Saturday, July 4, 2020

One Taste
(Meditation for Sunday July 5th)



One Taste


Today is July 4th and here in the US it is a holiday, a celebration of the country's independence. Most years the most visible part of this celebration is for people to gather, drink beer, watch football and 'blow shit up.'

This year feels different, as the holiday has thrown some of the divisions in the country into sharp contrast. As we work our way through a pandemic we still don't fully understand, a false dichotomy has developed where people see safety and caring as somehow antithetical to people's liberty. Even the choice to wear PPE or not has become politicized for some.

The word 'freedom' is always used a lot around this time, but this year it has become particularly pointed. And yet as we listen to how the word is being used it becomes clear that the meaning of the word differs greatly, and so it begs the question: What does it mean to be free?

There is a well-known and beautiful saying of the Buddha from the Pali Suttas that says:
Just as in the great ocean there is but one taste — the taste of salt — so in this Doctrine and Discipline there is but one taste — the taste of freedom
'Doctrine and Discipline' here means the teachings and our practice. What this is saying is that just like the ocean, whether we practice a little or devote our whole life to the practice, the 'taste' is the same - that of freedom. In his wonderful essay 'The Taste of Freedom' Bhikkhu Bodhi explains it like this:
Whether one samples water taken from the surface of the ocean, or from its middling region, or from its depths, the taste of the water is in every case the same — the taste of salt. And again, whether one drinks but a thimble-full of ocean water, or a glass-full, or a bucket-full, the same salty taste is present throughout. Analogously with the Buddha's Teaching, a single flavor — the flavor of freedom — pervades the entire Doctrine and Discipline, from its beginning to its end, from its gentle surface to its unfathomable depths. Whether one samples the Dhamma at its more elementary level — in the practice of generosity and moral discipline, in acts of devotion and piety, in conduct governed by reverence, courtesy, and loving-kindness; or at its intermediate level — in the taintless supramundane knowledge and deliverance realized by the liberated saint, in every case the taste is the same — the taste of freedom.
So what do we mean by 'freedom' here? If this is saying is that our freedom comes from our practice, then that seems at odds with those who believe that it means 'doing whatever I want, whatever the consequences.' Bhikkhu Bodhi addresses this in this way:
The solution to this seeming paradox lies in the distinction between two kinds of freedom — between freedom as license and freedom as spiritual autonomy. Contemporary man, for the most part, identifies freedom with license. For him, freedom means the license to pursue undisturbed his impulses, passions and whims. To be free, he believes, he must be at liberty to do whatever he wants, to say whatever he wants and to think whatever he wants. Every restriction laid upon this license he sees as an encroachment upon his freedom; hence a practical regimen calling for restraint of deed, word, and thought, for discipline and self-control, strikes him as a form of bondage.
For me, one of the best summations of what true freedom is comes from the (usually misquoted) Homily by Saint Augustine, where he says:
Once for all, then, a short precept is given thee: Love, and do what thou wilt: whether thou hold thy peace, through love hold thy peace; whether thou cry out, through love cry out; whether thou correct, through love correct; whether thou spare, through love do thou spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.
What Augustine is saying here is that if our intentions come from a discipline of love, then our actions will be guided by that. Freedom is acting according to the discipline of love. Or, in Bhikkhu Bodhi's words our elementary practice is "the practice of generosity and moral discipline, in acts of devotion and piety, in conduct governed by reverence, courtesy, and loving-kindness." It is this that brings us freedom.

Wishing you all a taste of true freedom this holiday weekend,
Metta, Chris.

I have linked below a fully guided meditation on 'one taste.' A few of us have committed to hit 'play' together at 7pm PT on Sunday 5th July. You are welcome to join us if you wish or listen on your own at any time. Please feel free to forward this to anyone you wish.
If the above player doesn't work for you please click here.
Photo by Anastasia Taioglou on Unsplash

Saturday, June 27, 2020

This is Enough
(Meditation for Sunday June 28th)



This is Enough

Over the past few months we have all experienced some 'separation from the loved.' For each one of us there have been things that we 'normally' would do which we have been unable to do. The scale of this separation is different for all of us - for some of us it has just been the inability to see friends, attend meetings or go to restaurants. For others the separation has been more profound with the loss of health, loved ones or livelihood.

In the First Noble Truth we are taught that 'separation from the loved is dukkha.' Dukkha is often translated as suffering but carries a deeper, more psychological meaning that doesn't really translate to English. My first teacher used to use the rather unwieldy translation 'unsatisfactoryness.' When I first moved to the States I realized that Americans have a great word that describes one aspect of it. Separation from the loved sucks.

