below are the words i texted a friend who admitted her struggle with “detachment”. i shared with her a bit of my own journey with this along with some insight of how this has found resonance in my life. i want to share these thoughts here as well, for you my friends…
I have had to move away from the word “detachment”. It birthed within
me an emotional reaction akin to indifference or even denial, which
didn’t marry itself well to the aspiration of working for the benefit
of this world, etc. I have found that working with non-attachment as
“letting go” or better yet, as “abiding” meant I could still care –
still be present, but it also left open the possibility that in doing
so I don’t have to be tied to outcomes or adversely affected. I don’t
have to suffer. Anyway, just a few thoughts on my experience
~ Gabriel Mirabeau
~ Charles Dickens
Saturday, January 26th 2013
it is all i can do
to just sit
here in this naked moment
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.
Thursday, January 17th 2013
What we ingest and how we ingest, should be of importance to us….because it is important.
How we eat is one part, a very important part, of how we can live our life in a connected way, in a way that is whole. How we eat – what we ingest, is not only important to our physical health, but can also be a way of building community and experiencing fulfillment and joy.
This is so foreign to many of us who have, in many ways, been conditioned to experience eating as just one part of our multi-tasking lives. In the rush to be busy, often a mark of our success and achievement, we have made eating a task…something we do, while doing other tasks. We eat driving down the highway from one destination to another. We eat while walking, while watching TV, quickly as we run out the door, or right before bed. This has been our practice for so long that it has become the pattern we see all around us and one that we participate in.
How can we change this pattern?
Awareness is the key.
What are we eating? Where did it come from? From whom has it been taken? From whom has it been given? Taking time to ask these questions, to look honestly at our food, will undoubtedly benefit us. Taking time to ask these questions, to look honestly at our food, will undoubtedly lead us to growth, to change, and perhaps to an alteration in how we look at food and our relationship to it.
This growth will manifest differently for each of us, as we are all unique. Each of us approaches food and our relationship to it, informed by our family experience and traditions, our culture, and our religious practices. We all eat for various reasons outside of pure physical nourishment. Some of us use food for numbing pain, for calming fears, or easing anxiety. As our awareness grows, so does our clarity of why we eat what we eat…and what it is we are eating.
This awareness and then the growth from it, begin with mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a practice that brings us to the present moment. Mindfulness is a practice that can help us to clearly see what we are eating and how we relate to it. Mindfulness is a practice that can help us to slow down, to appreciate, and to benefit not only us, but all life around us.
“With mindfulness we can see that many elements – the rain, sunshine, earth, the labor of farmers, drivers, food sellers, and the cook – have all come together to form each wonderful meal. When we eat in mindfulness, we can see that the entire universe is supporting our existence.”
Born out of this mindful-awareness, comes great gratitude. We are grateful, because we realize that this isn’t just a piece of bread in front of us. It has within it, the merchant who sold it to us, the farmer who harvested the wheat, the soil rich with nutrients, the rain and sun that brought nourishment. When we look at an orange we see the tree, its blossoms, its roots and the seed from which it began. They are all there, present within the orange. The orange, just like us, is a combination of a multitude of phenomena co-arising – coming together to form what we recognize as an orange, or as us. We have within us, a multitude of organisms that form us. We have our ancestral DNA passed down from generations. We have within us, the very same need for nutrients, for water, for sun. How humbling! How miraculous! What a gift!
What a responsibility…
Not very many of us have thought of it this way or even like to entertain thinking of ourselves in this way, but if we begin to see that we are not just us…but a community of organisms, we may feel a responsibility to feed these organisms the very best of what we can gather for their survival. After all, the survival of the cells that make up our organisms that make up us, is our survival as well. And as we begin to see that life supports life in such a way as this, then we begin to see how precious it is and how sacred it is that we are careful in how we consume such life.
This is mindfulness, this is awareness.
This doesn’t necessarily manifest for everyone the same way, as I said before. Not everyone will become a vegetarian or vegan. Not everyone will immediately seek to eat only locally grown or locally raised food sources. But once we are aware, we should think about all of this. Once we are aware, it is hard to forget.
For me it was a clear conviction of heart. I had always loved animals in a way that saw them more as equals under heaven than as objects of service or consumption. Even as a kid, I saw myself as a bit of a St. Francis –
– talking to and relating to animals as kindred. Who wants to eat friends and family? But it was watching some videos of how horrific the food industry is in their treatment of animals that turned me for good. It was an immediate and lasting decision, made some nine years ago, this spring. For me it has been beneficial not only in my physical health, but more importantly for me, in my sense of communion with all of Life. It has been an inevitable outgrowth and inextricable companion to a life devoted to peace. If I am offering my life as an instrument of peace, as service to compassion and love, then in my heart I know I am no longer able to eat animals if given the choice.
