Musings of the InsightLA teachers
Each morning this week, His Holiness the Dalai Lama walks from his residence in Dharamsala, India, across a courtyard to the temple where participants in the 33rd Mind & Life meetings stand with palms together awaiting his arrival. Two men walk in front of the entourage; a maroon-robed monk swings a big censer of smoking incense on a chain, wrapping the entourage in a cloud of fragrance. Next to the monk walks an Indian soldier wearing a beret, sweeping a machine gun back and forth between the people lined up on either side to catch a glimpse or a greeting from HHDL.
Once seated, the Dalai Lama makes an impassioned plea to us, the gathered scientists and educators, and to all 7 billion human beings to make the 21st century “a century of dialogue,” wisely acting on behalf of the long-term future of humanity and the earth. He reminds us that we have to live together side by side with wisdom and compassion, for “how our life goes depends on the love of others”. How can we overcome the isolating, narrow-minded focus on ‘me, me, me’ as more special than all the other human beings? He said, “I never think, ‘I'm the Dalai Lama.’ Wherever I go, I’m a simple monk among my sisters and brothers. I’m always laughing, teasing, and joyful to counteract the pressure of my role.”
While the ultimate solution for self-centeredness is the infinite altruism of understanding the nature of reality, we need simple warm-hearted recognition of our interdependence before we can demilitarize our world. All week we learned about education of the heart. We listened to research about the effectiveness of training the mind in compassion and emotional intelligence while guarded by soldiers wielding rifles. The most respected monk in the world said, “We need action! If prayers and blessings were enough, we’d have achieved peace and disarmament a thousand years ago!”
What action is right for you? Like the high school students who bravely protested gun violence this week, choose something that matters to you -- and do it! We can inspire each other to show up for team humanity, and live in loving awareness of our shared responsibility for human flourishing.
The Buddha’s original instructions for meditation, or dhyana, ask us to go into a secluded forest and sit under a tree, a quiet place to allow deep concentration. If you’ve ever meditated outside in nature, you can feel the support of plants, landscape, the earth, just as you are buoyed by different energy when you sit in a group from when you sit alone.
Jack and I are in Kyoto, Japan, for the first time! We spent our first day visiting majestic monasteries and Zen gardens. Everyone takes off their shoes at the entrance to a temple and puts on worn slippers. We pad silently around the soft wood floors, respecting the quiet rhythm of Zen temple life. Around each corner, gardens display subtle patterns of rock and gravel, moss and water, curved stone bridges carrying us from the preoccupations of our human world into the beauty and harmony of the vast cosmos.
When I gaze at the ineffable elegance and grace of one simple garden, I think of you and me. We, like Zen gardens, are exquisitely designed to express the sweep and power of nature in a small space - in this body. With quiet, mindful presence, we don’t have to go off to visit faraway Zen temples or ancient Japanese gardens to realize how this very body -- this personal life of you and me -- reveals infinite dimensions of universal life.
It’s very early Spring and the branches are bare. A few daring plum blossoms have burst open and little red camellias brave the cold. Stopping to savor a garden, we tune into the eternal stillness and flow of this life we share. A thirteenth-century Chinese master, Wumen Huikai, rakes the gravel of our flowing thoughts and feelings into one of my favorite Zen poems:
春有百花秋有月 The spring flowers, the autumn moon;
夏有涼風冬有雪 Summer breezes, winter snow.
若無閑事挂心頭 If useless things do not clutter your mind,
更是人間好時節 You have the best days of your life.
I'm in San Francisco at the Wisdom 2.0 conference asking how to bring wisdom and compassion to our use of technology. There are many competing views on this. It is like the ancient story about six people who are blind touching different parts of an elephant and describing what they discover. Touching the side, one says it is like a wall, the trunk is like a snake, a tusk is like a spear, leg, a tree, ear, a fan or tail, a rope. They get into a fight about the truth each has seen. A wise woman witnessing this calmly explained to them, "All of your are right. The whole elephant has all those features each of you named."