Separation from the loved causes us to yearn for things to be different. And it is that yearning - not the separation itself - that causes our suffering.

We often go through our lives wishing that things were different, of that we have things that we don't currently have. On our spiritual path we often yearn for something that will take us forward, get ourselves out of whatever particular rut we feel we are in. We have all done it - wished for the right teacher to come along, the experience that will change our lives, the meditation cushion that will cure our sore legs, the book that will bring about our enlightenment. All of these things can be wonderful in themselves but yearning for them causes our suffering. Chögyam Trungpa called this 'Spiritual materialism,' where we mistake our desire for things such as teachers or experiences for true progress on the path.

There is a beautiful poem in the Pali scriptures that tells the story of Kassapa, a monk living alone with so little he gladly receives alms from lepers. Yet he expresses joy in what he has, and says:

This is enough for me—
    desiring to do jhāna,
    resolute, mindful;

Here jhāna means mind training or meditation. He didn't need a fancy new cushion, didn't need the latest book by the teacher du jour, didn't yearn for the retreat that would change his life. What he had was his practice, and that was enough. I highly recommend you read the beautiful translation by Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu here. It will come as no surprise to you that Kassapa became enlightened.

So what does this mean for us? None of the examples I have given - teachers, cushions, books, meetings - are bad. In fact they are all wonderful things that can greatly help us on our path. But yearning for them, desiring them can actually cause suffering. We can spend so long searching for them that we completely miss the point and fail to work with what we have. What we have is enough.

Metta, Chris.

I have linked below a fully guided meditation on working with what we have. A few of us have committed to hit 'play' together at 7pm PT on Sunday 28th June. You are welcome to join us if you wish or listen on your own at any time. Please feel free to forward this to anyone you wish.
If the above link doesn't work for you please click here.
Photo by Lucas Sankey on Unsplash




Saturday, June 20, 2020

Choosing Joy
(Meditation for Sunday 6/21)


Choosing Joy


There have been a few things happen this week that have caused me to be joyful, but by far the most moving one for me was seeing the picture of Malala above.

What is lovely is that in the picture we see a normal, intelligent 22 year-old, having been 'trashed' by her friends and classmates in celebration of her graduation.

Of course what makes this picture so special is the story behind it, of the young 15 year-old Malala Yousafzai speaking out to ensure young girls received an education, and being shot in the head and left for dead for that. And the story of her recovery, her Nobel Prize and her continued courage in speaking truth to power.

When asked about her graduation, she expressed her “joy and gratitude” and added “I don’t know what’s ahead. For now, it will be Netflix, reading and sleep.”

I have spoken a lot about Joy (Mudita) in the lase few months. The reason for this is that as we look around it is easy to see how the challenges and hardships of the current times can cause us to focus more on anger, hatred and division. We don't need to look far around us to see plenty of that. And yet in all of this we can choose to be joyful. The key here is going beyond the reactive. I started this piece talking of the 'things that have caused me to be joyful.' This is the natural way to talk about it, but what we (I) need to do is to turn this around - to choose to be joyful independent of what is going on. This is where our practice comes in, specifically the practice of Mudita Bhavana - Cultivation of Joy.

And this isn't just for our temporary well-being or happiness. This is a key part of our path. The Buddha said:

Here, O, Monks, a disciple lets his mind pervade one quarter of the world with thoughts of unselfish joy, and so the second, and so the third, and so the fourth. And thus the whole wide world, above, below, around, everywhere and equally, he continues to pervade with a heart of unselfish joy, abundant, grown great, measureless, without hostility or ill-will.
So a core part of our practice should be to cultivate this joy, unconditionally. I have linked below a fully guided audio meditation on cultivating joy. I would encourage you to practice this powerful form in this difficult time. You can, of course, listen at any time but a few of us have committed to press 'play' together at 7pm PT on Sunday June 21st - it would be lovely to have you join us.

Please feel free to forward this to anyone who you think would appreciate it, and do let me know if you have any comments or questions - I love hearing from you.

Metta, Chris.

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




Saturday, June 13, 2020

Impermanence and Joy
(Meditation for Sunday June 14th)


Impermanence and Joy


As we get deeper into 2020 and the world seems to get stranger and stranger it is easy to feel the desire to 'turn back the clock.' I have heard many people express the sentiment that they want to go 'back to 2019' or 'back to January.'

Of course we all know this is foolish, but it is worth taking it apart a little: What is this imagined past that was so much better, so much more stable, so much more familiar?

When we think this way we quickly realize that we are becoming caught in one of the main delusions we share - that things are permanent, that things can be permanent, and that things should be permanent. It is clinging on to these delusions of permanence that causes us to suffer.

