bringingupbuddhas

suburban adventures in bu-curious mothering

Category: basics

offerings

(Continued from yesterday’s post…)

The idea that complemented attachment in Chogyam Trungpa’s Meditation in Action, was, very simply, giving.  To disconnecting with the idea of possessing is to let go of possessions.  Just give it away.  Easy, right?  Wrong.  Because he’s not talking about that old bag of golf clubs in the basement or the extra raincoat that hangs in the front hall closet.  He’s talking about giving away our treasure.

Gurus accept gifts in exchange for their teachings.  The offering is an intentional display of gratitude and an exchange of energy.  “I want to give you this treasure that is dear to me in exchange for the intangible treasure that you willingly share.”

Granted, there are different kinds of treasure (as there are different types of gurus).  In Tibetan Buddhism, there are three types of offerings.  The lowest type of offering is of material wealth.  Next up the ladder is service.  And the highest form of offering is practice.  Other strands of Buddhism vary a bit, substituting teaching, compassion or vitality in the top spots.  But always, material goods slide into lowly third place on the offering lists.

We stuff-loving Americans may be surprised that the material things to which we cling so tightly are the least valuable of the offerings.  Or maybe we’re not surprised.  Of course it’s more important to give of ourselves than give of our stuff.  Right?!  But if that’s the case, why the hell are we still clinging???

I always think I’m not overly attached to things, but when I was trying to decide which treasure I could part with, I realized just what attachment means.  Even the material, the VERY LOWEST form of giving, was perplexing for me.

While it’s not my most beloved, the thing I feel most dependent upon is my computer.  No way I’m giving this hunk of metal and wire away.  At least not at this point in my life.  So I’m still grappling with what the most treasured treasure is in my world, well, second most.  When I figure that out, I’m going to give it away.  I don’t know to whom yet.  Maybe the Lama down the street?  Maybe I bury it in my backyard and give it back to Earth, the ultimate guru.  Maybe I’ll swallow it and store it in my mouth, like Krishna did the Universe.  Then again, swallowing things didn’t work out so well for this guy.  I’ll let you know.

big-mouth

But there are still other types of offering to go!

Service?  I got this one.  There is no shortage of volunteer hours logged over the course of my lifetime – organized or otherwise.  But could I give more time?  Yes.  More love?  Yes.  More me?  Yes.  There are always opportunities.  And this doesn’t mean serving up stew in a soup kitchen.  Service can be performed in countless ways – the most powerful of which is kindness and all its forms.

And then there’s the practice.  Oh, the practice.  Can I commit to a meditation schedule?  Can I engage my Buddha light every day, all day?  I don’t know.  I’m trying, though.  I know the light is aching to burst through my chest and light up the world.  There is no doubt this is the offering that will best serve my Inner Guru, the guru that rests in my own heart.  Realer than stuff, truer than service.  The toughest offering of all.  Practice.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

here we go (again)

Lately in Buddha school, the idea of reincarnation has been popping up and I’ve been totally surprised to learn that there are a lot of western Buddhists who do not subscribe to this concept.  Honestly, reincarnation is the draw that pulled me into Buddhism initially.  I’d never felt so sure about anything before.  In this jigsaw puzzle of life, I considered reincarnation my four corner pieces.  everything else could be filled in from there.

I wrote this post 2 years and 5 days ago.  It’s the second post I ever published on my first blog, before I found Buddhism, before I started to feel snippets of real peace in my heart, before I axed The Real Housewives from my life completely, before I regularly bore my deepest-darkests publicly, online.  But it’s a pretty good description of one person’s discovery of life after death after life and I wanted to share it today.  With a few small edits, this was originally titled “Here We Go”…

Spiritually I’m coming from a place of I-don’t-know-how-I-got-here-but-I-have-some- pretty-good-ideas.  I believe in reincarnation – along with about 80% of the world’s population.  And it’s OK to believe in reincarnation and think Jesus is the heaven-sent Mack Daddy.  I think that, too.  I believe in GOD.  I also believe in MYSELF.

That said, my spiritual journey began a few years ago.  [Channeling Sophia from the Golden Girls now.]

