Thursday, May 31, 2012

Worthy to be

Meditation addresses the basic sense of feeling worthy to be. - Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche at "Being Brave," a Shambhala sangha retreat.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Just. Be.

One day, when Osel Rangdrol was a boy -- when he was still Osel Rangdrol -- his father called him over. "Come here," he said. The boy, who was around 10 then, hesitated, expecting that he would be drilled on homework or assigned work to do. "Come here," his father said again, with no hint of what would be asked.

The boy waited, then gave in to the inevitable and walked to his father's side.

"Let's just be," his father said.

Just be? the boy wondered, accustomed to being instructed. But there were no more instructions, just a boy and his dad sitting together with no tests, no pressure, just a moment.

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche told that story at the Being Brave Shambhala Sangha Retreat at Karme Choling. He was the boy; his father was the venerable Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, founder of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage.

The Sakyong gave many teachings during the five-day retreat, but I was especially touched by this one -- which he described as his first transmission from his father. He's received many more complicated transmissions, he said, but none more profound.

(The photo shows Chogyam Trungpa and Sakyong Mipham, date uncertain.)

Perhaps this struck me as particularly poignant because I think a lot of us received similar transmissions. I know I did. My dad used to sit on the front porch on summer evenings, smoking cigarettes and observing the world. Being. Sometimes my grandfather, who lived upstairs in the house where we lived downstairs, would join him. Maybe they'd talk politics or baseball. But the talk wasn't the point. Being was.

The neighborhood kids were part of the passing scene, rolling back and forth with the flow of our games. When the streetlights came on and we headed home, he would just be there.

Often on summer evenings, as the light begins to change, as the heat sinks into the asphalt, I wander out onto my front steps. My hands ache for the ritual of taking a cigarette from a pack, lighting it, and watching the smoke and the day dissipate. I don't smoke; my dad died from cancer that showed up first in his lungs -- I recognize the longing for what it is.

I sit, sometimes on the porch steps, more often on my cushion upstairs. The quality of light changes. The day dims.

Let's just be.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Retreating to bliss and staying present in the world

I want to tell you about Being Brave, The Shambhala Sangha Retreat I just finished. Really, I want to report on it. That's what I do, professionally. I want to tell you about what we did, how many people were there, how close the cushions were set. I want to tell you about one-bowl meals and quote pithy quotes from Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and the archaryas and shastri. There were many memorable quotes.

But being brave is not about reporting on external circumstances -- it's about connecting with our very human feelings, whatever they are, without judgment. "The first part of being brave is simply being," Acharya Suzanne Duquette said in the first talk.

"We're welcoming in humanity," Acharya Duquette said later. "We're not retiring into bliss."

That may have surprised some people who came to Vermont for a long weekend because, face it, a weekend in Vermont sounds a lot like retiring into bliss. When you lead a busy life there's a delight in leaving it behind temporarily. The wifi rarely worked, and to get cellphone reception, you had to walk to the far end of the parking lot near the recycling tent. No TV. Outside of meals, food was limited. We were there, and many of the usual means of escape were not.

Of course, many of our escape routes are mental -- daydreaming, planning, replaying old memories, anticipating new ones. Just because you look like you're meditating doesn't mean that you are.

"I've seen a lot of people practicing next to themselves, watching themselves meditate," the Sakyong said. "It's time to just be."

Just being is hard. We think we have to be something or be someone. Anxiety, the Sakyong said, comes from not being sure who we're supposed to be. We're Buddhists -- we're supposed to be peaceful, calm, accepting. We don't get annoyed.

Oh, but we do. I do. Steamed tofu cubes. Again. Woman in front of me who is inching back on her zabuton, which is jammed up next to my zabuton. Judging the woman in front of me, who is pretty much the only person I can see enough of to judge. Judging myself for judging.

I've learned in mindfulness meditation to note all that. Be aware of it. Let it go.

At the Being Brave retreat, we were instructed to not only see our feelings but to embrace them, to be with them, to feel the humanness of our feelings -- and the connection they contain to all humans and to our basic goodness.

We think of meditation as something that separates us from the world, that takes us, perhaps, to Vermont for a long weekend. Allowing feelings to simply be, to connect us with our humanness, gets at the basic sense of feeling worthy to be, the Sakyong said.

Often we start meditating because we think there's something wrong with our experience, that meditation can fix that and make it right, Acharya Adam Lobel said. But there's nothing wrong with our experience. And if we accept that and fully accept our experience, it changes the practice.

"Meditation is abiding in a space that is infused with care no matter what arises," he said.

Even when you've got your own personal meditation fly.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Whose shirt is it anyway?

