Leaving the Door Open

Daisy

Daisy. photo by Celia

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”

 ~Thich Nhat Hanh

“Feel the feelings and drop the story.” ~Pema Chodron

“This is one of the peculiar problems of our culture: we are terrified of our feelings. We think that if we give them any scope and if we don’t immediately beat them down, they will lead us down into all kinds of chaotic and destructive actions.

But if, for a change, we would allow our feelings and look upon their comings and goings as something as beautiful and necessary as changes in the weather, the going of night and day and the four seasons, we would be at peace with ourselves.”

~ Alan Watts

 “Peace isn’t an experience free of challenges, free of rough and smooth, it’s an experience that’s expansive enough to include all that arises without feeling threatened.” ~Pema Chodron

 

Dear friends,

I am wondering, as I write this lying in bed, how many of you are feeling a little blah or low energy amid all this uncertainty? Or maybe you are feeling a lot blah, and understandably exhausted because of the new technology you are being asked to learn and implement in a flash? Or maybe you’re feeling relieved that things are slower, or really scared, or guilty that you aren’t feeling gratitude for your health at this moment and instead are frustrated by the lack of sports or availability of lentils at the market? I offer us all a great big, “yes,” to it all. The changes we are all encountering are enormous, even if our lives are relatively unaffected if we already work from home and live a solitary, sanitized life, we are all connected to this tremendous chain of reactions, worries, and feelings that are spilling into our homes via television, internet, and social media.

Some of us are finding it difficult to hold all this information and the reverberations of global suffering, worry, and anger. We may find we spiritualize and attempt to dismiss our worry and overwhelm as just thoughts we don’t have to believe—or to get entangled with the suffering and find it hard to focus. We can’t read or do anything but watch the news and get some satisfaction that we know all the current infection rates and death statistics. Like it or not, as embodies being who share space on this planet, we have a response to this collective upheaval. When we are able to acknowledge that we are affected, without suppressing, denying, or become swallowed by our feelings—we can begin to calm our nervous system and to allow our feelings to come and go—the way feelings do.

People I have spoken to are impacted by learning new technology and being challenged by working at home, trying to stay at a distance, feeling scared of contamination and despite the lack of doing, there’s a tangible feeling of anxiety and unrest in the world. This morning, I listened for about half an hour to the news. Afterward, I noticed that even that much exposure created a response in my limbic system. I was afraid, angry, blaming, there were flashes of despair and wondering. It was like an electrical storm. When I stopped and sat and left the door open to all these flashes of information, my feelings manifested, fed by the conditions of listening to collective fear and suffering—and then, when they were no longer fed—they left.

I’ve noticed that recognizing and allowing what is can feel like we are doing the opposite of what we should be doing. We would like to be patient and positive, the people who are unflustered by the empty shelves at grocery stores and respond with equanimity when our children ask us for the fifth time if they can go visit their friends and we say no. But sometimes we aren’t equanimous. Sometimes we are hurting because everyone around us is hurting. Being honest about what’s manifesting in us is one way stop the struggle and be able to relax into what is. My dog Daisy has offered me a very apt analogy.

Daisy is one of my rescue dogs. I didn’t meet Daisy before she came to my house. My daughter picked her out from a website because she was fluffy and had pretty eyes. Daisy was one of two dogs who were suspected of having Parvo, a highly contagious disease for dogs. Daisy and her littermate were kept confined indoors in a small area and saw one woman who took care of them. Daisy spent three days being trucked to us from South Carolina. When she arrived in my life, at three months old, she didn’t know what grass was and was terrified of noises. She barked at men, distrusted shopping carts, trash cans, ladders, and anything that moved quickly. Three years later, Daisy is reasonably well adjusted. She is a highly effective watchdog, bred to guard sheep. She has decided that I am her sheep. She may look like she’s sleeping, but she tracks if I make a move towards the door or put on my shoes; she’s ready. She is on guard to protect me from the cats who want attention and intervene if any humans dare to get close to me—including my spouse.

