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

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True Nature, No Nature or Buddha Nature?

“The luminosity of the mind, the nature of clarity of the mind, is something that I cannot simply explain in words to you. But if you undertake this kind of experiment on your own, you will begin to understand.” – Dalai Lama

After practicing meditation for 25 years I rely less and less on words to describe the awakened state, such as “Buddha Nature” or “True Nature.” In reflecting on this, I find I’m not satisfied with any word that conjures up an idea of this unconditioned, unnameable experience. There is often some taint of fabrication that tends to accompany these names. That’s inevitable as its how language works: words and ideas mingle and no matter our best intentions, create an inevitable separation from our actual experience.

So what happens when you experience deep peace and interconnectedness, when you encounter incomparable clarity and luminosity? Usually the mind will quickly weigh in with names and labels or try to create a context for the experience. That’s what the mind does; it usually happens so fast we don’t even see it until the clarity and luminosity are obscured. This is actually a matter of capacity – when we first encounter this luminosity, it is so far from any previous experience we’ve had that our mind quickly veers into fabrication. Only after practicing for some time can we simply dwell in this unobstructed peace without trying to label or contextualize. Our capacity to abide without words or labels grows.

“If you’re primed to look for innate natures, you’ll tend to see innate natures, especially when you reach the luminous, non-dual stages of concentration called themeless, emptiness, and undirected. You’ll get stuck on whichever stage matches your assumptions about what your awakened nature is. But if you’re primed to look for the process of fabrication, you’ll see these stages as forms of fabrication, and this will enable you to deconstruct them, to pacify them, until you encounter the peace that’s not fabricated at all.” – Thanissaro Bhikkhu

The key is to be alert to the mind’s tendency to construct and conceptualize. This is another, more subtle stage of mindfulness, to see when we obscure our experience with ideas about Buddha nature or emptiness. As your practice deepens, you’ll begin to see how readily the mind creates names and fabrications, even for that which can’t be named or classified. The awareness will help you to release any clinging to words or explanations and abide in this mind, clear and luminous beyond words.

 

 

This Place of True Love

My offering so small, incomplete

and stained with tears

Is embraced by this moment

by the songbird

A wide open place

for a heart

imperfect and broken

But welcome and given

 room to be just what it is

This, the place of

peace, of true love.

– Lisa Ernst

Blackbird in Lotus - photography by Lisa Ernst

Blackbird in Lotus – photography by Lisa Ernst

Only the Moon

The moonlight through the trees

enters the room where I sit

and casts shadows across the floor.

It beckons me to be still,

and love just what it gives

in its fleeting time before dawn.

In this moment, still and silent

only the moon

can speak to my heart,

reveal my true nature

without even a word.

– Lisa Ernst

Penetrate Everything

What happens when you resist? Have you spent some time in your practice cultivating true intimacy with your mind and body in a state of resistance? You probably know where you hold your tension, where your body contracts and how your mind seeks diversion. But the true payoff comes when you take an even closer look. Can you become truly intimate with the tension in your body? Get to know it like a mate or a best friend? Open your heart and mind wide enough that it penetrates every cell, every infinitesimal particle of time and matter. When you can do this, you will taste complete freedom. This is where transformation occurs; in a moment of full surrender, when your resistance dies, you die.  But your great nature, your true self that embraces all and leaves nothing out, remains. What is this true nature? You can only find out for yourself. Just let your Bodhicitta, your inherent desire to wake up, guide the way.

– Lisa Ernst

Generosity

As I sit for meditation

I’m struck by the morning’s

complete generosity.

It gives all,

holding not a thing

back for itself.

It asks nothing of me

except to fall into its open arms

completely

like a lover’s warm embrace.

The birds sing this song

from my very heart

until the birds and I disappear

and nothing remains

except all that is here.

– Lisa Ernst