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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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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: The Cosmos Offers Us Love July 5, 2013

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“Our bodies and minds are sustained by the cosmos. The clouds in the sky nourish us; The light of the sun nourishes us. The cosmos offers us vitality and love in every moment.”

– Thich Nhat Hanh, The Art of Power

Understanding and Compassion Born in Suffering and Vulnerability July 5, 2013

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Recently, I went through an experience of a great deal of fear and anxiety that left me in a state of suffering. While I was able to take the time to generate compassion for myself, I still found the whole ordeal to be very difficult and unpleasant. Nevertheless, I did notice some important insights that came out of the situation when I saw that I was cultivating understanding and compassion for myself and others.

One day the other week I had an incredible amount of anxiety due to certain circumstances all coming together at once. Some of the circumstances had to do with making plans to go travelling (planning for trip, buying supplies, meeting up with fellow travellers), as well as other unrelated events (starting a new part time job the next day, roommate suspecting bed bugs in our house). A great deal of anxiety and fear about what I should do and what would happen in the future had accumulated all day. By the evening I felt awful. To top it off, I felt frustrated with myself for not being able to keep all of this anxiety under control.

At the end of the day, I set aside the time for myself because I decided that what I needed the most at that moment was to practice compassion. This decision to intentionally practice compassion was a huge difference compared to a year or a few months ago, because previously I would have more likely chosen to distract myself from my suffering.

It was really  challenging to stay with myself with compassion for as long as it took to feel better. I was amazed later at how much I avoided the temptation of losing myself in distraction in order to get away from my  suffering. But I still noticed judgement of myself that I didn’t have enough compassion to fix myself and make the painful feelings and thoughts stop right away. And these self judgements only added to my level of suffering, but I couldn’t seem to stop myself.

I had to hold the huge amount f fear and anxiety in compassion, which soon left me in tears. I twas probably the worst I have felt in a long time. I noticed that the fear was so strong that a lot of other feelings and thoughts were arising.

One feeling that came up was a sense of alienation. I felt alone and abandoned in my suffering with no one to help me. It reminded me of feeling like an elementary school kid on the playground when I’m being picked on by a bunch of classmates. Reliving these memories, I take the aggression personally and feel that there is something fundamentally wrong with me that leaves me rejected by others around me. I feel like “everyone” is out to get and to hurt me, and I’m not safe hear. I want to run away from this hostile situation.

Similar to this, the other feeling that arose was a strong sense of betrayal by others, as I mentioned above. I also felt betrayed by life, by this world in which I live. My expectation of the world and this human life as happy and benevolent was shattered when I experience this much suffering.  I felt humiliated and deeply regretting the stupid mistake of thinking that by paying attention to the positive I could be happy. I felt that I couldn’t trust life anymore to deliver happiness. Whatever happiness I had experienced before was a mistake and I shouldn’t count on it again.

Finally, in this deep state of fear, I also felt like I regressed or went back in time to a younger self. For a short while I felt like I was just a crying toddler again who just wants her parents to hold her and make it all better. All I could do was send out a powerful wish with my whole being to the universe, “May I be taken care of.” In that moment, I didn’t feel like I could take care of myself, but I needed to be looked after by someone or something outside of myself.

I was getting in touch with my vulnerability, and I will admit that in the moment I didn’t like it. I hated it. It was nothing but bad news. Here I thought as an adult I was in control and independent. But the wake up call that inside me is a needy, dependent, helpless, crying toddler was very painful to see.

Afterward, when I had recovered my sanity and felt much better, I realized that this vulnerability isn’t all bad news. It has good news, too. It has good news because it wakes me up to the truth that I am interdependent on everyone and everything around me to keep me alive, safe, healthy, and happy. I am not 100% independent and in control. I can’t do it all myself, all the time. Understanding was being born.

It is good news because seeing my vulnerability only makes me tender and gentle in response. I see that I am a fragile, precious living being, and I need to be cared for with great kindness. The hard rough hands that were gripping me in harsh self judgement earlier now get transformed into softness and gentleness. And I know that all living beings have exactly the same vulnerability and I can only treat others with the same kindness. Compassion was being born.

