Thanksgiving Thoughts

 

image

Thanksgiving is one of those conduits through this life I’ve been living since 1951. No, I don’t remember each and every one of them, but I do remember many. Here are some of those:

  • The turkey dinners ordered from Zucky’s kosher deli with all the trimmings
  • Mom learning from Gracie how to stuff and truss a turkey, with needle and button thread
  • The lentil loaf we had one year instead of turkey when Mom was a vegetarian
  • Thanksgiving dinner with Granny at the Santa Ynez Inn
  • The year when Lucille put her turkey on the counter and our cat and hers dragged it onto the floor and gnawed on it
  • Making my first pumpkin pie in high school from canned pie filling and a store-bought crust
  • Learning to make pumpkin pie from canned pumpkin and scratch crust
  • Jumping up on down on a scratch crust that refused to turn out, and starting all over again
  • Finally making pumpkin pie from a fresh pumpkin and a frozen crust
  • Getting the Betty Crocker Cookbook and making the turkey and everything for the family
  • Discovering the ubiquitous green bean casserole with French fried onions on top
  • Spending Thanksgivings during boarding school with my aunt and uncle in New Jersey
  • Discovering the ease of the disposable foil roasting pan, learning to put a cookie sheet under it
  • Adding a roasting bag and making the whole thing so much easier
  • Wanting to go to Dysart’s (inspired by Tim Sample) but new friends insisted we join them
  • Spending more than one Thanksgiving serving turkey at a church covered dish supper
  • Realizing there are many different Jell-o salads and Ambrosias, all with lots of whipped topping
  • Becoming a vegetarian briefly and actually making a lentil loaf for our Thanksgiving one year
  • Going on Atkins and eating way more turkey than anyone else at the table, and not much else
  • Watching a Mercy for Animals video on factory farm cruelty to turkeys, cows and other beings
  • Becoming a vegetarian again and eventually going vegan and remaining so
  • Making my first vegan Tofurky Feast, lots of work but good, especially the stuffing and gravy
  • Enjoying the Gardein Holiday Roast, a tasty turkey substitute

image

And that brings me to this Thanksgiving. It was supposed to snow all over the northeast but in New York it only rained yesterday, and Wednesday is a very bad day to try to drive from New York to Pennsylvania, a Gridlock Alert Day, because everyone wants to get out of town at once. So this morning we drove to PA and once we hit New Jersey it snowed the rest of the way. There was about a foot of snow on the back deck, and although our driveway had been plowed this morning, there was another inch or two of fresh snow on our walk and driveway. The house warmed up fast with the fireplace and heat pump working beautifully. I put on my apron and started cooking. I roasted a turkey leg for my husband according to a recipe with rave reviews (it was disappointing), and I made stuffing in the crockpot, mashed potatoes, gravy, and green beans, and a wonderful Field Roast Celebration Roast as my vegan main dish. We had a lovely loaf of cranberry bread, cranberry sauce and olives. I turned to Mary McDougall and the Happy Herbivore for my recipes. Last week I had made butternut squash soup in advance for today. Dessert was a three-berry crumb pie from Fairway, with decaf. Delish!

image

The food was fine, but I am so thankful for my family, our health, my recovery from back pain, our cat, our friends, my Buddhist practice, our material blessings, my work, and so very much more. And this year, as my teacher Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh lies in a hospital in France recovering from a severe brain hemorrhage, I am so thankful to have learned so many valuable lessons for my life from him. I hope and pray for his full recovery. I also understand that at 88 he may transition from this life before long.

image

 

Namaste

IMG_0154

 

 

 

 

 

The Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore

 

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh

 

We are so very fortunate that on September 11, 2014, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, called Thay (“teacher”) by his followers, presented a brand new English translation of the ancient Sanskrit text known as the Heart Sutra, one which he said corrects an error in translation made approximately 2,000 years ago. Recently I wrote a piece here about the Heart Sutra, and I now happily share this version with you. Thay calls this, based on the original texts, “The Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore.” If you go to the Plum Village website you will find the details and more information. Here is the retranslation:

Thay’s retranslation of the New Heart Sutra, in English, September 11th, 2014

The Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore

Avalokiteshvara
while practicing deeply with
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore,
suddenly discovered that
all of the five Skandhas are equally empty,
and with this realisation
he overcame all Ill-being.

“Listen Sariputra,
this Body itself is Emptiness
and Emptiness itself is this Body.
This Body is not other than Emptiness
and Emptiness is not other than this Body.
The same is true of Feelings,
Perceptions, Mental Formations,
and Consciousness.

