4 joy, anxiety, Determination - aditthana, fear, gratitude, joy - mudita, Kindness - metta, motivation, Patience - khanti, Uncategorized

A few resources for resilience

Feeling stretched? As the bad news continues and intensifies in various parts of the world, I’ve started collecting news articles, books and courses to turn to when I need some inspiration. Below are just a few suggestions – let me know if you have any favourites of your own!

Chipmunk between fenceposts, Barre, Massachusetts

Finding good news in the midst of the pandemic

The intent behind KarunaVirus.org is to amplify the voice of our collective compassion — by featuring news of everyday people choosing love over fear. We feel that the acts of courageous kindness we’re seeing all over the world will far outlive the virus, and if enough of us keep it front and center of our consciousness, it could well bring new possibilities for our future.
https://www.karunavirus.org/

You Belong: A Call for Connection

A new book by meditation teacher Sebene Selassie
To belong is to experience joy in any moment: to feel pleasure, dance in public, accept death, forgive what seems unforgivable, and extend kindness to yourself and others. To belong is also to acknowledge injustice, reckon with history, and face our own shadows. Full of practical advice and profound revelations, You Belong makes a winning case for resisting the forces that demand separation and reclaiming the connection—and belonging—that have been ours all along.
https://tricycle.org/magazine/sebene-selassie-belong/

Awakening Joy online course

An internationally recognized 5-month course taught by James Baraz on opening to life with appreciation, resilience and an open heart. Learn fun and rewarding practices that lead to deep insight and authentic joy.

Registration for 2021 will open in November 2020. The first materials for the 2021 Awakening Joy course will be posted online the first week of February. The first live Zoom call on the theme of Intention will take place at the end of January.

More info here

A two day experiential workshop with Dr Rick Hanson

21 & 22 November | Online | 9.00 am – 1.00 (AEST) pm each day

Join New York Times bestselling author Rick Hanson, PhD, to learn how to strengthen the neural circuitry of deep contentment and profound inner peace. Based on teachings from his new book Neurodharma: New Science, Ancient Wisdom, and Seven Practices of the Highest Happiness, this experiential workshop will provide you with methods for cultivating and embodying unshakable presence of mind, a courageous heart, and serenity in a changing world. 

More info here

Exploring Sacred Paths: Pilgrimage in Buddhist Traditions

An online pilgrimage with Justin Kelly

Just prior to entering into parinirvana, it is said that the Buddha encouraged his disciples to go on pilgrimage after his death to the sacred sites associated with his life. For over 2500 years practitioners from every corner of the Buddhist world have gone on pilgrimage. As a result, pilgrimage has both a rich literary history and a diverse array of practices associated with it. 

This course is an inquiry into what pilgrimage means, both in its ideal form as described in Indian and Tibetan Buddhist writings, as well as how the principles of pilgrimage can infuse our lives with greater meaning and purpose. While investigating this topic, we will: 

  • “visit” sacred pilgrimage sites of Buddhist traditions—such as Bodhgāya and Sarnatha in India, and Samye Chimpu and Tsogyal Lhatso in Tibet—through multimedia presentations.
  • explore traditional Buddhist materials. 
  • engage in contemplative and relational practices. 
  • elucidate the meaning of pilgrimage through our collective wisdom. 
  • begin to reimagine our everyday activities in and through the lens of pilgrimage.

Our investigation will include materials related to the historical Buddha, as well as other historical Buddhist figures, such as the Tibetan female master Yeshe Tosgyal and the Chinese pilgrim-explorer Xuanzang.

Grounded in Justin’s six principles of pilgrimage—awareness, movement, education, kindness, inclusivity, and nature—this course is both experiential and interactive. Participants will be invited to engage in weekly exercises that will inform the unfolding of our sessions together and, while gathered, we will engage in dialogue in service of more fully understanding the experience of pilgrimage. 

This course is appropriate for people of all walks of life and stages of practice. The only requirement is an open heart.

More info here

Cultivating resilience in challenging times: Learning from the “heavenly messengers”

An online eight-week dharma study and practice course with Jill this October-November, offering an opportunity to develop and strengthen our inner resources of kindness, compassion, calm and clarity, through an exploration of what are traditionally known as “the four heavenly messengers.” 

More info here

Afflictive emotions, anxiety, Awakening, Brahma Vihara practice, climate change, Climate crisis, compassion - karuna, daily life, death, death and dying, dukkha, equanimity - upekkha, fear, friendliness - metta, grief, Heavenly Messengers, insight, Insight meditation - vipassana, mindfulness, Social justice

NEW eight-week online Dharma Study class series October-November 2020

Cultivating resilience in challenging times:  

Learning from the “heavenly messengers” 

This eight-week online course offers an opportunity to develop and strengthen our inner resources of kindness, compassion, calm and clarity, through an exploration of what are traditionally known as “the four heavenly messengers.” 

