These words are from a lovely poem by Vietnamese Buddhist Monk and Peace Activist, Thich Nhat Hanh. Listening with an open mind and heart allows the words to move you, to realize that each moment is a precious gift. That when we approach life with a real honoring of each moment, it allows us to shift from living in a mindless haze to being fully present; feeling our body, breath and the life energy moving through us. When we are truly present for life, aware, open in body, mind and heart, we stay open hearted and allow the suffering of the world to touch our hearts. This shifts us towards pausing, sensing what’s here, and what’s needed or how can we respond to suffering in a way that is both wise and compassionate . This is something that is desperately needed in our world. It is both a privilege and a honoring of life when we are present for it, when we respond to the need, when we cherish each moment, each person and every living being.
‘For someone deeply trapped in a prison of thought, how good it can feel to meet a mind that hears, a heart that reassures.’ Ram Dass and Paul Gorman
Going away on a spiritual retreat is an act of courage and kindness. When we enter Noble Silence, we take a vow to keep silent for a certain period of time. this commitment is an important part of retreat practice as it is in the stillness and silence that we get to connect with the vibrant aliveness that is always present. We connect with our senses; noticing sights, sounds, smells, touch, tastes and thoughts. This is completely different than the way we usually move through life. When we come into retreat we are making a commitment to be present for life in all it’s joys, sorrows and everything in between. In doing this, we get to reconnect with the wisdom and compassion that is available to us at all times.
The Benefits of Retreat…
At our recent 3 day retreat (October 5th-7th), participants were encouraged to support each other’s
practice, by taking a vow of silence. Initially, there were some
hesitation, nervousness at the though of prolonged silence, especially when the attendees were informed that they should set aside all mobile devices and refrain from contacting friends and family (excluding emergencies). This is quite a commitment in today’s world of easy access to news, social media family, etc. However, it’s also a gift. The gift of being present to life as it’s happening; of connecting with the aliveness, wisdom and love in an up close and personal way. We make a commitment, to bring a kind and clear attention to our lived experience moment to moment, without judging it. This gives us freedom to just be! And connecting with life in this way allows us to take a much needed rest from the busyness of life.
Gil Fronsdal (lead teacher at the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, CA), talks about the benefits of a silent retreat. He says, “Because social conversation keeps the mind active, periods of not talking help the mind rest. Silence settles the many emotions that are activated by talking, listening, and even in the anticipation of talking. As our mental and emotional lives calm down, our bodies relax. ”
Quieting the Monkey Mind…
At the start of retreat we read a poem by Kaveri Patel (below) that speaks eloquently about the chattering mind.
THANKING A MONKEY
There’s a monkey in my mind
swinging on a trapeze
reaching back to the past
or leaning into the future,
never standing still.Sometimes I want to kill
that monkey, shoot it square
between the eyes so I won’t
have to think anymore
or feel pain of worry. But today I thanked her and she jumped right
into my lap.
Trapeze still swinging
as we sat still.
Retreat: an opportunity to connect with life as it is…
“Meditation is a way to calm the monkey mind and offers relief from the constant mental chatter. It is actually not a way to make the mind “go” quiet – rather it’s a way to access the quiet that is already there, buried under the 50,000 or so thoughts that the average person has every day.” From the Project Flow Blog.
We can and do spend so much of our time lost in the virtual world of thoughts. And while thoughts
are not the enemy, when we react to them as if they’re facts, this can create much stress and confusion in our lives. Coming into retreat, gives us an opportunity to notice, often for the first time, how we are relating to our thoughts and how our thoughts affect us and those around us. For example, when our thoughts are filled with worry, the body reacts by preparing for a threat; tension arises, the heartbeat races, the muscles contract, your digestive system slows down. And that’s all just based on a thought! As the Buddha stated “whatever a person frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination of his/her mind. In retreat you get to see it, sense it, and learn to tend and befriend the chattering mind. We stop the war against ourselves and life and move towards wisdom, kindness and loving connection.
The Gift of Practice…
Mindfulness practice allows us to pause and connect with the life as it’s happening. The practice helps us recognize when thoughts are happening; and as space between thought and reaction develops, we notice how the body, mind and heart are affected by the thoughts. This pause allows for wisdom to arise; we begin to learn how to shift from reacting to responding and the reality is, that life is constantly changing. When we resist change we resist life; we get stuck in trying to control what’s happening around us. This stops us from living and appreciating/responding to life in a way that is wise, healthy and compassionate. Practicing mindfulness, helps shines a light on this, in a way that goes beyond words, concepts and beliefs. It is the practice of sitting with the resistance, with the inner struggle, with anger, with doubt, with joy, happiness etc. It is a noble act to stop running and to be present for the experience of being alive. When we connect with life in this way we sense and experience the preciousness of each moment. It is like holding a precious bird in hand, knowing that at some point it will fly away and grateful for the gift of it’s presence.