When I sit and meditate, have a Zoom meeting, or want a quiet phone call, if I think closing the door to the anxious Daisy will give me peace, I am mistaken. After a few minutes, there’s whining, scratching and it doesn’t stop. She lies down and waits; she makes more inventive noises. She becomes very distracting. When I open the door, she is excited and circles, checks me with her nose repeatedly—she is once again, distracting—her anxiety is reignited. She doesn’t let me out of her sight, and I can sense she’s on alert, knowing she might be banished.

What I have learned, is that when I leave the door open, Daisy comes in quietly. She lies down; she gets up and leaves. She comes back. She’s quiet. She isn’t frenzied about being in the room because she can come and go. She has permission to be there. She doesn’t touch me repeatedly with her wet nose or look at me with that wounded dog look. She is so quiet that sometimes I notice her, sometimes, I don’t. It’s the same with our emotional states. When we create these boundaries and set up conditions of shame and aversion, we increase the tension and anxiety we are trying to mitigate. When we open the door to what is there, we can learn to notice its coming and going without making it wrong, forbidden, or even something special. Feelings come and go. That’s the nature of feelings.

And please remember that there are no wrong feelings. Leaving the door open lets them come and go, lets them relax and know they too have permission to be here. We don’t have to carry them and to be bowed down by them. They can come and go knowing they are all allowed, they all belong.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

We Inter are

If you have some time and would like to listen, Nishant Garg and I take a deeper look into mindfulness, self-compassion, and forgiveness. Here’s the link http://nishantgarg.me/2020/03/24/celia-landman

And an article by me in this month’s issue of EPIC Magazine on Fierce Compassion. https://epicmag.org/pdfs/tricountyct-march-april-2020/?page=12

A Prayer for the Pandemic

I am home cyclamen

Windowsill, Photo by Celia

“Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing,

there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,

the world is too full to talk about.

Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’

doesn’t make sense any more.” ~Jelaluddin Rumi

 “True self is non-self, the awareness that the self is made only of non-self elements. There’s no separation between self and other, and everything is interconnected. Once you are aware of that you are no longer caught in the idea that you are a separate entity.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

“Everyone is so afraid of death, but the real sufis just laugh: nothing tyrannizes their hearts. What strikes the oyster shell does not damage the pearl.”

~Jelaluddin Rumi

Dear Friends,

I’ve never experienced a pandemic before, never seen rampant fear and the reality of suffering so prevalent. In these uncertain times, I am very thankful for my practice. Especially for the understanding of the three marks of existence or the three characteristics, anicca [impermanence], anatta [non-self], and dukkha [the understanding that suffering exists in life]. One teacher, whose name sadly, I do not know, summed it up as, “Everything keeps changing. It’ll shake you up, and it’s not personal.” We are seeing the truth of this teaching in the world.

The Buddha taught that all things, including our lives, are compound, conditioned phenomena made possible by supporting causes and conditions. When the surrounding environmental conditions shift, maintaining what was is no longer possible. This can be delightful when we heal from an illness or when that loud neighbor finally moves out. This truth can be sorrowful when someone gets ill or dies. We see that existence is only possible when the proper conditions that support it are in place. This is the teaching of non-self, knowing that we are held on the Earth by an array of support that includes oxygen, water, the sunshine that grows our food, by the nurture of our ancestors who gave birth to us and cared for us as a baby and child. We are constantly being formed.

In the Zen tradition, we say we are not the same or different than we were, we are a continuation. We are a process not a product and we keep changing. This is not a self that needs propping up, but a collection of life energy. When we can see past the rigid partition separating our life and all other beings, we can begin to soften the voice of the self that sees everything in terms of how it affects me. Things happen because of causes and conditions and are the result of actions. We are not victims of the world and life is not doing things to us personally. This pandemic is not personal, even when it causes us pain.

