25 May
2017
Posted in: Poems
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Soon Now

I got word last night that Pauletta Chanco, who just graduated from the CDL program (in which she was a vibrant presence, even with stage 4 breast cancer) has now entered into the final stage of her dying process.

So for today, I am posting one of Pauletta’s recent works-on-paper, titled Rebirth Pastel 3and this poem by Jane Hirshfield:

Not One Moment of This a Subtraction

all day the daylight coming over the sill
like a wagon
drawn by invisible big-hooved horses working hard

soon now your breathing will climb inside it, go with it away

all your mountains and rivers
your cities and memories
doing their silent handsprings inside it

***

May you come to the end of suffering, dear Pauletta.
May you be free.

24 May
2017
Posted in: Racism
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The Reality Is….

The sangha I sit with is overwhelmingly white, even though the population of metro St. Louis is 18% African-American.

So I feel compelled to share this excerpt from Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberationan important book that I had resisted reading — I’m sorry to say — because the cover kind of scared me.

The following is part of a public dialogue between Lama Rod Owens and Rev. angel Kyodo williams. (pictured here)

Rev. angel:
What I get to hear is largely about white folks who are trying to figure out how to fix the people of color problem. That’s what people ask me all the time: “How do we invite people of color?” What I don’t hear in that is: “I’m suffering. I’m experiencing trauma. What is it that I can do to help myself?”

Lama Rod: I think it says a lot about sanghas when the line is: “Well, we need to be more diverse. How do we get brown bodies into these seats?” I don’t care about brown bodies populating the sangha because that’s a distraction for me. I am interested in the healing piece. I’m interested in looking at how we’re suffering, how we’re creating these relationships that actually exclude people. I don’t use the word “diversity.” I really rarely use the word “racism.” I think we have this programmed response to these words, and we have to disrupt that by transforming the language a little bit or by using more precise language. The suffering of whiteness. The trauma of whiteness. Let’s look at our suffering. How do we practice in such a way that we’re restoring our humanity? How can we instigate that kind of transformation? Because healing is also transformation….

Rev. angel: For me, too, there’s been too little conversation allowing space for the unearthed suffering of white folks. Almost because of the power dynamics involved and almost because we have been so racialized into saying, “If I’m white, I’m supposed to feel bad for folks of color.” But there’s zero space for white folks to really claim suffering around living in a racialized society. There’s no space, it seems to me, for white people to actually get down to the conversation… I just don’t see how we can ever expect that this dynamic is going to change if we can’t allow people to fully claim their own suffering.

That’s what the dharma is actually about. It’s about allowing people the space and the opportunity for discomfort so that they can touch their own suffering….

So we can all be on good behavior, and I feel that that’s what we’ve had in the dharma for the last forty years. Good behavior dharma. It’s largely progressive–not 100 percent–and we have this progressive liberal way of talking about race, either “I’m color-blind” or “I’m OK with colored folks” in theory. But the reality is that people of color are not feeling welcome.

***

This has to change. I don’t know how to do it. But I am committed to doing it anyway. Starting with myself — by allowing myself to feel this discomfort — and by not keeping quiet about it.

23 May
2017
Posted in: Talks
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Getting our Mind around Mindfulness

The word “mindfulness” gets tossed around a lot these day, but nobody seems to be clear on what the “mind” actually is. So I really like Ajahn Sucitto’s reflections on this in his recent talk, Mindfulness and Experiencing a Living Being. (Which is described by whoever put the talk on line as: “A truly excellent exploration of mindfulness, what it’s about, and how to get our minds around it.”)  

Sucitto says:
“Mindfulness…sati [in Pali]…is the particular quality of mind that causes one to remember, causes a certain deepening, and then ‘uh-hu’…a kind of recognition… That’s the etymology of it. So, mindfulness is that which causes you to have an ‘un-hu’ moment. Where something is happening that lands, is referred to, and is felt. It touches, really touches the citta [mind-heart]. So the citta receives it. Gets a handle on it. Gets a feel for it…

“Mindfulness is not thoughtfulness, though thoughtfulness plays a part in it. It’s not attention, though attention has a part. It’s not fixed concentration.

“It’s: Mindfulness.

It’s bringing something to mind.

“So, what is ‘mind’?

“For many people ‘mind’ would seem to be the rational processes. That’s part of it. But that’s what Buddhists call ‘inner speech’.

The mind is something more like ‘heart’. It has emotion, but it’s a bit more than that. It has thought. It has intuition…imagination. It has sensitivity. It has stillness…presence.

“There is a gradation of qualities that we can experience, which would be held under the term ‘mind’. Including the kind of experiences that are not common to the everyday person — a sense of just: open, aware, with no thought — but very aware. For many people this is not a reference.

“But that’s ‘mind’. In fact, in Buddhist understanding, that’s the clearest, most accurate description of mind: sensitive, open, with no particular content — but able to handle content, if content arises. That would be considered to be the optimal ‘mind’.