When we first learn about the truth of impermanence we learn that all things are subject to change and that clinging to their current form causes suffering. Often when we first learn this it feels negative and a bit of a downer. Who wants to know that the things they love will pass away? The taste of the vinegar seems bitter. And yet when we move on from the delusion of permanence we can experience a deep joy.

A couple of years ago I was introduced to a poem by Ellen Bass titled 'If You Knew.' The first stanza says this:
What if you knew you’d be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line’s crease.
You can find the whole poem here - it is very beautiful and I highly recommend reading it and meditating on it. The sentiment of the poem echoes the words of the Buddha in the Dhamapada:
There are those who do not realize that one day we all must die. But those who do realize this settle their quarrels.
In many ways this year has been hard because many of the things we cling to have gone away or been threatened. Our livelihoods, our health, our loved ones, even our political and social systems. But all of these things have always been impermanent - we just haven't fully acknowledged that.

So why am I saying be joyful? When we truly acknowledge impermanence it is freeing, and that liberation causes us to treat ourselves and others with more compassion. When we cease to cling to things we appreciate them as they are right now, without holding on to any belief of how they will be.

The joy that comes from understanding the nature of impermanence is a profound one, but one that we often need to work on. I have linked below a fully guided meditation on Impermanence and Joy. You can of course listen at any time, but a group of us have committed to press 'play' together at 7pm PT on Sunday June 14th - you are welcome to join us.

Whatever you do I would encourage you to meditate on impermanence at this time. We can choose to stay in the delusion of permanence or experience the joy of being freed from that delusion. And 2020 is the perfect teacher for this.

Metta, Chris.

PS: If you would like to read more on Impermanence and Joy there is a beautiful book of poems called "The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness and Joy," which is where I first encountered the Ellen Bass poem I quote above.

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

Dhamapada quote from Access to Insight.
Photo by Simon Berger on Unsplash.






Saturday, June 6, 2020

Metta for Divided Times
(Meditation for Sunday June 7th)


Metta for Divided Times


These last few weeks have been hard for all of us as we have been witness to lives being taken through institutionalized racism and the subsequent reactions as people either stand up against the oppression or choose to justify, deflect or downplay it. In an already divided world the divisions have appeared to become even more stark.

There's an old saying that "If you're not angry, you're not paying attention," and it is very easy for all of us to respond to what is happening with anger. When this anger arises - and it has arisen in me in the last week - the question isn't whether it is justified or not, but what we choose to do next. We can either choose to feed it - in which case it will grow and consume us - or we can choose to recognize it as something that causes suffering and instead cultivate lovingkindness and compassion.

The great teacher and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh says this:
“When we get angry, we suffer. If you really understand that, you also will be able to understand that when the other person is angry, it means that she is suffering. When someone insults you or behaves violently towards you, you have to be intelligent enough to see that the person suffers from his own violence and anger. But we tend to forget. We think that we are the only one that suffers, and the other person is our oppressor. This is enough to make anger arise, and to strengthen our desire to punish. We want to punish the other person because we suffer. Then, we have anger in us; we have violence in us, just as they do. When we see that our suffering and anger are no different from their suffering and anger, we will behave more compassionately. So understanding the other is understanding yourself, and understanding yourself is understanding the other person. Everything must begin with you.”
To me, the most important thing here is "Everything must begin with you." We may wish that other people were more loving, more compassionate, less cruel or more just, but the only person we can have any control of is our self. We can allow our minds and our actions to be driven by anger, or we can choose to cultivate compassion and love.

This isn't to say that we should choose inaction. There are times when we have to stand up and speak for what is right. Much of the current problem has been enabled by the majority staying silent. However, it is important to understand that the outcome of our actions are driven by the intentions behind those actions. If our actions are driven by anger, hatred and fear then the outcome will only be to drive more suffering. As the Dhammapada says:
Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.
It's easy sometimes to believe that our meditations, our cultivation of the Brahma Viharas (Love, joy, compassion and equanimity) are only relevant for 'good' times, and that in times like these it is naive or weak to talk about these things. I would argue the opposite, that the cultivation of love, compassion and non-violence has never been more important. These are the moments we train for.

Metta, Chris.

A note on cultivating Metta:

We practice cultivating 'Metta' - Love, loving-kindness or goodwill - through the practice of Metta-Bhavana. This meditation practice is, I would argue, the most important thing we can all do right now. I have linked a fully-guided audio meditation below, and I would encourage you to practice this powerful form. A group of us have committed to press 'play' together at 7pm PT on Sunday June 7th, and you are welcome to join us then if you wish.
Note that in this recording the final part - the 'sending to the ten directions' - starts from where it was recorded in the Pacific Northwest. As you practice with us please feel free to re-imagine that part for wherever in the world you are located.

