Brief Reflection - Find A Way

Brief Reflection: Find a Way

By Marc Forest

Palm Springs. Ball Park. Afternoon. Sunny. Warm. It was the bottom of the ninth inning and the last chance for the home team to earn 2 runs for the win. A win sends them to the championship game. All of a sudden, from somewhere, someone shouted three simple words which set off a profound spiritual alarm that moved me to want to share this with you. The words were, Find A Way.

These words were meant to motivate the players to dig deep, to look for something extra, to find a way to win the game. Each player had the potential to do more, to try harder, to motivate themselves and to add something extra to the skills they already had. Each player had this natural ability; they just needed to be reminded to find a way to win.

When I heard find a way blurted out I immediately felt a connection to the players on the field and with everyone else in the stadium and beyond. A feeling of peace and ease. I felt an incredible sense of presence, purpose and meaning behind the words find a way. It was as if time stopped and any afflictions of mind I may have had were for the moment demoted to the status of being dormant. I knew right then and there that we are all in a process of trying to find a way to peace, harmony and to win. We are all in this game of life together. It is comforting for me to know we are all on the same team.

In that instant I sensed that we have more in common than not. We are all sentient beings who at times may struggle to make sense of the rare and precious opportunity of being human. We each walk and share the same common ground. We share common challenges to living this life. We also share common opportunities. We all want to be happy and live with ease. We all have a natural ability to rise up, rather than sink down. We all have resilience and the instinct to survive. We all have the natural characteristic of an ability to awaken to the truth, just as Buddha did. We all have a natural Buddha-nature to awaken and to let go of all our self-created dramas.

Awakening is a continuous process, not an end state. It can happen any time and many times. Hearing the words find a way was one such awakening moment for me.

To find a way isn’t simply a matter of a will. It is rather a realization of our innate natural ability to awaken from the maze of desire, anger and ignorance. Fortunately, Buddha gifted us a way. We don’t need to find a way, on our own, we simply need to realize and develop the way he taught us, the Dharma. Just as the baseball coach has taught the players all the skills necessary to be competitive and to win, Buddha has shown us the skills necessary to live this life in a wise, purposeful and wholesome way, free of mental anguish. The rest is up to us.

The baseball players engage in both training and practice just as we are in training and practice to know our minds and let go of unwholesome qualities that hold us back.

We too need to go deeper. Insight meditation is one of many tools Buddha provided. Using Vipassanā we train and practice to engage the most unpleasant conditions in life, rather than trying to escape them. We find a way to face what is unpleasant; dukkha. We work through whatever ails us and we stick with it. So the difficult things in life can be teachers. “No mud, no lotus”.

Buddha gave us many tools for a happy, fulfilling life all rooted around Virtue, Mental Discipline and Wisdom. Its up to us to proceed and practice the skills we have learned and apply them to make progress towards a life of ease, joy and harmony.

Do we have it in us to win? I’d say we have a better chance than most, who don’t have knowledge of Buddha and Dharma and Sangha as refuge.

By the way, the home team did find a way and they won the game. So can we.

Find A Way.

Dharma Points: A River Runs Through Us

By Nelle Oosterom

Some time ago, I came across a quote from a Christian contemplative theologian named Martin Laird in which he describes what he calls engaged, silent receptivity:

“Engaged, silent receptivity is like a riverbed, which is constantly receiving and letting go in the very same moment. Vigilant receptivity and non-clinging release are one and the same for this riverbed awareness as it constantly receives all coming from upstream while at the very same moment releasing all downstream.”

This visualization struck me as a powerful antidote to reverse our persistent habits of resisting or clinging to experience.  It prompted me to create a guided meditation around this theme and I have offered it on some recent sitting sessions and retreats. Some people have reported back that they found it very helpful.

You might like to try it:

Bring the body into an erect but relaxed sitting posture, with a straight spine, relaxed shoulders, hands resting on the knees or folded on lap, eyes closed. 

Notice the quality of the mind/body experience in this moment, without judging it right or wrong or thinking it needs to be different. 

Allow yourself to rest in the awareness of this moment and whatever is present in this moment.

Bring attention to the region of the head, including the face. Consciously soften this area, using three out breaths to visualize bringing spaciousness/softness to this area.

Then do the same with (1) the shoulders (2) the arms and hands (3) the rest of the upper body (4) the legs (5) the feet. 

When you are finished, go of the body scan and simply attend to the rising and falling of the breath at the belly, or wherever it feels natural for you to follow the breath.

