bringingupbuddhas

suburban adventures in bu-curious mothering

Tag: religion

Welcome to Work-Life Balance!

If you’ve subscribed to my blogs over the years, you’ll know that I jump on YouTube from time to time to explore various topics through mindfulness. The content of this channel is shifting and in this video I share its new direction. Thanks for tuning in, for liking, for commenting, for sharing.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

when your meditation practice is a disappointment

Do you ever feel like your practice is letting you down? I do. Sometimes I feel like I’m just dialing it in – a getting-it-done-to-say-I-did-it sort of thing. A chore. Sometimes I’m super bored, especially when I’m sitting for long periods of time. Sometimes my mind scatters in a gazillion directions and then returns to focus: scatter-return-scatter-return-bored-return-antsy-return-blah-blah-blah-return. Sometimes I get really hungry and can’t stop thinking about cookies. Sometimes I don’t think I can sit another nanosecond but I do. Sometimes I don’t think I can sit another nanosecond and I don’t.

Sometimes I sit in meditation and nothing happens and then I wake up in the middle of the night with what I call a “spiritual brain dump,” receiving some sort of revelation that helps me better understand the world as it is. Sometimes I see and talk to Jesus; we hold hands or hug. Once he told me to keep chanting “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.” (Jesus loves Buddhism. He’s so Badass.) Sometimes I feel like I’m floating but I’m not. And sometimes, not often, I see gorgeous colors and patterns – colors I’ve never seen in real life. And it’s wonderful.

I’ve been meditating formally for 7 or 8 years, consistently for 5 or 6, and I’ve got to say, for me, it’s 90% relaxation, boredom, and stick-to-itiveness. The 10% of wonderful that comes through makes it all worth it, as does the self-awareness that seeps into existence when not in formal sitting.

If Forrest Gump were bu-curious like me, he might say, “Meditation is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” When you meditate, try to release expectations and trust that you’ll get what you’re supposed to get. Going into meditation with a particular outcome in mind can lead to the following:

1. Disappointment. Last time you meditated you felt buzzing all over your body. It was awesome. You felt like you were finally “doing it right” (ha) and are eager to get back to that feeling of full presence again. But this time you drop in and wait for the buzz, and you just can’t get there. You’re bummed.

2. Frustration. Since you’re not achieving the particular outcomes you’d intended to achieve, you are convinced you must be “doing it wrong.” In actuality, the only thing that’s getting in the way of your practice is your expectation that it should be something else. Remember, whatever happens, that’s what’s happening. The whatever is the sweet spot. Just eat the chocolate, Forrest.

3. Limitation. While the buzzing (or blue lights or numbness or gap) may be totally captivating, by wishing and willing yourself a return visit to those places, you are limiting yourself to those experiences and perhaps closing yourself off to other experiences that could serve you in ways you never imagined.

4. More limitation. Setting expectations for your practice is giving in to the human brain’s need to constantly create metaphors that spin out of the familiar. We can only describe objects, feelings, and experiences based on objects, feelings, and experiences we already recognize. Expecting to experience something you understand may be the ultimate limitation. Opening up to a pure wonder may allow you to experience that which you cannot explain and never could’ve expected. The Kindgom of Wonder is home to mysteries and colors and sounds and wisdom infinitely deep and wide, so try to notice when you’re hoping or expecting a particular experience or outcome and loosen up your grip on it.

And after all this is said, just as a wandering mind is a crucial part of meditation (if the mind doesn’t wander, we live in the now and meditation is obsolete), so, too, is expectation. It helps us better understand the nature of our minds and our habits, leading to a fuller awareness of self. So when we notice that we are engaging in disappointment, frustration, limitation, and more limitation, we can open up to the greater mystery by cutting the cord between our practice and our expectations.

Headshot Vanessa 3

Blog post written with love by Vanessa Gobes. Vanessa is co-founder of Chrysalis Meditation Center in Winchester, Massachusetts, a place where people can develop or deepen a spiritually-based mental health practice. Located 15 minutes north of Boston, Chrysalis supports people of all ages, genders, races, abilities, and incomes in their journey to peace. To learn more about the programs offered at Chrysalis, visit http://www.insidethechrysalis.com.

oprah & deepak’s meditation experience

The current 21 day meditation experience offered by Oprah and Deepak is really excellent. If you haven’t checked this one out yet, I recommend doing so.

