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, July 25, 2020

Sky-Like Mind
Meditation for Sunday July 26th

Sky-Like Mind

“Do not view mountains from the scale of human thought”
– Dogen Zenji

This week I was fortunate enough to be able to take an afternoon off and drive up to Mount St. Helens. As those of you who live in this area know, it is a spectacular drive and the views from the observatory towards the volcano are breathtaking. It has been over four months since I had ventured further than a few miles from my house, so this trip was both refreshing and exciting. To be outside again with such a reminder of the power and majesty of nature was thrilling.

It has been forty years since the mountain erupted, changing the landscape beyond recognition and taking fifty-seven lives with it. Looking out over the mountain brings an incredible conflicting feeling of peace as we look out over such destructive - and regenerative - power.

We often use mountains as metaphors of permanence, and yet we see from St. Helens that they are far from permanent. They can be destroyed catastrophically, as St. Helens was, or they can erode naturally. There's even a good Pali word for that - a kalpa is a timespan longer than the time it would take a mountain to erode completely if an eagle brushed it with it's wings once a century! Whether through eruptions, erosion or other means, even our mountains are impermanent.

We can learn from mountains when we turn our thoughts back to our meditation. The Zen master Dogen is reported to have said that as we meditate we should have a "Body like the Mountain, Heart like the Ocean, Mind like the Sky." Meditation on these qualities in our practice can be very powerful.

Sometimes we can think that having a 'sky-like mind' means having a mind that is still and free from any activity. While it is wonderful when we experience those still moments, that isn't really what it is all about. It is about having a mind that is clear enough that when things arise we can observe what is arising, whatever they may be. The Buddha says:
“Develop a mind that is vast like space, where experiences both pleasant and unpleasant can appear and disappear without conflict, struggle or harm. Rest in a mind like vast sky.”
 From the Majjhima Nikaya, as rendered by Jack Kornfield

We have linked below a fully guided meditation on having a Sky-Like Mind. A few of us have committed to press 'play' together at 7pm PT on Sunday 26th July. You can of course listen at any time, but you are welcome to join us then too.

Wishing you all a peaceful week, Chris.

P.S. For sci-fi fans, there is a fantastic Doctor Who episode that riffs on the notion of a kalpa - you can find the trailer here.

P.P.S. The Jack Kornfield article used in the linked audio meditation can be found here.

If the above player doesn't work for you please click here.
Photo by Chris Robson, July 2020

Saturday, July 18, 2020

No Badges
(Meditation for Sunday 19th July)

No Badges

We all meditate, or want to meditate, for different reasons. Maybe you need more calmness in your life, maybe you feel something is missing, or maybe you have a goal of becoming enlightened or 'awake.' For many of us we start meditating after some sort of crisis from which we need healing. Your own story may be different, but for all of us there was some sort of catalyst or drive that got us started.

All of these are good and valid reasons to meditate, but once we have started, once we have set foot on the path, it is important that we let go of them and not become driven by some sense of 'achievement.' This is hard for many of us, especially if you are a type-A person like me. I am used to setting goals and knocking them down - and that isn't how meditation works.

The truth is there are no Merit Badges for Meditation. Our practice is not to 'check something off our list.' Sadly with much of the media interest in Mindfulness over the past few years I have seen several commentators treat Mindfulness like a badge to collect. Of the many personal accounts published quite a few of them fall into one of these two categories: "I did it, so now I can move on to something else;" or "I tried it, but it didn't really do anything." Both of these responses stem from the same misconception - that there is something to achieve.

We can all fall into this trap. The teacher Phillip Moffitt says this in his essay on The Tyranny of Expectations:
On meditation retreats, I often work with yogis and their expectations. They will come to me for an interview and announce that they have had a "good sitting" or a "bad sitting," when they really are referring to the level of serenity or mindfulness they experienced. Likewise, yogis will come to a retreat or a meditation class with the expectation that it will pick up where the last one ended or that it will be better than the previous one. This is the delusion of expectations based on false notions of progress. Such expectations assume that you know what it is you are seeking, that pleasantness and lack of struggle characterize "getting there," when in reality, just the opposite is true at certain points. It is often not serenity that is needed by a student but the ability to stay present when the mind is caught in a storm. It is not hard to be clear when things are calm, but if you work diligently with mindfulness and compassion when things are difficult, you are in the vital training for your tumultuous daily life.
This is thrown into sharp relief in the core practice of Metta Bhavana - Cultivation of Lovingkindness and Goodwill. This Metta - an unconditional form of love that neither looks for deservedness nor return - cannot be truly generated if we are looking for reward. If we sit and go through the form in the hope of personal achievement then by definition what we cultivate will not be unconditional. We do the practice because we believe it is important, not because we have anything to gain.

None of this is to say that meditation isn't a powerful tool for transforming our lives - it absolutely is. The subtlety is that in order to practice truly we have to let go of the desire for those achievements. There are no badges - and that's a good thing.

Metta, Chris.

The link below is for a fully guided audio meditation on badges and Metta. You are welcome to listen at any time, but a few of us have committed to press 'play' together at the same time at 7pm PT Sunday July 19th. You are welcome to join us if you wish. Please feel free to share this with anyone else who you think may like it.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Showing Up
(Meditation for Sunday July 12th)

Showing Up

Recently I heard an advert that started with the words "in these unpredictable times." Now we are all used to advertising platitudes at the moment, but that really stuck out for me. It begged the question "when were things ever predictable?"

Many years ago as a young worker I went to my boss and told him that we wouldn't be able to do something "for the foreseeable future." He just smiled at me wryly and replied "and how long is that?"

The truth is that we have this delusion that we know what is going to, or what should, happen. We hold on to a model of the world where things don't change, where institutions, systems and cultures stay the same. In short, we pretend that we know what will happen next.

The current pandemic has shaken a lot of people because it has exposed this delusion. Even so, people are treating it like a blip, like things will get back to normal soon, that we will get back to a place where times are predictable. Of course, times have never been predictable, and they won't magically become so in the future.

The Buddha said this:

You shouldn't chase after the past
or place expectations on the future.
What is past
    is left behind.
The future
    is as yet unreached.
Whatever quality is present
you clearly see right there,
       right there.
Not taken in,
that's how you develop the heart.
Ardently doing
what should be done     today,
for — who knows? —  tomorrow
There is no bargaining
with Mortality & his mighty horde.

Whoever lives thus ardently,
    both day & night,
has truly had an auspicious day:
so says the Peaceful Sage.

There is no other time to live in but right now. So if we can't live in the future, and we shouldn't live in the past, what should we do?

Show Up.

We often think about 'being in the present' in terms of some blissful meditation state. Sequestered in a quiet room away from distractions, sitting alone. That of course is part of it, but by no means all. Being present means showing up at all times. Not in some imagined future meditation session, but right now. Choosing to show up can be the hardest part of all in our practice and for most of us something we need to cultivate.

So, in these unpredictable times, recognize that all times are unpredictable. Show up and clearly see whatever quality is present, ardently doing whatever should be done today.


I have linked below a fully guided meditation on 'Showing Up.' A few of us have committed to hit 'play' together at 7pm PT on Sunday 12th 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.

"Bhaddekaratta Sutta: An Auspicious Day" (MN 131), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013.

Photo by Adolfo FĂ©lix on Unsplash

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