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Archive for December, 2012

found a couple of typos, this is the fixed version, sorry about that…Kathy

unlockthedoortolearning

Chill out I said to my 92-year-old mother with Alzheimer’s as she was pacing around the house for about one hour saying “let’s get out of here.”   Needless-to-say, we had just come home from running errands, volunteering at her church with the clean-up committee, grocery shopping, and visiting the library.  I thought about her and 99.9% of the rest of us running away from silence, quiet, peace, sitting and simply enjoying doing nothing!

When did we unlearn the art of leisure?  If we watch some old black-and-white movies we often see people in lawn chairs reading, or writing a note to a long lost friend, or sharing a glass of lemonade with a family member or neighbor.  We may even see them taking a leisurely stroll on the shore, through the woods, or across a large green expanse with wild flowers strewn about.

My best friend Pat gave me a…

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Chill out I said to my 92-year-old mother with Alzheimer’s as she was pacing around the house for about one hour saying “let’s get out of here.”   Needless-to-say, we had just come home from running errands, volunteering at her church with the clean-up committee, grocery shopping, and visiting the library.  I thought about her and 99.9% of the rest of us running away from silence, quiet, peace, sitting and simply enjoying doing nothing!

When did we unlearn the art of leisure?  If we watch some old black-and-white movies we often see people in lawn chairs reading, or writing a note to a long lost friend, or sharing a glass of lemonade with a family member or neighbor.  We may even see them taking a leisurely stroll on the shore, through the woods, or across a large green expanse with wild flowers strewn about.

My best friend Pat gave me a wonderful little book by David Baird, A Thousand Paths to enlightenment (2000), and in it he wrote, “There is no greater curse than the lack of contentment.”  What does contentment mean to you?  If you were asked to define it what would you say?  If you were asked to give an example out of your life what would it be?  How long would it take you to remember it?  How long ago was it?  Mine was just last night.

As I waited to pick up a friend from his new job I gave myself time to listen to a beautiful CD that I checked out from the library entitled “Holy Harmony” by Jonathan Goldman.  When I read the back of the case it said it was specifically written for deep relaxation and healing.  After a busy day of work and errands and helping my mom and my friend I sure could use some relaxation.   And boy did I get it!  The CD is one track that lasts 72 minutes.

I turned down the lights, propped myself up on my bed with a bundle of lovely pillows, put the ear buds in and spent the next 72 minutes in another world.  Only a few times did any thoughts enter my mind beyond the thought of how relaxed I was, or how beautiful the chant was. I repeated the words a few times to embed them in my memory, creating new synapses that I could recall when I needed the relaxation and did not have access to the CD.

How fantastic the mind is when we just let it relax for a few minutes.  Les Kaye in his insightful book, Zen at Work (1996), writes, “Our minds move constantly: we cannot stop them.  If we try to stop our minds, we do not understand their nature.  Zen practice is to stay aware of our moving minds to recognize their movement but not be distracted by it.  Not being distracted by our moving minds is how we quiet them.  So there is no need to try to stop our minds.  We just try not to be caught by their movement.  Then we can see how things really are (page 129).”

Whether you practice Zen or any other contemplative practice you can still learn how to “chill-out.” I read a book many years ago that asked the reader to spend 24 hours in bed when they were NOT sick—just to see if they could do it.  The author said that most people cannot do it!  We have this Puritan work ethic drilled in us that tells us that unless we are “doing” we are “nothing” or “no one.”  Yet, all the great thinkers, philosophers, and spiritual leaders throughout time took many hours and even many years just sitting,  or meditating,  or praying, or walking, or hiking around their countries contemplating the beauty of their mind and spirit.

Let’s take the time this year to find as many places and ways as possible to simply “chill out.”  Discover for yourself what that word means, what it looks like, what it feels like, and respect and love yourself enough to go forward with your chill-out time!  If you don’t you just may end up dead in mind, body, or spirit from the stress of non-chilling!  Goodness gracious that would not be an adventure you would want to embark upon for 2013—would it now?!

