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

Watering the Good Seeds

ferns close up

A family of ferns. Photo by Celia

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~ Maya Angelou

“Every child is born in the garden of humanity as a flower.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

The Four Mantras of True Love

“Darling. I am here for you.”

 “Darling. I know you are there for

 “Darling. I know you are suffering. I am here for you.”

 “ me.”Darling. I am suffering. Please help me.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh, From the Dharma talk, True love and the Four Noble Truths, October 14, 2013

Dear Friends,

How are you doing in all this? I am wondering if you have found a rhythm and some routine in our new normal. It appears that our quarantine will be with us for longer than some of us expected. There are more uncertainty and more fear in the world. This adds to our allostatic load, the amount of stress our bodies are exposed to. Increased stress in our environment, leads to greater burden on the basic physiology of the body to perform homeostasis. As a result, we have less physical and emotional energy and less resilience and capacity. If we are confined with our families, it can be tense. We long for our own space and for that partner to go…somewhere…anywhere, but here. The kitchen is too small. The food is boring and still, we are eating. There is nothing to do and yet, we are exhausted. We are vigilant and afraid, and the enemy is invisible and the people we love could be unwitting agents of illness and death. All we want to do is have some comfort, ease, and return to what was normal. This is a confusing and tough time when we are called in to manifest the highest qualities in ourselves—like gratitude.

Last weekend, I had the privilege of being with a virtual sangha of young folks. There were two sisters ages 2 and 8 on the video teleconference who lived in Manhattan. Their mom was immune-compromised, a single parent, who told us they had not been outside of their apartment in six weeks—and yet—the kid played, sang, breathed with the bell, and were kids.

During the call, we had a session of flower watering. Winton Hill, flowers Flower watering is a practice where we acknowledge the gifts of another person and let them know we see them; we appreciate their goodness and it makes a difference in our life. I watched the 8-year-old smile and light up as her mom described the beautiful qualities she saw in her daughter, her patience with her sister, the ways she was helpful, and dependable at home. The older sister watered the flowers of the little sister and they hugged. The mom watered the flowers of her little daughter saying she brought joy and laughter into their lives and kept them very busy. She hugged her kids and I could sense how delighted they felt to be seen for their goodness, for someone to appreciate their true intentions. This acknowledgment nourished these positive qualities in the family. It really was like rain, an essential nutriment for beautiful flowers to grow. 

ferns against granite

This simple practice can do wonders, create connection, and let those who feel left out know they are seen and their contributions are meaningful. When we take the time to verbally appreciate the qualities in our children, friends, and others which make our lives more wonderful, we are contributing to shaping their future. This appreciation adds to their confidence and creates the trust to continue to act with kindness. When we are seen for our good qualities, we feel free to be our authentic selves; we can relax, and others feel relaxed around us.

In America, the dominant culture stresses blame and judgment which can fuel disconnection and isolation. We are quick to criticize, find fault and see injustices; we don’t always take the time to say how we feel when we encounter goodness in others. Right now, gratitude is more important than ever. No one is certain about what the future holds. At this moment, while we are present on the Earth, what do we really want to tell people? What would we regret leaving unsaid? Telling someone you value them is a gift that costs nothing except our willingness to connect. This week, please consider all the people who make a difference in your life and in your day and let them know you are thankful for their kindness, for their humor, for their patience. Let them know how their being here impacts you and how they contribute to the world. When we can see our goodness through the eyes of another, we feel loved. Knowing we are loved is a legacy of priceless worth.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Dont ignore suffering

Making Meaning of our Lives

Rainbow

Today’s Rainbow. Photo by Celia

“At the beginning you may believe that the four Bodhisattvas are outside of us. If you practice steadily, you will see that you are also that Bodhisattva because you also have all of those qualities.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

“Even fear itself is frightened by the bodhisattva’s fearlessness.” ~Chogyam Trungpa