This poem by Martha Postlewaite, called The Clearing speaks about this. Listen with your senses and let the words land in the heart…
Do not try to save
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
in the dense forest
of your life
and wait there
until the song
that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself
to this world
so worth of rescue.
Please consider registering for our next 5 day retreat which will take place, April 19th-23rd at Casa San Carlos Retreat Center in Delray Beach, To register and pay in full please go to Eventbrite-April 19th-23rd or to sign up for the installment plan please click here.
If you have any questions please contact us here.
May you be well…
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“It’s not life that causes suffering, it’s our story about life—our interpretation—that causes so much distress.” Pema Chodron
The practice of Mindfulness helps us wake up out of our stories about life. As Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist Nun, tells us, it’s not life/what is happening in life that creates suffering, it’s our interpretation about it. This is great news! It means that we can help ourselves by being willing to be embodied, vulnerable, present and open hearted. We learn to shift from reacting to curiosity, kindness and cultivate the ability to respond to life with compassion. This is something that is lacking when pain is present. Whether it is physical, emotional or mental pain, our tendency is to react with aversion, avoidance or rumination.
There is a saying, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” Easy to say and not always easy to do. And why is that? Because our tendency is to resist; we can get stuck in complaining, procrastinating or ruminating. All these ways of meeting pain, intensify it and transform it into suffering. But what if there were a way to shift towards a more healing and kind response? This is the potential that is offered by the practice of mindfulness.
The Buddha taught the four Noble Truths and implicit in this teaching is the potential and path to free ourselves from the many ways we create suffering. As Thich Nhat Hanh, writes in The Heart of The Buddha’s teaching, “Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.”
See Life as it Really is…
We begin by seeing, experiencing life as it is, rather than how we want/don’t want it to be. Much of the time we live in our rational minds, we use logic to navigate life or we live consumed and controlled by our emotions. To live from either of these places is to be out of balance with life. So it really is important to connect with what heals us. Here we aren’t talking about material things. Yes, we need them, but it’s not something that moves our heart and nourishes us. It is our connection to each other that helps us feel alive, our connection to the breath that brings us immediately into the present moment. And this is where practice comes in….
As we practice, we begin to see, sense and feel what’s happening in real time. We stop getting caught up in our desires and aversions and shift towards being present with life and experiencing it. And what are we staying connected to? Wisdom, kindness, understanding, generosity, compassion and joy, to name a few. We connect with our capacity to accept life as it is and with that acceptance comes the ability to respond to what’s happening in a way that is helpful and wise.
It’s not the Trigger that creates suffering…
The Triggers are the tip of the iceberg. 10% is about the trigger and the remaining 90% includes our experiences, trauma’s, hurts, needs, defenses, expectations, etc. It’s complicated and our mind works so quickly, that it’s difficult to parse out all the different causes and conditions that are arising in the moment. Pema Chodron, describes these tendencies as seeds that live in our unconscious. She says, “In the Buddhist texts, our tendencies with their habitual story lines are described as seeds in the unconscious. When the right causes and conditions come together, these preexisting propensities pop up like flowers in the springtime. It’s helpful to contemplate that it’s these propensities and not what triggers themselves that are the real cause of our suffering.”
How Mindfulness helps…
The practice of mindfulness, specifically meditation is one that helps us gather the scattered attention of
the mind. As we develop this capacity to gather the attention we begin to see beyond the conceptual mind, into experience in real time. For example, if I am sitting on the cushion and I start to have anxious thoughts, instead of following or feeding the thoughts, I can shift attention towards:
- What’s felt in the body (sensations, tightness, agitation, restlessness, etc.)
- Is the mind contracted, lethargic, open
- What emotions are felt in the body? Fear, worry, or some other emotion.
- We can then ask what is needed to help ourselves.
If I’m too overwhelmed by the feelings, I can shift the attention towards the sensation of the breath; actually feeling the sensations of breathing in and out. This shift of attention, towards a neutral object helps stabilize and regulate our emotions. It helps break up the momentum of reactivity. Like hitting the pause button, we get to regroup, connect, and meet whatever is arising with kindness and compassion. We learn to respond to what is happening in the moment, instead of the story about what’s happening. To do this we need to learn how to respond with head and heart together or wisdom and compassion. This is the path to freedom.
