The Warmth of Our Completeness (Audio)

Any simple practice, anything we do in life can come from more than one approach. We can count our breath with a sense of struggling to get some outcome, or we can be warm and kind to ourselves. We long for a sense of completeness and fulfillment, and we suffer when we believe that fulfillement will come in some future moment or attainment. Shunryu Suzuki calls this the ‘stepladder’ approach to practice.

Our practice can come from a tremendous sense of affirmation – our completeness is here and now! So we smile at what is here, this breath now. One could define meditation as basking in the warmth of our completeness right now.

Our reading for the day came from Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen by Shunryu Suzuki.

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The Courage of Simple Presence (Audio)

This is the meditation talk from July 3, 2010.

The traditional teachings say that patience is the antidote to aggression. When we have any strong energy, it wants to complete itself in some kind of action or resolution. In a way it is like a snowball rolling down the side of a mountain, gathering momentum and speed as it goes. The resolution – such as telling someone off – feels good for a moment, but then it leads to further suffering.

We need the courage to just be present and aware, not looking for a resolution to strong feelings but for the underlying openness that underlies feelings. That is how we open the door of compassion, for ourselves and others.

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Our reading for the day came from Practicing Peace in Times of War by Pema Chodron.

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The Freedom of Restraint

Freedom, in the meditation traditions, is often referred to as the freedom of restraint, a freedom not to do what one desires. This is a paradox – and it is certainly counterintuitive in a culture that fights against restrictions and limitations of any type. Many people would say that freedom means freedom to do anything in any way at any time. I am free, one might think, if I can do whatever I want.

The vastly different perspectives come from how one understands what might limit one’s freedom. We live in a world where our freedom is seen as limited by external factors – repressive powers, rules, or conditions. And indeed, our struggles to insure basic rights and freedoms is a part of our movement toward true humanity and sane co-existence.
Yet with mindfulness we can see that there may be a deeper level of freedom, and unexpected sources of limitation. We can begin to explore how much of our time is ruled by aggression and desire, and how easily we are captivated by moment to moment changes in our minds. At the mercy of aggression and desire, we are not free. Lost in our stories, we are not free. Endless amount of material fulfillments will not free us.

Freedom is experienced when we are free not to follow the infinite and exhausting demands that mind presents to us. Freedom reveals itself when we discover that we are not our minds and we are not our desires. This is the freedom of restraint. Some mindfulness teachers compare this to coming out of the scorching sun into the cool shade of a tree. In the cool clarity of wisdom and restraint, we find a peace and joy that is the true mark of freedom.

Moving Beyond Hope and Fear – Audio

Our Saturday meditation talk was inspired by a reading from Pema Chodron’s book Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living (Shambhala Library). The key idea is that our hopes and fears, by focusing on the past and future, actually take us away from the only moment where peace and fullfillment can be found. We take the briefest of snapshots from the past, add fantasies about an unknown future, and become endlessly entangled and impoverished.

The present is rich beyond measure
If we give up what is not real
Then at last we can give
Our living awareness to this moment

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Two Perspectives

Sometimes when we have been stuck in something – perhaps a mood, an addiction, a story – we get this sudden flash and we see through it. It is like a breath of fresh air, opening a window to let light and fresh breezes into a stuffy room. For a moment, even if we have been stuck for weeks or years, we have a flash of the richness and possibility that has been there all along. This is what the teachings sometimes call awakening mind; it is our innate, natural capacity to see this moment with clarity and wisdom no matter what stories have entranced us.

We could use the image of a river. The flow is the endlessly changing kaleidoscope of experiences and events. And the two shores are two vastly different perspectives, both always available. One is the all too familiar perspective of contraction, relating to the whole show as a drama about the personal self and all its stories. The other shore, just as available but less familiar is the flash of awakening and clarity – that none of our stories are solid and this moment is brilliantly fresh and new. From this shore we can let go of our agendas and relate to reality spontaneously and creatively. This vision or perspective is always present because it emerges from our true nature – aware, free, and boundless.

Our practice is to treasure that awakening mind, cultivating and deepening it in every moment

Beginner’s Mind

It may sound paradoxical, but we are not trying to become experts or masters of mindfulness, wisdom, or compassion. We want to keep a fresh and vibrant experience of what is forever new: this moment. Suzuki Roshi calls this approach Beginner’s Mind. Think about how vivid and alive new experiences can be –your first visit to a new city or country, your first taste of chocolate pie, your first kiss. With repetition of experiences, we often become less present to this moment. This lack of presence opens the floodgates to the endless thoughts and stories our mind creates. We can practice our stories, but we cannot practice what is endlessly beginning and forever new.
Spirituality is about being vividly alive now, not achieving something. This moment has never happened, and one might say that universe has orchestrated its entire history just to reveal this moment, this awareness, this breath. We let go of the stories, and awaken for the first time in this moment to witness the incredible display of this. There are not even any words for something so fresh and new. And even as we embrace it, it all dissolves into the next revelation of now.
I highly recommend Suzuki Roshi’s book, Zen Mind Beginners Mind. It was one of the first books I read about meditation and presence, and it is one that I return to again and again for inspiration.

Saturday Meditation Talk (Audio)

Here is the meditation talk from this morning. I took the reading from The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology, by Jack Kornfeld. The basic idea is that our mind does not represent accurately any kind of reality, and that our best approach is an open, curious, childlike mind that questions what appears. “Could there be more than what I am seeing?” “Could I release any distorting filters or stories?” 

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Awakening Right Now

The mind creates stories, and perhaps one of its favorite stories for meditatators is the story of ‘enlightenment’ – that wonderful time when we will at last understand all the secrets of life. The story seems so noble and so beautiful that we do not see its subtle implications.  The mind is telling us that something immeasurably important to us is not present – it is in some unattained future moment. We are incomplete and separate from this wonderful moment of awakening.

We need a new map and a new vision of what is happening in our spiritual practice.  Awakened presence is the core of who we are, not something distant and separate.  Right now – and NOW is the only game in town – an incredible array of sense and form and feeling is present.  The stories mind weaves are indeed part of this changing present moment, but stories misrepresent what is happening.  They are like a movie that draws us in until we forget that we are watching a movie.

Our stories are dreams and we are either awake to them – now – or lost in them.  Our awakening or enlightenment happens right now as we clearly see what is presently arising. We can only be awake to this moment …and now this moment …and now this one.

Our awakening
   is not some distant state
   that we may one day achieve
It is the gift of presence
   that we give
   to what arises now
      and now
         and now

Our Endless Stream of Thoughts

One of our biggest challenges well might be how to deal wisely and compassionately with the endless stream of thoughts that our minds produce.  Jack Kornfeld, in his book The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology, calls this stream the Waterfall.

We must learn some things about this waterfall that are at first not obvious.  First, it is not an accurate representation of ‘reality’.  What seems to us a description is more like a distorting lens that turns our perceptions into installments in our ongoing story.  And second, perhaps the true foundation of wisdom and compassion, is the recognition that this stream of thought is not who we are.  These thoughts are not our identity, we do not own them, and we do not produce them.

As this understanding deepens, we can compassionately question our thoughts and return to the presence of this moment.

The waterfall is not a problem – its presence is part of our humanity. What is missing is a clear understanding of its nature and the compassionate skill to embrace the stream of thoughts without getting swept away.