“Listen Sariputra,
all phenomena bear the mark of Emptiness;
their true nature is the nature of
no Birth no Death,
no Being no Non-being,
no Defilement no Immaculacy,
no Increasing no Decreasing.

“That is why in Emptiness,
Body, Feelings, Perceptions,
Mental Formations and Consciousness
are not separate self entities.

The Eighteen Realms of Phenomena
which are the six Sense Organs,
the six Sense Objects,
and the six Consciousnesses
are also not separate self entities.

The Twelve Links of Interdependent Arising
and their Extinction
are also not separate self entities.
Ill-being, the Causes of Ill-being,
the End of Ill-being, the Path,
insight and attainment,
are also not separate self entities.

Whoever can see this
no longer needs anything to attain.
Bodhisattvas who practice
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore
see no more obstacles in their mind,
and because there
are no more obstacles in their mind,
they can overcome all fear,
destroy all wrong perceptions
and realize Perfect Nirvana.

“All Buddhas in the past, present and future
by practicing
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore
are all capable of attaining
Authentic and Perfect Enlightenment.

“Therefore Sariputra,
it should be known that
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore
is a Great Mantra,
the most illuminating mantra,
the highest mantra,
a mantra beyond compare,
the True Wisdom that has the power
to put an end to all kinds of suffering.
Therefore let us proclaim
a mantra to praise
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore.

Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!
Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!
Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!”

 

The mantra Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi, Svaha, means, as said in my previous post, “Om, Gone, Gone Beyond, Gone Completely Beyond, Awake, So Be It.”

If you would like to listen to a chanting of the mantra, here is a version by Deva Premal and the Gyuto monks of Tibet.  Deva Premal begins chanting in a lilting voice, later accompanying the rumbling voices of the monks. The Tibetan monks here chant in a deep, bass throat singing characteristic of much Tibetan chanting, repeating the mantra 108 times:

 

 

 Shakyamuni Buddha

Namaste

 IMG_0154

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.

lotus flower

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.

dahlia

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

 IMG_0154

Practising Listening with Empathy, by Thich Nhat Hanh

Thay’s words on compassionate listening and the blessings of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Please take some time to listen to the Plum Village monastics chant Namo Avalokiteshvara.

Buddhism now

Mustang girl and prayer flags. Photo © Lisa Daix Yesterday, Sister True Virtue talked a little bit about the fourth precept concerning speaking and listening. This is a very deep practice. Listening is an art, and many people do not have the capacity for it, especially in the case of listening to the suffering of others. One reason for that is that in the listeners themselves, there is also much pain. The store consciousness is filled with pain and grief, and that is why it is so difficult for such people to listen to others. In order to be able to listen, we need to learn how to transform the suffering in ourselves.

Talking is also an art because if we have many internal formations within us and if we do not know the art of mindful breathing, then while speaking we shall be carried away by our feelings, our anger, and what we say may hurt people deeply…

View original post 920 more words

Being An Instrument of Peace

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

Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi

SaintFrancisPrayer

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

IMG_0154

Overcoming Obstacles to Meditation

Image courtesy of Kelledia's Garden

Image courtesy of Kelledia’s Garden

Meditation is so important to me. I often share my commitment to meditation with friends, family and sometimes psychotherapy patients and guidance clients. It is my hope to spark sufficient interest in the practice that others might try meditation for themselves and find the many blessings from the practice that I have received. Some tell me they already have a practice, and this nourishes my happiness. Others express a willingness to meditate and I suggest how they can begin. Others still give me reasons why meditation is no good for them, tell me how they tried and they could not do it, or give a critical take on the practice from afar. I decided to address these obstacles to embracing the practice of meditation. Perhaps you have heard these reasons from others or said them yourself. Let’s see what we can do with them here.

FAQs

Meditation is too passive for me. I’m a action person. Why should I  sit there doing nothing?

Meditation actually is very active. We sit and in doing so we engage various muscles throughout the body to help ourselves remain upright. Some of us even find that our bodies sway as we sit deep in our practice. There are many postures adopted by people who meditate: Lotus position, Half-Lotus position, Burmese posture, sitting or kneeling with a seiza (meditation bench), sitting on a zabuton (meditation mat) with or without a zafu (round cushion), chair sitting, and what Thich Nhat Hanh calls the Chrysanthemum Pose (any position that is comfortable for you). I urge anyone who is curious about these poses and the words that describe them to research them. Images and descriptions abound online.

