Waking Up Through Anger and Love

IMG 0921 JA

At times like this, you may be tempted to let the momentum of anger and outrage pull you away from meditation practice. In fact, sitting still with anger can be very uncomfortable. But don’t let that stop you. Keep sitting – not to get rid of anger, if that’s what you’re feeling, but to become intimate with it. Welcome the discomfort. In the stillness we can allow our awareness, our love, to embrace the anger. What is it telling us at the heart level? Perhaps as we sit, as the dust settles a bit, we become more aware of the fullness of the anger and what accompanies it. For me, right now I encounter sadness and fear for our country. I also encounter a love that can’t be vanquished by hate. Tears flow and I find room in my heart for it all. The beauty and the ugliness – they all serve to awaken my heart and remind me to remain steadfast in love while standing against hate, prejudice and separation, whether in my own heart or in the world.

I’m reminded of these verses from the Shambhala Warrior training:

“In the crucible of meditation, bring forth day by day into your own heart the treasury of compassion, wisdom and courage for which the world longs.

Sit with hatred until you feel the fear beneath it. Sit with fear until you feel the compassion beneath that.

Do not set your heart on particular results. Enjoy positive action for its own sake and rest confident that it will bear fruit.

When you see violence, greed and narrow-mindedness in the fullness of its power, walk straight into the heart of it, remaining open to the sky and in touch with the earth.

Staying open, staying grounded, remember that you are the inheritor of the strengths of thousands of generations of life.

Staying open, staying grounded, recall that the thankful prayers of future generations are silently with you.

Staying open, staying grounded, be confident in the magic and power that arise when people come together in a great cause.

Staying open, staying grounded, know that the deep forces of Nature will emerge to the aid of those who defend the Earth.

Staying open, staying grounded, have faith that the higher forces of wisdom and compassion will manifest through our actions for the healing of the world.

When you see weapons of hate, disarm them with love.
When you see armies of greed, meet them in the spirit of sharing.
When you see fortresses of narrow-mindedness, breach them with truth.
When you find yourself enshrouded in dark clouds of dread, dispel them with fearlessness.

When forces of power seek to isolate us from each other, reach out with joy.

In it all and through it all, holding to your intention, let go into the music of life. Dance!”

 

 

Advertisements

Delusion and Buddha Nature Are Not Separate

One recent morning while meditating, I was reflecting on the nature of delusion. 2017 started off as a difficult year for me, and having struggled with a multiplicity of challenges, I felt at times as if I were drowning in delusion. Then, a moment of remembering and I was at peace: the awakened mind is nowhere but here, right in the very midst of seemingly impenetrable delusion.

IMG_2359

This is my reflection:

Delusion and Buddha Nature are not separate. Our human nature includes delusion and clarity. When delusion is fully seen and known, this is enlightenment. What allows this alchemy? Letting go of identification with a fixed “self.” A simple shift in perspective and the seeming duality of delusion and enlightenment dissolve.

When we think we have a self that we need to endlessly polish, hone and improve, we get caught in the illusion that awakening is elsewhere. Yes, we need our practice to help us remove what clouds the clarity of mind. As Suzuki Roshi said, “Enlightenment is an accident. Practice makes us accident prone.” Yet in the very midst of delusion, if we see it fully, we are free.

How does this happen? As the mind and heart become still, desire and grasping fall away and there is only this moment and no one needing to do anything, change anything or even see anything. Here there is no self to fix , no self to enlighten. Here is the place of peace. I’m reminded of a quote from Albert Camus: “In the midst of winter I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy.”

Shortly after I wrote this reflection, I vaguely remembered this teaching from my very early years of practice in the Zen tradition. At that time, my understanding of this teaching was beneficial to me, but it only occasionally extended beyond my meditation practice into daily life. A google search brought me to Dogen’s Genjo Koan. Here’s a short piece:

“Delusion and enlightenment are originally inseparable. What is called delusion is as it is and what is called enlightenment is as it is. Delusion should not be detested and enlightenment should not be devoured. They are as they are and they do not get in the way at all. They are inseparable. This is what is reverberating beyond words and you should not overlook this.

If Buddhas recognize themselves as enlightened there is polarization of self and other. This is not enlightenment. You realize enlightenment through delusion and you are deluded through enlightenment. At the place of seeing, knowing perishes and the mind is stilled.”

Balancing the Three Legs of Practice

Blue Heron

I often think of dharma practice like a tripod, with three legs that create balance. On one leg there’s meditation, including daily seated practice and retreats; on another is mindfulness in daily life; the third is sangha practice.

