BPM Service with Live Oak Sangha and Swamp Sangha October 15, 2017
“Cultivating the Garden Within” Kevin Conlin
I am a gardener in the conventional world. And I love this metaphor of “cultivating the garden within” for my spiritual practice. It provides a framework of how to work with my mind.Sitting practice, meditation, and mindfulness have given me little glimpses into how I react to events, life’s circumstances. I’m reminded to accept that life is not under my control – unless were going to engage in a discussion about cause and effect, and karma. We’ll save that for another time. AND – I can choose how I will react to those experiences. Many years ago, I spent some time reflecting on key reminders to guide me through the day… through life. I labeled them “Daily Thoughts for Living”. I encourage you to make your own list. For me, these help me set my motivation each day, for my next activity. They plants the seeds, along with the needed causes and conditions for what results I might experience in the day ahead. There’s nothing special about ten, and all have equal significance.
Here’s my list:
1. Be Kind… to everyone… respect life
2. Reach out to others… pay it forward
3. Smile… Laugh… Play, don’t be too serious, Kevin; have fun!
4. Reflect on impermanence and death The Gatha on Impermanence is one of my favorite reminders… it goes like thisGatha on Impermanence The day has now ended, Our lives are shorter. Now we look carefully.What have we done? Noble Sangha, with all of our heart, let us be diligent, engaging in the practice. Let us live deeply, free from our afflictions, aware of impermanenceso that life does not drift away without meaning.
5. Be quiet some every day; take time to meditate, reflect, act.
6. Be curious… about everything!
7. Listen deeply, speak lovingly… so very simple; it appears this might require a lifetime of practice though.
8. Notice the stories I create… mostly they are just stories, my perceptions; remember to question my perceptions ask myself, “Is it so?”, “Are you sure?”
9. Take care of my body and the world around me.
10. Be grateful… cultivate an ‘attitude of gratitude’… and remember to say “Thank you”!
11. Okay… I’ve added another… Eleven – I already have enough conditions in this moment to be happy.I’ll close with a verse… by Albert Einstein. A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. We experience our thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of our consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
Personal Reflection ~ Nancy Wright
I grew up in a family where I was loved, and where loving your neighbor as yourself was taught as the highest moral code. But if that was the goal, I was often puzzled by what seemed to be contradictory instructions on how to get there. Love your neighbor, but your neighbor is an abomination. Love yourself, but you are drenched in sin. Love seemed like a prize you got for good behavior, and I saw an awful lot of bad behavior, both in myself, and in others who were trying to follow confusing guidelines. I wanted to learn how to love, but I felt like I needed better instructions.
In the ‘80s, I discovered Buddhism. Instructions to end suffering and increase compassion! At last! The earliest texts available in English, however, were mostly based on the Zen tradition, which is pretty bare bones and keeps talking about emptiness – a concept that I now realize I completely misunderstood. I knew it was important to meditate, so I tried. My mind was most definitely NOT empty. The thoughts were bouncing around my head like crazed monkeys. The idea that I could empty my mind of these thoughts seemed about as realistic as bench-pressing my house. So I gave up. I kept reading popular books on Buddhism, but I convinced myself that my “practice” would have to be things like yoga, or running, journaling or reading. My intellect was smug and satisfied, but nothing really sunk in. I stayed a prisoner of my emotions.
Then I picked up a book by Pema Chodron, an American woman who became one of the first ordained Tibetan nuns from the US. She described her meditation as a practice not of emptying her mind, but of observing it without judgment. And it was VERY active. Like mine. She joked: “If it weren’t for my mind, my mediation would be excellent.” But joking aside, she explained that meditation is about “simply exploring humanity and all of creation in the form of ourselves. We can become the world’s greatest experts on anger, jealousy, and self-deprecation, as well as on joyfulness, clarity, and insight. Everything that human beings feel, we feel. We can become extremely wise and sensitive to all of humanity and the whole universe by knowing ourselves, just as we are.”
So that is my path, full of bumps and backtracks and occasional potholes. Can I see the benefit? I think so. I know I’m prone to anger, quick to judge myself and others, and I know that when that happens, my heart closes. Like I can physically feel the contraction in my chest. And when my heart closes, I know that the possibilities for connection, understanding, and compassion shut down too.
I’ve also had moments where I can see what happens when the heart stays open, even when there is pain and the mind is telling me that my anger and resentment are justified. In those moments, the tiny little version of me somehow grows into what a Zen priest, Joko Beck, calls a “Bigger Container, where “the amount of life I can hold without it upsetting me, dominating me” expands into this calm compassionate space. It’s not an airy fairy bliss state that benefits no one but me. Oddly, it allows for solutions, connections, and real change in situations that I thought entrenched and unchangeable.
I spend most of my life in a small container, but I’ve seen the Big One and it is what I want for myself and everyone else. And that is why I keep practicing.
Buddhism in 3 Minutes (or So) ~ Nancy Wright
About 2600 years ago, a very bright and determined guy decided to do a thought experiment – by intensely observing his own thoughts and feelings. Sort of an Einstein of the mind. He had noticed that humans experience a lot of suffering and he set out to try to figure out why, and if it could be avoided. (Small diversion – we are not talking about pain – which is going to happen as long as you have a body. Pain is what happens, for instance, when you get hit by a dart. Suffering is what happens when you try to relieve the pain of the first dart by shooting a second one, either at yourself or someone else. Or both.)
So back to this determined guy. He left a very cushy home and went out to find wise teachers. He learned everything they taught, followed their extreme disciplines denying his own body and senses. He became a walking skeleton. He was intense. Yet the answers to his questions seemed no closer. One day, sitting there with his ribs sticking out, he remembered a time when he was a boy, sitting under a rose apple tree, listening to the birds sing, feeling the breeze, totally present – he had experienced intense joy. Spurred by that memory, he realized that he had everything he needed inside him to answer his questions, and that he did not have to deny his senses or abuse his body.
He turned his attention inward to study his own mind. What patterns of thought gave rise to kindness, joy, compassion, and equanimity? What gave rise to suffering? He realized that his mind, left to its own devices, clung to pleasant feelings, ran from unpleasant feelings, and then blithely ignored the fact that these knee-jerk reactions often led to harming himself or others. But he also realized that, like an eager puppy, the mind could be trained. So he trained his to stay – neither clinging nor running away from feelings and thoughts, but knowing them as they arise and disappear.
Then he taught others how to train their minds. But instead of using his authority to proclaim the truth he encouraged doubt and scrutiny. He said don’t take my word for it. He said try it and judge for yourself.