support networks…

Solidarity Thursday
Thursday, November 8, 2012

Today’s Solidarity Thursday blogging topic is “support networks”…which like most things for me, I see through a particularly spiritual lens. This is not to say that this lens is sans practicality. From my perspective spirituality is best when it is practical. It is not just sitting on a cushion or attending Sunday services. Spirituality IS feeding the poor, visiting the prisoner, working for peace, opening our door to our neighbor, and greeting the person working behind the counter with a smile and an open heart. It doesn’t seem to matter much if we can answer the big questions like – Why am I here? Is there life after death? Is there a God?” – if we are unable to feed the hungry next door, or properly take care of the earth, or even find peace in this moment. Perhaps they all go hand in hand. Perhaps as we practice at being kind and compassionate, mindful and awake, patient and open, we discover who we are and why we are here. Perhaps we find God within all of it – the joy and suffering. Perhaps if we are living life so fully in this moment, in love with one another, in love with life, then it doesn’t matter much if there is life after this.

Perhaps it does.

Whatever the case, walking this journey together is a gift. No matter how much we want to believe that we are completely self-reliant, that we can conquer and attain anything we set our minds to if we work hard enough…Life, fully and honestly lived, will humble us. We will face illness and loss, we will face death. And in those moments we will realize that having loved ones, family, friends – people who support us and hold us up, who care what we do and how we do it, people who feel our pain and seek our happiness – is a great part of what defines what this life is about.

Why is The Buddha so emphatic about this? Why does he correct Ananda with such clarity? Would you argue with Ananda on this point? It seems fair to say that good friendship is a “part” of life. The Buddha in his teachings seems to be pointing toward something greater though – to wholeness, to unity. It is, after all, our perceived separation and deep desire to avoid change that causes us to suffer so greatly. If we see ourselves as separate, then we grasp – we cling – we are unable to let go.

Life is letting go…and becoming aware that the nature of life is change, that the nature of life is us. There is no separation. Life is One, expressing Itself in all the beautiful diversity that you see in you, around you. All is gift.

For some reason, though, we need to learn this or perhaps re-remember this through first experiencing separation. Life is so often paradoxical. It seems we first need to learn duality and eat from the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil, before we can see through to the deeper unifying Reality, Wholeness that contains light and shadow. It seems we must first leave the Garden before returning to Paradise. We must fall, before we can rise above. We begin life within the body of our mothers. Living as one – eating as one, breathing as one. Doctors say we continue to feel as one with our mothers even after birth. Soon after though, we begin that very difficult journey of becoming aware of being other from our mothers, becoming aware of being separate. The best of religion, the truest of spirituality points us back to our Wholeness with all of Life…not just our mothers. And what is most fascinating and inspiring, is now science is showing us how this is true biologically, chemically, and atomically. All is gift.

It is like the Zen proverb says – first we notice the mirror clouded as it is, then we wipe the mirror and wipe the mirror, only to one day realize that there was never a mirror at all.

How do we learn this? Where do we learn life?

In our relationships. In community. In Sangha. Sangha is the Buddhist term for spiritual community. Isn’t all of this spiritual community? Aren’t we all one Body of Christ? Aren’t we all one expression of Life? I challenge you to find this out for yourself. In this One Body, this One Community, this One Life – we learn patience, we learn humility, we learn grace. In this Sangha, we are broken and our hearts are grown wide and spacious in their capacity to hold and let go in love. In this Body, we are wounded and healed, we die and are reborn. In this Life we don’t become Whole, we become aware that we are already Whole. All is gift.

Is there a better “support network” than that?

For more reading on this Solidarity Thursday topic, please check out these wonderful blogs: The Horizontalist and Church in the Canyon. And this week, joining us for the first time with a truly unique take on all things Solidarity Thursday is Triskaidekapod. Welcome!

the power of words…

Thursday, November 1, 2012

“Before you speak, think – is it necessary? Is it true? Is it kind? Will it hurt anyone? Will it improve on the silence?”

The words above are from the somewhat controversial Indian Guru, Sai Baba. You can read about him here. He was controversial due to reasons other than this quote and I think the quote stands alone as a pristine piece of wisdom as it relates to how we speak…how we use words.

Words are powerful.