Let’s start with meditation. For many, establishing a consistent daily seated meditation practice is quite challenging. It requires making a commitment to carving out time to disengage from the ingrained distractions and patterns that inevitably arise in daily life. When people say they don’t have time to meditate, I find in most cases that they aren’t prioritizing the time, which may otherwise be used to watch television or engage in social media and other such activities. Consider that in 24 hours there are 1440 minutes. If we can’t find 10 – 30 minutes a day to meditate, which comprises about .07 to 2% percent of that time, its worth examining how we are using our time and what our true priorities are.

Meditation requires that we face ourselves, including all of our imperfections, leaving nothing out. Sometimes our sitting may be lovely and restful, even transcendent, at other times challenging and wobbly. But the key to a consistent practice is the willingness to receive all that arises in our awareness with an open and compassionate heart. This isn’t always easy, but its how the fruits of practice begin to ripen and transform our lives.

For the committed practitioner, meditation retreats are not a luxury but a vital part of deepening their practice. Concentrated time spent away from daily distractions allows access parts of our minds and hearts that are otherwise out of reach; retreats help us contact our deepest evaded realities. If your life situation prevents you from traveling afar or carving out chunks of time for retreats, take advantage of daylong retreats as often as you can and shorter residential retreats that only last a weekend. But do make them a priority.

Practicing mindfulness in daily life is also vital to waking up. As the popularity of mindfulness has grown, some people have mistakenly concluded that seated meditation and mindfulness in daily life are interchangeable practices. This is simply not the case. For a truly balanced practice, both are essential; we need to align what we learn in our seated practice with activities in our daily lives. One of the best ways to bring mindfulness into daily life is practicing mindfulness of the body. This is a deceptively simple yet deep practice: Buddha said that mindfulness of the body leads to enlightenment. We’re so often caught up in our busyness, our activities and thoughts that we lose our connection with this moment. Our bodies are always right here, ready and available to serve as an anchor for our present moment awareness. Bringing mindfulness to your body is an uncomplicated yet powerful practice you can do throughout the day to root your awareness in this moment and disengage from reactive patterns and habitual thoughts. You can still plan, think and carry out your activities, but you can do it all from a foundation more firmly grounded in presence and awareness.

Sangha comprises the third leg of the tripod. Sangha helps us create a stable support in our lives as we derive strength in our practice through sharing it with others. There is a notable, almost mysterious vibrancy that arises from meditating in a group setting. The collective energy of our concentration bolsters the individual and group simultaneously, allowing us to go deeper into our practice than if we only do it alone. Sangha practice also provides ample opportunities to practice generosity by contributing what we can to support the community of practitioners. We begin to break through the illusion of separation and realize that our practice isn’t only for ourselves, but for all beings. We also have an opportunity to view our habits, biases and aversions in the context of a group. The renowned Korean Zen teacher Seung Sahn likened sangha practice to cooking a pot of potatoes. He said that you could wash potatoes one by one or you could put numerous potatoes in a pot and stir them all together: they all rub up against each other, each getting clean in the process and rounding out the rough spots.

When our dharma practice is balanced it includes all three legs of this tripod. If we only focus on only one or two, we expend energy trying to maintain balance without a stable foundation. With our tripod in balance, however, we create the conditions for our practice to fully ripen and transform our lives.

Reflections on Michael Crowder

This is a lovely essay and reflection by Sharon Safer about longtime One Dharma sangha member Michael Crowder, who died on February 18. He was a fixture at our Monday night meditations and his dedication to practice along with the way he lived his life left a deep impression on many:

I’ve been thinking a lot about Michael since you let me know he had died.

I met Michael through One Dharma years ago.

My first impression was THAT … being impressed by Michael’s dedication to his practice. He was more serious than anyone I’d ever met about a sitting practice, sharing how he would sit for hours on end, and still thinking he needed to sit longer and more deeply. Sometimes, when I encounter folks who are “all that” in other areas of life, I will compare myself to whatever it is that they are “better” at … but not so with Michael. The way that he spoke about his practice, experiences while sitting, and his incredibly DEEP understanding of the dharma were delivered in such a quiet and humble manner that I became more curious than impressed! Not to say that he couldn’t be hard-headed and opinionated on occasion! But that he didn’t brag about his intellectual understanding or depth of practice … that it was just who he was and how he chose to live his life.

Michael enjoyed sharing his understanding of the dharma. I remember going home one Monday night to look up “Jhanas,” because Michael had spoken – at length! – about the Jhanas that night, and I’d never heard of them.