Picture it.  The year is 2008.  I’m knocked up with baby #3, sitting on the couch watching Hollylwood’s Top Ten Best Bodies on E! with my stepdaughter CG.  For some reason I decide to share with her that I’m not connected to this lifetime.  Like I’m not sure I’m supposed to be here.  I’m feeling vacant while I say it.  A bit lost maybe.  It’s not an extraordinary moment in my life, but saying the words aloud causes a strangely physical effect.   Sort of like the weight of truth squashing my skull but my head is full of air.  Weird, I know.  I’m sure it was equally weird for CG.  Moving on.  Later that week I turn on Oprah and see my future hero Brian Weiss.  (Can you tell I watch too much TV?  Don’t even get me started on the epiphanies that occur while watching Real Housewives on Bravo.)   Dr. Weiss is an Ivy League educated, world renowned psychotherapist who, after years of practice, specializes in healing through past life regression.   I pick up Dr. W.’s book Many Lives Many Masters the next day and love every page.  Sigh relief.  And so the journey begins.

I have a few years of material stored up in my noggin now and am eager to share.  However, I will take it slow.  I want to start off with something we are all familiar with.  The feeling that we’ve known someone “before” or that we share a soul connection with another human being.

We experience life on earth time and time again so that we can learn lessons in love, compassion and acceptance.  Each of us is part of a larger soul family or soul group made up of many souls with a common purpose.  We travel through multiple lifetimes with the same souls so that we can learn and evolve together, and also so we can clear up any karmic debt that exists between us (more on that later).  These souls could be your family, friends, co-workers, you name it.

You may already connect with someone in a special way and call that person a soul mate.  S/he can be your wife, your son, a sibling, an old lady who lives on your street, the trash man.  Doesn’t matter.  Just don’t limit your idea of soul mate to your significant other because you are missing the big picture.  Example.  LM (hi LM) is my BFFFFFF.  We’ve know each other since we were 7 years old and I love her so dearly and deeply that there is not a speck of doubt we are tied together in this three-legged race called life.  The parallels in our lives are no coincidence.  We were meant to meet each other in Mrs. McGrath’s 3rd grade class, experience our journeys together and help guide each other through this lifetime with compassion.  She’s an easy soul mate to spot b/c our love is deep and obvious.

But our soul mates do not always spend 30 years by our sides.  Sometimes they pop up only for a moment but leave an enduring mark.  Another example.  I was in Paris last June with my kids and we stopped in a patisserie for sweets.  On the way out there was a gypsy boy begging on the sidewalk.  I do have a soft spot for the homeless in general, but this boy truly captivated me.  I gave him a raspberry yogurt and watched him gobbled it up with delight, my small gesture filling his belly for a few hours.  I couldn’t shake that boy.  I kept thinking about him – where he would sleep?  Did he have family?  Would he ever go to school?

His grubby little face haunted me while I walked back to our flat and 7 months later (2 years and 7 months now) I’m still thinking about him.  I wonder is he a soul mate who agreed to make a guest appearance that summer day?  Reaching out to teach me COMPASSION?  Maybe he was my baby boy in another lifetime.  Maybe my sister.  How could I ignore him?  How could I not help him?  We are all connected.

When you understand that the beggar on the street or the thief outside your window was your mother in another lifetime, you will uncover a layer of compassion and acceptance that you didn’t know existed before.  It’s really quite beautiful and powerful.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

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This is me with Dr. Weiss at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY.

“and now instead of him watching TV we all sit around and watch him”

the blog title and pic above are of shel silverstein’s famous  jimmy jet.  the following quote by robert thurman is in ed and deb shapiro’s book BE THE CHANGE, how meditation can transform you and the world.

