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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.

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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: Seeing Nature, Seeing Dharma June 14, 2013

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“Dharma is nature. If one sees Nature, one sees Dharma; if one sees Dharma, one sees Nature. Seeing Nature, one knows the Dharma.”

– Venerable Ajahn Chah

Quote: Dharma is Nature June 9, 2013

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“Dharma, the Buddhist word for truth and the teachings, is also the word for nature. That is because they are the same. Nature is the manifestation of the truth and of the teachings. When we destroy nature we destroy the truth and the teachings. When we protect nature, we protect the truth and the teachings”


– Ajahn Pongsak, Thai Forest monk and engaged Buddhist

Be Still and Heal June 9, 2013

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I have experienced incredible healing from deep suffering in my meditation practice, and the healing process is a challenging one to handle skilfully. First, I have to create an environment of stillness and stability in order for past pain to arise on its own. Then I have to turn toward difficult emotions in compassion. Perhaps the healing happens on its own, its not really me, Andrea, doing it. I just create the conditions for it to happen.

In my last post I described how I experienced a great deal of healing from past suffering using my mindfulness practice. When I wrote that post, the section describing how I experienced the healing process had become quite long, so I decided to write it as a separate post.

calligraphy

At the moment, my meditation “altar” consists of a paper copy of the above calligraphy by Thay taped to my bedroom wall. I truly treasure this calligraphy as an altarpiece because I do believe my meditation practice is the work of healing. Healing is making whole, as the word heal comes from the root word meaning restoring to wholeness. I am restored to wholeness when I can transform past suffering into peace and freedom.

The first part of these instructions is to be still, and stillness needs to happen first before healing can take place. I need to be still in body by sitting and not moving around. I stop interacting with and reacting to stimuli in my environment. I need to be still in mind by considerably slowing down the endless tracks of discursive thought that keeps me going around in circles, accumulating anxiety and tension along the way.

When I am still, my mind-body-heart knows that I am safe. I am free from potential dangers, free from self-judgement, self-criticism, and harshness. I am in a place where I feel supported and protected. In this safe place, I can truly rest, and my guard is let down.

These are the conditions I create in order for the healing to take place on its own time. It isn’t really me doing the healing, but I let it happen on its own accord. When my guard is let down, suffering that has been accumulating will suddenly resurface, out of nowhere and without warning.

This suffering has been accumulating from past circumstances when I didn’t have enough awareness or resources to take the time to deal with the suffering. Past suffering have could been caused by an experience where I was overwhelmed in despair or confusion.

In a safe place of grounded mindfulness, I can see that a moment of despair is not the whole truth. It was just a moment, and I can take refuge in a place of clarity and stability. I rest in a new moment where despair or confusion is no longer present.

The suffering resurfaces because it needs to have new meaning made out of it. It needs to be expressed in at atmosphere of mindfulness and compassion. Past suffering resurfaces in the form of difficult emotions so that it can express itself and be released.

Emotions of fear, grief, sadness, or despair will arise, sometimes with a past memory attached to it, sometimes not. When these emotions arise, the real work of meditation practice takes place. Usually, when a difficult emotion arises, my first instinct is to run away or close down. “It hurts, its too painful, I want it to stop, it feels wrong.”

On the contrary, the solution lies in turning toward a difficult emotion. I move toward it, open up my awareness in interest and curiosity: “Oh, fear is arising. Fear is present. What’s this like? What’s happening here?”

A very important ingredient, perhaps the most important ingredient, is compassion. I have to make very sure that turning toward difficult emotions is done out of love and compassion, not out of sadistic self-torture or to fix my broken self. It is very challenging to skilfully make this distinction. I have to make sure that I do it because I love myself and I don’t want to be in unnecessary suffering. I care about myself and I take good care of the difficult emotion.

To skilfully handle difficult emotions, I have to stay grounded in the present moment. I try to only handle one moment at a time, to slice up the stream of experience into a razor-thin slice of moment by moment experience. This is what is happening now. I try to steer clear of adding the dimension of time to what happens, which only adds fear and exacerbates the hurt. I try to avoid thinking about how this emotion has happened before or has been with me for so long. I try to avoid thinking about how the emotion will stay with me “forever” or at least a long time into the future.

To me, healing is real, I have experienced it as a reality. Interestingly, images can come to me that perfectly illustrate the healing that I feel is happening internally. I’ve had images come to me of a closed lock being opened by a key, or of jammed gears loosening up and turning. I will state what I have been taught and now accept as true for me: suffering can be transformed into freedom, liberation, happiness, and peace.