***

I don’t know about you, but this blows my mind. (And that’s just the first five minutes of the talk!) Click here to listen to it all.

22 May
2017
Posted in: Poems
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The Body Listens

The Night House
by Billy Collins

Every day the body works in the fields of the world
mending a stone wall
or swinging a sickle through the tall grass–
the grass of civics, the grass of money–
and every night the body curls around itself
and listens for the soft bells of sleep.

But the heart is restless and rises
from the body in the middle of the night,
leaves the trapezoidal bedroom
with its thick, pictureless walls
to sit by herself at the kitchen table
and heat some milk in a pan.

And the mind gets up too, puts on a robe
and goes downstairs, lights a cigarette,
and opens a book on engineering.
Even the conscience awakens
and roams from room to room in the dark,
darting away from every mirror like a strange fish.

And the soul is up on the roof
in her nightdress, straddling the ridge,
singing a song about the wildness of the sea
until the first rip of pink appears in the sky.
Then, they all will return to the sleeping body
the way a flock of birds settles back into a tree,

resuming their daily colloquy,
talking to each other or themselves
even through the heat of the long afternoons.

Which is why the body–that house of voices–
sometimes puts down its metal tongs, its needle, or its pen
to stare into the distance,

to listen to all its names being called
before bending again to its labor.

19 May
2017
Posted in: Talks
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Meditation is Enjoyment

Last night I listened to yet another great talk by Ajahn Sucitto (from the retreat last month at IMS). Apparently someone must have complained about not getting specific enough instructions from him about “how to meditate” — particularly it seems about how to get into the deep absorption states called “jhana.” The whole talk is great, but my favorite part is the last ten minutes:

“The Buddha said that when your body is refreshed and relaxed, there’s no need to make a special effort to make your mind feel happy. IT FEELS HAPPY. And when your mind is happy, there’s no need to make a special effort to concentrate. IT IS CONCENTRATED. It is ‘samadhi-ed.’

“Meditation is enjoyment. If it isn’t, then it isn’t meditation. Or, it hasn’t arrived yet. Sure, it’s not always easy. But you don’t always have to have it easy as long as it’s meaningful, and it’s not punitive, and it’s not crushing you. Or if it is, well, we can work that out. And even that’s got some quality of enjoyment and energy and faith and interest.

“Clearing the heart. Dwelling in the body. That’s the absorptive process.” 

***

Click here to listen to the whole talk.

18 May
2017
Posted in: Practice
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Not Always Sunny

A friends recently sent me an excellent article on mindfulness — in the Harvard Business Review, no less! — with the provocative title: If Mindfulness Makes You Uncomfortable, It’s Working.

Here’s a sample:
“I recently had a conversation with a client named Claire, who shared that her company had been touting the benefits of mindfulness, and she was giving mindfulness a try with a meditation app. But she was frustrated that it wasn’t helping her feel more relaxed — instead, she was actually a bit more agitated of late. While the situation was clearly a source of consternation for Claire, it didn’t mean the meditation app wasn’t working.

“Now that mindfulness has hit the mainstream, it’s been defined in a variety of ways: moment-to-moment awareness, being in the here and now, relaxing fully into the present. And somewhere along the way we’ve come to equate mindfulness with ‘good feeling’ emotions such as joy, relaxation, and happiness.

“While mindfulness can lead us to experience the good things in life more fully, this only tells half of the mindfulness story. In fact, becoming truly mindful and aware means that we are able to see, name, and more fully experience things when we are angry, sad, jealous, anxious, vulnerable, or lonely — this, too, is mindfulness.

“Therefore, we have to redefine mindfulness as more than feeling good, and instead see it as having an increased capacity to sit with the full spectrum of being human, experiencing it all — the good, the bad, and the ugly — and learning to be less reactive so that we can make better choices every day

“Mindfulness is not all gloom and doom, nor is it all sunshine and flowers. With mindfulness, we are just a little less tossed around by running away from or crushing what feels bad. We’re less compelled to indulge in our desires and excesses for what gives us a temporary high. Instead, we see with greater clarity just how blue the sky is on a beautiful day and we see and feel the depths of our hearts being pierced when we’re experiencing a meaningful loss. And somewhere in that fuller human experience, we connect and tap into a deeper source of motivation and choice that is more aligned with our integrity, our values and ethics, and our authentic essence.”

Exactly!!!

Click here for the full text.

17 May
2017
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Nowhere, nowhere!

When I Was Young and Poor
by Mary Oliver

When I was young and poor,
when little was much,
when I was nimble and never tired,
and the hours of the day were deep and
long,
where was the end that was already
committed?
Where was the flesh that thinned and
stiffened?
Nowhere, nowhere!
Just the gift of forgetfulness gracious
and kind
while I ran up hills and drank the wind

time out of mind.