I share these thoughts in the hopes that others won’t feel alone when they feel the same way. And I hope to not feel so alone myself when I openly acknowledge these feelings that are at times too difficult to see.

Quote: We Are Bleeding At the Roots June 28, 2013

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“Oh, what a catastrophe, the maiming of love when it was made a personal, merely personal feeling, taken away from the rising and the setting of the sun, and cut off from the magic connection of the solstice and equinox! This is what is the matter with us, we are bleeding at the roots, because we are cut off from the Earth and sun and stars, and love is a grinning mockery, because, poor blossom, we plucked it from its stem on the tree of Life, and expected it to keep on blooming in our civilised vase on the table.”

– D.H. Lawrence, Phoenix II (as quoted in Buddha’s Nature by Wes Nisker)

Wilderness Dharma: My Love for Trees April 5, 2013

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Developing mindfulness while outdoors has allowed me to have a greater appreciation for trees. I love trees because they offer me safety and refuge, they are my good friends, and they symbolize perfect self-acceptance.

Last week as part of a presentation I did for a group of students, someone who was co-presenting with me said proudly, “You can call me a tree-hugger, I’ll gladly admit it. I love to walk up to a tree and wrap my arms around it. I take energy from them.”

They could have taken the words directly from my mouth. I feel exactly the same way. I’m a tree-hugger and I love trees.

I love trees because they give me safety and a source of refuge. Going into the forest is a way I take refuge, and I take refuge in these places regularly. I walk into a clearing, lie down on the soft moss or bed of fallen leaves, and stare up at the tree tops and the sky. I watch the trees dance for me in the gentle breeze, trying to hear their silent music.

Forests are a place where I can truly rest. I spend time in forests to rest, and not only to let go of what is causing me stress and anxiety. I also take something away from the forests. I absorb the energy and vitality of these sacred spaces. I am enlivened by the presence of the living beings and living elements around me.

Forests are the ultimate place of safety for me. For my lovingkindness practice, the phrase “may I feel safe and protected” automatically elicits an image of being in a forest. The highest most perfect feeling of safety is sitting on the forest floor, my back against a trunk, completely surrounded in every direction by trees. The wind can be blowing hard above the forest and make the tops of the trees sway, the sound of roaring wind noticeably loud. But I am safe deep in the shelter of the forest. I am protected from the elements of sun by the shade, of heat in the coolness of a thick tree cover, of wind by the study trunks and boughs and leaves, and by rain from the roof overhead.

To be surrounded by trees is to feel a warm loving embrace, a close warm hug. My heart is nourished by the presence of all my plant and animal sisters and brothers. I am restored by the sounds of the birds singing and of the trees breathing in the wind as my outer lungs.

I love trees because they are my good friends. I appreciate their friendship the most while living in the city. While I walk or bike down long, straight, paved city streets and sidewalks, I feel the presence of these fellow living beings. At the same time, all of the harsh fabricated buildings and fences are surrounding me in all directions. I can still sense the life energy of the trees. To have their thick, gnarled trunks beside me is to feel my friends are standing firm and tall beside me and with me. They comfort me and reassure me that I can be okay in this foreign place. They let me know that not all life is killed, destroyed, taken or captured in cement and steel.

I have to rest my awareness on trees when I am surrounded by human constructions of straight edges and square angles. I need to keep my attention on something alive and fluid. I can breathe more easily when my eyes can rest on the living patterns of tilted trunks, twisting branches, twigs, and spreading leaves.

The trees offer me a symbol of how I wish to be. They are fully alive, completely rooted deep into the life energy of our Earth and reaching up to the sky. I long to be truly closer to our Earth, and at the same time reaching up to the sky away from the cement and pavement.

Finally, I love trees because they teach me perfection. They help me understand Thay’s teaching of accepting ourselves when he says the rose is already perfect. I look to the trees as an example of a model of how to embody this self acceptance.

