Acceptance

Jizo 2“I want to be more patient, more mindful, less angry, less sad. I’ve been a Buddhist for years but I’ve always struggled to maintain a regular practice, to commit to a Sangha. I want to change, to be a better version of myself. I think this will help.”

Something like these words spilled out of me a few years back when I was on the phone rapidly talking to the senior teacher of the Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center, trying to explain why I wanted to take the Five Mindfulness Trainings at the upcoming transmission ceremony. He listened quietly before gently asking me to consider that while taking the trainings would no doubt be of benefit to me, was it possible that I was fine just as I was, that I could even accept myself the way I was? I revolted internally against the idea. I didn’t like myself the way I was. I hated my anger, my fear, my anxiety, my depression. I saw them as shrouds suffocating the qualities I did value – patience, joy, compassion, attentiveness. I wanted to push the negatives away, reject them, punish them even. I desperately wanted to be different than I was.

In the book Being Peace, Thay writes:

If I have a feeling of anger, how would I meditate on that? How would I deal with it, as a Buddhist, or as an intelligent person? I would not look upon anger as something foreign to me that I have to fight, to have surgery in order to remove it. I know that anger is me, and I am anger. Nonduality, not two. I have to deal with my anger with care, with love, with tenderness, with nonviolence. Because anger is me, I have to tend my anger as I would tend a younger brother or sister, with love, with care, because I myself am anger. I am in it, I am it. In Buddhism we do not consider anger, hatred, greed as enemies we have to fight, to destroy, to annihilate. If we annihilate anger, we annihilate ourselves. Dealing with anger in that way would be like transforming yourself into a battlefield, tearing yourself into parts, one part taking the side of Buddha, and one part taking the side of Mara. If you struggle in that way, you do violence to yourself. If you cannot be compassionate to yourself, you will not be able to be compassionate to others. When we get angry, we have to produce awareness: “I am angry. Anger is in me. I am anger.” That is the first thing to do.

Thay frequently speaks about how each of us contains seeds of everything in ourselves – it’s the seeds we water that grow and flower. If we dwell on fear and anger, we water those seeds, strengthening those unhelpful emotions. However, if we try to repress them, we commit violence against ourselves. We must instead acknowledge them, bringing up the loving energy of mindfulness to care for them. We must accept that they are there and that we are them. Continue reading

sharing our suffering

Jizo 16The constraints I place on my blogging make it difficult for me to post regularly. When our children were young, I freely shared the many challenges my husband and I faced. I used to write extensively about the difficulties of parenting kids with behaviors and issues typical of post-institutionalized international adoptees. Now that our children are older and members of an internet-savvy peer group, I guard their privacy by posting almost nothing about them. I also cannot write about challenges I face at work. Since these two areas are the sources of most of my stresses, I’m self-censored, with little left to discuss except books I’ve read and my spiritual practice, often devoid of the context necessary to explain my motivations.

These constraints remind me of my email tagline: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle. Everyone faces challenges that they don’t speak about, whether due to privacy concerns, social mores, embarrassment, or fear. I am constantly surprised by how many people who appear through regular social interaction to be “perfectly happy” are actually combating illness, anxiety, death of a loved one, or family crisis. Often I don’t learn about what they’re dealing with until I talk about my own difficulties and see their faces flush with relief. I know exactly what you mean! someone will say then, completely unexpectedly. I’ve dealt with that too and I didn’t know you who had. It’s so hard to go through alone but you can’t talk about these things with most people.

I suspect that we’d all be a lot happier and healthier if we did talk about these things more openly. Just like there’s still social stigma related to talking about mental health issues, I think there’s significant social stigma related to talking about suffering. From my own experience, I know there are myriad reasons for this beyond the ones I’ve already mentioned. Sometimes I’m worried about being seen as the person whose whining everyone else tries to avoid; we’ve all experienced a person who traps others in endless negative conversations. I want people to think well of me, to see me as someone who’s resolutely positive and who’s got things under control. I also have fear of being misunderstood, worrying that no one else could comprehend what I’m going through unless they’ve gone through it themselves. Many times I’m sick of thinking about my problems, many of which have repeated in seemingly perpetual cycles for more than a decade. The last thing I want to do is to spend even more time explaining all of that to someone else. And if I’m honest with myself, there is also a shame aspect: how can someone with as long of a spiritual practice as I have still struggle so much with suffering? Shouldn’t I have it all worked out by now – especially considering that the challenges I face are so small compared to those faced by so many other people? Continue reading

200 days of practice

CAM02605Time really flew between the end of my first 100 days of practice and yesterday, which marked my 200th day of practice. Looking back, I see that I had a marked dip in practice during the first month of this year, especially when it came to mantra accumulation. Then I realized I was soon to see Anyen Rinpoche again at the March phowa retreat in Denver, and became much more diligent! The retreat inspired me further and the intensity of my practice continued from that point forward.

