Articles by " Jan"
4 Oct
2019
Posted in: Poems
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The Truth of Our Lives

The Second Music
by Annie Lighthart

Now I understand that there are two melodies playing,
one below the other, one easier to hear, the other

lower, steady, perhaps more faithful for being less heard
yet always present.

When all other things seem lively and real,
this one fades. Yet the notes of it

touch as gently as fingertips, as the sound
of the names laid over each child at birth.

I want to stay in the music without striving or cover.
If the truth of our lives is what is playing,

the telling is so soft
that this mortal time, this irrevocable change,

becomes beautiful. I stop and stop again
to hear the second music.

I hear the children in the yard, a train, then birds.
All this is in it and will be gone. I set my ear to it as I would to a heart.

3 Oct
2019
Posted in: Books
By    Comments Off on What We Talk About When We Talk About Suffering

What We Talk About When We Talk About Suffering

What is the Noble Truth of Suffering? Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, and death is suffering. Disassociation from the loved is suffering, not to get what one wants is suffering…. There is this Noble Truth of Suffering.
— Samyutta Nikaya LVI, II

“Oftentimes, the First Noble Truth is misquoted as ‘All life is suffering,’ but that is an inaccurate and misleading reflection of the Buddha’s insight. He did not teach that life is constant misery, nor that you should expect to feel pain and unhappiness at all times. Rather, he proclaimed that suffering is an unavoidable reality of ordinary human existence that is to be known and responded to wisely….

Suffering is derived from the Latin word ferre, which means ‘to bear’ or ‘to carry.’ Helen Luke, the late Jungian analyst and classics scholar, likens the true meaning of conscious human suffering to a wagon bearing a load.

“She contrasts this definition of suffering with grief, from the Latin word gravare, which refers to ‘the sense of being pressed down,’ and affliction, from the Latin word fligere, which means ‘to be struck down, as if by a blow.’

“When you deny or resist the experience of your own suffering, you are unwilling to consciously bear it. It is this resistance to accepting your life just as it is that makes suffering ignoble, despicable, and shameful. It is a mistake in perception that can cause you additional suffering. In the first insight of the First Noble Truth, the Buddha asks you to carry your suffering without judgement and without resistance and in just this manner, to bear it with compassion and mindfulness in your heart.

“When you are overcome with resentment and aversion to suffering, your resistance is indeed an affliction. When you feel ashamed, depressed, and defeated by your suffering, it presses you down, causes you to contract.

“But if you can learn to separate your resistance to suffering from the actual pains and difficulties in your life, an incredible transformation takes place. You are able to meet your suffering as though you were a wagon receiving the load being placed on it. Paradoxically, the effect is that your load is lightened, and your life can roll forward, whatever its destination.

“The first insight of the Truth of Suffering is realized when you are able to distinguish between carrying the weight of your life with all its loss and pain, and collapsing underneath these difficulties. You nobly accept your suffering and acknowledge that your life is being characterized by it, despite your preference for it to be otherwise.

“When you learn to be with the truth of your suffering and the suffering of those for whom you care in a mindful, compassionate manner, you are ennobled. Being able to bear your pain with dignity empowers you to examine your suffering and bring an end to it.”

— from Dancing with Life, by Phillip Moffitt

30 Sep
2019
Posted in: Poems
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And at Some Point, Perhaps

The Way It Is
by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

Over and over we break
open, we break and
we break and we open.
For a while, we try to fix
the vessel — as if
to be broken is bad.
As if with glue and tape
and a steady hand we
might bring things to perfect
again. As if they were ever
perfect. As if to be broken is not
also perfect. As if to be open
is not the path toward joy.

The vase that’s shattered
and cracked will never
hold water. Eventually
it will leak. And at some
point, perhaps, we decide
that we’re done with picking
our flowers anyway, and no
longer need a place to contain them.
We watch them grow just
as wildflowers do — unfenced,
unmanaged, blossoming only
when they’re ready — and my god,
how beautiful they are amidst
the mounting pile of shards.

27 Sep
2019
Posted in: Books, Practice
By    Comments Off on This Moment is Like This

This Moment is Like This

“Ajahn Sumedho repeatedly says, ‘This moment is like this,’ which sums up the sense of being fully present that you are trying to capture with the second insight of the First Noble Truth [which is that the truth of suffering must be understood].

“Making ‘this moment is like this’ a focus of your mindfulness practice can be an effective technique for understanding the difference between skillfully observing a difficult experience from within and unskillfully getting lost in the context of that experience. So when you’re meditating, you would practice noticing, ‘Back pain (or any body sensation) feels like this,’ and ‘Disappointment (or any other emotion) feels like this.’