Each of us carries part of the truth through our unique perspectives, but we need each other to see the whole picture, the whole elephant. Mindfulness offers us a way to do this, like a Super power. It suffuses what we see with clarity and compassion, revealing the panoramic nature of interrelatedness and interconnectedness, of consciousness itself. When we learn to open our consciousness, we can step beyond our fixations on what's often a limited, partial and particular view.
Here at the conference, we see technology, too, as a Super power - social media and the digital world have the potential to hugely enhance our ability to communicate and understand different points of view. But without mindfulness and technology being wed, in the way the current online world is designed, we are at the mercy of algorithms constantly filtering what we see, restricting and narrowing our view. These 'filter bubbles' polarize and silo us, making it increasingly difficult to look at people and current events in all their rich, nuanced diversity - with a wider lens of unfiltered awareness.
With mindfulness we can step back and see with a broader perspective. Whether in our use of technology or in our personal and collective problems, seeing the whole elephant is wisdom, and wisdom brings compassion. Wherever you are, step back. Let yourself see the whole picture, and with an open heart and mind see the miracle, diversity, and kinship of all life.
Retreats are powerful. They give you a chance to reset, refresh, and de-clutter your mind. They offer time to resolve unfinished things in your heart, to learn to see yourself and the world with eyes of compassion and forgiveness.
Retreats help to attune to your inner rhythms and to the immense current of universal life flowing through you as you. On retreat you can let your guard down, let your heart open and your body-mind unwind. In the safety and refugeof community, you learn to relax and rest in the richness of life as it is. And at the end of the retreat the benefit is visible: whether it's a day or a week or longer, everyone looks younger, more open, clear-eyed, and radiant.
As practitioners at InsightLA, you benefit from the practice and presence of those around you in your classes and sitting groups. There is a nourishing energy and support in sitting together. This is further strengthened in retreat. Take a moment now and ask yourself: is it time for a retreat? Can a retreat serve you? What might be stopping you from taking time to support your being in this healthy way?
If you can, take the opportunity - and plan to include a silent retreat in your life this year! Retreats can be healing, transfomative and profound, so I encourage you to dip your toes in and explore. You'll be glad you did!
P.S. there is a daylong retreat with me happening next Saturday February 17th. Or better yet, mark your calendar for our 6 night residential Insight Meditation retreat in April.
Even after decades of teaching about the dead-end of hatred, I confess: I hate moving. Even when I'm moving to a more spacious and suitable situation, there is a hazy aura of loss, a premature nostalgia for the place I'm choosing to leave.
Our Los Feliz sitting group is moving to a new home on Monday, February 12th, after years of meeting in a classroom at the Philosophical Research Society. Our new space is not far away; we'll be meeting in a beautiful room nestled in the soft green lawns of Hollywood Forever Cemetery. There's ample room for us to grow, to warmly welcome newcomers to our community in a protected environment - and also plenty of free parking! A sacred historic site, the cemetery is called a "Library of Lives".
The move is thrumming with new possibilities. This is our life, vibrating with unending movement, ceaseless change, impermanence. The fleeting moments we call our days unfold in all of eternity. Teaching at the cemetery last year, all of us who meditated there felt the powerful presence of our ephemeral humanity against a backdrop of eternal peace. We sit among those who have walked this way before on our journey from the unknown to the unknown. We sit together - and we move together, as a community - just like each star moves in a constellation.
And yet, change can be hard. We are sticky creatures, quick to bond with familiarity. Letting go is our practice, but we don't have to like it! How is it for you when life changes? Do you resent and resist? Or do you seize an opportunity to wake up to a deep and profound truth of our life?
AN EXCERPT FROM SPRING WASHAM'S NEW BOOK, A FIERCE HEART:
In Buddhist tradition, humanity is sometimes described as being lost in a vast ocean. I always imagine all seven billion of us, dog paddling and flailing around desperately, looking for security, some safe place to stand. This is the ocean of samsara, the endless cycle of our collective confusion. We all long for happiness, yet we unconsciously do the very things that lead to unhappiness. We drown over and over. In the midst of all the chaos, is there a place where we can find solid ground?
