bringingupbuddhas

suburban adventures in bu-curious mothering

Category: dharma

more meditation in action

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Original version of my last column published in The Winchester Star (skip down if you’ve already read it):

Sometimes I am overwhelmingly repulsed by the amount of crap I own.  I walk around my oversized home and stare at all of the things I’ve accumulated over the years and pray that it would all just disappear.  The the electronics, the appliances, the photo albums, the decorations – they are like anchors.  The weight attached to all this stuff comes in the form of anxiety, stress, worry: more to care for, more to pay for, more to clean up, more to distract me, more to dust, more to lose, more to get lost in.

Buddhists call this attachment, our need to be connected to someone or something, the cause for all human suffering.  While the theory of attachment digs far deeper than the knick-knacks on my bureau, these little manmade treasures are a great place to start practicing non-attachment and create a simpler, less stressful life.

In his book Peace is Every Breath, Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that mindful consumerism is an important part of modern life.  By focusing our minds strictly on our shopping lists and taking a moment to consider the real value of a desirable item on a store shelf, we are empowering ourselves to make better choices for humanity and for the planet.  Our purchases come from somewhere.  Our purchase will end up somewhere, too.  While purchases may be fun for awhile, in the end, the desirable items will find a home in a heap of garbage.  Along with billions of other once-desirable items.

My New Year’s resolution was to stop buying stuff I don’t need, “giving up non-essential spending” my dear friend KF calls it.  Bad news for stores like Nordstrom, Target and Home Goods.  Heaven knows how often and easily I have strolled into those stores and loaded up bags and shopping carts with non-essentials – because they were shiny, because they were stylish, because they were on sale, because they scratched my itch to consume.

Consumerism is an addiction.  This works out well for manufacturers, I guess.  But what is good after all?  What is bad?  A thriving economy?  Sure, that’s good.  But what’s the cost?  More greenhouse emissions, more waste, more distraction, more stuff?  What’s the real price?  Sure, we’re happy now, playing with our trinkets and showing off our great taste.  But what about our kids?  Our grandkids?  Honestly, I’m not sure my great-grandchildren will inherit a clean planet.  Because at the rate I’m going, in a 50 years my junked picture frames and discarded tennis balls are going to be piled up so high that they just might block the sun.

So I’m drawing the line.  Here and now.  Walking my talk.  This is not easy.  Temptation is everywhere.  We are programmed to spend spend spend.  Social pressures, sale coupons, technology updates, red carpet fashions – all keep us in buying mode.  It’s incredibly difficult to turn off the voices in our heads, the ones encouraging us to stand in line and swipe that card.  But it’s possible to turn down the volume, with inspiration, commitment and mindfulness.

Originally, I told myself that I’d cut out the riff-raff purchases completely.  No more for me EVER!  Then I thought, well, maybe just this year.  And then I got realistic.  I need to start with changing my lifelong spending habit just this month, taking it one day at a time.  After this month, I’ll focus on the next month, and then get through that month one day at a time.

It’s interesting.  Going into this resolute commitment to stop spending, I thought it would be sort of easy.  I mean, really, I’m not THAT spend-crazy.  I thought it’d make me feel good, powerful, wholesome.  I thought that I’d walk past that store window on Newbury Street and forget the fabulous Stella McCartney dress on display.  I’d get home and feel relief that I survived the day without making a purchase.  But that’s not the case.  Instead I’ve been coming home and feeling frustrated.  I want that dress.  I’d love to have that dress.  I’m still thinking about that dress.  I’d really like to see that dress hanging in my closet.  I’d really like to wear that dress out to dinner with my husband.

It sounds so petty, doesn’t it?  So spoiled and selfish.  So human.  But aren’t we all this way?  Another person’s struggle may not be consuming – it may be thinking judgmental thoughts or overeating, a technology addiction or being a workaholic.  None of these bad habits is contained within us – they reach far and wide.  Our issues affect those close to us, then those whom they encounter and those people affect other people.  It’s a wave of connection that makes your problem my problem and my problem your problem, even if we’ve never met each other.  So it’s important for each of us to get healthy and practice wholesome, mindful behavior, even though the caveman in us tells us otherwise.

Detaching ourselves from our humanness is hard work.  That’s why we’re not all monks and priests and mystics.   But that common bond of human suffering reminds us that we’re all in this together.  And when we see that one person is willing to give up pleasures and temptations in hopes of bettering the planet, we become inspired to do it ourselves.  Many thanks to those who planted this seed of mindful consumerism in me.

***********

I have a bookshelf tucked behind my bedroom door.  Most nights, I scan the shelf, choose a paperback that speaks to me and climb into bed.  I might only get through a couple of chapters before sleep overtakes me or before I need to put the book down and reflect on the writing, but I always read the message I need to hear.  Time after time, the words in my hand reflect the thoughts in my head.  And while I am no longer surprised by the tiny burst of intuition that leads me to that excerpt, I am always amazed.

Right after I wrote this column, I selected Chogyam Trungpa’s Meditation in Action for my nighttime read.  Here’s what he wrote:

So there is this possessiveness, this psychological hunger.  And this relates not only to money and wealth but to the deep-seated feeling of wanting to possess, wanting to hold onto things, wanting things definitely to belong to you.  For example, supposing you are window shopping.  One person might be unhappy all the time, and when he sees things he likes, this always produces a kind of pain in his mind because he is thinking, “If only I had the money, I could buy that!”  So all the time as he is walking through the shops this hunger produces great pain.  Whereas another person may enjoy merely looking.  So this wanting to own, wanting to possess and not being prepared to give out, is not really a weakness for any particular thing.  It is more generally wanting to occupy oneself with something, and if you have lost or lose interest in that particular thing, then you always want to substitute something else in its place.  It isn’t particularly that you can’t manage without a motor car or central heating or whatever it may be.  There is always something behind that, something fundamental, a kind of wanting to possess, wanting to own, which is always changing and developing and substituting one thing for another.  So that is the real weakness – though not exactly weakness, but more a kind of habit that one tends to form through a neurotic process of thoughts.  

I’ll share a little more from this chapter tomorrow morning because I felt the idea was so deeply profound.  I’d include it here but but this post is way too long already.  😉

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

this is my happy place

So often I find myself chasing someone else’s version of success.  It creeps up in all forms – jealousy, envy, anxiety, impatience.  When I find myself experiencing these types of thoughts and feelings, I find the best thing to do, is meditate.  By isolating myself and getting quiet, I can take the time I need to release myself from the stream of voices in my head and gain my composure.

I spent a couple of weeks relatively isolated in the mountains over the holidays.  A quiet retreat.  One morning, I stared at a stone wall in my living room for 3 hours (pictured below).  Just stared quietly, blankly.  I can’t remember feeling so content.  This happy place had nothing to do with work or relationships, travel or money, success or stuff.  It had everything to do with peace and simplicity.

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Not everyone would feel content to look at a stone wall.  But I’m not everyone.  I’m me.

Thinking about being me reminded me of a recent experience.  Last fall I saw the The Dalai Lama in Boston.  He shared a stage with Brother David Steindl-Rast.  I was totally taken by Brother David, as was much of the audience, and wrote about him on this blog.  While I was surfing around his website, gratefulness.org, I was shocked to see my very own words staring back at me.  His web editor found my recap of his appearance and published it on the site.  I couldn’t believe it.  I was so humbled to think that Brother David may have read my words and appreciated my perspective.  And it made me really happy.

Now, I am probably, no definitely, the only person in my circle of peers who would be elated to see her work displayed on Brother David’s website.  For me it was simply terrific.  For someone else, the simply terrific involves another set of circumstances.  It’s important for us to know what our simply terrific is, so when we experience it, we recognize it.  And so we don’t get mixed up in chasing after another person’s simply terrific.

Finding the terrific is easier for some than it is for others.  Some folks are tuned into the good stuff, attracting it easily.  Others need to work at it.  I think I’m one of the types who needs to work at it.  And when I do, the work pays off.

By working at it, I mean mindfully surrendering to spirit.  I mean connecting to the beautifully divine light within and shining it on everyone, knowing that we are all fighting the same inner battles and we all need to be shown compassion and love.  The best thing that we can do to find peaceful achievement for ourselves is to support one another.

When we, especially we women, share our love and our gratitude for others’ successes, we open ourselves to receiving it, too.  Love begets love.  That’s all there is to it.  Though offering love can feel awkward at first, especially if we are not wired to give it freely, once we begin a steady diet of giving, the act will become normal.  It’s amazing how quickly and naturally a new normal can settle in.

It all starts with a smile in the grocery store.  A pat on the back for the guy in the next cubicle.  A compliment for a friend, or a stranger if that’s easier.  A “like” on a Facebook post.  A compassionate word when our first inclination is a punch in the teeth.  Let’s give it up.  Let the pride and the ego and the judgment melt away.  Be happy for someone else.

Make a tiny, mindful effort once a day for 3 weeks.  What we give will come back to us tenfold.  And we will also discover that the giving feels much better than the receiving.

Tell me all about it!  I’ll be your biggest cheerleader.  Really, I will.  When you’re happy and successful, you are making the earth a more vibrant planet.  And while you’re doing what you need to do, I’ll be working on my own goals.  Which some of the time means just sitting here, staring at the wall.  And I’ll be happy, too.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

p.s.  Please share this if it speaks to you.  THANK YOU!!!!

please don’t click the “like” button unless…

you are actually going to READ this post.

Each of us bloggers writes with passion, hoping that folks will find our stories and identify with our experiences.  The feeling of connectedness and acceptance that results is awesome.  That “like” button is one of the zillions of reasons why we love the internet.

I use the “like” button when I see a picture that intrigues me (like on this guy’s blog) or when I read something that touches me (like on this lady’s blog).  I hope that everyone who “likes” my blog is ACTUALLY READING my material.  After all, I’m not posting stories for a virtual ego-boost.  I’m posting because I care about this planet and the people on it.  And I have a gift of compassion and transparency that I am happy to share through writing.

So this is my plea to bloggers who are “liking” pages just to drive more readers to your own page:  This is not a one-way street.  Please READ what you “like”.  Better yet, prove you were there by LEAVING A THOUGHTFUL COMMENT.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

the manure of experience

a pic of the author, chogyam trungpa.  i love this shot b/c of his expression.  he was a tibetan buddhist but he was also a little naughty and crazy and flamboyant.  some called him the rock star guru.  he lived a *real* life and i think that’s why his teachings connect with modern buddhists so deeply.

i earmarked this excerpt from MEDITATION IN ACTION by chogyam trungpa.  it’s a little sliver of a book.  shambala publications (here in boston) published a 40th anniversary edition in 1991 and i found a copy buried in a discount box at borders on boylston street.  the translation is a little funky but it has so many pearls of wisdom.  this is a portion of one of my favorite chapters entitled “the manure of experience and the field of bodhi”.  i read it over and over and it can apply to almost any situation in life.  enjoy…

It is said, I think in the Lankavatara Sutra, that unskilled farmers throw away their rubbish and buy manure from other farmers, but those who are skilled go on collecting their own rubbish, in spite of the bad smell and the unclean work, and when it is ready to be used they spread it on their land, and out of this they grow their crops.  That is the skilled way.  In exactly the same way, the Buddha says, those who are unskilled will divide clean from unclean and will try to throw away samsara and search for nirvana, but those who are skilled bodhisattvas will not throw away desire and the passions and so on, but will first gather them together.  That is to say, one should first recognize and acknowledge them, and study them and bring them to realization.  So the skilled bodhisattva will acknowledge and accept all these negative things.  And this time he really knows that he has all these terrible things in him, and although it is very difficult and unhygienic, as it were, to work on, that is the only way to start.  And then he will scatter them on the field of bodhi.  Having stuided all these concepts and negative things, when the time is right he does not keep them anymore, but scatters them and uses them as manure.  So out of these unclean things comes the birth of the seed which is realization.  This is how one has to give birth.  And the very idea that concepts are bad, or such-and-such a thing is bad, divides the whole thing, with the result that you are not left with anything at all to deal with.  And in that case you either have to be completely perfect, or else battle through all these things and try and knock them all out.  But when you have this hostile attitude and try to suppress things, then each time you knock one things out another springs up in its place, somewhere else.  there is this continual trick of the ego, so that when you try to disentangle one part of the knot, you pull on the string and only make it tighter somewhere else, so you are continually trapped in it.  Therefore the thing is not to battle anymore, not to try and sort out the bad things and only achieve good, but respect them and acknowledge them.  So theory and concepts are very good, like wonderful manure.  Through thousands and thousands of lives we have been collecting so much rubbish that now we have a wonderful wealth of this manure.  It has everything in it, so it would be just the right thing to use, and it would be such a shame to throw it away.  Because if you do throw it away, then all your previous life until today, maybe twenty, thirty or forty years, will have been wasted.  Not only that, but lives and lives and lives will have been wasted, so one would have a feeling of failure.  All that struggle and all that collecting would have been wasted, and you would have to start all over again from the beginning.  Therefore, there would be a great feeling of disappointment, and it would be more a defeat than anything having been gained.  So one has to respect the continual pattern.  One may have broken away from the origin and all sorts of things may have happened.  These may not be particularly good things.  They are rather undesirable and negative.  At this stage there are good tings and bad things, but this collection contains good things disguised as bad and bad disguised as good.

One must respect the flowing pattern of all one’s past lives and the early part of one’s present life right up to today.  And there is a wonderful pattern in it.  There is already a very strong current where many streams meet in a valley.  And this river is very good and contains this powerful current running through it, so instead of trying to block it one should join this current and use it.  This does not mean that one should go on collecting these things over and over again.  Whoever does that would be lacking in awareness and wisdom, he would not have understood the idea of collecting manure.  He could collect it together and acknowledge it, and by acknowledging it he would have reached a certain point and would understand that this manure is ready to be used. 

…and i thought i liked run-on sentences!  great, though, huh?  apply these words to your own life and revisit as you wish…  and in the meantime, know your shit.

peace, love, gratitude,
v

November 13, 2011 entry from my blog Everything Old is New Age Again

wake up, sleepyhead

enlightenment is ultimately something i seek on my own, but sangha is an important part of practice.  fortunately, every day more bu-curious americans join the conversation, looking to learn and share, even if that means committing to two religions at once.  some christian critics call this religious fusion “trendy“.  (go ahead, click on the word trendy, you know you want to.)

in my neighborhood, there aren’t many  buddhists; so i’m thinking “trendy” isn’t the right word for it.  “shifty” is more like it.  this shift, as i see it, is not only a widespread shift in people’s spiritual affiliation, but also a shift in an individual’s view of his/her own human potential.  we are rubbing the sleep out of our eyes, awakening by recognizing the pure consciousness that exists in our hearts.

my step-dad reminded me of a lesson last weekend.  he said, “christ is not someone’s last name, you know.”  yep.  that’s right.  christ is not a surname, christ is consciousness.  each of us has the potential to awaken the christ consciousness within us.  in buddhism we call it buddhahood.  but it’s really the same thing.  we shed the ego, and we allow our spirit to shine.  it’s a very simple idea, but certainly no easy task.

knowing that you are responsible for your soul’s salvation, knowing that enlightenment is within your reach, knowing that your body is here for a limited time only, how does the game change?  can you see beyond the obstacles?  can you focus clearly on the goal, regardless of your circumstances?  can you break away from the pack and give this life your best effort?   just for the day, can you be the best version of yourself?

from mine to yours,

vanessa

advice on dealing with difficult people: watch this. it’s fantastic.

My sweet sweet friend DM introduced me to a new teacher this morning:  Ajahn Brahm.  Enjoy this is a fantastic sermon about solutions to dealing with difficult people.  If you’re short on time but would like to enjoy a powerful lesson, fast forward to 12:45. the story will take about 15 minutes.  This is a great one to share with kids, too!  Have them watch and learn about how to deal with bullies in school or challenging teachers and coaches.

We do have a responsibility to help others, don’t we?  People aren’t born assholes.  They become assholes.  This means that they can become kind-hearted, too.  Let’s make our relationships more peaceful by spreading kindness and giving our children tools that can allow them to do the same.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

bu-curious word of the day

In my spiritual-not-religious days, I remember reading a whole bunch of arma-asha-assina eastern religion blabitty-blab-vocab in my books and yoga mags.  I read the words over and over again, trying to commit them to memory, but nothing would stick.  I decided that a whole bunch of yogi words, when jumbled together, sound exactly the same.  And they all start with D, S or V.  It’s impossible to keep them straight.  I encountered arma-asha-assina over and over again in books and pamphlets and websites, but still, I could not decipher one from the next or remember what they meant.  I started highlighting and post-it-noting the words in books.  STILL, nothing.   But I want to learn.  I won’t give up.  So let’s do this together.  One word at a time.  We’ll start simple.

Doesn’t get much more basic than this, Bu-curious word of the day is dharma.

DHARMA:  Pronounced “darma”.  Simply put, dharma is law.  But it is so much more.  It is pure and divine truth, the divine order of the universe, the central teaching of the Buddha.

Feel free to use it in a sentence today.  If you’re feeling crazy, share that sentence here.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

p.s.

Please share this with your favorite Bu-curious friends.  Tweet, Tumbl, Pin, Facebook.  Help a sister out!