Though most of us may not be witches or wizards (at least in the Harry Potter sense of those words – bows of respect to friends who really are Wiccan or Pagan), our words have the ability to evoke emotion, to invoke harm, to heal, to break down, to build up, to reject or embrace the recipient. Even the recipient we tend to forget about…us.

So why is it that we use our words so carelessly? Why is it so easy to use our words as ammunition towards another to suit our own interest and gain? It does seem like we see this activity more in this current election year. I feel like I’ve seen it more on Facebook and Twitter. “Friends” aggressively commenting on other “Friends” walls and instigating confrontation with their Tweets – what a silly word, really, that you’d think would diffuse the situation immediately. Why does this feel okay in the moment we are doing this? Would we so readily engage a stranger, much less, our “Friends” in such a careless way if we were sitting across from them face to face, or even chatting with them on the phone? Perhaps, but I think it would happen less often, more sparingly.

How do we get ourselves to a place of good communication of, as we say it in Buddhism – Right Speech? Good communication, Right Speech – these are about connection, which is empathy and within empathy is understanding. These manifest compassion, in our thought, in our actions, in our words. I believe the groundwork for all of this is gratitude which is in a constant dance with humility.

Do we see our life as a gift?

Our life, of course, is a gift. We do not exist apart from the conditions that brought us into being. Conditions, that though we are inextricably connected with, are also far beyond our imagining. We would not be here in this moment, in this place, if it weren’t for a Universe that could manifest a planet such as Earth that so specifically can support a life form such as ours. You would not be here if your parents, or their parents, or any of the parents before them had not had life. Without the Sun where would we be? If not for the farmer, what would you eat? Can we breathe without oxygen? Can I heal without the aid of a healthy immune system, or doctor, or medicines? All of us are one breath away from illness, from death. The person we are angry with (perhaps reasonably so) and are lashing out at with our words – that person will lose a loved one to death, they will experience illness, their heart will be wounded, and they like you or me will at times feel lost.

Do you see my point?

“We are all in the same boat in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyaly.” ~ G.K. Chesterton

We are deeply connected to all other things through interdependent relationship that we seldom take time to be aware of, but nonetheless is there. Our life, our being here is a gift.

So back to my question – do we see our life as a gift? Because if we are able to do this, to see our existence with humility and gratitude, then rather than having to live by a set of rules – we are getting to the root, the foundation, the groundwork of being kind and gracious with the way we treat people, the way we speak to people, the way we choose to use all of these powerful words that we have available to us.

But of course this is a practice. We have, over time, developed patterns in our brains – kneejerk reactions to what we see as an attack, as offensive. It takes work to undo these patterns, to unthread these connections. If we have gratitude though, and see our lives as gift rather than some entitled state, then I believe we are planting the seeds that will grow and give us the ground of support to be aware and be kind with the power in our words.

In the meantime, when we speak, we should ask ourself – Is it necessary? Is it true? Is it kind?

To read more and continue the discussion on this Solidarity Thursday topic please visit my dear friends and fellow bloggers Ben at The Horizontalist and Esther at The Church in the Canyon.

mindful living…

Thursday
October 25, 2012

In the teaching of The Buddha and the flower, it is said that The Buddha near the end of his life gathered his disciples near a pond. The Buddha, in silence, reached deep into the pond. From deep within the mud, The Buddha, pulled up a lotus flower by the root and held it before them. He did not utter a word. Just silence, save perhaps for the drops of water descending to the ground below. The disciples did not know what to think. The Buddha showed the flower to each of them in silence and each of them, in turn, shared what they thought was the meaning of this image – this lesson.
The Buddha moved from disciple to disciple, still in silence, eventually gazing upon his disciple Mahakasyapa. At the sight of the flower, Mahakasyapa smiled and began to laugh! The Buddha handed the lotus to his disciple and finally spoke. He said, “What can be said I have said to you. And what cannot be said, I have given to Mahakasyapa.” It is at this point that Mahakasyapa became The Buddha’s successor.

So…it’s a flower, you may say. And of course you wouldn’t be wrong. We see flowers all the time. We see them cramped in pots, dancing in fields. We see fake ones masquerading in homes, always vibrant in color if not a bit dusty. We give them to friends grieving and to lovers in celebration of the love in our hearts. Sometimes in our busy bustle we don’t notice them underfoot, crushed in our hustle. Sometimes, though, the world seems to all but stop as one catches our glance and captures our breath.

