Your Weekly Diversion, Week 17

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Photo courtesy of pixabay.com

It’s hard to know where to begin this week. One’s consciousness can feel quite numbed and befuddled by current events, a sort of tennis match of Here! No, here! Head on swivel, rooting for the good guys, and annoyed, appalled by others.

Boy, do we need some diversions! I wish they all were more cheerful ones, but here’s what I have.

In a session this week a client and I discussed our concerns for the environment. I mentioned the Pacific Gyre Garbage Patch. Because this was unfamiliar to my client, I pulled up some images on my iPad and we discussed this (literally) growing phenomenon. Do you know about it? These images tell the tale.

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Image used with gratitude to h2odistributors.com

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Gyre illustration by Jacob Magraw-Mickelson

So what can we do? I’m sure you know the drill: Return – Reuse – Recycle. Try to do it with every bit of plastic that enters the home, not easy to do, and I have to say I still throw out cat litter in old plastic bags, and have other similar behaviors. But I believe it helps us to learn and know the consequences of our carelessness. We make regular trips to a recycling center in Pennsylvania, saving our items in big blue IKEA bags in the garage, because in our county recycling is still optional. In Florida our recycling is collected weekly at the curb by the county. We try to use and reuse every bag and container that makes it into our house before we recycle what we can. We take the plastic rings from 6-packs of seltzer and cut them so they can’t end up around a seal’s snout or turtle’s shell. I’m no paragon of environmental activism, but I try and I know you probably do as well. Just Google “pacific garbage gyre” and select “images”. What you see will sober the most profligate among us. Hopefully.

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Image courtesy of Hazelden Betty Ford 

An original manuscript of the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book is coming up for auction, as this story in the New Yorker details. As a friend of Bill W, I found it quite informative. I’d wager that the Big Book has saved more lives and brought more into a state of spiritual awakening than all the finger wagging and booze-shaming ever did.

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Photo from Design Boom

I’d like to end on a note of serenity and beauty.  I found images of a new Buddhist shrine in China inspiring, and you can read the story here.

And here’s a little something from me to you (words from the book Making Space: Creating a Home Meditation Practice by Thich Nhat Hanh):

 

Namasté

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Meditation in the Garden

Moon Bridge by the Japanese Teahouse at the Huntington Library, San Marino, California

Long ago in my childhood, as I was growing up in Southern California, I was blessed by parents who both savored beauty and creativity. Together we went to museums, gardens, arboretums, botanical gardens, and  historic places including the old Spanish missions erected by the monks who helped settle California, led by Fra Junipero Serra, about whom I learned in elementary school.

Recently in a guided meditation, I was drawn back to the Japanese Teahouse of the Huntington Library in San Marino, near Pasadena. This teahouse fascinated me with its low cushions and tables and delicate rice paper shoji screens. I might have forgotten it except for my son reminding me not long ago of my taking him to the same beautiful place in his childhood, and he remembered Gainsborough’s “Blue Boy.”

Thomas Gainsborough's "Blue Boy" painted in 1770, from the collection of the Huntington Library

Thomas Gainsborough’s “Blue Boy” painted in 1770, from the collection of the Huntington Library

When he mentioned the painting, I recalled my many trips to the Huntington Library as well, and I mentioned the Japanese Teahouse which suddenly came into my mind complete with full-color impressions. He recalled it, too, and we spoke of how lovely it was.

Japanese teahouse interior

Japanese Teahouse Interior

In my meditation some time ago I saw myself in the teahouse on a cushion, the shoji walls moved aside to reveal the beautiful gardens outside. I saw a woven basket filled with gorgeous lotus flowers beside me. First someone who helped raise me came to me and presented me with a lotus blossom, a loving gift teaching self-love and acceptance, for it is sometimes easier to accept the love from another than to give it to ourselves. Then as I sat, one by one my close friends and loved ones approached me and to each I gave a flower. Next came those towards whom I feel neutral feelings, and lastly those with whom I am or have been in painful conflict, and each received a flower.