My meditation practice has offered me the opportunity heal a great deal of past suffering. But before healing can take place, I need to be still in order to have a sense of stability and security. Stillness is a condition I create in my meditation practice, and once difficult emotions arise, I have to know how to handle them with great compassion and care.

Shining Awareness in the Dark Corners – A Story of Forgiveness, Part 3 May 17, 2013

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(This is part 3 of a series on how my mindfulness meditation practice helped me to find forgiveness, and how I uncovered an entire place in my awareness that had previously been completely hidden in darkness. Read part 2 here.)

I will admit that it was difficult at first to open to pain and turn toward such deep anger and hatred held in my heart. The resentments that I had felt for so long were hard to let go, as if they were who I was or they were an integral part of me. Without them I might not know who I was anymore.

Nevertheless, I did a great deal of deep looking and out of understanding came forgiveness. I looked deeply into how I felt hurt and how I perceived my mom had hurt me. I could see how, much like Thay explains, my suffering was related to someone else’s suffering. My suffering was my mother’s suffering.

The harm I felt that had been done to me was a resut of my mother having depression.I could no longer hold onto anger in the face of so much pain. I saw that no one would ever consciously choose to be in that situation.

I experienced a huge amount of relief to let go of all of that anger I had kept inside for so long. I could now see that no one had actually deliberately or intentionally tried to hurt me or cause me suffering from depression. Instead, what had happened in the past was just what had happened. I came to a level of acceptance of my past experience.

I had inner forgiveness for my mom in that I didn’t openly acknowledge the change to anyone. Part of my reason for keeping this forgiveness to myself was that I still felt resentment for other family members who had told me I should forgive my mom. They argued it would be the right thing to do. Before, this advice had made me angry. I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of knowing I did what they told me to do! I didn’t forgive my mom because it was the right thing to do, or because I listened to anyone’s advice. Instead, I did it out of my own choice and for myself first. I did it to free myself of hatred and anger.

I kept my forgiveness to myself and my relationship with my mother improved somewhat because I no longer held such hatred and anger. But outwardly our relationship didn’t drastically change because I didn’t’ sense that much warmth or love, at least compared to other family members with whom I was close. My mother and I were still quite distant from each other.

I moved away even farther from home and for a period only saw my family twice a year, so any relationship with my mother was still distant. After a year of being far from home I began to feel quite homesick. I even felt homesick a little for my mother, which was completely unexpected. I kind of missed her, but not nearly as much as I missed other family members, and even some friends. I almost couldn’t believe I was feeling this toward my mother; I really hadn’t thought it would ever be possible.

I soon came across a dharma talk on forgiveness, which planted a seed of intention. The teacher made it clear to me what I needed to do, my next step: I had to tell my mother that I had forgiven her for anything that had happened to me. But first I had to ask for her forgiveness. I had to ask her to forgive me for all of the violence and aggression I directed toward her, and for all the blame I placed on her for what happened to me. I almost didn’t know if it was possible. But I still had to ask for it.

I phoned my mom up one day and did all of this over the phone. I tried to explain my side of the story of expressing such anger and violence because of having depression, and based on other circumstances in my life while I was a teenager. I had expected it to be an awkward, uncomfortable conversation, but it went surprisingly well. I felt such huge relief for the situation o turn out much better than I had imagined.

Then something unexpected happened…

To be continued next post

Shining Awareness in the Dark Corners – A Story of Forgiveness, Part 2 May 10, 2013

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(This is part 2 of a series on how my mindfulness meditation practice helped me to find forgiveness, and how I uncovered an entire place in my awareness that had previously been completely hidden in darkness. Read part 1 here.)

When times were shitty, I directed all of the energy of blame for all of what I saw to be going wrong in my personal circumstances to my mother. I hated her. In fact, as far as I was concerned, she was the one person who ruined my life. Most or all of my problems were because of her, either directly or indirectly. I would fantasize about how much my life would be better if she wasn’t in it.

I disowned my mother. As far as I was concerned I had an idea or an image in my mind of what a mother was supposed to be, and she didn’t fit that image. She didn’t deserve to be called my mother. I stopped calling her mom and referred to her by her first name, not only when addressing her directly, but also when referring to her when talking to my friends and relatives.

I grew up—sorry, I mean I grew older—and moved away from home. I had a chance to, as I saw it at the time, fix my life by taking control over it myself. I distanced myself from my parents, but especially my mom, and went off on my own.