I heard bits and pieces of Michael’s life story, but never his entire story, and that’s ok. I just knew that he’d been through a lot and that he lived with significant physical limitations and discomfort that increased over the years.

Michael rarely asked for … or accepted … help that was offered, but as we got to know each other over time, he would let me drive him home after meditation sessions. Such a simple thing, but I felt honored that he allowed me to take him home – to serve him, who never asked for much.

In spite of Michael’s health and physical limitations and deterioration, I NEVER saw him pity himself or his situation, but rather the opposite. He was determined to live as “normally” as you and me. On retreat at Bethany Hills, he was absolutely determined to walk up and down the hill to the dining hall and to put in his kitchen time just like the rest of us. Towards the end of one of the retreats he pooped out and couldn’t make the trek. Several of us offered to bring him meals, which for the most part he graciously declined, but did let us take him cheese and fruit. One night at Bethany Hills, he had a very close medical emergency, but didn’t ask for help or let on to anyone that night … I’m not recalling whether Lisa and I found out during the retreat, or some time afterward.

Thinking about Michael, after hearing of his death, I see clearly how his wasn’t just an intellectual understanding of the dharma, but it was his way of life. Michael lived the dharma. I missed this about Michael when he was alive, and that makes me sad. I find myself thinking of him every day now, and recalling the way he lived with such grace, humility and dedication. I feel close to him now in a way that I didn’t when he walked with us, and for that I’m ever grateful.

– Sharon Safer

Today in Trumpland and Dharmaland

In the days and weeks after the election, I wrote a number of articles and gave several dharma talks that reflected my own response, as well as the ways in which I see the dhrama path as a resource during such uncertain and difficult times.

The holidays came along and my time and attention turned to other commitments and writing went on the back burner. Today I’m back for this article. As the news and actions of our new president have become more and more disturbing to me, I continue to look into my heart for what’s true for me right now and to find the best ways I can respond and to be involved. As many of us know, there’s a fine line between constructive action and emotional overwhelm at this time.

In this era of social media and online information, it’s easy to become inundated with one rattling headline after the other and social media posts loaded with fear and divisive anger. There’s nothing wrong with fear and anger per se, they are human emotions and certainly are not unreasonable responses right now. Channeled constructively, they can even be driving forces for good. A skillful relationship to these emotions and what we do with them counts. This is where dharma practice can make a big difference.

When we allow ourselves to lose touch with the love in our hearts and respond from divisiveness and separation, we become lost ourselves. But how in the world do we maintain an attitude of love and kindness for all while actively resisting dangerous and destructive acts coming from the new administration? On the positive side, social media provides a ready-made resource for organizing and connecting constructively. But if we haven’t also found a source of refuge in our own hearts, burnout and despair can easily take us over. We may slide down the slippery slope of the dark side of social media while also losing touch with our own inner guide.

As dharma practitioners, I believe it is vital we remember in our hearts that this isn’t about “us against them.” This is what we’ve all been practicing for, we’ve cultivated a great resource that can help us not lose ourselves in the frenzy.

If you do fall short and get caught in the whirlwind, as I have at times, just start again with kindness and compassion, let go of the judgment. Remember your heart’s true intention and align yourself with that. Most of us who practice the dharma care deeply about the welfare of all beings, and when we see so many people who are vulnerable and unable to defend themselves being targeted, we feel a strong urge to act. Let’s do it while also remembering to keep our hearts and minds nourished and awake. Lets not turn those we oppose out of our hearts even as we stand against many of their policies and actions. When we personally feel attacked and vulnerable, this is even harder work, but it’s a central element of how dharma path can help us maintain a global awareness of our humanity and interconnection.

For me, this capacity to remember and reconnect means taking time out to meditate and to retreat, to find a home in the great nature of heart/mind, where I access timeless wisdom of interconnection and compassion for all. In fact, I’ll be off grid soon for my own weeklong retreat as my weary heart is much in need of this extended time to repair and restore.

– Lisa Ernst

“Hatred Will Never Let You Face the Beast in Man”

whitegroup

I’m seeing two trends since the election that are ultimately in opposition to each other. The first is that people are feeling galvanized to get involved, to take action and speak up when they see injustice, to connect and engage with communities that need our support. Right now we truly need people who are willing to get involved and not remain silent. This is an ideal time for Buddhists to engage and not leave our wisdom on the cushion.

The post election down side is that many are using this situation to justify division, intolerance and even hatred. “Its different this time,” I see again and again. But whatever their justifications, this mindset can quickly lead to escalated division, fear and hatred. To me, this is both disturbing and sad.

