Core Practice

TIME TO LIVE

LetGoFeature

Our Mindful Mornings have started again after a summer break with an inspiring call to practise from Thay.  Below is the reading we enjoyed together, adapted slightly from ‘The Art of Living’ by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Please enjoy your practice!

Scientists tell us that to live is to learn. For millions of years our species has been learning…to adapt to our environment.

If we want to survive in our fast-paced society that is overwhelmed by stress, anxiety, fear and despair, we have to learn how to deal with it.

Human beings evolved from Homo habilis to Homo erectus before we became Homo sapiens. Some people have spoken of the new species called Homo conscius – humans with the capacity of being mindful.

There are two ways to adapt to our current situation. The first is to find ways to protect yourself. The way you think, the way you breathe, the way you walk are kinds of protection. Thanks to the energy of mindfulness, concentration and insight, you can survive in a stressful, toxic environment and thanks to your understanding and compassion, you don’t contribute to making it any worse.

As a member of the Homo conscius species, the fruit of your learning will be inscribed in every cell of your body and be transmitted to future generations. They, in turn, will profit from our experience, so they will not only be able to survive challenging situations but also be able to lead happy and fulfilled lives….

There is so much suffering caused by stress, depression, violence, discrimination and despair, and we need a spiritual practice.With a spiritual practice we will be able to adapt and survive. By living with solidity and freedom, we can transmit mindfulness, concentration, insight, joy and compassion to others. This is our legacy, our continuation body, and we hope future generations will inherit our life’s offering.

But suppose you adapt in a different way. Seeing everyone around you so busy, you try to be even busier in order to keep up. You might be successful for a time, but in the end, this adaptation is self-destructive, for you as an individual and for the species as a whole.

In today’s society we are so busy we don’t even have time to take care of ourselves. We’re not at ease with ourselves. We find it difficult to take care of our body, feelings and emotions. We’re afraid of being overwhelmed by our suffering and so we run away from ourselves. This is one of the defining characteristics of our civilisation.

But if we run away from ourselves, how can we take care of our pain? If we can’t take care of ourselves, how can we take care of the people we love? And how can we take care of Mother Earth? She has the capacity to nourish and heal us, but we are running from her and even causing harm and destruction. Technology is allowing us to become ever more adept at running away from ourselves, from our family, and from nature.

There needs to be a revolution, a kind of gentle revolution, a kind of awakening, in each of us. We need to rebel. We need to declare, “I don’t want to continue like this! This is not a life. I don’t have enough time to live. I don’t have enough time to love.”

 Once we have started a revolution in our own consciousness, it will bring about radical change in our family and community.

When we stop to breathe, we are not wasting time. Western capitalist civilisation says “Time is money” and we should use our time to make money. But time is more precious than money. Time is life. Coming back to our breathing and becoming aware that we have a wonderful body – this is life.

We need to wake up from a long dream. It is possible to live differently. Can you see that you already want to live differently?

Time is not money. Time is life and time is love.

With collective awakening, things can change very quickly. That is why everything we do should be directed toward bringing about collective awakening. Humans can be hateful, mean, and violent but we also have the ability, with spiritual practice, to become compassionate and protective toward not only our own species but others too – the ability to be awakened beings who can protect our planet and preserve her beauty. Awakening is our hope. And awakening is possible.

We need to shake ourselves awake so we can change our way of living, so we have more freedom, more happiness, more vitality, more compassion, more love.

We have to reorganise our life so we have time to take care of our body, our feelings, our emotions, our loved ones, and our planet.

Taking care of ourselves and others is the kind of adaptation we want to pass on to future generations. We have to remove the pressures that society puts on us.

We have to resist. Simply our way of walking is a way of reacting: “I refuse to run. I resist. I will not lose a single moment or a single step. I reclaim my freedom, peace, and joy with every step. This is my life and I want to live it deeply.”

Standard
Core Practice

Looking Deeply

The following extracts are taken from two books by Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay, for short). Those in normal typeface are from ‘The Other Shore’ and those in italics can be found in ‘No Death, No Fear’. As we continue to practice our love of Mother Earth, we can stop to look deeply and enjoy the liberation of no separate self.

autumn-fall-leaf-772936

Reflections on a Leaf

One autumn day while I was walking in the park, I became absorbed in the contemplation of a very small and beautiful leaf in the shape of a heart. It was turning red and barely hanging on to the branch, about to fall… Usually we think of the tree as the mother of the leaf, but contemplating I could see the leaf was also mother to the tree.

