Nelson Mandela, 1918 – 2013

NelsonMandelaRIP

 

July 18, 1918 ~ December 5, 2013

 

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
~ Nelson Mandela
 
 
In Buddhism, there is a name for someone who serves Compassion, who works tirelessly to awaken, to wake up the masses that they may work for justice, work for peace – the healing of the world.  We call this person a Bodhisattva.  In Christianity, we may call this person a Saint, one who works for the fulfillment and realization of Love.Truly, Nelson Mandela, can be and should be called by either one of these names. And although he has passed, he surely still lives in all of the hearts he has touched and all of the souls he has awakened from the insidious sleep of ignorance, indifference, and injustice.

Thank you, Nelson Mandela, for choosing to take your gift of life and return it to this world as one of service to Love and Peace, through the hard work of Forgiveness.

~ j

all shall be well…

AutumnMeditation

 

November 14, 2013

i look outside and see beautiful yellowed green trees gently dancing with the breeze
i see rugged brown mountains dotted with rock, standing still, standing strong
i see a vast blue sky almost glowing vibrant with possibility
nature, once again, stands hand in hand reminding us what is always
HERE
nature doesn’t hold, it let’s go and just flows
if that is not grace, i don’t know what is

“all shall be well…”

~ j

 

*“all shall be well…” is a celebrated phrase of the 14th Century Christian Mystic, Julian of Norwich, from her collection of “Showings”

to be a warrior…

ONEenso

“…the practice, for me, is about creating the kind of resilience or buoyancy where you can be present to bear witness to the truth of suffering.”
~ Roshi Joan Halifax
 
i read this in an interview today. it struck me, stopped me really. … woke me up a bit to this call of warriorship. to be a warrior. and it seems very real to me that to truly be compassionate – which to be true, must include all – takes the heart of a warrior. the courage to BE with pain, to BE with suffering. to BE with it as a witness. the only way to get there is to train, to practice – to just do it.

it is, it seems to me, the courage to recognize that whether in our joy or suffering, we are One. there is no division, no duality. just One.

it is why i practice Buddhism, it is why i still love the teachings of Jesus who aligned himself with the poor and those who were outcasts. it is why i find the words of the current Pope encouraging.

and when it seems impossible to live this Compassion, to live as One, we can take comfort and encouragement in each other as we practice together.

 
~ j

Making Friends with Sadness…

Solidarity Saturday
Saturday, January 26th 2013

PeaceOfferingSmall

 

 

sometimes

it is all i can do
to just sit

here in this naked moment

this uneasy
space

my heart broken open

how else can all this Love pour out?

 

 

Hmmm….“Making Friends with Sadness.”

You may be asking, “Who would want to do that?!”  And this would be a good and understandable question.  Sadness, like pain and quite a few other uncomfortable aspects of this life, is a thing that we are normally trying to avoid, or escape if caught by it.

Now, to be clear, in this blog entry I am not referring to clinical depression, which is a serious condition that needs professional assistance.  I have had some depression in my own life and have had a number of close friends and family who have suffered from this illness.  Many have benefitted from both therapeutic and medicinal assistance.  And if you are suffering in a way that limits your life, affects your ability to work or function normally, or is causing harm to yourself and those close to you, then please care for yourself enough to seek help.  If you had asthma and were constricted in your ability to breathe, would you not seek help?  Why drown when all around you is shore, wanting to feel your tender feet grounded on its warm sand?  This being said, understanding sadness in the way that I am talking about with this blog entry will, I think in addition to therapy, also benefit those suffering from this illness.

There is a social aspect to this.  Society, particularly a culture built on seeking pleasure and attaining, frowns on sadness and melancholy.  As the sayings go, “Stiff upper lip”, “Pull up your bootstraps”, and “Get back up on the horse.”  Perhaps it isn’t such a bad thing to stay on the ground a bit, laying there – taking it all in, before we get back up on the horse.  Perhaps we can allow ourselves a frown now and then, perhaps we should just take off the boots and let our feet breathe.  Perhaps if we gave ourselves permission to have the experience of feeling sadness, we could do just that – feel sadness, rather than pretending it doesn’t exist or secretly identifying as sad.

If we allow sadness to rise and fall, to live and die, to arrive and pass, then it will do just that rather than burying itself deeper within as we ignore it and hush it away.  I think a lot of our non-clinical or chemically induced depression may lessen or go away if we would allow ourselves to feel sad when life presents sadness.  The Franciscan Richard Rohr quite popularly says, “What we don’t transform, we transmit.”  Allow sadness for what it is, and give yourself – your heart, the opportunity to transform.  Transformed people are awesome people, benefitting the world through their own lives.