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The next time I sat in meditation and brought up this scene, I found that I was sitting just outside the teahouse on a rock near a stream, surrounded by manicured lawns and shrubbery, and in my basket were dahlias.

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Each, as before, but in different order came and were given a flower. Some came by for a second flower and this was fine. Water flowed by me, making its sweet fluid music, and early crickets chirped in the reeds. Orange and dappled koi circled lazily in the waters by a stone footbridge linking me to the lawns of the teahouse.

Koi by the Japanese Teahouse at the Huntington Library

Koi by the Japanese Teahouse at the Huntington Library

I will share with you now a Metta (loving kindness) meditation I use every day, in one form or another. This one is taken from Making Space: Creating a Home Meditation Practice, by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. May it serve you as well as it has served me. The sounds behind my voice are those of a stream and crickets, punctuated by a Tibetan singing bowl.

Please enjoy, and share if you feel so inclined.

Click on the link below for a 7.15 minute meditation.

Namaste

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My Obsession

 

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Asked what occupies my head a great deal of the time , I have to admit it isn’t the dharma or my commitment to my vegan lifestyle, as much as I wish it were. No, it’s more often my physical being and what’s wrong with it. It’s health concerns and the aging process and weighing more vs. looking youthful, slim and enviable. Yes, thank goodness for my practice which gets me onto the meditation cushion two or three times a day, and I do contemplate the Buddha and the Noble Eightfold Path, and I practice Metta (loving kindness meditation) sincerely. But preparing for a vacation, I have been trying on colorful new clothing, as well as the summer things I’ve packed away since last fall, and feeling lumpy and uncomfortable trying to wear the size number I can accept. The reality is that I don’t look good in that number anymore. Acceptance of reality is optional, but denial and delusion are not okay with me.

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So what I have been obsessing over of late is how to look my best in two weeks despite midsection weight creep. Happily, having finished a session of meditation, I believe I know now how to handle this. The numbers, whether on the scale, on a tape measure, or on the tag of a garment, have no meaning other than to compare oneself to one’s former self, to one’s fellows, or to one’s ideal. I aspire daily in my Metta practice, “May I learn to look at myself with the eyes of understanding and love.”  And also, “May I learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving and delusion in myself.” So the delusion that I must be thin–approximating an ideal, in order to be acceptable and worthy of my own understanding and love, once I see, can be shed. This is a sexist ideal, an ageist ideal, a socially promoted ideal, and for today I let it go.

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What also informed me were experiments where children were shown dolls or cards with images of children of varying complexion from pale to very dark. Whenever shown a pair where one child was light and another dark and asked which child or doll was smarter, nicer, more honest, etc., the child, regardless of his or her race, nearly always chose the lighter-complexioned one.

This got me thinking; if I were shown images of women, thin, slightly overweight and very overweight, and if asked who was smarter, nicer, richer, or more honest, I would probably select the thinner one. How sad. But knowledge is power, and as we learn to know ourselves, we become freed from prejudice, self-denigration, low self-esteem and delusion. May I learn to look at myself with the eyes of understanding and love. And may we all learn to look at all our fellow beings with the eyes of understanding and love. May it be so.

And today, this is my practice.

Namaste

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Being An Instrument of Peace

Made with Repix (http://repix.it)

Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi

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How do we become an instrument of peace?

St. Francis of Assisi lived the words in this prayer attributed to him. He, as did the Buddha, gave up a life of wealth and ease to live modestly and spend his time and energies ministering to the poor and those in need of compassion and relief from suffering. It is said that animals of all kinds came towards him, and he is often depicted with birds on his shoulders and resting in his open hands, and adoring animals at his feet. The Franciscan Order was founded in his name and espousing his values, and Francis, the current Pope, himself a Franciscan, has demonstrated his commitment to being an instrument of peace wherever he goes.