In Buddhist teaching, these are four archetypes that symbolise the existential challenges we face, and the way to overcome those challenges. The four are a sick person, an aged person, a dying person, and a contemplative. In addition to these four, we can also include the current challenges of the climate crisis and racial and social injustice.

At first glance, these messengers might not sound so heavenly, but by learning how to relate to their messages skilfully, they can help us to live our lives with more ease, happiness, and peace. 

Each two-hour class will include a short dharma talk, some silent meditation practice, dyad (pairs) practice, and small group discussion. The course will use the Canvas online platform to provide talk recordings, guided meditations, and additional reading. 

This course is best suited to people who have sat at least one seven-day silent meditation retreat, but prior Buddhist study is not necessary. Some of the material may be challenging for people who have recently experienced a bereavement or other life stressors, so please feel free to contact Jill if you have any questions about this.

NOTE: Because this is a group learning process, participants are asked to make a commitment to attend all eight sessions of the course, and to allow at least two hours a week for personal study and reflections to be shared with the group. 
Each week there will be an assignment in the form of a short written reflection, and a response will be required to access the next week’s resources.

Teacher: Jill Shepherd http://jill0shepherd-insightmeditation.com

Cost for all eight sessions: $80 + dana*  

Times and dates of Zoom group meetings: 

Please double-check your time-zone conversion here

Option 1

SydneyAEST 6:00-8:00 a.m.Sunday mornings4 October –
22 November 
AucklandNZT 8:00-10:00 a.m.Sunday mornings4 October –
22 November   
San FranciscoPDT 12:00-2:00 p.m.
(note time will change to 11:00-1:00 pm from 1 November due to Daylight Saving Time ending) 
Saturday afternoons 3 October – 
21 November
New York EDT 3:00-5:00 p.m.
(note time will change to 2:00-4:00 pm from 1 November due to Daylight Saving Time ending) 
Saturday afternoons 3 October – 21 November
London BST 8:00-10:00 p.m.
(note time will change to 7:00-9:00 pm from 25 October due to Daylight Saving Time ending) 
Saturday evenings 3 October – 21 November 

Option 2

Singapore SGT 8:00-10:00 a.m.Sunday mornings4 October –
22 November
Sydney AEST 11:00-1:00 p.m. Sunday mornings4 October –
22 November 
Auckland NZT 1:00-3:00 p.m. Sunday afternoons4 October –
22 November
San Francisco PDT 5:00-7:00 p.m.
(note time will change to 4:00-6:00 pm from 1 November due to Daylight Saving Time ending) 
Saturday afternoons 3 October – 
21 November 
New York EDT 8:00-10:00 p.m.
(note time will change to 7:00-9:00 pm from 1 November due to Daylight Saving Time ending)
Saturday evenings 3 October – 21 November 

Register here:

https://events.humanitix.com/eight-week-online-dharma-study-class-series-october-2020

Dana/donations

*The registration fee covers only a contribution to course administration, and booking fees.  In keeping with Buddhist tradition, the teachings are offered on a dana basis which means the teacher is not paid to offer this workshop.  Instead, they rely on the generosity of the participants to help them continue to share their teachings with others, and there will be an opportunity at the end of each class to offer donations to support their ongoing teaching.

anxiety, community, compassion - karuna, dukkha, fear, Uncategorized

Karuna-virus

Kuan Yin sunbeam

In the Buddha’s teachings, karuna is a Pali word that means compassion. There’s a lot going on around the world right now, and due to coronavirus, many people are navigating intense suffering on multiple levels simultaneously: The suffering of health challenges, food insecurity, financial distress, longer-term economic uncertainty, separation from friends and family – or having to be with friends and family in ways that are stressful!

Given that social contagion works not only in relation to anxiety, but to positive mind-states too, I hope that in whatever ways we can, this coronavirus situation can be used to spread karuna-compassion to all who need it, including ourselves.

Personally, I have just landed in the UK a couple of days ago and am in social isolation and lockdown in Birmingham. I’m still getting myself set up here, but I wanted to at least offer a few resources for helping reduce the stress and anxiety that so many people are dealing with right now. I’ll keep adding more resources as I find them, and please send me links to any that you might have found helpful.

If anyone would like an individual meeting online to talk about your meditation practice in these challenging times, you can make a booking on my booking calendar now. As usual, these meetings are on a dana basis, but if money is an issue at the moment it’s fine to still meet with me.

I will also be converting some of my planned retreats into online offerings, so please check my revised teaching schedule on this page.

A few selected resources to support karuna-compassion

Why You Should Ignore All That Coronavirus-Inspired Productivity Pressure

Among my academic colleagues and friends, I have observed a common response to the continuing Covid-19 crisis. They are fighting valiantly for a sense of normalcy — hustling to move courses online, maintaining strict writing schedules, creating Montessori schools at their kitchen tables. They hope to buckle down for a short stint until things get back to normal. I wish anyone who pursues that path the very best of luck and health.
Yet as someone who has experience with crises around the world, what I see behind this scramble for productivity is a perilous assumption. The answer to the question everyone is asking — “When will this be over?” — is simple and obvious, yet terribly hard to accept. The answer is never.
Global catastrophes change the world, and this pandemic is very much akin to a major war. Even if we contain the Covid-19 crisis within a few months, the legacy of this pandemic will live with us for years, perhaps decades to come. It will change the way we move, build, learn, and connect. There is simply no way that our lives will resume as if this had never happened. And so, while it may feel good in the moment, it is foolish to dive into a frenzy of activity or obsess about your scholarly productivity right now. That is denial and delusion. The emotionally and spiritually sane response is to prepare to be forever changed.


