Buddha’s teaching on the three universal marks of existence, “Everything keeps changing; it will shake you up and it’s not personal.” Right now, we are shook. We are tired and there is more to be done. I am calling us all in to find rest in the midst of unrest, in this moment that is filled with the potential of change and with real hope. Our ability to care for ourselves and to recognize that we are already co-creating the future with each breath we take—the universe is different. Each thought we produce changes our minds and hearts. The way we think, speak, and act creates a mark on the world and on our consciousness. Our freedom is paired with responsibility which includes responsibility for caring for ourselves, for finding our own ability to come home to ourselves, to have faith that enlightenment is inevitable.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Reference:

Nhat Hanh, T. (2010). Together we are one: Honoring diversity celebrating our connection. Parallax: Berkeley, CA.

Here are some opportunities to practice:

A link to Resmaa Menaken’s free 5 day workshop to heal racialized trauma https://www.resmaa.com/

link to an article Dharma teacher Cheri Maples wrote about being a Buddhist Cop, https://www.lionsroar.com/a-buddhist-cops-approach-to-justice/

Please click to see a sutra study offering from Dharma teacher Larry Ward:July 15th, 7 pm, online. Join Larry as he offers study and practice with the Lokavipatti Sutta: The sutra on the Failings of the World. https://www.thelotusinstitute.org/calendar/sutra-study

The Karma of the Present Moment

After the Storm. Photo by Celia

“I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear?”

~ Dr. Martin Luther King

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” ~ Mother Theresa

“We only need to be still and things will reveal themselves in the calm water in our heart.”  ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear friends,

As I start writing this, I am wondering what I can say to give some perspective to the unfolding events in our country. There is a deep sadness, some fear, and real hope for change as I witness what looks like the sea turning. We are seeing karma unfolding. Every action has its roots is what has come before. The country we live in has a painful history of greed, ignorance, and delusion that allowed America to believe it was moral and just to kidnap, enslave, and own another being based on the color of their skin. The full effect of over 350 years of violence and exclusion has never been fully reckoned. When we hear about white individuals with power killing Black and Brown skinned individuals without power, we are seeing the continuation of the brutal legacy of buying and selling humans, the  legacy of the lie that we are worth less if our skin is dark.

2,600 years ago, the Buddha left the life of extreme privilege and protection to understand what leads to suffering and what leads to the end of suffering. He broke with convention and spread the new doctrine that our station in life is not determined by our birth and social class. He changed the meaning of noble from one who is born into a life of privilege and honor, to the ennobling acts we do which create nobility in ourselves. He discarded the tradition of caste that kept people stuck in limited roles. He accepted all who came to end suffering, the poor, the privileged, even a serial killer and most radical of all—women.

He taught a new way of understanding ourselves and our world and saw that all suffering stems from the three constantly burning fires of greed, hatred and fear, and the ignorance or delusion that keeps us from seeing the truth.

As a white person, I know my race has committed atrocities in the name of greed, hatred, and delusion. If I believe that my personal history and my ancestor’s history of victimization and oppression exempts me from responsibility, I am not facing the truth that I too am included in this systemic hierarchy of privilege.

For those of us who meditate, we know that the more we engage in meditation and deep looking, the more we show up for what’s happening in our lives. Meditation is not a way to escape from our reality and from pain. Meditation is a way to be with it. Stepping into a larger capacity we have the opportunity to find the strength to wake up.

There is a world that is frustrated and angry because of the need for justice and accountability. There are people around the world who are standing up to the legacy of this inheritance.

In Christianity we learn we are our sibling’s keeper. In Buddhism we learn, we are our sibling. This is the understanding of Interbeing. That we are all capable of the same actions if our conditioning were that of others. We also see that we are not able to stand apart from what is happening. If we are Black, we are caught in this system of oppression and if we are white, as much as we would rather it be different, we are also caught in this system of oppression. As white allies, we can act as anti-racists honestly facing and checking our bias and seeing ourselves as not just good individuals, but as part of the white race.