The sap the tree’s roots take up is only water, amino acids and minerals – not rich enough to nourish the tree. So the tree distributes that sap to the leaves, which, with the help of the sun and carbon dioxide, transform into sap rich in sugars which the leaves send back to the tree. Since the leaf is linked to the tree by a stem the communication between them is easy to see…

We are nourished and sustained by countless parents. The river, wild animals, plants, the soil and all its minerals are our mothers and fathers, and are mothers and fathers to all phenomena on planet Earth. That is why in the sutras it is said that living beings have been our parents through countless lifetimes…

Suddenly I had a kind of insight very much like the insight contained in the Heart Sutra. You have to see life.

You shouldn’t say, life of the leaf, but life in the leaf and life in the tree.

I saw the leaf leave the branch and float down to the soil, dancing joyfully, because as it floated it saw itself already there in the tree. I was so happy, I bowed my head, and I knew that we have a lot to learn from the leaf because it was not afraid; it knew that nothing can be born and nothing can die.

art-ball-ball-shaped-235615

I am more than this body

We should not identify the leaf cadaver we see on the ground as being the whole of the leaf. Only then do we truly see the leaf, which is present everywhere.

After many months of nourishing the tree, nourishing other species, providing shade and making life beautiful, the leaf lets go and gracefully falls to the ground, without any fear, because it knows it has gone out into many directions. It does not identify itself with the form that is floating down to earth, because what is floating down is just a small part of itself that will become one with the earth; in the future it may become a leaf or a flower again. There is nothing to attain and nothing is lost.

When we look into a leaf we should look deeply like this in order to see the interdependent co-arising of the leaf, to see that the leaf is not just present in the leaf. It is also present in the tree and in all other phenomena. Once we are able to see in this way, our grief and our sorrow will disappear.

Drinking our tea, we see “The leaves that remain are only a very small part of the tea. The tea that goes into me is a much bigger part of the tea. It is the richest part.
We are the same; our essence has gone into our children, our friends, and the entire universe. We have to find ourselves in those directions and not in the spent tea leaves.”

 The Gift of Nonfear

We should not wait until we are on our deathbed to begin to contemplate that this body is not myself. We should begin right away to look deeply into this truth…

Most people are used to living in the realm of birth and death, and they forget about the realm of no-birth and no-death. We need to know that in this very moment we are living the life of no-birth and no-death. The word ‘know’ here is important.

To know is to realise.

Realisation is mindfulness.

All the work of meditation is aimed at waking us up to one thing: that birth and death can never touch us in any way whatsoever.

“When you practice looking deeply, you see your true nature of no birth, no death; no being, no non-being; no coming, no going; no same, no different. When you see this, you are free from fear. You are free from craving and free from jealousy. No fear is the ultimate joy. When you have the insight of no fear, you are free. And like the great beings, you ride serenely on the waves of birth and death.”

At our next meeting, on Saturday 7th April, we will take time to reflect on these teachings and share our experiences. Dear Reader, you are welcome to join us.

Standard
Core Practice

Myself, Earth and Sangha

Appreciating Mother Earth

On Saturday 10th March, we gathered as a sangha to connect with, appreciate, and learn from Mother Earth. Our guided meditation provides the title for this week’s entry, and prepared us for a contemplative walk in the garden. There were signs of Spring everywhere – from birdsong to tight buds on the trees.

We placed our feet gently on the earth, mindful of Thay’s words in his letter to Mother Earth.

“Dear Mother, you wish that we live with more awareness and gratitude, and we can do this by generating the energies of mindfulness, peace, stability, and compassion in our daily lives. Therefore I make promise today to return your love and fulfill this wish by investing every step I take on you with love and tenderness. I am walking not merely on matter, but on spirit.”

Our experiences culminated in us writing our own letters to Mother Earth, and some of us have chosen to share them here. Dear reader, you may like to compose your own …

Dear Mother Earth

I give back to you as you give to me. With every step that I take knowing you are there to support, sustain and carry me forward on my journey. Knowing that you are the path. You are the earth, and the air and fire and water. You are compassion and kindness, forgiveness and healing. You are everyone and everything that has passed before me. And everyone and everything that will follow after me. You are them and me. And I am them and you. You are body, mind, feelings, perceptions and consciousness. I am body, mind, feelings, perceptions and consciousness. 

When I walk on and with you, I give back all of this.