It’s not scripted for children, but I’ve been playing the meditations at bedtime for my three little ones and they respond to it. My 9 year old daughter seems to benefit most. She is a chronic night waker and since starting this she has slept soundly in her bed until 7:30am. Her latest feedback on Deepak, “Mommy, he is a wise man.” The dharma talks also inspire great questions like, “What’s abundance?” and, “How does the Universe work?”

Typically Oprah sells downloads of the meditations upon completion of the 21 days so you can purchase what you missed. Visit Oprah.com for details.

From mine to yours,
Vanessa

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

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.

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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

thanksgiving

I’m in the mood for a video post today, but just in case you’re at work and can’t press the play button, I’ve summed up in writing below…

Today I turn 37.  I wanted to stop for a moment and offer my gratitude for these many years of life and experience.  So often, when people give thanks it’s for the good things in life.  But today I’m feeling more grateful for the things that made me want to jump off a cliff.  And this is why…

I’m grateful for sweaty armpits, which tell me (and most likely others) I’ve worked hard.

Can I get an “amen” for long lines and traffic jams, indicators that families are gathering, that folks are going to work, that someone else is experiencing the same frustration as me, that we all have the freedom to travel long distances whenever the hell we want.

Feeling gratitude for PMS, as Eckhart Tolle taught us, every woman’s monthly opportunity to evolve by mindfully separating herself from the pain body that casts a shadow on her true personality.

Thank you crow’s feet and silver streaks of hair, proof that I am aging, a much more thrilling experience than the alternative.

Heartburn, diarrhea, hives, you are dearly appreciated.  You warn me when something’s wrong so I can get fixed up.

I’m grateful for spinach in my teeth, bats in the cave, poorly timed jokes, tampon strings hanging out of my bathing suit, all teaching me humility and reminding me and others of my humanness.

I’m so thankful for all the explosive arguments and screaming matches that I’ve had with my siblings, parents, spouse and children, because I know that even at my worst, they still love me.

I’m also thankful for doing so poorly at Bentley that I had to drop out and start fresh at a new college where I was able to graduate with honors with a degree I loved.

Feeling loads of gratitude for hot searing holy shit child birth, which not only showed me what I was made of, but also made way for tender loving motherhood.

Big thanks for landfills, for styrofoam, for disposable diapers and clear cut forests.  All bi-products of the destructive power of mankind and physical manifestations of our collective sleepy state which inspire us to WAKE UP!

I’m appreciative of confusion, loss and rock-bottom.  From these places, there is nowhere to go but up.

Thank you, Mother Nature, for blessing us with hurricanes, earthquakes, blizzards and tsunamis.  The pain and devastation they cause not only provide us with opportunities to balance our karma, but also force us to look the worst of the worst right in the eye and say, “If I can survive this, I can survive anything.”  They open the door for us to accept help and encourage others to reach out and give of themselves in service.

I’m grateful for bordem, because when I’m bored, nothing’s really wrong.

I’m trying really hard to be grateful for war, for human beings to learn about love through its absolute and extreme opposite.  And I have faith that these truly painful lessons are actively evolving a soul as I live and breath.

I’m grateful for life.  For this messy, exhilarating, confusing, synchronized, monotonous, ever-changing, roller coaster of a life.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

my first time with his holiness the dalai lama

I’m going to start off by asking you to not only read this article, but share it.  Facebook, Twitter, email, text, anything.  A bold way to start, I know, but these words have very little to do with my ambitions as a writer and everything to do with us…  you, me, them.  Us.  Oh, and there’s a lot of punctuation ahead, but just push your way through it, annoying as those little dots and curved lines can be.

I’ll start by setting the scene.  My friend LB tipped me off that His Holiness the Dalai Lama would be speaking in Boston this fall, promoting The Dalai Lama Center for Ethics & Transformative Values at MIT, a non-partisan think tank organized in honor of HHDL’s vision to enact holistic education focusing on human and global ethics.