You can also focus your meditation inquiry on a particular life issue. Take for example a painful situation at work. You find out that your company is planning to lay people off, and your first thought is, ‘Oh, what if it’s me?’, followed by the mental anguish of imagining getting fired. This is accompanied by a physical reaction. Perhaps you feel nauseous, or your body become flushed with heat and your heart starts pounding.

“Very quickly you start telling yourself a story about how difficult your life will be once you’ve lost your job, and your mind replays the story 100 times. When that happens you are getting lost in an imagined story about the experience and creating dukkha for yourself.

“Instead, turn the situation into the focus of a mindful meditation inquiry and return to your actual experience, which is your physical and mental unease. Your only possibility for release is to acknowledge, ‘My work situation feels like this in this moment.’ In time you will see that just being with the experience brings dramatic relief.

“In all aspects of your life, you come to fully know your experience of suffering by noticing its specific qualities.

“Back pain may be felt as throbbing, piercing, contracting, or whatever the experience is in the moment when it is occurring. ‘Back pain is like this,’ you tell yourself, which points to the impersonal nature of suffering. This is simply the experience that emerges when certain causes and conditions come together. Likewise, you may know anger as a sensation of heat and tension in your body and a feeling that your mind is fixated and confused.

“You have a personal, unique experience of suffering in knowing that ‘anger feels like this.’ But the underlying difficulties that cause you to become angry are universal. As with back pain, when anger arises there is no need to identify with the experience, to become more miserable by taking the event personally. It is just another moment of life dancing, and you respond to it as best you can.

“When you are able to be fully present in this way and to say, ‘This moment is like this,’ you will experience a new kind of confidence. It is not that you immediately become fearless in the face of suffering, but your fear becomes just one more naturally arising experience, and so your suffering loses some of its power to control your life.”

— from Dancing with Life, by Phillip Moffitt

26 Sep
2019
Posted in: Books
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Conscious, Embodied, Direct Experience

“The Buddha came to the following realization: The path to happiness and a sense of well-being in this very life lies not in avoiding suffering but in using the conscious, embodied, direct experience of it as a vehicle to gain deep insight into the true nature of life and your own experience.

“Instead of being a reactionary slave to the inevitable pain, frustration, stress, and sorrow in your life, which the Buddha called dukkah, you can free your mind such that you have a sense of well-being even when dukkah is present, and you create the possibility of finding complete freedom…

“The Buddha discovered a path for finding freedom from dukkha or suffering, which he called the Four Noble Truths. This set of attitudes and practices he prescribed doesn’t require you to create some new and improved version of you — one that you can only hope will someday emerge. You can take these steps as the ‘you’ who exists right now — the one who gets lost, afraid, angry, and caught up in desire, despite good intentions.

“All that’s required is that you let go of your preconceived notions about suffering and open yourself to exploring the role that it plays in your life.

“If you are new to meditation practice, you may well think that you have no choice about how you experience suffering. You may have some problem from your past or in your current situation that seems as though it can be understood only as unrelenting pain — an abusive family history, a tortuous marriage, economic woes, a hideous wrong done to you, a disable child whose affliction breaks your heart.

“But if you give yourself a chance to investigate your suffering more deeply, you will discover that being ‘with’ your pain can lead to wisdom and happiness. The event or circumstance itself does not lose its unpleasant or unfortunate quality, but by going through it consciously you arrive at a peaceful and luminous state of mind. In this ‘enlightened’ state, your mind experiences difficulty in a very different manner.”

— from Dancing with Life, by Phillip Moffitt

24 Sep
2019
Posted in: Books
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“The Water Dancer”

Ta-Nehisi Coate’s newest book, The Water Dancer, arrived on my iPad today (I pre-ordered it months ago and have been waiting not-so-patiently ever since).

I’m already in the middle of several “must read” books, but this one just jumped to the head of the line.

Here’s a sample from the opening chapter:

“I felt my limbs submit, and the mystery and confusion of the events that had deposited me into the depths nagged me no longer, and this time, when I went under, there was no burning, no straining for breath. I felt weightless, so that even as I sank into the river, I felt myself rising into something else. The water fell away from me and I was alone in a warm blue pocket with the river outside and around me. And I knew then that I was, at last, going to my reward.