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

"Yamakavagga: Pairs" (Dhp I), translated from the Pali by Acharya Buddharakkhita. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/dhp/dhp.01.budd.html .
Photo by Daniel von Appen on Unsplash








Saturday, May 30, 2020

Perspective
(Meditation for Sunday 31st May)


Perspective on this Pale Blue Dot

The world seems very strange right now. We have the surreal experience of living in a pandemic, with many people suffering from the effects on their livelihoods and the health and well-being of their loved ones. On top of this we have deep unrest, with innocent people losing their lives for no other reason than their skin color and the subsequent anger and division that has grown out of that.

So it is not without some feelings of guilt that while all of this is going on I have been glued to the preparations for the NASA/SpaceX manned flight launch. I was a child of the Apollo era, and I have been fascinated with space and astronomy ever since. Even as I am writing this I have a small thumbnail running in the corner of my screen showing the current status of the launch. From a technological point of view this is a huge achievement, and the combination of the audacity of vision, the technological progress and the still-very-real danger makes this a fine example of some of the best of what it means to be human.

Yet it also comes with some of the worst. It is as always politicized, used to justify exceptionalism and even the visionary behind all this has appeared to show a shocking lack of compassion.

How do we square all of this with everything else that is going on? How do we gain perspective?

This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of another huge technological achievement: the taking of the photo at the head of this piece. Now known as the 'Pale Blue Dot' it may not seem that significant as you look at it for the first time.

It was taken by the Voyager 1 space probe after it had completed its main mission. It turned its camera towards the Earth and took this. The Earth is that tiny pixel. If you are over thirty, you are in this picture! If you are under thirty, your parents are. This is what you look like from four billion miles away.

Shortly after this was taken the great cosmologist Carl Sagan wrote the following on the significance of the photograph. His words are words of true beauty:

Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.


I love the conclusion he draws from this perspective-changing experience: that it is our "responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."

We all agree that the world would be a better place if everyone treated each other with kindness, if everyone cherished this planet. But right now we can only change our selves. So as we live through these difficult times, let's bear those words in mind and commit to live in this way. That's what perspective gives us.

Chris.

Earlier this year on the thirtieth anniversary we did a meditation on the 'Pale Blue Dot.' You can find a link to the recording below and follow along yourself if you wish. A few of us have committed to pressing 'play' at 7pm PT together on Sunday May 31st. You are welcome to join us. Please also feel free to share this with anyone else who you think would be interested.

If the above player doesn't work for you please click here.
Photo: Earth - Pale Blue Dot - 6 Billion km away - Voyager-1 - original February 14, 1990; updated February 12, 20200212

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Don't Wait: Pause
(Meditation for Sunday May 24th)


Don't Wait: Pause.


A few years ago I came across a wonderful essay by David Cain titled "How to Walk Across a Parking Lot." I know, the title doesn't sound very inviting. It's appropriate though, as the essay is exactly that - a set of instructions for parking your car, getting out and walking across the lot. It is, of course, a lesson in being mindful as we do even the most mundane of activities.

There is one passage from the essay that particularly struck me:
Park. Turn off the ignition. Before you exit the carriage, pause for a moment. Now, I should clarify that by pause I don’t mean “wait.” There is nothing to wait for if you are pausing. To pause is to stop and pay attention. To wait is to stop your body while you continue to the next moment in your head. For a proper parking-lot-crossing — or a proper anything-else — we want to avoid this.
This distinction between pausing and waiting is an important one. When we are waiting we are waiting for something. Our mind is elsewhere, not where we are.  When we pause we are making a choice to be present.

Sometimes when meditating my mind goes forward and waits for the bell. When I am doing this, I am elsewhere. The irony is that often when the bell comes it is a release and, no longer waiting, I pause. Sometimes these moments after the bell can be profound.

One thing I have noticed in our current difficult situation is that there are people who are just waiting for it all to be over. While we would all rather be out of this, if your attitude is to wait until things are 'back to normal' (whatever that means) then you are just putting your life on hold. Randy Komisar calls this the 'deferred life plan.' Rather than waiting and putting our lives on hold we should be pausing and living now. This is the only moment we have.

Below is a fully guided meditation on Pausing, Not Waiting. A few of us have committed to listen to this together at 7pm PT on Sunday May 24th. If you would like to join with us the you are welcome. You can, of course listen at any time, and you are welcome to forward this to any of your friends who might be interested too.

If you would like to read the whole essay from David Cain you can find it here.

   Metta, Chris.




