Monday, November 28, 2011

Gratitude is Liberating

“Gratitude is liberating. It is subversive.
It helps us to realize that we are sufficient,
And that realization frees us.
Joanna Macy

The simplest connection to the divine is to SEE it.  The koan’s often say, “Look, Look!!” Do we see the mystery in our life?  Can we notice moments of beauty, love and inter-connectedness?

When we see life’s freshness in each moment, very naturally, gratitude arises.  Gratitude for our one precious human life.  Even though the course of a single day may bring innumerable blessings to us, the few moments of genuine gratitude we experience are often overshadowed by our complaints, disappointments, sorrow and frustrations.  Sometimes we have to interrupt all our attachment, cravings and manipulations to see life’s beauty, but nevertheless, we can see:  This moment is complete.  This moment is whole.  Life is precious. And as Joanna Macy said, “This realization frees us.”  Gratitude requires attention and reflection or we miss it.

A very simple practice is just to write or think of our gratitude list.  Actually writing down every day 10 things we are grateful for, can have a remarkable effect on our attitude.  Before you close your eyes at night, you can just review your list of grateful things.

 Sometimes just looking at “half-full” instead of “half-empty” is a practice.

If we have more energy for this type of practice, we can use techniques of Naikan which means “looking inside” or more poetically, “seeing oneself with the mind’s eye”. Greg Krech, an American Naikan teacher, came to Clouds in Water a number of times to teach us how to use the 3 basic questions:
•    What have I received today?
•    What have I given?
•    What troubles and difficulties have I caused?

Our internal reflection of gratitude can also transform into an expression of gratitude in the form of words, thank-you notes, services, or gifts.  Can this holiday season be one of small expressions of gratitude; thanking people, giving of time and effort to others, a smile, a compliment. 

Leave a trail of appreciation behind you.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Interpersonal Hunger

All this fall, I have felt a very deep shock after studying Greg Kramer’s “3 hungers in relationships”: 
1.    The craving for interpersonal pleasure and sensual pleasures
2.    The craving for being, which is the desire to be seen and acknowledged
3.    The craving for non-being, which wants to escape the difficulties of relationships, the fear of intimacy and the fear of exposure.
From “insight Dialogue” chapter 5, The Second Noble Truth, Interpersonal Hunger

We can see in these newly interpreted insights by Mr. Kramer, how we construct our sense of a separate self and how deeply that penetrates beneath our stories no matter what the content of our stories are. 

I have felt grabbed in my hara, shook up and disturbed.  I can see chunks of my behavior flying off me, as I’m jostled by the movement of the dharma wheel.  I feel like a tree, shaken at its trunk and its leaves falling off.  Painfully, I also see how my mind holds on to relational neurosis and then holds on to it again. Hopefully, the pain I feel in this new level of seeing will start to fade away as I gradually learn new ways of entering presence, endowed with more freedom from these habitual habits of relating and reacting.  Awareness is healing, so the Buddha says.

I think the most jarring awareness is boomeranging back and forth between wanting to be seen, praised, and acknowledged; and wanting to escape or run away.  This fall’s study has exposed the deep contrast of wanting praise, with the underlying fear of exposure.  Adding to this is seeing how much we all want to avoid conflict, almost at all costs.  Oh how insidious is “Manas,” the part of our consciousness that solidifies a permanent self and then tries to protect it.

This teaching has dropped me down underneath the stories of my social interactions.  It exposes for me a deeper structure of the construction of a self that permeates all my relationships.  It inspires me to begin anew; to try to understand this teaching.  It moves me away from my past understanding into new territories of practice.

Which brings me around to presence.  Presence is the ability to stay in the moment, exactly as it is.  This requires quite a capacity to stay with my bodily sensations and to trust that the process of staying with the now, will bloom into what to do in the next now.  Can I radically accept what is arising in my body/mind and let it be. 
Pause . Accept . Open.  This requires a great “compassionate presence”.

Mindfulness is inherently receptive.  It is accepting.  It sees clearly what is arising without identifying or grasping on to the experience  (non-identification with emotions).  Awareness sees the movement or flow of life (life’s impermanence).  Even this emotion that I have great aversion to, is actually changing right now.  If I can stay with it, it will develop into something else.  Can I trust this flow without putting my mind to work, finding the “fix”.  This is “Trust Emergence.”

It returns me to now.  Presence is now.  Relationships, and life of course, are lived in the now.  Even though we know that the past inherently produces the present and our responses to the present will produce the future, our practice is actually staying in the current stream of experience exactly as it is.  We don’t have to leap into “how to fix this” or try to avoid this experience through turning away.  We can open and listen deeply to the current experience.  This is formal zazen and zazen in life. How hard that is to do!   Coming from the current aliveness of experience, we can speak our inner truth without fear.  We can trust in the process of life unfolding and our particular life responding.  Our life experience is not actually under our “deluded isolated self’s” control.  We are made up of a huge system of inter-relatedness.  Staying in our current experience, whether we like it or not, we can begin to trust that “total dynamic working” will do all the rest.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Compassionate Presence

Every now and then, I have to let go of my ideas of “Zen” or enlightenment.  Over the years, I build up a construction of what I think enlightenment is or what I think practice is and then I bump into something else which breaks that idea open.  I don’t particularly like these transitions in my spiritual life because I often feel lost, disorganized or discombobulated.  I aspire to be more comfortable with “not knowing”.

