The radical teaching of Buddhist mindfulness is cultivating presence when the mind wants to turn away. We begin to remember that all emotions and moods are sankhara – impermanent conditioned states and not our identity. This is a doorway to freedom.
Save the date! If you’re in the Nashville area, I hope to see you there.
I’ve been doing lovingkindness practice for 20 years, mostly following the standard formula – starting by offering kindness to myself, then family, friends, teachers and benefactors (people easy to love) and on to indifferent people, difficult people and finally all beings. The practice of offering kindness to indifferent people in particular has completely changed my orientation and perspective. It has led to a deeper exploration of what “indifferent” really means and some interesting revelations.
I began to notice in metta instructions that indifferent people are often described as service workers, clerks, repair people, those we don’t see or interact with as regularly as others. In some cases they may at a lower point socioeconomically than the largely middle and upper middle class Americans that practice lay Buddhism. In many cases, our unseen or unacknowledged privilege may render certain people indifferent, or even invisible.
My first insight into this happened in a grocery store. I have long frequented a Kroger near my home that has a well-stocked organic produce section. A man who works in this department is normally present stocking and restocking in the morning when I often shop. He is likely an immigrant as are many employees in the Kroger produce department. For a few years, he was essentially an indifferent person to me, and often invisible.
One day I touched some produce that was very wet and my hands were dripping. He quickly came over with a paper towel so I could dry my hands. This simple act of kindness and attention penetrated my heart. I felt tears welling up as I realized how often I had overlooked him, how I had unconsciously rendered him not just indifferent but invisible.
After that I began looking around the store and noticing people who were stocking the shelves, working the cash registers, etc. and offered them wishes of kindness and wellbeing. Inevitably, a friendly hello or a smile followed. As an introvert I often keep my attention to myself in public places, but these simple acts of acknowledgement opened my awareness and loving friendliness in a way that broke me out of conditioned patterns and created friendly interactions. This practice was a new avenue for me to recognize and appreciate the innerconnection we all share.
I was further broken out of my complacency with indifferent people after I read an article by a disabled person describing his experiences in public. He’s in a wheelchair and he explained how people either reflexively look away or view his disability with morbid curiosity. He wrote that he simply wants to be seen and acknowledged as a human being. This is an example of how some of us may unconsciously render a person, or a group of people, invisible. Even if we see them, if we primarily see their disability or their “otherness,” they are invisible.
I often walk at a park near my home and I began to consciously acknowledge those in wheelchairs with a friendly, simple hello. I could see right away the gratitude that arose from this acknowledgement of inherent humanity that is too often withheld from those seen as “different.” This is one of the great teachings of metta – at heart all humans all have the same needs for safety, wellbeing, and freedom from suffering. To make someone the “other” and render them invisible, strips away this reality and separates our hearts from the compassion, kindness and love that naturally dwells in awareness.
Now when I offer an extended guided metta meditation, I ask the participants to explore what categories of humans are invisible to them. For some of us, it may be the homeless or disabled, for others, people of different ethnicities, sexual orientation or the elderly. Even if we see them, do we categorize them too quickly into stereotypes and preconceived ideas of who they are? If so, they are invisible to us. If we want our metta practice to be genuinely inclusive, we need to bring them into our practice consciously. Buddha admonished us to offer kindness to all beings and it is part of our practice to do so.
Sometimes, we also make certain parts of ourselves invisible. When I was leading this meditation at a recent lovingkdiness retreat, a man of color described his experience doing this practice:
“When the Metta practice pointed towards invisible people, as a person of color, I thought to myself, ‘how many times have I made myself invisible in the company of those that do not share my diversity?’
And also, how many times have I faded into the background so that a particular group of people, seemingly different from my diversity, could feel safe?
Thoughts of my teenage years came back when my white friends would say, ’don’t go over there or don’t hang out with those people because they are the N-word,’ then someone would say to me, ‘sorry.’ Then someone else would say to me, ‘you’re not a N-word’ and I would think to myself ‘yeah, I’m not a N-word.’
During this practice, the realization of how thin that veil is allowed me to witness deeply where I have been spiritually bypassing my diversity.
Then, the following phrases came to mind.
May I, you, we, be seen
May, I, you, we, be heard
May, I, we, you be understood and not misunderstood
May, I, we, you be held and cared for with compassion, love and grace.”
The final category of metta is “all beings.” While it does include invisible beings, it is not specific and doesn’t address how bias, bypassing and racism render some beings invisible. The practice of including invisible people more specifically is not a panacea, but a simple invitation to make visible and explore that which has been hidden. May we allow our hearts to open to all of the beings we overlook or ignore, may we extend compassion without limitation.
There’s still time to register for this four night silent meditation retreat I’m leading in August at Heartwood Refuge Retreat Center in Hendersonville, NC. Full information and registration here.
As “devotion” is a loaded of a word some, we can also define it as loving attention and dedication. If you’re a familiar with Mary Oliver’s poetry, you’ll recognize “attention is the beginning of devotion” as a quote from her. In the talk I include a few of her poems that so perfectly reflect how attention leads to devotion through even the everyday elements of life and nature. I also talk about how devotion can be a balancing factor of heart and mind.
