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(8) March 8, 2016

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Lovingkindness Sutra June 13, 2015

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This is what is needed to be done
by those who are reaching toward the most peaceful state:

They should be confident, capable,
honest in actions and speech,
completely upright, even in their mind,
easy to speak to,
pleasant for others to be around,
humble, happy with what’s available,
easily supported, not too busy,
living lightly with senses calmed,
wise, modest, not greedily attached to things,
and they shouldn’t do the slightest thing
that those who are wise would speak against.

They should wish in the following way:
May all beings be profoundly well and secure.
May they take care of themselves happily.
All beings that have breath,
whatsoever living beings exist,
without exception,
whether weak or strong, tall, big, medium or short, tiny or huge,
visible or invisible, dwelling near or far away, born or not yet born,
may all beings dwell happily.

May no one harm or deceive another or despite anyone anywhere,
either with anger or ill will let no one wish that harm befall anyone physically or verbally.

Just as a mother would watch over her child, her one and only child with her life,
in just the same way should one cultivate an unbounded mind towards all beings.

Let one cultivate boundless lovingkindness toward the entire world,
above, below, and all the way around,
without obstruction,
without hate and without ill will.

One should cultivate this lovingkindness as long as one is awake,
standing or walking, sitting or lying down.

They say that this is the noblest way of living here.
Whoever is virtuous, endowed with vision, not taken by views,
and having overcome greed for sensual pleasure,
will not be born again in the cycles of suffering.

Taken from a Dharma talk by Br. Phap Hai, listen to the full talk here.

An Opportunity Misssed August 16, 2014

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In January I visited Blue Cliff Monastery in New York for two weeks. After my vist I ended up applying for the 1 year volunteer internship program, and a few months later was accepted. A few weeks ago I made the decision not to follow through on my application to the program. It was a difficult decision to make, based on a number of factors, but at the time I felt like it was the best thing to do for myself.

It was back in May when I finally received word that I was accepted into the program, so since that time I had been planning to spend 2015 living at the monastery. To make the decision not to follow through with my plans showed just how much my planning mind had gotten out of control. I had spent a large amount of energy and thought into planning for a future event that didn’t end up happening. It was quite disorienting for me to see how drastically my future plans could change in an instant. It also showed me how insecure and confused I felt when I didn’t have future plans to rely on in my mind as a form of false security and stability.

I was quite upset after making my decision not to go to Blue Cliff. I felt really disappointed, sad, rejected, and unwanted. I felt really disappointed because I felt like I had lost such a wonderful opportunity that I may never have again. I felt like this was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I had to take up before circumstances changed that prevented me from doing it. Now I am not sure if I ever will have the change to take part in a program like that. My disappointment was greatly increased by just how much I had built up the potential experience in my mind to be so positive and rewarding. I saw how I had made a story about my one year visit at the monastery and how wonderful the experience would be. In the story, I would have such incredible support for practicing mindfulness, and I would be a completely different person at the end, practically rid of my bad habits and imperfections.

I felt really hurt by the experience by how I felt that I was unwanted by the community at the monastery when it didn’t work out that I could visit for one year. I noticed how strongly I reacted to feelings of rejection and isolation. I saw how much I had a need to belong to the community, not only the monastery itself but also to the worldwide Plum Village sangha. I am sure that my feelings of hurt were, and will continue to be, influenced by experiences that I have had in the past at a younger age.

Fortunately, I was able to communicate with the abbess at Blue Cliff over e-mail and phone in a process similar to Beginning Anew. As a result of these discussions back and forth, a lot of the hurt and negative emotions have been resolved. I was able to express the feelings that I had been experiencing without laying blame and saying that any particular person had caused those feelings to happen to me. It was really worthwhile to be able to express myself in words what I had been experiencing, and I learned a lot from the process. It is great to have the opportunity to practice deep looking and nonviolent, non-blaming communication with another practitioner in a safe context.

One great benefit I am enjoying as a result of my decision not to go to Blue Cliff is how much my practice has been strengthened in the past few weeks, particularly my motivation to practice in the present moment. I noticed how I had been relying on a particular place and time (the monastery in the future) to provide me with supports for practicing mindfulness. As a result, I had used that as an excuse to not fully invest myself in practicing mindfulness whereever I happened to find myself, because I would just do it later. After my decision, I realized that I couldn’t wait to go to the monastery to practice. I shouldn’t wait to go anywhere to practice, any retreats or sitting groups. I shouldn’t cling to ideas I have had about past wonderful opportunities I have had to practice mindfulness. Instead, the real practice of mindfulness takes place right here, right now, where I am in this exact moment. Mindfulness is this moment. Mindfulness is this breath.