 

The great Tibetan meditation master, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, talks about this practice of opening heart and staying with sadness in the following…

“When you awaken your heart…you find, to your surprise, that your heart is empty.  You find that you are looking into outer space.  What are you, who are you, where is your heart?  If you really look, you won’t find anything tangible and solid.  Of course, you might find something very solid if you have a grudge against someone or you have fallen possessively in love.  But that is not awakened heart.  If you search for awakened heart, if you put your hand through your rib cage and feel for it, there is nothing there except tenderness.  You feel sore and soft, and if you open your eyes to the rest of the world, you feel tremendous sadness.  This kind of sadness doesn’t come from being mistreated.  You don’t feel sad because someone has insulted you or because you feel impoverished.  Rather, this experience of sadness is unconditioned.  It occurs because your heart is completely exposed.  There is no skin or tissue covering it; it is pure raw meat.  Even if a tiny mosquito lands on it, you feel so touched.  Your experience is raw and tender and so personal.  It is this tender heart of a warrior that has the power to heal the world.”

~ Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
(Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior)

Likewise, one of my favorite teachers and one of Rinpoche’s foremost students, Pema Chödrön, says it like so…

“Sometimes the completely open heart and mind of bodhichitta is called the soft spot, a place as vulnerable and tender as an open wound. It is equated, in part, with our ability to love….Sometimes this broken heart gives birth to anxiety and panic, sometimes to anger, resentment, and blame. But under the hardness of that armor there is the tenderness of genuine sadness. This is our link with all those who have ever loved. This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion. It can humble us when we’re arrogant and soften us when we are unkind. It awakens us when we prefer to sleep and pierces through our indifference. This continual ache of the heart is a blessing that when accepted fully can be shared with all.”

~ Pema Chödrön
(When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times)

This is, I believe, the heart of Jesus as when he said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…” (Matthew 23:37)  So often we have been Jerusalem ourselves, so often we have been deaf to such wisdom, closed to such love, blind to a heart capable of holding the entire world and its pain – ours included.

We can sit and “meditate” all we want.  We can wear as many WWJD Bracelets as we can fit on our arm (for those who don’t know, WWJD is short for the phrase – What Would Jesus Do?).  But unless we are willing to open our hearts to sadness, ours and others, to face it and allow space for it, to care for it with gentleness and compassion – unless we are willing to be this brave, then we will continue to suffer.  We cannot avoid sadness, just as we cannot avoid pain.  But like pain, if we continue to work at evading sadness, because it makes us uncomfortable, then we will live a life not whole – a life incomplete.  Surely if we are to know joy and abundance fully, then we must also know sadness and loss.  Life is both.  Love holds both.

So we practice and we learn to live with sadness as we live with joy, knowing that both are a part of the whole.  Gaining insight that both serve as teachers as we continue to expand our hearts’ capacity to hold this entire world with compassion, but also the wisdom of mind to let go.  It is not that we should hold onto sadness, grasping.  We should simply allow it and then let it go on its way.  It may seem in the moment that it never will leave, but we simply breathe with it.  Breathing in, we say to ourselves “so this is sadness”.  We sense how it feels in our body, where it rests.  Is our chest heavy?  Is our throat tight?  Do we feel pressure in our eyes or queasy in our stomach?  It is important to recognize the reality of what we are feeling.  However, rather than getting caught up in these feelings, we simply label them.  “This is sadness, this is how sadness feels.”  We are that which is observing.  We are not the sadness, we are not the storyline.  We are watching it as it happens.

And something amazing happens as we make friends and peace with this sadness rather than ignoring it or fighting it…it eventually lessens and loses its overwhelming grip.  And another miraculous thing happens.  As we feel this sadness in our bodies and recognize it, we realize that this is how other people feel.  This is what other people are experiencing…loss, pain, sadness.  And this sadness that has pulled us from life has now given us a great gift – awareness.  We are now aware that we all share in this sadness and knowing how it feels – the heavy chest, the eyes ready to burst, the stomach flipped over, and the throat tight – we wish everyone to be free of such suffering, wishing no one to have to go through this.  That wish for no one to go through such suffering is, as Pema says above, bodhicitta.  And perhaps after feeling this wish to have no one suffer as we have, we begin to work to end this suffering not only for ourselves, but for others.  This is what it is to be a bodhisattva.  This is what it is to be a peacemaker. This is what it is to be a healer.  This is what it is to be truly YOU.

And this isn’t all gloomy.  Transformed people, those who have faced their sadness, often with their wisdom have a great sense of humor and the heartiest of laughs.  The Dalai Lama comes to mind along with two of my favorite comedians – George Carlin and Ellen DeGeneres.

Being you means feeling happiness at times and sadness in others.  This is the joy and fullness of our life – to be whole.  With this appreciation, with this awareness, we are capable of laughing and crying fully and completely with all who have come before and all who will come after.