If the above player doesn't work for you you can click here.
Photo by bantersnaps on Unsplash

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Gratitude for Sangha
(Meditation for Sunday 17th May)

Gratitude for Sangha


Some of the things that have most inspired me over the past few weeks are the ingenious ways people have found to remain connected even as we have to stay physically distant. Whether it be playing Zoom games, the socially-distanced picnics, the parades of cars with balloons honking a birthday greeting or the ubiquitous 'Quarantini' happy hours, people are finding new, quirky and fun ways to be together.

But even with all of these we are all missing the closeness of family, friends, colleagues and fellow travelers. As the old saying goes, you don't know what you've got till it's gone.

In the Buddhist traditions the idea of community is front and center. The notion of Sangha - the community of those on the path with us - is one of the three 'jewels,' along with The Buddha and Dharma (the teachings or path).

I like to define 'Sangha' slightly differently, as the group of people who don't think you are crazy when you tell them what you are struggling with. When you put it this way then Sangha becomes a very precious thing.

Inherent in the idea of Sangha is not just those who are traveling with us right now but also those who have gone before. The teachers and mentors who help us on our way, who have already experienced what we have experienced and who have already made the mistakes we are making - and learned from them. One of the wonderful things about living in this time is we have easy access to some wonderful teachings through books, audio and even YouTube videos. That is something to be extremely grateful for.

Whatever path you are on there will be those who you see as fellow companions. Be grateful for them for, as I say, they are precious. And be grateful for those who have gone before, especially those who have mentored you or helped you with their teachings.

Being grateful is a spiritual practice in itself, and is an excellent way to open our hearts. I would like to encourage you this week to spend some time acknowledging your community and those who have gone before. Reach out if you can and share your appreciation. You will find that as you do so your own feeling of contentment and well-being grows, even as things around you are hard.

The audio below is a fully guided 30-minute meditation on being grateful for your Sanhga, whoever they are. As always you can listen at any time, but a group of us have committed to pressing 'play' together at 7pm PT on Sunday May 17th. You are welcome to join with us at that time if you wish. Whether you choose to listen or not,  you are part of our community, and we welcome you and thank you for being with us.

Metta, Chris.





If the above player doesn't work for you you can click here.
Photo by Daan Stevens on Unsplash

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Interbeing
(Meditation for Sunday 10th May)


Rodrigo y Gabriela, 1999

Interbeing


One of the unexpected silver linings of the current situation is how many artists, musicians and performers have chosen to spread beauty, joy and happiness. This is a welcome counterpoint to the tailspin of negativity that we see in so many places. Dostoevsky famously said 'Beauty will save the world,' and I think that is being borne out right now.

Last week I was enjoying one of these online concerts and a strange thing happened. The concert was a 'Tiny Desk (Home) Concert' by the wonderful Mexican duo Rodrigo y Gabriela (you can watch the concert yourself here, I highly recommend it). As I was enjoying the concert I looked them up on Wikipedia and read through some of their background. As I did so I noticed that they had started out in 1999 busking on Grafton Street in Dublin, Ireland. Now I have only been to Dublin once, but I have vivid memories of enjoying the buskers on Grafton Street.

I turned to my wife.
"When were we in Dublin?"
"1999"
"It say's here that Rodrigo y Gabriela started out in 1999 busking on Grafton Street"
"Hang on..."

A few moments later my wife pulled up the above photo. Yes, we had seen them busking the one and only time we were in Dublin, and had clearly been impressed enough by the (then) youngsters to take a photo of them.

It was years later that we started listening to their music, not knowing that we had already seen them right at the start of their career. There was a connection there that we were unaware of until we put all of the pieces together. I wonder now what they would have thought if we had gone up to them then and told them that in 21 years they would be highly successful Grammy-winning artists?

Because of this fun experience I have been thinking a lot this week about our connections, and how everything, everyone and everybody is connected and interdependent in ways that we rarely acknowledge. It is this lack of acknowledgement, this 'delusion' that we are completely separate, self-contained beings that causes much of our suffering. When we see the world as 'other' then we become isolated, believing that we are alone. When we acknowledge our deep inter-connectedness we realize that we are who we are because of everything that has happened - the good and the bad.  The great teacher Thich Nhat Hanh called this 'Interbeing' and put it this way:
Don’t think that without compost you can have flowers. That is an illusion. You can have flowers only with compost. That is the insight of interbeing — look into the flower and you will see the compost. If you remove the compost that became the flower, the flower will disappear also.
There's a lot of compost out there right now, and we can either choose to remain in the delusion that we are separate, or rejoice in the fact that we are all deeply connected and nourishing each other.

Below is a fully guided meditation on Interbeing. You can of course listen to it at any time, but a group of us have committed to press 'play' together at 7pm PT Sunday May 10th. Feel free to join us then if you wish, and also feel free to pass this on to anyone else who might be interested.