  • In order to transmit peace, we need to receive and nurture peace. This means seeking it and sharing it.
  • Being an instrument of peace, in my view, means abstaining from harming any other beings, practicing ahimsa, the Eastern principle of non-harming.
  • To receive peace we need to be in harmony with the peace around us. We therefore must tune in to peace wherever it may be. We must seek out beauty and tranquility in nature, and we must gravitate to those beings with whom we feel at peace. Animals who share our lives can bring us the peace of their presence.
  • We can find peace virtually anywhere, even where suffering occurs. Even in suffering, we can be at peace, and we can comfort others in their suffering with our peace. Even one suffering and near death can be at peace and in so being transmit that peace to us.

To be an instrument of peace means to earnestly seek peace for all beings–whomever, however and wherever they may be. When we can do this, we begin to become liberated from the schadenfreude that characterizes much modern emotional life. We no longer wish for our allies, candidates or teams to win at the expense of their competitors suffering ignominious defeat. It becomes possible for us to feel at ease with win-win, rather than requiring win-lose for our happiness. This is not to say that we will not yearn for goodness, right and charity toward all to prevail. Naturally we will seek these things always. But we learn to refrain from wishing ill towards those who fight against goodness, right, and charity toward all. Perhaps as peace truly takes up residence in our hearts and minds we aspire for those who sow misery to be transformed into loving, caring and better beings.

One way we can transmit peace toward all beings, to truly be an instrument of peace, is to make Metta, or loving kindness, meditation a part of our daily practice. We aspire to all the desirable states of being for ourselves, then for our loved ones, next for those with whom we do not feel peace and harmony or are aware they do not feel them towards us, and lastly for all other beings, whomever, however and wherever they may be.

When we aspire to Metta, or loving kindness, for all beings, we do so in a sweeping “lighthouse” sort of manner:

For beings in this universe and all other universes.

For all beings above us and below us.

All beings to the north, south, east and west of us.

Male beings and female beings.

Young beings and old beings.

Human beings, animal beings, and all other beings.

Living beings, and beings who are not yet living.

Beings in the air, beings on the earth, beings under the earth.

Beings in or on the waters of the oceans, rivers, lakes and streams.

Beings wherever they may on the path toward enlightenment.

Beings at any plane of existence or level of consciousness.

When I first began practicing Metta meditation, I failed to comprehend the value of this sweeping, inclusive nature of the practice. I simply wished for “all beings” all the aspirations I wished for myself. Now I find myself visualizing peace and all goodness for all beings as I list the various kinds of beings and their various states and positions, and I can feel the loving kindness permeating me as I visualize it permeating the universes and all who dwell in any state of being within them. In this manner, I believe we broadcast loving kindness in all directions, and thus truly become Instruments of Peace.

Today I heard a beautiful rendition of the St. Francis Prayer by Singh Kaur, a devout Sikh convert and amazing musician, and a being whose life ended long before its time, or so it must feel to all those who loved her. This beautiful floral slide show complements her heavenly voice.

 

Mindful calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

Zen calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

Namaste

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Mountain Mindfulness and Metta

Snowy Woods

My practice today:

Sitting before my window to meditate today, my eyes rest on the changing winter scene outside. My heart is full with gratitude for returning health after illness, calm after concern, ease after stress. I begin with mindful breathing.

Breathing in I am calm, breathing out I smile.

Breathing in I see the blue sky, breathing out I see the trees.

Breathing in I feel the sun, breathing out I see the shadows.

Breathing in I am calm, breathing out I smile.

Breathing in I see the clouds, breathing out I hear the wind.

Breathing in I see the branches, breathing out I see old leaves.

Breathing in I see green fir boughs, breathing out I see white snow.

Breathing in I see the rocks, breathing out I see the bark.

Breathing in I feel the sun, breathing out I feel solid.

Breathing in I feel peace, breathing out I smile.

Breathing in I feel soft paws on my back, breathing out I greet my cat.

Breathing in we see the trees, breathing out we watch the leaves.

Breathing in I have love, breathing out I am at peace.

After continuing in this manner for many minutes, I began my customary Metta (loving kindness) practice, aspiring first for myself. Then I aspired for specific loved ones in need, for all loved ones, for family and extended family, for friends, for neighbors, and for clients. Next I aspired for those with whom I have or have had conflict. Lastly I aspired for all beings near and far, in this universe and all other universes, to the north and the south, to the east and the west, above me and below me,  in the earth, in the air, in the seas and in the rivers and lakes, living and not yet living,  human and non-human, male and female, young and old, known to me and unknown to me, and those who know me and those who do not.

