Browsing Category "Practice"
3 Oct
Posted in: Books, Practice
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Fruits of Action

This month’s DPP homework has arrived and one of the topics is Karma. Cool. Turns out, one of the assigned readings is from Small Boat, Great Mountain, which I just finished (and posted about yesterday). So I’m ahead of the game already!

Another of the readings is from Seeking the Heart of Wisdom, by Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield. Here’s a sampling:

“The law of karma refers to the law of cause and effect: that every volitional action brings about a certain result. If we act motivated by greed, hatred, or delusion, we are planting the seed of suffering; when our acts are motivated by generosity, love, or wisdom, then we are creating the karmic conditions for abundance and happiness.

“And analogy from the physical world illustrates this: if we plant an apple seed, the tree that grows will bear apples, not mangoes. And once the apple seed is planted, no amount of manipulation or beseeching or complaining will induce the tree to yield a mango. The only meaningful action that will produce a mango is to plant a mango seed. Karma is just such a law of nature, the law of cause and effect on the psychophysical plane.

“…Another dimension of the law of karma helps in understanding how individual personalities develop. While it is true that there is no enduring entity, no unchanging self that can be called “I,” it is also quite obvious that each of us is a uniquely changing and recognizable pattern of elements. 

“This comes about because each of us has in our own way, both consciously and unconsciously, cultivated different mind states. If we cultivate loving-kindness, we experience its taste in the moment and at the same time are strengthening it as a force in the mind, making it easier for it to arise again. When we are angry, we experience the suffering of that anger as present karma and are also strengthening that particular pattern of mind.

“…Who we are as personalities is a collection of all the tendencies of mind that have been developed, the particular energy configurations we have cultivated.”

But that’s not the end of the story:

“Our lives are a dynamic process of energy transformation, constantly flowing and changing, and we each have the power to determine the direction of our lives and to live in accord with our deepest values.

“If we become more conscious and awake, developing the ability to observe clearly, we can being to use our energy creatively and not be bound so blindly to past conditioning.”

Good thing!

28 Sep
Posted in: Poems, Practice
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Good Choice

The Noah Levine passage wasn’t exactly right for Wednesday night’s sitting…although, who knows, maybe I should have given it a go. Instead, I closed the sit by reading Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver. (Always a good choice)

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
The world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things. 

(image from A Whole World, by Couprie and Louchard)

27 Sep
Posted in: Books, Practice
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No Such Thing

And now for something entirely different…

I was getting ready for last night’s Hi-Pointe Sitting Group, looking for something “pithy-yet-inspirational” to read aloud, and ran across this excerpt from Against the Stream, by Noah Levine (which was not at all right for last night’s sit, but which stayed with me, partly I think because Relationships and Sexuality are the topics for this month’s DPP homework, but mostly because I haven’t heard this subject talked about much in Dharma discussions, and certainly with not this much clarity.)

Here goes:

“While unconditional love can be nonattached, there is no such thing as unconditional relationship. When our love becomes sexual and thus relational, we impose certain conditions that are nonnegotiable.

“Fidelity, for example, and kindness and caring action–if these conditions aren’t present, the relationship will be a source of more pain than pleasure and will surely end in a broken heart, fractured spirit, and fatigued mind.

“Of course, the conditions of relationship don’t necessarily have to affect unconditional love, but most often when the container of loving sexual relationship is broken, the love itself is also somehow altered.”


26 Sep
Posted in: Practice
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Seeing Yet Again

OK. I hadn’t planned to keep posting these “Now I See” exercises, but I feel like I’m on a roll, so here goes.

This is what I saw/wrote on yet another visit to Guanyin:
Now I see the tension in the pose. He/she looks more like a “he” at this moment and I see the poised action, the able-to-get-up-at-any-moment of the posture. He is relaxed…yes. Noble. Regal. Completely at ease in his power. And also alert. There is potential energy in the way he is resting his weight on one thigh. He sits firm. Solid. Still. And yet there is openness. The counterbalance of his outstretched arm, resting lightly on the bent and slightly backward-leaning knee implies a readiness to move. To get up. To respond. His head is tilted slightly forward. The momentum is there. He could arise at any moment.

And yet he rests. Serene. Untroubled. With eyes inward-focused. But listening, it seems.