“A bodhisattva is someone who has compassion within himself or herself and who is able to make another person smile or help someone suffer less. Every one of us is capable of this.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

“Few of us are satisfied with retreating from the world and just working on ourselves. We want our training to manifest and to be of benefit. The bodhisattva-warrior, therefore, makes a vow to wake up not just for himself but for the welfare of all beings.” ~Pema Chodron

Dear Friends,

Sitting in my kitchen, I am wondering what is true for you? The responses to our shared situation are so varied and shift from moment to moment. I’ve talked to people who are feeling slight disruptions of life and those who are grieving the loss of connection and physical interaction, and those who feel like they are losing ground and fighting despair. I’ve seen in myself that what is meaningful in my life is created in community. Worldwide, we are seeing the loss of jobs and how much we value being engaged and useful. The lack of employment impacts our ability to care for ourselves and our families and is causing real anxiety and concern about our ability to survive. We may feel lost and rudderless as if we will be swept away by our inability to get things done, to make money and of course, to be useful. My inquiry right now is, what gives our lives meaning in this physically distant society?

I am reminded of the Great Vow of the Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, “until the hells are empty, I will not become a Buddha. I will remain until every sentient being is liberated.” Each Bodhisattva offers us ways to stay connected to the intention to care for others, even though we may not be physically present with them. Our intentions are powerful. They are what creates meaning in our lives. In Buddhist thought, intention is what creates karma, or the results of our thoughts, words, and physical actions.

Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that there are four qualities of mindfulness: compassion and loving kindness, great understanding and wisdom, and action and vows. We need the mind of love and wisdom in order to take action and have the nourishment to continue acting in accordance with our intentions when things are difficult.  He reminds us, “When you love, you have to act. If you say that you have a lot of love but you don’t do anything then that is not love that is merely lip service.” When we invoke the Bodhisattvas’ names, we call upon these qualities in ourselves. Thay speaks about these same four qualities in the life of a Bodhisattva which enable us to bring compassionate action in alignment with our deepest values. “The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara illustrates the first aspect, love. Manjushri Bodhisattva represents great understanding. Samantabhadra is Great Action and Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva the Great Vow. In Mahayana temples usually the ears represent Avalokitesvara, Manjushri by the eyes and Samantabhadra by the hand.”  We see that the intention to be awake and to be of service requires us to hear the needs of others, the see what is useful and do able and the will to make it happen.

I know in our sangha we have those who are living Bodhisattvas.Spring Dandelions

They are writing cards to the elderly, calling friends, reconnecting with relatives and offering homes and support for those who are mourning. Taking our place as Bodhisattvas, we use our gifts to continue to act despite the limitations and adversities. As we take time to consider our roles in this new society, what makes us come alive for ourselves? How can we manifest the desire to connect, to care for others and in doing so, care for our own sense of meaning and contribution? Sometimes it’s a simple phone call or a text, a message of care, a trip to the supermarket for an elderly friend, sometimes it’s walking someone’s dog, or leaving a pot of pansies on a doorstep. Our actions can take many, many forms, but what is the connecting thread in all of these is the mind of love, the understanding of our own and collective aspirations and the ability to act, the mind that finds a way to love—even in this.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

I am here for you

All quotations from a Dharma Talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh on January 15, 1998  in Plum Village, France.

 

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 .

Claiming our Inheritance

paperwhites

Narcissus, Photo by Celia

“The bud

stands for all things,

even for those things that don’t flower,

for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;

though sometimes it is necessary

to reteach a thing its loveliness,

to put a hand on its brow

of the flower

and retell it in words and in touch

it is lovely

until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing”

~ Saint Francis and the Sow

BY GALWAY KINNELL

“Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is freed from incoming defilements. The well-instructed disciple of the noble ones discerns that as it actually is present, which is why I tell you that — for the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones — there is development of the mind.”

~Pabhassara Sutta: Luminous (AN 1.49-52), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013).

