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Posts Tagged ‘Sangha’

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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Fundamental group of the circle

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My first real experience with this shape was in high school.

I was in a program that combined peer counseling, leadership training, and learning how to provide a day camp experience for children.

It was the dreaded circle.  I could not come to pull my chair into the circle.  I didn’t feel like I belonged.

In college, I was part of a year-long intensive, studying Rogerian therapy in a program that was didactic and experiential.

I would not trade this for the world, but we were in circles again.  And as this was the second great experience that taught me about group process, it also taught me that groups can have a shadow side too.  There were times that business didn’t get finished.  People walked back to their dorms hurt, hand in heart, not knowing how to cope with what came up and how to live with it for the following week.

As a project for a meditation class I took in my second philosophy class, I visited my first Zendo. . . in New Paltz, NY.  And I was greeted into a strange circle where people sat facing the wall, in a dark room, with incense billowing.

After school was done, I went to work in social services. . . circles for staff meetings and staff retreats, circle for support groups . . . I couldn’t get away from them.  I was part of a women’s group — all of us were therapists, educators, etc and we came together to process.

As I became a group facilitator, I learned to love the group process and felt comfortable in the dreaded circle.  I was welcomed into a wonderful sangha in Madison, WI — Snowflower Sangha, in Thich Nhat Hanh‘s tradition and I got to see deep listening and compassionate speech.  I got to see a Starting Anew ceremony.  And I saw a wonderful community — like I got to experience at Upaya Zen Center in April.

Along the way, I came across a book, The Way of Council.  I yearned for this kind of group experience.

The lessons, guidelines, and spirit that is conveyed in The Way of Council works for a family, for close friends, for team members, for intimate relationships, etc.

Calling council gives one the guidelines and means for sustaining deep connections in community, to invite ritual into one’s life, and shares ideas for holding council in all of the relationships just mentioned above in the previous paragraph.

I will be writing more about holding council, about nonviolent communication, deep listening, compassionate speech.  I hold these practices in high esteem.  I have seen the light and shadow sides of groups (and families that I have worked with in therapy and in home visits through hospice, staffs that had a lot of undercurrents and lack of health).

I cannot think of a greater gift that I could give to the readers of this blog — to the therapists, to those who might want to start a peer-led grief group, to those who want to create intentional communities and have deep and meaningful relationships.

Creating the intimacy of council, of truly being present, is scary, doesn’t come easy, sometimes hurts, always heals, and is worth the time, energy, attention, and intention.

I hope you enjoy the blogs that will follow.

In the next post on this topic, I will discuss the Four Intentions of Council.

Stayed Tune.

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All of us will die sooner or later

Ironically, my first night of sitting in contemplative silence, meditating on this assertion, All of us will die sooner or later, with what feels like the start of the flu.

We have a fragile, impermanent existence. . . and illness, pain, aging all are like mindfulness bells ringing to remind us to be present here and now because we have nothing more than the present moment!

I got on my cushion in the evening and tried to get comfortable.  I was wrapped up in a blanket to keep warm.  I keep my apartment on the cold side because I find it helps with things like inflammation and pain.

I chuckled to myself that my hands were as cold as a corpse, so maybe that was a good sign for sitting with this true reality of impermanence.  And I sat with my skull mala in my hands, hoping that would ground me to the experience.

All of us will die sooner or later. . .

I’ve often wondered, out loud and to myself, if in our bliss to find our life partners, we stopped to ponder that one day one of us would die and the survivor would be left to mourn, how many of us would really go through the pain of love?  Could we even ponder this every day of a relationship and still be able to be loving?

Like someone once said, I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be present to my dying.  I have to imagine that most people have a hard time thinking of their loved one dying.  It’s not a pleasant thought and it certainly feels like a lonely thought.

All of us will die sooner or later. . .

I’ve done the Nine Contemplations as a meditation series for myself before this time.  I’m always amazed at the richness that comes with it, however, when I am sick and doing the meditations.

It’s one thing to say you have an awareness of aging and dying. . . it’s another thing when your breathing is labored and you don’t have the energy to get yourself out of bed for a glass of water or juice.

My cold hands clutched the skull mala that I own.  I use it when I do meditations on dying.  As the turquoise carved skulls go between my fingers and as my back gets a little achy from trying to hold it upright while sitting on the cushion (when all I want to do is be in bed), I think to myself. . . I wonder what’s really the harder thing to do . . . living or dying. . .

All of us will die sooner or later. . .

there is no getting around it.

there is no hiding from it.

From our literature to our movies, we are constantly reminded that we will say goodbye. . .

not in a sappy love song sort of way though. . .

but in an unraveling of the spirit from the mortal flesh. . .

a pulling away of light from our neurotic grasping. . .

a severing the deep ties to all that we are attached to in this life as we re-enter the world of no-thing-ness.

All of us will die sooner or later.

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Heat arises from the Earth.

Winds slow and stop

dead.

The blue is bluer than even possible.

And less cloud cover

seems to be in the sky and

over my being,

mind

heart

body.

I sit at the feet of

two buddhas and a hundred

bodhisattvas and beautifully they

know it and don’t know it.