Notice the quality of each breath. Is it always the same or does it change? Notice if the breath is long or short, deep or shallow, ragged or smooth — without judging, without thinking the breath has to be a certain way, without trying to make the breath be a particular way. Just accepting it as it is.

Notice if you can detect a place of stillness, of rest, between the in breath and the out breath.

Remain focussed on the coming and going of the breath. 

Visualize the activity of breathing as being like a river running through you.

On the in breath, the river arrives from upstream, carrying with it the experience of the moment. In the mind, softly say to yourself “Receiving.”

On the out breath, the river is moving on downstream, carrying away the experience of the moment. In the mind, softly say to yourself “Releasing.”

Repeat this on each breath cycle, like a mantra — “Receiving, Releasing.”

Can you see how “receive and release” can apply to any moment, even those moments when you feel stuck?  Those moments of resistance and clinging?

In every moment we are receiving our body/mind experience. In every moment we are releasing our body/mind experience. We receive the breath into our bodies. We release the breath from our bodies. We receive our experience. We let go of our experience. 

Can you allow the river of life to move through you in this way — receiving and releasing in the same moment?

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Avoiding the Present Moment by Marc Forest

Seems to me that sometimes the present moment is not satisfying enough for many of us. One example of this is the way we are always checking our smart phones for something else. Today’s smart phones seem to be used as a life line to perhaps a better moment. Something fresh, something new, something other than what is.

I have nothing against today’s technology with its convenience and usefulness. In fact, I might be the guy who is first in line to get the latest and greatest. I am merely pointing to how the mind seems to work when it mindlessly seeks anything but now via today’s technology.

When the sound of an incoming text or email makes its noise to summon us, we are filled with hope and joy of a potential rescue from this moment. The mind wants to be anywhere but in the present moment. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we are usually wanting something different than now. As soon as an experience becomes boring or unpleasant, we seek something else. There will always be this sense of something missing, of incompleteness, of unsatisfactoriness.

So what is wrong with now? What more can there be than what we have before us? If there was anything more, would it not be here? The natural process provides what it provides, in its own time. This moment is not something to overcome so we can get to the next moment. This moment is all there is. What can we learn from it? When we dismiss the present moment because it is unsatisfying, we could be missing something filled with potential for awakening. There is always something here in the now. Let us not miss it by looking to a screen to detour us.

Why not stay with the present experience no matter what it is? This is where wisdom is found, right here in the present moment’s experience, pleasant or unpleasant. It is a question of learning to recognize this moment just as it is.

Remember to recognize the present moment’s experience. I often use this phrase to remind myself to be present for whatever I may be experiencing and to just be with the way it is right now.

Mindfulness practice teaches us to be interested and curious in what is right here, right now. Whatever that may be. Mindful practice includes everything and excludes nothing. Everything belongs.

The only way to know the truth of what is here, is by way of mindful awareness. We need to stay with it without the interruption of a potential for something better by way of a screen.

I just turned my phone off to immerse myself completely, without interruption, in what’s here in this moment

Meeting Jack - By Marc Forest

I met Jack, a beautiful and sensitive man, at a cemetery. He recently turned 87. Our conversation that day was a reminder, to train with the five Recollections more often than I do. The five Recollections are a life-affirming Buddhist practice that emphasize the transient and impermanent nature of conditions in our lives. You can review them below.

Jack was at the cemetery to visit his dead brother’s resting place which happened to be in the same block of marble as my own Mom and Dad's ashes. We began conversing. Jack’s stories as they unfolded were pointers to the Buddha’s lessons in impermanence, old age, sickness and death. These are the first lessons of life that the coddled Siddhartha Gotama realized on his first journey outside the protection of the palace walls.

Jack and I spoke of many things freely and openly for over 2 hours. It was not until sometime after our conversation that I understood we were touching on the Recollections in our dialogue.

Jack shared that at times he was lonely, just as many of us have experienced and will experience from time to time. Jack hinted at wanting to die, as he was so lonely.

The gloom of his loneliness passed as our conversation evolved into the sharing of his fulfilling and meaningful life. The more he spoke of it the more the self-created loneliness left him and his quest to continue living, was rekindled. I could see his passion for life in his eyes; which was not there when we first met.

Do we not all feel loneliness from time to time? We tend to forget that we have access to the present moment; in which we can recollect a life well lived. Jack soon moved away from his loneliness as he continued to reflect on his long life.

The spark for life arose in him the more he reflected and shared the stories of his lifetime. There were so many reasons to savor his life. Like, the grandchildren, and his only son and daughter-in-law he had just visited that morning. He loved them and they loved him back. He also expounded on a love he had from a time way back when, on another continent - the old country he called it. He told me they were only 14 years old when they met and how in love they were. He married his true love, but lost her some 12 years ago to death.