Although this cuts to the core of my spirituality, I am not very political about it, other than trying to live by example and giving money to organizations that share this view. It would seem contradictory – even hypocritical – for me to espouse a path of compassion, yet withhold compassion from those I disagree with. Compassion is compassion. So I exercise and practice a view that is long in its vision, seeing societal transformation as something to nurture and grow rather than force. This is just me, though. Many moved by the horror and tragedy of how animals are treated (for which I am no less grieved) exercise their passion more politically. I am thankful for them, and know that they are needed. I also feel that those with a contemplative approach, living their truth persistently – if quietly – are also needed. This is balance. And at this point, even if the industry were to be completely transformed into an industry that exercised humane living conditions and lives of dignity for animals before their lives were ended for consumption, I will still remain vegetarian. Part of this is my spiritual belief, from the Buddhist approach of non-harming. Practicing to live a life that does not harm, knowing full well that life consumes life – even if it is plant life, and that it is impossible to not harm on some level. This is part of life. This teaches and opens us to grace. I also know that I am fortunate enough to live in a place where I can access alternative food choices; I have an income (even if modest) that allows me to afford to make alternative food choices. This is not the case for everyone. To practice one’s beliefs while having understanding of this and working towards a resolution, while respecting differences of belief and tradition. This is compassion.
For others, and I have many friends who feel this way, who don’t see animals as equals, there is still room for transformation and beneficial action. I have friends who from a more traditionally-western-religious view see humans as set apart from animals. In this view, animals can certainly be seen as a source for service and consumption. However, these same friends also see humans as having a responsibility towards animals. They see themselves set apart as stewards of the animals’ care. This can also be mindful and compassionate. This can go a long way, perhaps in an even more effective way, toward changing the norm for the animals in the food industry as we know it. People who eat meat, mindfully, who choose to buy from local farms where they can meet the farmer, see that the animals are treated with dignity and affection in their lives leading up to death – these people also can make a significant difference. People who eat meat, but choose to eat less for the benefit of health and environment, are also exercising compassion. People who eat meat with a sense of gratitude, with a sense that this is a sacrifice and sacred act – perhaps offering prayers of thanks and prayers for the benefit of the animal’s life that has been sacrificed, this is also a way of eating with compassion.
Ultimately compassionate eating is eating in a way that looks at consumption and what we consume honestly. It is about practicing consumption in a way that sits well with one’s heart. It is about practicing consumption in way that not only appreciates life, but benefits life – not only ours, but that of our animal friends, our families, our community, and the environment.
Wishing all of you, dear friends, much happiness and peace as you travel your journey into compassionate eating.
Thursday, January 10th 2013
“You are sitting on the earth and you realize that this earth deserves you and you deserve this earth. You are there—fully, personally, genuinely.”
~ Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
For the majority of my childhood, I grew up in Valley Center, California. It is a rural town in the northeast of San Diego County. If I had to pick one thing to be thankful for, from my childhood, it would be this – that I had the opportunity to fall in love with nature at such an early age.
Even as I write this, I feel moved to express my gratitude to my parents, yet again. What a gift it was to fill my days with hands in dirt, running through fields, sitting and watching lizards, insects, and squirrels. I was given the freedom to just sit – listening to birds in song and the wind dancing through the great oak trees. These early experiences began in me a journey of appreciation, respect, and love of nature and this tiny blue planet we call home. It was in these early experiences that I began to see the sacred, the divine. If philosophy is in the head, then Spirituality is in the heart – it is experiential. And for me, the most spiritual experiences I have had have been in the presence of nature. Nature, has for me, been a Sacrament. A window into what is Sacred, what is Divine.
I miss the days when I allowed myself such freedom. At times I long for the great oak trees, their strength, their music. So much so, that when shopping or running errands, I even find myself subconsciously picking the parking space with the tree, if there is one, rather than not. I long for these experiences for my nephews and niece. “Play outside” I remind them, maybe too often, because I know that love grows in experience and in time and space.
Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful – very grateful for technology in all of its embodiments. I use my iPhone, maybe too often (it’s sooooo wonderful!) I know that much of my life is dependent on computers, that I enjoy computers (they are sooooo wonderful!) But they don’t inspire my heart to sing, my hands to open – to reach out, my feet to dance, or that deep breath that I instinctively know to take when I see a vast blue sky. I like technology. But I love nature.
So I worry a bit, for my nephews and niece. Though, they too have a fondness for nature (especially the oldest), as long as they’ve known nature they have also known video games, iPods, and DVD players. Nature has so much competition. And although it is certain that all of this technology has benefitted humankind in a myriad of ways, there has been a cost – a shadow side to this great revolution.
We have in a way been distanced from nature, in very real, tangible ways. We have been distanced not only in geography as we use up land for resource and move closer to cities for work. But also in our psychology as so much of the resources nature provides are manufactured, packaged and then put on a shelf for us before we consume. This applies to almost all we purchase in the West, from materials to food. There is a distance, a disconnect that develops with a life thus lived. We forget how deeply we are connected to nature, when are so far away that we don’t see the source of what we consume, we just know the store names. We have even manipulated our religious practices, perhaps unknowingly – conveniently, in such a way to support this disconnect.
