Monthly Archives: March 2014

Field Trip

Abbys Buddha drawing

 

Abby’s 4th grade class recently took a field trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In the Japanese Buddhist Garden, the students were asked to draw what they saw. In the foreground of the garden there were lots of leaves and foliage. Deep in the garden, there was a statue of the Buddha. Most of the other kids in the class drew the leaves. Abby drew the Buddha. She said that it reminded her of me. I couldn’t be more flattered.

What she wrote next to the picture was pure Zen. She wrote: The statue of Buddha is in the meditation Buddhist Temple and I believe it symbolizes peace and calmness, but it may not be calm at all.

Buddha looks calm, but he may not be calm at all. That is his mind. How could we know?

I asked Abby what she meant by he may not be calm at all. She said that he may be pretending to be calm, but he is really thinking other things.

That is the heart of Zen. You may be calm or thinking, sometimes even both. I think the Buddha was calm, especially in his statuesque rock form, but Abby’s interpretation was just right. He may be thinking. Buddha did that.

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Feeling Happy

Usually, when we don’t feel happy, we think that it has something to do with our circumstances. Something is happening in our lives that is interfering with our happiness. When regular traumatic events are occurring in our lives, that is true. When our basic needs are met, but we wish things were better, there is nothing in our circumstances that needs to interfere with our happiness. The most common circumstances that interfere with happiness are sadness, fear, stress and anger. Those conditions make it difficult to feel happy.

Usually, we look to the next circumstance to explain our happiness or lack of happiness. We don’t think that our anger is interfering with our happiness, we think that the thing that happened that made us angry was the circumstance that ruined our happiness. That is a mistake.

Our circumstance is just what happens. How we feel about it is what makes us happy or sad. If we are not feeling happy, it doesn’t mean that things are not going well for us. It means that we are feeling other things about how things are going.

If you are feeling stressed, it may not be because your life is falling apart, it may be that you are not getting enough oxygen. When you notice yourself feeling other than happy, check your airways. Take a deep breath or two. You can release a lot of stress that way. Your circumstance doesn’t change, but the breathing feels good. You feel happy.

 

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Spring Into Action

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Moving from lucrative, stable careers in Toronto to the family farm in New Jersey was an act of faith. In other words, it was a stupid thing to do. It was also a stupid thing not to do, which makes it very hard to tell what is stupid. The act of faith was faith in ourselves, faith in our friends, family, community and faith in the genius of stupidity, or God, the Tao, Allah, Brahma, or the Spirit. Faith is just that, believing so much in something unknowable that you are able to take decisive action with limited knowledge.

For me, one of the most daunting unknowns was how to grow vegetables. I have great faith that vegetables do grow. I believe that they are the best available food for humans to eat. I also believe that the best vegetables to eat are the ones grown close to where we live, that aren’t treated with poisons, and which grow in harmony, rather than in conflict with nature. With all that faith and lots of dirt, and many, many kind and loving people to help, I had faith that I could learn how vegetables grow.

Unfortunately, I have much more interest in faith, peace, community, God, Tao, the Spirit, love and harmony, than I have in dirt, nitrogen, pH, crop rotation, irrigation, pest control, and hard labor that make vegetables grow, but I like driving a tractor. Fortunately, that is enough.

We have spent the past winter learning how to keep warm in an old house, built by my great, great, great, great grandparents (with lots of help) in 1886, when people kept warm by wearing long woolen underwear all season long. We had a cold winter in New Jersey this year. Compared to Toronto, we had a lovely, mild winter, with a lot of snow. Compared to my idea of what a lovely mild winter would be, it was darn cold and not terribly inviting for outdoor labor.

The more time that passed and the less that got done, the more stupid this act of faith appeared. However, we continued to acclimate to the new environment. As winter wore on and spring approached, the daunting task of growing vegetables grew closer. I ordered seeds. I ordered plants. I prepared for a small, learning, garden project. I planned to keep the project to a scope that I could accomplish by myself. That’s why it appeared so daunting.

On the first day of Spring I found myself in the swamp, clearing away the beaver dams, when I received a call from an old, dear, childhood friend, who was interested in helping me create a long-term, sustainable stewardship plan for the land. These are crazytimes when we can receive phone calls in a swamp.