Saturday, June 15, 9 a.m. – Noon, Nashville Friends Meeting
Led by Lisa Ernst
Metta is the Pali word for friendship or lovingkindness. It is taught as a meditation that opens our innate capacity for a joyful, loving heart. Metta is traditionally offered along with forgiveness practices that deepen compassion and equanimity. We will also include the powerful sending and receiving practice of Tonglen. One of the most significant aspects of Tonglen is that we naturally move out of the “self center” where we primarily identify with our own suffering and find a deep sense of interconnection with others where compassion fully comes alive.
These practices support and deepen the development of concentration,
ease and a greater ability to give and receive unconditional love. In these difficult times, our world needs these qualities more than ever.
This silent retreat will include sitting and walking meditation, instructions and q&a. It is suitable for all levels of experience. Cost is $50, payment can be made by Paypal here. Instructions are here if paying by check. Be sure to include your email address. A reduced fee spot is available in the case of financial need. For questions, email email@example.com
Saturday, May 4, 8:30am at Nashville Friends Meeting (530 26th Ave N, Nashville, TN 37209), then we will be taking the bus/carpooling to the March for Science and Climate, 10am-12pm
Led by Keila Franks
March for Science and Climate. Photo by Tennessee Photographs.
Through meditation, we begin to more deeply understand the interconnection of everything, which leads to a deep sense of caring and compassion for all living things. This means that our hearts often break when we see how human heedlessness has caused enormous damage to our planet, threatening the wellbeing of all of the living creatures on it. We may feel called to translate this mindfulness of the suffering of the world into actions to stop climate change and protect the environment.
On May 4, we will gather to meditate and set intentions before attending the March for Science and Climate together. Through a guided meditation, we will be encouraged to notice our sense of the interconnection of all things, and how our deepest intentions of wanting to alleviate suffering come from that sense of interconnection. We will then break into small groups to discuss our intentions for attending the March for Science and Climate, and how we want to bring those intentions forward into our lives, even after the March is done.
All are welcome to attend! Even if you are new to meditation or haven’t ever attended a march or a rally, we hope that you will join us. Suggested donation for the meditation is $5 – $10. For questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Facilitator: This session will be led by Keila Franks. She is the Field Director at the Tennessee Justice Center, focusing on advocating for protecting and expanding Medicaid in TN. She started meditating over 10 years ago through One Dharma Nashville while in high school. She has been an active member of the One Dharma community since returning to Nashville in 2015. She completed One Dharma’s 2018 Mindfulness Meditation Instructor and Facilitator course, and she is one of the facilitators of One Dharma’s Introduction to Meditation classes on Saturday mornings.
Logistical note: The bus stop is a ~10 min walk from the Nashville Friends Meeting. It will cost $3.25 to get an all-day pass, allowing you to get to/from downtown on the bus. If you plan on taking the bus, please bring that amount in cash (and try to bring as close to exact change as possible! Change is given on a change card, not in cash.) You may also drive yourself or carpool downtown to attend the March.
This talk explores the powerful and illuminating trifecta of Beginner’s Mind, Don’t Know Mind and Inquiry and the concrete ways they support us in our practice and our lives.
Difficult, anxious thoughts and emotions are often considered obstacles to meditation and peace of mind. A wiser view is available! Buddha’s path to liberation is designed to help us face the full experience of embodied human life. Through deep training we can learn how to be at peace with our overly energetic or painful body, our restless minds and hearts and even the most irritating and hard emotions. At this retreat we will learn how to bring acceptance, patience and love for ourselves into the process. We will learn how awareness can intervene, balancing reactivity, releasing identification and catastrophizing. Inner peace emerges (samadhi), so that meditative inquiry can help us learn from our inner lives, discover gems of wisdom and insight — and tenderness for the rest.
This retreat, held mostly in silence, will include periods of sitting and walking meditation, daily instructions, dharma talks, q&a and meetings with the teacher. All levels of experience are welcome. Registration and more info here.
Please join me for an adventure of a lifetime to India. On this tour we will be visiting some of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites as well as many other points of interest. We will meditate under the Bodhi tree, a descendant of the very tree where Buddha was enlightened 2500 years ago.This was one of the highlights for me of the 2017 tour and an experience not to be missed while in India. Pilgrims from all over the world travel here and it is truly an amazing experience to be at ground zero for the awakening of Buddha and Buddhism.
We’ll also visit Sarnath, where Buddha gave his first sermon. Sarnath is close to Varanasi, where the famous Aarti ceremony is held every night at sunset on the Ganges. This is another not to be missed highlight that can’t be fully captured in words. In addition, a tour of India wouldn’t be complete without visiting the Himalayas. This year, we’ll travel to Dharmsala, home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan community in exile. Finally, there’s an optional two day extension to visit Amritsar and the Golden Temple.
The tour is guided by expert local guides in India, and I will offer meditation and dharma discussions along the way in various locations, from hotel gardens to Tibetan monasteries.
It is a fun adventure and is open to everyone interested in Buddhism and meditation. (No experience required.)
For the full itinerary and cost, go here. If you are considering this tour and would like to talk to me directly, feel free to email email@example.com.