“Only within our body, with its heart and mind, can bondage and suffering be found, and only here can we find true liberation.” This is the potential offered by this path.
Come practice with us and learn more about this transformational practice. Join us at our October 5th-7th retreat as we explore and practice together at the Casa San Carlos Retreat Center in Delray Beach. There are still spaces in the shared and private rooms. Reserve your space today. Register here.
May you be well…
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Our planet is but a speck in the universe and within that speck, we are like a grain of sand. Yet, when we face challenges, it’s as if we are the universe and everything else is a grain of sand. This is not to dismiss the reality that all of us face challenges; gain and loss, pleasure and pain, fame and shame, and praise and blame. This is what the Buddha called the 8 worldly winds. We all experience this, we get caught in it, like the fly in a spider’s web; we’re drawn to the promise of pleasure and when it turns out not to meet our expectations or is unpleasant we struggle against it. And this can happen dozens of times a day, hour, minutes or seconds. We ride the roller-coaster of desire (climbing) and/or aversion (descending) and it’s exhausting!
Let go of the way you want things to be…
The Buddha’s words on this aspect of life was clear. We hear it, when we listen to his words on the 8 worldly winds: “When gain, loss, status, disgrace, censure, praise, pleasure or pain arise for an ordinary person they do not reflect: “Gain (etc.) has arisen for me. It is inconstant and subject to change.” She(or he) does not discern it as it actually is. She welcomes the gain and rebels against the loss. She welcomes the status and rebels against the disgrace. She welcomes the praise and rebels against the censure. He welcomes the pleasure and rebels against the pain.’
Whenever there is resistance to what’s happening in our lives, there’s a need to shift perspective. This is the gift of this practice; the opportunity to soften our grip on our views, stories and opinions. We all have them! This is how we learned about life and how to survive. But there is more to life than surviving and this is the gift we receive when we are mindful. A great source of suffering is wanting things to either stay the same or go away. Truthfully, nothing stays the same and this is as it should be. Impermanence is part of this experience of being alive. We are born, live for a short time and eventually die. The short time we have on earth is a gift and something to reflect on. When we learn to approach every moment with this deep wisdom and compassion, we are freed from our struggle to hold on. As Jack Kornfield says ” “Everything that has a beginning has an ending. Make your peace with that and all will be well.”
May you be well…
Please join us for our upcoming retreat. Come explore this healing practice together. Spaces are limited. To register go to October 2018 Mindfulness Retreat
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Healing is always available… all you need to do is pause….
Pause…rest in the stillness of silence. Listen to the quiet… So still, empty…yet so full. The possibility to connect with this moment, this body, this breath, this heart. To sense the energy….awareness…compassion…to feel into this moment. Can you sense the vibrant aliveness that is here? Beyond thoughts, beliefs and stories there is life.
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Stepping out of our limiting beliefs...
Why do we sit in meditation practice? I believe we sit in order to see how the mind and heart gets contracted and trapped by the thoughts, beliefs and stories we use to make sense of and navigate life. We are so much more than our thoughts, so much more than this body or this heart. The practice of mindfulness helps us wake up out of the trance of the small self. As we cultivate insight we connect with wisdom and compassion which helps us respond to life in a way that healing and wise. We learn that to be kind and compassionate is essential to our well being and the well being of all.
I love this poem that speaks about this.
"Landlocked in Fur" ~ by Tukaram
I was meditating with my cat the other day
and all of a sudden she shouted,
I knew exactly what she meant, but encouraged
her to say more - feeling that if she got it all out on the table
she would sleep better that night.
So I responded, “Tell me more, dear,”
and she soulfully meowed:
“Well, I was mingled with the sky. I was comets
whizzing here and there. I was suns in heat, hell-I was
galaxies. But now look-I am
landlocked in fur.”
To this I said, ”I know exactly what
What to say about conversation between
“Love Poems From God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West” (Ladinksy, 2002)
Until next time...May you be well!
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By Kaveri Patel
You who always have
so many things to do
so many places to be
your mind spinning like
fan blades at high speed
each moment always a blur
because you’re never still.
I know you’re tired.
I also know it’s not your fault.
The constant brain-buzz is like
a swarm of bees threatening
to sting if you close your eyes.
You’ve forgotten something again.
You need to prepare for that or else.
You should have done that differently.
What if you closed your eyes?
Would the world fall
apart without you?
Or would your mind
become the open sky
flock of thoughts
flying across the sunrise
as you just watched and smiled.