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself you have built against it.” ~Rumi

 

Dear Friends,

I am writing this evening about something I’ve encountered in both young and not so young individuals. It’s what we call self-hatred. At this moment you may be nodding with understanding. You may know the voice that criticizes, the numbness around receiving admiration, and the constant feeling that somehow people will see that you aren’t quite right—not put together properly and barely holding yourself together. Or, perhaps, the words self-hatred are something beyond your reality—something you have heard of, but due to either your own work or the blessing of having a supportive, connective upbringing, you can clearly see yourself as ultimately lovable and worthy of being loved. If you fall into the second category, that’s wonderful—and if you fall into the first category, you have a great opportunity to learn how to suffer less.

In our country, we have a robust culture of self-improvement. Beyond the healthy desire to create wellbeing and integrate healthy habits into our lives, some of us come from a deficit where we believe we are less than. One of the most telling aspects of this belief is the inability to believe we are worthy of receiving help—and the inability to believe we are loveable. If we were raised to be seen and not heard, to be a helper and not ask for much…attention, affection, understanding, or consideration, we may have the mistaken idea that needing some care makes us a burden and we are a problem to be solved, an interruption in other people’s lives.

This belief in our smallness belies our true nature as beings who carry a lineage of connection to the past and are connected to all things in the present. This is the understanding of “interbeing.” That not only do we carry the genetic information, the love, and teaching of our blood and spiritual ancestors, we are also part of this Earth. We belong on this planet as much as the stones, the trees, and all living things.

Isley, sunset

Isley, Scotland. Photo by Barbara Richardson

Something that I love about the Buddhist way of thinking is the belief in our basic goodness. In the West, there is a cultural belief that we are fundamentally sinful and if we trusted our own wisdom, we would become some sort of greedy Godzilla monster wrecking everything with our unskillfulness. The Buddhist path teaches us that we are pure luminous light. We are love at our core, and when we get out of our own way, we can trust this awakened heart-mind to be a presence of love and compassion for ourselves and others. We don’t have to be afraid of what is in us because it is purity. Our true nature is holiness.

It may be frightening for some of us to consider who we would be if nothing were wrong with us—if there was nothing to fix, to strive for; what if everything belonged? What would it be like to believe we were a Buddha in the making for a day, an hour, five minutes?

A well-known story from Dharma teacher Sharon Salzberg recounts how she spoke to the Dalai Lama in 1990, at the Mind and Life Institute Conference and asked him what he thought of self-hatred. He was absolutely baffled by this concept. He explained that this was wrong thinking because we all have Buddha-nature. Buddha-nature is part of the Mahayana lineage and includes the belief that all sentient beings, even insects—contain the seeds of awakening and all beings can become Buddha. The Mahayana Uttara Shastra from the 4th Century, C.E. declares, “This clear luminous nature of mind is changeless as space. It is not afflicted by desires and so on, the adventitious stains, which are sprung form incorrect thoughts” (Arya Asanga, recorded by Arya Maitre, translated by Rosemarie Fuchs, 1999).  If we believe that we all contain the seeds of enlightenment and are descendants of the Buddha, how is it possible to hate and denigrate that inheritance?

One practice I’ve found that can help us connect with our own ability to see ourselves as worthy is through visualization of our beloved. This visualization works equally well utilizing a visualization of someone who is alive or someone who has passed. Our beloved can be a teacher, a grandparent, a dog, a cat, or a child. Holding the image of someone dear to us, someone who is delighted to see us, we can see their face and their happiness, feel their delight at our being with them. This is an opportunity to investigate what arises in the presence of a beloved. How are our shoulders, our hearts, our minds? What is the quality of our consciousness at this moment?

Holding this image of a beloved one, we can meet their gaze and radiate our own happiness and appreciation back to them. For some of us, it may be helpful to hear that this being totally understands and forgives us. We may want to offer our forgiveness to this being as well. Touching into a relationship of love, practicing receiving love and consciously noting what it feels like in the body/mind to actively receive it, can help removes some of the protection and defense we have built around our hearts.