Due to my poor initial start, I actually recited fewer mantra this 100 days than the prior 100 days. I did keep to my Avalokitesvara sadhana every morning except two in February when I was on a silent mindfulness retreat and didn’t bring the text. That became my motivation to finally commit the English translation of the sadhana to memory. As a result, on this mindfulness retreat just passed, I was able to recite the sadhana every day without needing the text in front of me. It feels very good to have the words inside of me instead of just on the page. Continue reading

Retreating again

IMG_1417Tomorrow I embark on another retreat, this time with the Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center. It’s a three-day silent retreat on the general theme of “Be Still and Heal”. The retreat description says “Through mindful sitting, walking, eating, and living, we will develop our capacity to more fully and compassionately embrace each moment. Sharing silence, we assist each other in letting go of worries and preoccupations, and opening to the sources of joy that are available to us in each moment.”

Just today, I finished a lovely little book by Pico Iyer called The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere. Iyer explores the beauty of traveling within through contemplation and meditation rather than without to exotic destinations. Continue reading

Happy Continuation of Refuge Day

BodhnathIn the Plum Village tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, we do not wish people “Happy Birthday” because at the ultimate level of insight, there is no birth and no death. To be born would be to imply that something (someone) arose from nothing, which is an impossibility. The First Law of Thermodynamics explains this truth just as well as Buddhism: energy can be transformed from one form to another, but cannot be created or destroyed.To say that I did not exist before I was born ignores the truth of interbeing – that I am composed entirely of “non-I” elements. If you try to remove from “me” the sun, the rain, my parents, the food I eat, the agricultural producers who grow that food – if you try to remove any part of the whole cosmos from “me”, “I” would not exist. I am in all and all is in me. Like a river, which can never be stepped in twice because the water is constantly flowing, I am a stream of consciousness and karma, impermanent and constantly subject to change. Continue reading

Love letter to my fear

Jizo 25Hello my fear!
I see you standing there –
come into the light.
Do not be afraid.
I am sorry if I have hurt you
with the many unkind things I have thought and said about you.
You have guarded me so faithfully;
you have walked so many years by my side.
I know that you are weary;
you have been vigilant for so long.

Let me take your hand.
Let us find a place where you can rest.
Here, this tree is lovely.
You can sleep safely under her sheltering arms.

You do not need to need to worry about me any more.
I have a new guardian to walk by my side.
He knows how to listen to the suffering of beings.
He will teach me how to suffer well.
He will show me how to water the seeds of joy and understanding in myself and others.
With diligent and mindful practice, I will grow strong.

I bow in gratitude for your loyal service.
Close your eyes and do not worry any more.
Some day I will be strong enough to be my own guardian.
Then I will return here to sit by your side.
I will teach you all I have learned
and you will never need to be afraid again.

Support on the Path

CAM02217Every Christmas Eve, after our family dinner (traditionally cheese and chocolate fondue) and before the children go to bed, my father reads aloud the classic poem A Visit From St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore. He’s done this nearly every year since I was born – which means he’s read this poem on nearly 40 successive Christmas Eves! Now that I’m grown, I marvel at the way that Dad approaches the poem. He reads the words thoughtfully, with a sound of wonder in his voice that suggests he’s encountering each line for the first time. Sometimes he even pauses after reading the following couplet, a delighted smile on his face:

As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;

It is a particularly poetic line.

Listening as my father read the poem this Christmas Eve just past, it occurred to me that the sense of wonder and delight with which he approaches his annual recitation is exactly the way in which I should approach the bodhisattva of compassion sadhana that I recite each morning. I tried this out recently and what a difference! Suddenly, I’m saying the familiar words with curiosity and appreciation, rather than rote tedium. It’s an amazing psychological change. My mind naturally focuses as soon as I send myself the internal message that “this is interesting”. The words come alive. I look forward more each morning to the recitation. Continue reading