I eagerly bought two tickets for my husband and me and yesterday we were blessed to sit just 20 feet from His Holiness while he shared thoughts on religion, ethics, values and wellbeing.   I snuck the pic above with my iPhone, hence the crappy quality.  Anyway, here’s the story, peppered with my own interpretations and common sense applications of the day’s events:

JAMES TAYLOR:  An emotional opening act

We begin with Boston’s beloved James Taylor warming up the crowd for His Holiness, inspiring a thousand lips to curl up at the corners with his beautiful folk music, as he’s accompanied by BSO’s Owen Young on cello.  The playlist includes You’ve Got a Friend, a cover of I’m a Roadrunner, a folk version of Bach.  Fat tears roll down my cheeks as he sings Sweet Baby James.  I feel as if he sings this sweet lullaby just for me, as I had sung it for my own sweet babies each night as they fell asleep in my arms.

He nears the end of his set, “Shower the people you love with love…  show them the way you feel…”, a heavy door left of the stage opens and the audience breathes a collective gasp.  People rise to their feet, hands to heart center as the one and only Dalai Lama steps into the room, surrounded by crimson-robed monks and dark-suited bodyguards.  His presence alone inspires awe, love and hopefulness.  After a surge of clapping, the group sits down and JT invites his wife and daughter to the stage to join him in one last song before His Holiness takes over.  It is a lovely moment.

HIS HOLINESS THE DALAI LAMA:  Quotes, insights and paradigm shifts

His Holiness mounts the stage with his trusted interpreter, greeting fellow panelists:  Father Thomas Keating, a Cistercian monk and priest of St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado, founder of The Centering Prayer Movement of Contemplative Outreach, and author of several books including Open Mind Open Heart; and Brother David Steindl-Rast, co-founder of The Center for Spiritual Studies, a center incorporating thoughts from Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish and Sufi religions, founder of gratefulness.org, and author many books including Words of Common Sense for Mind, Body and Soul.  The panel is moderated by Liz Walker, former anchor at WBZ News in Boston, now a reverend at Roxbury Presbytarian Church and founder of My Sister’s Keeper, a grassroots human rights initiative for women in Sudan.

Bows and friendly gestures are exchanged amongst the spiritual brothers and then His Holiness turns to us, his adoring fan club, bowing and smiling.  He begins our first lesson of the day:  The Biological Factor, linking science and Buddhism with our every day actions.  Always the gentleman, he delivers a message to ladies first…

He tells us that the most important thing one can do in life is mother affectionately.  Though we aren’t all mothers, we all have mothers, so everyone can understand.  As new human beings, the first thing we look for is nurturing love from our mothers.   HHDL says, “Right away, the newborn knows how to find the…  the…  the…  [Interpreter:  ‘teats’]  the…  [‘teats’]  no, the…  [‘teats’]  PIMPLE!  [‘NIPPLE!’]”  Laughter ensues.

Comedy aside, his point is perfection.  A good life begins with a loving foundation.  Love is the natural tendency, the biological tendency.  “Females have more sensitivity about others’ suffering,” he says in thickly accented staccato, “Not religious belief.  Biological factor.  Female should take more active role in this field.”  (Thunderous applause.)

I get it.  I understand it.  It registers.  BIOLOGY IS LOVE.  Same, same.  ((MC, I swear I actually hear HHDL say that and I’m snickering!))  He says that we need to teach children love, kindness and compassion the same way we teach children science.  The two are braided together to form the whole tightly-woven truth.  Without an intimate understanding of love, how can we understand our own biology?    His Holiness urges us to educate mankind about the science of loving kindness and about the science of happiness rather than leaving that responsibility to religion or by filtering love through the lens of any one religion.  Love is for everyone, believers and non-believers.  Science has caught up to what spiritually rich people have known for centuries.  Love is real, love is ethics, love is responsibility, love is mainstream.  And just to prove the point, one of the best universities in the world, MIT, is backing up that theory by opening The Dalai Lama Center for Ethics & Transformative Values.