What’s a better approach? First, we need to understand that standing up for what’s right and helping those who feel vulnerable (including ourselves) is not incompatible with unconditional compassion and “loving the enemy.”

Many of our greatest spiritual leaders have emphasized this point, even while they spoke out and took a stand. On Saturday I heard a beautiful message from civil rights icon John Lewis on this point, as he referenced the role model of non-violent resistance they used during the civil rights movement, Mahatma Gandhi. Martin Luther King Jr. understood the downward spiral of hating those who hate you. “In a real sense all life is inter-related,” he wrote in “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” “All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.” This is up to all of us.

Buddha taught us that we must cultivate compassion for all beings, without exception. This doesn’t mean that we stand by passively while people trample over us, or behave with hatred and violence toward those who are vulnerable. Compassion isn’t incompatible with firm boundaries that declare, “this is not ok.” If we begin to justify holding hate in our hearts, we become no different from those we feel in opposition to. The Dalai Lama understood this, even as he was exiled from his homeland of China. And Albert Einstein said, “Problems cannot be solved with the same mind set that created them.”

Thich Nhat has been one of the most eloquent voices advocating that we always remember interconnection and that we love our enemies. Not that it’s an easy easy path. We have to overcome habitual tendencies to create division that naturally arise out of fear.

Here’s Recommendation, a powerful poem in which Thich Nhat Hanh encourages compassion for all, without exception.

Recommendation” by Thich Nhat Hahn
Promise me,
promise me this day,
promise me now,
while the sun is overhead
exactly at the zenith,
promise me:

Even as they
strike you down
with a mountain of hatred and violence;
even as they step on you and crush you
like a worm,
even as they dismember and disembowel you,
remember, brother,
remember:
man is not our enemy.

The only thing worthy of you is compassion –
invincible, limitless, unconditional.
Hatred will never let you face
the beast in man.

One day, when you face this beast alone,
with your courage intact, your eyes kind,
untroubled
(even as no one sees them),
out of your smile
will bloom a flower.
And those who love you
will behold you
across ten thousand worlds of birth and dying.

Alone again,
I will go on with bent head,
knowing that love has become eternal.
On the long, rough road,
the sun and the moon
will continue to shine.

This poem was written in 1965 in Vietnam for the School of Youth Social Service. This group rebuilt bombed villages, set up schools and medical centers, resettled homeless families, and organized agricultural cooperatives. They worked with the Buddhist principles of non-violence. Thich Nhat Hahn was banned from his homeland in 1966. He has never become bitter or let hate fill his heart even as he became a great teacher for the world. If he had not had this heart of compassion and interconnection, its doubtful he would have risen to the stature he has. His mind and heart were bigger than those who  created division, destruction and war. May we all remember to keep love and compassion in our hearts, even while answering the call to step up and make a difference in these challenging times.

You Don’t Have to Get Rid of Your Discomfort

IMG_1427

Since the election many people have reported feeling edgy, angry, unsettled and uncomfortable and the feelings are not going away. Most of us have been taught since childhood that these are not good feelings and we should try and get rid of them. Even as meditation practitioners, we may feel that these feelings are something to “meditate away.” But that’s not a skillful outlook.

It’s ok to feel uncomfortable right now, it’s a completely appropriate response that doesn’t need to be assuaged or mitigated. The problem comes when we are at odds with it, when we feel we are “wrong” in some way for these feelings or if we act out in harmful ways to ourselves or others because we don’t know what to do.

Since the election, I have felt acutely uneasy for over a week. I had to avoid the mindset that I should be at peace and at ease. Growing up I experienced a significant amount of trauma and it stayed with me many years into adulthood. My father was an alcoholic and when he drank he was often violent and engaged in bullying, sexual abuse. and body shaming. After the election this trauma reemerged. But having spent years in therapy and with a meditation practice, I have the capacity to recognize and meet old trauma so that it doesn’t engulf me. I spent time with this response until it eased. Some may not have this capacity and discerning that is important. If you are continuing to feel traumatic discomfort, you may need to get help.

The discomfort I feel now is not traumatic but it brings me to an edge where I need to be awake to it, to continue cultivating my willingness to be present in the midst of it and not tell myself I should change the feelings in some way, or that there is something wrong with me. This is all about changing my relationship to what’s arising, not getting rid of it. This discomfort keeps me from feeling complacent; it keeps me awake. It is an edge that I have come to welcome and trust. When I have a welcoming relationship to the discomfort, I am in a better position to discern wise and compassionate action that is in alignment with my values.

I invite you to welcome your discomfort and let it be a teacher to you.

