Spiritual Scaffolding

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Dear Still Water Friends,

In education circles, the term “scaffolding” refers to providing learning supports, such as modeling or demonstrating problem solving strategies, and then stepping back and offering encouragement and assistance as needed. I learned the practice of scaffolding from psychologists when my children were young. They taught me that rather than hounding them to do their homework and projects, it was much more productive to sit with them and help them think through (and write down) the steps that needed to be done, and then to gently support their will to follow through when distractions and difficulties arose.

The concept of scaffolding came back to me recently as I reflected on what I have learned from Thich Nhat Hanh over the years. Thich Nhat Hanh models a way of being in the world, articulates a lucid set of teachings, and then offers encouragement and appreciation. He doesn’t nag and he doesn’t want to solve our problems for us. (This is also my aspiration for how I want to be as a Dharma teacher.)

Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings are extensive and logically coherent. The foundational teachings are simple practices for developing mindfulness, concentration, and ease, such as mindful breathing and mindful walking. The higher level teachings help us gain a deeper understanding of our conventional assumptions that hinder us from being as free and as loving as we are capable of being.

This Thursday evening we will have a chance to watch a short video in which Thay adroitly offers scaffolding that helps us understand more deeply who and what we really are. The segment is taken from the last Dharma talk of the June, 2014, 21 day retreat on "What happens when we die? What happens when we live?"

Thay begins the segment teaching that “we” are more than our physical body. We also are:

  • our Dharma body: our understanding and practice of the dharma. "That helps us transform, to overcome difficulties, to create joy, peace, and happiness for ourselves and others.”

  • Our continuation body: made of thinking, speech, and action. "Our action is our continuation."

  • Our Sangha body: Our community of practice, including our families and those we practice with. "We need a sangha body to help us preserve our practice, to help as many people as possible.”

And most importantly in terms of our understanding of life and death, we are also our cosmic consciousness body.

You have a cosmic body. Like the wave on the ocean, she has an ocean body. Every wave has her ocean body. She does not have to go and look for it. The cosmic body is our cosmic awareness, our cosmic consciousness. …

Everyone of us has our god body, our cosmic body. Don’t think you only have this body. As far as the cosmic body is there, you don’t worry any more about the being or non-being of the physical body.

The ocean continues to be there. The waves and the clouds don’t have to worry. They go back and they go forth again. And each time it is new, it is more beautiful.

Why do we have to be afraid of non-being, of death? We don’t have to go in search for our god body. God is your cosmic body. You cannot remove the ocean from the wave. You cannot remove god from you. You cannot remove the cosmos from you.

That is why we have to practice meditation. To meditate means to have the time and to look deeply. The wave knows she has an ocean body and she doesn’t have to look for her ocean body. She is the ocean.

After our meditation period and the video, we will focus our Dharma sharing on spiritual scaffolding. How has mindfulness practice supported you in becoming more peaceful, compassionate, and free? In particular, has it helped you look more deeply into life and death?

You are invited to join us.

If you are not able to be with us, you are invited to download this segment and consider spiritual scaffolding in your own way.

Many blessings,

Mitchell Ratner