jump to navigation

Quote: Losing Control March 30, 2013

Posted by Living Abundance in Uncategorized.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

Most people move in constant opposition to themselves because they are afraid that if they do not oppose themselves all the time they will lose control and something awful will happen.

– Alan Watts, in Eastern Wisdom, Modern Life

Advertisements

Wilderness Dharma: Snow as Peace March 30, 2013

Posted by Living Abundance in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

After a long Canadian prairie winter, the snow is finally starting to melt. I thought I would write a few of my thoughts on how much I appreciate the beauty of the snow, as well as its teachings of the dharma. The snow embodies the Buddha’s teachings because it is a symbol of peace. The snow is silent, colourless, still, and pure, and I see myself in the snow’s delicateness and impermanence. Falling snow reveals wisdom to me and hints at the ultimate reality.

The snow is peace because the snow is silent. The snow is the epitome of silence, where it is so silent it is loud. I know of little else that is as quiet as waking outside on a calm winter day amidst freshly falling snow. It’s as if the snow on the ground, above in the sky, and in the air is absorbing all possible sounds.

The snow is peace because the snow is colourless. Snow has no colour of its own, but reflects back the full spectrum of white. It looks white, but on a sunny winter day, it reflects the colour of the sky as blue. The winter sun low in the horizon is reflected in the golden yellow brightness that sparkles and shimmers like an ocean of a million diamonds.

The snow is peace because it is stillness. On a calm winter day, a field of snow just lies there, calm, still, and unmoving, covering everything underneath it. The snow is blank, it has nothing in it. It is not busy when it doesn’t contain anything to tarnish it. It can look “boring,” but at the same time beautiful in its simplicity.

The snow is peace because it is pure. A field of perfect colourless snow is as pure as the purity of a peaceful heart. It is a symbol of the pure goodness that is present in all beings and all life.

I see myself in snow because in it I see that I, too, am delicate. I am fragile as a precious living being. Just like a soft layer of freshly fallen snowflakes is fragile and easily crushed by the lightest weight touching it. I see my vulnerability as a human being who constantly depends on so many conditions to be a live and well in each moment.

I see myself in snow because in it I see that I, too, am impermanent. While it may be hard to believe for us prairie folk, with five months of it in a year, the snow won’t always be here. It will melt.

I see my impermanence when I see that I, too, will eventually fade away. But, just like me, the snow doesn’t cease to exist, it simply manifests in a different form. The snow becomes the runoff of spring and the water I drink all through the hot summer months.

When I see snow I see wisdom because the snow falls where it lands. There is no “snow-self,” no snow director who controls where each and every snowflake lands. The snow just falls from the sky and falls where it lands. Any number of infinite causes could make each flake land in a certain place.

The snow is wiggly and random, it has li. Li is the Chinese word describing the organic pattern present in all natural things, such as falling snow, waves on an ocean, and markings in stone. To me, things that exhibit li are themselves alive.

Falling snow is precious to me because it is a portal, a gateway to the ultimate reality. I urge you to step outside on a calm winter day when the huge, fat flakes are falling from the sky. Make yourself still and stand amidst the activity all around you. Feel the presence of the snow, feel all of the space filled with it. Maybe you’ll feel yourself slip away, get lost, swept up in the movement.

Or maybe you won’t.

Quote: Living in the Present Moment March 15, 2013

Posted by Living Abundance in Uncategorized.
Tags: ,
add a comment

The measuring of worth and success in terms of time, and the insistent demand for assurances of a promising future, make it impossible to live freely both in the present and in the ‘promising’ future when it arrives.  For there is never anything but the present, and if one cannot live there, one cannot live anywhere.

– Alan Watts, in The Way of Zen

Cultivating the Paramis: Reflections from Weekend Insight Meditation Retreat March 15, 2013

Posted by Living Abundance in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , ,
add a comment

Last weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a weekend insight meditation retreat organized by my sangha. Overall, the weekend was very beneficial, and I feel that my practice has definitely been strengthened. I enjoyed the teacher’s wonderful presence, her unique contributions to the effects of meditation on physical health, and of course, her dharma talks around the theme of cultivating the paramis.

Presence

The presence of the teacher herself was one of the most valuable parts of the retreat for me. Usually I feel threatened by a new teacher and don’t like them initially. I was drawn to this teacher immediately. I absolutely absorbed her presence of joy and lightness. I think that this is because I’m drawn to what I desire most in myself.

For me, the teacher was a living Buddha, an example of the teachings in practice. She embodied incredible lightness and a wonderful sense of humour. She was very gracious and light, and her teaching style was incredibly gentle. I absolutely loved being on retreat with her because my own practice is usually harsh and rigid so her approach was very balancing.

I especially appreciated her humility and willingness to openly describe her difficulties and challenges. I think I had a misperception that teachers and long-term practitioners are immune to these types of struggles. But, reflecting on my own practice, I see now I was sorely mistaken.