One laughing, one crying.  One joy and one sadness.

Namasté

 

 

For more reading on this Solidarity Thursday topic, please check out these wonderful blogs: Ben at The Horizontalist, Esther at Church in the Canyon, and with a unique perspective, Triskaidekapod.

saying “yes”…

Solidarity Thursdays
Thursday, January 3rd 2013

saying “yes”…

YesEnso

Happy New Year friends and welcome to my first blog for 2013 and the first coordinated blog of 2013 as part of our continuing series, Solidarity Thursdays.  I continue to be grateful for the opportunity to share space with Ben, Esther, and Zachary.

This week’s blog topic, appropriately, is “New Beginnings”.  Ironically, I have had quite a bit of difficulty…beginning.

You see, I find myself – my heart and mind – still bound up in 2012, at least where it has bled into 2013.  Try as I might, sitting in meditation, chanting “let go, let go”, I have discovered that even as I sit on that cushion I am harboring anger, frustration, and sadness over recent events.  I am grieving in empathy with the families of the numerous children so tragically taken from life.  I am grieving the ever increasing reaction we have to greet such horrific violence, with preparation to impart even more violence as a means to end violence.  And in this, I am not speaking of the families who were directly affected.  I would expect and understand such a reaction from such pain and suffering.  Ironically, most victims are not calling for what is being set forth.  A peripheral audience of opportunists, along with those guided by fear seems to be framing the discussion. I am grieving that politics can seemingly – so callously – ignore violence towards women or victims of Hurricane Sandy by not renewing The Violence Against Women Act or securing funds for these destitute people still without homes, still without assistance so long after the event.  I am grieving for our over-consumption of resources resulting in an increasingly fragile environment and increasing poor.  I am grieving that there is such continued imbalance of power, not through legitimate means, but instead through manipulation and dishonesty.  I am grieving that this is so often a cause for celebration, rather than a wake up call to compassionate change.

And in this grieving and attachment, I feel disconnected.  I feel disconnected to this world, where life is seen as so fragmented – where people entertain the idea of the “other” – where violence is seen as normal and in some cases even morally right and even a “necessary evil” – where for a matter of convenience we can look the other way, even as so many unnecessarily starve to death.  I grieve that I have played a part in this just as anyone else has.  I grieve, because Life itself is grieving. I grieve, because I am, indeed, connected to this world.  I grieve, because I so love the people in this world.  I grieve, because I long for people to stop and remember their nobility, their Divine Heritage as children of God, of Life, of Love – however you want to define or frame it.  We are better than the violence, we are better than the overconsumption, we are better than the indifference, and we are better than fear.

I remember, I read quite some time ago when I began my meditation practice – specifically Metta, or loving-kindness meditation and with it a practice called Tonglen – that it isn’t unusual for a practitioner to become more aware and in touch with sadness…because even in its joy and beauty, life is always tinged with what I would call a sacred sadness.  It isn’t just in Buddhism where this is recognized, just look to the artwork of Christianity where Jesus is depicted pointing to his exposed and Sacred Heart.  Or even to the story of the crucifixion itself, where it is implied that it wasn’t just the wounds but the great burden of carrying within himself the brokenness of life that extinguished his.  Loving until the heart itself breaks.  As our heart opens to the world, we begin to see and connect to the pain of the world – pain we have participated in and pain we have been victims of.  This coming of age to pain, this befriending of sadness, is an opportunity for compassion.

So I sat on the meditation cushion this very day, my breath interrupted by the thoughts listed above.  I sat, with my heart heavy, my emotions ready and raw.  And all I could do was what my practice continues to teach, what the Buddha taught 2500 years ago, and what Jesus encouraged with every person he encountered – begin anew.  Beginning anew – coming back to my breathing, connecting my mind with my body, and in doing so reminding myself to live as a Whole being, a being of compassion, a partner to Life, a child of Love.

And I was reminded what it means to begin anew.  It is our way of saying “yes” to Life with our life.  It is our way of aligning ourselves with Life itself, of saying we are not separate, rather we are partners.  It is our way of living Love, of acting with compassion.

It is a given that we need Life…but have you ever thought that Life, in fact, needs you?  That this may bring meaning to why you are still breathing?  That this may bring inspiration and motivation to why you are still here, to say in continuance – Yes, yes, and again, yes.

YESensos

We fall, we rise.  This is the pattern.  The New Year is a wonderful way to ritualize this, but then again, so is each breath that we take.

