12 Feb
2020
Posted in: Poems
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Always At Ease

Like the stone inside a rock,
the stillness of form is
the center of every-
thing,
Inalterable, always at ease.

***

Poem fragment from “A Journal of the Year of the Ox,” by Charles Wright, published in Oblivion Banjo: The Poetry of Charles Wright

Photo by Lubo Minar on Unsplash

10 Feb
2020
Posted in: Books, Practice, Tuesday Night Insight
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You Learn What to Pay Attention to

At tomorrow’s Tuesday Night Insight we’ll continue our discussion on the practice of mindfulness in daily life and how formal meditation helps support that practice. Here’s the text I’ll be referencing:

“Suppose someone at work says something that upsets you and you become angry or defensive and react by saying something you later regret. The incident ruins your day because you can’t stop thinking about it. Of course you are aware of your feelings; they have registered in your brain. But this kind of ‘ordinary awareness’ — simply being conscious of your emotional reaction to an experience — is not what the Buddha meant by mindfulness.

“Mindfulness enables you to fully know your experience in each moment. So when your colleague upsets you, if you are being mindful, you witness that her words generate thoughts and body sensations in you that lead to a strong emotion with still more body sensations.

“You have the insight that these feelings are being created by a chain reaction of thoughts in your mind. While this chain reaction is going on, you acknowledge how miserable it makes you feel. But instead of reacting with harsh words when you feel the impulse to speak unskillfully, you choose not to. Your mindfulness allows you not to identify with the impulses of your strong emotions or act from them.

“Moreover, because you witnessed the impersonal nature of the experience, you don’t get stuck in a bad mood for the rest of the day. It is an unpleasant experience, but you are not imprisoned by it.

“When you are being mindful, you are aware of each experience in the body and mind and you stay with that experience, whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, such that you see what causes stress and harm to you and another and what does not.

“It is truly possible to experience this wise awareness in your daily life, but you need to train yourself to do so, and mindfulness meditation is the most effective means to accomplish this. Through the practice of mindfulness meditation you develop your innate capacity to:

  • Collect and unify the mind (at least temporarily)
  • Direct your attention
  • Sustain your attention
  • Fully receive experience no matter how difficult
  • Investigate the nature of experience in numerous ways
  • Then let go of the experience, no matter how pleasant or unpleasant it may be

“… It is not unlike training the body and mind to play the piano, dance the tango, speak a foreign language, or play a sport. You learn forms in order to train the mind, in the same way that a pianist learns scales. You learn what to pay attention to in the same way a dancer learns to feel the music and to be aware of her body and her partner’s.”

***

Text from Chapter 2, “Mindfulness and Compassion: Tools for Transforming Suffering into Joy,” from Dancing with Life, by Phillip Moffitt

Photo by Maksym Kaharlytskyi on Unsplash

9 Feb
2020
Posted in: Art, Books, Practice
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To Open Up a Space

Today I find myself reflecting on this passage, which came into my mind seemingly at random, from A Month in Siena, by Hisham Matar:

“We wandered into the Accademia Musicale Chigiana and stood looking up at the beautiful decorations on the ceiling of its courtyard. Through the use of false perspective a flat surface had been made to look like the inside of a dome with carved borders. Diana, who is a photographer, said that maybe what an artist wants — not only the one who painted this fresco but perhaps every painter and photographer across time — is to make a flat surface give way, to open up a space. As she said this, I pictured a man literally enter and escape into the fresco.

“We left and walked through the street. Each drew its own shape. We talked about Islamic sacred patterns and how looking at them alone, being lost in their interlocking lines and formations, some believed, was like a prayer.

“I thought it was odd that we should speak about this, as this was not a topic we often talked about. I then told her about how, growing up, I had a sensitive and quiet teacher who was unusually frugal with his words, but who told me once that, to him, looking at nature — staring at the sea, for example — was equivalent to praise.”

***

Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

7 Feb
2020
Posted in: Dharma Friends
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How Sweet the Sound

I just spent a very inspiring couple of hours watching the YouTube recording of SEVA Foundation’s celebration of Ram Dass’s life, which featured Mirabai Bush (reading from the book she wrote with Ram Dass and dancing in the aisles with Joan Baez!), Jack Kornfield and Trudy Goodman (telling stories and leading the “I Am Loving Awareness” meditation), and Bob Weir with Joan Baez singing a truly beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace.

Here’s the YouTube link. (Bob and Joan sing at the 2:16:30 mark.)

Yum-yum!

5 Feb
2020
Posted in: Books, Poems, Practice
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Buy This Book!

Longtime readers of this blog will notice that I haven’t been posting poems the way I used to, that now I only use excerpts of poems, or older poems that are already in the public domain, or curated poems that have been sent to me or are in some other way publicly available. That’s because I’m being more careful now about observing the precept of not taking what’s not freely offered (which I posted about here).