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At the end of Ronald and Mary Hulnick’s wonderful book Loyalty to Your Soul The Heart of Spiritual Psychology they write “. . . spiritual evolution slowly seeps into every crack and crevice of your life, and you slowly shift from saying the true answer to living the true answer (page 203).”  This adventure in living is a special opportunity to learn how to live a spiritual life instead of a material life.  It is for each of us in this New Year an opportunity to live a life of love, peace, joy, compassion, and forgiveness: Forgiving others and more importantly forgiving ourselves.

The Hulnick’s like to refer to an analogy of carrying a backpack filled with rocks on our backs every day.  These rocks are a symbol of our anger, hatred, fear, rules, rights/wrongs, must does, and self-recrimination that have built up throughout our lives.  Life is hard, just like the rocks we carry around, the rocks that are dragging us down in our jobs, relationships, health, and most importantly our ability to arise to a place of positive self-realization.

Many of us may have experiences such as Emperor Wu did when he mourned the passing of the venerable bodhisattva, Bodhidharma,  as described in Janet Jiryu Abels book, Making Zen Your Own Giving Life to Twelve Key Golden Age Ancestors (2012).

Alas, I saw him without seeing him.

I met him without meeting him.

I encountered him without encountering him.

Now, as before, I regret this deeply.

She asks us to ponder these questions:

  • Who do we see without seeing?
  • Who do we meet without meeting?
  • What do we encounter without encountering?
  • Do we regret this deeply?
  • And if we do, what are we going to do about it (page 20)?

These questions brought to mind an experience I had in Target as I was checking out one day.  I ran in for a few simple things and was so engrossed in my own thoughts and to-do list that I did not pay attention to the person who was checking me out until I saw this beautiful hand reach out to me to give me my change.  I realized I had made him “invisible.”  I had not looked at him, no less made eye contact with him.  Had I left the store before this thought came into my mind I would not have been able to tell you if the clerk was a man, woman, young, old, black, brown, or white.

So I took the opportunity to slow down, to look him in the eyes, smile, and thank him for his help and I wished him a good day.  Jiryu goes on to write at the end of this passage, “Where is Bodhidharma right now? Wake up! Bodhidharma is sitting on your cushion.”  He or she is serving you in the department stores, teaching your children; putting out your fires, answering your 911 calls, mowing your lawns, nursing your sick, or painting your house.  He or she is you and you are him or her.

I felt like I had dropped a great big rock from my backpack after that encounter.  I’d like to drop many more of them as I work my way through 2013.

This realization also helped me move in my life from just “saying the true answer to living the true answer.”  I hope that this means that each day I can actually see spiritual evolution slowly seeping into every crack and crevice of my life…that I can meet Bodhidharma on the cushion and in the grocery store.  Wish me luck!

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In The Dhammapada (1936) translated by Irving Babbitt it says, “Whatever a hater may do to a hater, or an enemy to an enemy, a wrongly-directed mind will do us greater mischief (page 9).”  We have had some terribly “wrongly-directed” minds in 2012—minds that have killed and minds that have kept legislation from being passed to help create jobs, feed the hungry, take care of the poor, the elderly, the disabled, our veterans, women’s healthcare, and more.  At this Christmas time it would behoove us to review our thoughts and actions to evaluate their intentions and their consequences.

Have you had thoughts of hatred toward others this year?  Have you created “mischief” in your life and theirs by the actions you have taken as those actions followed those thoughts down that path of negativity and revenge?  Revenge does not have to be a great and dramatic event like what happened this month at Sandyhook Elementary School; it can be as simple as an unfriendly or accusatory e-mail, or a note left on someone’s desk, or a negative thought or words about him or her.

We can never know the consequences of our actions.  That e-mail may have been enough to make that person lose his or her job, or feel badly about his self or herself and done something untoward afterwards.  It may have even made them get into an accident on the way home because the person’s thoughts were on it and not on the road, the traffic, or their driving. It may not be killing of the body, but it sure can be killing of the mind, spirit, and soul.

