Dear Still Water Friends,
I came to mindfulness practice, as many Westerners do, with a head full of thoughts and ideas. I was lucky to find teachers who encouraged me to set my thoughts and ideas aside and learn to quietly be with the life that is in me and around me. I learned the basic practices, such as conscious breathing, sitting meditation, and walking meditation, and many of the difficulties in my life disappeared.
Many other difficulties stayed around. For even though I was calmer, had more ease, and was better able to listen to my heart, my head was still filled with assumptions, judgments, and ideas, many of which continued to create suffering for myself and others.
Mindfulness practice is more than the basic practices of calming and settling. It is also a wisdom tradition, a way of gently uncovering and transforming those assumptions, judgments, and ideas that guide our thinking, speaking, and acting. Change comes when we are able to open to insights that are in accord with our deepest experiences of life. Thich Nhat Hanh explains that the transformations occur when we allow the teachings to enter us like Dharma rain:
When we hear a Dharma talk or study a sutra, our only job is to remain open. Usually when we hear or read something new, we just compare it to our own ideas. If it is the same, we accept it and say that it is correct. If it is not, we say it is incorrect. In either case, we learn nothing. If we read or listen with an open mind and an open heart, the rain of the Dharma will penetrate the soil of our consciousness.
The gentle spring rain permeates the soil of my soul.
A seed that has lain deeply in the earth for many years just smiles.
While reading or listening, don’t work too hard. Be like the earth. When the rain comes, the earth only has to open herself up to the rain. Allow the rain of the Dharma to come in and penetrate the seeds that are buried deep in your consciousness. A teacher cannot give you the truth. The truth is already in you. You only need to open yourself — body, mind, and heart — so that his or her teachings will penetrate your own seeds of understanding and enlightenment. If you let the words enter you, the soil and the seeds will do the rest of the work. (From The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching.)
This Thursday evening at Crossings and this Sunday evening in Columbia, after our meditation period, we will expose ourselves to Dharma rain through the practice of the Three Touchings of the Earth. The First Touching is about our place in time. The Second is about our contemporary relationships. And the Third Touching is about understanding our place in the universe:
The disintegration of this body does not touch me, just as when the plum blossom falls it does not mean the end of the plum tree. I see myself as a wave on the surface of the ocean. My nature is the ocean water. I see myself in all the other waves and see all the other waves in me. The appearance and disappearance of the form of the wave does not affect the ocean. My Dharma body and wisdom life are not subject to birth and death.
I see the presence of myself before my body manifested and after my body has disintegrated. Even in this moment, I see how I exist elsewhere than in this body. Seventy or eighty years is not my life span. My life span, like the life span of a leaf or of a Buddha, is limitless. I have gone beyond the idea that I am a body that is separated in space and time from all other forms of life.
You are invited to be with us this Thursday or Sunday.
The title of this week’s program,
how it is
that we live forever
comes from Mary Oliver’s poem, Messenger, which is below.
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird —
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.
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