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.

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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?
  • 
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.”

stopping your mental chatter

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Everything needs to be nurtured in order to survive. If we do not nurture something, it will not survive. Our suffering survives because we spend so much of our energy feeding it. We feed it with our attention and our anxiety and our depression, and then we try to distract ourselves so we won’t think about our suffering. Either way, we are caught up in something other than living our lives.

This scenario is very common. The mind races or becomes overwhelmed. We look for a way out, invariably choosing the least healthy path, when the healthiest path is as easy as taking a deep breath or stopping to notice our surroundings. As we inhale and exhale consciously, we find ourselves in the present, where the past and the future don’t reside. We unite the mind and the body, and when this happens, it is finally possible to take a break from the relentless, largely unproductive chatter that we so often feel lost in.

To take a deep breath is to allow freshness and vitality into the moment, and in that moment we can access clarity and presence.

an apostle of peace

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Thích Nhất Hạnh.

Monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist, he is known as Thay by the millions of people who love him. Thay is the author of over one hundred books, and is perhaps the most influential living figure in Zen Buddhism today. From a job as editor-in-chief of Vietnamese Buddhism in the 1950s, he went on to found a press, then a university and later, a corps of peaceworkers called the School of Youth for Social Service, who went into rural areas to establish schools, build healthcare clinics and help rebuild villages. He has founded Zen centers all over the world. He was nominated by Dr. Martin Luther King for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967.

There is ever so much more to the story of this man, including, as it happens, the severe brain hemorrhage he experienced a few years ago, at the age of 89. After being in a coma for months, he spent a long period at a rehabilitation clinic in France. He has since undergone, at his request, aggressive rehab work to regain strength and ability, flying back and forth to San Francisco, always in the company of a small cadre of loving and gentle attendants.

Lately, the day-to-day stories that come from Thay’s home at the Plum Village Monastery in France are beautiful – of witnessing this global spiritual leader’s delight in taking a simple cup of tea or in watching a flower bloom. Although unable to speak, he nevertheless communicates in other ways, especially, it is said, with his eyes.

One of the most remarkable abilities Thay has recovered is that of singing. Just a few days ago, he asked to spend some time with the children of the monastery. Sipping his tea in a common room, Thay invited all the monastic children to sit around him, communicating with his eyes a message of love to each child, as well as his own happiness at being with them. The storyteller in this case, clearly moved by the beauty of the moment, recalled that Thay had asserted in various Dharma talks that he is still very young, a notion that gave clarity to the attendant’s experience of that night.

The brothers and sisters, he says, began to sing a favorite song in Vietnamese, and were touched to hear Thay’s voice among their own, and to see on his face a gentle smile. Over and over, they sang the song, each person in the room more enthralled than the next by the treasure of witnessing their beloved teacher’s joy at singing with them.

Today, as of this writing, Thay has now traveled to Thailand, where he has been treated to a visit from one of his most beloved and venerable disciples. The two of them sat side by side, clasping hands like kindred spirits, as Thay’s 91 year-old eyes filled with love and joy.

There is something so restorative, so abiding and so powerful in the way this man has lived – and continues to live – his life. The example he sets, of being truly alive in every moment, touches my heart deeply, and knowing these small stories brings me great joy. By sharing them here with you, I hope that you can feel it too. Namaste.

warriorship

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What is a warrior? What are the conditions under which a warrior can be said to be victorious? If we define victory as arriving at a state in which we no longer have an enemy, then we can see more than one way to be a warrior.

In Buddhist thought, a true warrior is never armed with tools of aggression or violence. That person would be seen as a coward. The definition of warriorship is fearlessness and gentleness, a quiet positive state of individual dignity, but also a kind of joy. This joy blossoms from the practice of loving kindness, and as the practitioner becomes more skilled, his or her joy increases and she is able to share her joy with those who would benefit from it.

The joy of the warrior is always needed to one degree or another, and warriors are devoted to the human spirit, and armed with compassion and insight. They train diligently to see clearly into the nature of reality, reflecting a presence that can help others recognize their own basic goodness.

A warrior has the same emotions as everyone else, but she practices transforming the energy of emotion into a positive force through mindfulness. To be mindful of your emotion is to act as a steward of the energy so that it can be used without harming anyone. Thich Nhat Hanh often speaks of such stewardship in the context of a gentle and loving older sister looking out for her little sister.

