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, May 29, 2021

Super Flower

 

Super Flower

Earlier this week there was a total lunar eclipse. And, of course, in these internet click-driven days it wasn't just any old lunar eclipse, it was a Super Flower Blood Moon. By all accounts it was quite spectacular, though here in the Pacific Northwest it was, er, cloudy and gray.

I love lunar eclipses so I was a little sad that we weren't able to see it (but secretly relieved that I didn't have to get up at 4am to watch!) Lunar eclipses aren't that rare, but they are always lovely. Over the last few years they seem to have caught the imagination of the public, and the media have realized that if they give each one a name then they can drum up more enthusiasm (clicks). The formula is simple - mix a few terms from astronomy with a few from astrology and add a full-moon name (all cultures have names for each of the full moons of a year so there are plenty to choose from) and you have a way to make the current one look special. Personally I feel they missed a trick this year and should have called it the Super Milk Flower Cornplanting Hare Blood Moon (yes, those are all valid names for the May full moon).

Despite all that, lunar eclipses are still a wonderful time to remind ourselves to look up. We all go about our lives looking out or down, and often have to remind ourselves to look up. There is something special about building that connection with what is above us. So if nothing else, I hope that this will encourage you to go outside and look up. You won't see an eclipse this week, but I promise you will see something that can enthrall you. Even here in the Northwest.

When I think of the heavens I an often reminded of the lovely Karaniya Metta Sutta. Many of you will be familiar with this as a version is often chanted in sanghas, but a slightly less familiar version is the Thanissaro Bhikkhu translation:

As a mother would risk her life
to protect her child, her only child,
even so should one cultivate a limitless heart
with regard to all beings.
With good will for the entire cosmos,
cultivate a limitless heart:
Above, below, & all around,
unobstructed, without hostility or hate.
Whether standing, walking,
sitting, or lying down,
    as long as one is alert,
one should be resolved on this mindfulness.
This is called a sublime abiding
    here & now.

So a practice we can all do is to go outside, look up, and with good will for the entire cosmos, cultivate a limitless heart.

This is exactly what we do in the traditional Metta Bhavana (cultivation of lovingkindness) practice. At the end of the standard form there is a section known as 'sending to the ten directions.' The ten directions here are the four cardinal compass points, plus the four intercardinal points, plus 'downwards to the depths and upwards to the skies.' As we do this we practice taking the lovingkindness and goodwill that we have cultivated and offering it to all sentient beings, wherever in the cosmos they are.

When we look up we see objects in a solar system and a universe that all of us on this earth share. It can teach us that we are not-separate, that we inhabit the same universe.  Let's all make 'looking up' a part of our practice this week.

Metta, Chris.

PS: As I am writing this I have Monty Python's 'The Galaxy Song' going round in my head. There as a wonderful live version from a number of years ago that I love. Even if you are very familiar with the song I highly recommend watching this all the way to the end! Academic rivalry at its best.

PPS: I have linked below a fully guided meditation where we practice sending lovingkindness and goodwill to the Ten Directions. A few of us have committed to press 'play' together at 7pm on Sunday 30th May - you are welcome to join us then if you wish, or of course to use this in your practice in any way that is helpful.


 

Image credit: Greg Diesel Walck

"Karaniya Metta Sutta — Good Will" (Khp 9), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/khp/khp.1-9.than.html

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, May 22, 2021

All Are Hard

 

All Are Hard

One of the wonderful things about Metta (Lovingkindness or Goodwill) meditation is how even after many years of practice it still continues to evolve and the insights gained become deeper. It is part of the genius of the ancient form.

One of the things I often say about this form of meditation is that if you find it hard you are probably doing it right. This isn't supposed to be easy, this is supposed to be a life's work. It's like going to the gym: coming out saying it was a tough workout is a good thing. It means that you were working those muscles.

It is interesting to contrast how I felt about the form when I was first taught it to how I experience it now. Many things have changed - and I am sure will continue to change.

One of the main things that changes is how we view the four people we use with the form. If you aren't familiar with the practice the four people are: yourself; a friend; a neutral person (someone you would recognize but don't really know; and a difficult person or enemy. We use specific people - not generally 'all my friends' or 'all my enemies' but real individuals.

This specificity is important. Stating generalities is easy - 'I love all people and wish them well' is usually a platitude. We can all easily say it but I can almost guarantee that I could find a politician, relative or country singer who would make you retract the statement.