As we slow down and become present, we begin to see an island in the distance. We swim there and find a dry, sunny beach with a coconut tree we can sit beneath. We've found a place we're safe, a refuge from the pounding ocean. As we survey the ocean from our new perspective, we see millions of others flailing desperately, not yet able to see the island. We shout out to them, but they don't hear us. They're not ready yet. We look around at our new island home and see we are not alone. Others have taken refuge here as well.
We're living in a house of cards: all life is fragile, and we don't know what the future will bring. This is the nature of reality. It's always fluctuating; one day it's this, the next day it's that. There are multiple causes to everything that happens and an intelligence that governs everything lawfully. As soon as something arises. it begins to dissolve. Without steadiness, it can feel terrifying. The Buddha taught, "Live in joy and love, even among those who hate. Live in joy and health, even among the afflicted. Live in joy and peace, even among the troubled. Look within, be still, free from fear and attachment. Know the sweet joy of the Way."
A conversation with bell hooks & Thich Nhat Hanh:
bell hooks: I began writing a book on love because I felt that the United States is moving away from love. The civil rights movement was such a wonderful movement for social justice because the heart of it was love - loving everyone. It was believing that we can always start anew; we can always practice forgiveness. I don't have to hate any person because I can always practice forgiveness. I don't have to hate
any person because I can always reconcile. What I'm trying to
understand is... how we can be part of moving society towards love.
Thich Nhat Hanh: We should ask the question whether we are capable of loving ourselves as well as others. Are we treating our body kindly - by the way we eat, by the way we drink, by the way we work? Are we treating ourselves with enough joy and tenderness and peace? Because in the moment when we're able to smile and not to be violent in the way we look at the system, to look at ourselves with compassion, there is a change already in the world... loving ourselves means loving our community. Anything you do for yourself, you do do for the society at the same time. And anything you do for society you do for yourself also.
bell hooks: ...Martin Luther King said that you must have courage to love, that you have to have a profound will to do what is right to love, that it does not come easy.
Thich Nhat Hanh: Martin Luther King was among us as a brother, as a friend, as a leader. He was able to maintain that love alive, for his understanding and love was enough to hold everything to him. He was trying to transmit the best things to us - his goodness, his love, his non-duality. We have to be aware that crucial transmission he was making was not the transmission of power, of authority, of position, but the transmission of the dharma. It means love.
This year is coming to an end. We celebrate having made it through 2017, thanks to our practice of mindfulness, the loving awareness that helps smooth out the lumps and bumps of life. We celebrate a 'blank slate' of fresh possibilities and new ways to be. We celebrate being alive!
Resting here on the couch, I quietly marvel -- new waves of breath keep rolling in. As one breath dissolves into space and vanishes, a new one arises. The waves of breaths we'll call 2018, are about to be born. The ancients compared us and our world to evanescent foam floating on the water -- empty, unsubstantial, with no enduring essence.
What really matters in this fleeting world? What is most important? When we're clear about what matters most to us, then we extend our care to the world. When we do, money and generosity can carry our deepest intentions, our life energy, our love, compassion, and service. It is a path, a way to offer what we have to what we love the most.
I'm happy to tell you it's not too late for your InsightLA end-of-the-year donation to be matched. A generous donor and loving member of our community, has agreed to match any contribution made by the end of January 2018 - AND the annual total of all monthly giving for those who sign up for our monthly giving program by the end of 2018. Each dollar you are able to contribute and each dollar you are able to pledge through our monthly giving program will be matched equally up to $50, 000.
You will be part of our work all year long with underserved communities throughout Los Angeles, and our commitment to offer support to those on the front lines of suffering. We all need a helping hand and support, especially caregivers, and a meditation practice facilitated by our highly trained teachers will make a difference.
Any amount you can find in your heart to give will be joyfully appreciated and will go toward making our community and our world a more loving and peaceful place to live.
From all of us at InsightLA, we wish much love in the new year. We look forward to seeing you soon. You always have a place to practice. Come sit with us!
Trudy, our hard-working office team, dedicated board of directors, and our teachers - all of us committed to you and your flourishing. Happy New Year!
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