Not long after, depression revisited, and I had to do the long, hard work of pulling myself out of that big, deep, black hole of self-pity. And this time, the self-pity focused on my mental illness, or the story of it. By the story I mean that depression wasn’t just something that happened to me, I was depression. I was a depressed person, and because I had been depressed before, I must therefore be doomed to this for The Rest Of My Life.

So my self-pity turned to blame for my parents, especially my mother. It was my mother’s fault I was depressed because, among other well-validated and intelligently-argued points, my mother didn’t fix her own depression. She passed on her depression through me. She made me depressed. She did this not only because of, as I was now learning in my university psychology courses, exposing me to seeing someone else with that same illness, but also because of my genes. Depression was built into my genetic makeup. I was doomed. And it was all her fault.

As you might expect, these thoughts and feelings of self-pity only led me to further dig myself into that dark hole of despair. After some time, I was finally shocked into summoning enough energy to take charge of my own recovery. And the type of self-pity thoughts described above absolutely had to go if I wanted my well-being back. I took that approach that I could only take responsibility over what I had control. I couldn’t control my family history or any past experiences, but I could control my thoughts and how I responded to what had happened to me.

When I began to practice meditation regularly and learn the dharma, I was able to take care of the pain leftover from my episode of depression. I was encouraged by the open acknowledgement of the first noble truth that suffering (or dissatisfaction or unease) exists. I was also comforted by the confirmation that suffering can be transformed into understanding and happiness. Strengthened by the practice, I could turn toward the leftover pain of depression and heal myself, and transform the suffering transmitted to me by previous generations.

In transforming some of this pain, I became more aware and understanding of the pain of having a mental illness, and this gave me a great deal of compassion for myself and others in this same situation. I was completely able to deeply feel the pain of mental illness and depression, and have profound compassion in response to that type of pain.

Therefore, when I was eventually exposed to forgiveness in the context of an actual meditation practice, my path to forgiveness was understanding. I took on the forgiveness practice because I decided I needed to forgive my mother. Part of it was a motivation to simply grow up. I wanted to stop being the whiny teenager who had such a sense of entitlement for what people were supposed to do for me. I wanted to be responsible for my own life and happiness.

Continue to part 3 here.

Shining Awareness in the Dark Corners – A Story of Forgiveness, Part 1 May 3, 2013

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This a story of how my mindfulness meditation practice helped me to find forgiveness, and how I uncovered an entire place in my awareness that had previously been completely hidden in darkness. You might not think it is a particularly unique story. In fact, you might even be able to guess how it unfolds. But its my story, and that’s all that matters. And its my story, so I get to tell it.

My relationship with my mother has changed dramatically over my life, but perhaps the most dramatic change has occurred at the same time as—like many of my other relationships—beginning my meditation practice. To tell this story, I’ll start at the beginning.

My relationship with my mother was quite good when I was younger—or so at least I remember, and so I was told by many people around me. My mom stayed home on the farm to raise me and my sibling, so I got plenty of attention. I was looked after and taken care of. I had homemade clothes, home-cooked meals from the garden (including home-canned fruits and wild berries, and homemade bread), and a home that was kept mostly tidy and well decorated. I also had many family camping trips, and was taken to activities and to visit friends. These early years would become the standard or ideal to which I would later compare my circumstances.

By the time I was in middle childhood, many of the attention and duties provided to me were taken away. It was then that I started to notice and be told that my mom was suffering from the mental illness of depression. It followed that many of the circumstances I had enjoyed at an earlier age started to slip away, and some of them disappeared altogether. The activities mom used to do were more and more replaced by her lying in bed, sleeping.

Consequently, the lack of attention affected our relationship, and I became more distant from her. I had to start making my own school lunch, and cooking my own meals. I had to clean up after myself and my family, and the pantry wasn’t as well stocked with fresh food from the garden or groceries anymore.

As a child, I adapted to the changing circumstances. I made do with what I had. I still had my dad looking after me as best he could, and grandparents next door on the farm to which I could go for lots of attention and support, not to mention other relatives. I had other ways of coping. What’s more, I learned the valuable lesson that would become deeply instilled in me for many, many years:

If I want something done right, I have do it myself.

I seemed to be making out just fine. And then I became a teenager. Ah, yes, those oh-so-fun times of adolescence. And with adolescence comes the ability to think more abstractly beyond my immediate experience of childhood awareness into ideas of what my circumstances could be. As I said earlier, my memories of my early childhood with my mother became the ideal with which I would compare my current circumstances.