Which is where the practice comes in. In the practice - and it is 'practice' in the truest sense of the word - we choose specific people and explore what it means to truly feel Metta for them, to wish them wellness and happiness.

One of the things we might feel when we start the practice is that they are ordered form easy to hard - self, friend, neutral, enemy. That it is easy to wish your self to be happy and hard to wish the enemy to be happy. Often when we start this is the case.

However when we get deeper we realize it is not a simple as that. When we consider our self we are often our own worst critic. We know what really goes on in our head, we know how we have messed up and not met our own standards. Even with the friend, because we are closer and know more about them, we know the ways they don't always behave how we would want. The nice smiling cashier that we choose for the neutral person seems fine, but what if we see the confederate flag on their truck? At least with the enemy we know where they stand - until maybe we learn more about their background and their own struggles.

The point is that the 'easy to hard' assumption is in itself a delusion, and as we begin to work on this delusion we also start to break down the bigger delusion - that the separation into self, friend, neutral and enemy is itself a delusion. One of the core insights of the practice is that the very premise that it is built on - that we can separate these people into these four groups - is itself a lie. It's just a lie that we tell ourselves daily.

So I would like to encourage you to approach the practice with the expectation that All Are Hard - yourself included.

I have linked below a fully guided Metta meditation, focusing on the idea that all are hard. You are welcome to use it in your own practice if you wish. A few of us have committed to press 'play' together at 7pm on Sunday 23rd May and you are also welcome to join us then. However you choose to practice I wish you a wonderful week - may you be well, happy and live at ease.

Metta, Chris.




Saturday, May 15, 2021

Infinite Game

 


 Infinite Game

In 1986 religious thinker James P. Carse introduced the concept of finite and infinite games. He differentiated the two types of 'games' in this way:

There are at least two kinds of games: finite and infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play. Finite games are those instrumental activities - from sports to politics to wars - in which the participants obey rules, recognize boundaries and announce winners and losers. The infinite game - there is only one - includes any authentic interaction, from touching to culture, that changes rules, plays with boundaries and exists solely for the purpose of continuing the game. A finite player seeks power; the infinite one displays self-sufficient strength. Finite games are theatrical, necessitating an audience; infinite ones are dramatic, involving participants...
While his words drew a mixed reaction at the time they have become highly influential more recently, with people like Simon Sinek adapting these ideas to business and organizations, and several trendy start-up CEOs citing its influence.

The basic concept is that some endeavors can be treated as finite games, which we choose to play and play to win, while others are infinite, that we play just to be part of. This idea can be applied to many activities, and this week I was contemplating how it applied to our practice and path.

We often come into meditation and our path with specific goals - to become more calm, to reduce stress, to become enlightened, to have something to do on a Sunday night - all of these are finite games, things to achieve or 'win.'

All of these things are of course laudable goals, but usually as we get deeper into our practice we move beyond them and our practice becomes part of something bigger, something that goes beyond simply achieving a goal.

Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse (Khyentse Norbu) covers this in his wonderful book "What Makes You Not a Buddhist." He says:

It is not appropriate to ask a Buddhist, “What is the purpose of life?” because the question suggests that somewhere out there, perhaps in a cave or on a mountaintop, an ultimate purpose exists.

This is the finite game mindset. Instead, he offers a different approach based on the Mahayana concept of 'The Three Excellences." Paraphrased, this suggests that we approach our practice by:

  • Develop bodhicitta (an open heart) beforehand
  • Practice with no attachment to results
  • Dedicate any progress to others

I find this useful because it sums up the shift from a goal-oriented practice to a much deeper one - one that isn't focused on simple achievement but instead on deepening our practice and our connections to others. In Carse's language it shifts us from a finite game to the infinite game.

I have linked below a fully guided meditation on meditating with 'nothing to achieve.' A few of us have committed to press 'play' together at 7pm on Sunday 16th May. You are of course welcome to use it in your practice in whatever way you wish.

Wishing you all a wonderful week,

Metta, Chris.


 What Makes You Not a Buddhist by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse, Published December 5th 2006 by Shambhala,

 Photo by Ivan Slade on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, May 8, 2021

One Sixteenth


 One Sixteenth

Our focus in this newsletter and in our meditation group is on a form of meditation called Metta Bhavana or cultivation of Metta. Metta here loosely translates to lovingkindness or goodwill - or as Sharon Salzberg suggests 'being a gentle friend.'

Now this is all well and good, but why the focus on Metta? There are many meditation forms, many practices, many paths - so why keep coming back to Metta? Can't we check the box and move on?

