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Archive for February, 2016

As an English teacher and writer I love words! I have uploaded dictionary.com onto my cell phone and signed up for the Word of the Day. How fantastic is that? One moment every day I have the opportunity to stop and look at the word that appears on my phone. I read the word and then instantly, in that moment, know if it is a word I already know, a word I think I know, or a word I have never heard before. When I check it out I often discover things I may not have known about the word: the pronunciation, spelling, meaning, or how to use it in a sentence.

In that moment the word comes alive. It is given breadth, and width, and feeling, and meaning, and motion and power. Some words feel good when I say them and I may repeat them over several times. I may try to say them in sentences or change the pitch or tone of how I say the word and in that moment I am taken up into the word and the power it can hold in a conversation, a speech, an email, a diary, or on Twitter. Sometimes, oddly enough, I do not like the way the word “feels” in my mouth when I say it. I always try to avoid those words!

The words being spoken in our presidential campaigns for 2016 can be divisive, harmful, hurtful, angry, and mean. They can tear down a person, a town, an ethnic group, or a nation the moment they are spoken. Let us hear some words of up lifting, of compassion, of caring, and of love for humanity instead. The moment cannot be taken back, you cannot grab those words like the line of a fishing pole and pull in the fish and gently take the hook out of its mouth and drop the fish back into the lake. They are in the hearts and minds of the people, forever on the internet, on Twitter, and in the archives of some newspaper.

Everyone has wished at some time or another in his or her life that they could take back those words that were spoken in the mystery of that moment. Charles Fillmore the co-founder of Unity Church said that words have power and weight and measure and once spoken in that moment they are thrown out into the stratosphere and beyond and vibrate the cosmos farther than man can see or travel. In any moment they can cut like a knife or cure like a medicine.

I remember being in a hospice unit visiting one of my congregants who was suffering from a huge tumor the size of grapefruit on her neck. I held her hand and we prayed together I told her the choice was hers to go or stay. I could feel the calm overcome her body, in that moment, she chose life. Three months later she came back to one of my classes and we all celebrated life with her. She shared a story with us that had us all amazed. On a follow-up visit to her doctor low and behold the tumor had disappeared and he told her that because of her he now believed in a God, there was no other explanation in his mind in that moment words healed them both.

In this moment your words are healing or hurting or killing. There is power in words—choose wisely.

Let me know how that goes.

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

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Remember the moment you first touched the smooth skin of a new born baby, or the soft fur of a kitten or a puppy. In that moment the mind began to move quickly into a place of joy. Remember that winter moment when you saw the snow falling and its softness and silence swept you off to another place and time. Or remember the moment you walked on the beach and saw the beauty of the sun rising quietly over the horizon or when you saw the harvest moon hanging like a helium balloon in the heavens so close you could reach out and touch it.

Some say that people “touch” us in various ways as well. Some touch our hearts with joy, others with sadness, and others may raise in us fear, anger, or animosity. But touch us they do. It is through the power of touch that we live whether it is a verbal, physical, emotional, or mental touch we are affected by it. How are you affecting others with your touch? How are you affecting yourself? How are others affecting you?

Learning how to be “mindful” in all situations is a great way to discover how we touch ourselves and how we touch others. Let’s do an experiment today. How about taking the time to really focus on how we touch others (people/animals/plants) and things (objects) and how they touch us. When you touch your dog or cat how do they respond to your touch? How do you respond to them? When you speak to another with kindness and love how does that feel? When you speak to another with anger or condemnation how does that feel?

What does the spoon actually feel like when you take it from the drawer or raise it to your mouth to eat the food you have placed on it? Is it cold, hard, smooth, carved with a design? Are you being touched by the music you listen to each day? If so, how? Is it fun, fast, happy, sad, melodic, or disconcerting? Or have you paid so little attention to it that you cannot even answer the question?

I once heard a young comedian say that his father always listened to the music from the 60’s and it was so “happy” all the time. “Lollipop, lollipop oh lolly, lollipop, lollipop!” It was way too happy for him! Have you been “way too happy” recently? Have you been touched by your music in a positive way? If not, try listening to something that makes you happy! Life is too short to be touched by negative thoughts and feelings.

In Buddhism we work to stay in the moment and not grasp on to anything good, bad, or indifferent. Discover how you are being “touched” in each moment. Then accept the moment and move on as Buson writes:
Such a moon—
Even the thief
Pauses to sing [1].

Touch life, pause, and move on to the next adventure in the now moment. Let me know how that works for you.
In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai
[1] Mascetti, M. D. (2001) The Little Book of Zen. Fall River Press: NY, NY.

