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, 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