They know that there is

no other except here and now

and they take all the time in the world

to freely explore in wisdom, in compassion,

in the most honest way possible.

Come in.

Be.

Listen gladly,

spontaneously,

fearlessly,

But Listen

closely with every cell,

connecting to every

atom that exists,

lifetime upon lifetime

that all emerges into one pointedness.

The birds stop

singing and the whole

Earth exhales and pauses.

Cling

Clang

the clacker.

Dong

Gong

the bell of mindfulness wipes

away the presence of

everything else.

The edge comes. . .

Beyond the triple gems

and beyond these two buddhas

and hundred bodhisattvas

to a place of great merger

where on the dirt road

I come face to face

with the buddha within.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

4/13/12 After teachings at Upaya Zen Center today

As I sit today and drink in everything like a sponge, I am so present and aware of the shoulders I stand upon, the countless beings who have come before me as healers, wise wo(men), shamans, priest(esses), artists, philosophers, physicians, etc who have walked this very earth knowing that being a community is vital to being present to the depth of suffering, joy, and healing in this world.

I am grateful to everyone at Upaya from those cooking and volunteering in the kitchen and nourishing us, to those residents, to my endless circle of teachers that I am privileged to sit amidst.

I feel like my spirit, essence, whatever you may want to call it is going through a detoxification, questioning delusional beliefs I have held lately and very open to a lack of compassion I have had for myself as a being-in-this-world and for those I share this world with.

And I have a more profound love and devotion to my parents, to my original teachers who have loved me in the very best ways they know how.  I honor them and pray that I have been able to and continue into the future to love others as deeply.

With deep gratitude to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha… the three gems, Jennifer

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365.40 - studying

365.40 - studying (Photo credit: anathea)

Practicing With Loss

Loss is a fact of life. Impermanence is everywhere we look. We are all going to suffer our losses. How we deal with these losses is what makes all the difference. For it is not what happens to us that determines our character, our experience, our karma, and our destiny, but how we relate to what happens.

~~Lama Surya Das

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Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (Guanshiyin), Shanx...

Image via Wikipedia

This is usually how I have seen it written for the sangha.  It is written this way so that we can recite it as a community.

1. Openness

Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, I am determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist teachings are guiding means to help me learn to look deeply and to develop my understanding and compassion. They are not doctrines to fight, kill or die for.

2.  Non-attachment to Views

Aware of suffering created by attachment to views and wrong perceptions, I am determined to avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. I will learn and practise non-attachment from views in order to be open to others’ insights and experiences. I am aware that the knowledge I presently possess is not changeless, absolute truth. Truth is found in life and I will observe life within and around me in every moment, ready to learn throughout my life.

3.  Freedom of Thought

Aware of the suffering brought about when I impose my views on others, I am committed not to force others, even my children, by any means whatsoever – such as authority, threat, money, propaganda or indoctrination – to adopt my views. I will respect the right of others to be different and to choose what to believe and how to decide. I will, however, help others renounce fanaticism and narrowness through compassionate dialogue.

4.  Awareness of Suffering

Aware that looking deeply at the nature of suffering can help me develop compassion and find ways out of suffering, I am determined not to avoid or close my eyes before suffering. I am committed to finding ways, including personal contact, images and sounds, to be with those who suffer, so I can understand their situation deeply and help them transform their suffering into compassion, peace and joy.

5.  Simple, Healthy Living

Aware that true happiness is rooted in peace, solidity, freedom and compassion, and not in wealth or fame, I am determined not to take as the aim of my life fame, profit, wealth or sensual pleasure, nor to accumulate wealth while millions are hungry and dying. I am committed to living simply and sharing my time, energy and material resources with those in real need. I will practise mindful consuming, not using alcohol, drugs or any other products that bring toxins into my own and the collective body and consciousness.

6.  Dealing with Anger

Aware that anger blocks communication and creates suffering, I am determined to take care of the energy of anger when it arises and to recognise and transform the seeds of anger that lie deep in my consciousness. When anger comes up, I am determined not to do or say anything, but to practise mindful breathing or mindful walking and acknowledge, embrace and look deeply into my anger. I will learn to look with the eyes of compassion on those I think are the cause of my anger.

7.  Dwelling Happily in the Present Moment

Aware that life is available only in the present moment and that it is possible to live happily in the here and now, I am committed to training myself to live deeply each moment of daily life. I will try not to lose myself in dispersion or be carried away by regrets about the past, worries about the future, or craving, anger or jealousy in the present. I will practise mindful breathing to come back to what is happening in the present moment. I am determined to learn the art of mindful living by touching the wondrous, refreshing and healing elements that are inside and around me, and by nourishing seeds of joy, peace, love and understanding in myself, thus facilitating the work of transformation and healing in my consciousness.

8.  Community and Communication

Aware that lack of communication always brings separation and suffering, I am committed to training myself in the practice of compassionate listening and loving speech. I will learn to listen deeply without judging or reacting and refrain from uttering words that can create discord or cause the community to break. I will make every effort to keep communications open and to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

9.  Truthful and Loving Speech

Aware that words can create suffering or happiness, I am committed to learning to speak truthfully and constructively, using only words that inspire hope and confidence. I am determined not to say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people, nor to utter words that might cause division or hatred. I will not spread news that I do not know to be certain nor criticise or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will do my best to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may threaten my safety.