We are a country of doers and the recommendations, handwashing and staying home, essentially not doing, may seem like non-action. We want a vaccine. We want real medicine. We want to know we will be OK. Right now, we are seeing that the solidity of life, is not as solid as we thought. This is impermanence. We are not born with a guaranteed expiration date. We are always at risk, always vulnerable, but right now, we see it clearly. The result of seeing impermanence is that we understand we are not as separate and stable as we wish and that engenders fear, which is dukkha.

Last week, the stock market plunged and the newscaster commented that “fear outstripped greed.” It takes a lot to knock out greed, but fear for our lives is doing the trick. When things are uncertain we have difficulty. Naturally, we want stability and routine. As a species, we crave to know all the risks and how to stay safe. We suffer when we are vulnerable and unsure. One item this pandemic is showing us is that we belong to each other. We are more connected than we imagined.

I’ve seen the beautiful videos of those in isolation singing out the windows in Italy. We know that the air is cleaner over Wuhan than it was two weeks ago and that everywhere folks are reaching out to each other despite the barriers. We are learning what matters to us all and that if one of us suffers, we all suffer. We are collectively learning to stop. We have nowhere to go and nothing to do right now. Let us make good use of our time on this Earth.

I send this simple prayer for all of us.

A Prayer for the Pandemic

Where there are anxiety and fear, may we find our still center even in the midst of this.

Where there are anger and frustration at confinement, may we give ourselves permission to rest.

Where there is loss of income and fear for our family’s wellbeing, may we be willing to trust that there are kindness and support in this world.

Where there is disregard for others, may we remember that simple acts of renunciation—staying home and non-doing, can save lives.

Where there are panic and hoarding, may we open to generosity and recognize that we belong to each other.

Where there are denial and dismissal, may we embrace all people’s feelings with respect and consideration.

Where there are vulnerable lives, may we be a continued presence of compassionate care.

Where there is impatience, may we enjoy slowing down and find ease.

When we feel like victims, may we know this situation is not personal.

Where there is anxiety for our health and those we love, may we understand that these bodies are subject to natural laws.

Where there are despair and hopelessness, may we know that we are life without end.

When we are irritable and grumpy, may we remember that we are here to love each other.

When we are overwhelmed, may we stand in the beauty of the natural world.

When we don’t want to do this anymore, may we look at ourselves with the tenderness of a mother holding a frightened child.

When we fear for our lives, may we remember we exist beyond the beginning and end of this limited body.

When we feel alone, may we remember that each one of us is connected to all the lives, the stars, and planets and that we belong to this Earth.

When we are confused, may we know how to stop and listen to our wisdom.

And when we are scared, may we reach into the world and find our family is here, with us all along.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Be there for eachother

 

 

 

The Thorn in my Heart

Lotus with honey bee

Bee on a lotus, photo by Celia

“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”

“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”

“The seed of suffering in you may be strong, but don’t wait until you have no more suffering before allowing yourself to be happy.”

~All quotes by Thich Nhat Hanh

I’ve been seeing some suffering in myself and others recently and it has me looking at the first Noble Truth which is most often translated as “suffering exists.” The Buddha describes suffering in the Dammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting Rolling the Wheel of Truth, “Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is suffering, sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief, and despair are suffering; association with the loathed is suffering, dissociation from the loved is suffering, not to get what one wants is suffering…” [1]The Buddha continued that this ennobling truth about suffering is to be fully understood so we can move towards seeing the causes of suffering, the path and ultimately the way out, the end of suffering. While the first truth tells us this state of dissatisfaction in real, the dissolution of suffering is also real, so we can see that suffering is not a permanent life sentence.