And today this is my practice.

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Namaste

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Compassionate Listening

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Compassionate listening is an important tool in my toolbox, one that needs to be kept sharpened and ready at all times. When it’s allowed to get dull, I can’t be very effective.

In my work as a psychologist, one of the topics that come up most often is that of communication problems in our relationships. Sometimes it is a wife complaining that her husband misconstrues what she says. Or it’s a daughter feeling manipulated when her mother tells her, or doesn’t tell her, family news. At other times it is a woman in the hospital for a serious health problem complaining that her attempts to make herself understood and to ask for what she needs is seen as her being a difficult patient.

We can fail to get our point across, we can be misunderstood, and our motives for what we say can be criticized by those with whom we attempt to communicate. Naturally these ruptures in a true meeting of minds can be painful and frustrating, and sometimes they can trigger anger responses. Similarly, our loved ones, friends and others with whom we interact experience the same frustrations with us at times. It’s just the way it is. Interpersonal communications are often difficult and stressful, partly because we don’t always speak the same language, metaphorically. We “hear” different things than the other person is trying to say.

If we practice meditation, and if we focus on loving kindness, or Metta, towards and for ourselves as well as for others, we become better able to sit and hear what our loved one is saying to us. Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh has suggested that we say something to a loved one such as, “My darling, I am here for you.”  You may wish to say it another way, but the point is to be able to invite communication from our loved one and listen as he or she speaks to us. We may be very tempted to reply to something that is said, to defend ourselves, to correct the other person, to fight back against a statement that feels harsh with harsh words of our own. But with compassionate listening, we simply hear, listen and stay aware of what we are hearing.

Later on, we may wish to correct something we heard, but during the practice of compassionate listening, we are fully present to listen and listen only. We may be quite surprised, and often pleasantly so, by what we hear. And even when the thing we hear is not so pleasant, it may be that we need to hear it, let it percolate into our being so that we might reflect upon it, and if it is true, to use the opportunity for growth and healing within ourselves.

To work on our compassionate listening skills, this sourcebook by Gene Knudsen Hoffman, Cynthia Monroe and Leah Green offers many useful exercises to help us do it.

Compassionate Listening Sourcebook

The following from Thich Nhat Hanh offers rich food for thought on this topic as well for those who wish to delve deeper:

Deep Listening and Loving Speech, Thich Nhat Hanh

UPDATE: In the two years since I first published this post, I have encountered two more potential impediments to compassionate listening and both relate to aging in my work as a psychologist practicing psychotherapy. Because I’m now a Medicare provider in an area with fewer such providers, my psychotherapy practice embraces more older men and women than ever before. As I and those around me get older I’ve had many personal experiences with these listening impediments as well.

The first impediment is impaired hearing in which the listener mishears or fails to hear all our words and “fills in” what they think we said, sometimes getting it very wrong. Later someone one tells us emphatically that we said thus and so, perhaps something very contrary to our intent or even tragically so, creating a conflict we must now try to resolve, a potential distraction to the sensitive work at hand. It can be extremely frustrating to both speaker and listener for the communicatin to break down simply because one or both parties can’t hear as well as they think they do.

The second impediment is the more frequent word-finding difficulty most older people experience. We all do this from time to time, and as we get older it happens with getter frequency. They may pause as they search for a certain word or familiar phrase, creating a gap in the narrative. A frustrated listener might quickly offer suggestions, and this is can be perceived as a failure to respect the speaker’s competency or autonomy. Another word-finding phenomenon is the speaker reaching into his or her vast vocabulary database, as it were, and pulling out a similar but incorrect word. The listener then wonders what this is supposed to mean and may ask. The response may follow, “You know what I mean!” Perhaps we do, but what if we don’t? Compassionate listening involves seeing and feeling the struggle that others are experiencing and giving them time and space to find their way. If they ask us to suggest a word, we should do so, but with the tentative deference suggesting we leave it to them to confirm or reject our suggestion. I find it helps to offer something like, “I’m having trouble hearing what you’re trying to say. My fault. Would you please try again?”