Metta, Chris.

PS: As a further connection, the Grammy that Rodrigo y Gabriela won was for their latest album, Mettavolution. They describe it this way: "Mettavolution brings together Rod and Gab’s passionate interest in Buddhism, the history of human evolution and the liberation of the potential we have as a species; all expressed through the medium of two acoustic guitars".





Photo Credit: Eff Robson

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Working With The Witness
(Meditation for Sunday May 3rd)

Working with the Witness

There is so much going on right now, and there is no shortage of people who want to express their views on all of this. Some are good, some are useful. Many, many of them are uninformed, unloving and even dangerous. It is so easy now to go down the rabbit-hole of commentary, exposition and invective. Sadly, some of the most unhelpful, manipulative or dangerous commentaries at the moment are also those with the most persuasive production values.

This might seem a little ironic coming from me, as in some ways this message is just yet another one of these. You might be asking - in all the noise, why do I have to listen to what Chris says?

And the simplest answer is that you don't. The wonderful thing about meditation is that is empirical - you don't have to take my word for it, you don't have to listen to a YouTube guru, you don't need to read the latest blog post. You just have to sit, be still, and be aware of what your mind is doing.

This place of awareness - however imperfect - is an oasis away from all of the noise, anger, fear and strife that is around us. But it is much more than that. It isn't just an escape, a calm time before we go back to everything that is going on. It is a way to get perspective, to get a grounding in love and calmness that we can carry out with us into the crazy world. It is what gives us the motivation and strength to be positive forces in this world.

We start by watching, by watching our own mind, our own thoughts. Sometimes this is called being the witness, or observing, or simply mindfulness.

Observing is no passive activity. It trains and equips us for living in the world, however crazy it seems to become.

Below is a meditation on working with the witness. It follows on from last week's meditation on 'Being Here - Not There,' but if you didn't listen to that don't worry it is totally stand alone and you can just listen to this. As in most things in life it doesn't matter where you start, just that you start.

You can of course listen at any time, but a group of us have committed to press 'play; together at 7pm PT Sunday 3rd May. You are welcome to join us.

As always, I love to hear you thoughts. Be well,

Chris

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Being Here - Not There
(Meditation for Sunday 26th April)

Being Here - Not There

At the end of the day we all want to be happy.

It's very easy at the moment to get wrapped up in wishing things were different. These are strange times for everyone, whether you are having to stay at home or are needing to put yourself at risk working. Many of us are either fondly remembering times when things were more 'normal' and we could move around freely, or looking forward to some unknown future time when we are out of this situation.

What these have in common is that they are 'not here.' Our memories of the past are unreliable and tainted (Did we really make the most of our freedom? Were we without worry?). Our hopes, fears and wishes for the future are only our own projections, and we cannot know how things will actually play out. All we truly have is the present, the now - yet we seem to be reluctant to honestly spend our time here.

A core part of meditation is to help us train to be fully present. I say 'train' because this doesn't come naturally to us. Our untrained minds seem to want to be anywhere else but here. And often by dwelling in the past or the future we grow in agitation and dissatisfaction.

Learning to be in the present helps us to be calm, content, accepting - in short, to be happy. By practicing the mindfulness of being present we can find a deep happiness that even these trying times cannot dim.

The fully guided audio meditation below gives you the opportunity to practice this presence by becoming aware of when we are not here. This simple approach is a powerful way to become more present and to experience that happiness.

You can of course listen to and practice the meditation at any time, but a number of us have committed to hit 'play' together at 7pm PT on Sunday 26th April. You are welcome to join us if you wish.

As always I would love to hear from you if you find these useful or have questions.

May you be well and happy, Chris.


If the player above doesn't work for you please try clicking here.
Photo by Fallon Michael on Unsplash

Saturday, April 18, 2020

And This Also: Exploring Equanimity
(Meditation for Sunday 19th April)

Exploring Equanimity

It was a beautiful day here yesterday. It was sunny, and with the temperatures in the mid-seventies it felt perfect. Today however it is raining, that drizzly constant rain that ensures that if you do go outside you will get soaked. It is all part of being in this area - that is how the Northwest is.

It might seem strange to be talking about the weather right now when the world seems so difficult. Many people are suffering, are experiencing financial hardship or threats to their health, or are worried about their loved ones or their own future.

But we can learn a lot from the weather. We can choose to let the weather drive our sense of well-being - happy when it's weather we like and miserable when it's weather we don't. Or we can choose to instead recognize that the weather is how it is, and accept it when it comes. When it rains, use an umbrella.

