Eyes so soft

lonely

Photo by Wanda D’Onofrio

Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly.
Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you
As few human or even divine ingredients can.

Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice so tender,

My need of God
Absolutely
Clear.

Hafiz, trans. Daniel Ladinsky

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Forget about enlightenment

andy-goldsworthy-book-ephemeral-works02

Photo and artwork by Andy Goldsworthy

Forget about enlightenment.
Sit down wherever you are
And listen to the wind singing in your veins.
Feel the love, the longing, the fear in your bones.
Open your heart to who you are, right now,
Not who you would like to be,
Not the saint you are striving to become,
But the being right here before you, inside you, around you.
All of you is holy.
You are already more and less
Than whatever you can know.
Breathe out,
Touch in,
Let go.

John Welwood

Feeding your Demons

tsultrim-allione

Lama Tsultrim Allione

This is a practice I really value, developed by Lama Tsultrim Allione… Try it for meeting those recurrent obstacles (or demons) and rather than the habitual fighting them in one form or another, see what happens when you feed them instead. Based on the powerful Tibetan Buddhist practice of Chod, offered in a very accessible form with the potential of true transformation.

For a practice session guided by Lama Tsultrim Allione herself, click here. For more info on this process, please click here. The following description of the practice comes from the Tara Mandala website.

An Abbreviated Version of the Five Steps of the Feeding Your Demons Process

Nine Relaxation Breaths

Take nine deep relaxation breaths with long exhalations: for the first three breaths, breathe in and bring the breath to any tension in the body releasing it with the exhalation. For the second three breaths, inhale into any emotional tension, feel where you hold it in your body and release it with the exhalation. And lastly, breathe into any mental tension. Feel where you hold nervousness, worries or mental blockages in your body and release them with the exhalation

Motivation:Generate a heartfelt motivation to practice for the benefit of one’s self and all beings.

Step 1. Find the Demon

Decide which demon, god or god-demon you are going to work with.
Locate where you hold it most strongly in your body.
Become aware of the qualities of the sensations in your body including:

  • color
  • texture
  • temperature

Intensify the sensation.

Step 2. Personify the Demon and Find Out What It Needs

Personify this sensation as a figure with arms legs, and eyes and see it facing you. If an inanimate object appears imagine what it would look like if it were personified as some kind of being.

Notice:

  • color
  • skin surface
  • gender
  • size
  • its character
  • its emotional state
  • the look in its eyes

Notice something about the demon you didn’t see before.
Ask the demon what it wants.

What is it that you want from me?

Ask the demon what it needs.

What need do you have that is behind what you want?

Ask the demon how it would feel if it gets what it needs.

If you get what you need how will you feel?

Having asked the questions, immediately change places with the demon.

Step 3. Become the Demon

Face the chair or cushion you were seated on and become the demon, allowing yourself a little time to “sit in its shoes.”
Notice how your normal self looks from the demon’s point of view.

Now answer these three questions:

What I want from you is…
What I need from you is…
What I would feel if I got what I need is…

Step 4. Feed the Demon and Meet the Ally

Feed the demon

Come back to your original position. Take a moment to settle in and see the demon in front of you.
Dissolve your body into nectar that has the quality of the feeling that the demon would have if its need was satisfied (this is the answer to the third question in step 3)
Feed the demon to its complete satisfaction, imagining the nectar entering the demon any way you wish. Keep feeding until complete satisfaction is reached (if the demon seems to be insatiable, then imagine how it would look if it were completely satisfied). At this point you can go directly to step 5 or meet your ally.

Meet the ally

If there is a being present in place of the demon when you end the fourth step, ask this being if it is the ally. If it is not, invite an ally to appear. If the demon has dissolved completely then simply invite an ally to appear.
Notice all the details of the ally: its color, its size, and the look in its eyes.

Ask it one or all of these questions:

How will you help me?
How will you protect me?
What pledge do you make to me?

Change places, becoming the ally, and answer the question(s) above.
Return to your original position, then take a moment and feel the help and protection coming from the ally to you and then imagine the ally is dissolving into you. You and the ally dissolve into emptiness, which naturally takes you to the fifth step.

Step 5. Rest

Rest in the state that is present when the ally dissolves into you and you dissolve into emptiness. Let your mind relax without creating any particular experience. Rest as long as you like without filling the space, trying not to make anything happen or rushing to finish.

Active Hope

Reflections on the book Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone.

For me, the connection between Active Hope and mindfulness is completely seamless, and seems vitally important at this time in the world. In our mindfulness practice, we come back time and again to our motivation for practising: the motivation for the deepest well-being of ourselves and others. And our well-being is inextricably linked with the larger world around us.  As Thich Nhat Hanh says: “The Earth is not just our environment. We are the Earth and the Earth is us. We have always been one with the Earth…” So actively connecting with and caring for the earth that we are part of, and ‘facing the mess without going crazy’  is an essential part of this well-being in my view.

