We are not currently meeting 'in-person'

We are not currently meeting 'in-person.'
I have made the difficult decision to stop holding our in-person Sunday night meetings - you can read more about this in my post here. I will be continuing to post weekly content here and in our newsletter. Do remember to sign up for the 'Metta Letter' newsletter below as I will be sending out weekly meditations there.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

(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.


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

(Meditation for Sunday 10th May)

Rodrigo y Gabriela, 1999


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?"
"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,