Taking a Break August 6, 2013

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I’m going to be taking a break from my regular blog posts to go travelling. I expect that I will have many challenges to my mindfulness practice, so expect a few posts along my journey. I would like to thank all of my loyal foloowers, and stay tuned for upcoming posts!

As a parting gift, I’ll leave you with a playlist of all of my happy listening songs: http://grooveshark.com/playlist/Happy/52473331

– Andrea

Quote: Buddha Nature July 29, 2013

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The man whose mind is rounded out to perfection
Knows full well
Truth is not cut in half
And things do not exist apart from the mind

In the great assembly of the Lotus all are present
Without divisions
Grass, trees, the soil on which these grow
All have the same kinds of atoms
Some are barely in motion
While others make haste along the path, but they will all, in time
Reach The Precious Island of Nirvana
Who can really maintain
That things inanimate lack buddhahood?

– Chan-Jan

Mindful Consumption of Food: Trapped in Past Suffering July 29, 2013

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In a previous post I mentioned that I would like to heal suffering from the past in the form of negative body image and unhealthy eating. I said that I need to heal past suffering in order to be free from suffering in the present. The suffering I’m experiencing in the present is struggling with mindful consumption edible foods, because I’m trapped in an unhealthy way of eating when I experience cravings for food. I find myself eating for emotional satisfaction when mental cravings are present, because I feel that not giving into the cravings is repeating past harmful behaviour of denying my body the nourishment it actually needs.

I find myself trapped is eating for emotional satisfaction in a very unhealthy way. As a contrast, the Five Contemplations include the sentence “May we eat only foods that nourish us and prevent illness.” This aspect of mindful eating has been and continues to be a challenge for me because I know that I eat food often to only satisfy my sweet tooth or relieve boredom. I get quite bad cravings for food, especially sweets, when I’m not truly hungry, and I give in more often than I should.

I can recognize that this craving is a habit energy of the mind, and not genuine physical hunger. I know that giving into these cravings is a form of emotional eating or eating for emotional satisfaction. I know that I eat foods that are not nourishing for my body or to relieve genuine physical hunger, but inatead to make myself feel good.

When the habit energy of craving arises, I know that the skilful behaviour to do is to not give into the cravings. However, I feel trapped in this unhealthy form of eating because not giving into cravings feels like it is repeating past harmful behaviour. The past harmful behaviour was not relieving genuine physical hunger when it was present. If I decide not to give into cravings, then I feel like I am repeating past behaviour and harming my body.

Although, the important difference between my past behaviour with consuming food was that in the past I actually had genuine physical hunger rather than habit energy from the mind. Allowing myself to continue to crave food in the present doesn’t feel like being kind to my body or treating my body with respect because of my memories of the past harmful behaviour. Not giving into craving feels like self harming and pathological because I incorrectly associate the craving with physical hunger. I can sense a subtle fear that I might slide back into a pathological relationship with my body.

I know that the skill I need to cultivate and practice now is to be able to determine whether I have mental cravings or genuine physical hunger. Unfortunately, I have thus far been mostly unable to stay with the experience of craving long enough to make this distinction. It is too painful when I relive memories of suffering from my past and I fear that I am repeating the same harmful behaviour. I know that deep looking needs to be done into my past suffering, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to do this with enough compassion and kindness.

My intentions for writing my previous post about negative body image and unhealthy eating was to end the silence and shame that continues from the past. Unfortunately, I don’t think it is that simple to end the shame and the suffering. Even reading my last post now feels quite painful, and I know I am still feeling shame when I don’t want to talk about what’s happening with others.

In my previous post I mentioned that I feel nothing but compassion for my past suffering, but unfortunately this isn’t entirely true either. I know that there is still harshness present in the way I react to my being caught in suffering when I experience anger, self-judgement, and impatience towards myself. I have been noticing how I am still caught in the story about my suffering, which elaborates on how I have had this suffering for so long and will continue to experience suffering and never be truly free from it.