Judson Brewer – US Neuroscientist and Addiction Psychiatrist

A Brain Hack to Break the Coronavirus Anxiety Cycle
Uncertainty about coronavirus spreads anxiety through social contagion. This New York Times article offers some ways to minimize that.


IMS teachers including Sharon Salzberg, offering daily metta/kindness meditation

https://www.youtube.com/user/InsightMeditation


Zohar Lavie – UK meditation teacher

2020-03-14 Coronavirus and the support of the Dharma – Part 1 31:38
We are living through an unusual period. As coronavirus spreads, much of what we take for granted is being shaken. There is uncertainty and fear around us, and also within us. How can Dharma teachings and practices support us? How can we deepen understanding and compassion in the midst of it all? This talk offers reflections on possibilities that are available to us, including practices that we can engage with, lean into, and cultivate.


Tara Brach – US meditation teacher

2020-03-18 Facing Pandemic Fears with an Awake Heart 59:14
While it’s natural to feel fear during times of great collective crisis, our challenge is that fear easily takes over our lives. This talk explores how the mindfulness and compassion of the RAIN meditation can help us find an inner refuge in the face of fear, and deepen our loving connection with each other.


Jill Shepherd

2020-03-26 Guided meditation: orienting to compassion 26:18
A guided meditation orienting to compassion, in response to coronavirus

2020-03-26 Short talk: some responses to the coronavirus/karuna-virus situation 15:37
A few reflections on the coronavirus situation, and the possibility of cultivating karuna/compassion as a resource for ourselves and others

More talks on cultivating resilience in challenging times here


A beautiful video – Letter from the Virus

Stop, just stop
Halt … stop … don’t move
It’s not a request any more, it’s an obligation
I’m here to help you
This supersonic rollercoaster has run off its rails and can’t go on any further
Stop the planes, trains, schools, shopping malls, gatherings
We broke the frenetic vortex of illusions and obligations that stopped you from looking at the sky
Look at the stars, listen to the sea
Let yourself be rocked by the chirping of birds
Roll in the grass
Pick an apple from a tree
Smile to an animal in the woods
Breathe the mountains
Listen to your common sense
We had to break it
You can’t play God
Our obligations are mutual, like they’ve always been
Even though you’ve forgotten
We’ll now stop this broadcast
This endless cacophonous sounds of separations and distractions, to tell you this:
We’re not OK
None of us is
We’re all suffering
Last year, the firestorms that set the lungs of the earth on fire didn’t stop you
Nor did the melting of the poles
Or your sinking cities
Or the simple acknowledgement of being the sole responsibility for the sixth mass extinction
You didn’t listen to me
It’s difficult to listen while being so busy
Struggling to climb higher and higher
On the scaffolding of comforts you are creating for yourself
Now the foundations are crumbling
They’re collapsing under the weight of your fictitious desires
I’ll help you
I’ll light the firestorms inside your body
I’ll drown your lungs
I’ll isolate you like a polar bear on a melting iceberg
Will you listen to me then?
We’re not OK
I’m not  your enemy
I’m just a messenger
I’m an ally
I’m the force that will rebalance everything
Now you have to listen to me
I’m screaming for you to stop
Stop, hush, listen
Now look up to the sky
How is it?
There are no more airplanes
How healthy do you need to be to enjoy the oxygen you breathe?
Look at the ocean
How is it?
Look at the rivers
How are they?
Look at the earth
How is she?
Now look at yourselves
How do you feel?
You can’t be healthy in a sick ecosystem
Stop!!!
Many people are afraid now
Don’t demonise your fear
Don’t let it control you
Let it speak to you
Listen to the wise words it has to say
Learn to smile with your eyes
I’ll help you … if you’re willing to listen

Text: Darinka Montico
Voice: Giulia Chianes


A list of  ‘good news’ websites compiled by Wendy Nash, Australia

Charles Eisenstein

The Coronation

The War on Death

… The mantra “safety first” comes from a value system that makes survival top priority, and that depreciates other values like fun, adventure, play, and the challenging of limits. … The surrounding culture, however, lobbies us relentlessly to live in fear, and has constructed systems that embody fear. In them, staying safe is over-ridingly important. Thus we have a medical system in which most decisions are based on calculations of risk, and in which the worst possible outcome, marking the physician’s ultimate failure, is death. Yet all the while, we know that death awaits us regardless. A life saved actually means a death postponed.