Election Fallout Reflections

The election is over but for many the fallout continues. Many have shed tears, have experienced anger and fear and have shared their voices and mobilized into action. Just after the election, Leonard Cohen died, a great voice of love, loss and dharma. His words and songs have rung out over the last several days as people have listened to and shared their favorite songs and quotes. Many are so applicable to where we find ourselves at this time, and his words are also timeless. One that particularly resonated for me at the moment is “if you don’t become the ocean, you’ll be drowning every day.” This is not an easy practice, but in one sentence it brilliantly sums up dukkha and freedom from dukkha.

The day after the election I was heartened by a spontaneous act of love and kindness in our old neighborhood, the 12 South area, at the Islamic Center of Nashville. I have known the Islamic Center to be a wonderful part of the community. President Rashed Fakhruddin in particular has been a strong organizer for shared community, Interfaith connections and events. He has also been an outspoken voice for prevention of abuse against women.

A mother and son in the neighborhood took their chalk and wrote on the sidewalks in front of the Islamic Center. In her words: “This morning Hudson and I took our chalk down to the Islamic Community Center on 12th. We wanted to tell our neighbors that we love them and stand with them. A lot of folks stopped by and added their own messages of love. It was great to meet people and work together. To my Muslim friends and community members: I stand with you now, and if things do get worse, I will stand with you then too.” May we all stand with those who need our support.

Over the last month or so, my dharma talks have largely reflected my experience of the political climate. These talks have been focused on finding a skillful response to the situation, internally and externally. It is not always easy. Some of us may have to ask ourselves, “how do I digest broken glass?” “How do I stand where there is no ground?” When we truly experience groundlessness, new ground emerges. But even then we can’t cling. As the ground shifts, the appropriate response may change as well, it is not fixed. This fluidity, the recognition of impermanence, is vital to clear seeing in each moment and wise action.

My talks and blog posts over the last month have reflected the unfolding of events as I saw them. I’m not one to simply hand out cookies or bromides of hope (even though many of you know I do give out chocolate chip cookies after daylong retreats). I do suggest we do our best to take a courageous, no blinders look at what’s going on both internally and externally and to the extent we can, find a way to contribute and to keep compassion and kindness alive in our hearts.

Becoming the Ocean

Leonard Cohen died yesterday. Many of his songs and lyrics have been shared on social media and I came across one I haven’t seen before, one that perfectly reflects my mood today: “If you don’t become the ocean, you’ll be seasick every day.”

Right now it’s hard to become to ocean. I often feel seasick and keep reaching for the raft. But the raft has holes in it. When I hear of heightened bullying, I feel grief and fear for my LGBT friends and people of color, for Muslims and for people who have been traumatized by bullies and sexual predators. The last two include me. Everything is upside down and I am drowning.

But then, in the quiet, surrendering to my grief, to the groundlessness, I remember that I am the waves, the ocean. My heart comes to rest for a while and I’m no longer seasick.

img_1250

I wrote “Riding Free” at another time when I couldn’t stay afloat. This surrender is what serves me in the roughest waters when the boat doesn’t hold. From this place I can find my way again, I can swim and I can serve.

Riding Free

Its like you’re throwing away your canoe and oars and are riding the waves of emptiness. Its scary at first, you’ve no control. You feel vulnerable and completely without knowledge of where you are going, or even where you are. So you have to surrender completely to the waves when they come. It may take a while. It may take weeks or months or years. You may ask, “what if I drown?” Then I ask you, “who and what drowns? What do you lose? And what might you gain?”

You may decide to climb back into your canoe if you can. But if you’re truly on this path, the water will draw you in again and again until finally you drown and then you’re riding the waves and those waves are you, and you are the waves, there’s really no difference any more, and you arrive exactly where you need to be, where you always have been, but just didn’t know it until now. You are home.

Staying Right Here

img_3242

Before I think about moving forward, about kindness and a wise response, I need to stay right here. In this place of groundlessness, of vulnerability, of deep concern for the world and how things are today.

We talk a lot about practicing with groundless in the dharma, about letting the bottom fall out. That time is now. Do it if you can, let it happen. Don’t turn from your grief and fear, allow it. You don’t need to force yourself to think hopeful thoughts just now. This isn’t yet the time for that. Let yourself weep and know it deep in your heart, for yourself and the world.

Words aren’t enough right now, really nothing is, but here’s the poem that speaks to me in this moment, that cracks my heart open, as it often does in times of strife and suffering.

Please Call Me by My True Names

Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to, my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

– Thich Nhat Hanh