“Meditation is a neutral and very powerful tool.  The choice is what are we going to meditate on?  Most people let themselves be guided by a culture that this trying to make them buy things or make them afraid through the news.  When we watch television and we see a commercial, it is like a guided meditation on dissatisfaction.  We have to guide our meditation in a positive direction.  We do this when we meditate on freedom, on penetrating to the deep nature of reality.  In other words, if we meditate on being egotistical, we will become more egotistical, but if we meditate on being selfless, we will become more caring and altruistic.  When we experience ourselves as totally integrated with everyone, we are naturally going to be compassionate and kind to them.”

i never really thought of tube time as meditation, but after reading these words i can see how this is so true.  so often, we sit in front of the television and vegetate.  vegetating is meditating, right?  so whatever is streaming into our consciousness is going to marinate for as long as we sit on the couch with the tube on.  and then it becomes a part of us.  this could be scary.  powerful.  advertisers are changing who we are on a cellular level through commercials.  seriously.  this is true.  and this is CRAZY.  it’s like brainwashing.  no wonder why every kid i see has a friggin pillow pet.  that commercial must run a hundred times a day.  they almost have no choice but to put the thing on their christmas lists.

i just had a conversation with my daughter’s montessori teacher yesterday about how different children are these days – how much bolder they are with adults.  how quick they are to inflict an abrasive comment on their teachers.  there is little doubt, for me, that the kids learn this snarky behavior from TV.  the way children act on “family” sitcoms is atrocious.  the characters are rude to their parents, they are rude to their neighbors, they are rude to other children’s parents.  (i’m thinking of shows specifically on disney and nick – “icarly” and “good luck charlie” such.)  whether we choose to believe it or not, the fact is, our children are modeling their own behavior after these characters.  they think that these actors are cool.  and they think that the behavior of these characters is…  wait for it…  NORMAL.  yes, that’s right.  scary.

and then, of course, is the programming that is pouring into that wide open channel in our adult brains while meditating in front of the TV.  through most news media and dramatic programming we are being programmed to fear.  notice how the tense of the verb changes.  we are no longer actively making a decision about how our brains are functioning; the television producers are making decisions for us.  we ARE BEING programmed.  not to get all big brother on you, but, well, it’s sort of like big brother.  right?

early last year, i banned all real housewives and most news programming from my house.  this was a big decision for me.  i reaaaallllllyyyyy loved my housewives.  BUT.  while watching the new york housewives reunion on bravo, my husband walked into the room and sat down on the couch.  the women on TV were verbally slaying  each other and hubby goes, “oh, v, my jaw is getting tight just listening to this.”  and then i scanned my own body.  my chest was tight and i had a big lump in my throat.  i turned it off and walked away for good.  and then i noticed the physical reactions i had while watching other programming, specifically local news.  i’d get tight and squeeze-y.  i encourage readers to do a physical scan while you watch TV.  it’s madness.  so now i limit my TV intake to programming that lifts me up or educates me.

my kids love TV.  i usually let them watch PBS, animal planet (they love “river monsters”) and some nick jr.  but as of today i’m pulling in the reins.  (oh, god, please give me the strength to do this.)  if they are going to do something as powerful as meditate on an idea for 30 minutes, it’s sure as shit not going to be what some money-focused CEO at disney wants for my kids.

meditation is a powerful tool.  maybe THE MOST powerful tool.  make a mindful decision about how you use it.  start by turning the channel.

from mine to yours,

vanessa

(this entry is reposted with edits from my blog “everything old is new age again“, may 18, 2012.)

bu-review: samsara directed by ron fricke

This is not a movie.  It’s a meditation.  Samsara is a breathtaking arrangement of moving pictures depicting spiritual life and landscape around the globe.  Without words or plot, this stirring film manages to tell a captivating story, to evoke high drama and powerful emotion.

There was one part that was really weird:  an American-looking man in a business suit does some crazy shizzle with clay.  It didn’t seem to jive with the rest of the presentation, but at least it conjured a laugh from the audience.  Besides that, I really loved it.

There were two ideas in particular that settled neatly into my mind as I exited the theatre.  The first was a clear image of samsara, or the unending cycle of birth, suffering, death and rebirth.  Not only the human cycle, but the cycle that we create through our own acts.  We manufacture, we use, we throw away. We manufacture, we use, we throw away.  Not only every day things (appliance, electronics, automobiles), but also our houses of worship (ancient ruins, temples and homes).  The second idea that I received fully was that we are all the same.  The film communicated this very simply.  Fricke set up pictures of people from all different races and cultures staring at the audience from the other side of the camera.  Staring into the eyes of another, without inhibition or fear, I could sense connectedness, oneness.