Being trapped in an unhealthy way of eating is the current suffering I’m experiencing as a result of past suffering from negative body image and unhealthy eating. Nevertheless, in this and my previous post, my intentions are to be able to be more open about what is happening in order to heal and be free from suffering.

Quote: Earth as Mother July 19, 2013

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You emerged from the earth like a child but have broken somewhat free of your mother. You will always remain connected, however, and in the end your body will inevitably return home.

– Wes Nisker, in Buddha’s Nature

Where Did My Breath Go? July 19, 2013

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These past few weeks have given me a few challenges to continuing my mindfulness practice, and I am able to see what these challenges are. As a result, my mindfulness practice isn’t coming as easily to me lately, and I feel that I have lost my breath and my present moment awareness. I am trying to motivate myself skillfully to restore my mindfulness without shame or fear or guilt.

I lost my breath. While it seemed not so long ago my awareness of my breath came so much more easily to me, recently it seems that awareness is largely gone. I’m going through my days these past couple of weeks almost completely in my mind, lost in thought, oblivious to my experience of the present moment within and around me.

I suspect losing my breath may have happened as a result of recently spending five full days out of town visiting relatives. Also, I’m sure my preparations for my upcoming trip are contributing to the tendency to be lost in planning thoughts. Finally, an important factor is that I’m working a new part time job that requires me to be rushing and keeping track of multiple objects of attention at once. I find it difficult to get out of these tendencies even after I’m off work.

I have been paying attention to what it is like to have less awareness of my breath, and I am finding that the state of mind in which I have been lately is not all that enjoyable. I feel that I am just rushing or moving from one task or duty to another. I can’t really sit still or be really comfortable with not doing anything but just being. I feel like I am missing out on life, the life that can be deeply experienced and enjoyed. I feel quite agitated and restless, and like I am mostly up in my head and disconnected from my body.

I can go great lengths of time without remembering to return to my breath. When I am rarely able to return to my breath, my mind is soon off wandering to thoughts and plans. My sitting practice sessions have been difficult when I see my mind wander off so easily and so often. It requires a great deal of effort not only to return to the breath but to stay there.

Unfortunately, I’ve also been making up a story about what this means for myself as a practitioner, including details about what I think has happened in the past and will happen in the future. I’m using my mindfulness practice as a criteria for self-judgement and applying labels of lazy and bad. This story only adds to the difficulty and the challenges posed by my present circumstances.

As an experienced practitioner, I know that motivating myself through shame and far is a very negative and unskillful way to be diligent in my practice. Instead, what I want to do is motivate myself positively and skilfully using confidence, faith, and patience. I want to get out of the story I’ve created in my mind about what a bad practitioner I am. I’m remembering a joke my dharma teacher said at a recent retreat: “I’m a little piece of shit and I’m the centre of the universe.” Its exactly that type of thinking that I would like to avoid.

The fact is, losing my breath or my present moment awareness has happened before. This is not the first time. All it means is that different conditions have arisen that do not support my mindfulness practice. And I’m able to see what some of these conditions are.

Therefore, I have been putting quite a bit of effort lately into restoring my mindfulness, my breath, and my present moment awareness. In my sitting practice especially, I have been trying so hard lately to be really interested in my breath. What’s breathing in? What’s it really like, not just my idea of what its like? What does it feel like? Where exactly do I feel it in my whole body?

I’m also reminded continually of some meditation instructions given to my by a recent dharma teacher on retreat: “Be present for this moment. Not regretting how much you weren’t present in a past moment, or plans for how much you will be present in this moment, but completely present, right here, right now.” When I heard my teacher say this, I thought to myself, “Oh my gosh! She’s reading my mind! How did she know that those are the exact thoughts going through my mind when I am practicing mindfulness!”  Her instructions are a helpful reminder to just be in the present moment without the added stories I contribute.

But I know that I’ll regain my present moment awareness, and I will reconnect with my breath and my body. I know I will because I have absolute faith in the three jewels. I know that when I sit on my cushion and I return to my breath and my body, centered in my safe island of mindfulness, that I am home. I have felt that feeling of groundedness and at-home-ness enough times that it has become internalized.

These past few weeks have offered a few conditions that aren’t supportive of my mindfulness practice, and I’ve noticed my breath and my present moment awareness is not as strong as it has been previously. Nevertheless, I am continuing to practice in order to cultivate and restore my awareness, but I need to remind myself to do it skillfully without shame and fear.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go practice sitting meditation!

