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Archive for March, 2016

Do not be bound by emotions be they happiness, sadness, fear, anxiety, or anything.  The truth is life is filled with good days and bad days, with happy thoughts and sad thoughts, with health and illness.  It is how we view these things and how we deal with them that have made our life what it is today.

What is y3778b286-acc2-4efe-b2e6-a1df354b9050our criteria for happiness?

Have you made a list and begun to check it off like Santa Claus?

I’ll be happy when: I get a great job, when I graduate from college, when I get married/divorced, when I am over this financial difficulty, when I’m cured from this illness… The list could go on and on and then when you do feel happy do you catch yourself thinking…I wonder when this will end or I don’t really deserve happiness after what I did or said.  Du Bonheur Fontenelle wrote: A great obstacle to happiness is to anticipate too great a happiness. 

How often does that happen?  I made a dish for supper and as I cooked it looked like the most delicious dish I had ever made—yet when I sat down to eat it the food did not live up to my expectations.  One day my friend did not live up to my expectations, on another day my job did not live up to my expectations, and I probably could go on and on, thankfully, I won’t.

Happiness can be elusive, subtle, fragmented, and fantastic all in the same day!  We have the capacity to even make happiness a challenge. Have you ever had someone say to you, “What are you so happy about?!  Do you know what’s going on here?” When happiness eludes you do you try to grab on to it, chase after it, or fret over its disappearance?

Buddhism helps us learn how to live in the moment regardless of our thinking: happy, sad, or mad. The great teacher Shunryu Suzuki wrote:

The only way is to enjoy your life. Even though you are practicing zazen [meditation], counting your breath like a snail, you can enjoy your life, perhaps even more than taking a trip to the moon.  That is why we practice zazen [meditation].  The most important thing is to be able to enjoy your life without being fooled by things (page 28).[1]

When was the last time you got fooled by things or thoughts?  Not that long ago I‘ll wager! Just remember “We are never so happy nor so unhappy as we imagine (Maxims page 407).”[2]  What are you imaging today?!

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

[1] Suzuki, S. (2002) Not Always So Practicing the True Spirit of Zen. HarperOne: NY, NY.

[2] Tripp, R.H. Ed., (1987) The International Thesaurus of Quotations. Harper & Row Publishers: NY, NY

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Friends are indispensable in our lives whether they are people or pets.  Each has similar reasons for entering our lives and each play different roles.  There are so many quotes about friendship in The International Thesaurus of Quotations that it would take a long time to choose just one.  In this moment what definition comes up for you?  What verb, what adjective, what noun, what name, what face?

Emerson is to have said, “To have a friend, you must be a friend.” And he also said, “The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, not the kindly smile, nor the job of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when you discover that someone else believes in you and is willing to trust you with a friendship.”

Who are you trusting with a “friendship” today?  Someone has said that man’s best friend is a doAnnie sleeping in red bed with dollsg.  One of my “friends” sent me a link today to a video entitled “So God made a Dog.” It is a beautiful tribute to dogs of all sizes and shapes and ages! And, of course, my new best friend Annie was listening to the video while I did.  Well, not really, as you can see, she was napping contentedly in her little red bed next to my desk with her two stuffed animals quietly snugging up next to her and her paws wrapped around them.  Stuffed friends, live friends, people friends who’s to say which is the best—each lives with us in separate moments in time just when we need them.

My mom had two dolls made of cloth that she treasured. As she became less and lesMom's dollss lucid from her Alzheimer’s disease she would sit in her wheelchair staring out from some hidden place in her mind. She lived in another world—of which we do not know.  Most days I would put one of the dolls in the crook of her arm.   She would hold onto the doll with care and tenderness and I trusted that each time she looked down the precious doll would still be there helping her up to heaven– waiting for that eternal moment to appear.

Friends are there with us in every moment if we just look for them, reach out to them, and covet their friendship with all of our might and with all of our love in every moment possible. I leave you with this mystery of the moment…

“Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow;

Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead;

Walk beside me, and just be my friend.”

~Albert Camus

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

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The problem with me is that in this moment I am often not mindful about what is going on in me, around me, and through me. My monkey mind is busy reflecting on the past, thinking about the future, and wandering hither and yon. Thus, I am not actually living in this “moment.” Unbeknownst to me I have lost a significant portion of my day, my life, and my joy. Whoever that “me” is has been deprived of experiencing the moment, of living a life of focus. Instead I am living a life lost and filled with grasping at the straws of the unknown.

Today my desire is to live in the moment mindfully aware of the food that I eat and its taste, texture, smell, and temperature. To be fully present as I attend a jukai ceremony for one of the men at our prison ministry. To bask in his joy and freedom as he accepts the Buddhist precepts as his way of living. To be fully present to enjoy the cookies and drinks that I will have after the ceremony and to celebrate fully and wholly with him and his friends in the Zen group where he sits each Tuesday.

McCown and Micozzi in their book New World Mindfulness wrote, “…the Buddha’s first teaching is revealed as essentially relational and experiential. It is possible to image him actually saying, “Don’t take my word for it; check it out for yourself (p. 71)!” As Walt Whitman in his “Song of Myself” wrote, “Looking with side-curved head curious what will come next, both in and out of the game and watching and wondering at it (p. 78).”[1] To be present in the moment, to be there for others, for self, and beyond is what Whitman is enticing us to do.