On the secondday of Spring, my new, dear, neighbor friend, invited me into the greenhouse to plant seeds for the spring. He knows a lot about how vegetables grow. He knows about dirt, nitrogen, pH, crop rotation, irrigation, pest control and hard labor. Suddenly,  my lack of knowledge was gone. The daunting task of growing vegetables became a shared adventure. That day, we planted seeds for tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, basil, kale, broccoli, eggplant, cilantro, and swiss chard. The next day we built green houses for those seeds. Now, those seeds are sprouting. One of the green houses blew down in Tuesday’s 35 knot winds. One stayed standing.

It is said that when you are ready for a teacher, one will appear. Since taking this leap of faith, I have encountered about 10,000 teachers. Together, I am sure that we can grow vegetables. I also have faith that these vegetables, grown in a spirit of community, cooperation, peace, love, harmony, and with the help of the Spirit, God, Allah, Brahma, the Tao, the Unknown, hard work,friends and neighbors, will sustain us. Yum, yum. Amen.

 

 

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Peace First

A simple rule of practice is to put peace first. When you begin to put peace first, you notice all of the things that disturb your peace. That is a beginning. Noticing when you are not at peace is a good practice as you seek peace. As you continually notice the things that disturb your peace, you will soon notice times when nothing is disturbing your peace. Then you are at peace. Putting awareness of peace as a priority in your life will eventually lead you to peace.

Peace in not only the absence of annoyances. Peace is a state of mind that allows for anything to happen. When you begin practicing putting peace first, lots of things will disturb your peace and you will become angry. Getting angry, upset, or sad is not a failure in finding peace, those emotions remind you to look for peace. You may even be angry that you are angry rather than at peace. That is good practice. That shows that you expect peace and it is a priority.

Peace is not a delicate state that can be disturbed by little or big events. Peace is durable and unshakable. Those things that bother you may disturb your sense of peace, but the peace is still there, trying to show itself to anyone who looks. When you practice looking for peace and seeing it in all situations, you will get a good sense of it. Situations may still annoy you and upset you, but, rather than disturb your peace, those emotions will blow by like so much wind. The peace will remain.

When you put peace first, it will help you find, feel, and spread peace. In your interactions with people, rather than feeling threatened, you will naturally feel compassion toward people who have more difficulty finding peace. As you focus on peace, you will find creative ways to demonstrate it through acts of kindness. Some people are resistant to peace, but whenever anybody is able to feel peace they appreciate it. Just like that.

 

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Springtime In New Jersey

Springtime in New Jersey is all topsy-turvy

With snowstorms and hailstones and sleet.

The flowers are found snugly underground.

The birds have stayed south, where there’s heat.

The bugs and the bees are not in the cold breeze,

But swarming inside by the fire.

Winter will try to hang on ’til July.

Some old men, don’t know when to retire.

That is not the design of Grandmother time.

So as Winter, bare fisted, fights clocks

She sends March marching in for a blow to the chin

With a swing called the Spring Equinox.

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A Few Words

Because all of our suffering comes from our thinking, and because we think in words, it is good practice to watch the words that we let into our minds.  People are the only creatures that use words and we suffer in a unique way. Unique in that we can have all of our creature comforts, food, shelter, and love and still think up reasons to suffer. We are also unique in that we have the ability to transcend that suffering.

To transcend our suffering we can take a break from our words. We can stop thinking. We can turn to our senses and listen to the birds or traffic. We can smell toast toasting. We can look at all the wordless wonders around us, the trees, the sky, the moon. We can feel the warm fuzziness of the socks on our feet. We can taste our tea. When our words come back to us, judging, categorizing, measuring and describing our experience, we can always watch them pass, like clouds. We tune into the wordless world where we have no wants or needs and we are perfect just as we are.

Words can be wonderfully soothing and provide beautiful experiences, share wisdom, and dislodge destructive thought habits. Words have their place, but beyond them there is peace.

 

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The Zen of Being You

The practice of Zen is being in the world as it is. Your practice begins with you. Your practice of Zen is being as much you as you can be. Being you may not be easy, but it is impossible for you not to be you. Rather that try to do the impossible and be other than you, you practice being you. To practice being you, you have to study yourself. See what motivates you. See what brings you joy. See what makes you suffer. See when it’s easy to be you. See when it’s hard to be you. See what you think about when you’re happy. See what you think about when you’re not happy.

Studying yourself is deeper than studying somebody else. With you, you get full access. You can see what you’re like first thing in the morning. You can see what you’re like around people. You can see what you’re like alone. You can see into your secret thoughts and deepest fears. If you study somebody else, you only get what they are able to present to you. Mostly what you see when you look at somebody else is you anyway. If you study somebody you admire, then you see good things in them. If you study somebody you don’t like, you see problems. That is just you seeing you anyway, so you might as well just study yourself.

