Dear Still Water Friends,
The last two Thursdays at Still Water we talked a lot about the importance of open heartedness and of community. Mindfulness practice, when at its best, takes us out of our narrow concerns for ourselves and helps us connect with those we love, care for, and even those with whom we have difficulties. It helps us transcend our repetitive patterns of thinking and see beyond the self-tinted lenses through which we perceive the world. Coming back to our breath helps us find our common core, our common heart.
In listening these past two weeks, I was struck how much I feel the most alive when in community and when I’m mindful, and how often I act as if the total opposite were true. Hearing someone share his or her experiences can open my heart so wide that it feels limitless, fresh, and wonderful, like walking into the cool, crisp mornings the past few days. But much of the time my habit is to avoid people and community, to focus on myself and my worries, and not to notice my heart feels as small and solid as a hail stone.
After our discussion last week, I kept coming back to the notion of generosity. Generosity, or "dana," is one of the six paramitas in Buddhism:
"The Six Paramitas are a teaching of Mahayana Buddhism. Paramita can be translated as ‘perfection’ or ‘perfect realization.’ The Chinese character used for paramita means ‘crossing over to the other shore,’ which is the shore of peace, non-fear, and liberation. The practice of the paramitas can be the practice of our daily lives. We are on the shore of suffering, anger, and depression, and we want to cross over to the shore of well-being. To cross over, we have to do something, and that is called paramita. We return to ourselves and practice mindful breathing, looking at our suffering, anger, and depression, and smile. Doing this, we overcome our pain and cross over. We can practice ‘perfection’ every day." Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching.
We often talk about our generosity in terms of the dana basket at Still Water where we collect donations. But as Thich Nhat Hanh explains below, the most important form of dana is giving our own insight and support to others, not collapsing in on ourselves. Having the courage to remain open-hearted and grounded in the face of life, in the midst of uncertainty, fear, and pain, and even happy overstimulation, strikes me as the core of mindfulness practice. I have to be willing to be generous with my heart in opening to others not out of a sense of duty or discipline, but because opening my heart is reminds me no heart is unique but instead part of a larger common heart from which we separate ourselves only through our own misunderstandings and habits.
This Thursday, we’ll discuss what helps us open our hearts, how we experience the generosity of heart, and what shuts us down.
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. If you would like to attend, it is helpful if you let us know by emailing us at info@StillWaterMPC.org.
I hope you can join us.
Lotuses, Food, and Mindful Friends. Sunday, July 15, 2012, at the the National Park Service’s Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens.
Coming Home to Ourselves: A Day of Practice. Sunday, July 29, at Blueberry Gardens in Ashton, Maryland.
From “The Second Precept: Generosity” by Thich Nhat Hanh
In Buddhism, we say there are three kinds of gifts. The first is the gift of material resources. The second is to help people rely on themselves, to offer them the technology and know-how to stand on their own feet. Helping people with the Dharma so they can transform their fear, anger, and depression belongs to the second kind of gift. The third is the gift of non-fear. We are afraid of many things. We feel insecure, afraid of being alone, afraid of sickness and dying. To help people not be destroyed by their fears, we practice the third kind of gift-giving.
The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara is someone who practices this extremely well. In the Heart Sutra, he teaches us the way to transform and transcend fear and ride on the waves of birth and death, smiling. He says that there is no production, no destruction, no being, no nonbeing, no increasing, and no decreasing. Hearing this helps us look deeply into the nature of reality to see that birth and death, being and nonbeing, coming and going, increasing and decreasing are all just ideas that we ascribe to reality, while reality transcends all concepts. When we realize the interbeing nature of all things — that even birth and death are just concepts — we transcend fear.
A Song of the Rolling Earth by Walt Whitman
Whoever you are! motion and reflection are especially for you,
The divine ship sails the divine sea for you.
Whoever you are! you are he or she for whom the earth is solid and liquid,
You are he or she for whom the sun and moon hang in the sky,
For none more than you are the present and the past,
For none more than you is immortality.
Each man to himself and each woman to herself, is the word of the
past and present, and the true word of immortality;
No one can acquire for another–not one,
Not one can grow for another–not one.
The song is to the singer, and comes back most to him,
The teaching is to the teacher, and comes back most to him,
The murder is to the murderer, and comes back most to him,
The theft is to the thief, and comes back most to him,
The love is to the lover, and comes back most to him,
The gift is to the giver, and comes back most to him–it cannot fail,
The oration is to the orator, the acting is to the actor and actress
not to the audience,
And no man understands any greatness or goodness but his own, or
the indication of his own.