Posts Tagged ‘Noble Eightfold Path’

English: Mindfulness Activities

English: Mindfulness Activities (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is the difference between mindfulness as it’s used in secular mindfulness-based courses and as it’s used in a Buddhist context? Not so much, I think. Most Buddhists will feel familiar with the practice of cultivating awareness through a regular meditation practice—sitting, walking, lying down—and working with mindfulness in everyday activities like eating, working, relating with others and so on. And this is also what’s practiced on a secular mindfulness course (at least in the MBSR model). So, the practices themselves are likely to be quite similar. What may be different is the context and framework—whereas mindfulness in Buddhism is one aspect of the eightfold path, it is the primary explicit teaching in a secular mindfulness course. Having said that, the attitudes towards practice that people learn on a mindfulness course are generally very consistent with what is taught in most Buddhist contexts—gentleness, openness, loving-kindness, a certain kind of effort and a certain kind of letting go—as is the shared notion that people are basically good and that our practice is a means to uncover an innate wisdom that we can use to work skillfully with our life situations. Many mindfulness teachers (at least up till now) have a Buddhist background and work to embody these qualities in themselves, and in so far as they’ve managed this, they will naturally transmit these qualities to their course participants, implicitly if not explicitly. It will be interesting to see if this changes as more people come to practice and teach mindfulness who don’t have a Buddhist background.

Excerpt from a great article.. The Mindfulness Manifesto.


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Upaya Institute and Zen Center

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“The painful thing is that when we buy into disapproval, we are practicing disapproval. When we buy into harshness, we are practicing harshness. The more we do it, the stronger these qualities become. How sad it is that we become so expert at causing harm to ourselves and others. The trick then is to practice gentleness and letting go. We can learn to meet whatever arises with curiosity and not make it such a big deal.”
~~ Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

For me, the hardest thing to do is to practice the “not is”.

What the heck does that mean?

It means, for me, it is hard to be compassionate when I don’t see or feel compassion going on around me.

It means it’s hard for me to feel motivated, inspired, and creative when I feel like creativity is discouraged and hampered.

I don’t feel like I am odd with this.  I bet you are even shaking your head to a certain extent.

But, let’s face it, we wouldn’t have to practice if this came as second nature.

If someone said, Hey, be loving when there’s no love around, and poof, we could do it, well, would we need metta mediation?

For me, it’s being lazy… spiritually and existentially lazy.

When I had migraines daily for 3 years, when I moved somewhere I felt exiled to for 5 years, when I did work that I found uninspiring, I took the “easy way out”.  I say that tongue in cheek because it didn’t feel like the easy way out.  It didn’t feel sloppy or lazy or anything like it.  It felt like some sort of surrender because some days, I didn’t “give a care” (exchange care for expletive).

I gave into the path of least resistance, sometimes for survival, other times because I just didn’t give a damn.

But when I practice the path of least resistance… hold on, that sounds to active… when I live the path of least resistance, my world falls apart and it is a world that I don’t want to be truly alive in.

It is only when I face what scares me, start where I am with what I have, and practice staying that I find that I am inhabiting a world where I am connected with all and care about all.

Three years ago, I found myself in a situation that felt hopeless and I adopted some hopelessness and then added a layer of learned helplessness on top of it.

I gave up my practice of mindfulness because I didn’t feel supported by those around me.  No one would understand.  No one would also practice or remind me of my shenpa or my lack of mindful awareness.

I closed off my heart to hide from the pain that I felt when I looked out.

I allowed myself to stop seeking creative solutions for the problems I saw around me.

But you know what it got me?

I was more isolated.  I had a heart that was walled off but was still aching.  I was still hip deep in problems and ear deep in feeling like there was no way out.

Now, to be honest. . . I haven’t just come off of 10+ days of horrific pain.  I haven’t come out of a whole day of staffings that made me want to poke my eyes out.  And I have been quite blessed recently with good news and supportive, faithful friends letting me know how loved I am.  So, if any of those things were going on, I might not be able to say all this.  That’s part of chronic pain — whether it is mental, physical, or existential.

Isn’t this the very point though?

I’m in the same crappy apartment with a fridge that freezes everything.  I’m in the same crappy job that’s only purpose is insurance and to pay the bills (or to give me money to do what I love).  And I haven’t gotten a new team of friends who are pouring love all over me.  But it’s different.

What’s changed?

I started this blog in December that brought me back in touch with my passion of end-of-life care.

I went out to Upaya Zen Center and was brought back into community and to the Dharma.

I just got hired to teach part-time which has given me another project to devote my heart and soul.

So all journeys, all paths, all lessons start from within; I truly believe that today.  It’s making a choice, even between two lousy choices.

It’s taking a step even if it’s followed by 6 back.

It’s about not giving up.

And it’s about having faith in something.  Not the blind faith that was suggested I have when I was little and in parochial school, but a deep lived bodily experience of knowing that some things are just Right and in some ways Eternal.

For instance, the Eight-Fold Path, to me, is right and eternal in that the buddha shared that with us and beings for generations have practiced it or attempted to practice it and have known that it helped create less suffering in their lives.

I don’t need to follow it blindly.