This is a form of equanimity, recognizing that weather we like and weather we don't like happens, and choosing to not allow our own sense of well-being to be dependent on it.

Equanimity can be a difficult concept, often because it is mistakenly associated with indifference or not-caring. Traditionally indifference and not-caring are called the 'near-enemies' of equanimity because while they might look a little like it they are really the opposite. That duck don't quack.

To understand equanimity you have to think of it in the context of the other three brahma-viharas: lovingkindness, compassion and joy. To have equanimity you have to first have compassion for those who experience suffering, joy for those who experience good things, all grounded in a love for all beings.

And that, my friends, is hard.

Which is why we do the practice. It is especially important to do the practice in times like these when it is so easy to get sucked down into the negative spiral of constant online commentary.

I discovered the simplest and most powerful way to practice equanimity from an old audio teaching by the recently-departed teacher Ram Dass. He taught using the simplest of mantras - "And This Also." Starting from a loving heart we can meet things that happen with "And This Also." We can feel compassion or joy, but always starting from love and recognizing that this is how things are.

By practicing in this way we can start to cultivate equanimity even in these difficult times. We can practice on the cushion, or we can use the mantra at any time as we experience things. As long as we are coming from the basis of a loving heart we will avoid indifference and start to experience equanimity.

You can practice equanimity by following along with the fully guided audio meditation below. You can of course listen at any time, but a group of us have committed to press 'play' together at 7pm PT on Sunday April 19th 2020 - you are welcome to join us if you wish.

Please feel free to share with your friends, and do let me know if you join us or have questions or requests. I love hearing from you.

Metta, Chris.


If the above player doesn't work for you try clicking here.

Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Beginning Again in Meditation
(Meditation for Easter Sunday, 12th April)

Beginning Again

This weekend is Easter, the time of the year when many traditions look to the agricultural calendar and celebrate renewal, rebirth and new beginnings. This year, though, it may seem a little strange celebrating the return of light when for many the future seems so uncertain.

The reality is that whatever may be happening we all have an opportunity at every moment to begin again. Thinking about the past, and 'how things were' won't help us. Trying to guess or predict an unknown future doesn't help. What we have is the now, and we can use the 'now' as a place and time to start again.

This is true for every aspect of our lives, but especially so for meditation. The wonderful teacher Sharon Salzberg says this:
"The critical element in meditation practice is beginning again. Everyone loses focus at times, everyone loses interest at times, and everyone gets distracted over and over again. What is essential, and also incredibly transforming, is realizing that we have the ability to begin again, without blaming or judging ourselves, without thinking we have failed, without losing heart, we can, and need to, constantly be beginning again."
 The wonderful thing about this is that we can apply this to wherever we are in our practice. While sitting, we can begin again when we get distracted. If our practice flags, we can begin again. And if we haven't practiced for years or decades, we can still begin again. No judgement, no need to criticise yourself, you just begin again.

There's an old saying that the second-best time to plant a tree is now (the best time being fifty years ago). Now really is all we have, and no mater what craziness there is in the world we can choose now to begin again, and to cultivate mindfulness.

The audio link below is for a fully guided meditation on beginning again. You can of course listen to it at any time, but a group of us have committed to press 'play' together at 7pm PT on Easter Sunday, 12th April 2020. You are welcome to join us if you wish.

Do feel free to forward this to fiends too. May you and your loved ones have a happy Easter,

Chris.


If the above player doesn't work for you please try clicking here.

Photo by Artem Sapegin on Unsplash


Saturday, April 4, 2020

Choosing to Cultivate Joy
(Meditation for Sunday 5th April)

Choosing Joy

With everything that is going on right now many of us are experiencing a roller-coaster of emotions. A lot of people are suffering through illness or loss of livelihood. Many are scared that they or their loved ones will be harmed or affected. Many more are simply confused, what exactly is going on right now?

So it may seem strange that this week I am suggesting that we focus on choosing and cultivating joy. Surely this isn't the time?

The key is understanding that while wonderful things may happen, and unpleasant or awful things may happen, our feelings are still a choice. I am sure you have come across people who are experiencing life-changing troubles but who still act with grace, joy and humor. They have done the hardest thing of all, to choose joy in adversity.

We can practice cultivating joy in all circumstances, and traditionally this is done through the practice of Mudita Bhavana.

We are taught to cultivate four qualities, collectively known as the Brahma Viharas or 'heavenly abodes.' These are the universal qualities that we should all develop. The four qualities roughly translate to Lovingkindness, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity.

Cultivating joy can be hard, especially in trying times - but these are the times when the practice is most important. Below is a fully guided thirty minute meditation on cultivating joy that may help you with this practice.