When I look at a tree, I see that it is already perfect just as it is. It might be leaning or lopsided, it might be turning brown or losing some needles or bark. But it is still perfect exactly as it is. It still stands there, proudly displaying and proclaiming its wonderful tree-ness to the entire world. To me, I can’t imagine that the tree has any feelings of inferiority, of needing to change or fix itself to be a “better” tree. It probably doesn’t feel bad about what it is and doesn’t try to change anything about itself.  It probably doesn’t try to be straighter or taller, more lush or any different than it already is. A pine tree probably doesn’t spend its days wishing it were a poplar tree, or even an animal or another species altogether.

When I look at trees this way, I try to accept myself for who I am instead of trying so hard to make myself into somebody different. I try to remember that there are so many aspects of myself that I ultimately cannot change. Instead my energy could be better spent in a humble acceptance and trying to work with what is present.

A few reasons I can capture in words for why I love trees so much is that forests are a place where I can feel safe and take refuge. I also love trees because they are my good friends standing firm and tall beside me in the city, and they embody the spirit of self-acceptance. This post can’t quite capture all of the ways that I love trees, but I am happy to share with you in hopes you feel the same.

The Sun as Love March 1, 2013

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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.

Leaving Facebook to be More Loving February 22, 2013

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After years of dedicated use, I recently got rid of my facebook account because I noticed that it was negatively affecting my relationships. Being off of facebook means I am more able to pay attention and offer my true presence to someone. And offering my attention is a form of love.

A few months ago, in the midst of a big transition of a new job and new place, I got off of facebook. For good. It was a decision I had been considering for some time, because I could see many advantages and disadvantages of my account.

Facebook was great to have for keeping in touch with friends and relatives, especially while I was living so far from home. In fact, I told myself that the only reason I kept it was to message my relatives who lived so far away, and who I only saw once per few years at best.

The disadvantages were numerous as well, and I’ll only talk about a few of them. A big disadvantage was that it was a huge source of distraction. At any time while logged in, I was likely to go off on what I call an “online tangent,” or clicking on one link after another for large amounts of time, despite alternative intentions.

Another disadvantage was that while I did have access to people’s accounts, my attention was dispersed when I tried to interact with multiple people at once.

And a final disadvantage was I ended up focusing on quantity over quality of friends. I had so many “friends” on my account, but most of them were not my true friends because I didn’t really care about them all that much.

I got off facebook in order to exchange one form of communication for another. Facebook is not the only way to communicate with the people I love—just as my prairie grandmothers! (Another form of communication I prefer is phoning, when I can actually interact with a live person in a give-and-take conversation and hear their voice.)

I wanted a more real form of communication: to be in the real presence of a person, to see a living, breathing human being in front of me. Real communication is more loving because I am able to pay attention to the person. In fact, when you get right down to it, attention is love: (to quote Karen Maezen Miller) what we pay attention to grows and thrives, while what we neglect withers and dies.

Thay teaches that the most loving thing we can do for another person is to be able to say, “I am here with you,” (no, you don’t actually have to say it out loud!). We have to be completely with someone in the present moment, body mind and heart.

Attention is related to meditation because meditation is the practice of cultivating the ability to pay attention. The less time I spend on facebook, the less distracted I ams, the stronger my ability to attend, and therefore the move loving I become.

So I decided to trade up numerous micro-instances of internet attention for rare periods of intense attention in the real presence of someone.

I think by being off facebook altogether, I am not only encouraging love to grow in others, but I am able to receive love more from my friends and family. If being with me in person is the only or best way someone is able to get in touch with me, then they are going to make sure to pay attention to me while they have the chance. Also, my facebook absence means that I can attract my true friends, thus gaining “quality over quantity.” My true friends want to be with me and will be willing to take the time to meet with me in person.

It was a difficult decision to make, but getting off facebook was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I have no regrets! I find that I can be a more loving person when I am able to devote all of my attention to someone when I am really with them. Being able to give my full attention in the present moment is, I believe, one of the most loving things I can do.

Facing My Fears with the Five Remembrances February 15, 2013

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The Five Remembrances are a practice which I have found incredibly powerful in helping me to face my fear and to try letting go of my attachments. I have also found the practice helpful in allowing me to recognize and appreciate the many conditions for my well-being that are already present.