When we practice opening our hearts to ourselves and the loveable qualities we possess, we learn to be unafraid to offer this love to others. Our hearts become more radiant and fearless. We can begin to believe that we are made of an unstainable purity of mind and believe it is our birthright. When we allow ourselves to experience the inherently loveable qualities in ourselves through another’s eyes, we can gradually fill the void of unworthiness in ourselves and trust that we are worthy of love, worthy of care, a Buddha to be.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

love like a Buddha

Calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

 

 

 

 

Listen Like a Bodhisattva

Pink cloud

Pink Cloud and full moon. Photo by Celia

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

~Invoking the Bodhisattvas, from the Plum Village Chanting Book

 

Dear Friends,

As practitioners, we learn about Right Speech, speech that is timely, true, spoken with kindness, with heartfelt-ness, and with a mind of goodwill. When we practice in community, we also have the opportunity to cultivate Right Listening. In our culture, we often listen to find out the views of others. We can listen for signs of political affiliation, for biases, for education level and for information. Our listening to others determines our comfort level. Are they like me or are they very different? We listen to position ourselves in the hierarchy of intelligence, money, and power. Are they dull or do they outshine me? We listen to find if it is safe to express ourselves openly, especially if the person we are listening to is our boss or holds a position of power. We listen to gather information so we can be safe and thrive or persuade others to think as we do. We listen from a place of self-interest to maximize our advantages. Our listening is a form of self- protection.

If you come to a Plum Village sangha, or if you are in a healing profession, you are taught to listen in a different way. The instructions at sangha include listening to hear what it is like for that other person. We are encouraged to aspire to the qualities of Avalokiteshvara, or Quan Yin, the Bodhisattva who listens to the cries of the world. The mission of this great being is to hear the voices of those who are suffering. When our pain is heard by another and we and our situation are held with compassion, there is often a profound shift. When another being can hold our pain with us, our burden is halved.

In order to listen like a Bodhisattva, we must be able to have the capacity to sit with another’s pain without trying to fix, to advise, to manage, spiritualize, or minimize their experience. We may say things that we believe to be helpful, but these expressions ward off any authentic connection. We’ve all been there and heard or said, “everything happens for a reason. We don’t get things we can’t handle. When one window closes, another opens. You need to let go…” and the list goes on. Or we ride over what the person is expressing and fill the space with our own experiences, “When that happened to me I…I know a friend who had the same thing and she…” Unwittingly we abandon the other person and shine our attention back on our own experience and our perceptions of how and what should be happening. This is false empathy because it does not allow the other to feel felt and understood; it keeps us in the foreground as the authority and denies the validity of another’s experience. If we find ourselves drawn into a quick comeback to fix the issue, we can silently tell ourselves, “Just listening, just listening.”

hillsideSometimes it’s hard for us to listen when we feel filled up with our own grief or sorrow. We may become frustrated and impatient when we hear about someone else’s confusion and fear. We may want the problem solved so we do not have to be close to these painful and unpleasant emotions. They may be too real and trigger these feelings in ourselves because we haven’t had the time or training to care for these feelings in ourselves. When we are under stress and filled with big emotions, we do not have room for more. Our ability to listen and to hear is only as large as the space we are able to create in ourselves. That’s why it is so important to take care of our own pain in order to show up for others.

Listening without rushing to solve or fix means that we trust the other person to find their own solution in their own time. When we rush to fix with advice, spiritualizing, or platitudes we do not allow the other person to develop their own agency. Most advice is not taken because it is not given to one who is ready to hear it. One of the factors of right speech is speaking at the right time. The time for advice is when it is wanted and it is truly beneficial for the other person.