With respect and gratitude,

Kerry

Only with careful steps and mindful respect Mother Earth will supply what we expect. By repeating our careful steps with mindful respect, from Mother Earth we will be blessed. Only with careful steps, careful steps.

Greg

Dear Mother Earth,

You may not always like what we do to you but you are always love us with your care; air to breathe, food to eat, water to refresh and much, much more.

Thank you,

Joan.

Dear Mother Earth,

I am so pleased to become re-acquainted with you after I have been absent for so long. Forgive me – I have been remiss; not remembering to thank you for your loving support and sometimes hardly noticing your presence.

Our walks together now are so pleasant. How did I forget how much you nourish me?

I want to thank you now and promise I will remain in touch with you, treating you with respect and doing me best to care for your needs as you care for mine.

In mindfulness,

Your forgetful child,

Edith

 

Dear Mother Earth,

I know I love you.

I love your natural beauty.

Please teach me how to join you, becoming part of you, an element of nature.

Hui-Ling Chen

 

Dear Mother Earth,

You will be here after I am gone. You will be here long after all now living are gone. You will be here after the last human has gone.

You are not eternal, but will endure while the sun remains stable, a vast span of time. New forms of life will come and go over you, nourished by your air and water. Your volcanoes will belch forth fresh land, renewing the continents as they wear away.

We are not always appreciative.

Today let me feel gratitude for your steady presence, on which I utterly depend.

Stephen

Finally, here is the Guided Meditation we shared.

Myself, Earth and Sangha meditation

Aware of my in breath, I breathe in.
Aware of my out breath I breathe out.
In breath. Out breath.

Calming my body, I breathe in.
Relaxing my body, I breathe out.
Calming body. Relaxing body.

Aware of my body, I sit upright.
Aware of my body, I sit solidly.
Sitting upright. Sitting solidly.

Sitting in peace, I breathe in.
Letting go of thoughts, I breathe out.
Sitting in peace. Letting go.

Aware of the Earth, I breathe in.
Feeling her solidity, peace and joy I breathe out.
Aware of earth, transmitting solidity, peace and joy.

Sitting on the earth, I breathe in.
Trusting the patience, the freshness, of the Earth, I breathe out.
Sitting on the earth, patient and fresh.

I am fresh like the earth, I breathe in.
I am patient like the earth, I breathe out.
I am fresh, I am patient.

I am the earth, sitting solidity, I breathe in.
I am the earth, sitting peacefully, I breathe out.
I am the earth, solid and peaceful

Touching the joy of our oneness – Myself, Earth and Sangha – I breathe in.
Touching the beauty of our oneness – Myself, Earth and Sangha – I breathe out.
Myself, Earth and Sangha. Joy and beauty.

Please continue to enjoy your practice, feeling and transmitting solidity, peace and joy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standard
Core Practice

Mother Earth

ED1

“I know the earth is my Mother, a great living being. I vow to protect the earth, and she protects me.”

As this Sunday is Mother’s Day, and following on from our morning on Love Meditation, we will focus on our love for Mother Earth during our Mindful Morning this Saturday, March 10th.

Below is a letter Thich Nhat Hanh included in his book ‘Love Letter to the Earth’. We will have an opportunity to look deeply at this together on Saturday and consider other ways in which we can express this love.

Dear Mother Earth,

Every time I step upon the Earth, I will train myself to see that I am walking on you, my Mother. Every time I place my feet on the Earth I have a chance to be in touch with you and with all your wonders. With every step I can touch the fact that you aren’t just beneath me, dear Mother, but you are also within me. Each mindful and gentle step can nourish me, heal me, and bring me into contact with myself and with you in the present moment.

Walking in mindfulness I can express my love, respect, and care for you, our precious Earth. I will touch the truth that mind and body are not two separate entities. I will train myself to look deeply to see your true nature; you are my loving mother, a living being, a great being – an immense, beautiful, and precious wonder. You are not only matter, you are also mind, you are also consciousness. Just as the beautiful pine or tender grain of corn possess an innate sense of knowing, so, too, do you. Within you, dear Mother Earth, there are the elements of earth, water, air and fire; and there is also time, space, and consciousness. Our nature is your nature, which is also the nature of the cosmos.