The Five Remembrances were suggested to me by one of my teachers on retreat to help me to handle unskilful habits. I have been reciting them regularly for the past several months. I silently recite them to myself every day at the very end of my morning formal sitting practice. I find that starting off my day with the big perspective like this helps me to not get as lost or stressed out by the small details.

I have modified the wording and rearranged the order of the five phrases to suit my own preferences.

Illness

The first phrase I say is:

I am of the nature to become ill.

There is no way to avoid illness.

This phrase brings up fear of being in physical pain and of being disabled by disease or injury. It also helps me to recognize the many wonderful conditions that make up my physical well being when I see just how completely healthy and able-bodied I am. I feel incredibly lucky to have enjoyed such great health for so long—almost as if I have “cheated the system.”

On the rare occasions when I do experience an ache, pain, or infection, I remember that I am not immune to these experiences but that they come with being a living being.

This phrase has also helped me to recognize sickness around me, not only in my loved ones and other people, but also animals, plants, trees, and the living world. When I do recognize sickness, I feel a connection to these beings when I know that I share the same nature.

Aging

The second phrase is:

I am of the nature to grow old.

There is no way to avoid growing old.

This phrase helps me recognize the fears I have associated with old age, and to realize that the aging process is happening now and has been every moment of my life. As one illustration, I have a stronger eyeglass prescription and more dental fillings than I did 10 years ago!

The recognition that I am an aging living being is very humbling in that I feel a stronger connection to aging people, animals, and plants around me. I realize that that will be me one day if I live long enough.

The phrase helps me to recognize and appreciate the wonders and pleasures of youth. I see more and more how youthfulness provides me with power in an ageist society. Youth offers self-reliance and the ability to take care of myself with out the need for others to cook for me, or to feed, bathe, or dress me.

Death

The third phrase is:

I am of the nature to die

There is no way to avoid dying

I am able to face the fact a little bit more that my death is an inevitable reality, not just some vague idea that might happen one day far away. Death could be right around the corner, and human life is incredibly delicate and fragile. This one is a wonderful way for me to really let go when I see how impossible it is to make anything last or to keep any belongings.

Separation & Loss

The fourth phrase is:

All that is dear to me and everyone I love

are of the nature to change.

There is no way to avoid being separated from them

This phrase allows me to really look at what it is onto which I am holding on. Its a great way to wake myself up to unconscious assumptions that my current circumstances will continue into the future.

I see that I’m holding onto relationships when I am relying on the support and love of others in a greedy and needful way, assuming that these people will always be there for me.

I’m holding onto various circumstances and conditions for which I have preferences, such as my sangha, where I live, my job, arrangements for being outdoors and in wilderness, money, as well as my most cherished and prized possessions which I tell myself “I cannot live without” (this computer, my camera and photos, bicycle, etc.).

Karma

The fifth phrase is:

My actions are my only true belongings.

I am the owner of my actions.

My actions are the ground on which I stand.

Whatever actions I shall do,

whether for good or evil,

of that I shall be the heir.

The last set of phrases reminds me that, despite my inability to grasp the shifting and changing conditions that affect me, the one area on which I do have a firm control is my actions. I can decide whether to act for “good or evil,” although I prefer the terms positive/wholesome/skilful and negative/ unwholesome/ unskilful.

This phrase is a daily reminder to turn myself toward embracing the wholesome qualities within me, such as generosity, lovingkindness, and interbeing. I am reminded that unwholesome seeds, such as far, craving, greed, isolation, self-pity, and materialism lie deep in my consciousness, and I can take efforts to transform them into more beautiful qualities.

The phrase says actions, but I don’t consider “actions” to be limited to physical behaviour, but encompasses thoughts, speech, and actions. This phrase is empowering because it allows me to see that every single moment is an opportunity to practice the path and nurture positive qualities.

The Five Remembrances have been a very powerful practice for me, and I’ll continue to use them probably for some time as long as I find them effective. I would highly recommend them to anyone who wants to work with fear, help to let go of attachments, and to be grateful for the good conditions you enjoy.