HHDL continues, “Religion gives us practice of hypocrisy, because in reality [people] don’t care about the philosophy of teachings.  They have no firm connection about these basic values…  [We must] educate them through scientific finding and common sense for happy life, happy family,  happy community.”

His Holiness is telling us that he understands – religion teaches strict dogma and demands standards that are so hard to meet that most people give up.  We disconnect.  We stop caring.  We float through life without any solid foundation in spirituality or love.  We live our lives on the foundation of selfishness, of arrogance.  We do this.  You, me, us, them.  We.  We take things because we want them.  We buy things because we need them.  We waste things because we can.  We hurt people because we don’t think.  WE DON’T THINK ABOUT THE EFFECT WE HAVE ON EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE ONE AROUND US.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

His Holiness reminds us, “Each person can make a difference. [We] should not think of ourselves as helpless.  A worldwide movement first starts from individual.  First one.  Then your neighbor.  Then ten families.  Then a thousand families.  Share with more people…  more people.  Think more and keep enthusiasm to do something.”  (English is obviously not his first language but, trust me, no love lost in this room.)

“A lot of our problems are of our own creation,” he presses on.  Yes, yes, yes I’m thinking.  We’ve created an ocean of garbage.  We’ve destroyed forests.  We’ve hunted and killed animals for sport.  We’ve bought handbags made my 5 year olds in Vietnam.  We’ve eaten food full of chemicals wrapped up in slippery plastic bags.  We’ve done all of this without thinking.

“Ignorance is the opposite of understanding.  Investigate with a calm mind.  Know reality.  Think.  Then decide,” His Holiness gently impresses.  Think.  That’s all we have to start doing.  Think.  And this is something that each person can do on his or her own.  Just think twice before buying that case of plastic water bottles.  Think twice before leaving the house with the lights on.  Think twice before walking past a person on the street without acknowledging their presence with a smile.  JUST THINK.

These days, we adults are like toddlers in a toy store.  We pull everything out, cause chaos and disorder, push each other around, break everything then leave behind a mess for someone else to clean.  And like small children, we don’t think twice because we don’t realize we have impact.  We don’t realize we matter.  It’s just a plastic bottle.  It’s just a new car.  It’s just a rude comment.  It’s just a middle finger.

As a parent, I understand the frustration of having to sweep up after mischievous kids.  So I should have more understanding.  I should be thinking twice, no three times, before I make a mess.  Where was this dress made?  Do I really need to redecorate my living room?  What’s in a Swedish Fish anyway?  Could I be kinder to people who challenge me?  Could I stop engaging in gossip?  Because here in the grown-up land of planet Earth, my parents won’t be cleaning it up.  My children will.  And depending on the behavior we model, they can continue the cycle or they can start a new one.  There is no politician, no judge or teacher who has more power over the direction of this planet than a mother.  Each mother has an enormous responsibility to offer her children opportunities to THINK about their impact on this planet.  But in the end, it’s up to all of us to be better, to do better.

THIS WORLD REVOLVES AROUND YOU.  THEREFORE YOU MATTER.  EVERYTHING YOU DO… EVERY THOUGHT YOU THINK…  IT ALL MATTERS.

So now that you know you matter, what do you do?  Ignore the call?  Pretend it never happened?  Or do you join the wave of goodness?  Do you start playing the role of responsible human being?  After all, in a hundred years we’ll all be dead.  But our grandchildren will be here.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to train our children to make responsible choices and practice loving kindness by modeling that behavior ourselves?  How else will they learn?  Loving kindness is taught at home, not in school.  At least not yet. 😉

FATHER THOMAS KEATING:  Not your mother’s Father

Now, most of my friends are Christians, and regardless of your level of Christian devotion, I think you’ll be very interested in learning more about Father Thomas Keating.   If you love your faith and believe in God but are sometimes frustrated by the church’s narrow interpretation of the Bible, boy, have I got a monk for you.  If you are searching for a modern take on Christianity, Father Thomas is the just the 80 year old priest that will inspire you to connect fully and passionately to your faith.

I am not your mother’s Father, are the words he does not say, but then again, doesn’t have to.