On a personal side note, I snuck out on a Thursday night to catch a showing of Samsara in Cambridge.  I arrived early, nestled into my seat, all alone, took a deep breath and relaxed.  I quickly became engrossed in the film’s imagery, floating around the scenes like hovercraft.  I was abruptly jerked back to Earth when my husband surprised me with his presence, climbing over legs to reach the seat next to mine.  For the next 40 minutes, he shoveled swollen handfuls of popcorn into his mouth and breathed heavily through his nose, occasionally leaning over to offer me a bite or identifying a photo, “That’s in Utah.”   Thanks for being so thoughtful, honey.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

a new contender in the race for the oval office?

barak?

mitt?

who do you like?

my social views are very liberal, so i lean democrat.  but if a quality moderate republican comes along i’ll swing my vote in the other direction.

my greatest concern has always been social policy.  don’t take our rights away, that’s all i ask.  live free or die, baby.  the issue closest to my heart is gay rights, which should be re-termed “human rights”, because love is a basic human right.  who we love and how we display commitment has absolutely nothing to do with government, federal or state.  my quick story today is spun from this idea.

when we were kids, my sisters and i played house a lot.  one girl would be the mommy, one girl would be the baby and one girl would get stuck being the daddy.  you might as well tell that poor girl to go clean out the garage while the others play.  for a girl, being the daddy sucked.  so every time my daughters play house with their friends, they inevitably start squabbling, “not fair!  i want to be the mommy!”  and inevitably, my girls realize, “it’s okay.  girls can marry each other.  let’s both be mommies.  yay!”

it’s such a simple act of imagination.  but it’s also a beautiful act of acceptance.  kids today provide me with an extraordinary feeling of hope for our future and pride in this generation of parents who are rearing children to be open and accepting of others as they have been created.

with this in mind, i see clearly that the man in the oval office may wield power over current domestic  policy, but the future of this country lies in the hands of a new generation.  the tides are changing, people.  the emerging generation is aware.  they are awake.  they are becoming mindful.  they are innovative.  they are compassionate and sensitive.  they are already changing the world.  and i have nothing but faith and confidence in these children.

this morning while i was making chocolate chip pancakes, my son XG, my 3 year old son, *3 YEAR OLD SON* said out of the blue, “mamma, did you know giwls can mawwy giwls?”  my husband MG and i looked at each other then looked back at him.

“that’s right, buddy,” said MG, waiting patiently to see where the conversation would go.

after a minute i said, “you are very smart, little man.”

“yup,” he said.  “boys can mawwy boys, too.  and batman defeats spidewman.”

well, that decides it.  XG gets my vote this november.  oh, and he gets an A+ on his acceptance and compassion lesson this week in buddha school.

from mine to yours,
vanessa
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dying flowers = dying practice

When I first decided to make my own altar for meditating, someone told me to include some or all of the following:  a Buddha statue, a bell, a stone for stillness, a candle for insight, incense and fresh flowers.  I procured a few of these things and laid them neatly on a small silver side table in my bedroom.  I arranged a tiny vase of delicate flowers and tended to the altar with my most peaceful breathing and my quietest mind for about 3 days.  Then life got busy.

A few weeks went by.  One night I caught a glimpse of those flowers from the corner of my eye as I was dashing out the door.  They sure weren’t fresh flowers anymore.  They were brittle, crunchy spikes and twigs connected by cobwebs.  Oops.

That vase of dead flowers on my altar represented my dying practice.  Clearly, ignoring my altar was synonymous with ignoring the commit to a purposeful practice.

But I didn’t see it that way then.  I just thought, Well, I guess I just am not the type who likes to sit down formally and meditate.  So I replaced the twiggy flowers with a beautiful crystal and began to treat the altar like a decoration in the corner of my bedroom.  Instead of sitting with my Buddhist schwag, I meditated in bed, on my couch, in my parked car, in the shower.  I just found moments here and there, wedging quiet, focused breaths between errands and obligations.