Quote: Meditate in the Forest July 12, 2013

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“Now I have given you the teaching, there are the trees, there are the roots of the trees. Go meditate there, seek solace in the forest, lest you regret it later.”

– Buddha

My Relationship With My Body: Ending Silence and Shame July 12, 2013

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It has been several years now since I endured the worst of my negative body image and unhealthy eating, but I still find that I can’t talk about these experiences as openly and honestly as other difficulties from the past. I would like to end the silence and shame in order to be healed in the present, and to help others to do the same.

In my feminist English class I took years ago, I learned that silence is secrecy, and secrecy is shame. I have found this to be true in my own personal circumstances, because as long as I cannot openly and honestly talk about some aspect of my experience, it means that I am ashamed about it.

Only recently have I been able to open up to a few close friends about my negative body image and unhealthy eating that I had in the past. I have only opened up to these few people when I knew that they were undergoing the same difficulties. But I can still tell that I have some shame around my past suffering, and this silence continues to contribute to suffering in the present.

When I was a fourth year honours university student, my honours thesis topic was on women’s body image. At the time, I had hoped that people would assume this was purely an academic research interest of mine. When I told them what I was studying. It wasn’t. I hoped that people would think it was merely a coincidence that my eating and physical activity habits had changed at the same time as starting the thesis. It wasn’t a coincidence.

What I didn’t tell people, what I kept secret because I was ashamed, was that I was struggling with my own negative body image. I was a perfectly healthy young woman, but I felt like a fat slob. I had a beautiful young woman’s body, feminine curves and all, but I wanted to look like the models on the fitness magazines, with their perfect abs, tightly toned muscles, and hardly an ounce of body fat bulging anywhere. I wanted my body perfect.

Oxygen_Feb_2010_Cover[1]

 

Can I buy your body?

I exercised religiously. I didn’t miss a single day of my workout routine, even when I was feeling tired or had come down with a cold. I lifted weights and went running every other day. When I couldn’t exercise while at the farm or on vacation, I was fraught with anxiety about when I would have the next chance to burn off the “extra” calories.

I planned every single meal and snack every single day. I eliminated as much dietary fat as I could until my dry itchy scalp drove me nuts and I realized my dandruff was caused from too little fat. I had lost weight and people were commenting on how skinny I was. I didn’t want to be skinny, I wanted to be thin and fit.

Thankfully, this didn’t last long. I now know my body image struggles were due to mental and emotional energy being diverted from the depression from which I was recovering and swore I would no longer revisit. Unfortunately I was still dealing with the same negative mental energy with my negative body image, just in a different form. Thankfully, I read a feminist book on eating disorders and learned that women’s body ideals are a patriarchal form of control over women’s and girls’ bodies and minds that keep our attention and energy diverted away from taking power. My negative mental energy still wasn’t completely healed, but instead resurfaced as intensified symptoms of anxiety.

My shame and silence is still the worst around my family. It is my family members and relatives who know what my body looked like before, during, and after my worst struggles with body image. It was my family with whom I shared meals and justified my food choices under my strict diet by saying that I was trying to “eat healthy.” It is my family with whom I feel the most self-conscious if I notice even the slightest changes in my body shape or size, because I am convinced that they will notice it, too.

I want to be more open and honest about my past suffering because I know some healing still has to be done, as much as I would not like to admit it. I want to end the silence, because I don’t want to be ashamed as if this was all something I deliberately and consciously chose to do to myself. Whenever I can look deeply at the full extent of my suffering, I can’t have any shame because I know that no one would ever choose to undergo that much pain and stress. All I can feel is compassion. Finally, I don’t want to keep silent, because keeping silent means that I take away responsibility from other people, groups, and institutions that are responsible for upholding and reinforcing harmful standards of women’s physical appearance (including other women).

Silence and shame still surround the negative body image and unhealthy eating that I experienced in the past, even though I would prefer to think that some healing has been done. Things have noticeably improved for myself, but I know that there is still some healing left to do. I have noticed that there is still some suffering in the present from some unresolved suffering in the past. I hope to end the silence by being more open and honest because I don’t want to feel shame over suffering I didn’t consciously choose to take on.