But I used to post whole poems, copied straight out of books (which, at least, I had purchased — but still) without thinking much about it. A lot of those poems were copied from Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems, edited by Phyllis Cole-Dai and Ruby R. Wilson. (All poems in the book were reprinted by permission.)

I won’t be copying whole poems and posting them anymore, but if you liked any of the poems I’ve already posted — and perhaps, are using them in your dharma groups — please consider supporting these poets financially as well as literarily — by buying the book that I copied their poems from!

Or better yet, email me here with the name of the poems I’ve posted that you really love, and I’ll try to make up for using them without the poet’s permission by buying — and then encouraging my readers to buy — a whole book of their poems!

4 Feb
2020
Posted in: Books, Practice, Tuesday Night Insight
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Do Not Demand That Your Suffering End

At tonight’s Tuesday Night Insight we will continue working with the First Noble Truth, in which the Buddha “proclaimed that suffering is an unavoidable reality of ordinary human existence that is to be known and responded to wisely…”

“In my experience,” Phillip Moffitt writes, “the First Noble Truth is truly noble. It contains the grand vision for how you can begin to live right now with more harmony, despite whatever difficulties arise in your life…

“You may not like undergoing this objective suffering and you may feel your share is unfair or too much. Still, your life’s difficulties are there for you to bear as best you are able. In practicing being with life just as it is, you still prefer that your suffering end and you act on that preference whenever possible.

“But most crucially you do not demand that your difficulties go away. Instead, you consciously and voluntarily carry your suffering, and in your acceptance of it you find meaning, what Ajahn Sumedho calls ‘the good of suffering.’

“Astonishingly, when you fully accept dukkha, you also discover distance from your difficulties. The way out of suffering is the way through. As Sumedho says, ‘To let go of suffering we have to admit it into consciousness.'”

***

Text from Dancing with Life, by Phillip Moffitt

Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

2 Feb
2020
Posted in: Books, Practice
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This Does Not Help

“Much of your mind’s reactivity in the form of wanting or aversion happens because you are reluctant to feel fully in your body and heart what is occurring in your consciousness.”

***

Text from “Insights into Consciousness,” chapter 2 of Awakening through the Nine Bodies, by Phillip Moffitt.

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

31 Jan
2020
Posted in: Poems
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The Problem is…

You cannot get in the way of anyone’s path to happiness, it also does no good. The problem is
figuring out which part is the path and which part is the happiness.

***

Poem excerpt from War of the Foxes, by Richard Siken (2015)
courtesy of Pome

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

29 Jan
2020
Posted in: Books, Chanting
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Thus Have I Heard…

For many years now, I have listened over and over to a mysteriously beautiful recording of the Satipatthana Sutta chanted in Pali — by a Sinhalese monk, in a very lyrical Sri Lankan style of chanting — the beginning of which was played at one of the long retreats I attended.

[Click on the Pirith website here, then scroll down where it lists: Maha Satipatthana Sutta. The recording is on four mp3 files. File 1 is a short introduction (spoken). The chanting begins on file 2 and continues through file 4. Click here to go directly to file 2.]

I’ve long wanted to be able to learn that chant. Maybe not the whole thing, which is about an hour long (!), but at least part of it. Maybe the overview at the start of the sutta and the section on Mindfulness of Breathing. Which I think might take about 15 minutes. Seems doable.

So — I starting looking around for the Pali text and found: The Pali and English Maha Satipatthana Sutta: “Specially Prepared for Chanting!”

Perfect. I’m going for it!

28 Jan
2020
Posted in: Books, Tuesday Night Insight
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You Also Have an Internal Experience

“The stress or unease that is dukkha — alienation, despair, uncertainty, lack of control, grief, frustration, fear, anger, longing — constitutes your mind and heart’s resistance to life being simple as it is,” writes Phillip Moffitt in Dancing with Life.

Here’s the rest of that text, which I’ll be referencing at tonight’s Tuesday Night Insight:

“Dukkha can also be understood as the discomfort of inhabiting a body with all its physical vulnerabilities and pain. And it can refer to the unease you experience because you have conscious knowledge of how scary and uncertain life is and the inevitability of death. Sometimes the words unsatisfactory and unreliable are used to describe dukkha, for the way life can let you down when things don’t go as you’d hoped and planned.

There is suffering that originates from external events and the suffering you experience because of how you process those events in your own mind.

“It is an objective fact that your life is filled with challenges, from illness to conflict with others to the death of loved ones. An outside observer witnessing your life would be able to confirm that this is so. But in addition to — or more accurately, in reaction to — these objective painful experiences, you also have an internal experience. Your mind is filled with a seemingly endless stream of emotions that arise in reaction to what’s going on around you.

“It is this subjective type of suffering that the Buddha is primarily addressing in the First Noble Truth. As you deepen your understanding of this richer and more complex meaning of dukkha, you will find opportunities for freedom and well-being that you never even knew existed.”

***

Photo by Ryan Franco on Unsplash