And also coming with adolescence is a great deal of idealism of thinking how things could be in a better version of my reality. So thinking idealistically was what I did—and oh, how I did it. So my relationship with my mother became idealized into how it should be, and my personal circumstances at home and my mother’s role in creating those circumstances became idealized. I wanted the good times back, or at least my memories of the good times.

But I didn’t get the good times back. I wasn’t about to any time soon, by all signs. And so we know that another characteristic of adolescence is anger. Anger, aggression, and violence when their idealized versions of reality don’t match up with their actual immediate reality. Plus, although I’m simplifying the story a bit here, there were other aspects of my overall personal circumstances that weren’t working out well for me (school, friends, etc.), so I felt that I had other reasons to be angry. But, not surprisingly, my anger and blame was directed at my parents, and my mother in particular because she was an easy target, and partly because that’s what I was learning to do from others.

(Continue to part 2)

Wilderness Dharma: The Wilderness is Already Enlightened April 26, 2013

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The word “Buddha” means the awakened one, and the goal of Buddhist practice is enlightenment, or to become awakened. To be enlightened means to come to a full and direct understanding of the true nature of reality. The more time spent in wilderness, the closer one can get to enlightenment, especially if mindfulness is intentionally practiced while in wilderness. The wilderness is enlightenment itself because it is a physical manifestation of the Buddha’s teachings of the elimination of concepts, of non-self, of wisdom, and of awakening.

One reason I think I feel so comfortable in the Buddhist practice, or why I feel like I just fit right into the tradition, is perhaps because the wilderness already taught me the Buddha’s teachings. I was already learned everything at some point long ago, but just not in Buddhist terms. In a sense, I feel I already “know” the Buddhist interpretation of truth. My discoveries on the path have only allowed me to “remember” what I already knew, or to put into words what was beneath language. In that sense, I am coming home to the dharma when I return to what is most familiar and real for me.

The wilderness is enlightened because enlightenment is the elimination of all concepts. In the wilderness I see clearly that boundaries and lines used to split up or separate our reality into clear distinct parts and pieces cannot be truly applied here. Instead everything blends into everything else, and all things around me are wiggly and messy instead of square or straight. I can’t draw an exact line where the forest ends and the field begins, where the cloud separates from the sky, or when the snow stops and turns into rain.

Concepts are eliminated because no concepts can ever fully contain the sheer immensity of everything around me. Concepts draw clear boxes around reality and capture it into pieces of meaning, but when concepts do this they kill reality. The wilderness is alive, dynamic, moving, and flowing, always shifting, morphing, and changing. Therefore, it can never be captured in a concept because living things and life itself cannot be killed or contained. As soon as one concept is applied to it, it has already shifted into something else.

The wilderness is enlightened because enlightenment involves eliminating the concept of self. When I am in the wilderness I can rest in non-self. I feel the self of “Andrea” that is almost always present drop away, and instead I experience myself as just a human being, as a living being, and as part of life that is all around me. The constructed ego or small self drops away because in this place the labels and ideas that are attached to “Andrea” have no place to rest or no hold onto which to grasp. What do the concepts of “researcher,” “Buddhist,” or “Canadian” have to do with this place? While they might have weight in human reality, they cannot change the laws of nature that still exist here and still apply to me. Such concepts fall silent when they have no reality here to be reflected back at me.

The wilderness is enlightened because it is wisdom, the ancient, unspeakable wisdom of our Earth. There is such vast and deep wisdom already contained within our Earth that has been here longer than any living species. I might use the words natural selection to point to the way all beings and living elements come together to support life. Life occurs when the wisdom is being acted out and everything is just taking care of itself. This process doesn’t come from intellectual thinking but out of the knowledge and wisdom already contained inside of everything. A wonderful and unexpected adventure and discovery of the practice is learning to open myself to this wisdom and to put my trust in it. I know that the wisdom around me in the wilderness is the same wisdom inside my true self that is realized each moment I am alive.

The wilderness is enlightened because it is awake, already manifesting consciousness. And I am awakened when I go into the wilderness. My awareness opens up and expands to accommodate the vastness of my surroundings. I am awakened because I directly experience the physical reality of the changing conditions. I cannot stay asleep or ignore all of the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings of shifting temperature and pressures.

