Monday, November 7, 2016

The Most Important Thing You Can Do This Week...

Show Love

In the next day or so this long, protracted and acrimonious US Election will draw to a close. None of us know exactly what the outcome will be - or how the country will react once a result is know. I am, however, ready to make a prediction. The prediction is simply that even once it is over, we won't see a lot of love being shared out there.

So while I hope you will vote if you are eligible, I also hope that you will strive to show love to those around you, and to those who you disagree with. Whether you have 'a side' or deep convictions, or even if you are jaded and tired of all of the pols, find a way to allow your passion - or disenchantment - be suffused with love.

In my 'day job' I work in the research Industry, and so I have a lot of exposure to the state of our culture, and one thing that all of the research shows is that we are becoming more divided, more distrustful and more antagonistic towards each other. Of course you don't need researchers like me to tell you that, you just have to turn on your TV or radio.

So it is more important than ever that we choose not to simply follow along and let ourselves get swept up by the acrimony. Yes, this is an important election, and people on both sides are highly passionate about their beliefs and positions. I am not saying that we shouldn't work hard for justice and peace - we definitely should - but that as we do so we don't let go of a true core of metta - loving-kindness.

The ancient practice of metta bhavana (cultivation of loving-kindness) is the ideal way to prepare ourselves for weeks such as these, where our grounding in love can be shaking. You can find a fully guided 30 minute metta bhavana meditation, together with a short introduction to the practice, below.

I would like to invite all of you to in your own way share a little love this week - whether it is to your peers or those you disagree totally with. Beware the dialog of hatred, and instead try to apply the lessons of loving-kindness.

It's not easy. But nothing this radical is. This is how the world is changed. Let's all try and change it just a little.

      Wishing you a loving and peaceful week, Chris

The following fully guided meditation allows us to cultivate metta - even in times of strife and conflict



If the embedded audio player above doesn't work for you, please click here.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

In Tragedy, Choose a Soft Belly Over Hatred


How Do We Choose Love Over Hatred?

It's hard to work through your feelings in the aftermath of a tragedy like the one that happened in Orlando over the weekend. It's normal to run through the range of sadness, hopelessness, anger, confusion and heartbreak. Yet if you turn on the TV or read a newspaper or blog it won't be long before you find hatred. And it is easy to kid ourselves sometimes that the hatred is justified, that when events are so overwhelming turning to hate is the reasonable thing to do. And so the narrative we witness in the media quickly turns from short-lived compassion to anger, hatred and ignorance.

We can choose to follow down the same path or we can choose to turn to love. The four "Brahma Viharas" are Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity. We are taught that these are the "heavenly abodes" - the places where we should learn to dwell. When we experience tragedy we can choose to move to a place of love and compassion. It's not easy, and if you are like me the path won't be a straight one. Confusion and helplessness may dominate at first, and it is these that can turn to anger and hatred.

I find that when feeling confused and helpless "Soft Belly" meditation can help calm our emotions, center us and return us to a place where we can choose love and compassion over anger. In this form of meditation we simply sit quietly and visualize breathing deep into our belly, allowing it to soften and helping us to reach a place of quiet and groundedness.

So instead of allowing ourselves to get transfixed on the narrative of hatred and anger so prevalent in the media we can instead soften our bellies and find a place to nurture love and compassion.

Having love and compassion does not mean that we become passive and heartless. Having found your ground in love you may go on to work on the root causes of the tragedy, to help heal those in pain and sorrow. But you will do so from love and compassion, not hatred. As the Buddha says:

Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.

                Chris.

The following fully guided meditation allows us to practice calming and centering ourselves through visualizing breathing from a soft belly.



If the embedded audio player above doesn't work for you, please click here.

photo credit: Vigil. via photopin (license)
Dhammapada quote translated from the Pali by Acharya Buddharakkhita. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition).

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

No Meeting Memorial Day Weekend

Hi all, just a note to say that we will not be meeting on Sunday 29th May (Memorial Day weekend). I will be attending a conference, and I know many of you will have other plans for the long weekend.

All other Sundays we are meeting as normal.

   Metta, Chris.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

How to Love Politicians


Last week, as I was putting together the last ‘Metta Letter’, I searched out a few different translations of the Dhammapada. One version that I particularly liked was by Ajahn Thanissaro. It starts:

Phenomena are   preceded by the heart,
ruled by the heart,
made of the heart.
If you speak or act
with a corrupted heart,
then suffering follows you —
as the wheel of the cart,
the track of the ox
that pulls it. 
Phenomena are  preceded by the heart,
ruled by the heart,
made of the heart.
If you speak or act
with a calm, bright heart,
then happiness follows you,
like a shadow
that never leaves.

I felt that this was exceptionally beautiful, and I liked the way the Ajahn chose to use ‘heart’ instead of the more common ‘mind’. In many ancient cultures the heart and mind are interchangeable, as the lump of flesh we call the heart was thought to be the seat of our consciousness.

Reading further, we have the following:

'He insulted me,
hit me,
beat me,
robbed me'
 — for those who brood on this,
hostility isn't stilled. 
'He insulted me,
hit me,
beat me,
robbed me' —
for those who don't brood on this,
hostility is stilled. 
Hostilities aren't stilled
through hostility,
regardless.
Hostilities are stilled
through non-hostility:
this, an unending truth. 
Unlike those who don't realize
that we're here on the verge
of perishing,
those who do:
their quarrels are stilled.

