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, June 26, 2021

Chapters

 


Chapters

Last week marked a bit of a milestone, as for the first time in over 15 months a small group of us met together, physically, in the same room to share in meditation together.  It was a little strange at first, with some awkwardness and some laughs, but it felt wonderful to be back.

The occasion got me thinking about how we often think of our lives as progressing in 'chapters,' where we turn a page and move on to the next phase of our life. Meeting together again felt a bit like that. We weren't going back to where we were before, but starting anew.

Of course the world and the nature of time isn't quite as simple as that, but it certainly represents how we often feel. As we stand at the point of a new chapter we can easily become tied up in the memories of the past and our hopes, fears and wishes for the future. When we do that we can become disconnected from the reality of the moment. We can be so caught up with the shift that we end up being anywhere but the present.

There are two different Pali words that are usually translated as 'equanimity.' The one we are most familiar with is Upekkha, one of the four Brahma-Viharas. In his wonderful article on Equanimity Gil Fronsdal describes the other Pali word used in this way:

The second word often translated as equanimity is tatramajjhattata, a compound made of simple Pali words. Tatra, meaning “there,” sometimes refers to “all these things.” Majjha means “middle,” and tata means “to stand or to pose.” Put together, the word becomes “to stand in the middle of all this.” As a form of equanimity, “being in the middle” refers to balance, to remaining centered in the middle of whatever is happening. This balance comes from inner strength or stability. The strong presence of inner calm, well-being, confidence, vitality, or integrity can keep us upright, like a ballast keeps a ship upright in strong winds. As inner strength develops, equanimity follows.

I love this way of looking at things, and I think it tells us how we should be as chapters change in our life. Without clinging or aversion for what has happened in the past, and without clinging or aversion for what may be in the future. Instead we 'stand in the middle of all this.'

Reading this reminded me of the lovely mantra meditation that Ram Dass taught. The mantra is a simple one - "And This Also." This is a mantra that speaks to equanimity, especially equanimity where we 'stand in the middle of all this.'

I have linked below the recording of our gathering last week. It includes a fully-guided 30 minute meditation using the mantra "And This Also." You can also hear me struggle to pronounce Tatramajjhattata! If you think it may be of use to you in your practice please feel free to use it whenever you wish, and to share it with any others who might find it helpful.

Wishing you all a wonderful week - stay cool and in the middle of all this!

Metta, Chris.



Photo by Will Tarpey on Unsplash





Saturday, June 19, 2021

Father's Day


Father's Day


This Sunday is Father's day, a day I look forward to for several reasons - it's a day I get to spend with my family and also one on which I fondly remember my own father.

But - and this is a big but - Father's Day is a day where we need to be careful. Unfortunately nowadays, like all holidays and celebrations, the day has been commercialized and idealized. The commercialization is obvious - that it is yet another compelling reason to buy stuff now! - but the idealization is probably the more sinister aspect of it.

What I mean by idealization is that the media and advertising around us tout one, single 'right' way to think about your relationship with your father (of with your children if you are a father). That there is an ideal we should all assume. That there is one and only one way to celebrate - usually by giving your smiling, loving father an expensive piece of electronics or a new grill. What the fluff news pieces and advertising don't acknowledge is the complex and highly individual nature of our relationships with everyone, especially our closest family. Of course this isn't only true of the idealization of our relationship with our father - in many ways the idealization of Mother's Day is even worse. Freud would have a field day with modern advertising copy!

While everyone biologically has a father, not everyone has known him. For those that have known or do know their father the relationship may have been wonderful, painful, traumatic, distant, loving, or - very often - a complex mix of those things.

The important thing here is that all of our relationships are deeply complex and personal. When we use broad brushes to define them, or when we make assumptions about how they 'should' be we can marginalize, alienate and hurt those whose experience doesn't match the prescribed standard.

In our metta (lovingkindness, goodwill) meditation we learn to practice meeting people where they are - not with assumptions about how they should be but where they actually are right now. If we approach someone who is suffering then we generate compassion. If we meet someone who is joyful we share in their joy. And we have the wisdom and equanimity to understand that this is how the world is, that people experience both suffering and joy, and that all these things are impermanent.

So I would encourage you as we celebrate the holiday to recognize the richness and complexity of our relationships. If your own experience with your father includes painful elements have compassion for your self. Don't assume those around you have cookie-cutter relationships with their close family, and be prepared to meet them with joy, compassion and equanimity.

Metta, Chris.

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. 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 there if you are unsure.

I will continue to write these weekly newsletters and post an audio meditation each week - thanks to those of you who have provided feedback, it has encouraged me to keep on doing these.

Below you will find a fully guided audio meditation following on from the above ideas of generating metta for the people you will meet - wherever they are.





Photo by sporlab on Unsplash




 

Saturday, June 12, 2021

The Big View

 

The Big View

The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.

- Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

Perspective is a funny thing. We tend to go through life with a very narrow view of what is going on around us, judging everything that happens in terms of how it affects us, our own happiness and well-being. Things that directly affect us, or happen close to us, or happen to people we know, have more effect on us than things that happen far away from us, or to people we don't know or don't relate to.

Of course, this is a natural starting place, and is a mechanism that helps us cope with the world. Perspective can feel like a dangerous thing. But, as we grow and evolve we can move beyond this ego-bound view of the world and start to take a bigger view.

Thou shalt give equal worth to tragedies that occur in non-English speaking countries as to those that occur in English speaking countries.

- Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip, "Thou Shalt Always Kill"

Part of what we do in our metta practice is to move beyond this ego-centric view and understand the artificial nature of dividing the world into 'self' and 'other.' But just as moving beyond the delusion of those terms means we care for the well-being of others as we do for our self, it also means that we care for the well-being of our self as much as others. It's not that we become self-less, it is that when we take the big view we recognize the equality of our worth - we don't become insignificant, we become equally-significant.

The wonderful teacher Sharon Salzberg tells this story of how she came to realize this through metta meditation:

There was a time in Burma when I was practicing metta intensively. I had taken about six weeks to go through all the different categories: myself, benefactor, friend, neutral person, and enemy. After I had spent these six weeks doing the metta meditation all day long, my teacher, U Pandita, called me into his room and said, "Say you were walking in the forest with your benefactor, your friend, your neutral person, and your enemy. Bandits come up and demand that you choose one person in your group to be sacrificed. Which one would you choose to die?"

I was shocked at U Pandita's question. I sat there and looked deep into my heart, trying to find a basis from which I could choose. I saw that I could not feel any distinction between any of those people, including myself. Finally I looked at U Pandita and replied, "I couldn't choose; everyone seems the same to me."

U Pandita then asked, "You wouldn't choose your enemy?" I thought a minute and then answered, "No, I couldn't."

Finally U Pandita asked me, "Don't you think you should be able to sacrifice yourself to save the others?" He asked the question as if more than anything else in the world he wanted me to say, "Yes, I'd sacrifice myself." A lot of conditioning rose up in me -- an urge to please him, to be "right" and to win approval. But there was no way I could honestly say "yes," so I said, "No, I can't see any difference between myself and any of the others." He simply nodded in response, and I left.

- Sharon Salzberg, Facets of Metta

This is the Big View - a view that can have love and compassion for all beings equally, recognizing the worth of all beings. It's not  a sense of perspective that makes us insignificant, but one that values all equally.

Metta, Chris.

PS: Exciting news - for those of you who live in the area and who wish to join with us we will be meeting in person for the first time since lockdown next week on 20th June! I will be sending more details this week, or check out our website where I will update the information some time this week.

A lot of you have requested that I keep sending these tiny letters, so I will continue sending a short message and a link to an audio meditation each week. Please bear with me as I work on the timing and workflow going forward!

For this week, I have linked below a fully guided metta meditation where we explore this week's theme of taking the Big View. A few of us have committed to press 'play' at 7pm on Sunday 13th June - you are welcome to join us or use this audio in any other way you wish.

 


Saturday, June 5, 2021

No Pity

 

No Pity

 

Here, monks, a disciple dwells pervading one direction with his heart filled with compassion, likewise the second, the third and the fourth direction; so above, below and around; he dwells pervading the entire world everywhere and equally with his heart filled with compassion, abundant, grown great, measureless, free from enmity and free from distress.

Digha Nikaya 13

As we slowly emerge from the stresses of the last year and we all begin to be a bit more mobile we are now seeing the changes around us. We all know that we aren't going 'back to 2019,' but we are just learning what the post-lockdown world looks like. I personally dislike the term 'new normal,' as it implies there is such a thing as 'normal' to begin with. What we know is things change - sometimes a lot, sometimes a little - but change is always happening.

It has been interesting these last few weeks to see what different areas now look like. I have felt joyful and encouraged by what I have seen in some areas and saddened by others. It is a mix - which is what I would expect.

One of the changes that is more obvious is the visibility of those who are homeless. Of course this didn't start with COVID, the increase was starting before then, but now we see it in front of us almost anywhere we drive or walk. The homeless have always been there, it is just that they are now visible.

I am not going to get into the social, political or economic causes or possible solutions to the current problem - I don't for a moment pretend to be an expert. But what I can do is remind us all that all the homeless, every one of them, are human beings who are currently suffering. Every single one of them is someone we have included in our Metta meditations. They may be currently outside of society but they should not be out of reach of our hearts.

We are taught that when a heart filled with Metta - lovingkindness or goodwill - meets someone who suffers then the response is Karuṇā or compassion. In his book "Peace is Every Step" Thích Nhất Hạnh says:

The essence of love and compassion is understanding, the ability to recognize the physical, material, and psychological suffering of others, to put ourselves "inside the skin" of the other.  We "go inside" their body, feelings, and mental formations, and witness for ourselves their suffering.  Shallow observation as an outsider is not enough to see their suffering.  We must become one with the subject of our observation.  When we are in contact with another's suffering, a feeling of compassion is born in us. Compassion means, literally, "to suffer with."
It is easy to feel pity for those in an unfortunate situation, but pity is a distancing emotion. Pity (or sentimental pity) is regarded as the 'near enemy' of Karuṇā - in the sense that it may outwardly look like compassion but deep down it is a distancing emotion - you wish the suffering away not for the other person's sake but for your own. True compassion is brave, not cowardly.

Choosing compassion can be hard, as it makes us vulnerable and uncomfortable, but it is something we can learn to cultivate.

Again, I don't pretend for a moment to have this right. When I see a homeless camp I don't immediately feel deep compassion, true Karuṇā. My emotions are mixed and complex. But that, of course, is why we do the practice.

I have linked below a fully guided Karuṇā Bhavana meditation (cultivation of compassion). A group of us have committed to press play together at 7pm PT on Sunday 6th June - you are welcome to join us if you wish or use the recording in any way that helps your practice.

Metta, Chris

PS: Exciting news - If you live in the Camas/East Vancouver area I am hoping that we will be able to meet in person again really soon! I am working with the generous owners of the studio to firm up the details so that those who are comfortable can once again join us in person - hopefully some time in June - watch this space!