Some teachers find it helpful to make a distinction between pain and suffering. We have the equation from Shinzen Young, “suffering equals pain times resistance.” There is the oft-invoked statement that pain is unavoidable while suffering is optional. Suffering sounds like we’ve made a bad choice. Merriam Webster Dictionary describes suffering as a “conscious endurance of pain or distress,” which adds the element of knowing to lasting pain. I think what gets a bad rap about suffering, is not that it exists, but in the sustaining it, the way we keep it going after the event, after everyone goes home from the party and we are left chewing over all the times we forgot people’s names or how no-one used coasters or complimented the faro salad.

lotusThe word the Buddha is recorded as using is dukkha, which literally refers to an ill-fitting hub of a wheel giving it a wobbly roll. Dukkha according to the Venerable Ajahn Sumedho is translated as “incapable of satisfying,” or “not able to bear or withstand anything.” The word is nuanced and includes the full range of painful experiences, from the store being out of my favorite brand of oat milk, to the death of a loved one. Dukkha includes all things we find unsatisfactory, painful, or irritating.

In the Attadanda Sutta, the Buddha spoke about being afraid of the hostility he saw in people. Only when he discerned that there was a thorn in their hearts that could be removed—he saw what would ease this hatred and violence. This is how he describes removing the thorn, ‘“For whom there is no “I-making”/All throughout the body and mind/ And who grieves not for what is not/ Is undefeated in the world. For whom there is no “this is mine”/ Nor anything like “that is theirs”/Not even finding “self-ness,” he/ Does not grieve at “I have nothing.”’[2]

The line that really resonates with me is “who grieves not for what is not.” This is the judgment and subsequent dissatisfaction that arises from inserting my preference between the event and myself. This is the resistance that does not want things to be as they are because they are untidy, hurtful, and unsatisfactory. This situation is not giving me what I want…at all. This is especially true when we encounter others who are suffering. It is this energy of friction, this rawness, that is the thorn.

The nun Patacara who lived at the time of the Buddha spoke about this thorn, “My thorn, indeed, has been removed! Buried in the heart, so hard to see. That grief which had overcome me— Grief for my son — has been dispelled.” [3] For me, whether I call it pain or suffering is not the point. It is the thorn that we insert into our hearts that drives this mass of suffering.

One way to bring our mindfulness to the way we pierce our hearts is to notice our thoughts as we suffer. When we notice our reactivity to an event, we can check in with our belief and our response. We can start with the question, “how is this event wrong?”  and notice our emotional response to the wrongness. Are we apathetic, frustrated, confused, irritated because we wanted something else? When I can stop and see my grievance, such as, “those kids are rotten,” or  “she shouldn’t be behaving like that,” or “he’s got to stop drinking,” I can uncover the thorn in my heart—the friction which comes from wanting this different for me. Dharma teacher John Martin uses the simple check-in question, “is suffering present?” The answer becomes clear—of course there is!

There’s the suffering of the other person who is perhaps tired, angry or caught in addiction, and then there’s the suffering or dissatisfaction of myself who wants it to change. When we see suffering, the best medicine is to notice it for what it is—suffering. Then we can ask, “what am I adding to the suffering?”Water jewel

This doesn’t mean we walk by cruelty and injustice with a happy smile as suffering blossoms all around us. It means that when we take action—it’s not personal. The suffering isn’t coming at me. It’s just suffering, the stuff that life is made from. We can learn that suffering is not the problem, the grief we feel for wanting something different is. This is the thorn that comes with the territory of self-interpretation—the arena of I, me, and mine. When I step outside of this narrow focus, I can see the suffering for what it is…suffering, pain, dislike, wanting something better. This business of thorn removal takes some time and determination—but the reward the Buddha spoke of is to be “undefeated in the world.” I think this also means we are undefeated by the world—capable, resilient, and healed.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Dont ignore suffering

[1] “Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting Rolling the Wheel of Truth” (SN 56.11), translated from the Pali by Ñanamoli Thera. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 13 June 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn56/sn56.011.nymo.html .

[2] “Attadanda Sutta: Arming Oneself” (Sn 4.15), translated from the Pali by Andrew Olendzki. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 2 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/snp/snp.4.15.olen.html .

[3] “Pañcasata Patacara: The Soothing of Grief” (Thig 6.1), translated from the Pali by Andrew Olendzki. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 2 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/thig/thig.06.01.olen.html .