Archive for January 6th, 2012

  I don’t think we understand how our thinking and the way we talk to ourselves affects us.  I was never as aware of negative self-talk until I began sitting meditation.  It can be eye-opening to realize how incessant it is.  But what I didn’t expect was to hear at retreat that there was so much I was thinking to myself that was really hurtful.

When I first became a practitioner and started to listen to the teachings, I thought it was odd that someone said that they were going to “invite” the bell when at the start of the meditation.  Don’t we just pick up a striker and hit the bowl?  Do you hear the subtle difference in that?  The latter is our every day language, well, for most of us.  The second appears to be more filled with compassion and openness.  Even to something inanimate, we are facing it with gentleness and inviting it to sound rather than using violent language.

I know that might sound silly at first.  But think about this in a larger context. . .  How do you talk to yourself when you stub your toe or forget something in the house?  We can be pretty harsh.  Try to make a point of listening to yourself the next time it happens.  Would you want someone to talk like that to your child or if you do not have a child, imagine the image of baby buddha, smiling up at you, emminating love.  Could you, in your heart of hearts, be cruel, unforgiving, or demanding?

The reason I bring this up is because I have heard many people who are experiencing profound grief at the loss of someone or at the impending loss of their own life.  They condemn themselves for being weak and not getting over the loss or not praying enough to cure themselves from the disease that they think will end their lives.  As I said above, I think we are conditioned (and practice and get reinforced) to this harshness.  I’m not even sure if someone has to have been that way to us; it seems to come with time and experience.  And I am repeatedly shocked when I hear this from these individuals whose hearts are full and breaking.

It appears that at just the times that we need to be kind-hearted and loving to ourselves, we tighten up and close our hearts.  When we would extend ourselves while another was in pain, we clamp down and hold on tight, not willing to surrender to gently being with our pain.

I invite you to watch this clip of the Bell of Mindfulness.  Allow it to awaken in you a sense of compassion for those self-doubts and judgments.  If we don’t start the practice now, while we are dealing with the everyday loss, disappointment, and hurt, how will we manage the practice when our world seems to be falling apart and we need to take extra care for ourselves.

You don’t need a mindfulness bell for this practice.  Anything can do that for you.  Some suggest using the ringing of the phone or the indicator that you have received an email.  Others suggest setting a timer.  You can use whatever works for you like a picture, a quote, etc.  Give yourself the gift of starting small and practicing with the little things we say to ourselves non-stop before you try to tackle the big and powerful hurts that we inflict.  Always remember that the practice is about cultivating joy, equanimity, compassion, and love.  Your practice shouldn’t be another reason to be cruel to yourself but a time when you practice the idea of “right speech” to yourself.  If you are going through heartache, take this time to be extra loving to yourself.  I’m sure you’ll find that as you do, you are able to hold more and more acceptance for not only your pain but for the pain of others around you.


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Inspired by:  Cultivating the Mind of Love:  The Practice of Looking Deeply in the Mahayana Buddhist Tradition by Thich Nhat Hanh

This afternoon when I came back to work from lunch, I started to notice my neck getting tight.  I had a good night’s sleep last night, had eaten healthy food, etc.  Luckily for me, but not for him, I found out that my colleague two doors down was “with a headache” as well.  I can always tell when there is something in the air when he gets one too.

My plan was to stay quiet today since I had no meetings and there wasn’t a lot being expected of me.  I had on some quiet music and opened the window to allow some of the odd Spring-like weather to flood my office.  At lunch, I had thrown to books into my bag so that if I had time, I found find a reading for my blog.

In the one book, I quickly found the section I wanted to read but put it down.  I picked up the other book and just let it open to any page.  I fumbled to the beginning of the chapter and found myself utterly delighted in the reading before me.

I had purchased this book back in 2002 while in Queens, NY.  I remember that time in my life.  It was a good and strong time, where it seemed all things were possible.  It was New Year’s Day and we went to Barnes & Noble just to get out of the apartment.  There could be no better time for me, for it was winter and I was in a place that I loved, longing to be back home to the East Coast.

Today, it was sweet to connect to those memories and I appreciated them for just what they were –memories.  I turned to the book and read this short chapter.  I remember feeling a tug when I read it the first time.  I was in love and it was so different from this experience described in the book and yet, I had a similar experience years before, when I was a child.

I knew that I was grieving a bit for a love like this; one that was so perfect that it was better to have let it touch your heart lightly and go than to have let it manifest fully.  And maybe part of the perfection was in the exquisite now-ness because there was no other place to be.  I hope Parallax Press forgives me being indulgent with the text as I am going to be as this is one of the most beautiful passages I’ve ever read.

“. . . In every temple, there is a special seat for the abbot, and I had to sit there, because the abbot was away for a few days and had asked me to serve in his stead.  I invited her to sit in front of me, but she sat off to the side.  Member of the community never sit in front of the abbot.  It is just the form.  To see each other’s faces, we had to turn our heads.

Her behavior as a nun was perfect – the way she moved, the way she looked, the way she spoke.  She was quiet.  She never said anything unless spoke to.  She just looked down in front of her.  I was shy, too.  I never dared look at her for more than a second or two, and then I lowered my eyes again.  After a few minutes, I said good-bye and went to my room.  I didn’t know what had happened, but I knew my peace had been disturbed.  I tried writing a poem, but I couldn’t compose even one line!  So I began to read the poetry of others, hoping that would calm me down.

I read several poems by Nguyen Binh.  He was longing for his mother and sister, and I felt the same way.  When you become a monk at a young age, you miss your family. . .  I remember that I had a few tears in my eyes when I chanted this classical Chinese:

Night is here.

The wind and the rain announce the news

That spring is coming.

Still I sleep alone, my dreams not yet realized.

Flower petals falling

Seem to understand my dreams and aspirations.

They touch the ground of spring in perfect silence.

. . . We had dinner together, and afterwards, I read her some of my poetry.  Then I went to my room and read poetry along.  Nothing had changed from the day before, but inside I understood.  I knew that I loved her.  I only wanted to be with her – to sit near her and contemplate her.” 

We tend to think of grief as something we experience when we have lost something.   But sometimes we grieve for what has eluded us.  I don’t think that Thay really eluded love because he was genuine in his ability to admit that it was there.

What I find endearing about this chapter is that he does not have condemnation for being a young monk who is loving another person.  He doesn’t flounder in what could never be.  But rather, he allows himself to be moved by this love, to accept the bits of discomfort, longing, and sweetness that it brings for him.  There is such a great acceptance of the moments.  I think his story personifies what happens when mindfulness is transformed from a practice to a way of being for us.  There is an unconditioned love and whole-heartedness when we can simply be with what is.

At the beginning of this chapter, Thich Nhat Hanh suggests that we use this as a meditation, to sit with the recalled experience of our first love.   He equates it to the koan, “What was your face before your parents were born?” and that as we look deeply we find that our first love is “still present, always here, continuing to shape your life.”

My gift to you is to suggest that you use something similar for your meditation. . . perhaps allowing yourself to sit and be present to the relationship that you have lost – it might be a relationship to your younger self or a relationship that has “ended” because of death and loss.  So much grief theory suggests that we “let go” of the relationship we have with the deceased.

I think what Thay suggests is what we are finally starting to realize with theories such as social constructivist views of grief – that relationship is always present and informing your life.  The love is not gone nor is the relationship even though you cannot physically put your arms around the person whom you miss.  That love is within the depths of you and accessible with every breath you take.

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