Father Thomas begins by talking about evolution, setting the tone right away.  The earth is fully populated and this, he considers as proof that the human species is fully evolved.  He challenges, “It’s time to look at the development of consciousness that is beyond biological.”  He goes on, saying that as spiritual seekers, we are constantly searching for union with God, as if God is the “Other”.

“There is no ‘Other’,” he says emphatically, “Everything is a manifestation of the source.”  In other words, we are already in union with God, we just need to awaken to it.  Our problem is that we, “want to become God on our own terms.”  (Yes, yes, I am with you, Father Thomas.)  He tells us we need to reduce our selfishness by serving others.  “We think satisfaction of our emotional needs is happiness, even if it’s brief,” but God is not brief, God is everlasting, so in order to become God, we must invest our efforts in activity that provides us with longterm clarity and peace.

My interpretation:  Stop behaving badly, stop treating our bodies like garbage disposals, stop being assholes to each other and stop disrespecting this planet.  The human race evolved so we could stop acting like animals.  And that’s just what we’re doing!  We are a temporary embodiment of holy spirit.  When we die and shed our skin, all of the bullshit drags our souls down.  Our souls want to rise!  We can elevate by honoring the beautiful energy within us by investing in the intangibles, discovering happiness, serving mankind.

BROTHER DAVID STINDL-RAST:  With gratitude for saying the words we need to hear

Brother David Steindl-Rast (WHOM I ABSOLUTELY LOVE!!!!!!!!) completes Father Thomas’ point by sharing a quote from Father Thomas Merton:  “GOD ISN’T SOMEONE ELSE.”  Wait, wait, wait.  Did you hear that?

GOD ISN’T SOMEONE ELSE.

The audience is awake.  We are all taken by Brother David.  He speaks, we applaud.  He speaks, we applaud.  He is wonderful.  He tells us that God is a mystery that doesn’t fit into the limited institutions that we’ve created to contain it.  He urges, “A non-violent revolution against power structure must be started in small communities.”

By revolution, he is telling us that NOW is the time that we can create a better future for the human race.  It has to be now.  (If not now, when?)  We have building momentum, maybe just a loving trickle at this point.  But by adding more mindful energy to the revolution, we can create a steady stream.  And then a flood.  Until we discover we are swimming in our new normal.  Welcome the Christians.  Welcome the Buddhists.  Welcome the Mulims, the Hindus, the Jews, the Sufis, the Non-believers.  Because regardless of our religious beliefs, science has proven something that we can all agree on.  LOVE MAKES EVERYTHING BETTER.

Liz Walker asks Brother David, “Are we guilty of failing God?”

He responds by bringing the conversation full circle, conjuring up an image of a mother at home with her baby, splattering food on the floor and misbehaving.  The mother doesn’t accuse the baby of being a failure.  She loves him and encourages him to do better.  Brother David tells us to do the same, “Look at the world with eyes of a mother and say, ‘You can do better.'”

“Write that one down!  Write that one down!”  My husband whispers as I scribble frantically into my notebook.

POST-GURU FEAST

Like any spiritual junkie, after the conference broke up, my husband and I find ourselves with a glorious high and a serious case of the munchies.  We walk over to Legal Seafoods and order a feast of salad and fish.   We pour over my messy notes and chatter excitedly about our own interpretations and moments of awakening.  We are wrapped in enthusiasm all the way home, where we joyfully embrace our children who have missed us all day.  And then, we pass out.  Because like any spiritual junkie, we cannot escape the crash.

So this morning, I write and think and meditate my way through my first spiritual hangover.  Hair of the dog.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

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

don’t. yes. wait, stop. okay, go.

I’m going to apologize for this post before we even get started.  So.  Sorry.  But I chortled and snarked all the way through.  Maybe a bit of an Andy-Rooney-meets-George-Carlin moment for me.

