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Posts Tagged ‘Zen’

MORE OF A PHILOSOPHY THAN A RELIGION. BUDDHISM...

(Photo credit: ronsaunders47)

“Our Buddhist vows are basically good medicine

for our wayward minds and forgetful hearts.”

~~Thich Nhat Hanh,

For the Future To Be Possible:  Buddhist Ethiccs for Everyday Life

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Thich Nhat Hanh, Sister Chan Khong and Kenley

Thich Nhat Hanh, Sister Chan Khong and Kenley (Photo credit: kenleyneufeld)

Here is a clip of a song which is often sung in Thich Nhat Hanh‘s tradition.

“Happiness is here and now,

I have dropped my worries,

Nowhere to go,

Nothing to do,

No longer in a hurry

Happiness is here and now,

I have dropped my worries,

Somewhere to go,

Something to do,

But I don’t need to hurry.”

And here is a PDF of some of their other songs

Today I had some dental work done and I can honestly say that I have more angst about going to the dentist than my own death.  At least with death, there is probably an end of suffering.  At the dentist, it certainly doesn’t feel like it.

I know I am not the only one who has this problem.  Google dentist and dukkha and you’ll see what I mean.

I try to bring my iPod and listen to Thich Nhat Hanh while I am there.  I find him comforting, especially when he is chanting in Vietnamese.  It soothes my “soul”.

What I was listening to was the audio version of Living Without Stress and Fear.

I didn’t plan to listen to that but I used the search function, typed in Thich Nhat Hanh and it was the first audio that came up.

Between my angst, the drill, stopping for Xrays, etc, I could actually hear bits and pieces of the talk.

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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.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“. . . 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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I’ve written articles on mindfulness, shared quotes from Thich Nhat Hanh and Sharon Salzberg.

I’ve even given you some links to Youtube videos and a sneak peak of Mark Thornton’s work Meditation in a NY Minute.

So, how it changed your practice?

Do you have a daily practice?

Share via the poll or comments below this post.

Let us know what works, doesn’t work, what helps and what makes it a tougher struggle. . .

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Buddha Shakyamuni

Buddha Shakyamuni (Photo credit: secretlondon123)

“The Buddha said, “The mind, through its action, is the chef architect of one’s own happiness and suffering.”  It’s hard for the mind to be peaceful when the body is not in a physical space that’s peaceful.”

~~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Look around right now. . .

What’s your space like?

Does it reflect your interior space too?

Is the room you find yourself in cramped, cluttered, in total disarray?

If it is, are you in the middle of being creative. . . turning the chaos into magic?

Or it is the dark claustrophobic like cramped, “this doesn’t fit” kind of space?

Is the desk or table you sit at made of fine wood, leather, marble?

Or is it a 2×4 between milk crates because you aren’t buying furniture because you aren’t staying long?

And what color our your walls?

Are they three shades of off white?

Are they rich deep hues like wine, forest, crimson?

Are they light and airy like a French kitchen?

What about windows, light?  Is there a sense of spaciousness?

Does the air feel stagnant and stale or is there a crisp fresh breeze?

Now take a minute and close your eyes.

Breathe in and out slowly, 5 times.

Get in touch with your physical body and after you do, pay close attention to your heart space, your third eye. . .

Is your perception of your physical space mirrored in your body, mind, spirit?

Do your relationships and work resemble the area?

Are you satisfied with your answers?

If so, savor the feelings of coherence with your world.

If not, ask yourself, what now. . .

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A Post-it note is a piece of stationery with a...

A Post-it note is a piece of stationery with a re-adherable strip of adhesive on the back, designed for temporarily attaching notes to documents and other surfaces. Although now available in a wide range of colors, shapes, and sizes, Post-it notes are most commonly a 3-inch (76 mm) square, canary yellow in color. A unique low-tack adhesive allows the notes to be easily attached and removed without leaving marks or residue, unless used on white boards. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You have sticky notes… I know you do… if not, you have scrap paper or something. . . old wrapping paper, etc.

You have a cell phone, a tablet, a computer. . . I know you do…

So why not turn these every day things into every day mindfulness bells?

