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the nobility of friendship

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The buddha is said to have told his student that there are five steps to finding lasting peace in one’s heart. First, one must have true intimacy with at least one good friend. The second is virtuous conduct. Third, one needs the kind of deep connection that inspires and encourages growth and practice. Fourth, diligence, energy, and enthusiasm for the good. And the fifth step is an insight into the impermanence of things.

To the cement the point, the Buddha went through the list again, this time preceding each of the other items with the first: “When there is a lovely intimacy between friends,” he began, “then virtuous conduct will follow,” and so on. In other words, friendship is a most important element in the spiritual path to peace in the heart. Everything else naturally flows from it.

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your spirit

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Who is in control, your ego or your spirit? While the ego can be characterized as fearful — mistrustful, dissatisfied, only interested in attaining, winning and succeeding — the spirit is just the opposite. Your spirit is incapable of feeling sorrow, pain, anger or fear, because it is eternal. It is one with the universe, and with all other spirits. It has no interest in right or wrong, conflict or threat. It is not vulnerable, but recognizes the abundance of the universe. It embodies unlimited generosity, forgiveness and gentleness. Your spirit is only capable of unconditional love, valuing peace, kindness and harmony above everything else.

This is true of everyone. Everyone’s got the ego too, always self-centered and potentially harmful. When someone’s ego causes them to take an action to which your ego objects, you can know that there is a perfect loving spirit within them too. Likewise, you can  know that your own ego — protective, worrying, impeding — may be the only thing standing between you and true happiness

Our spirits know our own true best interests.

boundless love

 

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How well do we know our loved ones? Is it a goal of yours to understand the dreams and the struggles of the one you love? Do you know his or her heart? Do you see her, as Thomas Merton says, the way she looks through God’s eyes? If the answer is yes, then it is really no wonder that you find your loved one so completely lovable as you do. You cannot help but love someone whose heart you know. This is true whether that person is your partner, your child or, the Buddhists would say, any sentient being on earth. If you look deeply enough to see their beautiful hearts, there will be boundless love.

Try it the next time you are out on the street. Try to see the heart of a complete stranger. Imagine the way they look in the eyes of their beloved. You will be amazed.

decision-making

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I have a friend who is faced with an important decision. She has been going back and forth for a long time now, and can’t make up her mind.

I don’t know the answer either; only she can really know. I have asked her if a sounding board might help her on her way, but it appears that maybe the weight of this choice is just too much for her to face at all. She wishes with all her might that the decision would be made, for once and for all, allowing her to move on, but she is the only one who can decide. And so she goes through her days with a very large burden always on her shoulders.

As a last offering to my friend, I suggested meditation. She could practice clearing her mind of the chatter that was constantly messing with her. By breathing and sitting mindfully, she might be able to find some refreshment, even if just for twenty minutes.

I don’t know if she has taken my suggestion to heart, and truly, I don’t need to know. But it has been a good reminder for me too, of the importance of giving oneself the gift of mindfulness — to sit quietly, focusing on breathing or a mantra, releasing any thoughts as they come up. Or to take a walk in total awareness of your surroundings, allowing all attention to be rooted in the present. Noticing the sounds and the colors and the way one’s feet come in contact with the earth or floor. Practicing mindful concentration can feel so freeing. And dismissing the chatter? Priceless.

This can be more difficult than it sounds. The more challenging it is, however, the more helpful it can be to keep practicing! And it is so pleasant to arrive at a place of freshness and renewed vitality, such as that which a short period of lovely meditation can bring.

Mindfulness will not make your decisions for you, but from that place, you can take a look at them from a new vantage point, and perhaps the path toward the answer will come into sharper focus. There is nothing like a clear head when important thinking needs to happen.

gratitude training

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I’ve thought a lot about this. There have been times in my life when I just could not access gratitude in my heart. And I thought to myself, well, I can just make do with appreciation. But I was missing out.

Taking the time to smell the roses, the coffee, the baby’s hair after a bath or the salt air off the ocean increases their benefit. That’s appreciation – our ability to get pleasure out of things – and it goes hand in hand with gratitude. In fact, I have found that these two really need to walk side by side. Focusing only on the things we appreciate — without the gratitude part — will eventually leave us feeling empty.

How then, do we develop these skills, that we may fully enjoy the bounty in our lives? Try gratitude training. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What do I take for granted?
  • What freedoms, unique abilities, and options do I have that others don’t?
  • What advantages have I been given in life?
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Which allies and supporters have helped me to get to where I am?

Everyone has been given unique abilities, advantages and privileges, and no one has done it all by themselves. But we are inclined to adapt to good things. We start to take them for granted, causing their value in our lives to drop. Thich Nhat Hanh uses the example of a toothache. When we have a toothache, it is all we can think about. But on all the days when we do not have a toothache, do we even think about that? If you find you are taking something for granted – like the absence of a toothache — go back to the beginning and imagine your life without it.

As you ask yourself these training questions, the gratitude will begin to flow, and you may experience more alertness and at the same time more calm. You may find your capacity to love is greater. And as you become trained in gratitude, you will surely find it easier to access feelings of contentment in your day.

So be grateful for sunlight and trees. Acknowledge the people in your life. Say thanks – it makes people happier, strengthens emotional and social bonds, and it gives your mind a dose of pure goodness as well. As the Buddha is said to have said,

“In the light of our vision,
the perspective that allows us to be grateful
– even if it is that things are not worse –
we can find freedom and joy:
our thoughts are peace,
our words are peace
and our work is peace.”