The ultimate fulfillment of civilization’s program of control would be to triumph over death itself. Failing that, modern society settles for a facsimile of that triumph: denial rather than conquest. Ours is a society of death denial, from its hiding away of corpses, to its fetish for youthfulness, to its warehousing of old people in nursing homes. Even its obsession with money and property – extensions of the self, as the word “mine” indicates – expresses the delusion that the impermanent self can be made permanent through its attachments. All this is inevitable given the story-of-self that modernity offers: the separate individual in a world of Other. Surrounded by genetic, social, and economic competitors, that self must protect and dominate in order to thrive. It must do everything it can to forestall death, which (in the story of separation) is total annihilation.


Matthias Horx – an influential futurist in the German-speaking world

The Post Corona World
… A massive loss of control suddenly turns into a veritable intoxication of the positive. After a period of bewilderment and fear, an inner strength arises. The world „ends“, but with the experience that we are still there, a kind of new being arises from inside us.
In the middle of civilisation’s shutdown, we run through forests or parks, or across almost empty spaces. This is not an apocalypse, but a new beginning.
This is how it turns out: Change begins as a changed pattern of expectations, perceptions and world connections. Sometimes it is precisely the break with routines, the familiar, that releases our sense of the future again. The idea and certainty that everything could be completely different — and even better.

May it be so!

More soon …

anxiety, climate change, compassion - karuna, death, dukkha, fear, Uncategorized

Compassion for all beings affected by the Australian bushfires

trunk red sap close

Season’s greetings from Waipu, New Zealand

I’m unexpectedly having to spend more time here in New Zealand, after my nine-day retreat outside of Sydney over New Year was just cancelled due to the bushfires in Australia.

The Blue Mountains has been a kind of second home to me, so I’ve been staying in contact with friends there who have been sending me heart-breaking reports of the situation they’re enduring.

In the face of such intense destruction, it’s hard to know how to respond from afar, but I’ve decided to make a commitment to practice compassion every day for the next two weeks, and to send out this message to see if anyone would like to join me in that commitment.
(Originally I was just going to send this message to people in Australia, but a US friend asked to be included, so now I’m sending it to everyone on my mailing list in case you’d like to join us.)

My plan is to sit for 15 minutes every day at 1:00 pm NZT, which is 11:00 am Sydney and Melbourne, 10:30 am Adelaide, 10:00 am Brisbane, and 8:00 am Perth. That’s midnight in the UK, sorry, but 4 pm on the US West Coast and 7 pm on the US East Coast.

I’ve made a fifteen minute guided meditation that focuses on practising compassion specifically for the bushfire situation, which you can find on Dharmaseed here:
https://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/637/talk/60035/

Of course, you can practice compassion in any way that works for you. And, depending on the situation and how your heart feels each day, it may be that one of the other brahmavihara practices might be more appropriate. If you’re not familiar with brahmavihara practice, you might listen to this talk which gives an overview of the relationship between kindness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity.
https://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/637/talk/58585/

wombat and baby 1.JPG

Wombat mother and baby, Newnes Plateau NSW

What’s been happening in Australia

For those who might not be aware of the situation, more than four million hectares of Australia have burned and nine people have died since September 2019, in an “unprecedented” start to the summer fire season.

New South Wales

The total area burned in NSW is 3.41m hectares, according to the Rural Fire Service. … “To put it in perspective, in the past few years we have had a total area burned for the whole season of about 280,000 ha,” RFS spokeswoman Angela Burford said. “This year we’re at 3.41m and we are only halfway through the season.”
https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/dec/24/australian-bushfires-the-story-so-far-in-each-state

anxiety, climate change, community, freedom, retreat, Retreat practice, Uncategorized

Retreat as rebellion

mens shirts 7

Resisting the tyranny of productivity

Over the last few months, I’ve been having conversations with students – and with myself! – about what feels to be the increasingly relentless busyness of our lives. People often say to me that they don’t have time to meditate every day, and they certainly don’t have time to go on retreat, because of work or financial or family pressures. There are just too many other demands on their time, energy, and resources.

Sometimes there are genuine obstacles that get in the way of making time for formal practice. But sometimes, the busyness is a convenient rationalisation, one that allows us to avoid looking at what might be underneath the frenetic activity. On top of our own individual conditioning, most of us are impacted by the dominant values of mainstream society, which demand us to be constantly productive. As a result, we often develop  a compulsive need to be doing; doing; doing; almost as a way to justify our existence. Capitalist values tend to define us by what we DO, so unless we’re constantly busy, we’re no-one. For many people, the idea of simply BEING – even for a few minutes at a time – is terrifying. As a society, our flight from stillness and solitude has gone into hyperdrive.

wrong way 1

Resisting time-pressure

One of the side-effects of this speeding up of everything, is that time spent meditating or on retreat is easily devalued, because it’s not productive. More and more, there’s pressure to achieve the same meditative “results” – whatever they may be – in shorter and shorter times.