Meditation and Health

The teacher is actually a practicing medical doctor, so I appreciated the physical health piece she brought to her wisdom. Several times she was able to complement her wisdom teachings with more recent evidence in neurobiology. I was glad to have the reminder of how meditation is so directly linked to the parasympathetic nervous system and can counteract the harmful stress response. She was able to masterfully blend the descriptions of the teachings in practice with what these effects looked like as patterns in brain activity. I will admit that I take this “scientific evidence” with a grain of salt. But she reminded me that I myself have a unique appreciation for the neurobiology aspect of meditation given my psychology background.

Paramis

The theme of the retreat itself was cultivating the paramis, the qualities of character to be perfected to awaken our Buddha nature. While we didn’t go through all of them in detail, there was some discussion of the paramis overall. I didn’t spend too much energy on the retreat working with the qualities about which she taught. I did appreciate the mention that these qualities arise organically as a result of the mindfulness practice itself. In fact, when the teacher went through the list, I found this to be true. I have never formally familiarized myself with the paramis, but I recognized that some of them had naturally been strengthened as a result of my practice.

A theme I discovered in all of her talks about each of the paramis was that we cultivate them by recognizing and exploring their opposite. We build each quality by noticing when its opposite is presence. Its not only recognizing that its there, but getting in touch with it, looking deeply into it, and most importantly, holding it and myself in compassion.

This may sound counterintuitive, but after some reflection I saw that it was certainly true for me. I believe that this applies not only to the paramis, but to any Buddhist quality to which I aspire. only when I move toward what was causing difficulty for me did I find the solution or the solutions found themselves. As Thay says, “No mud, no lotus.” Only by recognizing and embracing my suffering can I transform it. The only way out is through. It sounds harsh, but I believe it to be the truth.

The teacher’s presence as a living example of the teachings, her experience in healthcare, and her instructions on the paramis were just a few of the many benefits I received on this weekend retreat. I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to attend this event. Now I am looking forward to putting the teachings to practice!

Quote: Life as Mystery March 8, 2013

Posted by Living Abundance in Uncategorized.
Tags:
add a comment

“Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved.”

– Adrian Von Kaam

(Taken from the book Solitude by Robert Kull)

Wilderness Dharma: The Weather as My Teacher March 8, 2013

Posted by Living Abundance in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

The weather is one of the best teachers I have for showing me the dharma, the true nature of reality. Weather is an excellent teacher for me personally because I spend so much time outdoors and come into direct contact with the elements. Here are some of the ways I have realized the meaning behind the dharma while experiencing the weather. The weather teaches me that conditions I experience are unpredictable ,impermanent, happening in the present moment, and without a solid reality. I also learn from the weather how to be grateful for what I do have, and how to recognize what’s here while it is manifesting.

The weather teaches me how to experience the present moment. The weather is completely, 100% absolutely unpredictable. Sure, a forecaster can say with some percentage of certainty what conditions might be like, but she can never know for sure. There are too many unknown causes and conditions.

Exactly like all of the conditions I experience are unpredictable. All I can say with absolute certainty is what is happening this instant. As soon as I leave the razor’s edge of this moment, I am in unknown territory.

So there is no security in any forecast or prediction into any part of the future. There is no security, no solid ground on which to stand. All I have to do is learn to swim in the river.

Weather teaches me impermanence. Just because conditions are a certain way right now doesn’t mean they cant change in an instant. Patterns are always shifting, systems are always moving, and different conditions are all interacting with each other in unknown ways.

Impermanence is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned when current circumstances aren’t going the way I would like. The message would be summed up as: Wait it out. Just wait, wait a second, wait a minute, wait as long as I need until its bearable. Sometimes the waiting is longer than I’d like, and compassion is key here.

Knowing that impermanence exists allows me to try to patiently bear the storm. I remind myself nothing lasts forever, no conditions last, however unbearable they may be.

An experience I’ve had over and over again, enough that the message is starting to really sink in, is a beautiful bright morning after a long dark night of struggling with my own challenges. So many times now I have walked outside, marvelled at the fresh, clear, blue morning sky, and said out loud: “And the day will dawn clear and bright.” Oh right, now I remember.

The weather teaches me how to savour wonderful conditions when they are present. As the song goes, the sun can’t shine every day. Knowing that weather includes the possibility for storms and clouds means I can recognize what’s enjoyable and appreciate it. I try to recognize the presence of good conditions because I know they’ll eventually fade.

This also makes many weather conditions more enjoyable because I try to see how even the “bad” conditions have some positives: the sound of spruce trees breathing during a windy day; the glint of sunshine on wet grass; the peaceful quiet of snow falling; or even an excuse to stay inside, feeling safe and warm during a terrible storm.

In my own personal circumstances I try to apply the same approach by recognizing as many nourishing conditions as I can. I know that all conditions I ever encounter will eventually fade: My health, a good meal, an inviting, safe home, the company of wonderful friends.

The weather teaches me gratitude. Even in less than ideal conditions, I can catch myself asking the question, “Why the heck do I live here? Its so _____ (cold, hot, windy, dry, etc.), its not even meant for human habitation.”

Aaah, but there it is: a lack of appreciation for where I live. I live in Canada, a place for which an endless amount of my fellow global citizens would risk their lives in an instant to trade places with me.