The ability to listen to others requires us to first listen to ourselves, to take stock of what our emotional capacity is and to care for what is longing to be known in ourselves. Only when we can stop and care for our own wellbeing do we have the capacity to show up for others with real listening. We know the body and mind are one and all thought have a reverberation in the body. Being aware of and consciously releasing tension and contraction in the body are ways to create more solidity and equanimity in ourselves as we practice listening. When our body is calm our mind can be calm also. One of the greatest gifts we can give to someone we love is to listen with a calm mind.

Often when I listen, I imagine that it is me saying the words. When I find myself reacting with judgment, comparing, or criticizing, I come back to my body and breathe to my belly, letting my shoulders be soft, consciously releasing tension as I exhale. “Listening is enough,” I tell myself, “Just listen.” When I can stay with this openness, aware of the other and aware of my own presence, something shifts. Understanding appears. When I can offer the other person my non-judgmental attention, we are connected in the act of compassion. I become big enough to hold this shared pain without sinking and in the sharing—the pain is lessened. This is one of the ways out of suffering. This is a way we can become a presence of compassion in the world.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

When Someone Deeply Listens to You

by John Fox in Finding What You Didn’t Lose.

When someone deeply listens to you

it is like holding out a dented cup

you’ve had since childhood

and watching it fill up with

cold, fresh water.

When it balances on top of the brim,

you are understood.

When it overflows and touches your skin,

You are loved.

 

When someone deeply listens to you,

the room where you stay

starts a new life

and the place where you wrote

your first poem

begins to glow in your mind’s eye.

It is as if gold has been discovered!

When someone deeply listens to you,

your bare feet are on the earth

and a beloved land that seemed distant

is now at home within you.

Listen with compassion

 

 

Permission to Rest

tree carving.JPG

Dear Friends,

We’ve made it past the holidays and stepped into the New Year. This is the time of year when we live with less daylight and most of us spend more time indoors, especially in the bitter cold and snow. If we pay attention to what we see that in the natural world, there is something called “winter rest” that is slowly and quietly happening. The animals are in their burrows and the plants are in their dormant stage. Although they look quite still, all the while in these protected realms, there is photosynthesis and cell development going on in the buds and twigs. The trees use little water and sugar and take care of all the housekeeping involved in the growth cycle. They utilize this period of dormancy to prepare for the time ahead and the push of the lifecycle that responds to the changing conditions. If trees and plants don’t get to stop and attend to their own nutriments their lives are dramatically shortened. It’s the same way the engine that continually runs burns out earlier.

With the stripped-down landscapes, the leafless trees, and quiet gardens we have less to distract us in winter. There are no gardens to weed, no lawns to mow, or lakes we want to swim in. The cold and darkness beckon us to conserve ourselves for the longer days of spring. If we are farmers, we have a season of leisure in which to recommit to our most cherished ways of being. We all have fallow time when we can rest and restore our energy and our intentions.

Believing that there is a season of rest, may feel unrealistic or alien. In our world with electric lights, twenty-four-hour news cycles and unlimited access to technology we can be plugged in and feel productive any time of the day or night. We keep going despite the natural world which tells all the beings to slow down and rest. But true creativity and innovation don’t come from busyness. They are the children of stillness. This is the time of year we are invited to turn inward and renew our commitments to what really matters. The Buddha and sangha lived in tune with the cycles of the Earth and Shakyamuni Buddha gave a teaching on the example of Sariputta, also known as Upatissa:

“Settled at the root of a tree,

With shaven head, clad in a robe,

The elder foremost in wisdom

— Upatissa just meditates.

He has become calm and at rest,

Wise in speech and not self-centered;

He’s shaken off unwholesome states

— Like wind would leaves from a tree.

He has become calm and at rest,

Wise in speech and not self-centered;

He has plucked off unwholesome states

— Like wind would leaves from a tree.”

(Sariputta Thera: Keeping the Wheel Rolling, Thag.17.2, A.Olendzki trans, 2 November 2013, Access to Insight. BCBS Edition.) * See full license below.