The wilderness is already enlightened because it is a physical manifestation of the Buddhist teachings of the elimination of concepts, of non-self, of wisdom, and of awakening. I can tell that the more time I spend in wilderness, the more easily I come to realize these Buddhist teachings. In fact, I am not sure I am realizing them in the sense of learning them as completely new, but instead remembering them as something already learned long ago and now just putting into new words. I am grateful for my experiences of spending time in the wilderness

Wilderness Dharma: Living in Harmony With the Seasons April 19, 2013

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Here is another post to follow up my last post on seasonal food that is also on the theme of living in harmony with the seasons. In many ways, I live in direct contact with the living world, and by extension the changing seasons. I have had the opportunity to notice how the seasons influence me. I notice both the teachings of dualism, and—somewhat contradictory, perhaps—of dualism, as well as the teaching of impermanence. I can also recognize the seasons of my life as part of the greater rhythms of the living world of which I am a part.

Because I have such a strong need to be outdoors and spend so much of my time in the living world, my personal circumstances are directly affected by the seasons. The time of year determines how I get around because I lack a vehicle, whether this is walking, biking, or taking the bus. My leisure activities are determined by the seasons when it affects whether I’m able to be biking, canoeing, camping, fishing, and picking berries, or whether I can be skating, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing. Finally, how I stay active depends on the type of year, or if I’m able to be running, biking, walking, or practicing yoga. As a result of my personal circumstances affected directly by changes in seasons, I have had opportunity to notice my reactions to changes in these natural rhythms.

When living closely with the seasons, I see the lesson of dualism: this is because that is. There is summer because there is winter. We define something in terms of its opposite. We know what summer is because we contrast it with winter. And I will love summer because I don’t love winter, or rather, the more I love summer, the more I hate winter.

However, I think that getting attached to one or another season can be problematic when we base our happiness on external conditions. In fact, buying a plane ticket to “escape” winter for two weeks in the Caribbean would make me hate winter to a more extreme! I would hate winter before I leave when I daydream and crave the warm tropical weather I expect to go to in the future. While I am there, because I just dropped hundreds of dollars just to be there, I would make darned sure I really enjoy the conditions: the exhausting heat and the hot blistering sun. I would hate winter when I got back when I would contrast my past memories of the paradise I was just at with being at home.

The trick is to love every season, or to at least love something or some aspects of every season. At any time of year, I can enjoy the lush green vitality of summer, the beautiful fall colours, gorgeous winter hoarfrost, or baby calves born in the spring.

Another dharma teaching I’ve noticed clearly in the seasons is nondualism. Nondualism states that we can’t draw a clear line to separate two objects or concepts when in fact they are both one. Both objects we try to label as separate are just two parts of a bigger whole, so “summer” and “winter” are two words used to describe the whole, which is “seasons.”

I notice nondualism in the changing seasons when I see that there isn’t a clear way to draw a line between the two seasons. It\s not the case that one day I wake up and one season is completely over, and the other season is completely here. They blend and blur into each other. Moving to another season isn’t like the way I would pull a new page open on a calendar to move from one month to the next.

Which leads me to my next observation, that living directly with the seasons teaches me the dharma teaching of impermanence. The seasons are always impermanent, changing, shifting, moving from one into the other. Each new day of one season is one step away from the past season, and one step closer to the next. We can never capture one season completely by stopping time, but instead they are always in constant flux. Also, when one season ends when we move into the next season, that past season isn’t permanently over. It will be back next year as the rhythms and cycles of the living world continue.

I also can apply my experience of the seasons to my own personal circumstances when I recognize the “seasons of my life.” I see that my personal circumstances and the situations in which I find myself are constantly and continually shifting, moving, and fluctuating. Over the few decades I’ve been alive, I’ve moved through the stages of “good” and “bad” of happiness and depression, of sickness and health, of success and failure, of doubt and faith, and of light and darkness. What’s more, I know that if I live long enough I will see the movement of this human life through more seasons of birth and death, of youth and old age, and of maturing and decaying.

I am able to see more and more each day Thay’s teaching that my joy and pain are one. I only know one side of these shifting seasons when I have already experienced the other. As just an example, I can only truly appreciate my health when I have directly experienced sickness. This gives me more confidence and encouragement to work with my suffering, to embrace it in order to transform it and be healed.

Living in direct contact with the living world allows me to notice very clearly and vividly both the teachings of dualism and nondualism, as well as the teaching of impermanence. I have also been able to notice the teachings of our Earth in my own personal circumstances of this human life when I reflect on the changing “seasons” I’ve lived. Hopefully by being able to accept the changing seasons of the living world as just the way things are, I can accept the changing seasons of my human life as gracefully and humbly.