Exciting News!

Exciting News! For those of you in the Vancouver / Camas area we will be starting to meet again in-person this week at the Breathe Wellness Company. If you are comfortable meeting with us in-person at this time then please join us at 7pm on Sundays starting 20th June 2021. Plan on arriving ten minutes before to get settled. We will be following all current WA State guidelines and I ask that you are mindful and respectful of other people's comfort levels. I will be wearing a mask but will remove it once we are settled and distanced to lead the meditation. For now we will not be having after-meditation tea but hopefully soon. I will be updating our website with the latest details so check back here if you are unsure.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Sandcastles

 

Sandcastles

In his book "Teachings of the Buddha" Jack Kornfield recounts the following parable:

Some children were playing beside a river.  They made castles of sand, and each child defended his castle and said, "This one is mine."  They kept their castles separate and would not allow any mistakes about which was whose.  When the castles were all finished, one child kicked over someone else's castle and completely destroyed it.  The owner of the castle flew into a rage, pulled the other child's hair, struck him with his fist and bawled out, "He has spoiled my castle!  Come along all of you and help me to punish him as he deserves."  The others all came to his help.  They beat the child with a stick and then stamped on him as he lay on the ground.... Then they went on playing in their sand castles, each saying, "This is mine; no one else may have it.  Keep away! Don't touch my castle!" But evening came; it was getting dark and they all thought they ought to be going home.  No one now cared what became of his castle.  One child stamped on his, another pushed his over with both hands.  Then they turned away and went back, each to his home. 

 There are a few things going on in this story, and as a commentary on attachment, rage and impermanence it feels very relevant to what we see happening in the world right now. I do find some comfort in the fact that passages like this, from centuries ago, speak to the same experiences we are having now. Things may sometimes seem like they are unprecedented but any historian will tell you that as humans and as societies we continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. We continue to cling to the impermanent and cause anger and suffering when we do so.

The parable is credited as a translation by Arthur Waley from the Yogacara Bhumi Sutra, though I've not been able to verify the source myself (if there are any source-sleuths out there, do let me know!).

There is a similar image used in the Satta Sutta, which I suspect is the root of the story above. In this sutta the Buddha is asked the rather existential question "To what extent is one said to be 'a being'?" As part of his answer, the Buddha offers the following:

Just as when boys or girls are playing with little sand castles (lit: dirt houses): as long as they are not free from passion, desire, love, thirst, fever, & craving for those little sand castles, that's how long they have fun with those sand castles, enjoy them, treasure them, feel possessive of them. But when they become free from passion, desire, love, thirst, fever, & craving for those little sand castles, then they smash them, scatter them, demolish them with their hands or feet and make them unfit for play.

Once we recognize this, that like the children we are attached to the impermanent, we are then exhorted in the sutta to "smash, scatter, & demolish" our craving for them.

It is easy when we read stories like the parable above to make them external - to imagine that it is about how others behave, the mistakes that others are making. It is easy to say 'look how governments, leaders and politicians are acting like the children with sandcastles!' However this is not the point. What we are being encouraged to do is to look at our own attachment to the impermanent, to look at how we are generating conflict and suffering through them.

Sandcastles are fun, but being attached to them is foolish. That much is obvious, but our meditation should be on what are the less-obvious, equally impermanent things that we are attached to?

Metta, Chris.

I have linked below a fully-guided meditation on the story of the sandcastles. A few of us have committed to press 'play' together at 7pm PT on Sunday 31st of January - you are welcome to join us if you wish, or listen at any time.

 

 

 

Photo by Phil Hearing on Unsplash

Teachings of the Buddha by Jack Kornfield, quoting the Yogacara Bhumi Sutra, translated by Arthur Waley - https://jackkornfield.com/teachings-of-the-buddha/

Bhikkhu, Thanissaro. "A Being: Satta Sutta (SN 23:2)," - https://www.dhammatalks.org/suttas/SN/SN23_2.html

 

 

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Brave Enough to See It

 Brave Enough to See It

This week we have experienced another week of highs and lows, but for me - and for many others - the high point of the week was a poem. Just saying that makes me smile, that amid the strange mix of celebration, noise, anger and confusion that we have seen this week a young woman's poem can be the thing that stands out the most. As Dostoevsky said, "Beauty will save the world," and I think this was an example of that.

If you didn't see it (or if, like me, you want hear it again) you can hear the whole poem here.

Amanda Gorman's poem started with this line:

When day comes, we ask ourselves where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
I feel that in this she perfectly captured the feeling of the moment. She then explores the question and our situation (including some nods to 'Hamilton') and finally comes to the conclusion:

When day comes we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it.
What I love about this is that it makes it clear that to move forward we - individually - have to open up to the fact that the light is always there. It is our own responsibility - nobody else's - to recognize this.