The ‘state of the world’ is something that might be tempting to turn away from as being too overwhelming, too dire to really look at or connect with – but what is mindfulness if not turning towards the places that scare us? We do this internally in our practice whenever something comes up that is uncomfortable, and we can do the same with what’s gratitudeuncomfortable and scary out there in the world, whether it’s climate disruption, depleting or resources or the fast rate with which species are going extinct and ecosystems are lost.

What I love about the Active Hope journey is that it helps connect with the strong steady ground of gratitude to start from, a trusted mindfulness practice connecting with joy, resilience and wellness. This gratitude and the vitality and strength it offers, facilitates turning towards what’s difficult with skillful exercises that honour our pain for the world. As Joanna Macy says:

“In owning this pain, and daring to experience it, we learn that our capacity to ‘suffer with’ is the true meaning of compassion. We begin to know the immensity of our heart-mind, and how it helps us to move beyond fear. What had isolated us in private anguish now opens outward and delivers us into wider reaches of our ‘world as lover, world as self’.”

dandelionspiral

Spiral of the Work That Reconnects, by Dori Midnight

As is emphasised in the mindfulness training again and again, the sensitivity to pain in self, others and the world, can be the doorway to genuine compassion and meaningful action to try to relieve it. For me personally it has been so affirmative to directly experience the discovery that this pain is not the end of anything, but rather a beginning to see with new eyes, to widen our perspective. The chapters in the book relating to this seeing with new eyes, are on A Wider Sense of Self which offers a descent into the levels of our identity where there is much more connection than the usual perspective of separate individuals; A Different Story of Power looks at a shift from the domination model of power-over to the surprising potential of power-with; A Richer Experience of Community reaches into our deep connectedness with all human beings as well as with other life-forms; and A Larger View of Time,  where we stretch our imagination to planet time and connect with our ancestors as well as the future generations. And each of these themes in the book have a range of experiential exercises to dive in to, which shifts interesting thought-material to powerful personal experience. The Buddhist themes of interconnectedness and no self are tangible in these chapters, informed by Joanna’s decades long practice and deep understanding of Buddhism. In Joanna’s own words:

“The truth of our inter-existence, made real to us by our pain for the world, helps us see with new eyes. It brings fresh understandings of who we are and how we are related to each other and the universe. We begin to comprehend our own power to change and heal. We strengthen by growing living connections with past and future generations, and our brother and sister species.

Then, ever again, we go forth into the action that calls us. With others whenever and wherever possible, we set a target, lay a plan, step out. We don’t wait for a blueprint or fail-proof scheme; for each step will be our teacher, bringing new perspectives and opportunities. Even when we don’t succeed in a given venture, we can be grateful for the chance we took and the lessons we learned. And the spiral begins again…

So finally, we take this work into direct – and mindful – action. What little thing can I do today? Which ‘fruit tree’ can I water, even if I’m not sure it will actually bear fruit in the future? And how can my mindful awareness light up unconscious habits of consuming, how can my sense of interconnection with ecosystems and people across the planet inform me in everyday choices of the food I eat, the clothes I buy, the ways I travel? As is often the case in mindfulness practice on ‘the cushion’, what is revealed by deeper looking might need a good dose of (self)compassion, which we can offer freely. Because this is not meant to be another stick to beat myself up with in guilt. It’s living my intention to be increasingly aware and as Lama Yeshe Rinpoche says, becoming a more and more ‘useful’ human being.

“There are hard things to face in our world today, if we want to be of use. Gratitude, when it’s real, offers no blinders. On the contrary, in the face of devastation and tragedy it can ground us, especially when we’re scared. It can hold us steady for the work to be done.”

So… let’s start with gratitude, again and again!

bird

 

Verses for Environmental Practice

spiders-web-2Waking up in the morning
I vow with all beings
to be ready for sparks of the Dharma
from flowers or children or birds.

Sitting alone in zazen
I vow with all beings
to remember I’m sitting together
with mountains, children, and bears.

Looking up at the sky
I vow with all beings
to remember this infinite ceiling
in every room of my life.

When I stroll around in the city
I vow with all beings
to notice how lichen and grasses
never give up in despair.

Watching a spider at work
I vow with all beings
to cherish the web of the universe:
touch one point and everything moves.

Preparing the garden for seeds
I vow with all beings
to nurture the soil to be fertile
each spring for the next 1000 years.

When people praise me for something
I vow with all beings
to return to my vegetable garden
and give credit where credit is due.

With tropical forests in danger
I vow with all beings
to raise hell with the people responsible
and slash my consumption of trees.

With resources scarcer and scarcer
I vow with all beings
to consider the law of proportion:
my have is another’s have-not.

Watching gardeners label their plants
I vow with all beings
to practice the old horticulture
and let plants identify me.

Hearing the crickets at night
I vow with all beings
to keep my practice as simple –
just over and over again.

Falling asleep at last
I vow with all beings
to enjoy the dark and the silence
and rest in the vast unknown.

By Robert Aitken. Published in Dharma Rain: Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism, ed. Stephanie Kaza and Kenneth Kraft (Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 2000), 471-473.a