Reflections from Weekend Mindfulness Retreat January 18, 2013

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Recently I had the opportunity to organize and attend a weekend mindfulness retreat where I am living. It was a wonderful experience overall, and I wanted to share just a few of many reflections from the weekend, including opening my heart, restoring my confidence, and hugging meditation.
Opening My Heart
On the retreat I was able to enjoy many periods of dwelling in an open heart. Numerous times I would be making my way around the retreat, as well as during walking and eating meditation, and I would notice or see my fellow retreat attendees, some of whom were complete strangers to me. I would feel an immense sense of gratitude and appreciation for these wonderful living beings directly in front of me, simply for their presence. I also experienced a softening in compassion at the same time of their vulnerability to suffering.
This sense of dwelling in an open heart felt amazing: very warm, peaceful, natural, satisfying, spacious and expansive. It is only recently in the past few months since my weekend lovingkindness retreat that I have been able to recognize when my heart is open to others.
I think that an important factor to help these feelings arise might be the incredible safety and comfort I usually feel on retreat of being in a safe, quiet place, surrounded by fellow practitioners, and watched over by a dharma teacher. I am grateful that I was able to get a glimpse of that place of open-heartedness. I hope that I can use it as an experience to remember, and to which I can refer later: Oh right, this is what an open heart feels like.
Restoring My Confidence
The teacher asked us at the start of the retreat to really take some time to consider our intention for coming. To ask ourselves: Why am I here? What do I hope to get out of this? I spent some time trying to narrow down and clarify a few thoughts or themes going through my mind up until that point. One intention that came out that really spoke to me was my intention to strengthen and restore my faith in the practice.
I had a difficult time over the winter holidays sustaining my practice, to which I’m sure many people can relate, and I returned feeling quite depleted in my typical trust and confidence in practicing mindfulness. Specifically, I felt that maintaining my mindfulness practice was taking more effort than it was “worth”, or that I was putting more into it than I was getting out of it. Looking back now, I think I can see that I may have been lost in confusion and despair.
Regardless, I remembered from past retreats that these weekends usually left me with a stronger sense of faith and confidence that I am on the right path. I will say that my faith and trust was completely restore as soon  as I had the chance to practice mindful breathing and walking in a supportive environment. A large part of this restored faith also was due, I think, to sharing or enjoying the expressions of deep faith and heartfelt aspirations of others, especially of those who were new to the practice. I felt genuinely moved and touched by the sincerity of other people’s aspirations and the bare honesty of what people shared during dharma discussion and question & answer sessions. Maybe it reminded me that I, too, have turned to the three jewels in deep humility of not knowing all of the answers and turning to something outside of myself for help and refuge.
Enjoying Hugging Meditation
One part of the retreat I especially enjoyed was hugging meditation. I had the sense that I was really able to grasp the full meaning behind Thay’s instruction on the purpose of hugging meditation. This wasn’t my first opportunity to enjoy hugging meditation on retreat, but it was one time I felt deeply moved by it.
From my understanding, hugging meditation can be an opportunity to enjoy sharing the presence of another person. When we practice hugging meditation, we can be completely present for that person and recognize that they are here with us. I was able to relate to Thay’s connection of impermanence to the practice of being able to say, I know that you are here and I am so happy. Realizing that every moment of our and another’s life is precious, and all we really have is the present moment.
I try to really appreciate and savour every moment I share together with my loved ones. It is a chance to recognize that all of the infinite causes and conditions that had to come together for ourself and the other person to be here, alive and well, in this moment. I really was able to get a good sense of all of these teachings during hugging meditation. Perhaps it helped that I was so moved by the deep aspirations of others who took the Five Mindfulness Trainings and knowing that many more were considering taking the trainings. I was really able to see the good heart of everyone shining through and reflecting in their eyes.
Something I have been trying hard to do is to practice this with my family, and to not take for granted as much that my family members will always be here with me when I spend time with them, but that every moment I have with them is precious simply because we are able to be together. This intention is something I continue to explore and practice.
These are just a few reflections from my experience of a great weekend retreat. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to take part and to help organize the retreat. My task now is to integrate these experiences and insights into my everyday situations. Wish me luck!