As we ourselves get older we will do the same sometimes. Our compassion for others with these difficulties will help us be compassionate towards ourselves as we fumble to express ourselves so that our listener understands. And if we have developed compassion towards ourselves by practicing Metta, or loving kindness, we will naturally feel compassion as we listen.

 

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Namaste

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Celebrating the Metta Sutta

Metta Sutta

The Metta Sutta is dharma from The Buddha to guide those of us who follow his teachings in the manner in which we ought to manage our attitudes, our intentions and our actions in all areas of life. This translation is the “Karaniya Metta Sutta: The Buddha’s Words on Loving-Kindness” (Sn 1.8) translated from the Pali by The Amavarati Sangha.  Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 2 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/snp/snp.1.08.amar.html

We can begin by reading the Metta Sutta often. We can post a copy of it on the wall of our home or office where we can see and be reminded of its powerful sentiments throughout the day. I created the poster of the Karaniya Metta Sutta you see above using one of my own photographs for this very purpose in my life. When we sit to meditate, we can read the text and reflect on the words as we focus on our breathing, and we can aspire to the sentiments for ourselves, our loved ones, those with whom we have or have had conflict, and lastly for all beings everywhere, in every status of existence. Sharon Salzberg in her book Loving-Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness (Shambhala) explains this in detail and offers exercises with which to begin to implement the Metta Sutta. I highly recommend the book to anyone wishing to bring loving kindness into fruition more fully in his or her life.

We can realize profound psychological benefits from practicing Metta, or Loving Kindness, meditation.

  • We begin to have loving thoughts towards ourselves. This is huge and very healing for any of us who suffers low self-esteem, shame, guilt or insecurity. This is not a negative selfishness but an empowering, enlightened self-interest. It is not possible to revile the self and exalt others with heartfelt sincerity. We must allow ourselves to receive self-love, self-acceptance, hopefulness for and on behalf of ourselves, and to desire to experience joy and happiness, even as we experience the inevitable suffering life brings. Only then are we capable of feeling love, acceptance, hopefulness, and wishes for joy and happiness on behalf of any other being.
  • We expand on the love we already perceive for our family and other loved ones. This allows us to focus mindfully on them while wishing goodness for them, just as we wish it for ourselves. This aspect of Metta can soothe the conflict that arises in even the most loving relationships when we feel misunderstood, taken for granted, abused or exploited. Sometimes the other person needs our loving kindness more than our scolding or our rebuke, even when we feel the least like providing that loving kindness.
  • We wish for goodness for even those with whom we’ve experienced great conflict, felt anger, carried resentment, or harbored negative emotions, intentions, judgments or sentiments. When we do this, we are freeing ourselves from the toxic poisons those negative thoughts and feelings imbue in us, toxic poisons that can be addictive in their own right. When we begin to wish positive aspirations for those enemy persons, we are freeing ourselves from optional suffering, right then. Recently I practiced Metta on behalf of a public figure for whom I had felt anger due to the appearance of corruption and abuse of power. When I did this, I felt a sense of relief.
  • We wish for freedom from suffering for all beings, and that includes non-human animals as well as those persons living and not-yet-living, as the Metta Sutta says. We wish for goodness for people we know and those we will never meet, and this positive energy is very powerful.

I recommend savoring the Great Bell Chant that features Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh chanting and speaking a message of Metta. This video is beautiful and can bring peace to anyone who allows the sound to envelope his or her being, if even for a few minutes.

Loving kindness practice is a process. We allow ourselves to begin it, with no particular expectation, no mandate to get there by a certain date or time, but to simply begin, if and when we wish to begin it. And until we do, many practitioners of Metta around the world are wishing it for us, as they do for all other beings

I suggest you try Metta meditation for yourself. Please comment on this post to let us know what happens for you. Or feel free to contact me via either of my websites listed on the About page.

Namaste

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