Browsing Category "Practice"
6 Dec
2017
Posted in: CDL, Practice, Teachers
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A Different Kind of “Me Too”

The Spirit Rock News magazine just came out and it features an interview with Phillip Moffitt as he begins to transition out of his role as Co-Guiding Teacher. I am a big fan of Phillip, so of course I was interested in what he had to say, but he was talking about his role as a leader of the Spirit Rock organization, so I wasn’t really expecting him to say anything of particularly relevance to me.

I was wrong.

Phillip is asked: “You came into this leadership role with decades of experience as an educational and business leader; how have the special qualities of this particular role affected your own experience of leadership?”

Phillip answers: “The more one lets go of what one wants, the more effective one is as a leader in this community.”

[Given my new role as a Community Dharma Leader, this got my attention.]

Phillip continues: “…As an entrepreneur, I was the leader of a small team who made fast, decisive decisions; this did not involve a slow consensus process. I had to let loose of my style of decision-making and surrender to the consensus process that we go through here. Being willing to spend my time in such a process required a new orientation to leadership, and new priorities.

“Friends would ask; why are you willing to spend the time? To be fully revealing, for the first few years it was a struggle. At Spirit Rock, a leader does not so much “make their mark,” as they have to continually hold the values and possibilities for how the organization can function and how its people skillfully relate to one another and develop as practitioners.

“Over time, I realized this required more of a nurturing heart quality than the dynamic quality of my previous style of naming what was needed and implementing it. To my surprise, this shift in perspective turned out to be the “why” — the very act of leading in this manner and the change required was the reward.

“I would describe it as a two-decade practice of “letting go” of being the strong, decisive leader with clear views, and instead leading by building a common view through kind attention.

“Such a practice was not my goal. I was not initially suited for such a role. I had no idea how much wisdom comes from kindness, patience, and just letting go.

“And yet that’s how it ended up–a kind of renunciation of the way I related to the world that had previously allowed me to survive a challenging childhood and to thrive on a large worldly stage.”

***

Wise advice, Phillip. I recognize myself in your story. May I learn from your experience. May I take these words to heart.

30 Nov
2017
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Not That. Not Only That.

I’ve been re-listening to talks from several of my favorite retreats from the past couple of years, and I came across a wonderful exercise that I had forgotten about from the 2015 retreat for experienced students on The Nature of Awareness.

We were instructed to break up into groups of two, and to sit facing each other. One person in the group would begin the exercise by saying “I am….” followed by whatever came into that person’s mind at the moment. For example, I might say: “I am…a woman.”

Then the second person would pause for a moment, then respond: “Not that. Not only that.”

Then the first person would do it again. For example: “I am…. nervous about doing this exercise.” And the second person would pause again, and then say: “Not that. Not only that.”

It went on like that for about 10 minutes. (And then the rolls were reversed.)

It sounds trivial now, as I write this, but at the time, it was not. At first it was awkward, and then unsettling, and then quite liberating!

This all came back to me as I was listening to the tape (which, unfortunately, is only available to those who were on the retreat). I can feel a loosening even now as I’m remembering it. How profound it was to keep naming/characterizing myself as something…something that was true, at least at that moment…and then to have it released (“not that”) and to be given an opening into something way beyond that (“not only that”).

Try it! Even if it’s just with yourself. (Whoever THAT is!)

11 Oct
2017
Posted in: Practice, Racism, Social Justice
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There is Suffering

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.
— James Baldwin

10 Oct
2017
Posted in: Practice, Talks
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Not Me. Not Mine. Not Who I Am.

I listened to another great talk last night by Guy Armstrong. It’s on the teaching of “Not Self,” which as Guy says, “is one of the central teachings of the Buddha and one of the most liberating…but also one of the most difficult to understand.”

He does a beautiful job of explaining this teaching in very accessible language. For example, Guy tells the story of the Buddha instructing his followers by asking: “Is what is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change fit to be regarded thus: This is mine. This I am. This is myself?”

Which Guy paraphrases as the Buddha asking: Do you want to pin your happiness and your identity on what is impermanent, unsatisfying and subject to change? And then he says: Why would we do that?! 

I love the conversational way Guy approaches these teachings. But the part of the talk I like best is when he says:

“This formulation of the Buddha’s… This is mine. This I am. This is myself ….is a very helpful way to notice our experience because we can turn it around as he did himself.

“The Buddha asked, What is the right way to understand it?

“Then he said: All forms should be seen as it really is with proper wisdom thus: This is not mine. This I am not. This is not myself.”

To which Guy adds: “This is a practice pointer. This is not just intellectual speculation.

“When you get caught up as taking some aspect of experience as yourself or as belonging to you, try saying: Not me. Not mine. Not who I am.

“See if you can tune into that with proper wisdom thus: Not me. Not mine. Not who I am.

“Just try it. Just drop those three little phrases in when you feel like you’ve identified with something. And see.