We sit and we breathe in and out, perhaps with a mantra, and let our thoughts drift. Our goal is to notice our thoughts but not engage them. Naturally we find ourselves distracted by our thoughts and engaging them without realizing we are doing so. When we become aware we are doing this, we return to our breath or our mantra. When we manage to begin to sit for 15 or 20 minutes, and especially if we sit longer, when we get back to our feet our muscles will tell us that we have been engaged in an activity.

There’s nowhere in my place where I can have peace and quiet. I can hear the TV and people talking, and I find myself listening to the words and not meditating. How do I meditate with noise around me?

It is a myth that in order to meditate we need complete silence. If we are distractible, and many of us are, we can mask the distracting sounds with white noise or other sounds that can enhance meditation. I often use music such as Zen flute songs, chanting, New Age sounds, and Tibetan singing bowls from an iTunes meditation playlist I’ve developed over time. I also use nature sounds such as surf, waterfall, wind chimes, or crackling fire as white noise, or a combination of two of these. I recommend the Tune In Radio and Calm Radio apps for this purpose, although some selections involve intermittent interruptions inviting paid subscriptions, which can be worth it if it helps you. I find these work well to create an island of serene sound in which to meditate.

My thoughts race and next thing I know I’m all worried about something, no matter how hard I try to focus on my breathing or mantra. I’m no good at meditation. I just can’t do it. Why should I try again?

You are meditating even when you become distracted. Meditation is not about reaching a state of mindless bliss where nothing happens in your head. Meditation is about being mindful of your thoughts and staying above the fray where you don’t engage them. However, since we all do it in meditation, the key is not to react with shame or a sense of hopelessness, but to respond with awareness of having strayed from the focal point of breath or mantra and return to it. We will do this many times in our meditation sessions. The key is to come back to the process of meditating. Just keep doing it and know you are doing it.

You don’t understand. I sit down, set the intention to meditate for 5 minutes, maybe even set a timer. Next thing I know I’m in the kitchen making a cup of tea. If I hear the bell of the timer, I am clueless. I have totally forgotten I was trying to meditate. I feel that I’m a failure at meditation. What’s wrong with me?

When this happens, you may be dissociating. It’s possible that sitting in this way triggers a sense of vulnerability and then anxiety, and for some people that’s all it takes to switch their attention from the “meditation channel” to something else. If that happens to you, I suggest putting a Post-It note somewhere you’re sure to notice it near where you intend to sit to meditate. On the note you can write something like, “At 2:10 p.m. I am sitting to meditate for 10 minutes.” When you “come to” with no clue, this can reorient you back into the intention. You can re-enter your meditation if you wish, or you can leave it for a later time. People with chronic dissociative symptoms often have difficulty with meditation until they reach some consensus within that this activity is both safe and desirable. Many people who suffer from extreme dissociation find that addressing this in therapy is helpful. Until you feel more at ease meditating, I consider every attempt, however brief and after however long a hiatus, to be a goal reached successfully. Celebrate it!

Meditation isn’t for me. It’s for monks and New-Agey, hippie, punk people, not for me. I don’t care about enlightenment. I just want to reduce my stress. The trouble is, I don’t want to take drugs to do that. I wish there were something natural I could do to reduce my stress. What can I do?

Good news! While some meditation is overtly spiritual in nature and many enjoy it as such, there is a secular form of meditation that can be very effective in reducing disturbing feelings such as stress and certain health issues related to stress. In fact, this technique is called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction or MBSR. Watch the video and see what you think:

Want to know more? Check out this MBSR Workbook. Or search online for more information. A friend began meditating after learning MBSR at a clinic where she was being treated for health issues  exacerbated by stress. She found MBSR very helpful. She has since begun Buddhist meditation, saying she felt she needed a more spiritual form of meditation.

How can I motivate myself to meditate? I want to make meditation a regular part of my life, but I get so discouraged when days go by and I am either too busy, too lazy or too unwilling to take the time to sit and do it.