We can even see a shift in the retreat schedules of some insight meditation centres around the world. The nine-day retreat has shrunk to seven days, the seven-day retreat to five days, the five day retreat to three days, and so on, so that more retreats can be fitted in to each calendar year.

Retreats should be getting longer, not shorter

Yet if anything, retreats should be getting longer, not shorter, because most people come into retreat chronically stressed and tired. Much as we might like to deny it, we are organic beings. We’re made of meat and bone, flesh and blood. We’re not machines or electronic devices that can just be plugged in, switched on and kept going 24/7. But more and more, this is what we expect of ourselves, and it’s often not until we go on retreat and do stop, that we realise just how exhausted we are.

This means that the first one or two days of the retreat are spent in recovery mode, catching up on sleep and giving our fried nervous systems some time to recuperate. Then, because of our achievement-oriented striving, we feel like we have to make up for this lost time during the remaining days of the retreat, otherwise we’ll fall behind, won’t measure up, won’t achieve anything, won’t make any progress …

Our drivenness damages our own health, and the planet’s health

This drivenness is bad not only for our own health, but for the planet too, as we try to alleviate the stress of our over-full schedules by consuming more and more resources. Constant busyness gives us an excuse to ignore the damage we’re doing to the world – and each other. So in some ways, going on retreat and taking time to not be productive is an act of rebellion.

When we are able to take some time to slow down, the shift from DOing to BEing is often uncomfortable at first. It brings us face to face with the powerful conditioning that tells us we’re worthless, unless we’re involved in fifty different activities simultaneously. But as we start to see through that conditioning, we begin to taste moments of deep ease, peace, and freedom, and the insanity of our old way of being loses some of its appeal.

Every moment of meditation is a moment of resisting the tyranny of productivity

It still takes courage to resist that conditioning and prioritise living a more contemplative life, so we need the support of others who are oriented in a similar way, to help us maintain confidence that we are heading in the right direction. Each time we go on retreat, we’re strengthening our own intention to live a more sane and healthy life, and we’re helping others to do the same. In that way, every moment of meditation can become a moment of resisting the tyranny of productivity.

May our collective efforts to live with more ease, sanity and peace be a contribution to the welfare, the happiness, and the freedom, of all beings on our planet, and the planet itself.

Lake Freestad reflection

 

anxiety, daily life, gratitude, grief, insight, Insight meditation - vipassana, mindfulness, retreat, Retreat practice

April 2018 full moon – Retreat and post-retreat practice

Before and after

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post titled Retreat and pre-retreat practice, which explored ways to navigate some of the anxiety and other challenges that often come up before we go on retreat.

This month, I’m writing about another aspect of retreat practice that doesn’t always get a lot of attention, and that’s what happens after retreat.  This exploration feels alive for me right now, having just finished teaching a five-day retreat for Auckland Insight at a camp in Huia, on the Manukau Harbour.

harbour headland 1.JPG

Waking up every morning to the soft lapping of waves on the harbour shore, and the song of tui (native birds) calling from the kauri trees was very relaxing.  And after five days of no internet or mobile phone access, I noticed how much more at ease my body, heart, and mind felt.  But then, there’s the return … for most of us, to busyness, overwork, hyper-stimulation, and various relational challenges, with partners, family, friends, colleagues, neighbours.

What is “real life?”

It’s common for people to talk about this return as going back to so-called “real life.”  But thinking of everyday life as “real life” implies that retreat life is somehow “unreal.”  In the first few years of my own practice, I often got caught in this duality, not seeing that there was an underlying cynicism built into it.

On retreat, I’d sometimes experience moments of clarity, stillness, and alignment with a deeper truth that at the time, felt very rewarding.  But coming back home, it was easy to lose connection with the value of those moments, to dismiss them as irrelevant, unreliable, or even naive.

Later on, I recognised that this was a kind of defense mechanism to protect myself from what often felt like a significant loss: loss of connection with my own capacity to give and receive love; loss of connection with my own capacity to understand more fully; loss of connection with the deeper purpose of life; and loss of connection with others who shared similar aspirations.

harbour foreshore rocks 6.JPG

Grief and gratitude

It was only after several longer retreats at the Forest Refuge that I eventually understood that my cynicism was a way of avoiding grief.  It was a relief just to be able to name this, then I could make time for a kind of “mourning period” to allow the sadness to move through.  Surprisingly, when I was able to do this, what often emerged was a sense of profound gratitude that helped to balance out the grief.

Intuitively, this movement between allowing grief and orienting to gratitude helped me to come back to balance, and the benefits of retreat practice became more sustainable – even in the midst of the many challenges of everyday life.

(You can hear more on this theme of post-retreat practice in one of my recent talks given at Auckland Insight, here.)

Sangha

Consciously cultivating gratitude is just one suggestion to help navigate any post-retreat rockiness.  Staying connected to sangha, community, is also invaluable.  If there isn’t a sitting group in your area that you can meet with regularly, you might consider inviting someone from the retreat to stay connected with you online.  These days, most people have the technology to make occasional meetings via video-call possible, and this can be a great way of maintaining or strengthening dharma friendships.