Mindfulness bells, for those of you who are new to meditation or mindfulness, are things that wake us up and remind us to stop sleepwalking, to pay attention, and to be present to what is going on inside of us and around us.

Here are some ideas for you to put around your house, in your pocket (on your cell phone), to burn into wood, to write in lipstick on your mirror, because remember, wherever you go, that’s where you are…

Make every moment a time to pause and re-member what’s important.

“Forgetfulness is the darkness; mindfulness is the light.  I bring awareness to shine upon all life.” (great for light switches and lamps)

“The mind is like a computer with thousands of pages.  I choose a world that is tranquil and calm, so that my joy will always be fresh.”

“Mindful breathing brings your body and mind back together.”

“May I be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.”

“May I be safe and free from injury.” (Good one for the car?)

“May I be free from anger, afflictions, fear, and anxiety.”  (Find your toughest place to be; maybe hang this all over that place.”

“May I learn to look at myself with the eyes of understanding and love.”

“May I be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in myself.”

“May I learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving, and delusion in myself.”

“May I know how to nourish the seeds of joy in myself ever day.”  (Good for the kitchen, near the placemat, fridge, etc)

“May I be free from attachment and aversion, but not be indifferent.” (Great for work!)

All of these can be found in Thich Nhat Hanh‘s Creating Space.

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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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Have you started at the beginning?

Have you read my first two posts on the 5 precepts of being a compassionate companion?

If you haven’t seen the my introduction or the First precept, please click these links before you read about Frank Ostaseski’s Second Precept.

. . .

Now that you are up to speed, let’s take a look at the Second Precept:  Bring your whole self to the experience.

I don’t want to sound redundant, especially if you just read my introduction and what I wrote about the first precept, but suffice it to say, that I will.  .  . There is nothing simple about this precept and yet, if healing is to occur, bringing our whole self is vital.

My training is in humanistic/existential therapy and I have had some amazing teachers along the way.  I had a teacher my first year in college in NY tell us a story about a client that used to come to therapy every week, dressed to the 9s.  It was as if her clothing was her protective mask, the image she wanted to portray and to use as camouflage from letting her true self come to the relationship.

He told us that every week he wore jeans and a sweatshirt on the day he saw her.  It wasn’t like it was a mission but he just “came as he was”.  He said over time she experienced him as genuine and heartfelt and well, real.  She connected with him and as she did, that protective mask started to chip away.  When she could come into the consultation room, “just as she was”, with mascara running down her face, or scuffed sneakers, or cheeks inflamed from anger, her healing could begin.

Bringing your whole self to the experience means not relying on technique, distance, or feeling like you have some magic that the other person doesn’t.  It’s not about you fixing your family, the person whose home you are volunteering in, your elderly grandmother who is living with dementia.  It’s about being present and being genuine and congruent.  It’s about understanding that in any relationship there are two people who create the space.

There is no time when faced with dying to stand on ceremony.  There’s no time for platitudes like, “I know just how you feel.”  When we use nothing but techniques and hide behind our title (whatever it might be — daughter, therapist, best friend, lover, etc) we stay in the realm of false pity rather than being able to be truly open to one’s pain with genuine empathy.

Our head nurse at hospice used to say leave your baggage at the door (before going in to be with a family) and while that was true, you didn’t want to let your frustration about traffic distract you from your encounter, we can’t leave the important parts of ourselves by the welcome mat.

Bringing your whole self to the experience.  Frank suggests, in his training, that it is in our exploring our own suffering that helps us to create an empathetic bridge with the other.  I love that idea and believe it is because of this very thing that healing takes place.  And I think we have to be honest and face facts. . . whether you are a therapist or a companion to the dying, when you are together you are both touched, both changed forever, both healed.

Not too long ago, someone complimented me on my “skills” when talking to someone who was in the midst of grieving.  Although I knew the compliment was being truly offered in a sincere way, I chuckled to myself.  There was no pretense on my part, no thinking in my head, “what would Roshi Joan say” or “what task would Teresa Rando say this person is on in their grief process.”

