Practice of Metta and the English Problem, by John Aske

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Photo from Buddhism Now post of 5/3/17

I just read this interesting article from Buddhism Now. It seems that resistance to experiencing or acknowledging having truly loving feelings toward the self might also be an American problem, or perhaps simply a Western problem. But I suspect that cultivating Metta, or loving kindness, toward the self is quite difficult for many of us living human beings. What is especially wonderful about John Aske’s very British difficulty with Metta, is how he used his successful conduit into Metta to address and eliminate his depression!

Read on to enjoy this most Buddhist perspective on a most ubiquitous Western malady, by clicking on the link below.

Source: Practice of metta and the English Problem, by John Aske

Namasté 

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Your Weekly Diversion, Week 5

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Our need for diversion continues, but so does the need for a bit of healthy reality testing. The world is watching a political circus unfolding in many places in the West as anger and prejudice against others less fortunate or just different seem to gain footholds against civility. The indomitable and inspiring Pope Francis speaks out against populism and xenophobia. To me, he embodies the Buddhist ideal of Metta, or loving kindness.

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Image courtesy of Imagen Subliminal

What would it be like to be immersed in translucent color, wandering through a colorful maze of visual intensity? This Chinese exhibit gives visitors that very experience.

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Image courtesy of musictreasures.com

The rest of the diversions I found for you this week were inspired by the Grammy Awards. Sure I found recipes, stories and other interesting things to share, but, music!

Did you see and hear Maren Morris win her Grammy with “My Church,” Best Country Solo Performance this year? I really enjoyed her fresh and courageous style.

Reading a list of awards given out before the broadcast, I saw that one of our national treasures, Willie Nelson, won a Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album with “Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin.”

Listening to a commercial, I heard this amazing song, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free,” by Nina Simone, and while I do not recall what product was being advertised, the song really moved me. What a woman, what writing, and what a voice!

Namasté

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Why Buddhists Should be Vegetarian

As a Buddhist and imperfect vegan who more accurately fits the definition of vegetarian, this post offers much food for thought, if you’ll pardon the unfortunate cliché, and the comments that follow are every bit as thought provoking and helpful in their way as the author’s most excellent writing on the subject. Let us all reason together, explore, discuss, evolve and change for the better. May we try each day to live Metta, or loving kindness, to the very best of our imperfect ability. Namasté, Sonnische/Shielagh

Sujato’s Blog

The Buddha ate meat. This is a fairly well attested fact. The issue of vegetarianism is addressed a few times in the Suttas, notably the Jivaka Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya. The Buddha consistently affirmed that monastics were permitted to eat meat, as long as it was not killed intentionally for them. There are numerous passages in the Vinaya that refer to the Buddha or the monastics eating meat, and meat is regularly mentioned as one of the standard foods.

For these reasons, the standard position in Theravada Buddhism is that there is no ethical problem with eating meat. If you want to be vegetarian, that is a purely optional choice. Most Theravadins, whether lay or monastic, eat meat, and claim to be acting within the ethical guidelines of the Buddha’s teachings.

This position sits squarely within a straightforward application of the law of kamma, understood as intention. Eating meat…

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Revisiting Compassionate Listening

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In the two years since I first published a post on compassionate listening, I’ve had many opportunities, both personally and professionally, to experience how very essential to our wellbeing and our relationships compassionate listening truly is.

Whether our listening involves another person face to face, on the phone, or via text or email, or just watching a speaker on TV, we can miss a lot if we aren’t giving what we hear (or consume electronically) our full attention. True wisdom mandates we really attend to the other person openly, empathically and with kindness.

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I have encountered two more potential impediments to compassionate listening and both relate to aging that I experience 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 potentially sensitive work at hand. It can be extremely frustrating to both speaker and listener for the communication to break down simply because one or both parties can’t hear as well as they think they do. While it can be amusing, as the photo below illustrates, usually communication failure due to hearing problems is far from funny. It’s embarrassing and frustrating and interferes with friendly interactions.

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The second impediment is the increasingly frequent word-finding difficulty most older people experience. We all do this from time to time, and as we get older it happens with greater frequency. Speakers may pause as they search for certain words or familiar phrases, creating gaps in the narrative. A frustrated listener might quickly offer suggestions, and this can be perceived as a failure to respect the speaker’s competency or autonomy.

Another variation on the 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. image The similarity may be sound (e.g. tractor for factor). It may be the way the word begins or ends (shrimp for sharp), or relate in some other way we cannot fathom as the speaker struggles to get a point across. The listener then wonders what this is supposed to mean and may ask. The annoyed or frustrated 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 grow silent with overwhelm or discouragement, or say, “Forget it!” we might ask, “Want me to try to help you with what you’re trying to say?” 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 probably will do the same sometimes. Our compassion for others with these difficulties will help us be compassionate towards ourselves if we fumble to express ourselves so that our listener understands. And if we have developed compassion towards ourselves by practicing Metta, or loving kindness, in our meditation practice as well as our daily interactions, we will naturally feel more compassion as we listen.