I have to experience it, live it, try it and that’s it.  Then I am reminded of its validity and its vital place in my life.

The best part?  I get to choose. . .

I can choose to let it all go, to suffer in the silence of my own faulty thinking, the loneliness of pain, and the despair of believing that there is no way out.

I can also choose

For me, the Three Gems, the Buddha, the Sangha, and the Dharma, are both right and eternal in that despite the ever-changing nature of the universe, the Three Gems are always there for me as a touchstone. And it is me that moves away from them, not vice versa.

It is me who decides to hang on tight, to hunker down, to close off, to not believe, not experience, not try, and hold on to all the garbage.

And it is me who decides to practice compassion, to let go, to be at ease with how things are, and to know when to take an active role in making changes.

The whole point in having a spiritual practice is to have a foundation for when things work and when things don’t work

— To learn from the blessings and the curses and to have the all-encompassing vastness of equanimity that comes from being present and not pushing away.

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the clouds are lifting

Wow, I feel like I haven’t been fully present for a while.

Since my wonderful trip to NM, I’ve had a respiratory infection and a 10-day migraine so that’s what I’ve been up to for the past month.

I found things to keep the blog going but didn’t feel like I was fully present to it, save a few precious times.

There’s a balance there, right?

Being there, being present, fulfilling obligations.

So a few things have happened. . .

I have started to add quotes and writing on new categories — Relationship Dharma and New to Meditation?

And I’m looking at adding some others — like work on Nonviolent Communication.

When you blog about grieving and dying, you are writing about being with and embrace the life that you have, cultivating kindness and compassion.

Well, at least, that’s how I’m doing it.

And there is so much more to look at.

From one of the polls I took, people said they were looking for more info on meditation.  There are a lot of blogs out there about this topic but I thought I would add some stuff here.  People looking for help with their grieving or living with illness might not know where to look for help with starting a meditation practice so they won’t have far to look now.

And a big part of our “work” in living with illness and living with grieving is dealing with our relationships.  So in grieving, we look at the relationships we had — the good and the bad, the blessed and the problem some.

But what about the relationships we have right now?

What about the relationships we want to foster?

We can’t neglect them or continue to flounder with relationships we aren’t present to.  Well, we can, but in the face of living and dying, do we really want to continue living as zombies, sleep walking through it all?

I will be drawing on resources such as Thich Nhat Hanh‘s book Fidelity or Ellen & Charles Birx’s book Waking Up Together.

But how can you stop there, right?

I will also be looking at material on living and being in community and true communication.

If I had to put it one way, I guess I would say that I am expanding beyond Right Mindfulness to look at the other parts of the Eight-Fold Path of Buddhism and how it applies to our dying, grieving, and living here and now.

I hope you enjoy the expanded view that you will start to see here.  I think I may have dabbled in looking at a broader view but I’d like to formalize it a bit so that it is easier to go back through the archives and to help me see my own bigger vision.

It is so good to be back, to be thinking clearly and not in pain.  I feel rested and really restored in a way, as if a layer needed to be peeled away while I was sick.

And it’s a great time to be back and fully present to this blog — I’ve just gone over 200 followers in the past week and just in the past 24-hours, I’ve finally hit 15,000 hits.  Very exciting to see that there are that many people interested in the cross sections that are my life — my interest in spiritual practice as a means of cultivating the lives we want and the awareness that benefits us in the present moment.

I have such heart-felt gratitude to all the people who leave me comments and blessings, who let me know that these words make you think or matter or come just at the right time.

This blog was originally started as a way of having a life line as I finish the last year of my dissertation — to help me get in touch with my work in end-of-life care and my Buddhist practices as I have been without community for both of those aspects of my life in the past three years.

I am honored that you spend time with me and I thank you for letting me into your lives.

May sorrow show me the way to compassion

May I realize grace in the midst of suffering

May I be peaceful and let go of expectations

May I receive the love and compassion of others

~~  Metta, Jennifer

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Painting of Gautama Buddha sitting in Dhyana, ...

Painting of Gautama Buddha sitting in Dhyana, unharmed by the demons of Mara. Sanskrit Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita Sutra manuscript written in the Ranjana script. Nalanda, Bihar, India. Circa 700-1100 CE. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Just as the dawn is the forerunner

of the arising of the sun,

so true friendship is

the forerunner of the arising

of the noble eightfold path.”

~~ The Buddha

This is dedicated to some very loving and loyal friends who have been standing by me and supporting me during difficult times.  Thank you for reminding me of what is important… right speech, right mindfulness, right intentions, right livelihood, etc…

May the light of friendship and true compassion stand steadfast in Mara’s presence.

With each breath, I am grateful to you and the interbeing of our existence.  To:  AM, KS, JH, MM, DS, EH, and the Dharma teachers and my breath, constant companions in all weather and all times.

Metta, Jennifer

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Gathas — What are gathas?

Gathas are short verses  used to help one be mindful during their daily life.  We use them for washing dishes, drinking tea, lighting a candle, etc.

I was first introduced to the concept of gathas in 1989, shortly after I read my first book in college by Thich Nhat Hanh.  In 1992, I bought my first copy of Present Moment, Wonderful Moment and explored the use of gathas.