There are also many study courses available on line now too, that support the deepening of our practice in community.  Organisations such as the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, Spirit Rock Meditation CenterLion’s Roar magazine, and Tricycle magazine all offer online courses covering a wide range of Buddhist study and practice.

boat ramp 2.JPG

Next Step Dharma online course

One course that’s particularly aimed at supporting the transition from retreat practice to daily life is Next Step Dharma, set up by my friends Oren Sofer and Jaya Rudgard.
I occasionally host the online Q&A sessions for this course, and always enjoy connecting with people around the world who are exploring ways to integrate their retreat understanding into daily life.
More info here

May we all navigate the transitions between pre-retreat, retreat, and post-retreat practice with ease!

7 equanimity, anxiety, community, daily life, equanimity - upekkha, Equanimity - upekkha, fear, impermanence - anicca, motivation, racism, sangha, Uncategorized

November 2016 full moon – Turmoil

newcastle-beach-full-moon

almost super-moon, Newcastle Beach NSW Australia 13 November 2016

Turning towards and turning away

Whether it’s global political upheaval, worsening social injustice, natural disasters, personal stress, emotional pain, relational crises, or health challenges, we seem to be in a phase of intense turmoil right now.

Many of the communities around the world that I care about are struggling in relation to recent political developments in the US and UK.  And now the latest earthquakes and flooding in New Zealand are powerful reminders of our vulnerability, confronting the delusion that we are in control and challenging the belief that we can rely on anything external for our security.

I’ve noticed in myself these last few days, a shift from turning away, to turning towards.  After an initial period of shock and numbness, a renewed sense of purpose and determination is starting to emerge, helped by a whole range of articles, videos, resources and Buddhist readings that have been shared from many different sources.

So in this month’s post, I wanted to include a few of these, with the hope that they might bring some inspiration, renewed courage, or just practical support for facing these current challenges.


Inspiring Buddhist teachings for difficult times

Pema Chodron

As human beings we share a tendency to scramble for certainty whenever we realize that everything around us is in flux. In difficult times the stress of trying to find solid ground—something predictable to stand on—seems to intensify. But in truth, the very nature of our existence is forever in flux. Everything keeps changing, whether we’re aware of it or not.
https://tricycle.org/magazine/fundamental-ambiguity-being-human/?utm_source=Tricycle&utm_campaign=c816b6d659-Special_Newsletter_11_09_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1641abe55e-c816b6d659-307269753

Jack Kornfield

When times are uncertain, difficult, fearful, full of change,
they become the perfect place to deepen the practice of awakening.
After viewing the elections, whatever your point of view,
Take time to quiet the mind and tend to the heart.
Then go out and look at the sky.
Remember vastness, there are seasons to all things,
gain and loss, praise and blame, expansion and contraction.
Learn from the trees.
Practice equanimity and steadiness.
Remember the timeless Dharma amidst it all.
Think of the best of human goodness.
Let yourself become a beacon of integrity with your thoughts, words and deeds.
Integrity in speech and action, virtue and non-harming brings blessings.
Remember the Noble Truths, no matter the politics or the season:
Greed, hatred and ignorance cause suffering. Let them go.
Love, generosity and wisdom bring the end of suffering. Foster them.
Remember the Buddha’s counsel,
“Hatred never ends by hatred but by love alone is healed.
This is the ancient and eternal law.”
The human heart has freedom in itself to choose love, dignity and respect.
In every circumstance, embody respect and cultivate compassion for all.
Let yourself become a beacon of Dharma.
Amidst the changes, shine with courage and trust.
Love people, and…
This is your world. Plant seeds of goodness
and water them everywhere.
Then blessings will grow for yourself and for all.
http://www.spiritrock.org/

His Holiness the Dalai Lama

“May I become at all times, both now and forever
A protector for those without protection
A guide for those have lost their way
A ship for those with oceans to cross
A bridge for those with rivers to cross
A sanctuary for those in danger
A lamp for those without light
A place of refuge for those who lack shelter
And a servant to all in need.”
http://kalachakranet.org/text_his_holiness_dalai_lama.html

Gil Fronsdal

Equanimity, one of the most sublime emotions of Buddhist practice, is the ground for wisdom and freedom and the protector of compassion and love. While some may think of equanimity as dry neutrality or cool aloofness, mature equanimity produces a radiance and warmth of being. The Buddha described a mind filled with equanimity as “abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility, and without ill-will.”
https://tricycle.org/magazine/perfect-balance/?utm_source=Tricycle&utm_campaign=c816b6d659-Special_Newsletter_11_09_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1641abe55e-c816b6d659-307269753


The current U.S. political situation – some commentaries

Bhikkhu Bodhi

Although, as a monk, I do not endorse political candidates or align myself with political parties, I feel that as a human being inhabiting this fragile planet, I have an obligation to stand up for policies that promote economic and social justice, respect for the innate dignity of all human beings, and preservation of the earth’s delicate biosphere. By the same token, I must oppose policies detrimental to these ideals. I see politics, not merely as a naked contest for power and domination, but as a stage where great ethical contests are being waged, contests that determine the destiny—for good or for ill—of everyone in this country and on this planet.
https://buddhistglobalrelief.me/2016/11/09/a-trump-presidency-need-not-be-the-end-times/

Van Jones

Van Jones is a CNN political contributor, regularly appearing across the network’s programming and special political coverage.  He has founded and led numerous social enterprises engaged in social and environmental justice.
Van reminds us that we have 70 days before the president-elect Trump takes office, and suggests that in these next two weeks we prioritize three things:
1. grieve and heal;
2. gather information;
3. build community.