People can be supremely kind, gentle and wise despite the messages we so often receive. And while the path to becoming a warrior is a lengthy and intensive practice, there is no one who cannot begin to open themselves to warriorship today. The qualities of compassion and goodness are always available to everyone, and in these difficult times, warriors will appear wherever people commit to working together as good human beings.

nutriments

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What does your diet consist of? We all know it is best to eat foods that nourish us, but it is also good to think about how your diet nourishes the world. Does your diet speak to your beliefs? Is it consistent with your values? For instance, I might value justice but eat food that contributes to keeping workers in positions of slave labor. I might value the earth but eat food that destroys the land in ways other foods don’t. These days, it’s almost impossible to eat in a way that aligns perfectly with one’s values, but it is worth considering.

How about your senses? How do you feed them? Do you give your ears nourishment by listening to music, the sounds of birds, the wind in the trees, or the voice of a loved one?

Everything we hear is food for our ears, just as everything we see is food for our eyes, and it all becomes food for our consciousness. When we ingest the news, with its ubiquitous advertisements, it has an effect. Advertising pushes messages at us constantly, often affecting us in a negative manner. We want what we don’t have, and we will never live up to the images that we see. The news itself can certainly be a toxin, worming its way into our consciousness. And our reactions to the news can even compound the negativity, until we are filled with the nutriments we have ingested – Fear? Shame? Disgust? No wonder so many of us feel depressed!

It’s important to think about what you are ingesting — what you are feeding your consciousness — and to strive for a balanced consciousness diet. Remember to give your eyes a heaping helping of beauty. You need only look at the sky or the smiling eyes of a friend to find this. Give your ears a taste of a child’s laughter, the ocean’s roar or a favorite piece of music. Treat your nose to the fragrance of pine or rosemary, the smell of a fresh flower or a soup on the stove. Feel the sun and the wind on your cheek and the fresh air in your lungs. Search for things to ingest that fill your consciousness with beauty, gratitude, compassion and peace.

There are more than enough unhealthy nutriments in the world to fill everyone’s consciousness with fear, craving and despair. We cannot avoid them, and staying connected to humanity is necessary if we are to work for the betterment of our planet. But these poisons can be counteracted by consciously ingesting – like an antidote – those nutriments that nourish and refresh.

After all, you are what you ingest! Be peace.

permission to be

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Buddhism gives us the permission we may need to just be. In fact, just being is very important to practitioners. It is the heart of meditation; finding the quiet mind state where one can let the world fall away.

Reaching beyond the noise and drama of our busy lives is also the path to joy, and the teachings of the Buddha light the way. They are recorded and ready for anyone who would like to open up to understanding them. Taking the time to care about your own joy is not selfish – it is healthy! And it multiplies and spreads like the ripples on a pond.

You can, for instance, dream. You can imagine following your bliss, and even if you never get there, you can hold that beautiful dream in your heart. It is yours and it is important. But why not take a step in the direction of that personal dream? Even a small step would have the same effect as the ripples on the pond.

You can also take more control of your thoughts, by consciously nurturing those thoughts that are of benefit to you. You can water the seeds of positivity with your attention, allowing them to take root and grow. You can claim your power by watering the seeds of your brave, authentic self, feeling pride in the strengths you know you have.

With the knowledge of and focus on your dreams, as well as the positive energy you are generating, you may even find that you can leave behind a limiting belief or two. It involves practice, to be sure, but the path is clear for anyone who wants to step on, because each of us has a unique belief system, one that goes way beyond the spiritual. I’m talking about beliefs that have been instilled in us by our teachers or our parents, that we continue to believe even if we know they are false. They are nothing more than thoughts that we keep accepting, and yet we live our lives based on them. What if it was possible to simply let go of those old beliefs, and instead shine a bright light in the direction of your dreams?

Best of all, practicing these simple notions can change the feeling in your heart. And when you dare to open your heart and follow your joy, the universe benefits like the ripples on a pond.

 

 

upeksha: non-attachment

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If you have been reading along, you have already heard about the first three qualities of true love, maitri, karuna, and mudita. If not, you might like to read my previous posts, “the first quality of love” and “the qualities of love.”

 

The fourth element of true love is upeksha, which means equanimity. It may also be understood as nonattachment or nondiscrimination.

This one is a challenge in the world we inhabit today. We are inclined to give our love with attachment, discrimination or prejudice, but the Buddha would say that this is not true love. To love with equanimity, we must practice the ability to see everyone as equal, not discriminating between ourselves and others. Even when conflict arises, we can practice remaining sufficiently impartial that we are able to love the other.

To say, “I will share my love with one but not the other” is not equanimity. And also, without equanimity, your beloved may feel robbed of his or her freedom by your possessiveness. That is not loving. True love allows you to preserve your liberty and the liberty of your loved one.

For love to be true love, it must contain benevolence, compassion, joy, and equanimity. This is the story of the four immeasurable elements of true love. They are called “immeasurable” because, if you practice them, they will grow within you every day until the whole world can feel your love.