Saturday, April 17, 2021

Wonder and Poison

 Wonder and Poison

 Sometimes things don't go in the direction you expect.

A couple of years ago I was doing some prep for a meditation gathering, and I was considering doing something about the change of the seasons. It was about this time of the year, which as you know I love, and about how we work with the change in seasons - again, if you have read a few of these letters you will know this is something I like to use for inspiration.

As I was contemplating this a newsletter from Tricycle landed in my inbox. It was a short teaching by Hai-An, a nun in the Plum Village tradition. The article was titled 'Inviting in the Wonder of Spring,' and I immediately thought 'great, something I can use for our meditation.'

The teaching started with the promise that 'Seasonal change is an opportunity to be present in the world—one dandelion at a time.' She starts by encouraging us to develop wonder in the following way:

Anyone can learn to appreciate the changing of the seasons with a few simple practices. 
First, choose a spot that you’ll pass on a regular basis, like a tree, park, or cracked spot in the sidewalk where dandelions tend to grow. Make a habit of pausing there regularly, even if only briefly. 
Second, bring awareness to the sensory experience of the spot. See the color and texture of the last pile of salty snow melting and the buds beginning to emerge. Listen to the breeze and the birds flying overhead. Feel the bark and leaves with your fingers, and the sensations of your feet in your shoes on the ground. Smell the air and notice when the flowers start to bloom. This can be as short as a few breaths, if you practice with full awareness. 
Third, invite wonder in. This cannot be forced, but can be encouraged by attitudes of curiosity and gratitude. Thinking “How amazing to get to see this leaf unfurl today” or asking “Is there room for some wonder right now?” can sometimes be enough. Even if the answer is “no,” the questioning itself can bring you to the world more fully alive.
Perfect - this gave a lovely, practical example of how we can practice presence and awareness, and how we can use the change in season to cultivate wonder.

But then the teaching went in an unexpected direction, and - to me - became far more profound. Having brought us to this place of inviting wonder Hai-An explores what it can be like when you really do this practice. She continues:

This practice is simple but also tricky, because the mind can quickly slide into what the Buddha called the three poisons, or the root of all suffering—craving, aversion, and delusion. When wonder manifests, it can switch into craving—wanting the experience to last or wanting more of anything. When wonder doesn’t appear, aversion might be present in a judgmental, comparing mindset, or delusion may leave you distracted or confused.
This reminder of how the 'three poisons' - craving, aversion and delusion - can arise even when cultivating wonder was a real wake-up call. Sometimes we crave the wonder. Sometimes we have aversion for the mundane. Sometimes we delude ourselves that things should always be wonderful - or will never be wonderful. We can use the practice of cultivating wonder to explore both how we can succumb to the poisons, and how we can free ourselves from them.

Hai-An follows up with a fourth step in the meditation, where you work with the three poisons to explore how they  feel in the body. Rather than quoting it here I would encourage you to read the original article and practice it yourself.

I would like to express my gratitude to Hai-An (now Melina Bondy) for this short but pithy teaching, and I hope that you feel that it is valuable to you too. I have linked below a recording of the fully-guided meditation on wonder and poisons that we did two years ago after I first read the piece. A few of us have committed  to press 'play' at 7pm PT on Sunday 18th April - you are welcome to join us then or use this in any way that you wish.

Metta, Chris.

Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash







Saturday, April 10, 2021

Natural Abiding


Natural Abiding

 A few weeks I go I mentioned how Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity - the four Brahma Viharas or 'heavenly abodes'  - are places we can dwell in, not just visit. This is an important thing to understand - our natural inclination is to 'visit' them when the conditions seem right - to feel love and goodwill when it is deserved, to feel joy when things are good and so on. Visiting these states is easy. Dwelling in them takes practice - which is what we do in our meditation.

Abodes are things that by definition we can 'abide' in. But we often miss that because we get wrapped up in the forms and theory of our meditation. Sometimes we need to let go of all that and, like The Dude, just 'abide.'

The 11th Century dakini Niguma beautifully described it this way:

Don't do anything whatsoever with the mind-
Abide in an authentic, natural state.
One's own mind, unwavering, is reality.
The key is to meditate like this without wavering;
Experience the great reality beyond extremes.
In a pellucid ocean,
Bubbles arise and dissolve again.
Just so, thoughts are no different from ultimate reality.
So don't find fault; remain at ease.
Whatever arises, whatever occurs,
Don't grasp - release it on the spot.
Appearances, sounds, and objects are one's own mind;
There's nothing except mind.
Mind is beyond the extremes of birth and death.
The nature of mind, awareness,
Uses the objects of the five senses, but
Does not wander from reality.
In the state of cosmic equilibrium
There is nothing to abandon or practice;
No meditation or post-meditation period. Just this.

Sometimes we try too hard, sometimes we make what is simple complex. I'm not saying this is easy - it isn't. Letting go and learning to just abide is possibly one of our biggest challenges. But a great starting place is just allowing ourselves to abide. Whether that is sitting on the sofa with a cup of tea or on the cushion meditating or walking through woods - we can all learn to dwell in in this 'authentic, natural state.'

I don't know about you, but I take comfort in that.

Metta, Chris.

I have linked below a fully guided audio meditation on 'Not Trying' - the starting point of learning to abide. A few of us have committed to press 'play' at 7pm PT on Sunday 11th April - you are welcome to join us if you wish, or to incorporate it into your practice in any way that works for you.

 Miranda Shaw (tr.) "Niguma: Mahamudra as Spontaneous Liberation," in Passionate Enlightenment.

Photo by Marko Kovic on Unsplash



Saturday, April 3, 2021

Hot Cross Buns

 Hot Cross Buns

Happy Easter everyone!

Yesterday, in honor of Good Friday, my wife baked some awesome Hot Cross Buns. They were, it has to be said, delicious. Sadly you couldn't share them with us.

In England everyone eats Hot Cross Buns on Good Friday, it's just one of the things that we do. The history of them is deep and quite intriguing. For instance, did you know that they were once banned? Yes, the sale of Hot Cross Buns was actually made illegal by Queen Elizabeth I - but then she did do some strange things.

Traditions like this can be fun and useful - they provide us with regular reminders of what is being celebrated - even if sometimes the meaning behind them is hidden or lost.

Easter is a strange holiday in our culture, as for most the meaning lies somewhere between (a) the commemoration of the death and resurrection of Christ and (b) chocolate. Looking around the stores it seems like chocolate has won.

Part of the strangeness of the holiday is due to the fact that roots of the holiday are in the celebration of the goddess Ēostre (or Ôstara) at the Spring Equinox. The ancient celebrations with their emphasis on fertility and rebirth mixed in with the Christian Paschal month to give us the holiday we now know. So the bunnies and eggs speak to fertility and new starts while the crosses recall death, resurrection and hope. While the juxtaposition may be a little startling at first there is some rhyme to it.

For me, this is the time of the year that I like to focus on the concept of 'beginning again.' I think this season is an excellent opportunity to revisit this fundamental part of our practice. I really like the way teacher Sharon Salzberg puts it:

 "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."

And, in the spirit of beginning again, this isn't the first time I have written about this - you can find similar messages here, here and here.

But that's the point, isn't it?

Wishing you all a wonderful Easter,

Metta, Chris.


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, 4th April. You are welcome to join us if you wish.