You can of course listen to this at any time. If you wish, however, a group of us have committed to sit and press 'play' on this at 7pm Pacific Time, Sunday April 5th 2020.

Please feel free to share this with your friends.

May you all experience joy, Chris.



If the above doesn't work for you please try clicking this link.

Photo by Huyen Nguyen on Unsplash





Saturday, March 28, 2020

What the Bamboo Acrobat can Teach Us:
(Meditation for Sunday 29th March)

Lessons from the Bamboo Acrobat

The Buddhist story of the Bamboo Acrobat has been one of my favorites for a long time. Even though I have posted here before about it, I felt it would be a good time to revisit it as it is so relevant to the difficult times we are in.
This is a challenging time for everyone, but it has been much more so for certain people: those whose health, loved ones or livelihoods have been directly affected, or those caregivers and workers who have to put themselves and their family at risk. Our hearts go out to all of those, and all who are experiencing sadness or fear.
In these times it sometimes feels like a choice has to be made - do I care for myself, or care for others?
The story of the Bamboo Acrobat teaches us that this is not how we should look at things. It is not an either/or. We cannot care for others if we don't care for ourselves, and only by taking care of ourselves we can take care of others. The conflict only comes if we believe we are separate - and right now we are all on the Bamboo Pole together! I have included the full text of the story below - it's a short and enjoyable tale, but one that speaks directly to our current situation.
The audio below is a fully guided thirty minute meditation on the story of the Bamboo Acrobat. I cannot think of a time in recent history when this has been more important.
You can of course listen to this at any time. If you wish, however, a group of us have committed to sit and press 'play' on this at 7pm Pacific Time, Sunday March 29th 2020.
Please feel free to share this with your friends.

Metta, Chris.

If the above link doesn't work for you please click here.

The Bamboo Acrobat

[The Buddha addressed the monks:]
Once upon a time, monks, a bamboo acrobat,
setting himself upon his bamboo pole,
addressed his assistant Medakathalika:
"Come you, my dear Medakathalika,
and climbing up the bamboo pole,
stand upon my shoulders."
"Okay, master" the assistant Medakathalika
replied to the bamboo acrobat;
and climbing up the bamboo pole
she stood on the master's shoulders.
So then the bamboo acrobat said this to his assistant Medakathalika:
"You look after me, my dear Medakathalika, and I'll look after you.
Thus with us looking after one another, guarding one another,
we'll show off our craft, receive some payment,
and safely climb down the bamboo pole."
This being said, the assistant Medakathalika said this to the bamboo acrobat:
"That will not do at all, master!
You look after yourself, master, and I will look after myself.
Thus with each of us looking after ourselves, guarding ourselves,
we'll show off our craft, receive some payment,
and safely climb down from the bamboo pole.
That's the right way to do it!"
[The Buddha said:]
Just like the assistant Medakathalika said to her master:
"I will look after myself,"
so should you, monks, practice the establishment of mindfulness.
You should (also) practice the establishment of mindfulness (by saying)
"I will look after others."

Looking after oneself, one looks after others.
Looking after others, one looks after oneself.

And how does one look after others by looking after oneself?
By practicing (mindfulness), by developing (it), by doing (it) a lot.
And how does one look after oneself by looking after others?
By patience, by non-harming, by loving kindness, by caring (for others).
(Thus) looking after oneself, one looks after others;
and looking after others, one looks after oneself.

Translated by Andrew Olendzki, Available at Access To Insight.
Bamboo Photo by Bundo Kim on Unsplash 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Be Kind to Yourself (Meditation for Sunday 22nd March)

Be Kind To Yourself

In these difficult times it is sometimes easy to feel helpless, and to not know where to start. When you feel this way the answer can be simple - but like most simple things, hard to accept. The place to start is with kindness for yourself.

In this fully guided half-hour meditation we will practice that kindness, and realize how being kind to ourselves allows us to be kind to others, which should be the basis of all our actions.

You can listen to and follow this at any time, but if you wish you can follow at the same time as others by starting to play the audio at 7pm PT Sunday 22nd March 2020. I have enabled comments below if you would like to discuss the meditation.

May you be well, may you be happy,

Chris.


If you have difficulties with the player above you can just click this link.



Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

Update: All Meditation Will Be 'Virtual'

Greetings all, I hope that you are staying well in these difficult times.

Like all spas and studios Breathe Yoga and Massage, our generous hosts, are staying closed for now. Our thoughts go out to them and their staff in this difficult time.

In the meantime, we will continue to meet - only virtually. I will be posting on this site a recorded meditation for us all to follow together. We will all meditate together at our usual time of 7pm (PT) every Sunday.

Look for further posts with the meditation each week.

May you all be well, may you all be happy,

Chris.