Listen to the gatha for waking up by Thich Nhat Hanh:

Waking up this morning, I smile.

Twenty-four brand new hours are before me.

I vow to live fully in each moment

and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.

I am not a morning person, by any stretch of the imagination.  But what a wonderful way to start the day. 

There is a Zen joke, I think it I heard it in a podcast or class by Tara Brach that goes something like, a person ways laying in bed and said this prayer, “Dear God, I’ve been patient, kind, loving, and present.  I haven’t sworn  or yelled and I have thought good things about my fellow beings today.  In a few seconds, I will be getting out of bed and I think I am going to need all the help I can.  Thanks.”  That could be much more like what we are accustomed to in our daily lives.

They aren’t prayers in the traditional way of using a prayer as a way of communicating with something(one) outside of ourselves and asking for something. 

By using gathas, instead, we set our intentions and attention. 

We remind ourselves to breathe.  We remind ourselves that in our average everyday life, we tend to walk through minutes and hours in a sleepwalking fashion but our intention is to be mindful to life.

Gathas are used to remind us to be present to what is or what we are doing.  For example,

Brushing my teeth and rinsing my mouth,

I vow to speak purely and lovingly.

When my mouth is fragrant with right speech

a flower blooms in the garden of my heart. 

Imagine what that might be like.  You get out of bed and go to brush your teeth.  You recite a gatha.. maybe you read it off the sticky note on your mirror… You set an intention for your day… you will practice right speech.  But you are doing more.

If you are being present to the gatha that you are reciting and being mindful of the cool water that hits your tongue, the tang of the cinnamon or mint toothpaste, you are not beating yourself in your thoughts. 

You are not rehearsing what you are going to say to your boss after yesterday’s confrontation. 

You aren’t dwelling on the list of things you have to accomplish today. 

You are pushing away anything but inviting in the experience, the phenomenon of now.  Imagine what kind of energy you might be saving that would normally be spent fighting off the world (in our minds as we mindlessly brush our teeth).

Gathas also help us on the cushion.  Here are two examples of gathas that we sing in Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition:

Breathing In, Breathing Out — sung  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jshH6GQbSbw&feature=related

The same gatha by a group of children — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xse2sHOtyPk&feature=related

Can you not help but hear, “I am free, I am free, I am free” going through your thoughts?  It makes me smile.  I’m not a singer myself, but in my mind, I can enjoy this as I sit.

Gatha for entering a room

Gatha for entering a room (Photo credit: redwylie)

When I sat with Snowflower Sangha, I would sometimes feel very homesick.  I’m not from this part of the country.  My brother and my grandfather were no longer alive.  My friends back home were far and I would feel so sad as I sat.  And then, I would start to recite this:

I have arrived,

I am home

In the here.

In the now.

I am solid.

I am free.

In the ultimate I dwell.

This gatha would remind me that, well, wherever I was, I was home.  Where I was, I was perfect.  Whatever what was, was perfect.

There is also a lovely gatha, No Coming, No Going that I particularly like to use.  Here is a link to some gathas from a sangha.  Many of the gathas have been set to music, which makes them a little easier to learn.  When I think back to my childhood, I remember the prayer of St. Francis because we sang it at Mass a lot.

Ultimately, we can create our own gathas.  If you are sitting with an elderly parent or an ill parent who can’t speak to you or who is sleeping, you can use this gatha:

Breathing In, I smile to myself.  Breathing Out, I relax my shoulders.  Breathing In, I smile at my parents.  Breathing Out, I honor all of my ancestors. 

Or sitting at a red light:

Breathing In, I am here and now.  Breathing out, I know I have no where to go but here.

Play around and come up with some of your own.  There are many more out on the web that you can listen to, like the clips from youtube.  Create your own.  Share them with your dharma brothers and sisters.  Share them here.

A flower to you, a buddha to be.



Present Moment, Wonderful Moment Thich Nhat Hanh

The Dragon Who Never Sleeps Robert Aitken

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Just received an email that the NY Zen Center for Contemplative Care and NY Insight are collaborating on an upcoming retreat this Friday and Saturday with Koshin Paley Ellison and Robert Chodo Cambell.

The topic:  The Buddha at the Bedside:  Exploring the Eight-Fold Path in Caregiving.

Their email stated that:  they will be looking that the enlightening and shadow qualities of the Eight-Fold Path:

  • Right View
  • Right Intention
  • Right Speech
  • Right Action
  • Right Livelihood
  • Right Effort
  • Right Concentration

They will also have a discussions on the Buddha’s teachings on how to end suffering in our lives by living the Eight-fold Path.

If you are lucky enough to live in the area, check it out and let us know about the workshop.  It is at NYInsight on 28 West 27th Street, 10th Floor. NY, NY 10001

Friday’s sessions are from 7-9pm and Saturday’s are from 10am – 5pm.

Registration is sliding scale and suggested donations are $55, $70, & $85 + Teacher Dana.

To register:  go to NY Insight Meditations Center’s Website:  www.nyimc.org and there is a link at the bottom of the page.

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  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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