We discussed the idea of discomfort, like bodily aches that go with meditation sittings, as well as the more existential feelings of lack of control in our lives.

Alan Watts (who wrote a book called “The Wisdom of Insecurity”) wrote: “Irrevocable commitment to any religion is not only intellectual suicide; it is positive unfaith because it closes the mind to any new vision of the world. Faith is, above all, open-ness — an act of trust in the unknown.”

and here’s a link to a great video on our focus on money:

What Would You Do If Money Were No Object? Alan Watts on the Life of Purpose

Permanence and change

I went to my niece’s wedding last weekend in Long Island, and I was struck with the emotional rollercoaster I was subjected to: happiness, nostalgia, excitement, and wistfulness…I believe all those emotions were, for one thing, impermanent, and also: related to our yearning for permanence. Our group talked today about these feelings of nostalgia and the comfort we take in remembering the past, all the while fearing the future. Is our fear of impermanence really just another story we tell ourselves?

Enjoy this beautiful essay by Alan Lightman:

Alan Lightman on Our Yearning for Immortality and Why We Long for Permanence in a Universe of Constant Change

Hope: not a bad thing

Today we talked about hope, which tends to be a unappreciated word in Buddhist circles, because it carries the insinuation that we’re not satisfied with the here and now, or we’re looking for happiness in the future. But there’s a more nuanced way to look at hope. Not everyone in the class totally agreed with the author’s definitions, but it led to some interesting discussions:

Rebecca Solnit on Hope in Dark Times, Resisting the Defeatism of Easy Despair, and What Victory Really Means for Movements of Social Change

Also, as promised, a link to the Saturday Night Live skit which is surprisingly insightful about where one can find happiness. Plus, it’s funny. Enjoy!

Please note: There will be no sitting group next week because I will be at a wedding in Long Island!  I’ll be back to lead the sitting group on June 2.

Paying Attention

An essay on the poet Mary Oliver and paying attention. We look at the world without noticing it.  She said: “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”

Here’s a Mary Oliver poem that they don’t read at any Buddhist retreat I’ve ever been to, but it is about paying attention:

I read the papers,
I unfold them and examine them in the sunlight.
The way the red mortars, in photographs,
arc down into the neighborhoods
like stars, the way death
combs everything into a gray rubble before
the camera moves on. What
dark part of my soul
shivers: you don’t want to know more
about this. And then: you don’t know anything
unless you do. How the sleepers
wake and run to the cellars,
how the children scream, their tongues
trying to swim away–
how the morning itself appears
like a slow white rose
while the figures climb over the bubbled thresholds,
move among the smashed cars, the streets
where the clanging ambulances won’t
stop all day–death and death, messy death–
death as history, death as a habit–
how sometimes the camera pauses while a family
counts itself, and all of them are alive,
their mouths dry caves of wordlessness
in the smudged moons of their faces,
a craziness we have so far no name for–
all this I read in the papers,
in the sunlight,
I read with my cold, sharp eyes.

~Mary Oliver, via Poetry Magazine (March 1986)

How to Fail

This was a great discussion on a subject we all could identify with: how quick we are to judge ourselves  or failures. Pema Chodron’s advice is spot on: our failures can be gifts if we change our perspective.

The article also talks about the fascinating and subtle way that getting in touch with our weaknesses, rather than closing ourselves off, is the true touchstone to living a fulfilled life. 

How to Fail

And here is the article on how we can help our minds by learning to play a musical instrument (we talked about this, too).
And, Heather, since you asked: here’s my latest pastel of a magnolia tree. I went through every permutation of failure and grudging success, to pleasure even with it’s imperfections:

Time Spent, Saved, and Wasted

We talked today about what the Stoic philosopher Seneca (Roman who lived during the 1st Century AD) thought about how to enjoy life fully and not live life “sliding through a trance of expectancy, always vacating the present moment in order to lurch toward the next–a kind of living death…” the words of the essay’s author, Maria Popova.

We had a really good conversation, with everyone contributing their own little meditation on spending time with those we love and those we may have a little trouble with.

Here’s the whole article:

Naming Our Emotions

The talk today kicked off from an article originally from the Harvard Business School, which explored a more nuanced way of labeling our emotions in order to better understand our reactivity. I found this to be an interesting counterpoint to some types of Buddhist practice, where one is taught to label or note an emotion in the most general terms, and then get back to the object of the meditation, usually watching the breath.

It’s easier to understand what I’m getting at if you take a gander at the HBS article:

I will be talking more about the noting practice of Mahasi Sayadaw in the upcoming course, Imagining Freedom (starting tomorrow), but you can also take a look at articles and books by Jason Siff. You can check out this interview with Jason:

Love is a Skill

Alvin Toffler, who wrote “Future Shock”, said: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” What we talked about today was learning to question and possibly unlearn our belief system that tells us that our unhappiness is the result of personal failings. Read about it further in this great article:

Compare these thoughts on happiness and optimism to Ayya Khema’s article on Lovingkindness. She offers a different approach to doing “metta” practice which at least some of our group found very appealing. The article comes with her text version of a guided Lovingkindness meditation. I will prepare a recording of this version for you in the near future.

Heart of the Prajnaparamita Sutra

I read The Heart Sutta to the class today because I wanted people to know the way I was introduced to Buddhism: reciting a Mahayana Buddhist text in a Theravada group, and being completely baffled by this famous sutta (or sutra, it means a discourse or text or….it may also refer to a cigarette in Hindi College lingo). The Heart Sutta is one of the most well known texts in Buddhism. I read it to the group and asked them to just see how they reacted to it. It was a complete mystery to me when I first heard it. See what you think of it.

This is a translation by the famous Zen teacher Thích Nhất Hạnh , who later wrote another and supposedly more accurate translation which you can find on the web. Our Tri-State Dharma Sunday sitting group likes this one. We meet on Sundays at 9:30, chant the Refuges, sit for a half hour, doing walking meditation for 20 minutes, and then site again for 30 minutes, finishing with this:

The Bodhisattva Avalokita, while moving in the deep course of Perfect Understanding, shed light on the five skandhas and found them equally empty. After this penetration, he overcame all pain.

“Listen, Shariputra, form is emptiness, emptiness is form, form does not differ from emptiness, emptiness does not differ from form. The same is true with feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness.

“Hear, Shariputra, all dharmas are marked with emptiness; they are neither produced nor destroyed, neither defiled nor immaculate, neither increasing nor decreasing. Therefore, in emptiness there is neither form, nor feeling, nor perception, nor mental formations, nor consciousness; no eye, or ear, or nose, or tongue, or body, or mind, no form, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind; no realms of elements (from eyes to mind-consciousness); no interdependent origins and no extinction of them (from ignorance to old age and death); no suffering, no origination of suffering, no extinction of suffering, no path; no understanding, no attainment.

“Because there is no attainment, the bodhisattvas, supported by the Perfection of Understanding, find no obstacles for their minds. Having no obstacles, they overcome fear, liberating themselves forever from illusion and realizing perfect Nirvana. All Buddhas in the past, present, and future, thanks to this Perfect Understanding, arrive at full, right, and universal Enlightenment.

“Therefore, one should know that Perfect Understanding is a great mantra, is the highest mantra, is the unequalled mantra, the destroyer of all suffering, the incorruptible truth. A mantra of Prajnaparamita should therefore be proclaimed.

This is the mantra: “Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha.”

(gone, gone, completely gone to the other shore…well said.”)