It was about opening the heart, extending one’s self to a person whose heart might be hurting.  It’s about every so lightly, touching the memory of my own grief experiences and allowing that to be close to me.  It was about a genuine care and concern for another individual, even though it was someone I do not know very well.

And with that came curiosity, not rubbernecking, morbid curiosity but wanting someone to know that I wouldn’t side step her grief just because we were at work.  I wanted that person to know that I was open to listening if she wanted to tell her story.

To me, bringing your whole self to the experience is about not sitting with a desk between you and your client.  It’s not about wearing a white jacket.  It’s none of that professional coldness that gets drilled into us.  It’s not about never touching a patient who is struggling to talk and having difficulty breathing from the intensity of their anxiety about death approaching.

It is about being vulnerable and at the same time not letting the situation be all about me.  It’s about meeting a situation and being okay to see where it takes you, or more appropriately, allowing yourself to be led instead of trying to fix the other person.

Can you have enough compassion for yourself and the person you are with so that you can be open to the reciprocal gifts of the moment?

Bring your whole self to the experience.

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Bernard Glassman

Bernard Glassman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“If you were to ask me ‘What is the essence of Buddhism?’

I would answer that it’s to awaken.  And the function

of that awakening is learning how to serve.”

~~Bernie Glassman

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Clinical research shows Buddhist mindfulness t...

Clinical research shows Buddhist mindfulness techniques can help alleviate anxiety , stress , and depression (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here is a simple to read article by Rick Hanson.

http://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/give-your-head-a-rest-from-thinking

Here is a small excerpt:

When your thought processes are tired, it doesn’t feel good. You’re not relaxed, and probably stressed, which will gradually wear down your body and mood. You’re more likely to make a mistake or a bad decision: studies show that experts have less brain activity than novices when performing tasks; their thoughts are not darting about in unproductive directions. When the mind is ruminating away like the proverbial hamster on a treadmill, the emotional content is usually negative – hassles, threats, issues, problems, and conflicts – and that’s not good for you. Nor is it good for others for you to be preoccupied, tense, or simply fried.”

I really liked this article and would totally use it with caregivers, professional or otherwise.  It’s a skill we can all benefit from in one or or another, in our career and private lives, whether we are young or old.

I sometimes don’t like certain “techniques” because they feel so artificial.  They can seem a bit contrived but what Rick shares here, like much of the mindfulness practice work that is out there from Jon Kabat-Zinn, Daniel Goleman, Tara Brach, Chade-Meng Tan, Susan Bauer-Wu, Daniel Seigel, Jeffrey Brantley, Ronald D. Seigel, and so many more.

Take a second right now and do what Hanson suggests in this article from windmind.org. . . look up from your computer screen and breathe in and as you are breathing out, allow your exhale to be deep and long-lasting, really use the abdominal muscles and allow your whole body to benefit.

I did it as I was reading the article and I noticed a definite shift.  As I exhaled, I realized that my shoulders were sliding down and moving to the place that they were designed to be in, not clear up to my ears.

I noticed a bit of an electrical current and any fleeting bit of anxiety dissipated effortlessly.  And I had a shift in thinking.

Now, it’s easy to do this on a good day — little in the way of demands, pain, stress, etc. . . but the whole point is to do it on this kind of day so that when everything gets fired up — when the anxiety, discomfort, and frustration kick into high gear, that exhale just comes. . .

When we start a “practice”, things feel like a technique.

But they probably felt that way when we were learning to sit with a client or use proper body mechanics by the bedside but as we used the technique, to the point of it being burned into our muscle memory, it shifts from being a technique to a way of being.

And mindfulness is no different.

We practice on good and bad days, despite the weather or what else happens so that no matter what is going on, we can bring about calming the mind/body with the breath and with our mindful attention.

Check out some of the resources that I have linked with the author’s names above in this blog.  They are some extraordinary people bringing mindfulness to different populations and in slightly different ways.

Embrace mindfulness and give your brain (and the rest of your system and being) a much-needed break in this worrisome world.

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