Dear Still Water Friends,
In the 1960’s Suzuki Roshi, the founder of the San Francisco Zen Center, looked out a group of his students meditating and said to them "Each of you is perfect the way you are, and you can use a little improvement." For me, his sentence wonderfully captures an essential perspective of mindfulness practice.
We are each perfect just the way we are. We are each the product of billions of years of evolution and of specific events that happened to us. Some of us are like straight white pines, just right for a ship’s mast. Some of us are like gnarled pines on a windswept peak. One is not more perfect than the other. Seeing ourselves as the perfect product of our nature and our conditioning offers us a sense of ease, relaxation, and contentment.
And also, each of us “can use a little improvement." As humans we have preferences for how we wish to live and what we wish to accomplish. As practitioners we may aspire to embody mindfulness, wisdom, and love. The tradition of mindfulness practice teaches that in each moment, through our wise actions (thoughts, words, and behaviors) we can incrementally alter our situation and the situation of the world. Karma is both the process and product of intentional action. Understanding that we can all “use a little improvement" encourages commitment, self-discipline, and responsibility.
As we mature in our practice, we learn to hold each of these positions one hundred percent: that we are perfect and that we can use some improvement. Each points to its own truth and they are not in contradiction. In meditation, we fully accept the quality of each breath, each feeling, each mental state, and, by holding each with mindful awareness, we ever so subtly change successive breaths, feelings, and mental states, and, also, our lives and the life of the universe.
This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we will share our experiences with seeing ourselves as perfect as we are and seeing ourselves as needing some improvement. Do we tend to habitually emphasize one over the other? What helps us to integrate both perspectives into our meditation and our daily lives?
You are invited to join us.
You are are also invited to join us this week for a brief orientation to mindfulness practice and the Still Water community. The orientation will begin at 6:30 pm. and participants are encouraged to stay for the evening program. If you would like to attend, it is helpful if you let us know by emailing us at info@StillWaterMPC.org.
Below are related quotes from Thich Nhat Hanh and Peter Dellla Santina.
There are a few places left for our Still Water Practice retreat this week-end (May 4-6). If you are interested in attending, please register or contact Still Water (at info@StillWaterMPC.org) as soon as possible.
Settling into Silence: Still Water Practice Retreat. Friday, May 4- Sunday, May 6, at Charter Hall in Perryville, MD.
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.
by Thich Nhat Hanh
from The Miracle of Mindfulness
When reality is perceived in its nature of ultimate perfection, the practitioner has reached a level of wisdom called non-discrimination mind – a wondrous communion in which there is no longer any distinction made between subject and object. This isn’t some far-off, unattainable state. Any one of us – by persisting in practicing even a little –can at least taste of it. . . .
When reality is experienced in its nature of ultimate perfection, an almond tree that may be in your front yard reveals its nature in perfect wholeness. The almond tree is itself truth, reality, your own self. Of all the people who have passed by your yard, how many have really seen the almond tree? The heart of an artist may be more sensitive; hopefully he or she will be able to see the tree in a deeper way than many others. Because of a more open heart, a certain communion already exists between the artist and the tree. What counts is your own heart. If your heart is not clouded by false views, you will be able to enter into a natural communion with the tree. The almond tree will be ready to reveal itself to you in complete wholeness. To see the almond tree is to see the way. One Zen Master, when asked to explain the wonder of reality, pointed to a cypress tree and said, "Look at the cypress tree over there."
The Middle Way
by Peter Dellla Santina
from The Tree of Enlightenment[T}he Middle Way . . . means moderation in one’s approach to life, in one’s attitude toward all things. We can use the example of the three strings of a lute to illustrate what we mean by this attitude. The Buddha had a disciple by the name of Sona who practiced meditation with such zeal that he encountered nothing but obstacles. Sona began to think of giving up his vows and abandoning the life of a monk. The Buddha, who understood his problem, said to him, “Sona, before you became a monk, you were a musician.” Sona replied, “That is true.” Then the Buddha said, “Being a musician, you should know which string of a lute produces a pleasant and harmonious sound: the string that is overly tight?” “No,” replied Sona, “the overly tight string produces an unpleasant sound and is likely to break at any moment.” “Then,” said the Buddha, “is it the string that is slack?” “No,” replied Sona, “the slack string does not produce a pleasant and harmonious sound. The string that produces a pleasant and harmonious sound is the string that is not too tight and not too loose.” In this case, a life of indulgence and luxury may be said to be too loose, without discipline or application, whereas a life of self-mortification is too tight, too hard and tense, and likely to cause a breakdown of the mind and body, just as the overly tight string is likely to break at any time.