I am reminded as we approach the belly of winter, of the richness of practicing with this change and with the continuation of this season. The fragility of life and impermanence become more pronounce and poignant in winter. We hear the call for quiet and are subject to the natural limitations that come with ice and snow. Our travels are restricted; we aren’t free to go when and where we choose. We learn that we are also animals whose lives are conditioned by nature.

I am sharing a poem I wrote a few years back reflecting on the ways the winter added to my practice. The conditions that can sometimes seem so hard can also teach us the patience to stay, even with change. Additionally, this season demonstrates Interbeing—our connection to this Earth and to the other beings who help create our safety and wellness.

Early Spring

Hidden bench

Don’t let the spring come too soon for I need more winter to humble me.

Let the cold climb beneath my covers,

creep between my cells into the sinew and marrow of my cozy bed.

Give me stinging winds blasting my cheeks; shock my toes with freezing water in my boot. Keep the landscape gray, and the skeleton branches forever barren.

Let all the birds be voiceless, absent from the world now quiet as a bone. Stay frozen and bleak until I am wind carved, hollowed out, an empty log that is only contour, swept free of flesh and waiting.

When I’ve become as wanting as

a stone,

knowing there is nothing left to eat

in the frozen ground. I watch hope slip on black ice

and shatter, smash into only this, only now.

This crystal moment of things as they are and the eye blink of knowing

just how easily my shell can be broken.  I see the crisp edges of helplessness

reminding me that I am not equipped to live alone in this world.

Stay until I am broken

and there is nothing to lean on and I know it’s only grace and kindness that keeps life alive.

The well must be empty before it can be filled.  Let me spill it all out,

the wanting, the leaning in, the desire for change and ease and what’s around the corner. Stay until I am empty, purified, made present and whole.

Stay, until I am—just arrived.

~  Celia Landman

My wish is that we all arrive in this winter with slowness and dignity that acknowledges our connection to something greater than our small selves. We can see we too are formed by the rhythm of this cosmos and know we belong to the natural world. With that understanding, I hope that we all can embrace rest and this time of simplicity that makes ready for something new, something that will come to us without effort or strain, the insight and wisdom that arrives when we give space to just be, to stop, to rest, and to heal our lives.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

Be Still and heal.jpg

*©2005 Andrew Olendzki. You may copy, reformat, reprint, republish, and redistribute this work in any medium whatsoever, provided that: (1) you only make such copies, etc. available free of charge; (2) you clearly indicate that any derivatives of this work (including translations) are derived from this source document; and (3) you include the full text of this license in any copies or derivatives of this work. Otherwise, all rights reserved.

 

The Body is Always in the Present

Barkhampsted resevoir

Barkhamsted Reservoir, Photo by Celia

“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future; live the actual moment. Only this moment is life.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh”

“As soon as we wish to be happier, we are no longer happy.” ~Walter Landor

“Suffering usually relates to wanting things to be different than they are.” ~Allan Lokos

“The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.” ~Jon Kabat-Zinn

Dear Friends,

As we move closer to the holiday season and the coming year, life can seem to speed up. We are already making doctor appointments for the new year and planning, planning, planning. This is an essential part of taking care of ourselves, but planning can also interfere with our ability to be present. Whenever folks ask me how to practice present moment awareness, how to stop their minds from cartwheeling into the past and the future—the answer I give is always, start with the body.

For most of us, we have fluid patterns of opening to the time continuum. We may be driving, shopping, listening to someone else, meditating, or reading these words and our thinking self is leaning into the future, planning as a way to stay safe and protected, or leaning into the past working furiously to shift the experience of the past and develop more protection and understanding to apply to similar situations in the future.  All this mental activity centers around our primary goal of staying safe. We can see that this thought process comes from the basic need to care for ourselves and our loved ones. It’s rooted in the beautiful desire to save ourselves from suffering, but the price of this activity is exhaustion. All these maneuverings don’t really do the trick. In my lifetime, I’ve spent hundreds of hours preparing defenses to debates that never happened. All these hours of mental strategizing seemed crucial at the time but in retrospect, these are hours I’ve been absent from my life.