“It’s ok to take time to grieve and heal” … then “We gotta play our cards right.  Our most important card is you.  We need you … You can turn the TV off, turn the radio off, stop going online .. you can binge-watch some stuff, you can go exercise, do whatever you need to do, get some cuddles in, get some snuggles in, and heal a little bit, and grieve a little bit … And then from an authentic place, not pushing … not ‘I gotta do this, I gotta do this, I gotta do this’ – that’s gonna give you a bunch of do-do, and we’re not trying to do do-do – we want you to BE … and be connected to who you are, and why you care so much, and why you love folks so much.  We want you to be deeply grounded, deeply connected, so we can make wise decisions going forward.”

Connect and strengthen our communities

The Work That Reconnects (WTR) is an open-source body of work that has its roots in the teachings and experiential methods of Joanna Macy. It is a process of group work that uses experience based activities to help participants connect with one another and with the intelligence, self-healing powers of life on Earth. The goal of the WTR is to “enliven” and motivate participants to play an active role in the creation of a life sustaining society.
While the primary focus of the WTR is deep ecology and environmental activism, the process of sequencing used within the WTR (called “The Spiral“) can be a valuable tool in building racial awareness, as well.
https://whiteawake.org/self-education/wtr-spiral/

Stand with Standing Rock

https://nodaplsolidarity.org/
This site is dedicated to supporting the frontline, indigenous led resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline. We hope that this site will make it easier for allies from around the world to take action against the institutions that are attempting to construct the pipeline.
Please join in taking sustained action in solidarity with the Red Warrior Camp and the Camp of the Sacred Stones.


New Zealand 2016 earthquakes

Damage done by an earthquake at Bluff Station between Blenheim and Kaikoura in New Zealand.
Damage done by an earthquake at Bluff Station between Blenheim and Kaikoura in New Zealand. Photograph: Alex Perrottet/RNZ

Earthquake support information

An extensive list of web links providing high quality information to assist you, and those you support, through tough times following Earthquakes and their Aftershocks. This includes for children and young people.
http://skylight.org.nz/earthquake+aftermath+support

WHAT TO DO NOW

Some suggestions from Dr Sarb Johal, psychology professor at Massey University
* Follow a normal routine as much as possible
* Eat healthy meals – be careful not to skip meals or to overeat
* Exercise and stay active
* Help other people in your community as a volunteer – stay busy
* Accept help from family, friends, co-workers, or other people you trust – talk about your feelings with them
* Limit your time around the sights and sounds of what happened – don’t dwell on TV, radio, or newspaper reports on the events.

HOW TO REMAIN OPTIMISTIC

* Support one another, especially family members and your community
* Provide emotional support – comfort each other
* Carry out practical tasks – tackling the jobs that need to be done a bit at a time and counting each success
* Share your experience and feelings with others – a bit at a time when it is right for you – and have sensitivity for what the listener or audience (like your Facebook or social media friends) might be prepared to hear at that time too
* Look after your own and your family’s general health – rest, exercise, food and company all help.
http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/well-good/inspire-me/86488820/earthquake-how-to-stay-positive-in-shaky-times

WAYS TO HELP

Wanting to lend a hand, or provide some type of assistance after NZ was shaken just after midnight on Monday?  Here are some ways you can help.
http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/nz-earthquake/86453967/ways-you-can-help-out-after-the-november-earthquakes

May all beings be safe … healthy … happy … free …

daily life, fear, Five Precepts, mindfulness, Uncategorized, Virtue - sila

July 2016 full moon – Hatred STILL never ceases by hatred …

rain storm h

Rainstorm near Te Moata Retreat Centre, Coromandel, New Zealand

Exactly two years ago in July 2014, I wrote a post based on some well-known lines from the Dhammapada:

Hatred never ceases by hatred, but by love alone is healed. This is an ancient and eternal law. 1

Lately, that same post has been getting some views again, perhaps because there seem to have been just so many painful events in the world recently.  And perhaps like many others, at times I feel overwhelmed by the intensity and volume of suffering.  I notice my mind flipping between two modes: wanting to shut it all out, or compulsively needing to know the latest details.