I would argue that lovingkindness is fundamental to all of our practices - whatever we choose to do on our path. In the Itivuttaka The Buddha is recorded as saying this to his followers:

Bhikkhus, whatever grounds there are for making merit productive of a future birth, all these do not equal a sixteenth part of the mind-release of loving-kindness. The mind-release of loving-kindness surpasses them and shines forth, bright and brilliant.

What this is saying is that whatever practice or path you work on doesn't have a sixteenth of the effect of cultivating lovingkindness. That seems like a bold - even harsh - claim, but it is one that may seem very familiar to those of you who come from a background in the Christian tradition. In the famous passage from 1 Corinthians 13 Paul tells us:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Interestingly, there is the same difficulty in translating the word for love (agape) here, with this NIV translation using 'love' and the King James using 'charity' - but all scholars agreeing that the meaning is somewhat deeper and more fundamental than that.

So are these passages telling us that all these other practices are pointless? Should we just cultivate Metta? Of course the answer is 'no.' It is not that these other practices are futile, it is just that they should all be built on a foundation of Metta (or agape). And that is why as a core the practice is so important to us.

So whatever your path or practice I would encourage you to take the opportunity to cultivate Metta as part of that practice. I have linked below a fully guided gentle introduction to the traditional Metta Bhavana practice. You are welcome to use it if you wish as part of your own practice. A group of us have committed to press play together at 7pm PT on Sunday 9th May, and of course you can join us then too.

However you choose to practice I wish you all a calm and peaceful week,

Metta, Chris.

P.S. if you are wondering about the picture at the top it is a screenshot I took from Adam Neely's wonderful video 'Christmas Songs, but they're in a 15/16 time signature' - if you are interested at all in contemporary music theory then I highly recommend his channel. Somehow I felt it was appropriate.


 Itivuttaka: The Group of Ones" (Iti 24-27), translated from the Pali by John D. Ireland. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 24 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/iti/iti.1.024-027.irel.html

1 Corinthians 13 NIV

 

 

 



 

 

 

 

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Acceptance


Acceptance

This week I'd like to carry on a little further from last week's contemplation of the Second Arrow (if you haven't read that you can find it here). I find the understanding of the Second Arrow, and specifically the ability to recognize when we are creating another arrow for ourselves, to be extremely helpful in these times.

When things are difficult or painful we can cultivate acceptance of the reality of how things are while avoiding the additional self-inflicted emotional pain that we get from denial and resistance. As the teacher Tara Brach says in her wonderful book 'Radical Acceptance':

“Pain is not wrong. Reacting to pain as wrong initiates the trance of unworthiness. The moment we believe something is wrong, our world shrinks and we lose ourselves in the effort to combat the pain.”

I find this especially relevant as we navigate our current situation. Having experienced a year where we have all had to make changes and sacrifices, and when some have experienced loss of livelihood, health or loved-ones, we now find ourselves in a strange period where things may be opening up. Like many of you I am waiting for my own second shot (the irony not being lost on me), and while part of me is excited to be able to return to some level of normalcy another part of me is more than aware that as a society we still have a way to go.

It is easy in this transition period to fall into one of two extremes. We are seeing a lot of people throwing caution to the wind and acting as if everything was now fine - and we are seeing the effect of that in the statistics. The other extreme some fall into is to loose all hope and to give up. It's easy to see how each of these groups feeds off of each other, and we are seeing this play out in the media right now.

As always it is the path in-between that will move us forward, and that is the path of acceptance. Not capitulation, but accepting the reality of where we are - and that includes both the positive and the painful. Recognizing and being grateful for where progress has been made, while knowing that progress is fragile and unpredictable. And taking positive action based on that acceptance. This isn't being passive and powerless, but rather full empowerment through accepting the reality - what Tara Brach calls 'Radical Acceptance.'

In our practice we can work on this empowering acceptance. One of the meditation forms I love for this is the 'Soft belly' form popularized by the late Stephen Levine. He developed this technique while working with terminally ill patients. I will probably write more about the approach in the future, but if you want you can listen to the fully guided meditation below. A few of us have committed to press 'play' together on this at 7pm PT on Sunday May 2nd, but of course you can listen at any time.

However you choose to cultivate acceptance I hope that you can experience this during this week. Beyond aversion, beyond denial, beyond false hope we can truly be empowered.


Metta, Chris.

 

 

Quote from: Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha
Photo by Andrew Moca on Unsplash