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A Time for Mindful Movement, Meditation and Discussion.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

We'll see...

From a new administration to concern about global conflicts, from a late payment to long-term stability of the economy, it doesn’t matter the size or the scale of a problem. There is and there always will be something to worry about. Of all of the five hindrances, the trap of worry seems to me one of the easiest to fall into on a daily basis.

There is an old Zen story that I have heard told many times, which goes something like this.
There was an old farmer who had many children and a large plot of land. One day one of his best horses ran away and couldn’t be found. His wife and children and all of his friends said, “what a great misfortune.” The old farmer just answered, “we’ll see.”
A few days later the horse was seen on the edge of town leading two wild horses. The old man’s family and friends all said, “what a great fortune, your luck is changing.” The old man said, “we’ll see.”
While riding one of the new horses, the old man’s son was thrown from the saddle and broke his leg. The old man’s family and friends spoke of how unwise the old man had been to try and gain the extra two horses, “you’re trying to tempt fate, your fortune is bad,” they all said. The old man replied, “we’ll see.”
A week later, an officer from the army came to take young men away to fight and because of his broken leg the old man’s son was spared. “You are so lucky,” his family and friends said. “We’ll see,” the old man replied.

What I like about this story is the idea of accepting each gain and each loss as independent. They are singular events that do not necessarily lead to either something positive or something negative.

We worry because we project into the future. Something is only positive or negative to us based on projection of the outcome of the event. But we can’t know the future. Our worry is based on the false belief that we know what will happen.

The other day as I started to shift into worry mode regarding the next four years with our new political climate, I thought that no problem has ever been solved, helped or changed by worrying.

None. Zip. Zero. Nada. No problem is influenced by worrying. Not one iota.

We only use up our energy and create no positive outcome.

This doesn’t mean we don’t plan for the future and take prudent steps. I think there is a difference between planning for future outcomes, doing forecasting of what outcome might be more likely, or weighing the strengths and benefits of one outcome over another. These are all prudent, rational actions. I work professionally in the field of forecasting, so I think that can be a good thing, but worrying about the outcome is quite different.

In the Bhagavad Gita 12:18-19, Krishna speaks to Arunja and describes a man who is at peace saying that man is:
The same to both friend and foe,
the same in disgrace and honor,
suffering or joy, untroubled,
indifferent to praise and blame,

quiet, filled with devotion,
content with whatever happens,
at home wherever he is—
that man is the one I love best.

The antidote to worry is contentment. This is not a fatalistic belief that yields all control to the outcome. Our ability to influence an outcome through our efforts is very different from worrying about an outcome.

I do the necessary preparation, I take the appropriate action to influence an event in a way which I see as positive, but then I release myself from attachment to the outcome.

In a long section in Chapter 3 of the Gita discussing the proper actions, Krishna says:

Without concern for results
perform the necessary action.

We have to live at this edge. We work every day to change things for the better. Through our work responsibilities and through our relationships we strive to improve things, to increase the probability for a positive outcome. This is good. But we can’t worry about the outcome. 

Something goes wrong, ”we’ll see.” Something goes great, “we’ll see.”

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Election compassion

I have been thinking for some time about a blog post relating to the election. My heart has been so full of anger and sadness that I’ve found it very difficult to write without having it be a polemic.

I’ve tried a few drafts talking about compassion and love for all, but was feeling blocked by my own feelings of frustration.

I have this book by Thich Nhat Hanh on my shelf and I went to this chapter and to this story. It’s one of my favorite poems by him for its depth and insight. 

I felt that his language expressed the the idea of full and utter compassion for all people, for all views, for all actions.

Please read and meditate on the thoughts in the poem.

From: Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh
In Plum Village, where I live in France, we receive many letters from the refugee camps in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, hundreds each week....There are many young girls, boat people, who are raped by sea pirates.
One day we received a letter telling us about a young girl on a small boat who was raped by a Thai pirate. She was only twelve, and she jumped into the ocean and drowned herself.
When you first learn of something like that, you get angry at the pirate. You naturally take the side of the girl. As you look more deeply you will see it differently. If you take the side of the little girl, then it is easy. You only have to take a gun and shoot the pirate. But we cannot do that.

In my meditation I saw that if I had been born in the village of the pirate and raised in the same conditions as he was, there is a great likelihood that I would become a pirate. I saw that many babies are born along the Gulf of Siam, hundreds every day, and if we educators, social workers, politicians, and others do not do something about the situation, in twenty-five years a number of them will become sea pirates. That is certain. If you or I were born today in those fishing villages, we may become sea pirates in twenty-five years. If you take a gun and shoot the pirate, all of us are to some extent responsible for this state of affairs.  After a long meditation, I wrote this poem. In it, there are three people: the twelve-year-old girl, the pirate, and me. Can we look at each other and recognize ourselves in each other? The tide of the poem is "Please Call Me by My True Names," because I have so many names. When I hear one of the of these names, I have to say, "Yes."

Call Me by My True Names

Do not say that I'll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his "debt of blood" to, my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all
walks of life.
My pain if like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

- Thich Nhat Hanh

Monday, September 12, 2016

What do you remember?

What do you remember?  How do you remember it?

It is easy to look at our memories like a photo or a recording of a moment in time that we have captured exactly the way we felt and thought at that time.

When we look at past events such as meeting a friend for the first time, we each have our happy or humorous memories that we repeat to ourselves and others. In the retelling over the years, the events have taken on their own shape and significance.

When we remember tragedies or emotional shocks, they also can take on a level of significance different than our experience at the time.  These memories can be better or worse than the actual experience.

But there is an important reality to both positive and negative memories, our emotional and mental memories are not what existed at that moment. The memories have become imbued with personal and cultural significance over time.

Rather than thinking of memories like a photograph or recording, a better analogy would be to think of a mountainous sky that is continually changing and shifting as storm systems roll over the mountains and up the valleys. The sky may appear to hold steady, but it is constantly shifting and changing.

Sitting for a few minutes in meditation can help us experience this. As we sit, we can watch the thoughts, feelings and experiences like storm systems arise and fade away in the mind. We can watch how the mind follows positive or negative feelings and experiences at each moment.

If we can observe this for just a few minutes in silence, we can teach our mind that these feelings and memories are transient. They may be a good or bad story that we have created and choose to pull toward us or to push away.

Remembering tragic events such as 9/11 can be a healthy and moving way of reflecting on how we remember our emotions then and now. But mindfulness can help us also stay grounded in the reality that each memory and each moment is a projection of our mind, both positive and negative.

So you might sit for a few minutes and reflect on the idea of 9/11 and notice what emotions, both good and bad that arise. See if you can watch how they change, how they shift, and how it is like watching a storm blow over the mountains with sun one moment and rain clouds the next.