But have you seen the Universe in a single flower?

Take a moment and reflect on this notion…

It really is quite scandalous, if you give this thought its due. We are used to labeling things, ideas, thoughts in such a way that brings us an illusion of protection from mystery…Reality. The Buddha holds up a flower, we say to ourselves, “Oh, nice flower…moving on.” We busy ourselves with tasks, we feed our emotional storylines by replaying them over and over again in our minds. We want to feel useful, we want to feel important, because for some reason we have forgotten or just can’t believe that we already are. We have forgotten or just can’t believe that the entirety of the Universe lives within a single flower…lives within us.

So, how do we get there? How do we see the Universe in a flower, in us? How do we open our eyes to such union, or what we call in Buddhism – Interdependence?

We get there, perhaps better yet – we arrive to where we already are – through Mindfulness…through living mindfully.

The best place to begin living mindfully is within us. We start with ourselves. Most of the time we are living in a fractured way, our mind lost in thoughts of past and future, while our bodies struggle in the present. So, we begin with our breath. We stop and we observe our breath. Breathing, for the most of us, is an involuntary happening. Our bodies operate this function without our having to think about it or attempt at controlling it. So, in this practice we are not actively breathing, rather we are just letting the breath happen and following it. As we breathe in, we are aware of what this feels like in our bodies; the air flowing through our nostrils, our chest rising in expansion to allow space. As we breathe out, we are aware of our chest descending back into itself, and the warmth of the air as it exits. We can even say to ourselves, “breathing in” as we breathe in, and “breathing out” as we breathe out. Sometimes this only holds our attention for a moment and then we are off and running away again with our thoughts – that school assignment, that project at work, the friendship on the rocks, or the one who holds our hearts. We are distracted by positive thought as well, sometimes even wonderful – creative – inspired thoughts that can be beneficial. This practice, however, is about staying with the breath. Why? Because there is a very practical, quite delightful, and truly beneficial miracle that happens when we stop and become aware of our breathing…we unite our minds with our bodies. When we do this, we are present, we are whole, and Being. Not caught up in worry, not caught up in drama, in thought or emotion. Simply Being. Not that there is anything wrong with thought or emotion. They are…however, they are not us. Yet, we so readily define ourselves with these…I’m sad, I’m angry, I’m happy, I’m an artist, I’m a Buddhist. So, return to your breath. Return to the present where your body and mind are truly home. This is our ground, our anchor in a stormy sea…better yet, our life jacket allowing us to flow with the River.

This is mindfulness, this is mindful living. To have mind and body in union, connected and fully present. To be awake in this moment. This has a very practical, mundane (if there is such a thing) benefit as well. Science is now documenting the benefits of mindfulness and mindful living. Reduced stress, reduced blood pressure and related diseases are being documented as benefits to this practice.

But from a mystical and spiritual perspective – this is what allows us to Be. This is what starts to open our hearts and minds so that we see more than a flower. We see the sun that gave love with its warmth, we see the rain that quenched its thirst, the soil that fed it, the wind or bee that dropped it to a waiting, nurturing Earth. Neil Degrasse Tyson has said, “We are all connected; To each other, biologically. To the earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe atomically.” When we are able to see this, and trust me in time you will, then every bush is burning and we can hear the voice of what we call Divine everywhere…not least of all, within your heart. The Universe within you. And when we begin to see the Universe – life fully Itself – within us, we begin to see it within our neighbor next door, the person we are in conflict with, our lover, the dog barking, the ants tasking, the worm burrowing, the tree changing color, the sun giving way to the moon.

We need this reconnection for our survival. We need this re-unification for the health of world. We need this restoration to who we already are, for the awakening of our souls. We need humans to once again remember that we are human Beings. And before mindful living can be mistaken for passivity, may I ask you – Is there anything more active than being fully engaged with all of who you are, offering all of who you are to the present moment? This is mindful living, this is enlightenment.

~ j

For more on the topic of Mindful Living please visit the writings of my dear friends Ben at The Horizontalist and Esther at www.estheremery.com