When we come back to the body, we have the opportunity to stop what Thich Nhat Hanh calls NST, or Non-Stop Thinking. If you go to a Plum Village monastery, something extraordinary happens every fifteen minutes. A bell rings and the entire community pauses and comes back to their breath. When we do this practice of consciously stopping and settling, noticing the body, the breath, and the mind, we are in the present moment. Basic practices include stopping and breathing in awareness three times before answering the phone, or before emailing or texting. I’ve made it a practice to breathe consciously three times before beginning to drive. We can build these pauses into our day and although this practice may seem simplistic, it has a profound cumulative effect upon the relationship we have to our body and to our ability to be present.

The body responds to being remembered and attended to. The mind and feelings are constantly asking to be seen and known. In only three breaths we can bring kind attention to the body and mind. In my own practice, I’ve added an element of self-care into these three breaths. When we stop and bring this warm accompaniment to ourselves, it’s like pouring out water from a full cup, releasing the buildup of stress that we unconsciously accumulate during the day. With the first inhale, I track the phenomena in the body. As I exhale, I image all tension leaving with my out-breath, flowing through the soles of my feet into the Earth which can hold everything. With the second inhale I investigate the quality of my mind and the emotions, accepting whatever is arising. As I exhale, I acknowledge this mental state silently with “of course,” or “I understand.” With the third inhale I say silently, “here,” and with the exhale, “now.” This practice encourages the body to release physical tension and lets the emotional states know they are understood without trying to change or manipulate them away. Remembering that we are here now, reconnects us with our power to be present with the vast experience of living our lives, leaving nothing out. We learn that we can trust ourselves to care for all our feelings, the pleasant, as well as the difficult. As we work with these practices that include the body, we can extend our periods of awareness and actually do that thing called “being present.”

Fogg viewAnother way to give ourselves the gift of presence is to create a small window of time using an hour or less to give ourselves completely to the task at hand. We can even set a timer if it helps us focus. Creating this small circle of time, we give ourselves permission to wholeheartedly do one thing whether it’s washing dishes or seeing patients. We allow ourselves to fully inhabit this window of time in our bodies, attending to what’s happening in and around us.

As we work with embodied awareness and come back to this moment, we can be playful with our attention. I enjoy asking teens what the texture of the body is at this moment: is it smooth, bubbly, spiky, sharp, soft, grainy, or rigid? And what is the color: gray, aqua, red, yellow, or purple? I’ve heard some very interesting responses and each one is unique to the person experiencing it. This type of inquiry and noting can teach us to be more stable and aware of our body’s singular vocabulary.

This body is a marvel of sensory processing. Coming back to the body means we can be alive to all our senses. We can feel the texture of the sheets as we lie in bed, the weight of the body touching the mattress, the head resting on the pillow. We can rest in the awareness of the colors of the sunset, taste the food we are eating, listen to the sounds of life all around us, smell the coffee before we drink it. When we turn our attention to the body, we automatically become present since this body is incapable of holding onto the past or projecting into the future. Doing things wholeheartedly, with our body and mind in the same place creates a source of stillness and restfulness that transcends schedules and gives us refuge even in busyness. Granting permission to focus, staying with our experience, bringing warmth and compassion to all of our experience is the path to a greater and greater capacity for presence.

For the holidays, please give yourselves the gift of your own attention and care. The more we are able to listen to ourselves without running, the more we become fluent in the language of our lives. We learn to stop leaning, to straighten and find the center where we can be with the whole of our lives, just as we are right now. The gift of acceptance, of compassion, and understanding can give us the strength to inhabit our lives fully, as they are, at this very moment.

May we all trust our light,

Celia

You are enough