Reading this my mind (or heart) went to thinking about the current political dialog. There is so much ‘he said, she said’ going on at the moment. Yes, there are significantly differing views on very important issues, and some of these are being aired. However, much of what we hear and read is exactly the hostility this passage talks about.

Note that the Buddha doesn’t say “You’re wrong - he didn’t insult, hit or beat you.” Instead we are encouraged to not dwell (or brood) on our perceived hurt. It isn’t denying the reality of what happened, it is just saying that our choice is whether to brood on that, thus generating hostility.

In the same way, we may have real issues with some of what is being said by the politicians at the moment. We can - and should - continue to work for justice and the protection of the weak and disenfranchised in our society. But we can choose whether or not to turn that into hostility against those we dislike or disagree with.

When we practice Metta (Loving-kindness) meditations we practice loving all beings - people, creatures and politicians. It is up to us whether we choose to get drawn in to the ad-hominem hostility that is the normal dialog of our time.

Maybe if we chose instead to dwell on love that we would truly change our society.

Metta, Chris.



The following fully guided meditation allows us to practice cultivating love for all beings - including politicians.



If the embedded audio player above doesn't work for you, please click here.

You can read the whole of Ajahn Thanissaro’s wonderful translation here.

"Yamakavagga: Pairs" (Dhp I), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/dhp/dhp.01.than.html 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

You Are Not What You Think!


The first thing that most new meditators find is that as soon as they sit for meditation their mind becomes a wild storm of thoughts. If we are honest, those of us who have been meditating for many years have the same experience often, and it can be the cause of much dismay and discouragement.

The other day I read a wonderful interview of Ajahn Sumedho. In it, the interviewer, Phillip Moffitt, asked the Ajahn what was the most surprising thing he had learnt in his forty years as a monk. His answer was quite enlightening:

PM: Having been a monk for 40 years, you now know a great deal about human nature. Looking back is there one particular thing that would be most surprising to that 30-year-old who first put on robes?
AS: Yes. Not to believe anything your mind says. (Laughs.)
PM: Say more about that.
AS: In other words, you are not what you think. This is the greatest discovery. At 30, my thoughts were my reality. They were the way I created and judged myself. I was very hard on myself and in many ways quite cruel and judgmental. Now I know how to think without being a victim of my own thoughts.
You can read the whole interview here, which I highly recommend.

Now the Ajahn's answer may at first be surprising to you. After all,  isn't one of the Buddha's most famous quotes "You Are What You Think"?

Well, not quite. It turns out that the commonly quoted version is actually a mis-translation. You can read a detailed analysis of this here, but what the Buddha actually says in the Dhammapada is better translated as Acharya Buddharakkhita does:

Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.
This is very different. It isn't saying that we are what we think; rather it is saying that what happens in our mind affects how we live. If we allow our mind to be filled with impure thoughts, or with confusion, or with mindlessness then that is how our life will play out.

So by understanding that we are not our thoughts we can approach meditation - and what are thoughts are doing while we meditate - very differently. In "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying" Sogyal Rinpoche gives the following advice for working with your thoughts in meditation:

What, then, should we “do” with the mind in meditation? Nothing at all. Just leave it, simply, as it is. One master described meditation as “mind, suspended in space, nowhere.”  
There is a famous saying “if the mind is not contrived, it is spontaneously blissful, just as water, when not agitated, is by nature transparent and clear.” I often compare the mind in meditation to a jar of muddy water: The more we leave the water without interfering or stirring it, the more the particles of dirt will sink to the bottom, letting the natural clarity of the water shine through. The very nature of the mind is such that if you only leave it in its unaltered and natural state, it will find its true nature, which is bliss and clarity.  
So take care not to impose anything on the mind, or to tax it. When you meditate there should be not effort to control, and no attempt to peaceful. Don’t be overly solemn or feel that you are talking part in some special ritual; let go even of the idea that you are meditating. Let your body remain as it is, and your breath as you find it. Think of yourself as the sky, holding the whole universe.  
When people begin to meditate, they often say that their thoughts are running riot, and have become wilder than ever before. But I reassure them and say that this is a good sign. Far from meaning that your thoughts have become wilder, it shows that you have become quieter, and you are finally aware of just how noisy your thoughts have always been. Don't be disheartened or give up. Whatever arises, just keep being present, keep returning to the breath, even in the midst of all the confusion.  
In the ancient meditation instructions, it is said that at the beginning thoughts will arrive one on top of another, uninterrupted, like a steep mountain waterfall. Gradually, as you perfect meditation, thoughts become like the water in a deep, narrow gorge, then a great river slowly winding its way down to the sea, and finally the mind becomes like a still and placid ocean, ruffled only by the occasional ripple or wave.  
Just as the ocean has waves, or the sun has rays, so the mind's own radiance is it thoughts and emotions. The ocean has waves, yet the ocean is not particularly disturbed by them. The waves are the very nature of the ocean. Waves will rise, but where do they go? Back into the ocean. And where do the waves come from? The ocean. In the same manner, thoughts and emotions are the radiance and expression of the very nature of the mind. They rise from the mind, but where do they dissolve? Back into the mind. Whatever rises, do not see it as a particular problem. If you do not impulsively react, if you are only patient, it will once again settle into its essential nature.
The following fully guided meditation allows us to practice working with our thoughts. Not identifying with them, not becoming frustrated with how noisy our mind is, but instead simply observing them and not getting caught up with them.



If the embedded audio player above doesn't work for you, please click here.

photo credit: The Gap via photopin (license)