Thich Nhat Hanh wrote a poem in 1978 in response to helping the Vietnamese boat people. Call me by my True Names tells us that we are both victim and victimizer, “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.” He writes that if he were raised with no hope, with few resources and learned that violence was the only way to get what he needed, he too would be capable of the same actions.

In response to what is happening in our country, I am writing in the footsteps of my teacher Thay.

Breathing in, I clearly see the roots of racial suffering in my land. The injustice of the Europeans who claimed the land of the First Peoples. I know that the poison of greed enabled European settlers to rob the land and lives of the First People who cared for the land and animals of America for centuries. I know if I were raised in a different time and place, I too would be a colonist who displaced native culture and I too am the First people whose lives and culture is shattered by white colonialism.

Breathing out, I am aware that my land is still connected to the indigenous people who cared for it. Breathing in and out, my heart is filled with sadness at the injustice and oppression of the Native people of America at the hands of white people.

Breathing in, I can clearly see the flowering of discrimination as white European Americans kidnapped Black citizens to buy and sell them as possessions. Breathing out, I know the poison of delusion & greed, fueled this violence and ignorance. Breathing in and out I heartily regret the actions of my race who acted in ignorance, fear, and greed and deprived others of their rights and lives. Breathing in, my heart is weighed down by the continued loss of life, threat, and disadvantages of my Black and Brown skinned siblings who are afraid for their lives.

As I breathe, I know that if I too am the white police officer, a son, a father, a husband who deprives another of breath, and in my fear, shoots a Brown skinned son, father & husband. And I am the Black son, father, and husband who is shot, and suffocated. I am not separate from either of these beings.

I see myself as the young man fueled by pain and hopelessness who smashes store windows and sets fire to cars and as the store owner who loses their livelihood because of my frustration and rage. I make space in myself to hold all this pain.

Breathing in and out, I know that I too am the Brown skinned person without papers in the US, who escaped a life of poverty. I am also the white ICE agent who arrests and deports those without papers and separates their children from their parents because I am following orders.

I am the Neo-Nazi who rallies and believes that one religion and race is superior. I am the Jewish student who is shot attending temple during the High Holy days. I can clearly see the roots of ignorance and hatred that make this possible. I know that if my life were different, I too would be capable of these things.

Breathing in I am the transsexual women who is beaten for using a public bathroom. I am also the ones who beat her. I am not different from these people. I can clearly see the seeds of fear that fuels this hatred and violence.

Breathing in and out, I see that the toxins of ignorance, hatred, fear, and greed have brought poison into the body and consciousness of my country, America. I vow to practice transforming these afflictions, to create wisdom, kindness, and generosity which are the remedies to these wounds for myself and for my nation.

Knowing I am not separate from the constructs of racism and discrimination, I set my intention to practice clear seeing into my own unconscious bias around race, gender, religion, and economic inequality. I will look with compassion when I want to look away or deny that I am part of the white race which has created the dominant culture of power and repression. This is not different from our practice. Waking up to what is—is our practice.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Calligraphy by Thich Naht Hanh

Reference: Nhat Hanh, T., (1997). Call me by my true names; The collected poems of Thich Nhat Hanh. Parallax Press: Berkeley CA.

Be Yourself. Everyone Else is Taken

Blue jay in apple tree

Bluejay in Appletree, Photo by Celia

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”  ~Heraclitus

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” ~Haruki Murakami

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” ~ Khalil Gibran

 

Dear Friends,

I hope you are all well and enjoying this spring. It’s hard to believe that we had a snow squall a few weeks ago seeing the apple, peach, and cherry trees in bloom. In Connecticut we are starting to cautiously re-open businesses. I’ve seen a traffic jam on the major highway and full tables at open-air restaurants. Life can seem normal, by which I mean, pre-COVID, and sometimes it can seem very not-normal as I find myself never wanting to touch a doorknob with an ungloved hand ever again, or harboring a mistrust of lettuce. One thing which is true always but seems more dramatic and novel is that none of us has been here before. This changing time in the world is new for all of us.