***

(Click here to listen)

30 Aug
2017
Posted in: Practice, Talks
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I Know What to Do!

In a delightful little collection of essays on Compulsive Helping, Ajahn Amaro writes:

“Our thinking mind loves to diagnose. I confess to having a thinking mind that loves to figure things out… Certainly the intellect does have its place; it is truly useful to be able to figure out how things work, but we can be over-prone to that.

We can unwittingly take refuge in having an explanation. The mind can reach forward: ‘I know what’s going on! I understand this. I read a book about it I did a course on this. I know what’s happening here!

“We immediately go to the memory, the idea, the concept and in so doing we miss what is before us, what we are in the middle of, what we are a part of. Because we have absorbed our attention in the diagnosis, we miss the actuality.

“I’m not saying that we should never push, make an effort or diagnose. It is not that we should stifle the intellect or suppress our recognition of patterns, rather it’s a question of holding these things in perspective

“When we’re faced with suffering, particularly other people’s suffering, we can feel: ‘I’ve got to do something!’ Everything is telling us: ‘Don’t just sit there, do something!’… But that urge to help and to do can often be coming from our own insecurity or our own need to be a helpful person. Our need to help may form part of our identity….

“When there is a need to do something, there may indeed be things that we can do, but that very urge, that agitated tension which wants to jump in and fix something, may be the very element that gets in the way….

“I’m not trying to encourage a quality of dissociation… This teaching is not a cold distancing or an attempt to alienate ourselves from feeling the suffering of others. I don’t advocate adopting some kind of false objectivity; I’m not trying to encourage that.

“What I am hopping is that through our spiritual practice we can find that place which is fully empathetic with the suffering of others and the difficulties that we experience, while not suffering on account of them.”

***

This is why Phillip Moffitt alway asks his students to take what he calls “secondary vows of renunciation,” which are: No Judging, No Comparing, No Fixing!

8 Aug
2017
Posted in: Practice
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So Many Flavors

 

Even here in St. Louis, we’ve got a lot of different Buddhist traditions to choose from. (Check out our list at Neighborhood Sitting Groups.)

Is it better to pick just one, or try a few, or to sample them all?

Joseph Goldstein says: “One of the interesting things that’s happening in the transmission of the dharma to the West is that so many different Buddhist traditions are being taught here. People have a wide range of possibilities in terms of how to undertake their practice. It’s a tremendous opportunity to learn from different traditions, but there are also some cautions.

“From my perspective, it’s good to do some initial shopping around—to taste different traditions and see which practice really resonates and inspires us. In some way, that’s the most important thing—that we get enough inspiration from the practice to actually do it.

“But then we need to go into the practice in some depth before we again start to explore other traditions, because otherwise it can get a bit confusing. If it’s based on a solid foundation of understanding, it’s enriching to do some Dzogchen practice, or Zen, or different kinds of Vipassana. That can really expand our dharma view. But if we do it too early, there’s the potential for confusion in the mind. So we have a great opportunity to explore all of the different traditions of Buddhism available to us, but we have to use it judiciously.”

Jack Kornfield says: “Especially when practitioners are starting out, they can latch on to new ideas or beliefs as a way to orient themselves. But Buddhism is not some system or idea or set of beliefs. It is an invitation to have a direct experience of the mystery of your own body and mind. We explore what causes our suffering and what makes us free. We practice skillful means such as mindfulness of the body, loving-kindness, forgiveness, and so forth. These practices are all in the service of liberation, not of creating some new set of ideas or beliefs.

“So if your practice is helping you become more present with the way things are, instead of imposing some view on it, then you will start to feel freer and your practice will deepen.”

***

The above was taken from an interview published in Lions’ Roar magazine. To read more, click here.

1 Aug
2017
Posted in: Books, Practice
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Much Easier!

Ajahn Amaro writes: I once met a Wall Street lawyer who had started practicing meditation some half a dozen years previously. She said: “Until I started to meditate it was one conflict after another, and life was one ongoing struggle. But since I began meditating, my relationships have become much more easeful and my working situation is more relaxed, though I’m still working with the same company and I live with the same people.”

It was if she thought: “This magical visitation has come into my life and taken all my troubles away!”

I said: “This isn’t really very magical. It’s more like: you used to get from one room to another by smashing yourself against the wall until you broke through it, and then suddenly you noticed that it’s much easier to go through the doorway. It’s not magic, it’s noticing where the gaps are and aiming for them, rather than just putting your head down and pounding with it until the wall breaks or you fall down unconscious.”

I think she was a little startled, perhaps because she had some internal story about how the devas were helping her and how magical things were. 

But often when we apply plain ol’ mindfulness and activate this capacity to be spacious, to see things in context, they open up. Life becomes a lot more easeful and we can find ways to deal with the conflicts, difficulties and apparently intractable situations that we face. We find ways to work with them that surprise us. 

It can seem miraculous, but it’s often merely a matter of allowing more spaciousness, a radical acceptance based upon a quality of listening, into the mixture. 