The Dhammapada goes on to say, “Not a mother, not a father will do so much, nor any other relative; a well-directed mind will do us greater service (page 9).”  So regardless of what you learned at the knee of your mother or father or favorite grandparent or relative or family friend—your thinking has made your life what it is today!

Charles Fillmore, co-founder of Unity Church, always said, “Thoughts held in mind manifest after their kind.” What does that mean?  Good thoughts bring good things into your life.  Negative thoughts bring negative things into your life.  You cannot give out hate, anger, and animosity and get back love, peace, and joy.

That is NOT the way the world works.  Remember the world is round, not just so it can fly through space on a circular pattern rather than be flying through space spinning out of control hither and thither, but so we can say “what goes around comes around.”  From winter we enter spring, which takes us to summer and then into fall.  This happens year after year, decade after decade, century after century, eon after eon.  The world spins round and round…and your thoughts do the same in your head and determine your actions and words.

As we take time this holiday season to contemplate the tragedy at Sandyhook Elementary let us think about the events in our lives that may not have left physical death, but may have left fear, sadness, anxiety, or trepidation in ourselves or in another.   We could have tempered our thoughts and the actions resulting from them and turned them into thoughts of good, love, compassion, empathy and the like and watched the growth of love, peace, and joy instead.

We never know who can turn into a child like the young men who killed in Colorado, Virginia, Connecticut, and elsewhere.  But surely we do not want to be the catalyst for the next one. So let us revise this quote for 2013: “A loving-directed mind will do great things for us and others and ultimately for the world.”

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Yikes, another year coming to an end and I haven’t even completed all the goals and to-do lists for 2012!  The older I get the faster time goes and the more fun I’m having the faster time goes. When I am feeling sad, mad, bad, or bored the time seems to be endless dragging like the car with a flat tire screeching and thumping along. Sometimes I feel as though—soon there will be no time left at all.

Some people think the world will end in a few days as they follow the Mayan Calendar.  When I’m feeling down some days I hope that the Mayan’s were right, but when I’m feeling great I’m sure hoping they are not!

So how do I plan for the next minute, hour, day, week, or year?  Do I just let it come as it comes, do I set my goals? Do I plan, organize, collate, separate, and loudly pronounce “the New Year is coming!”  But who made up time anyway?  I’ve always figured that we had time just so we didn’t have to do everything all at once.  It was a great idea to be able to stretch things out, take one thing at a time or simply rest and relax and say the heck with it all and pull the covers up over my head!

Several years ago someone thought of a great idea and they began publishing a magazine entitled “Simple Life.”  I’ve looked at it several times and even found some wonderful things in it. I even decided to take up the mantle.  And so, over the years I have moved from a 4 bedroom home to a 2 bedroom home and I even lived in a one-room efficiency apartment.  I especially loved that (so little to clean!) until the squirrels moved into the attic and kept me up all night dancing and prancing like a family of sugar plum fairies dancing in the night.

But without my goals I feel like I would be a rudderless boat just floating around the ocean.  I can’t imagine a life without goals.  Even the Buddha had goals he searched and searched for enlightenment for many years, through many pathways, until he discovered it.  Then he continued to teach and spread the word to anyone who wanted to listen.

In the Metta Sutra of Shakyamuni Buddha he says, “May all beings be happy. May they be joyous and live in safety. All living beings, whether weak or strong, in high or middle, or low realms of existence, small or great, visible or invisible, near or far, born or to be born, may they all be happy.”  Is this yet another goal?

Jesus had goals.  He set down the Beatitudes didn’t he?  He taught, shared, prayed, and lived a life for others to emulate.  It is written in Matthew 5:18-19 just after the listing of the Beatitudes these words:

“For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

To me it sounds like a very powerful set of goals that he was laying out for each of His followers to begin accomplishing.

It looks like even Steven Covey with his books and CDs and DVDs filled with tips on goal setting was just following in the path of those two great masters.  So you may want to set goals for your life, live those goals freely and fully, and then watch your life move in the direction of those things that you have laid out.