Check it out for yourself! Be mindful of your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and actions. Don’t be so quick to take other people’s viewpoint of your life. Don’t be so quick to take other people’s word for it either. Simply be honest with yourself about your life and what you like–keep and what you don’t like–change. To do that you must be mindful in the present moment!

Take time each day to sit in the quiet of your breath. Open yourself to feeling “worthy” of taking time each day to simply sit and “contemplate your navel” if that is what you want to do! Finally, simply “be,” whatever that means to you.

I learned many years ago that I am not a human “being.” I am a human “becoming.” Which are you? Be mindful of that and your life could be transformed.

Keep me posted!

In gassho

ingassho

Shokai

[1] McCown, D. and Micozzi, M.S. (2012) New World Mindfulness from the Founding Fathers, Emerson, and Thoreau to Your Personal Practice. Healing Arts Press: Rochester, Vermont

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In every moment we experience some kind of feeling or another. Some of the feelings are happy others may be sad or even angry. The problem is not that we have feelings, or that we judge those feelings in a negative way, or even that we agree with and justify those feelings. The problem is that we often let those feelings take over our lives, our relationships, our jobs, our health, and sometimes our mental stability.

The practice of meditation or mindfulness can help you deal with your feelings in a helpful, positive way. In Bob Stahl and Elisha Goldstein’s book, A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook (2010) they have a short exercise that you might like to try to help you identify your feelings and emotions.

Just Do it!

Take a moment right now to notice the connection between what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling physically and emotionally. Spend a few moments observing your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations and considering how they may relate to one another. Then take this practice with you into your daily life. For example, notice your initial reactions when you’re stuck in line or in traffic, and how bringing mindfulness to the situation offers you the opportunity to respond differently (page 37).

This is the time to simply give yourself the opportunity to “feel into your body and acknowledge whatever you’re feeling, physically and emotionally” (page 47) say Stahl and Goldstein. When you are sitting and times get tough and your monkey mind begins to appear, and your body aches, using this technique may help. Trying to “force” it to go away will not work. It will just bring up additional feelings and emotions like frustration, fear, and anger.

I remember several years ago during a week-long retreat I had the most dramatic “feeling” of joy that I had ever experienced. I had these bright red socks on my feet and suddenly my eye caught site of them and I could feel my entire body slowly melting little by little into a big red puddle. As I tried to stop the “feeling of joy” I noticed that the teacher at the head of the class also began to melt into a big red puddle. I could not hold back my joy and laughter any more, no matter how hard I tried. So I worked up all the energy I could muster and got up and went out of the room. I spent the next 15 minutes in my bunk in the dorm in the most blissful uncontrollable laughter that I had ever experienced.

In the past I probably would have tried to subvert the feeling out of shame, embarrassment, or fear. But not this moment in time: I allowed myself the wonder of joy and laughter! After reading this I hope you’ll take the time to think about your feelings and how they are affecting you physically and emotionally. Once you’ve done that do what Stahl and Goldstein recommend, “As far as letting go of emotions, we suggest putting your energy into learning to let them be (page 61).”

In that moment when I allowed my feelings to “just be” I found myself in another time and place where total joy existed. Try it I think you’ll like it!

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

Stahl, B. and Goldstein, E. (2010) A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook. New Harbinger Publications, Inc: Oakland, CA

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Thoughts are things they have weight and measure as you’ve read in my writings before. Sometimes people think when they start learning how to meditate that they can get to a point where they no longer have any thoughts at all and the mind is completely blank or empty.

I remember many years ago when I was first introduced to meditation I said something to the teacher about not being able to stop thinking. He said, “Don’t worry about that when you “stop thinking” you’ll be dead.”

So then what I began striving for when I was sitting was calmness; however, if you ask a Buddhist he or she will say when we sit we don’t “strive” for anything we simply sit for the sake of sitting. However, after my time sitting I will tell you that I do feel calm, refreshed, and peaceful in mind and body. Most of the time. But on occasion my monkey mind keeps moving a thousand miles an hour and when that happens after some time on the cushion I will stop trying to fight the thoughts and I will just get up, go about my business, and return to my sitting later.

I am reminded of something I read recently by the modern Japanese Zen master Hakuun Ryoko Yasutani in the Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen about thoughts during meditation or shikantaza:

“Shikantaza… is the mind of somebody facing death. Let us imagine that you are engaged in a duel of swordsmanship of the kind that used to take place in ancient Japan. As you face your opponent you are unceasingly watchful, set, ready. Were you to relax your vigilance even momentarily, you would be cut down instantly. A crowd gathers to see the fight. Since you are not blind you see them from the corner of your eye, and since you are not deaf you hear them. But not for an instant is your mind captured by these impressions (Kapleau 1980)” [1]

If sitting becomes a chore and the thoughts keep interrupting you the value is lost in the sitting. So no judgment or condemnation of yourself is required. Just come back to it later. As the great Japanese swordsmen would work toward: not for an instant is your mind captured by these impressions! So try not to be “captured” by your thoughts—let them go like a feather in the wind.

Let me know how it goes!

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

[1] Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, Shambhala Dragon Editions, (1991) Shambhala: Boston

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