May this New Year be blessed with many new beginnings as our hearts continue to open to Life and in service to compassion.  Here is the blessing I shared on Facebook for New Years, may it be so:

“May you know your own beauty and sacredness just as you are. May you feel understood and valued. May you continue to learn, grow and open to all of what Life offers you. May you still experience peace when troubled, healing when wounded, patience when angered, and joy after sadness. And most of all, may you know that you are loved.”

Namasté

For more reading on this Solidarity Thursday topic, please check out these wonderful blogs: Ben at The Horizontalist, Esther at Church in the Canyon, and with a unique perspective, Triskaidekapod.

fasting ~ the practice of letting go…

Solidarity Thursday
Thursday, November 15, 2012

“Stop, look around, and see how wonderful life is: the trees, the white clouds, the infinite sky. Listen to the birds, delight in the light breeze. Let us walk as free people…”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Fasting…

I was raised Lutheran, which is a denomination of the Protestant branch of Christianity. If Episcopalians are “Catholic light”, then we were even a bit “lighter” with just a few Sacraments short of the full deal. Nonetheless, giving up something for the Lenten season was a pretty regularly encouraged practice, though not rigorously enforced. It is the season of fasting bookended by Ash Wednesday at the beginning and ending with Holy Thursday or Easter Eve in some cases. It is about a six week or 40 day period to commemorate the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert. We would “fast” or give up something important to us during this period. Adults often gave up drinking alcohol and perhaps other “vices” during this time. As children, we often gave up candy or dessert or some other thing that made us resent the whole practice, leading us to see it mainly as a way for adults to oppress us further…what did candy ever do to anyone?! Just because Jesus didn’t have dessert in the desert, why can’t I? In any case, at the very least, Lent would provoke a roll of the eyes if not a fully committed grimace. Why does God want me to do without? How is this, an act of worship?

What? There’s a practical purpose to this nonsense?..

It wasn’t until the end of my early early adulthood that I began to see the subtle genius in fasting as a practice. It takes time to break habits. It takes time to create habits. There are many differing opinions regarding how long it takes to break or create a habit. It can depend on how deeply imbedded these patterns are and everyone is different. That being said, there seems to be some consensus that it can take about a month and a half…six weeks.

Here’s an example….

A number of years ago, my friend Mitch and myself discussed giving up stuff for Lent and possibly taking on a good habit or two as well. It was an opportunity for me to return to this practice as an adult and for Mitch who had not been raised with a particular religion, it was an opportunity to try it out. We took up the challenge. One of the challenges (thing to give up) was coffee. I know this is sacrilege for some, however, I knew I wasn’t addicted – I mean, I can drink a cup right before bed and then promptly lay down and go to sleep. And I knew I didn’t need coffee, so I thought it would be a no-brainer, easy-peasy, walk in the park. The first day was a breeze. None of that headache or body ache or lack of focus stuff people lament after giving up coffee. Day One = Success….then Day Two happened. Day Two began with one of the worst headaches I’ve ever had. Nothing seemed to help and somehow knowing that I still had more to gain from this experience, the headache decided to last for another two days….just to make its point. I couldn’t believe it. I had been physically addicted to coffee.

I did go back to drinking coffee, though not nearly as much since I fell in love with tea, but I learned a valuable lesson about myself and my body through fasting.

It isn’t about taking away…it is about letting go…

Now here I am today, nearing the beginning of middle adulthood, seeing my younger days in the rear view mirror and fasting has become something else. I now see fasting as an exercise, a practice in simplicity and letting go. I think this lesson is very much within the body of fasting within the Christian context and certainly a lesson within Jesus’ 40 days in the desert, or even the 40 days for Noah riding – waiting, during the flood. It can be good to surrender; it can be good to grow in our capacity to wait. But for me, it has been through the lens of my Buddhist practice – where letting go is the main theme – that I have seen and experienced this practice anew.

As a child, or as I did with my friend Mitch, it was a practice of community, of support, of accountability. Now it is a solitary practice, one in which I discover what is actually necessary, what I can do without, what is real. Fasting has become a practice of not only the letting go of physical or material things, but of looking deeper to emotions and patterns of the mind. Fasting from anger, from despair, from fear and grasping. Fasting is a way to promote simplicity and create space, so I am available to this present moment, to what is here for me now in this moment, that I may be aware and free to dance with Life and sing the song of Love with all.

When I can do this, when we can do this, we will be able as Thich Nhat Hanh says in the quote above, to walk as free people.

In the meantime, every once in a while, I will give up things like shaving…that can also feel free.

BTW ~ Fasting can also be a form of protest…perhaps another blog related to forms of protest?…

Ben at The Horizontalist is off traveling this week and will return soon. For more reading on this Solidarity Thursday topic, please check out these other wonderful blogs: Esther at Church in the Canyon. And with a truly unique take on all things Solidarity Thursday is Triskaidekapod. Join the conversation!