If you don’t set goals you may be letting the winds of fate, and time, and circumstance rock you like that small boat on the Atlantic trying to cross the sea to a new land.  Life is a magical experiment that needs to be played with, tested, viewed, reviewed and begun each moment of each day of each year.  And who cares if my goals from last year have not been finished or fulfilled I can try to get them done in 2013. I can throw them out like that old warn out pair of sneakers I let go of last week or I can just wish and hope and dream that my life gets better rather than worse.

But regardless of which way I chose, the path is mine to live.

 

 

 

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December 8th according to tradition in Zen Buddhism is the day celebrated when Shakyamuni Buddha was sitting in mediation under the Bodhi-tree and at the first glimpse of the morning star, attained enlightenment.  History says that when he looked up he cried out, “I and the great earth and beings simultaneously achieve the way.”  It’s probably true also that the day of Jesus’ birth, when he was slapped on his little butt, he too cried out. To the joy of his parent’s ears, I am sure!  He let them know he was alive and well and ready to live the mission for which he was born.

Whether we believe Jesus was actually born on December 25th or not December seems to be the month chosen to commemorate the birth/rebirth of these two great men or what we call in Zen Buddhism “Bodhisattvas of the world.”

One of the great teachers of Buddhism in America is Father Robert Kennedy, in his book Zen Gifts to Christians (2004), he writes these words about the Buddha’s enlightenment experience, “He exults in his realization that he and the great earth and the whole cosmos and everything in it simultaneously achieve enlightenment; he realizes that they all share the same reality.  It was this experience that launched Zen Buddhism as an international religion of wisdom and compassion (page 68).”

And for Christians we see Christ telling his followers, “I and the Father are one.”  (John 10:30) He says, “The meek shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5) He nor the Buddha championed war, killing, prejudice, hatred, ignoring suffering, and the like since if we are all one we are only hurting ourselves as we hurt others.  I cannot separate myself from you.  This has been proven by those who are coming back from our wars with the increased incidence of PTSD and suicide.

Christ’s life was about teaching compassion for those who were suffering, in pain, in need, and in want.   The Buddha and the Christ both said that there will always be suffering in the world.  Why should our behavior contribute to that suffering?  Let our behavior help minimize the suffering and recognize the divinity in everyone and everything.  Father Kennedy goes on to write, “. . . when we touch our neighbor, we do not only touch a friend of Christ’s, we touch Christ himself. When we touch Christ, we touch the one who sent him (page 71).

It is so in Buddhism.  When we touch the lonely, the poor, the suffering, and those in need we touch the Buddha.  What difference is there between the two: culture, geography, and calendar years.  The rest was added on by man and the writers of history books.  But what really matters is their lives and the way they lived them.  Their deeds and the way they performed them.  Their wisdom and the way they shared it with anyone who would listen.

At this time when Zen Buddhists celebrate Rohatsu and Christians celebrate Christmas we should put aside our man made differences and begin to understand what Jesus and Shakyamuni Buddha understood that we are all “one” with God, with mind, with others, with everything.  Let us break the bonds of separation and “other than ness.” Father Kennedy reports the story of the Asian Catholic bishops visit to Thailand in January of 2000 to evangelize Asia.  “…because they felt they should be sensitive to the enduring Buddhist spirituality of Asia and since they were aware that the Buddhists saw Christ and the Bodhisattva as one, the bishops offered an alternative way to evangelize Asia.  They claimed that although they did not deny the uniqueness of Christ, they believed they should not present Christ as simply unique.  They proposed to portray both Christ and the church in a way that resembled the Bodhisattva: That is humble companions and partners of Asians in their common quest for the truth (page 77).”

Both the Buddha and Jesus awoke to the knowledge that all is one.  So on these two very special days of the year let us continue the quest for peace, love, and compassion every day of every week of every year.

Namaste: I behold the Christ/Buddha in you.

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