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Namasté

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Tears and Till Kingdom Come

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Yesterday was a day of pain and tears. Pain from inflammation in two nerves in my lower back. Pain from seeing the sadness and grief of a family all too accustomed to grief and loss burying their son, brother, father, husband, and uncle well before his three score and ten. He was 46. I began to weep seeing his stoic father, Vice-President Joe Biden walking towards the church behind the hearse with arms around his granddaughter.

image Seeing the family in their grief broke my heart. Most of my readers must know the story of young Joe losing his wife and infant daughter and nearly losing his two sons ages two and three in a car accident when he was just 30 years old. To bury the oldest of his sons has to be one of the most painful experiences anyone can undergo. My physical pain paled, and yet I found it hard to bear, unable to find even a halfway comfortable position.

 

Chris Martin of the group Coldplay, having learned that Beau Biden had liked their music, gave an acoustic rendition of “Til Kngdom Come” that reached into our hearts.

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Here is a video of Coldplay performing “Till Kingdom Come,” with the lyrics, which I found to be stirring, apt and entirely appropriate for this solemn occasion. I heard several reporters say they wept as they listened.

This music is evocative and poignant, the words ambiguous enough to fit any number of painful situations. Another in this genre that is very frank is “O Death” by Ralph Stanley whose haunting a capella performance I featured on this blog in the past.

My back pain is somewhat better today, as I hoped it would be. The Biden family’s pain is in its infancy, to be felt and honored and processed this whole next year, as Father’s Day, birthdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas come without Beau. Eventually next year at this time the corner will be turned, only a little, but turned, and life will begin to open its doors of beauty and joy to the grieving again. Whatever we may believe about an afterlife, it does get better. And yet, we never forget our ancestors and other loved ones who have gone on before us. How can we?

I will end this post with some words of Metta:

May all beings be free from suffering,

May all beings be at ease,

May all beings be happy,

May all beings have peace.

 

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Spring in the Time of Climate Change

Summer Garden Bounty

Summer Garden Bounty

 

I’ve planted a small raised bed garden annually for the last 5 or 6 years in our rural northeastern Pennsylvania community where we spend half our week. The soil is organic and freshened every spring, and no herbicides or pesticides are allowed. The whole big garden is fenced and features a rainbird-type sprinkler system that waters it once a day, so dry spells aren’t a factor. We also have a hose for watering our plots ourselves as needed. The garden seems to be divided pretty equally between veggies and gorgeous flowers, mostly enormous Dinnerplate Dahlias climbing high with help from poles and trellises. We also have a community herb plot we can all use, and last summer it included curry, basil, oregano, spearmint, peppermint, and rosemary. I love heirloom tomatoes for their tangy flavor and great texture, so I go for Mortgage Lifter. As a pretty strict (but not perfect) vegan, I love my tomatoes! Sometime I put ripe tomato slices with coconut bacon in a BLT with Just Mayo vegan mayonnaise for an amazing treat.

Mortgage Lifter heirloom, courtesy of Bonnie Plants, So named because a radiator salesman in the 1940s started selling the seeds and made enough in 6 yrs to pay off his mortgage!

Mortgage Lifter heirloom, courtesy of Bonnie Plants.
So named because a radiator salesman in the 1940s started selling the seedlings and made enough in 6 yrs to pay off his mortgage

Dinnerplate Dahlia, getting the name from the size of the blooms, and the plants can grow to over 6′ tall.

I usually throw in a Big Boy or Big Girl tomato plant to get a nice variety. I usually have four tomato plants in my 4×4′ raised bed plot. I also plant Italian flat leaf parsley and enjoy it in my green smoothies all summer. It’s the last of my plants to get killed by frost in the fall. My plot is rounded out with basil, and marigolds are interspersed to discourage pests. Two years ago some critters got in and kept biting the ripening tomatoes on the vine, so I bought wildlife netting, but I didn’t need it last year.

So here we are at Memorial Day weekend, and I was planning to buy my seedlings and get the garden in the ground tomorrow. We are in the 5b hardiness zone, which means that the average minimum winter temperature is -15 to -10 F. Our garden chief told us that the garden plots were ready to plant a month ago but urged us to wait until Memorial Day to plant, because it’s not uncommon for us to get a killing frost in May. Last year I tempted fate and planted in mid-May, and thanks to a late frost, everything but the parsley died and I had to buy all new tomato and basil plants and try again.

So I thought this weekend would be safe. Wrong! Thank goodness I haven’t bought the plants yet because last night it went down into the 30s F and some blossoms on our deck took a hit. That’s two years running with later frosts than we had been having up here. Then there were the past two winters which really pummeled the northeastern US. We had more snow than we knew what to do with. Add to these the tornados and droughts and flooding rains in various places not accustomed to them, and it seems we are in for a bumpy ride in the years ahead.

But a few weeks ago, before the foliage of the shrubs, including blackberry canes, and trees began to fill in, the daffodil bulbs bloomed. We planted them years ago when my aunt brought them to me from Tennessee. Here’s a photo I took with my iPhone, as all my originals are these days!

Early spring ruffled daffodils, from Roane County Tennessee bulbs

Early spring ruffled daffodils, from Roane County Tennessee bulbs.

Happy Memorial Day weekend to everyone in the US, as we remember our loved ones who have gone beyond, and all those who died serving our country. And May All Beings Be At Ease, everywhere.

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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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