Gradually over the years, I have begun to know enlightenment not as a “thing,” a “state” or even something to “know”, but as the process or path itself.  This is a great change; from endgame to process, from achievement to experience.  To be alive in the present moment requires that I drop off my judgments, evaluations, and preferences about the present moment and just be.  This asks me to welcome all “present moments” no matter what my opinion of the content of the present moment is. 

Studying “Radical Acceptance” by Tara Brach and “Insight dialogue” by Greg Krammer with the two classes this fall, has enhanced this understanding.  Both books have shined the light on the “how” of being in "the continuous knowing of the stream of experience without gripping onto our stories."

We may have an insight in deep concentration of spacious, unbounded openness or “no-mind” but it is using that insight day-to-day that is the manifestation of enlightenment. Can we become more familiar with having an open, relaxed, welcoming of the moment, exactly as it is, without wishing for it to be otherwise?   This is the radical in radical acceptance.

In order for this to be so, we have to find the integration of form and emptiness as one.  We need to have a taste of the openness of formless awareness but we can’t ignore the “skin bag” of our human life and its karma.   In Shih-t’ou’s “Grass Roof Hermitage” poem,  Shih-t’ou writes: “If you want to know the Undying Man in his hermitage, you must not leave your own bag of skin” If you want to know unbounded awareness, you must not, or cannot, leave the form of the present moment.  You have to welcome it.

From Tara Brach:  Under the title, “Realizing our nature as both emptiness and love.”
We can be tempted, sometimes in pursuit of nonattachment, to distance ourselves from the messy wildness of our bodies and emotions and from our relationships with each other.  The pulling away leaves us in a disembodied daydream that is not grounded in awareness of our living world.  On the other hand, if we immerse ourselves in the mental dramas and changing emotions of our lives without remembering the empty, wakeful awareness that is our original nature, we get lost in the nightmare of identifying as a separate, suffering self.”

Working with these two sides of life is the razor’s edge of our practice and is our enlightenment. It is the edge of the moment. This interweaving brings us out of the suffering of our stories but doesn’t abandon them.  We work with our lives, holding them with Radical Acceptance and compassion in a huge field of universal perspective.

Friday, November 4, 2011

How does one pray in a non-theistic religion?

November monthly mindfulness

How does one pray in a non-theistic religion?  If there is no anthropomorphized god, no centralized intelligence, no personal god that follows us around and helps us, then, is there prayer in Buddhism?  Buddhist prayer has a slightly different emphasis.  Through concentration and the opening of the heart, we can learn to incline our minds toward the good, and to generate or cultivate love that can be shared with others. 

The ancient law of cause and effect is a starting point.  Whatever we do, our action automatically has an effect or gets an energetic response.  Prayer can be seen as calling out to the universe and correspondently, receiving a response, even though we don’t know when the response might come.  Or we often cultivate an archetypal energy.    For example, we become one with the energy of love or the archetype of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, the hearer of the cries of the world.

Thich Nhat Hanh speaks of prayer as an energy between two beings.  First, you establish a wire like a phone wire or a wi-fi connection between two beings.   This connection is established but it is beyond time and space.  Then, you have to fill it with some electricity or digital information which, in the form of prayer, is an energy, a love, a nowness, a wish or a type of concentration.  To make prayer work as a practice, you have to be totally, wholeheartedly present in body, mind and heart while praying or chanting.

This month, please experiment with chanting as prayer.  Here is one example of a chanting practice as prayer for others.  Make a short list of, say, 5 people you would like to pray for.  Then, using your list, chant the kanzeon pray once for each person on your list.  Do it often and see how it feels.  Memorize the chants if you can.

(Kanzeon is Avalokiteshvara, the goddess of compassion, in Japanese)
Emmei Jukku Kannon Gyo
Kanzeon! Namu butsu yo butsu u in yo butsu u en buppo so en jo raku ga jo cho nen kanzeon  bo nen kanzeon nen nen ju shin ki nen nen furi shin.

Or a loose poetic translation by Hogen Bays:
Chant of boundless compassion
Absorbing world sounds awakens a Buddha right here!
This Buddha, the source of compassion!
This Buddha receives only compassion!
Buddha, Dharma, Sangha are only compassion.
Thus, the true heart always rejoices!
In the light recall this!
In the dark recall this!
Moment after moment the true heart arises.
Time after time there is nothing but THIS!