Denial isn’t healthy, of course, but neither is unconsciously feeding the misery.  Because of the mind’s inherent “negativity bias,”2 it’s easy to develop a distorted perception of the world.  This is then amplified by the collective negativity-bias of the media, and the relentless twenty-four-hour reporting of tragedy after tragedy after tragedy.

A few years ago, I remember reading a discussion between a psychologist and a well-known dharma teacher about how to stay present when sitting with distressed clients, hour after hour.  The dharma teacher suggested that for every hour of contact with a client, the therapist should take at least one hour of silent time to meditate and come back to balance, before seeing the next client.

It sounded like a great idea, but I couldn’t imagine any of the psychologists or psychotherapists – or even dharma teachers I knew – being able to put it into practice.  And yet now more than ever, perhaps we need to reconsider it: to find ways of taking a break or making some space or creating more silence so that the psyche can recuperate a little.

Thich Nhat Hanh, the well-known Vietnamese dharma teacher, has written extensively about this need to protect our hearts and minds from “toxins” of various kinds.  In search of inspiration, I recently re-read his Five Mindfulness Trainings, which are a translation of the standard five ethical precepts.  Here’s a summary of all five:

The first training is to protect life, to decrease violence in oneself, in the family and in society. The second training is to practice social justice, generosity, not stealing and not exploiting other living beings. The third is the practice of responsible sexual behavior in order to protect individuals, couples, families and children. The fourth is the practice of deep listening and loving speech to restore communication and reconcile. The fifth is about mindful consumption, to help us not bring toxins and poisons into our body or mind.3

His re-writing of the last precept really stood out for me, with its emphasis on refreshing, healing, and nourishing.  I’m sharing it in full here, with the hope it might offer just a moment or two of relief, or perhaps even some inspiration to keep orienting towards “peace, joy and well-being.”

Nourishment and Healing: the fifth of five mindfulness trainings by Thich Nhat Hanh

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth. 3

labyrinth view

Labyrinth at Te Moata Retreat Centre, Coromandel, New Zealand

Remembering to orient to the good, as well as the challenging

The intention here is not to ignore or deny painful experiences, but to try to maintain balance.  At times, I need to consciously remember the many, many people who are working towards overcoming suffering; and to remember how many positive changes are taking place, even though they might not get much media coverage.

Martin Luther King jr

Thich Nhat Hanh is one example I turn to for inspiration, and Martin Luther King Junior another.  These two knew each other quite well in the 1960s, and I sometimes like to imagine the discussions they would have had with each other back then.  Perhaps there’s an echo of the Dhammapada verses in this famous quote by Dr King:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. 4

May we all keep finding balance in the midst of darkness, and keep re-orienting to love.

thich nhat hanh martin luther king jr

Photo of Dr King and Thich Nhat Hanh from http://www.thisishowiflow.com/thich-nhat-hanh/

PS For more on Thich Nhat Hanh, here’s quite an inspiring short conversation between Thich Nhat Hanh and Oprah Winfrey:

1 https://jill0shepherd-insightmeditation.com/2014/07/11/july-2014-full-moon-hatred-never-ceases-by-hatred/
2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negativity_bias/
3 http://plumvillage.org/mindfulness-practice/the-5-mindfulness-trainings/
4 https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/52037-a-testament-of-hope-the-essential-writings-and-speeches-of-martin-luthe

 

anxiety, fear, retreat, Uncategorized

March 2016 full moon – Retreat and pre-retreat practice

door inside 2

Planning to go on retreat?

I’ve had a few conversations recently with people who are planning to go on retreat soon, and at some stage in the discussion, there’s often an embarrassed acknowledgement of feeling some anxiety about it.  Even for people who have been on retreat before and have some familiarity with the set-up, each retreat is unique, so we never really know what to expect.  In some ways, that’s the point of it: to open ourselves to the unknown, to explore new territory, and to experience aspects of ourselves that we may not have come into contact with before. Continue reading “March 2016 full moon – Retreat and pre-retreat practice”

6 concentration, anxiety, daily life, Five Hindrances, Renunciation - nekkhamma

October 2015 full moon – Digital detox (or finding antidotes to “restlessness and worry”)

Technology-induced restlessness

Last month I wrote about the hindrance of “sloth and torpor,” the dullness of body and mind that gets in the way of clear seeing, insight. This month, I’ve been more aware of the opposite of sloth and torpor, which shows up in the form of “restlessness and worry”, the fourth of the five hindrances.  And I’ve been noticing it not just in myself, but in many people coming on retreat.

The first few days of a retreat often involve swinging from one extreme to the other: from sleepiness to restlessness and back again, over and over.  That’s probably always been the case, right from the time of the Buddha. But these days, restlessness in particular  is intensified by our addiction to all things electronic, which keep us in a state of perpetual stimulation and/or anticipation of stimulation. It’s getting harder and harder to unplug.  So in response, some meditation centres are asking retreat participants to commit very specifically to “undertake the training to refrain from using electronic devices while on retreat” as a part of their commitment to Noble Silence. Continue reading “October 2015 full moon – Digital detox (or finding antidotes to “restlessness and worry”)”