Since formally committing to Buddhism, I have noticed a shift in my priorities.  I no longer squeeze mindfulness into random parts of my day.  Instead, I wake up in the morning, bow at the door to my Breathing Room, adorned with my homemade altar and a potted plant, and sit down to pay attention to the Bodhisattva in me that is longing to be discovered and released full throttle.  And before I leave the room, I make sure to water my flowers.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

children’s lesson: breathing room

I’m reading a TERRIFIC book by Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village Community called Planting Seeds, Practicing Mindfulness with Children.  It’s a compilation of teaching moments and mindfulness lessons that are suited for anyone dealing with children.

This is a book that every teacher or parent should read, though if you are new to meditation I’d recommend reading a book like Goldie Hawn’s 10 Mindful Minutes first to familiarize yourself with the science behind meditation and the benefits associated with a regular practice.  Those who are “in the know” can jump right in and get to work.  The lessons are easy and practical.

There were so many stand-out lessons for me in this book, so I decided to choose a few from the first half of the text and experiment with them on my children.  When the kiddos woke up this morning, I told them we were going to be having a “Lazy Sunday”.   Daddy was golfing so it was just us.  I kept the day a bit of a mystery but offered a few teasers to get them eager to participate.

  • After breakfast, we got dressed and prepared for our first Pebble Meditation by collecting four stones each.  I told them they could go outside and find stones in the garden or they could raid the tumbled crystal collection in my bedroom.  Of course they went straight for my stash.
  • Next we visited my sewing station.  We each selected a bit of fabric so that we could stitch up our own tiny pebble bags.
  • After that, we reinvented our sleeping porch by turning it into our very own Breathing Room.  (Sorry, CG, you lost your room again, but we’ll find you a worthy alternative. 😉 )  A Breathing Room is a space devoted to devotion.  If you don’t have a separate room available, just create a quiet corner in your classroom or living space.  We carried my altar into the room and talked about its adornments.  A Buddha statue, a bell and a vase of fresh flowers.  The Buddha reminds us that the Buddha lives inside us, a bell will help us engage in mindful breathing each time it’s invited and the vase of flowers remind us that we are alive and fresh.  We then scattered some cushions and rugs around the floor and stepped back to admire our work.
  • Then I showed them how to bow when we enter the room, creating a separation between the chaos of the house and the calmness of the Breathing Room.  We also talked about taking the time to bow to the great energy that exists within us, the Buddha within.  We tried some different ways of bowing – bending at the waist, prostrating our bodies to the ground, taking child’s pose.
  • When we settled onto our cushions, we sat criss-cross apple sauce, stretching our backs long and keeping our heads high.
  • The first thing we did was talk about the bell.  Every time the bell is invited, we stop whatever we’re doing and take 3 cleansing breaths.  I taught the kids to fist “wake up the bell” by tapping it lightly with the stick,wait a second, then “invite the bell” by striking it confidently one time so we could all listen to its sound and think about our breath.
  • We spoke about breath.  We felt the rise and fall of our bellies for 10 breaths, just paying attention to the changes in our bodies.  We held our fingers under our nostrils and took 10 breaths, noticing the temperature and humidity changes in the air we took in and out.  How does that happen?  Why is it warm?  What does breath do?  Where does it go?
  • When I felt the kids understood the calming effects of focusing on breath, we moved onto the Pebble Meditation.  You can download a worksheet created by the nuns and monks at Plum Village here if you’d like.  My kids are very young so I created a custom version of the meditation that gave them a little wiggle room.  Here is what we did:
  1. Lay out plain paper, folded in quarters, and a box of crayons.  Ask them to pick out a pebble from their bag and lay it to the left of the paper.  In the first box, ask the kids to color a picture of a flower.  While they color, talk about flowers.  How they grow, how the smell, how we feel when we see them.  Reference the book here, Thich Nhat Hanh provides a beautiful script for us.  When the kids are done coloring, they’ll want to talk about their work.  When they’re ready, ask them to hold their pebbles and sit up straight and tall.   They can examine the pebble, rub it, squeeze it while they sit.  Share the gatha, “Breathing in, I see myself as a flower.  Breathing out, I feel fresh.  Flower, fresh.”  Ask them to repeat the words.  Then one child invites the bell (they love that bell) and we breath in and out three times together, imagining ourselves as flowers.  In, flower.  Out, fresh.  In, flower.  Out, fresh.  In, flower.  Out, fresh.  Then put the pebbles in their little homemade pouches and move onto the next picture.
  2. Reach for the next pebble and place it to the left of the picture.  In the next box, ask them to draw a mountain.  Again, refer to the book for just the right words.  But ask them what they think lies in the center of a mountain.  Is it loud?  Is it busy?  Is there life?  What happens to the inside of the mountain when it snows or when the wind blows?  Does it change with the conditions? (See where we’re going here?)  Pick up the pebble.  Share the gatha, “Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain.  Breathing out, I feel solid.  Mountain, solid.”  Then invite the bell and follow the same routine, substituting flower/fresh for mountain/solid.
  3. Place the another pebble next to the paper.  In the next box, invite them to draw a placid lake.  Read Thay’s words from Planting Seeds, then provide them with any extra interpretation that they might need, as this one is a bit loftier than the others.  Pick up the pebble.  Share the gatha, “Breathing in, I see myself as still water.  Breathing out, I reflect things as they truly are.  Water, reflecting.”  Then finish this portion in the same manner as the others, closing by moving the pebble into the pouch.
  4. Rest the final pebble next to the picture and encourage the children to fill the last box with a picture of space.  They might need some direction drawing space or even understanding what it is.  I chose to point out the space that separated the four of us sitting in the room, but even while it separated us, we were still very much together.  Everyone drew something different, my oldest left the box blank.  All of it’s okay.  Take this time to share Thay’s words then pick up the last pebble.  Share the gatha.  ” Breathing in, I see myself as space.  Breathing out, I am free.  Space, free.”  Take you breaths after inviting the bell then finish up that segment of the meditation.