28 Jul
2017
Posted in: Books, Practice
By    Comments Off on Are You Comfortable and Alert?

Are You Comfortable and Alert?

When I was in Burma a few years ago, I stayed at ShweOoMin monastery and met with the meditation master there, Sayadaw U Tejaniya (pictured), who impressed me in many ways, not the least of which was the deep tenderness I could hear in his voice every morning in the meditation hall. He spoke in Burmese, so I have no idea what he was actually saying, but he seemed to be soothing us — caressing us, even — the way a mother would sooth and caress a small child. (There, there sweetheart. It’s OK. Don’t worry. I’m here.)

So I was delighted when I saw he has a new book out, titled When Awareness Becomes Natural. I’ve just started reading it and I love it already. I can “hear” the tenderness I remember so well, but also the very direct, down-to-earth instructions he gave, when he spoke in English to our little Spirit Rock group.

Here’s a sample from the book:
“The first instruction I will give a yogi who is new to this practice is to relax and be aware, to not have any expectations or to control the experience, and to not focus, concentrate or penetrate. Instead what I encourage him or her to do is observe, watch, and be aware, or pay attention. 

“In this practice it is important to conserve energy, so you can practice continually. If the mind and body are getting tired and tense, then you are putting too much energy into the practice. Check your posture; check the way you are meditating. Are you comfortable and alert? 

“You may not have the right attitude. Do you want something out of the practice? If you are looking for a result or want something to happen, you will only tire yourself. It is so important to know whether you are feeling tense or relaxed; check in repeatedly throughout the day; this also applies to daily practice at home or at work.

“If you don’t do this, tension will grow. Whether you are tense or relaxed, observe how you are feeling; observe the reactions. When you are relaxed, it is much easier to be aware; not so much effort is required, and it become an enjoyable, pleasant, and interesting experience.”

***

Check it out for yourself!

26 Jul
2017
Posted in: Books, Practice, Social Justice
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I Hereby Pledge Myself

 

I’ve recently finished reading The Words & Wisdom of Charles Johnson, which I have been savoring since taking it up after Charles Johnson himself met with us as part of the CDL (Community Dharma Leader) program (where I was wowed by his brilliance, his ease, and the dignity of his presence.)

The book is a collection of essays, the last of which is a reflection on the “Commitment Form” that was used during the Civil Rights Movement. Johnson writes:

“…Martin Luther King Jr. said that in the black liberation struggle we always have to work on two fronts, one public and the other private, one external and one internal. One effort is to constantly improve the social world; the other is to constantly improve ourselves. Both efforts are necessary; they reinforce and strengthen each other

“The men and women of the Civil Rights Movement worked out the Commitment Form, which nicely complements Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of satyagraha, in practice as they moved from one campaign to another in the south. This form(ula), this insight, was fully developed by the time of the electrifying Birmingham campaign in 1963. Men and women, and their children filled the jails of “Bull” Conner in a massive act of civil disobedience. They–and all volunteers–were asked to sign this document, which is as follows:

Commandments for Volunteers
I hereby pledge myself–my person and body–to the nonviolent movement. Therefore, I will keep the following commandments:

  1. Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus. [my edit: Meditate daily.]
  2. Remember always that the non-violent movement seeks justice and reconciliation–not victory.
  3. Walk and Talk in the manner of love, for God is love.
  4. Pray daily to be used by God in order that all men might be free. [my edit: Set the intention daily that my efforts be directed to the liberation of all beings.] 
  5. Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all men might be free. [my edit: that all beings might be free.]
  6. Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
  7. Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world.
  8. Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
  9. Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
  10. Follow the directions of the movement and of the captain on a demonstration. [my edit: Follow wise counsel.]

“I sign this pledge, having seriously considered what I do and with the determination and will to persevere.  Name:_____________________

“…This was not simply a pledge for civil disobedience. This was a grand vision in which the personal and the political were one, a blueprint for how to live… I say all this as a Buddhist who has taken formal vows, the Precepts, as a lay person. (My very Christian wife of 41 years once said that she saw me as being like a Unitarian, someone always looking for the beauty and best in the world’s religions and science, and I guess she was right about that.)…

“Why don’t you, dear reader, print this off right now, and sign it. You’ll feel good, if you do. And M.L.King, wherever he is, will thank you for doing that.”

***

I have printed it off (with my edits) and signed it. And I do feel good! (I also hope M.L.King, wherever he is, will not take offense.)

20 Jul
2017
Posted in: Practice, Talks
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I Am Not Exempt

My apologies for not posting yesterday, but I was having surgery to remove a spot of skin cancer (not melanoma) that had returned. This was not an especially traumatic event, but it did give me pause.

Maybe that’s why last night I chose to listen to this talk by Joseph Goldstein titled: Deepening Insight into Permanence. It’s an excellent teaching on these 3 reflections: 

Whatever is of the nature to grow old, will grow old. I am not exempt. 

Whatever is of the nature to fall ill, will fall ill. I am not exempt.

Whatever is of the nature to die, will die. I am not exempt.