When you study yourself, you have to turn off all the judgement. Even if being you usually entails judging yourself, you have to stop that to get a true look into what you are. Then you can see sadness without being sad. You can see fears without being afraid. You can see your beauty without being modest. When you are able to see all that in yourself, then you will feel some compassion and it becomes a little easier to be you.

If you practice being you and you notice yourself getting carried away in some feeling or situation, just continue practicing being you in that situation, through that feeling. You will see that you can handle any situation. You can manage any feeling. As you practice being you without judgement, with compassion, you will find the joy of being you. When you are comfortable being you, then you can start to study other people without judgement and with compassion and you can help them find their joy too.

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Virtual Reality

What is reality? When we play a computer game, we know we are in a virtual reality. In reality, we are playing a computer game. In virtual reality, we are killing monsters. When we have a beach vacation, we are in reality. When our vacation is over, we say we are going back to reality. When we dream, we are in another kind of reality. When we spiritually awaken, we discover yet another kind of reality. If we think somebody hates us, but they really love us, then our reality is not really reality. It is not virtual reality, but it is virtually not reality. It’s really hard to know what is reality. It’s all reality.

If we think there is a monster under our bed and we look under our bed and don’t see a monster, then we know for sure that there is not a visible monster under our bed. We know that we thought there was a monster and that thought made us look. The monster was not under the bed, it was in our mind. That was a real monster, but we looked in the wrong place. The monster is probably some monster from a video game, or an idea that somebody hates us. That monster from virtual reality can have a big impact on our reality, because it’s all reality.

Because it’s so hard to know what is reality, we have to constantly question reality and make up new realities that fit what we find. Virtual realities are fun, because we know they are only make believe. Reality can be scary, because we don’t know what to believe. As we keep looking for more real realities, we have to make the best of the reality we know. We can’t become too attached to anything we think, but we still have to act on it. If we think there’s a monster, we have a look. If we think somebody hates us, we have a look. Our reality is not make believe, but made by what we believe, virtually. As we figure out what is real and what is virtually real, we need to be compassionate and kind. At least then, even monsters will love us.

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Peace and Harmony

The main thing that you need to do in life is to create peace and harmony. To create peace and harmony you have value peace and harmony. You don’t have to feel peaceful and harmonious all the time (that would be nice), but you have to regularly remember that peace and harmony is very important.

When you are feeling at peace and in harmony with life, then you can radiate that feeling to help everybody else. That will help. When you are feeling ill at ease or out of harmony, you can absorb all the peace and harmony that others are radiating. That will help too. Peace is always there.  Harmony is always there.

If things feel like they are disharmonious, then you can gently bring them into harmony. If there is conflict, then you can bring peace. The trick is being patient and remaining focused on peace and harmony. The trick is not giving up when peace and harmony seem lost. The trick is not getting tricked into thinking that other things are more pressing than peace and harmony.

You can accomplish all of your life’s goals in peace and harmony. Without peace and harmony, there are no worthwhile goals. To practice peace and harmony, simply look for peace and harmony wherever you go, whatever you do. That is important. If you forget from time to time, try again.

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Multitasking

Mindfulness is focusing our attention on what we are doing when we are doing it. Multitasking is trying to do several things at once, dividing our attention between the various activities. We take pride in our incredible abilities to multitask. We have so much to do that it seems helpful to our lives to try to get two or three things done at once. We can do our homework and listen to music. We can cook a meal and watch a television show. We can text and rear end someone while driving. We can sing in the shower while our coffee brews and muffins bake. We can multitask and be mindful.

It is impossible not to multitask. When we sit in meditation and focus on focusing our attention, we are sitting, breathing, minding our posture, seeing, hearing, and thinking, thinking, thinking. While we do that on the surface, our bodies are busy digesting, pumping blood, growing hair, fighting diseases, growing synapses, and all those billions of things that we do to maintain life. Those two or three things we try to do on the surface don’t amount to much in terms of multitasking.

Doing those extra things with our conscious minds can interact with the unconscious workings of our bodies. What we think influences what chemicals our bodies make and where we direct our energy. Then our energy and chemicals influence what we think. We can think our way into suffering and we can think our way into peace and harmony.

When we are mindful, consciously multitasking, in meditation and/or in the shower, we can see how our thoughts are interacting with our feelings. When we remain mindful that our main task is to create peace and harmony, that is what we will create, then we can multitask the rest of our lives. OMG, I’m about to rear end somebody, LOL.

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