I want to walk gently, with steps of love and with great respect. I shall walk with my own body and mind united in oneness. I know I can walk in such a way that every step is a pleasure, every step is nourishing, and every step is healing – not only for my body and mind, but also for you, dear Mother Earth. You are the most beautiful planet in our entire solar system. I do not want to run away from you, dear Mother, nor to hurry. I know I can find happiness right here with you. I do not need to rush to find more conditions for happiness in the future. At every step I can take refuge in you. At every step I can enjoy your beauties, your delicate veil of atmosphere and the miracle of gravity. I can stop my thinking. I can walk relaxedly and effortlessly. Walking in this spirit I can experience awakening. I can awaken to the fact that I am alive, and that life is a precious miracle. I can awaken to the fact that I am never alone and can never die. You are always there within me and around me at every step, nourishing me, embracing me, and carrying me far into the future.

Dear Mother, you wish that we live with more awareness and gratitude, and we can do this by generating the energies of mindfulness, peace, stability, and compassion in our daily lives. Therefore I make promise today to return your love and fulfill this wish by investing every step I take on you with love and tenderness. I am walking not merely on matter, but on spirit.

 

 

Standard
Core Practice

How To Love a Pot Without a Lid

The headline for this week comes from my saving a page on the computer with that title. It is a combination of the title of Thay’s book ‘How to Love’ and an extract I had chosen from it called ‘A Pot Without a Lid’. At first I thought it had turned out just a bit odd but as the ‘pot without a lid’ is a metaphor for the ‘sense of lack’ we experience, and as we are practising being open to meeting even that with understanding, maybe putting the two together isn’t so silly after all.

All of this arose from preparing for our Mindful Morning on Saturday 10th February – and as the closest of our meetings to Valentine’s Day, it seemed a good chance to explore love through Thay’s teaching and practice. The plan was to include calligraphy, Love Meditation and the reading.

1. Calligraphy:

reverence calligraphy

2. Love Meditation:

Meditation – Love, Loving Kindness, Metta

May I be peaceful, happy and light in body and spirit.
May I be safe and free from injury.
May I be free from anger, afflictions, fear, and anxiety.

(Bell)

May I learn to look at myself with the eyes of understanding and love.
May I be able to recognise and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in myself.
May I learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving, and delusion in myself.

(Bell)

May I know how to nourish the seeds of joy in myself every day.
May I be able to live fresh, solid, and free.
May I be free from attachment and aversion, but not be indifferent.

(Bell)

How to practice the meditation (advice from the PLum Village Chanting and Recitation Book:  To begin, sit still and calm your body and your breathing. Sitting still, you are not too preoccupied with other matters.

Begin practising this love meditation on yourself (‘May I be peaceful…’) because until you are able to love and take care of yourself, you cannot be of much help to to others.

After that, practise on others: (‘May he/she/you/they be peaceful…’)
first on someone you like,
then on someone neutral to you,
then on someone you love,
and finally on someone the mere thought of whom makes you suffer. After practising metta meditation, you may find you can think of them with genuine compassion.

Metta meditation is really a daily practice over an extended period (no doubt a lifetime) but many of us find it makes some difference right from the start.

We can spend a whole 20 minute meditation on practising love solely for ourselves. Alternatively we can move on to include others as a focus during one sit. We may find that a focus on ourselves changes our outlook generally and so already everyone benefits. The thing is to keep doing the practice and notice any difference.

The version above is Thay’s; it is a little longer and more detailed than others you may be familiar with. One or two people commented on Saturday how helpful they found the slow, steady repetition. I don’t know if instructions appear anywhere but I have noted where I added bells; I followed twelve breaths after each sound of the bell as is sometimes recommended for other guided meditations.

3. The Reading

Well, we didn’t quite get to that on Saturday. We took a break for lunch, after which one of our group mentioned he had brought along a Chinese violin because he had been struck by the music in the film ‘Walk With Me’ and we decided to hear his playing of a Chinese song. We, in turn, were struck by the instrument’s haunting tone.

There seems to me no better way of being in the moment than improvising; inspired by the film and our theme for the day we chanted the Avalokiteshvara Chant accompanied by the Chinese violin. So there we were, having nurtured our loving kindness, developing and sending out our compassion to the world through music and chanting created spontaneously. It doesn’t get much better, really.

So finally…

making its appearance on the website…

the aforementioned pot…

From ‘How To Love’ by Thich Nhat Hanh.

 ” Very often we feel like a pot without a lid. We believe that our lid is somewhere in the world and that if we look very hard, we’ll find the right lid to cover our pot. The feeling of emptiness is always there inside of us.