“My mind journeyed further back still, to those who’d been carried out of this Virginia, out Natchez-way, and I wondered how many of them might well have gone farther still, far enough to greet me in that next world I now approached. And I saw my aunt Emma, who worked the kitchen all those years, walking past with a tray of ginger cookies for all the assembled Walkers, though none for her or any of her kin. Perhaps my mother would be there, and then, at the speed of thought, I saw her flickering, before my eyes, water dancing in the ring. And thinking of all of this, of all the stories, I was at peace, and pleased even, to rise into the darkness, to fall into the light. There was peace in that blue light, more peace than sleep itself, and more than that, there was freedom, and I knew that the elders had not lied, that there really was a home-place of our own, a life beyond the Task, where every moment is as daybreak over mountains. And so great was this freedom that I became aware of a nagging weight that I had always taken as unchangeable, a weight that now proposed to follow me into the forever. I turned, and in my wake, I saw the weight, and the weight was my brother, howling, thrashing, screaming, pleading for his life.”

23 Sep
2019
Posted in: Poems
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The Pines Have Been Especially Candid

Ancient Language
by Hannah Stephenson

If you stand at the edge of the forest
and stare into it
every tree at the edge will blow a little extra
oxygen toward you

It has been proven
Leaves have admitted it

The pines I have known
have been especially candid

One said
that all breath in this world
is roped together

that breathing is
the most ancient language

20 Sep
2019
Posted in: Books
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Are You Afraid of Being Happy?

In Dancing with Life, Phillip Moffitt writes:

“A few years ago I was teaching a silent meditation retreat attended by a student I’ll call Thomas… After much inquiry, Thomas came to the conclusion that he almost never stayed mindful during his good moments, partly because he had an unconscious belief that good moments are the way life is supposed to be, so when they occurred it simply indicated that he was finally functioning at his minimal level of capacity…

“Further exploration revealed that Thomas was also afraid that if he focused on the good moments in meditation or in his daily life he would become lazy and lose his motivation to both succeed in the world and to practice.

“Working with Thomas led me to start noticing how many people in my weekly sitting group skip over their good moments of meditation. Then I began being mindful of how many people in casual daily conversation seldom mention enjoying something, being in a good mood, or feeling gratitude or appreciation for their many blessings.

“What it revealed to me is that people are afraid or at least ambivalent about being present for their own happiness!

“….You may be telling yourself that you certainly are not afraid of your happiness. You might be right, but I suggest that you pay more attention to how you handle your moments of happiness before reaching such a conclusion.

“In my observation ambivalence, defensiveness, and even aversion toward happiness is quite pervasive. Even among people who talk about wanting to be happy, there is a tendency to distance themselves and take their actual felt experience of happiness for granted…

“Sometime students resist my instructions to be mindful of their happy moments because they mistakenly believe that if they bring mindfulness to their joy it will disappear!

“When I first encountered this belief it took me by surprise. Your happiness will not be diminished by becoming fully present with it; it will be enhanced. It is true, however, that your mindfulness of the pleasant will reveal whether you are clinging during times of happiness, or if your euphoria is false, or if your pleasure is coming from unskillful acts that will bring harm….

“Once you understand the depth and subtlety of practicing with happiness, you will see how challenging it can be for your mind to embrace happiness but also how beneficial it can be to your life…

Let this be your quiet practice, your open secret, visible in your feeling tone, words, and actions, but never directly stated to others…

“Please do not deny yourself this gift of wonderment and joy; being fully present with your happiness is a vital part of dancing with life.”

18 Sep
2019
Posted in: Poems
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A Kind of Love, Is it Not?

The Patience of Ordinary Things
by Pat Schneider

It is a kind of love, is it not?
How the cup holds the tea,
How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
Or toes. How soles of feet know
Where they’re supposed to be.
I’ve been thinking about the patience
Of ordinary things, how clothes
Wait respectfully in closets
And soap dries quietly in the dish,
And towels drink the wet
From the skin of the back.
And the lovely repetition of stairs.
And what is more generous than a window?

16 Sep
2019
Posted in: Poems, Retreats
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Everything They Encounter

Earthworms
by Lynn Ungar

Imagine. The only thing that
God requires of them
is a persistent, wriggling, moving forward,
passing the earth through
the crinkled tube of their bodies
in a motion less like chewing
than like song.

Everything they encounter
goes through them,
as if sunsets, drug store clerks,
diesel fumes and sidewalks
were to move through our very centers
and emerge subtly different
for having fed us — looser somehow,
more open to the possibility of life.

They say the job of angels
is to sing to God in serried choirs.
Perhaps. But most jobs
aren’t so glamorous.
Mostly the world depend upon
the silent chanting underneath our feet.
To every grain that enters: “Welcome.”
To every parting mote: “Be blessed.”