 Graphic by DannaRay on Etsy


Graphic by Danna Ray on Etsy

Most of us need some encouragement to start a habit. By the way, it only takes from 14 to 21 days of doing something for consecutive days to establish a habit. Why not try to establish the habit of meditating? Then you will be more inclined to make the effort. But about getting motivated,  here are some ways you can do that:

  1. Ask a friend who meditates to encourage you, and then perhaps arrange to call, text or email him or her that you are going to sit, and then call or send another message after you’ve done it. Some call this “book-ending” and it can really help us do things we seem to have an aversion to doing, even when we have a desire to do it.
  2. Start a journal, on paper, on your computer or mobile device, or online. I have used the Insight Timer app with its great journal function for years. It’s a wonderful tool and at the end of every session you complete using its timer, it offers you the option of writing in its journal, which remains private on your device. There is also a robust online community on the app with many fellow meditators around the world joining you when you sit. Periodically you will receive notifications that you’ve meditated for so many days, weeks, months or years, and get colored stars. That can be a great motivator for some people.
  3. Read a good book about meditation. I recommend Making Space: Creating a Home Meditation Practice, by Thich Nhat Hanh. There are concise, simple directions on how to start meditating. Depending on your goals, there are a number of ways suggested in the book, and any of them can help you get going.
Making Space: Creating a Home Meditation Practice by Thich Nhat Hanh

Making Space: Creating a Home Meditation Practice by Thich Nhat Hanh

However you begin to meditate, I hope you will try it for yourself. I have found great peace of mind every day from my personal practice. I hope you will too. Just face those obstacles head-on and have a seat!

Namaste

IMG_0154

Happy Happy, Joy Joy, Spring is here!

Google Spring doodle

Spring has arrived! If you opened your computer, iOS or Android device this morning and clicked on Google to search something out, you saw the image above. It’s animated, so check it out on Google! Seldom has a Google Doodle lifted my spirits as much!

This has been the most horrendous of winters in the Northeast that most of us can remember. Oldtimers have told me they can’t remember such a span of unending winter misery in New York. It has felt as if the cold and snow and ice would never end. But with the arrival of the vernal equinox today at about 1:00 pm EDT, officially, winter is over! Oh sure, we may get more cold days and even some snow before summer hits, but basically, we’ve made it through the worst, and bluer skies and warm weather await.

Why does it matter so much to us? How much it matters has a lot to do with our biology (genetics predominately) and our temperament. If we are active people who enjoy winter sports, the advent of snow can be cause for celebrating.

snowshoes

We have snowshoes and have been enjoying them this winter, but care must be taken always to be moving forward and use the poles. Failing to do either of these can mean falling into hip-deep snow with virtually no way to get upright again. Nevertheless, I love snowshoeing and look forward to getting to use them again. We may still have sufficient snow in the country to use the snowshoes, but if we have to wait until next winter, I won’t be sorry.

Genetically, we may be prone to depression in the form of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Many of my clients struggle with this every year, and sometimes the best we can do about it is to acknowledge that eventually it will end. Some people have told me that in late December when the days grow imperceptibly longer again, they can start to feel that depression lift. There are full-spectrum lighting devices available that mimic sunlight, and a few people I have treated claim they help, but of course, only if they use them. Because it means sitting by the light source for 30 minutes or so, many people don’t find them practical.

If our temperament is anxious, it may have begun to seem that this winter is a personal affront to us, a scheme designed to thwart our best efforts and consign us to misery, forever and ever, amen. If our temperament is depressive, we may feel dumped on by the universe and believe that despite winter always coming to an end in the past, this year, and maybe due to the wacky weirdness of climate change, it will never leave. We may imagine ourselves peering out onto an icy front walk in July. Depression has a way of lying to us and convincing us that whatever misery we currently experience is interminable, permanent.

Life is actually pretty short, in the scheme of things. It seems just as if it were yesterday that our adult kids were babies, for example, or that we ourselves were young and had a vast lifetime of possibilities stretching ahead of us. If we don’t live in the now, we miss our lives. Here’s where mindfulness offers us so much. We need to move with all deliberate speed, meaning proceed on the path without withering by the wayside for too long. Meaning we need to understand what our priorities are because they are what drive us. Meaning we need to go slowly enough to savor the life we are living, even the suffering which is such a great teacher that makes the sweetness in life so much more delicious. “No mud, No lotus”, as Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us.

more to life Gandhi

What have you hoped to accomplish in this life? Have you started to go after the things you still fervently wish for? No? Start now. Begin to write, take a painting class, start a blog, take photographs with your phone and have fun playing around with them on your computer or tablet. Take a class, begin to meditate. Whatever it is, there is a way you can begin to do it, if even only a little bit. Do it! Let go of what anyone else thinks you should or should not do. Listen to your heart and try to let it guide you into a positive new direction, one which aligns with your values and your dreams.

life is short

Those of us who have sat by the bedside of a dying loved one know how short life is. So let’s begin to nail down some goals and take steps toward reaching them. We just don’t know how much time we will have if we delay.

do it now

May I be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in myself.

And today, this is my practice.

Namaste

IMG_0154