And, there’s lots of advice…so many things to read. I have well-meaning friends who send me articles from different viewpoints about the “best” strategies we should take, about the failings of the government to keep us safe and how to keep ourselves safe. One person tells me about herd immunity and that we should be emulating Sweden. A medical doctor tells me I need to stay isolated…another medical friend says, “no we don’t need to do that, only certain people do.” A practitioner sends me a sign up for another webinar. I am told to treat this time as a retreat…Meditate four hours a day…Garden…Play your flute…Make a commitment to write each day…And when all else fails—bake.

photo of flowers during daytime

In Zen, we have gathas, practice poems to keep us anchored to our intentions as we go through the day. Several years ago when I began graduate school online, I was overwhelmed with anxiety around the technology, the updates, the daily check-in on the school platform…all of it stretched me thin with worry that I would miss out. Entering the online world, I would get swept up in anxiety and find myself holding tension in my shoulders and in my mind. I was afraid I wouldn’t see a critical piece of homework; I’d post a reply in the wrong place or I couldn’t open the attachment from the teacher, my computer would crash, the internet would go down…and so many more. During my time as an online student, all these things happened—and I managed to survive.

After a few semesters of computer aversion, I wrote a gatha that I taped to my computer keyboard. Turning on my computer, many voices are calling to me. I promise to listen to myself and remember that caring for my body and mind is my highest priority. I aspire to be a presence of compassion for myself and everyone I encounter. While this reminder was not an instant cure-all for my feeling of overwhelm, it was a reminder that I could choose how I wanted to respond. Remembering that I had a choice allowed me to prioritize what was truly important to me.

When I remembered what my priority was, not being perfect, but taking care of my true home, my body and mind put things in perspective. I could take breaks. In one class, my teacher sent the class a link to the lying down desk which made my body so much happier for long hours of keyboard work. I worked when it was the right time for me. I listened to what was right for me…and I respected my capacity.

When we listen to how we are and what we are looking for we can create our own path. We can make our practice our own. Our practice does not look like everyone else’s. Even for those who live in a monastery and follow the same schedule of sitting, walking, eating, and working…their practice is not simply transferred to them from an outside source. Spiritual maturity requires we take responsibility for our own practice and make it our personal.

What I have found to be true is that our practice is made of what we do…and how we do it. It is a patchwork of our honest looking at our habits, the hurts that have healed and those which are still raw, our willingness to try and make mistakes, our ability to find soothing in our distress and our willingness to sit up with ourselves and hold our own hand when we can’t be comforted. It is made of celebrations when we don’t do the same thing, when we take a risk, are brave and vulnerable and we can see we have changed. Our true path is stitched together from all our woundedness, our celebrations, our ability to choose, authenticity, and failure…all of it create the path and the way we walk it. The two are not different. Our practice creates our practice.

The energy we invest in looking and clear seeing creates the foundation for how we practice. The essential ingredient is you. How do you want to be? What are you willing to do to commit to your own awakening? No one can answer these questions for you, nor can anyone do your practice for you. When we recognize that living with our own truth is more powerful and transformative than looking like a good practitioner following form without differentiation. We can start to make our practice our own. This is when things get exciting. This is when the practice of stopping and deep looking, making space for all our emotions can become integrated and truly support our life. This is not a dress rehearsal. As our teacher Thay says, This is it.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

11x17-master-sheet_0026_G026-This-is-It

 

Gratitude Means Taking in the Good.

Daffodil Hill

Daffodil Hill, Photo by Celia

Contentment is life living through you.

Joy is life living through you.

Satisfaction and strength

is life living through you.

He says don’t be afraid.

Don’t be afraid.

Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.

Let life live through you.

~ Hokusai

“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”

~ Meister Eckhart

“Light will someday split you open; even if your life is now a cage.”

~ Hafiz

Dear friends,

This weekend offered those spring days where the temperature of the air on my skin made me happy. I opened all the windows in my house, shut since fall, and let in the sweet air. This clean air, the gift of limited travel, and fewer emissions blew through my house and filled it with the hope of spring, new life, light, and growth. I felt Grateful. Grateful for this day, the gentleness of the weather and my being here to breathe in it.