Jack spoke fondly of his beloved brother who died of a slow disease. This is the brother he was visiting that day, which presented the gift of our chance meeting.

My new friend went through each of his siblings, one by one, and how they died and from what sicknesses they had - causing their death. He did not understand why he was still alive or why he has not passed like the rest of his siblings. Talk of this and his near death calls during the war, brought tears to both our eyes. I don't believe his tears were of sadness. Could they have been tears of survivors guilt or tears of gratitude that he is still here and lived such fulfilling life full of love?

Many unpleasant mind states can be treated with human connection. Opening up with people in the present moment opens the heart. Perhaps all we need in times of grief and loneliness is someone to listen as we share our lived experiences?

He spoke of many losses and many gains in his life, both spiritually and materially. The losses were mostly the material things. It was evident to me that the spiritual gains were still with him and continuing to evolve on this very day we met. The more Jack spoke the more I understood that life is just as Buddha taught by way of the five Recollections.

After considerable reminiscing Jack told me secretly and quietly that he would not be surprised if he lived past 100 years. Two hours ago, he wished he was dead. The problems Jack created were dissolving into acceptance of the conditions of life.

Acceptance comes by way of realizing and recognizing the truth of life as it is, cultivated by the Five Recollections.

Thank you Jack.

The Five Recollections

The Buddha said: "These are the five facts that one should reflect on often, (if not daily), whether one is a woman, a man, lay or ordained."

1. I am of the nature to grow old; I cannot avoid aging.

2. I am subject to illness and infirmity; I can not avoid illness and infirmity.

3. I am of a nature to die; I can not avoid death.

4. I will be parted from all that is dear and beloved to me.

5. I am the owner of my actions and heir to my actions. Actions are the womb from which I have sprung.

Dharma Points: On Being a Nobody

Decluttering the Self Makes Room for Peace and Happiness

By Nelle Oosterom

Not long ago, a friend who was doing some decluttering passed on to me a pile of dharma books. While I was tempted to add them to my own dharma pile, I thought the better of it and offered them up to people who participated in our recent Day of Mindfulness. (We had a nice turnout of almost 40 people, by the way.)

By the end of the day, all of the books were gone except a couple of thin volumes of dharma talks by Sister Ayya Khema that were published in Sri Lanka in 1987. You may have seen these kinds of publications: They are intended for free distribution, are usually no more than a hundred pages long, and they are printed on inexpensive newsprint paper, their cost covered by sangha supporters.

I took Ayya Khema’s humble little books home with me, feeling a little sad that no one had picked them up. Ayya Khema, who died in 1997, stood out as a dharma teacher for a couple of reasons. One is that, as a member of a Jewish family who fled Nazi Germany (birth name Ilse Kussel), she knew suffering. Another is that she was the first Western woman to become a Theravadin Buddhist nun. Read more about her here. 

Some years ago I read her well-known book, Being Nobody, Going Nowhere: Meditations on the Buddhist Path (Wisdom Publications 1987) and I recall being impressed with the simple clarity of her teaching.

Still, I wasn’t expecting much when I cracked open one of the recently acquired volumes, called All of Us. In fact I was expecting to skim over material that I was already quite familiar with. But it wasn’t long before I was pausing, mentally underlining passages, and then writing them in my journal. It seemed what Ayya Khema had to say was exactly what I needed to hear.

The gist of the issue is this: I can’t seem to get over myself. I can’t seem to stop striving to be “somebody” — somebody who is loved, appreciated, seen, acknowledged, safe, prosperous, and so on. Even when that happens for a while, it never feels like enough. And when the opposite happens, a wave of hot pain rolls through my belly. Dukkha.

Here’s what Ayya Khema says about that: “What is it that we want out of life? If we want to be important, appreciated, loved, then we have to take their opposites in stride also. Every positive brings with it a negative, just as the sun throws shadows. If we want one, we must accept the other, without moaning about it.”

She continues: “But if we really want a peaceful mind and heart, inner security and solidity, then we have to give up wanting to be somebody. Body and mind won’t disappear…What disappears is the urge, the reaching out, the affirmation of the importance of this particular person, called ‘me.’ One doesn’t get peace and happiness by trying to get more, but by wanting less, becoming emptier and emptier until there is nothing left but empty space to be filled with peace and happiness. As long as our hearts are filled with likes and dislikes, how can peace and happiness find any room?”

I’m not one for making new year’s resolutions but I think I might take some time to declutter myself. Stop trying to be more. Do I really need all these “wants” and “don’t wants” crowding my space?