When we contemplate the other person, sometimes we think we see what we feel we lack. We think we need someone else to lean on, to take refuge in, and to diminish our suffering.We want to be the object of another person’s attention and contemplation. We want someone who will look at us and embrace our feeling of emptiness and suffering with his or her energy of mindfulness.

Soon we become addicted to that kind of energy; we think that without that attention, we can’t live. It helps us feel less empty and helps us forget the block of suffering inside.

When we ourselves cannot generate the energy to take care of ourselves, we think we need the energy of someone else. We focus on the need and the lack rather than generating the energy of mindfulness, concentration, and insight that can heal our suffering and help the other person as well.

Which brings us full circle – back to the calligraphy and the Love meditation. Enjoy the practice.

 

 

 

 

 

Standard
Core Practice

walk with me

walk with me

During the week beginning Monday 22nd January, many sangha members in the Leicester area were able to view one of several screenings of ‘Walk With Me’.

We agreed to share our what we noticed and what touched us. Here are our comments:

“’Walk with Me’ is a wonderful insight into the lives of the Plum Village monks and nuns who ‘walk with’ Thay. Seeing them in walking meditation and the scenes of singing/chanting are particularly beautiful moments.” Kerry

“A beautiful insight into Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings and monastic life. Stunning cinematography. Mindfully filmed with many joyful, poignant and touching moments.” Fal

“The stillness of Thay’s teachings reflected throughout the film.” Steve

“The images that stay with me are those of Thay, whether speaking or silent, and admiring the tree preparing for Winter.” Joan

“Really interesting film. I particularly liked the habit of stopping whatever you’re doing when the clock strikes to bring you back to the ‘here and now’. I also loved the explanation given to the little girl who was so upset about the death of her ‘doggie’.” Liz

“I felt most connected when the camera stayed with the experience of the practice -the Avalokiteshvara chant, heads being shaved, the silent walking. The words read from ‘Fragrant Palm Leaves seemed to come from that same deep place.” Edith

Expectations…

I had found a postcard from the time the film makers were still crowdfunding which reads:

“In May 2011 Thich Nhat Hanh’s monastics invited filmmakers to Plum Village, and to follow them on their world Tour. Through close observation and a series of intimate interviews, ‘Walk With Me’ offers a rare insight into monastic life and the depths of their mindful living.

Honest and heart-warming, this film touches on the universal themes of love, loss and death, relevant not just for the monks and nuns, but for all of us”.

And beyond…

Those of us who gathered for the Tuesday afternoon screening, enjoyed a lively post-film discussion. How did that go…?

Well, as seasoned film goers accustomed to taking a critical view of the films we watch, we may or may not have agreed that the intention outlined in the publicity was entirely accurate; it might certainly have influenced my expectations.

A key question emerged: in our sharing, could we all find something that resonated with us, that spoke to our ‘beginner’s mind,’ at the same time noticing that each of us would have made a different film had we been behind the camera and/or in the editing room?

And then…. is that the same as everything else in life?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standard
Core Practice

Sangha Reflections and Insight

DSCF1033

Saturday, January 13th: “We accept this food so that we may nurture our brotherhood and sisterhood, build our sangha, and nourish our ideal of serving all living beings”

On Saturday 13th January, we gathered in the Library at the Quaker Meeting House in Leicester to enjoy our shared practice.

After guided, walking and silent meditation, we shared our reflections on the Fifth Mindfulness Training, published on the website last week. These included an awareness that we eat as we do to benefit all beings.

One sangha member told us how, watching the BBC programme ‘Big Cats’ she had turned away from a lion hunting a giraffe but had not minded so much when a caiman was caught and eaten.

Each time we share what we notice in this way, something new opens up; in this case, we reflected on how the mind rapidly makes this kind of distinction, on how all of the practice addresses our preferences and asks us to examine them.

Do we mind less if the animal suffering isn’t ‘cute’ or ‘majestic’ or has scales rather than fur? What if we are encountering the suffering of a person who, we admit, we see as ‘in the wrong’ or just plain ‘different’? Can we see all the suffering, not taking sides?

Someone quoted Thay’s poem, ‘Call Me By My True Names’.

So, though our morning began with eating, sangha reflections led us to examine non-discrimination, non dual mind – Interbeing!

Here is the poem:

Call Me By My True Names

Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to, my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

By Thich Nhat Hanh.

The link takes you to a recording of Thay reading the poem.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JADWkoUpXbQ

 

Standard