10.  Protecting the Sangha

Aware that the essence and aim of a Sangha is the practise of understanding and compassion, I am determined not to use the Buddhist community for personal gain or profit or transform our community into a political instrument. A spiritual community should, however, take a clear stand against oppression and injustice and should strive to change the situation without engaging in partisan conflicts.

11.  Right Livelihood

Aware that great violence and injustice have been done to the environment and society, I am committed not to live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. I will do my best to select a livelihood that helps realize my ideal of understanding and compassion. Aware of global economic, political and social realities, I will behave responsibly as a consumer and as a citizen, not investing in companies that deprive others of their chance to live.

12.  Reverence for Life

Aware that much suffering is caused by war and conflict, I am determined to cultivate non-violence, understanding and compassion in my daily life, to promote peace education, mindful mediation and reconciliation, within families, communities, nations and in the world. I am determined not to kill and not to let others kill. I will diligently practice deep looking with my Sangha to discover better ways to protect life and prevent war.

13.  Generosity

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing and oppression, I am committed to cultivating loving kindness and learning ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants and minerals. I will practice generosity by sharing my time, energy and material resources with those who are in need. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but will try to prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other beings.

14.  Right Conduct

(For lay members): Aware that sexual relations motivated by craving cannot dissipate the feeling of loneliness but will create more suffering, frustration, and isolation, we are determined not to engage in sexual relations without mutual understanding, love, and a long-term commitment. In sexual relations, we must be aware of future suffering that may be caused. We know that to preserve the happiness of ourselves and others, we must respect the rights and commitments of ourselves and others. We will do everything in our power to protect children from sexual abuse and to protect couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. We will treat our bodies with respect and preserve our vital energies (sexual, breath, spirit) for the realization of our bodhisattva ideal. We will be fully aware of the responsibility of bringing new lives into the world, and will meditate on the world into which we are bringing new beings.

(For monastic members): Aware that the aspiration of a monk or a nun can only be realized when he or she wholly leaves behind the bonds of worldly love, we are committed to practicing chastity and to helping others protect themselves. We are aware that loneliness and suffering cannot be alleviated by the coming together of two bodies in a sexual relationship, but by the practice of true understanding and compassion. We know that a sexual relationship will destroy our life as a monk or a nun, will prevent us from realizing our ideal of serving living beings, and will harm others. We are determined not to suppress or mistreat our body or to look upon our body as only an instrument, but to learn to handle our body with respect. We are determined to preserve vital energies (sexual, breath, spirit) for the realization of our bodhisattva ideal.

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“Repeated loss accumulates in the reservoir of sorrow.

It is the repository of all we have ever lost, all that died despite our love,

all we ever hoped to be, all the disappointment and despair buried over a lifetime.

Those places within ourselves that have been dug away by loss,

those parts lost, worn away, and excavated by a gradually

increasing helplessness and apathy, slowly begin to fill with sorrow.”

~~Stephen Levine

I haven’t posted in a few days because I haven’t taken time for myself, to settle in with the quiet and pause. . . I find it’s only when I “lose” myself in silence that all of the dust that is kicked up can settle at the bottom of the water, leaving clean, clear water for me to look through, to see what might be uncovered at the bottom of the container.

And when I can look down to the bottom, in the clear depth of silence and stillness, I realize that in losing myself, I find a self greater than I can imagine, a self that is our greater Sangha.

I love this passage from Stephen’s book Unattended Sorrow. There is such richness here that you could spend time discussing line by line the way one does as they study poetry. I would like to suggest that maybe you sit with this passage in your meditation. Slow your breathing, put away your to-do list and attend to Stephen’s words.. .. ..

It doesn’t matter how old we are, we hold a life time’s pain within us. . . Within our lungs that breathe so shallowly hoping that we don’t take in any more pain.  Within our hearts that feel as though a falling feather could mortally wound us because of that raw achiness that is always there.

Within the maze of our mind where memories are held of our deepest shame, regret, fear, and loss.  Not just the loss of our grandparent, our first pet, our sibling, etc. but the losses that went by, hardly noticed by our conscious mind or the losses that we deflected because seeing them in their totality would bring us unfathomable pain.

That is the kind of grief that we can touch with the gentle awareness of mindfulness.  We do this with no great desire to change ourselves but to acknowledge these places.  We do this with nothing to do but allowing a little light and kindheartedness to wash over these warn places within us.

Can you practice sitting and just being?

Sometimes the thought of this is way too much.  We think, there is so much pain in those dark places where I’ve let fill with cobwebs, there isn’t a light strong enough.

And you know, that’s okay.

That’s why we start with the breath.  Just learning to stay with the breath.  Or we learn to put our attention on a candle flame, or our hands in the hot soapy water while we do the dishes.

Or my favorite, we allow ourselves to simply eat an orange (the topic of tomorrow’s post).

Take gentle care.

*Photo taken of the Rock River sometime last year.

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