The clothes you left behind
are fair game.
House rules:
What you choose not to take
can be worn by those who stay.
So, yes, I am wearing your shirt.
It was on the floor
in the closet,
rolled into a ball.
I like the colors –
They are my colors.
Not surprising.
You have my jaw, my voice, my heart.
I have your shirt.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Stories R Us

Stories are not abstractions from life, but how we engage in it. We make stories, and those stories make us human. -- David R. Loy, The World is Made of Stories

I wonder what it would have been like if someone had come along and in a quite friendly manner had asked, 'Well, young one, what do you think you are, a boy or a girl?' What would it have been like not to have been afraid of getting hit for giving some wrong answer? -- Kate Bornstein, "Gender Outlaw"

Instead of getting rid of stories, one can liberate them: storying more flexibly, according to the situation. Shunyata, "emptiness," is a heuristic device to free us from wherever we are stuck. -- Loy

The culture may not simply be creating roles for naturally gendered people, the culture may be in fact creating the gendered people. ... In other words, the culture may be creating gender. -- Bornstein

Friday, May 11, 2012

Buddhamom Says 'Enough'

Time magazine threw hot wax on the "mommy war" construct, making it blaze up in pretty colors and keep flaming long after there was any actual fuel to burn with a headline that asks: Are You Mom Enough?

Thanks to a provocative photo of a mother breast-feeding a preschooler, the subsequent discussion has focused on breast-feeding. But that's a sideshow.

What does it mean to be "mom enough?"Are there degrees of "mom"ness?

In ancient times, "mother" was a useful concept in teaching. Everyone knew what a mother was and that she was indisputably good. Now you could debate endlessly whether the term goes to the originator of the genetic material, the body that grows a baby, the one who is legally responsible for it, the one who cares for it, and whether the mom can be a man.
And that's even before we get to part about "enough."

So the classic instruction to "regard all beings as your mother" or the realization that you've lived through so many lifetimes that every being has been your mother at some point and therefore is worthy of love and respect doesn't work today like it did 2,500 years ago. If you didn't feel cared for or nurtured by your "mother," you might want to envision all beings as your cat instead. Our love for our cats is far less conflicted than our feelings about our mothers.

From the mother side of things, it's easy to feel -- in a culture that asks things like "Are You Mom Enough?" -- that you are failing, that you are an inherently bad parent even as you hold the awareness that you are a basically good being.

What to do?

Try this:

Meditate. Settle in. Bring your attention to your heart center.. Visualize your child or your mother, at any stage of life that presents itself. Note what you note -- and let it go. Let go of the jammy hands, the fussing, the magenta hair, the questions, the silence, the demands for attention or that you go away. Let go of worries about the future or their grades or their weight or their friends. Note the things you adore and the things that irritate and let them go. Keep peeling off layers of self and social constructs until there's nothing there but your two warm hearts, nothing but the wish for this being to be happy --without holding onto any definition of what that means, what would make them happy. Or you happy. Only the wish.

That's the pure unconditional love all beings deserve. And if you can touch it, then the next time they call/don't call/complain/whateversetsyouoff, see if you can respond from that place, not the place that tells you what you should do.

And if that doesn't work, regard all beings as a cow does its calf. Or as you do your cat.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Forgiving is letting go

The Buddha didn't talk about forgiveness per se.

Maybe he didn't need to. After all, each person owns their own karma -- what they've built up from past actions, what they're doing now to influence the future. If we see how our actions stem from myriad interdependent causes and conditions and understand that our future depends on the actions we take now, then there is nothing to forgive, no one to forgive or to seek forgiveness from.

But for those of us who are still in the process of discovering our intrinsically good buddhanature, forgiveness can be a useful tool for scraping off the schmutz. It's intimately related to letting go -- if we're holding on to a grudge against someone or judging something we've done, it's still got its hooks in us. Forgiveness releases it.

"Hatred never ends by more hating, but only by abandoning hate. This is an eternal law," the Buddha said. And forgiveness is a way of letting go of hate.

On the Buddhist path, practices generally start with the practitioner.

Say you are being hard on yourself because you haven't been meditating as much as you think you should. Or that your meditation hasn't been as good as it should be. You read Pema Chodron; you know that gentleness is called for. But you just don't have that available. You're a fuck up, a loser. You can't even be nice to yourself. You do not deserve niceness.

See how that first thought spirals into a general attitude of worthlessness? What if, instead, you could stop the progression? Ideally you'd stop it at the first thought, before the train gets rolling. But what if you notice it only after the train of thoughts has made it to the Continental Divide, providing much material for future self-flagellation? Then forgiveness comes in handy.

Whatever you did or didn't do is in the past. This moment you have the opportunity to begin again. You did the best you could with the mind you had, the time you had. Today you're different, time is different. (Note that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is delusional; awareness also has to spark a change, or at least the knowledge that you're making a choice not to change.)

Forgive yourself for not being the best meditator. Forgive yourself for thinking that you should be the best meditator. Forgive yourself for the nasty names you called yourself in your mind.

And once you begin to see that you didn't set out to mess up, that it was the inadvertent result of choices that seemed good in that moment, maybe you see that the sixth-grade classmate who mocked your shoes or your haircut or your lunch or the friend who didn't return a phone call also didn't have the tools to make wise choices. Consider that in that moment  they were doing their best with what they had. It wasn't all about you. Forgive them and free yourself from the hook.

image from wikimedia commons. A woman writes a message on the "Wall of Forgiveness", plywood sheets covering broken windows on the HBC Building, following the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riot. Author is Guilhem Vellut from Vancouver, Canada.