16 May
2017
Posted in: Chanting, Teachers
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Through the Goodness that Arises….

Every day, since coming home from the 2-month retreat, I’ve chanted the traditional “verses of sharing and aspiration” at the end of my morning mediation because this is what we did at the end of every day of the retreat and even though the wording is archaic — and kind of weird in some places — I was quite inspired by the practice.

And, because they are specifically called out, chanting these words makes me feel very deeply connected to “my spiritual teachers and guides of great virtue.”

So I want to share with you this picture of three of these teachers: Gina Sharpe (who, as one of the lead teachers of the Community Dharma Leader program, inspired me to trust that “when the student is ready, the teacher will emerge“), Mirabai Bush (my first Dharma teacher, whose egoless presence and natural radiance completely changed the course of my life), and Jack Kornfield (who, as one of the teachers of the Community Dharma Leader program, stood and listened to the pain that some of his words had caused, and so gave me the courage to fail…and to succeed.)

As the chant says: May they all “receive the blessings of my life.”

***

Here’s the full chant:
Through the goodness that arises from my practice,
May my spiritual teachers and guides of great virtue,
My mother, my father, and my relatives,
The Sun and the Moon, and all virtuous leaders of the world,
May the highest gods and evil forces,
Celestial beings, guardian spirits of the Earth, and the Lord of Death,
May those who are friendly, indifferent, or hostile,
May all beings receive the blessings of my life.
May they soon attain the threefold bliss and realize the Deathless.
Through the goodness that arises from my practice,
And through this act of sharing,
May all desires and 
attachments quickly cease
And all harmful states of mind.
Until I realize Nibanna,
In every kind of birth, may I have an upright mind,
With mindfulness and wisdom, austerity and vigor.
May the forces of delusion not take hold nor weaken my resolve.
The Buddha is my excellent refuge,
Unsurpassed is the protection of the Dhamma,
The Solitary Buddha is my noble Guide,
The Sangha is my supreme support.
Through the supreme power of all these,
May darkness and delusion be dispelled.

15 May
2017
Posted in: Books
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Hard. But Necessary.

The tiptoeing around race and other forms of difference as if in fear of waking a sleeping lion is one of the most subtly toxic attributes of whiteness in our culture right now. Everyone fears making mistakes. For white folks, though, the coexistence of being historically lauded as the creators of what is right, making mistakes must be hard. We are all waking up. It is going to get messy.”

— from Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation,
by Rev. angel Kyodo williams
and Lama Rod Owens
with Jasmine Syedullah, PhD,

which has been on my list to read for awhile, but I’m just now getting around to. (Thanks for the nudge, Akiko.)

12 May
2017
Posted in: Talks
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Sacred Play

I’ve been listening to the talks Ajahn Sucitto gave at IMS last month. I always try to jot down a few of his more evocative phrases, but quite often I find that I’m transcribing the whole talk!

Here’s a sample from a short reflection he gave on April 10, after the morning ritual (puja) of chants, bows, and making offerings:

This is sacred play. It’s play not in the foolish sense, but play as in the acts that we do that are purely in the moment, using just what we have. It’s not: “Well, I’ll do this and then in four days time I’ll get it done.” That’s what we call work. [laugh]

But this is play. It’s: What counts is just right now and…let it go, let it go. Just now, let it go. There’s no competition, there’s no: Who did better than anybody else? It’s just what it is.

This is where, in this mind of play, that our body is most vital, alert, less anxious, less worried, less forceful, less faltering, less doubtful. This is how our body actually is.

We’ve kind of gotten used to tuning into machines and systems and times that are not what the body is. This play is just tuning into the organic life, the momentary nature of it. This is where the body is just what it is and it doesn’t aim for results. It’s not pushy and it’s not faltering. The body is in “true.” And in “true,” we find truth.

Truth is: There is this which is in us that is not the proscribed, historical identity. There is this within us that is not “what I am, what I was, what I should be, what I could be, what will other people think of me…”

There is this. And “this” is the real heart and vitality. There is a precious alignment of consciousness. The more we align ourselves with this and enact it…the more this alignment can remain a little longer, a little more recognized on a conscious level: “I don’t have to be who I’m supposed to be. Or who I think I am. I can just be this life…as it happens…beautifully.” 

This is faith. This is “sadha,” the Buddha’s word that is translated as faith or confidence. We can have faith or confidence in all kinds of “things”…and they will be causes of dispute and attachment. And dogmatism. And all that.

But this is faith in the purity of consciousness as it’s manifesting right now. Very intimate. Immediate. Not delayed in time. Inviting you to enter that domain, revealed within yourself, revealed through wise handling.

This alignment then, when the silence enters, when the voice sounds have finished their play…perhaps this can be a little fresher, a little more innocent, less anxious, a little less pushy, or less hanging back.

This is mediation.  

***

I have edited the above for clarity. Click here to listen to the full talk.