I could make myself a little emptier. I could make room for better things — like those little books of wisdom by Ayya Khema that I couldn’t even give away. Turned out they had something to teach me.


Brief Reflection - Ideals By Marc Forest

Brief Reflection - Ideals

By Marc Forest

For some aspects of my life, I have been reflecting on the idea of what I hold in mind as a perceived standard of perfection or ideal. As I continued to contemplate this, I realized that I may be restricting myself from exploring other opportunities life offers. This exercise encouraged me to lighten up on how I think things should be. The reflection refined the insight that many ideals were ambiguous and clung to for unknown reasons.

Having in mind, and clinging to an ambiguous ideal, of how life should be, has set me up for disappointment and prevented me from opening to other opportunities. This is what happens when a tightly held, not-reflected-on ideal does not meet deep-rooted expectations. I soon experienced that an expected ideal when clung to, and not met, generated a level of distress.

Allowing and experiencing things just as they are is a release from the binds of desire to have things other than ideal. When this release was experienced through reflection and lightening up, I was freed to explore, other ways. A life of un-investigated ideals, brings no opportunity for learning, growth and personal transformation.

One way to release clinging to a standard, is to notice and accept that life gives us exactly what it gives us. Our challenge is to get into the flow of life and work with it. “If life gives us lemons, make lemonade.” We should be open to the potential that today’s ideal, may not be tomorrow’s. This attitude can awaken us to other possible directions not held as ideal today.

This wholesome attitude takes mindfulness; the ability to relax, observe and be open-minded. It also takes a mature wisdom to meet all the experiences which life gives us, without having our perceived ideals or standard of perfection influence how we respond. Development of wisdom is a by-product of continuous mindfulness and reflection.

Reflecting on what ideals you might be holding, for unknown reasons, and perhaps in an unwholesome way, is a useful exercise. Making the effort to do this reflection, will give you some insight to what may be holding you back from further growth, wisdom and happiness.

Here are a few things that I have been pondering that might get your own reflection going:

1. The ideal of certainty?

2. The ideal relationship?

3. The ideal career or in my case, the ideal retirement?

What will your own reflection, open for you?

WIMG Summer Walks & Meditation at Fort Whyte Alive

With the end of summer creeping up on us quickly, it’s nice to reflect on the three Fort Whyte Alive walks and meditations that WIMG offered to our Sangha once a month in place of our Sunday sits at Yoga North.

Meditating in a room with other Sangha members is truly a blessing, but being able to sit with members in nature is a gift that only happens a few times a year.

In the Reflection Area, WIMG has a plaque on a bench with our name on it. There are three other benches there and all four face each direction. This gives a lot of space for people to experience the sounds of nature while meditating and enjoying the peacefulness of being in nature.

During each walk and mediation this summer, those who joined us were able to experience the uniqueness of our lovely weather. 

Our first sitting was a rainy day with thunderstorms, so Barbara was able to find a room in the Interpreter Centre for us to sit and meditate that had a window looking out to a garden with bird feeders.

Before the meditation, Barb shared her thoughts on the rain and water, and has allowed me to share them here:

“Rain is our friend” – I remember a Kindergarten teacher on a Field trip to Fort Whyte asking his class in the middle of a downpour what they had learned about rain.

When Marc called at 7:10 on the morning of our June Sangha meditation walk and sit at Fort Whyte, I remembered those words, and the small group of damp children who were not the least bit bothered by the raindrops.

It was the lightning that kept us inside for our first Sangha walk, not the rain.  Before we walked over to the room I had found for our sit, I reflected with the small group about water in our lives. Water is essential to all life.  As humans, we are born on a gush of water, 60% of our body weight is water, we lose water through sweat, through tears, through urination, every time we breathe.  Water reminds us of our interconnectedness with all living beings. To many peoples, water is sacred, to be honoured, to be blessed, to be used in ritual and ceremony. The water that flows in and through our bodies is water that has been on our planet since the beginning.  It has evaporated from oceans, lakes, rivers, streams, formed fog and cloud, fallen again as rain or snow or dew.  It may have been locked for centuries, frozen in a glacier. It has been taken up through the roots of plants, and breathed out through their leaves.

So yes, rain is our friend.  Water is a blessing.

I’m grateful for Marc and Barbara’s efforts and time to put this opportunity out there for not only me, but for everyone to have the chance to participate and experience this part of meditation with Sangha members.

As a reminder, WIMG’s Sunday sittings will resume on September 11th at Yoga North at 10 am. Doors will be open at 9:30 am.

With Loving Kindness,
Catherine Sproat