The Middle Way - finding balance
What a beautiful way to invite us to reconnect with life. It's an invitation to unhook from the thinking mind as our tendency is to move through life with little awareness, a lot of judgment and a sense of an impending deadline. We live in a world of virtual thoughts and so it makes sense that as a society we are quite frequently stressed out, sad, discouraged and overwhelmed! The practice of mindfulness invites us to re-connect with life as it is instead of how we want/don't want it to be. This is the middle way the Buddha spoke of when he stated that freedom from suffering is possible.
Living in a world of virtual thoughts is exhausting...
As in the poem above, it often feels if thoughts come like a swarm of bees threatening to sting us if we pause. When we practice mindfulness the invitation is to stop, pause and come into contact with the direct experience of life in real time. Instead of thinking about what's next on the virtual to do list we shift our attention to the sensation of the breath, we feel, sense and open to what is is arising in the moment. As we do this, we come into direct contact with the aliveness, the vibrancy, the love, the sorrow, the pain, the joy. In taking moments to be present with what is arising, as it's happening, we see life beyond our thoughts about it. This is the freedom Buddha spoke of. It's challenging as the momentum of the mind is strong and our tendency to think is a conditioned way of moving through life. We may find that when there is a minute to pause we simply move on as our patterned tendency is to keep busy, get distracted and move on.
All aboard the thought train!
So this tendency to think is habit and it’s our conditioning. Gil Fronsdal compares this to getting on the thought train. A thought comes into your awareness and then you hop on the train and more thoughts follow. The sad part is that the train is taking you into the future or the past; into the territory of fear, anxiety, depression, sadness, catastrophic thinking and on and on. Thoughts and emotions merge and before you know it, the thoughts become a story and you’re reacting to a story that based on an illusion created by the mind!
Mindfulness is an invitation to reconnect with the aliveness all around us...
Instead of travelling down the habitual path of thinking, mindfulness invites us to step out of the thoughts and instead notice them as their happening in real time. We disengage from thinking and actually recognize the process of thinking. We watch with curiosity as thoughts unfold and we expand the awareness to notice what's happening in the body and heart as thoughts arise within the space of awareness. This breaking away from being lost in thoughts is like a reset button that allows us to come into balance with life as it really is. As we do this, we connect with wisdom which allows us to respond to what is happening in ways that are connecting, kind and compassionate.
An invitation to practice...
Take this opportunity right now to notice how your thoughts are? How are you relating to your thoughts? Is there curiosity or resistance? How is the body? Is it relaxed, contracted, numb? What emotion is present? How are you relating to the emotion? How is the heart? Are you able to respond with compassion, gratitude or kindness?
As we let go of living in our stories we come into direct contact with the aliveness that is all around us. It is an invitation to rejoin this vibrant, precious life.
A wise mindfulness teacher, Ajahn Chah invites us to," Try to be mindful and let things take their natural course. Then your mind will become still in any surroundings, like a clear forest pool and you will clearly see the nature of all things. You will see many strange and wonderful things come and go, but you will be still. This is the happiness of the Buddha."
May you be well...
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“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”
― Pema Chödrön, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times
Compassion is the hearts response to pain. Without it pain can be overwhelming. And it is also true that the pain then transforms into suffering. To connect with compassion takes courage. It means we stop trying to control or manipulate experience and open to life as it is. It is a turning towards rather then away and for this shift compassion is essential. The more we meet experience with an open mind and heart the more we free ourselves from limited beliefs that keep us stuck in isolation, feelings of inadequacy, resentment and the list can go on and on. Instead we learn to open to what is present in our body, mind and heart and bring a feeling of kindness, understanding and compassion. Just as we would if we saw a loved one suffering, we respond in this way that heals and reconnects us to life.
Please take a moment to read the poem below and allow the words to land in the heart.
Opening the mind and awakening the heart...
Every moment is precious...
In moments of deep sadness
When we feel isolated and alone...
In moments of joy when our mind and hearts
are filled with the vibrant energy of being alive
Through joy, sorrow, loss, gain, praise, blame, fame, fortune
It’s important to remember
We all experience moments of pain
Moments of joy
Moments of grief
This is our common humanity
It’s what connects us heart to heart
In those moments
There is no me, mine or I
We are all interconnected
When we forget this there is deep suffering
So, it’s important to remember
you are not alone…
Just as you want to happy so do all living beings
Just like you suffer so do all
When we open our hearts to be with what is painful
We open to the healing power of compassion
We walk the path of wisdom together
knowing we are all drops in the ocean
that together we are the ocean
Pause...breathe...remember your true nature
"Make your mind as vast as the sky"
Last line by Matthieu Ricard