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bodhi leaf from Michael's 106 bows ceremony of passingThe Bodhi Tree (Ficus religiosa) is known for its prominent place in Buddhism as the place where Siddhartha Gautama (Shakyamuni Buddha) meditated for 49 days after which he attained complete enlightenment. The leaf shown here was collected by me at the Brevard Zen Center on a silent retreat. This beautiful tree is located on the front of the property and stands as a symbol of the opportunity given to all the retreatants to experience the mystery of the moment for themselves. To discover the oneness that is everywhere present in this eternal now moment in which we live.

We stood beneath the tree in memory of our dear friend Michael who had passed quietly in his sleep the day before our scheduled retreat. It is tradition to do 106 bows in memory and to honor those who have studied with us and brought the dharma to life in the here and now.

What moment are you living in? Are your thoughts and feelings taking you into the past or projecting you into the future? How many minutes of now have you missed, forgotten, or never discovered.

As a Unity minister I found that often my congregants would come to me with their problems and say how they were unable to sleep for days because of the wandering of the mind into projections of the future. I would ask them this question: What could you do about the unpaid bill, or the job interview, or that argument with your teenager at three in the morning? Of course, there response was: absolutely nothing.

It is not easy, but it is also not impossible, to quiet the mind–it simply takes practice. Living in this moment is focusing on each breath with peace and quiet and joy knowing that you still have life within you, it is being one with all that exists with peace, love, and compassion.

In order to be there for others I have to be there for myself first. I have to keep my mind, body, and spirit healthy and loved. And then I will have the ability and the energy to be there for others.

It is amazing how much energy, love, and compassion I have when I stay in the eternal now moment! What can I do right NOW? Begin by taking three slow deep breaths to center yourself. Feel the life force energy flowing through you as the oxygen feeds your body and brain. Feel the peace that passes all understanding melt into every cell of your body as you continue to count your in-breaths and your out-breaths.

Be one with your breath in this eternal now moment and you just may awaken as Siddhartha Gautama (Shakyamuni Buddha) did underneath the Bodhi Tree! Let me know how it goes!

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

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My work teaching developmental English at Broward College opened my eyes to the failure of our K-12 educational system in America. Many of the students who had high school diplomas could not do something as simple as write a complete sentence and had no idea what an adverb was. Most had feelings of low self-esteem and were blaming themselves for their inability to pass the English exam so they could be accepted into the college. So to help them relax and open their minds to learning I began including mindfulness and meditation practices into the classroom. Doing this I discovered that the students actually felt more confident and self-assured, and as an added benefit it seemed to help raise their level of self-esteem.

There are many methods that can be used to help students focus on and retain the information. For this article I will share one easy method I use before each of my classes: Simply get relaxed.

All students end up rushing to class whether the class is on line or on campus. They have a hundred other things running around in their minds from finding a parking space, logging on to the internet, the assignments they have to complete, the bills they have to pay, getting the children fed, and more. Yet, as faculty we expect the students to be prepared and ready to learn the second we start the class. That is a totally unrealistic idea.

Being a Zen Buddhist I have used many techniques to help me focus and quiet my mind. Thus I understood that my students needed to quiet their minds and focus their attention if they were to learn the material. So I revised a simple exercise, “Just Three Breaths,” that I had found in a great book entitled How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness (2011) by Jan Chozen Bays, MD.

After several weeks of using my revised version of this exercise in my developmental English classes one of my students approached me with great excitement about her first presentation that she made in her speech class. She told me that she used the three breath exercise before she got up to present and it helped her stay so calm, cool, and collected that she just “killed” her talk! She was so proud of herself she was beaming with light and had a smile from ear-to-ear. I could see that this experience helped raise her level of self-esteem a little bit as well.

Since that time I have had hundreds of students tell me right after we’ve done this excise in class how calm, focused, relaxed and ready to learn they were. Many have even shared that they’ve used the technique at work when they felt stressed or anxious, before a job interview, while sitting in a traffic jam, or on line at the bank.

The entire exercise takes two to three minutes out of the class, but the lasting effect is immeasurable. I hope you’ll try it. The directions are below.

Three Breath Exercise

Read these steps aloud and do the exercise along with the class. After the exercise is completed get their feedback on how they feel and how it may help them during the class:

 

  • Shake out your hands to release the tension in them then place them comfortably in your lap or on the desk or table where you are sitting.
  • Close your eyes if you feel comfortable doing so as it will help keep out the visual distractions. If you are not comfortable with that keeping them open is okay as well. Simply focus your eyes on one small object.
  • Take three slow deep breaths counting one on the in breath and two on the out breath.
  • Be careful not to breathe in so deeply that it makes you cough.
  • Is everyone ready—then let’s begin.

Let me know how it works!

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

Reference

Bays, J.C. (2011) How to Train A Wild Elephant& Other Adventures in Mindfulness. Shambhala: Boston& London

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