“The entire cosmos is a cooperative. The sun, the moon, and the stars live together as a cooperative. The same is true for humans and animals, trees, and the Earth. When we realize that the world is a mutual, interdependent, cooperative enterprise — then we can build a noble environment. If our lives are not based on this truth, then we shall perish.”
~ Buddhadasa Bhikkhu
“…then we shall perish…”
This isn’t a judgment, it is our reality. If we are of nature, if nature is where life is to be found – then as we are distanced from nature, we are distanced from life. I see this not only in our environmental changes, but also in our psychology – our increased anxieties and depression. Not that playing in dirt will end all anxieties and depression, but feeling connected and whole would – I believe – go a long way in healing many of our wounds. In my experience, being close to nature has been a grounding force in my life. And as we find ourselves grounded in nature, we find ourselves connected to all life. To paraphrase Neil Degrasse Tyson – we are connected to each other biologically, to the Earth chemically, and to the entire Universe atomically.
I think there is great reason for hope, when contemplating our future. For one thing, the Earth and nature itself is supportive of Life. The Earth has seen a lot of destruction and extinction of many species, even as it has also promoted healing from such destruction and supported the evolution of new species. The Earth and life on it, most likely, will go on. But will we? If we begin to see ourselves not only as consumers and benefactors of the Earth, but as partners and co-creators with the Earth, with nature – then yes, I think we will.
And this is why I see reason to hope. Even as over time, we have strayed away from the connected – grounded practices of indigenous and native culture, and from the ancient earth/nature-based spiritual traditions, there is now a resurgence and the beginnings of such awareness and (I believe) a rich desire to reconnect.
I believe we are beginning a new age, a return to nature as Sacrament. I see it in the new movement of integrated contemplative Christianity (which is, perhaps, actually a return to a more original – less corporate Christianity) and also in Engaged Buddhism, a term of which Thich Nhat Hanh has said, “was created to restore the true meaning of Buddhism.” And perhaps, our brothers and sisters from the indigenous, native and nature-based spiritualities will lead the way. I think those of us not from these traditions, would do well to listen and learn from their reverence for and relationship with nature.
One of the most iconic images of The Buddha, is of him sitting under the bodhi tree, his left hand palm up on his lap, his right hand touching the Earth. It is said that on the night of Siddhartha Gautama’s enlightenment and realization of being The Buddha, he was attacked by the demon, Mara. Mara, proud and jealous, challenged Siddhartha’s right to sit there, claiming enlightenment to be his. Mara’s soldiers shouted out, bearing witness to Mara’s great accomplishments and right to be there. When Mara then asked Siddhartha, “Who bears witness for you?” Siddhartha sitting there, calm and grounded, reached out with his right hand and touched the Earth, at which point the Earth itself answered, “I bear witness.” It is at this point that Mara disappears and as the morning star rose in the sky, Siddhartha realized his enlightenment and becomes The Buddha.
The Earth has indeed been bearing witness for us, for all life, as long as it has existed. It is now, perhaps, our time to return the favor. It is our time to return to nature as Sacrament. And it is up to each of us to find the practice that best helps us to do so.
I have a practice I do every morning as part of my meditation. It is a practice I do to realign myself – to remind myself of my connection to all Life. I use the mantra “Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om”. Om is said to be the primordial sound of Life itself and Shanti means “peace”. Sitting, I place both hands on my heart. I allow myself to feel my heart beating as I breathe in and breathe out. I then while breathing in, with both hands over my heart, say in my mind, “Om”. In between the breath, I say in my mind, “Shanti Shanti Shanti”. As the breath leaves my body, I say in my mind again, “Om”. I repeat this with one hand on my heart and one hand touching the Earth. I then repeat it a third time with one hand on my heart and one hand resting in space.
I then end this practice with hands together, as I bow my head in reverence and gratitude to Life. I have started my day establishing first, a wish for peace within my own heart, that I may have peace and be an instrument of peace for the world. Then a wish for peace to all who share this ground, this Earth with me. And then a wish for peace to all who breathe this same air and share this same space with me. And finally a bow to ALL of it. Then as I go about my day, I try to recognize the Divine in all I see, greeting Nature as a relative rather than stranger, as part of me rather than an other, as Brother Sun and Sister Moon, as St. Francis would say.
I think it is imperative that we all find a way to do this. Not only is it necessary for our survival, it is necessary for knowing who we are. So when out and about take some time to sit and watch the ocean, to lay in some grass watching clouds move across the sky, look out at the vast canopy of night – dotted with light as you hold your lover’s hand, to hug a tree, or talk to ants marching. Connecting with Nature is connecting with You.