Dear Still Water Friends,
The practice of meditation is simple, powerful, and subtle.
Many of us spend our lives acting out or denying the thoughts in our head. When we act them out we often get lost in our projects and desires: “I want this, and this, and this, too. I would be very happy if I had that, too. And please, also, make that, over there, disappear.”
When we deny them, we don’t want to hear them. They remind us of painful memories. They judge us, criticize us, and keep past traumas alive.
In meditation we find a place to sit and simply observe our minds. We let our thoughts say what they want to say and we do not react. We do not engage the thoughts. We simply hold them with care and understanding. Over time the thoughts tend to quiet down. The mind calms. We increase our capacity to observe the intentions and energies that underlie our thoughts.
This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we will focus our discussion on how to have a constructive relationship with our thoughts. We will begin by reading two excerpts. In the first, Ananda Baltrunas shares how he learned to face the thoughts that tormented him while serving a 20-year sentence for armed robbery. In the second excerpt, Thich Nhat Hanh advises us to base our responses on our whole being rather than our thoughts. (Copies of both excerpts are below.)
You are invited to join us.
You are invited to join us also on Sunday, May 26 for Touching Life Deeply: A Day of Practice at Blueberry Gardens in Ashton, Maryland.
Warm wishes and many blessings,
Touching Life Deeply: A Day of Practice. Sunday, May 26, at Blueberry Gardens in Ashton, Maryland.
Lotuses, Food, and Mindful Friends. Sunday, July 15, 2012, at the the National Park Service’s Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens.
A Prison of Desire: What If Your Thoughts Are Too Painful To Bear?
by Ananda Baltrunas
From Tricycle 13, no. 3 (Spring 2004): 76.
Every day of the twenty years I spent in prison for armed robbery, I heard the word freedom tossed about as if it were a prayer. For all of us convicts, it meant the same thing: to get out, to be back in the world. This wonderful notion of freedom — it occupied our days, our dreams, our fantasies. And for all that talk of freedom, few of us could see that we were in bondage long before we ever went to prison. Years of my life were spent in a prison of my own desires and aversions: I used drugs, alcohol, and relationships like they were aspirin.
I resisted meditation practice my first few years inside for the simple reason that I couldn’t be alone with myself. The pain of seeing what was in my heart was too great. I could navigate the world of prison much more easily than I could the cesspool of my own mind. The thoughts I had were of mayhem, violence, sex, drug relapses. In my mind I had murdered, raped, stolen, and maimed. I did not want to be alone with that person.
When years had passed and I finally summoned the courage to turn and face myself, I thought I could manipulate my mind. I would sit for hours and try to direct my thoughts away from the anguished memories of the past, the recriminations and the bitterness and the violence. It didn’t dawn on me that I had no control over the arising of my thoughts. I was not thinking the thoughts; they were thinking themselves. When I realized this, I was profoundly relieved. The thoughts were not me, and whatever judgment I might make about them was totally unnecessary. My responsibility was only to sit with them, without motive, agenda, or intention.
When I look for freedom today I find it not in fantasy or in dreams, but in my sitting practice. What kind of freedom is it that exists in doing nothing? It is the freedom not to interfere or react. It is the freedom to merely observe. I don’t have to judge the trauma that arises in my mind. I don’t have to get involved with the hundred narratives that might try to occupy my mind during the day. In not clinging to thoughts and ideas, wants and desires, hatreds and resentments, the bondages of my most negative thoughts and emotions have faded into a haze that still arises but no longer dominates my life. I have found freedom: it is the freedom of non-attachment, the freedom to not cling and to not resist. It is the freedom to allow myself to be with myself.
(Ananda Baltrunas, a veteran of the Vietnam War, served twenty years in a maximum security prison in southern Indiana. He was released in April 2003. An ordained priest in the Pure Land Buddhist tradition, He is currently the Sensei, at Hongaku Jodo in Evanston, Illinois.)
How Do You Structure Your Thinking In Daily Life?
by Thich Nhat Hanh
from a Q and A at the Breath of the Buddha Retreat, June 6, 2006
I don’t structure my thinking. Our thinking is sometimes useless. The mental discourse goes on and it does not help. . . .
“Usually I do not respond to the situation with my thinking. I usually respond to the situation with my whole person, not just my thinking. If you have practiced nonviolence, compassion, brotherhood, you know that you have developed that capacity to respond to situations with brotherhood, understanding, and compassion. So you allow yourself to respond naturally to the situation. And that response is very peaceful very natural, and very pleasant. If you respond in a non-pleasant way, you know that that is not a natural, a good response. . . .
I do not respond to situations based on my thinking. I allow myself to respond naturally, first. From time to time we need thinking to intervene. But I don’t think that thinking is the best ground on which we can base our response. It is like when you hear the bell. We don’t have to think that this is the bell and I have to stop thinking, stop talking, and I have to breathe in and out. You don’t think. You just respond to the bell in a very natural way with pleasure. No thinking is needed. When you walk, when you enjoy the morning sunshine, the trees, the friends, you don’t need thinking to do all that. We have to learn to be in a non-thinking mode in order to get in touch with the wonders of life. I think we all think too much.”
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