This is not about mere hope - for, as Pema Chodron says:

Hope and fear come from feeling that we lack something; they come from a sense of poverty. We can't simply relax with ourselves. We hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment. We feel that someone else knows what's going on, but that there's something missing in us, and therefore something is lacking in our world.
Or, as the great philosopher of our time, Dowager Countess Violet,  says: "Hope is a tease designed to prevent us from accepting reality."

In contrast, we are being exhorted to be brave enough see the light that is already here, that is already present even in these difficult moments. When we meditate we work on building the courage to see what is really going on, what the present truly holds. I hope that this week the words of a young woman can encourage us all in this practice.

Metta, Chris.

When looking through the past meditation recordings to find something suitable for this moment I came across one from 2015, just after the shocking Paris terrorist attacks. Listening through it again it is extremely relevant to our current times. I have linked to it below. It includes a fully-guided Metta (lovingkindness) meditation. A few of us have committed to press 'play' together at 7pm on Sunday 24th January - you are welcome to join us if you wish, or of course listen at any time.

Pema Chodron quote from "When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times"

Amanda Gorman photo from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:210120-D-WD757-2466_(50861321057).jpg



 

 

 

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Finding a Place of Stillness

Finding a Place of Stillness

Sometimes being in this world feels like standing in a whirlwind. There is so much going on, so much noise, opinion, anger, blame, hurt - that we can feel overwhelmed. Sometimes - as we discussed last week - we feel that our only option is to get swept up in the storm and allow our own hurt and anger to grow.

It can often feel like these times that we are experiencing something new, some low point in history. In a way we are, in that the exact circumstance we find ourselves in is unique. But in another way, as historians remind us, times like these have always been part of our lot. The world has always been crazy, and there has never been a time without conflict.

Our challenge is how we choose to be  and act during stressful times. Do we get caught up in the whirlwind, or do we choose to find a place of stillness and clarity and allow our strength to grow from there?

It can be easy to forget the need to find that stillness, or worse to decide that finding stillness isn't relevant or appropriate for these times. But it isn't a luxury to be abandoned when things get difficult. Rather, the stillness is the source of our strength. Meditation and mind-training become more important in these times of conflict, not less.

So I would like to encourage us all this week to practice finding a place of stillness. Meditation and contemplation right now aren't luxuries, they are the most important things we can do. And that isn't to say that action isn't important as well - it is - but our action should come from the strength and insight that comes from the stillness they provide.

Whatever practice you have I would like to encourage you in it this week. If it is useful to you I have linked below a fully guided meditation on finding a place of stillness. A few of us have committed to pressing 'play' at 7pm PT on Sunday 17th January, but of course you can listen at any time.

Wishing you all well,

Chris.

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, January 9, 2021

The Intoxication of Anger
(Meditation for Sunday January 10th)

The Intoxication of Anger

 
I think that all of us have been shaken this week by the scenes that we have seen on TV and in the media. Many of us have watched in disbelief, mixed with a strange feeling of inevitability. It's like we knew something like this was coming, but at the same time couldn't believe it when it actually did.

I am not going to dwell on the events of this week for this message, but rather encourage us all to turn our attention inwards on our own feelings and reactions. How did witnessing these events make us feel, and what did we do with those feelings?

When we witness people act in anger, we ourselves can also choose anger - either against or in sympathy with those we are watching. I say 'choose' very deliberately here. One of the insights we gain from meditation is that our emotions are choices. We often say "Fred made me angry," when really we should say "Fred did X, and I chose to become angry." Equanimity is the ability to be aware of this and to not choose anger. Of course, most of us haven't got to the place yet where we can be that clear-minded all the time. I am sure that for many of you your reaction was similar to mine, and some anger arose.

The key then is recognizing that anger has arisen, and what we choose to do with it. In the Dhammapada we are told:

When anger arises,
whoever keeps firm control
as if with a racing chariot:
him
I call a master charioteer.
    Anyone else,
    a rein-holder —
    that's all.

For some reason the wording of this makes me smile, in that it feels like a bit of a put-down - are you a master charioteer or just a rein-holder? Ouch! But the point is well made - are we masters of our mind, and able to rein-in our anger with skill, or do we let the horses run out of control?

Make no mistake, anger is addictive. And this isn't just a concept in meditation, it is well known in psychology too. Jean Kim M.D. in Psychology Today says:

[...] anger can lead to similar “rushes” as thrill-seeking activities where danger triggers dopamine reward receptors in the brain, or like other forms of addiction such as gambling, extreme sports, or even drugs like cocaine and methamphetamines. Anger can become its own reward, but like other addictions, the final consequences are dangerous and real, and people follow impulses in the moment without regard to the big picture.
The images we saw this week were the extreme examples of people drunk on anger. But let's be careful here, and be sure that we don't just look outward at them. Did we choose to be angry in response, and how did we work with that anger? Did we choose be be master-charioteers and control it, or did we choose to feed our own anger in response?