Now I see that he is bare chested. And exposed. Draped with movement…or the potential for movement. His chest-piece rests, yet dangles. His garment falls away. His back is shaded and his shoulders are covered. But his chest is open. On display, almost.

“See,” he seems to be saying, “I am peaceful, but not enclosed. Not protected. I am stillness. But I am also movement. I am timeless, but embodied.”

Now I see that his flesh has weight, yet softness. It curves and folds. The delicate underside of one arm is open. The tender sole of one foot is up-turned and exposed.

“I am here to receive,” he says. “I can bear your viewing of me. Your projections. Your needs and desires. I am at rest, yet I am not unmoved. I will respond…but at a time when I choose. I am not insensitive to that which is directed toward me. I am present. Vulnerable. Open. I may become action at any moment. I am not passive. But I am not troubled. And I will not be disturbed.”  

25 Sep
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Another View

Yesterday I wrote about the “Now I See” practice I’ve been doing and I posted the last journal entry I wrote, after viewing Guanyin (for the sixth time.) Just to give you an idea of how the seeing can change, here’s the entries I wrote after the fourth viewing:

Now I see the cracks and splits in the wood. One vertical, right through the center of his/her breast. A shallower one, just below. There’s a large crack in the the drapery along the right arm. This one is deep and goes almost all the way through. Maybe entirely all the way though. And there’s another one, further down on her gown. A crack that breaks like a wound into her arm. I see the mottled effect of the whitewash fading, or of having been scrubbed away. And beneath, the tanned-flesh color of wood.

I see the graceful balance of the hand — the fingers of the hand — extended but relaxed. And the resting of the arm, at the elbow, on the knee. I see..even feel…the balance, the equilibrium of tension and weight, the pull of gravity, and heaviness of muscle on bone. I see the coming to rest of forces in the thigh and the arm, the pelvis open, the weight being born by the opposite arm. Born and supported by the ground below.

I see the suggestion of an opening in the eye, an eye that sees, from the corner of the lower lid. It is as if there is an awareness, but without focus. A soft seeing. Yet alert. I feel seen. But not watched.

I see the ring of folds on her neck. The plump softness of the wood-made-flesh. And now I see her earlobe…which is huge! A strand of greyed and green-gold hair falls/wraps across-and-around that surprising pendant, which is thicker and fuller than a thumb.  

I see the complicated headdress she wears. Carved flowers and scrolls. Leaves. Buds. Stylized forms of nature suggesting growth and movement. In the center of the headdress–it’s a crown perhaps–there’s a flame, knotted, knob-like….the size to fit in the palm of the hand, and around the flame, a frame, flame-shaped, like a torch that is glowing, halo-ed. 

And behind the crown — the hair, in a ball or sort of a pouch, sitting slightly forward, cantilevered, on the top of her head, with a rounded knob-point at the very top. So the effect, then, is what? A crown of flowers. And of fire. Hair that is growing, but contained. And yet there is a billowing up. There is a balancing here. Something constrained. Yet alive in some way.  


24 Sep
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Seeing Guanyin

In June, I posted about a contemplative practice, called “Now I See,” that involves looking at a piece of art again and again over a period of time, and writing after each viewing, always starting with the phrase, “Now I see….”

I chose an 11th century Guanyin statue, from northern China, that’s here in the St. Louis Art Museum. I started the practice on July 1. As of last Sunday, I’ve looked — and written — six times. (I plan to do it seven more.)

I wasn’t going to post what I wrote because I wanted to focus on the seeing and not on the writing.

But what the heck.

Here’s what I wrote this past Sunday:
Now I see her overall grace, peace and repose. Today she is definitely a “she,” though bare-chested and breast-less. The rosy pink of her robes, maybe, has something to do with it. But also the general rosiness of the glow that somehow makes itself known, though she is clearly made of wood and pigment, rubbed and worn. There is an unmistakable warmth. And honestly, a presence that is clearly not painted on.

She seems to be peace itself, though not in the lease bit passive. She sits still, yes. But there is an attentiveness. And active awareness. I’m not saying she’s alive. Or sentient. Or even “real,” whatever that would mean.

