Sunday, April 19, 2009

Spring! Everywhere spring!

I just came back from a long ramble around Outremont and noticed, much to my delight, that there are buds and blooms starting up all over: I saw crocuses, leaf buds on small hedges and bushes, green shoots from all kinds of bulbs pushing up all over.

When I got home, I found two more delights! First, the hibiscus I have that stays green year round had bloomed it's first flower of the season. How wonderful is that! The flower is so high up I hadn't even noticed the bud. A complete and rather wonderful surprise.

That inspired me to get take a closer look at
another hibiscus I have, one that loses it's leaves in fall and grows them back again in spring, and lo and behold, it's got buds all over! I truly wasn't sure what that plant was going to do come spring since this is my first spring with it. I can't wait to see how it greens up...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

All that we eat

Reading the Heart of the Buddha's Teaching this morning and am particularly struck by the section on the four nutrients. The first is familiar enough: all that we eat. I particularly like the way that Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that it's not just the actual food itself we need to think about, it's the whole machinery behind it. How is that food grown, harvested? What happens to it then? How do all those processes affect other people, other species? How does it affect the land in which it is grown, the nearby streams and water sources? What impact might all of this have on future generations? If we're harming others in the process, then we're not just eating the food, we're eating away someone else's life, someone else's future? Are we creating suffering in the process of eating?

The second nutrient comes through all that our senses consume: our eyes, ears, skin, nose, and our minds. The things we read, the music we listen to, the sights and sound and smells we encounter every day. Are these things creating suffering in us, in others? or are the helping to ease suffering?

The third is our intention, volition, our will. What is it we want? what are you aiming for? what's your ambition? Think carefully, is that thing you're working towards going to add to your suffering, or will it ease it? this morning I'm thinking of this one as the "be careful what you wish for, you'll probably get it" kinda thing.

And the fourth is consciousness. And this, I think, is the hardest to understand but in some ways the most important. I'm not sure I fully understand it, but it goes something like this: Our consciousness comes from our history, our family's history, our social and cultural history. Without developing some kind of awareness of what that consciousness is, we cannot hope to understand why we do the things we do. That consciousness isn't fixed. It's a fertile ground. It develops and grows and shifts and changes. What we need to be thinking about is what seeds are you sowing in your mind with your thoughts? Are you sowing compassion, love, equanimity in your own consciousness? Or are you sowing greed, hatred, ignorance, fear, distrust for yourself?

These teachings are having an amazing affect on me. It will take probably the rest of my life to really be able to live them, but the more I read the more I feel as though I'm coming home. I have read all this before, but it's resonating in new ways now. I'm not sure why, exactly, but it all deeply reassuring. Time for work, now. Let's see what nutrients I take in today.

Monday, April 6, 2009

One foot in front of the other

Towards the end of my stay in Pullman WA, I hooked up with a Tibetan Buddhist group (Golden Blue Lotus Tara Tibetan Buddhist Meditation Center) and I loved a lot of what the group was all about. I loved the walking meditation, the chants, the sitting meditations, the discussions. I did a lot of reading outside that group as well, and found that the writings of Thich Naht Hanh resonated deeply for me. The concepts behind the Eightfold path just made so much sense ...

As much as I appreciated (and still do) what the Blue Lotus Tara group had to give, I gradually found that I was more interested in talking about how to follow the Eightfold Path than I was interested in other aspects (like repeating long sutras) that seemed to me a lot like the kinds of liturgies I had to repeat or listen to as part of my Roman Catholic upbringing. I didn't want to repeat long sutras unless that was followed by a discussion about why we were reading it, what I should get out of it, how to apply that to my own life. I gradually slipped away from the group, and shortly after moved from the area entirely.

But more and more lately I find myself looking at my life and wondering if this is all there is. I keep asking myself why I'm here, and I don't just mean this city or in this job, though those are really good questions too. And the fact that I'm finding it necessary to ask those questions suggest to me that I'm not on the right road just yet, not on the right path. I've been feeling close to a crisis point over these questions. They are authentic, not just academic or philosophical. More and more I feel I am not living an authentic life, and that knowledge is highly unsettling, discomforting, and lately, quite intolerable.

After months (nay, more like a couple years) of asking myself this, I have been reminded of how deeply Thich Naht Hanh's teachings touched me, and so I looked on my bookshelf, and yes, there it was: The Heart of the Buddha's Teachings. I pulled it out and began re-reading and what can I say? It's like coming home again.

And after re-reading only the four noble truths this weekend, I felt a shift in my world. The lens got a bit clearer, the world a bit more vivid and real, my feet more firmly planted on the ground and my burdens so much lighter. My life is not "fixed" yet, my world is not all that it could or should be. But it's that much closer to working for me for anyone else who ends up getting entangled in it's periphery.

Even I was surprised, though, when I realized part way through the day that I was having moments of contentment and quiet, even happiness. And on a Monday, no less, a day that is always full of meetings and politics and all the usual busy craziness of my work. Something has clicked and shifted in my world. I didn't walk the path fully, but did totter along a trajectory that got close, and I recognized when I was straying off of it a little too far and took notes (literally!) and just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I was able to release some of my habit energy, to let go of some of the stuff I tend to cart around. I'm sure to bump into it all again soon, but hopefully I'll be able to resist the urge to pick it up.

It feels good. It feels like home. And like Dorothy says, there's no place like home. I hope I find a way to stay for awhile. I like it here.

Meanwhile, those questions aren't going to go away, but at least now I'm heading toward a path that will help me investigate them and come up with some answers about what I need to do next to ensure I live an authentic life.

Time's a-wasting.