As a Brit we often joke that there is no problem so big or scary that it can't be solved by a 'nice cup of tea' (famously in the movie 'Sean of the Dead' the very English response to a zombie invasion is to 'have a nice cup of tea and wait for this all to blow over'). And while that is obviously a self-deprecating joke there is truth in it. When anger arises, can you sit with a cup of tea and work with you feelings, or do you choose to doomscroll and feed the anger? Sadly I know I chose the latter a few times this week.

So as we head into another challenging week I'd like to encourage us all to work on our skills as charioteers. We may not be at a place where anger never arises, but we can work on keeping firm control. Maybe with a nice cup of tea.

Metta, Chris

I have linked below a fully guided half-hour meditation on working with anger. A few of us have committed to press 'play' on this together at 7pm PT on Sunday, January 10th. You are welcome to join us then, or of course listen at any time. 

 

 "Kodhavagga: Anger" (Dhp XVII), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/dhp/dhp.17.than.html .

 

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Brahma-Viharas for the New Year
(Meditation for Sunday Jan 3rd)

Brahma-Viharas

for the New Year

 

Firstly, I want to wish you all to be well, happy, and free from suffering as we head into 2021.

However, I expect that your inbox has been quite full these last few days with emails wishing you a 'Happy New Year.' I hope that this one will at least be a little different.

As I look at my own email inbox it is full of emails trying to entice me with promises such as:

  • Things I can buy at amazing prices
  • Ways I can improve myself
  • How my donation will save the world

 Now not all of these are bad, but they all perpetuate a myth - that somehow there is something outside of me, something external, that I just need to read / buy / obtain this one thing, and all will be well.


As we enter a New Year it is traditional to take stock and reevaluate where we are with our lives. Many people choose to make resolutions for the New Year. Now I have mixed feelings about these - on the one hand it can be good to address some of the habits we have fallen into and even small changes to unhealthy habits can lead to a big change. However the danger is that we start to look at ourselves as projects - as things that need to be 'fixed.' When we look at ourselves this way we fall into the trap of believing that we are somehow broken, somehow inadequate. And it is this feeling that the advertisers prey on - wanting to emphasize what we lack, what we don't have - because, of course, they are the ones who are more than happy to sell it to us.

So what is a healthy way to head into the New Year? It is at this time of the year that I like to remind myself - and all of us - of the Brahma-Viharas, the divine abodes or immeasurables. We can focus on cultivating these without falling into the trap of focusing on what we don't have.

Now the Brahma-Viharas may or may not be a new concept to you, but the good news is that you already know them and have the capacity for them. There is nothing new you have to attain, nothing you need to acquire, we just need to recognize them and choose to cultivate them. They are:

  • Love or Loving-kindness (metta)
  • Compassion (karuna)
  • Sympathetic Joy (mudita)
  • Equanimity (upekkha)

Nyanaponika Thera teaches us this:

They are called abodes (vihara) because they should become the mind's constant dwelling-places where we feel "at home"; they should not remain merely places of rare and short visits, soon forgotten. In other words, our minds should become thoroughly saturated by them. They should become our inseparable companions, and we should be mindful of them in all our common activities. As the Metta Sutta, the Song of Loving-kindness, says:

When standing, walking, sitting, lying down,
Whenever he feels free of tiredness
Let him establish well this mindfulness —
This, it is said, is the Divine Abode.

These four — love, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity — are also known as the boundless states (appamañña), because, in their perfection and their true nature, they should not be narrowed by any limitation as to the range of beings towards whom they are extended. They should be non-exclusive and impartial, not bound by selective preferences or prejudices. A mind that has attained to that boundlessness of the Brahma-viharas will not harbor any national, racial, religious or class hatred.
As we head into 2021 I would like to encourage us all to contemplate and cultivate these four abodes, and while I am not a great fan of resolutions I can say that choosing to cultivate these in this time will bring benefit to us all. One great place to start is reading the full teaching by Nyanaponika Thera that I have quoted from above and linked here. Another is to practice their cultivation through meditation. If you already have a bhavana (cultivation) practice then I would encourage you in that. If you are new to this then I have linked below a fully guided half-hour meditation on cultivating the Brahma-Viharas in the New Year. A few of us have committed to press 'play' on this together at 7pm PT on Sunday, January 3rd. You are welcome to join us then, or of course listen at any time.

Whatever you choose I hope that we can all generate more love, joy, compassion and equanimity as we start this year.

May you all be well, happy and free from suffering,

Chris.



"The Four Sublime States: Contemplations on Love, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy and Equanimity", by Nyanaponika Thera. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nyanaponika/wheel006.html .