Dear Still Water Friends,
What a difference a week can make in one’s life…in the life of a country and of the world. I’ve spent the past few days really mulling over the topic for tonight and what kept coming up for me are the themes of change and uncertainty. So perhaps they are coming up for you as well.
Buddhism teaches us that change and impermanence are the nature of reality. Sometimes we may tell ourselves otherwise or wish otherwise by saying things like ‘if only it would stay like this forever.’ But the reality is that even as we have that thought, things have changed. Being human, I often find insecurities about the future arising in me. I feel this in my body as a constriction, often along the middle part of my body. When this happens I can feel disconnected from where I am at the present moment, often not even aware that I have traveled away in my head and am not even aware of my breath. I can feel my mind and body not wanting to be this way, so I begin grasping for certainty and solidity thinking – "if only I have this or do that, all will be well and I can avoid any future suffering and fear."
In the past, my reaction to this very, VERY, VERY uncomfortable place was to do something. To in fact resist or runaway from it. To stay busy, read a book, move around. I was not even aware that I felt ‘pushed’ most of the time to stay busy. It wasn’t until I came to meditation that I began to see my reaction to my resistance to those feelings. And through meditation, I learned to sit with them, to watch them arise, and to watch them fall away.
Gradually, I have begun to realize and to accept that there is no certainty. There are no real guarantees for the future. Stock markets tumble, presidents change, bones break, relationships end, loved ones fall ill and die. I’ll fall ill and die. What we have right now is this present moment. What I can do is make choices — actions, words — that are rooted in compassion and openness rather than fear and disconnectedness. What I can’t do is make a choice thinking it will assure a future outcome or keep me safe from suffering.
The theme of change came up in a conversation I had with my mother yesterday. Both of my parents have suffered ill health in the past few months and I am making a trip to see them next week. It will be a long trip to their home in a very rural part of northern Georgia. I realize I had always assumed that my parents, although religiously conservative were politically progressive. So during this conversation, I inadvertently put my foot in my mouth by saying how happy I was about the turn-out of the election, thinking my mother and I would have this moment of connection. I was surprised when my mother said flatly that she was not happy about how things had turned out. The conversation stumbled awkwardly along for a few more sentences and then my mother just said with sadness and nervousness that she didn’t like change and just wanted things to be the way they were 50 years ago. I felt shocked, but the shock quickly gave way to compassion as I heard the sadness and fear and pain in her voice about how everything changes. Having that awareness allowed me to soften my heart and my words. I don’t know that I would have been able to do that 5 or 6 years ago. I KNOW I wouldn’t have been able to feel that opening.
I wanted to share with you some quotes that I found myself thinking about this week from Thich Nhat Hanh, Sharon Salzberg, and Henepola Gunaratana. I look forward to seeing everyone and spending the evening sitting and sharing together.
The best times to join our Thursday evening gatherings are just before the beginning of our 7 p.m. meditation, just before we begin walking meditation (around 7:25), and just after our walking meditation (around 7:35). This week we will also have our first Thursday introduction to mindfulness and the Still Water community at 6:30. Please join us if you can.
In peace and mindfulness,
The purpose of meditation is not to concentrate on the breath without interruption, forever. That by itself would be a useless goal. The purpose of meditation is not to achieve a perfectly still and serene mind. Although a lovely state, it doesn’t lead to liberation by itself. The purpose of meditation is to achieve uninterrupted mindfulness. Mindfulness, and only mindfulness, produces Enlightenment.
Distractions come in all sizes, shapes, and flavors. Buddhist philosophy has organized them into categories. One of them is the category of hindrances. They are called hindrances because they block your development of both components of meditation, mindfulness and concentration. A bit of caution on this term: The word "hindrances" carries a negative connotation and indeed these are states of mind we want to eradicate. . . That does not mean, however, that they are to be repressed, avoided or condemned.
Let’s use greed as an example. We wish to avoid prolonging any state of greed that arises, because a continuation of that state leads to bondage and sorrow. That does not mean we try to toss the thought out of the mind when it appears. We simply refuse to encourage it to stay. We let it come, and we let it go. — Henepola Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English
It is a great turning point in our spiritual lives when we go from intellectual appreciation of a path to the heartfelt confidence that says, "Yes, it is possible to awaken. I can, too." A tremendous joy accompanies this confidence. When we place our hearts upon the practice, the teachings come alive. That turning point, which transforms an abstract concept of a spiritual path into our own personal path, is faith.
-Sharon Salzberg, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Spring 1995 from Everyday Mind, edited by Jean Smith, a Tricycle book
If we are too busy, if we are carried away every day by our projects, our uncertainty, our craving, how can we have the time to stop and look deeply into the situation—our own situation, the situation of our beloved one, the situation of our family and of our community, and the situation of our nation and of the other nations?" -Thich Nhat Hahn