  • When you finish the Pebble Meditation, take a few minutes to ask the children how each portion made them feel.  Ask if they were able to take three breaths without getting distracted.  Ask how they felt when they pictured themselves as a mountain.  Did they feel strong?  Can they remember that feeling next time they are scared or worried?
  • We ended our practice by bowing to each other with hands at heart center and saying, “Namaste,” or, the sacred light in me bows to the sacred light in you.

After this, we continued on with our Lazy Sunday by taking a walk downtown.  We had lunch on the town green then treated ourselves to a froyo at Swizzles.  Even Rufus was rewarded with a cool treat.

We then bought some poster board so we could create our very own Pebble Meditation poster  to hang in the Breathing Room.  But before heading back, we spent a little more time in the park to play.  We did a walking meditation that is suggested in Planting Seeds.  We started walking in circles around a raised bed flower garden in the center of the garden.  With each step, thought about how our feet felt each time they connected with the bricks.  We moved in slow motion.  As slow as we could.  Then we walked super fast.  Then we pretended we were walking through as swamp.  Then we were business men late for a meeting.  Then we were bunnies then moonwalkers then tightrope performers then superheroes.  This went on for five minutes or so.  And we all had a ball.

Once we got home, I suggested we work on the poster but the kids were done being BUBs and preferred to pull out blankets and sheets to built a fort.  It wasn’t long before they started screaming bloody murder and bludgeoning each other with their stuffed animals.  Ah well.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

bu-curious word of the day: sangha

Sangha:  Pronounced “san-gah”.  This is a community of people practicing Buddhism together.

We very much need to share the path with others.  I’m still searching for my Sangha, though being a Mommy, I have a little head start.  This is a picture of the current (captive) members of my Sangha:

They’re a good crew of little Buddhas, tough to wrangle sometimes, but they have a lot of potential.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

alive & awakening

Our ancestors are alive in us.  Each lifetime is an opportunity for not only us to awaken, but our ancestors as well.

it’s all in me

We inhale our surroundings with every breath, literally internalizing the universe.  In return, we give ourselves back to the universe when we exhale.  With every rise and fall of the chest, we can be reminded that there is no difference between us and the cosmos, no difference between us and the trees, no difference between us and our fellow human beings.  We are connected to everything and everyone around us.  So it’s important to surround ourselves with goodness, and breathe goodness back into the world.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa