bringingupbuddhas

suburban adventures in bu-curious mothering

Category: meditation

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.

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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

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!!!!

a potpourri today: acceptance, meditation & book review

please join us on facebook to participate in this three-week long meditation challenge:  www.facebook.com/everythingoldisnewageagain

from mine to yours,

vanessa

where zen chanting can take you: nam myoho renge kyo

Sorry for all the “uummmmmms”.  I recorded early this morning without preparing what I was going to say.

Do you chant?  Where does it take you?  Can you share your favorite?

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

“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

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

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

bu-review: the arlington center

Okay, Boston’s Bu-curious, this one’s for you.  I visited The Arlington Center in (ahem) Arlington Center today.  It’s a yoga and meditation studio at 369 Mass Ave.  I chose a guided meditation class for my first experience, and it was terrific.  Chip Hartranft, author of a new translation of The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali and founder/director of TAC, leads a 90 minute medie for about a dozen practitioners on Fridays at 10am.  He is articulate, sincere and gentle in his guidance, and welcoming to each student, new or experienced.  The room is clean and bright with lots of benches, mats, blocks and bolsters to keep students comfortable during the session.  Visitors only need to bring their Bu-curious minds and 17 bucks in cash to partake in a bit of Zen.

The Arlington Center offers other classes:  Iyengar, Vicaara and Kripalu, yoga for kids and cyclists, Pilates and Tai Chi are a few titles on the calendar this September.   I’m looking forward to attending some upcoming workshops onsite, too:  Listening to our Callings, a two-hour lecture on Sunday, September 9, and Breathwork, a two-hour class on Saturday, September 29.  Join me if you can or check out their online calendar of events to find another topic that peaks your senses.  Drop-ins are welcome.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

p.s.  I’d be so grateful if you passed this blog along to like-minded peeps!  I’d do it for you!  🙂