But I am saying that she has these qualities. That I see them. That they are present is this representation of her. In this work of art. Yes. All that. But more, too. It seems that I can “see” the intention of the artist. The craft and the genius, certainly. But also, I believe, the reverence. Reverence for the materials, of course. And for the act of creating, too. But mostly I can see the artist’s attention to the qualities of grace and peace, of active stillness, of ease, repose, nobility…and yet, too, of care and attention. There is nothing disconnected or detached about her stillness. She is gently, patiently attentive. And poised to act…when needed. But there is no reactivity in her. Receptivity, yes. Opennes. Even connection. But also dispassion. Which is not to say a lack of feeling. Rather, a lack of agitation. 

And now I see her smile. Which is like a blessing. A smile of welcome. Of tenderness, of well-being. Her head is tilted slightly downward, but there is nothing condescending about it. No superiority. No distancing. Instead, I see an inclining toward. Not a reaching out–but an opening to. And now I see the inclination, the tilt, as a slight bow. Even she, the noble one, bows to that which comes before her. It is an act of acknowledgement. An act of honoring. Honor to what is. To the truth of it.

She bows. Nods. And even smiles. To whatever is present. She is not defended. She is not afraid. 

This is peace itself. This is serenity. This is grace.


20 Sep
Posted in: Groups, Practice
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Above All

Last night at the Hi-Pointe Sitting Group, I opened (and closed) the sitting with this selection from The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, by Sogyal Rinpoche:

Above all, be at ease, be as natural and spacious as possible. 

Slip quietly out of the noose of your habitual anxious self, release all grasping, and relax into your true nature.

Think of your ordinary, emotional, thought-ridden self as a block of ice or a slab of butter left out in the sun. If you are feeling hard and cold, let this aggression melt away in the sunlight of your meditation.

Let peace work on you and enable you to gather your scattered mind….and awaken in you the awareness and insight of Clear Seeing. And you will find all your negativity disarmed, your aggression dissolved, and your confusion evaporating slowly like mist into the vast and stainless sky of your absolute nature.


17 Sep
Posted in: Groups, Practice
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Like Magic

Saturday morning, Cindy, Thomas and I were sitting in Tower Grove Park….meditating….as part of the Sitting in the Park group that meets every Saturday morning from 8:30 to 9:00 am.

I was sitting with my eyes closed, noticing the sounds of the birds and the motorcycles, the church bells, the dogs, the kids, the cars, and the leaves in the trees being blown by the wind. Then thirty minutes were up and Cindy rang the bell. And I opened my eyes….

….and there were four new people sitting there meditating with us!

It was as if they had materialized, out of thin air. Or sprung up from the soil. Like mushrooms!

Of course, they had arrived on foot, like normal. But they had been so quiet. (Or I had been so oblivious.) They had come after we started, and had sat down beside us, filling in the circle, and joining in the meditation….. all without saying a word.

It was really, really lovely.

Thank you, folks. I hope to see you again.


13 Sep
Posted in: Groups, Practice
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Simple But Not Easy

Last night at the Hi-Pointe Sitting Group, I closed our sit by reading this bit of advice from Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche:

I would like to pass on one little bit of advice I give to everyone.
Just relax.
Be nice to each other.
As you go through your life, simply be kind to people.
Try to help them rather than hurt them.
Try to get along with them rather than fall out with them.
I will leave you with that, and with all my very best wishes.

Such simple advice.

Easy to hear. Hard to do.

That’s why they call it practice!


11 Sep
Posted in: Groups, Practice, Talks
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Listening to Phillip

Last night the DharmaSeed KM group listened to a very entertaining talk by Phillip Moffitt about ways to look (mindfully) at making major — or minor — life changes. He talked about different kinds of changes, including developmental changes related to life stages, adjustmental changes made in response to some new circumstance, and insight changes based on a new understanding of life and its meaning.

He also talked about sex! (You can listen for yourself by clicking here.)

At the end of the talk, he offered metta (well-wishing) to everyone listening. Instead of the traditional phrases, he used ones that he and a group of incarcerated men developed during the years he taught meditation in prison.

I loves these phrases:

May you be safe from internal and external harm.

May you have a calm, clear mind and a peaceful, loving heart.

May you be physically strong, healthy and vital.

May you experience love, joy, wonder and wisdom in this life, just as it is.

May it be so.