Contact with the weather and spring itself brought up pleasant vedana, the second foundation of mindfulness as taught by the Buddha. Vedana is a Pali word that denotes the three feeling states which populate each moment of our lives, the pleasant, unpleasant, or neither pleasant nor unpleasant. As living beings, we excel at noticing unpleasant, especially when it involves pain or interferes with getting what we want. We get gold medals in noticing what is wrong, unfair, and threatens us. We get silver medals at noticing the pleasant. In fact, we unconsciously lean towards pleasant. We shift positions constantly to avoid discomfort, buy sheets with high thread counts, and read about how to create lives with nothing but pleasant experiences. The third state is likened to a radio station playing very faintly, too soft to notice until it gets turned up and we like or dislike it. This experience is the subtle one that usually slides below our awareness; we often try to add something to our experience to escape from the feeling of “nothing much” or neutrality which we can find boring. Understanding how we are pulled by these three constantly occurring mindstates is a way we can gain some freedom. We can understand that we are running from what is unpleasant or neither pleasant or unpleasant or running towards what promises some sweetness.

Narcissus

But how does gratitude fit in?  Gratitude is mindfulness and appreciation of the pleasant. It is metacognition, the awareness of the embodied response to pleasure, ease, and happiness. When we have gratitude, we are not clutching at an experience of pleasure, but resting in awareness—oh, the sun on my skin is like this. The scent of magnolia flowers is like this…ah, pleasant.

Folks on spiritual paths can hold themselves to some difficult standards and mistake numbness and neutrality for spirituality and equanimity. We can be afraid to celebrate goodness for fear of becoming swept away by it and committing that Buddhist sin of “getting attached.” We may feel guilty experiencing happiness and delight when so many people on this planet are suffering and mourning. We can forget that our present moment awareness includes what is pleasant and welcome. If we push away our own happiness and dull our awareness, we are not helping those who suffer by tamping down our joy—in fact, if we do not have the nourishment of ease and happiness, we have fewer resources to offer those who are suffering. Noticing the pleasant does not mean we become hedonists, living solely for sensual pleasure and gratification. Noticing the pleasant and seeing it occurring is a way we can bring our mindfulness, the compassionate awareness of moment to moment experience, into full flower.

Gratitude requires that we are fully present for what is good in our lives. If we have a sense of guilt or hint of unfairness—that we aren’t deserving or we should be appreciative of our good fortune because others are suffering, we effectively snuff out real gratitude. Evolutionary biologist, Paul Gilbert (2009) describes this type of obligatory gratitude as “part of our threat/self-protection system. There will be a tinge of feeling bad at not appreciating things…Genuine appreciation is learning to take joyful pleasure; it’s not about ought or should feelings” (p. 238). When we practice gratitude, we are creating a conscious suggestion to seek and notice the positive things that are occurring.

When we train our minds to notice, we actively change the neurobiology of our minds. Neural pathways are strengthened from repeated use. When we actively encourage ourselves to pay attention to the lovely and pleasant, this creates neurogenesis, new connections that further reinforce this behavior. Just like anything, the more we practice something, the better we get at it—our thought patterns are no exception. We can follow our innate bias and continue to dwell on the pain and suffering in our lives or we can balance our experience and train in gratitude—in awareness of the beautiful as well.

There’s a song form the Plum Village songbook which goes: “The realm of the mind is mine I can choose, choose where I want to be. Both heaven and hell I know equally well, the choice is up to me.” This week, I hope you can make the choice to find what is lovely and delights you, to find the gifts of the cosmos that we so often overlook because so much is wrong. Wishing you many moments of delight for all the flowers that are still blooming in this topsy turvy garden of our lives. Daffodil head

May we all trust our light,

Celia

 

References: Gilbert, P. (2009). The compassionate mind: A new approach to life’s challenges. New Harbinger: Oakland, CA.

Dont ignore suffering