I’d like to quote my father here for one of his lessons: “We don’t have to live here, ya know? No one’s holding a gun to our head.” (His way of saying I’m not being forced to do anything against my will). Thanks for the reminder that of all of the places in the world and in the country to live, I made a conscious and voluntary decision to live where I am now. And for good reasons, so its great to remember those reasons.

The weather teaches me not to make real passing conditions, or not to give patterns and fluctuating rhythms a solid reality.  Sure, its raining or hailing or blowing wind right now, but that doesn’t mean these conditions have any lasting permanent reality. There isn’t a “wind” essence that’s suddenly appeared and will stay forever to characterize the air. Its just the wind blowing itself. The rain is just the rain raining itself.

It offers me an example for my own internal weather that I need not take any passing inner states as real, or as solid and permanent. According to the teachings, these states are just arising in response to various conditions and will eventually pass. I remind myself I am not my thoughts, my feelings, my sensations. The thoughts are just thinking themselves.

To paraphrase Pema Chodron, I am the sky. Everything else is just the weather. I try to relax and sit back and watch it all happen without trying to make up a story about who “I” am.

These are some of the ways I have seen the Buddha’s teachings expressed perfectly in the weather. As someone who spends time in direct contact with the elements in the living world that are clear, concrete reality, I have learned in a more profound way how conditions are impermanent, unpredictable, and without a “self”. Gratitude and savoring the present moment are also excellent lessons I’ve received from the weather. Because I won’t be spending any less time outdoors as I am used to, I expect many more wonderful and hard-earned lessons are to come.

The Sun as Love March 1, 2013

Posted by Living Abundance in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

The sun is part of me. She is so essential to me that I need her as much as I need air to breathe. When I am cut off from the light and warmth of the sun, I feel as if I am suffocating.

To me, there is nothing more amazing and glorious than to stand outside in the sunlight and feel her warming my skin. This is love, bathing in the sun’s rays. I feel embraced and loved and whole. This brings me so much joy, and I try to take the joy of the sunshine with me and spread it wherever I go.

Standing in the sun’s rays, I know love directly. The sun’s power is clearly felt in the midday sun of a hot summer day. It feels to be the most powerful force I know. The sun is everlasting, burning constantly every moment I have been alive. Even in the darkness of my night, she is still burning bright on the other side of our Earth. The power of the sun is infinite, eternal, everlasting, and unchecked.

 

The sun is my outer heart because when the sun goes down, my heart aches for the light. As soon as the sun is gone in the evenings, a little bit of my own light leaves me. My energy sags, my mood dips into a more sullen tiredness, and I feel lonely and cut off from my plant and animal sisters and brothers. In the darkness I retreat into myself. I turn down the lights, get ready for bed, and curl up in a corner with a book to lull me to sleep.

Mornings are the happiest time of the day for me. My energy is highest and I am awake and open to the possibilities of a brand new day. The sun’s lightness and energy is my energy. My body, mind, and whole being respond to her rhythms in ways I cannot control.

November is one of the most difficult months. Our Earth dips into darkness and the sun is leaving me for a long cold winter. The leaves on the trees are gone and there isn’t enough snow to reflect what little sunlight I can enjoy. The holidays are too far away to which I can look forward. The brightness and warmth of spring now seem so far away, and I brace myself for the months of winter.

The sun is love and warmth not only when I am directly in her rays, but every moment of my life when I am protected by other indirect forms of her warmth. The fuel to heat indoor spaces comes from the sun’s energy, keeping me comfy and cozy all hear round. The warmth and light of the fire is the energy of the sun released from its storage in the wood of the trees.

The warmth of my own body is the sun. She feeds and grows the plants and animals I eat, and my body takes in this fuel to burn every moment I am alive. What could be a more direct example of the love of the universe: The sun’s energy that touches every living being, creating and sustaining all life, and supplying me with every amount of energy I have ever enjoyed.

The sunrise is awakening for me. The sun rising acts as a mindfulness bell. The day begins and the light starts to gradually glow brighter and brighter, incrementally and so slow and gradual I can’t visibly notice it. But I wait and the sun’s rays start to touch the high clouds, bathing them in warm, glowing light. Finally, the sun rises from the horizon, bringing light to our Earth and casting aside the darkness of night. She bathes everything around me in permeating, glowing light. Her rays shine directly onto our Earth, touching everything in light. Suddenly what was covered in darkness and imperceptible during the night is illuminated, visible and clear. With the sun, I can see everything around me. She reveals our Earth to me. A new dawn is a call to awakening: “Wake up! Look and see what is before you! The whole world available in every moment underneath your feet.”

When I see a burning red sunrise, I see the process of awakening. At first before the sun comes, everything in black and hidden in darkness. The sun begins to show herself and reveals a sky of red clouds. Awakening happens with the First Noble Truth: Suffering exists. The red of sunrise is the burning red of hurt and pain that causes suffering. But only when the suffering is brought into the light of awareness does release happen. After the glowing red sunrise, the morning sun comes and shines white and clear, filling the entire sky.

Quote: Getting Polished March 1, 2013

Posted by Living Abundance in Uncategorized.
Tags:
1 comment so far

“If you are irritated by every rub, how will you get polished?”

– Rumi.