I was in my bathroom getting ready this morning, examining the silver hairs streaking through my locks and thinking about expectations.  A lot of my friends (and one extremely close family member in particular whom I worship and adore) would look at me in this slowly-advancing state of salt-and-pepper and use the word, “hag.”  Besides the silvers (they’re not grey, they’re silver), my hair is probably a little too long. A little too frizzy.  Oh, I could take the time to blow dry, grease it with Moroccan Oil, dye it back to its original monotone chestnut color, but I’m not sure I care.  Anna Wintour says that any woman of a certain age should cut her hair above her shoulders.  Hmmmm…  yah, no.

thanks, DD, for a nice, demonstrative pic of my hag hair 😉

There are lots of rules like Ms. Wintour’s here in America – social norms we call them, if I’m remembering the term from 11th grade Sociology correctly.  Don’t wear white between Labor Day and Memorial Day.  Don’t eat on public transit.  Greet people with one kiss on the right cheek (unless you are a New Yorker who pretends to be a European, then you deliver one kiss on each cheek while scanning for other more important friends in the room).  Do not invade a stranger’s 18 inch bubble.  Get married before you make babies.  Hold your tongue in an elevator.  Tip anyone in the service industry.  Etc, etc, etc.

And then there’s the cursing.  Oh, the cursing.

I know there are social rules about cursing, but I still go back and forth on how I feel about it.  Those who read my blog faithfully are familiar with my ease at dropping eff bombs.  Writing for me is a passionate release, a focused meditation – and often times my fingers fly over the keyboard so quickly that I barely know what I’m writing until I’m done.  If a few unclassified words end up in the mix, who am I to edit them?

Plus.  In real life, I quite enjoy the eff word.  I use it occasionally.  Maybe too occasionally.  But I don’t place any verbal value on it, except as a non-verbal verbal that lets people know that I am flawed.  (Though most wouldn’t need four letter word to see that.)

And then there’s always pressure to stifle the cursing in front of the kids.  Tell me.  When it comes to parenting, what is right?  Apologize for letting “shit” escape in front of the kids?  Don’t apologize for letting “shit” escape in front of the kids.  (Maybe they didn’t notice???)  Is hell a cuss or a place?  Is ass a donkey or a bum?  Is fart okay?  What about penis and vagina?  I think they’re good.  But not in school.  Boobs?  Butt?  Shut up?  How ’bout the modern alternative – Shut it?  Is it okay that my 7 year old knows all the words to “I’m Sexy and I Know It”?  Is it okay that my 5 year old sings “Red Solo Cup” and that I think it’s kind of funny when she says, “And you, sir, do not have a pair of testicles if you prefer drinking from glasses.”  (I mean, she’s almost 6, really, but that’s still pretty bad, right?)

I actually spend time pondering the spiritual repercussions of cursing.  Oh, yes, I do.  I mean, it’s about 49th on my list of priorities, squeaking in just after emptying my mom’s dog’s anal sacks, but the spiritual questions are there.

Is cursing an unmindful form of communication?  Is cursing offensive?  Yes, I suppose it is.  But why?  I guess I know why, but is it because God cares?  When I splatter searing hot bacon grease on my bare arm and shout, “JESUS!” does Jesus give a shit, ahem, I mean give a damn, ahem, I mean give a rat’s ass… oh whatever.  You know what I mean.  But really.  Does he?  And does he / He / HE care if I capitalize or not?  Honestly, I’m thinking no.  And if, by some small chance, I’m right and God doesn’t care, why do some people care so much?

(Whew!  Tangent.)

But, like I said, it’s not just cursing, it’s everything.  There are hundreds of social norms that differ greatly from culture to culture.  Wave with the back of your hand in Greece, cover your shoulders in Morocco, don’t be American in England, take off your shoes upon entering a house in Japan, wear thongs on the beach and bikinis to the grocery store in Brazil, wash your poopy bum with a communal bar of soap but only with your left hand in India, don’t write in red ink in China, stare at people past the point of awkwardness then let your dirty white lap dog eat off your plate in France.  What is acceptable changes so vastly from country to country, it just makes me laugh.  Because it’s all so funny, isn’t it?  All these rules about living.

The rules are all so particular.  And peculiar.  Are these socially acceptable (and unacceptable) behaviors cast offs from religious orders?

Don’t eat meat.
Don’t eat meat with milk.
Don’t eat meat with milk on Fridays before sunset on the fourth night of a Harvest Moon.
Sit cross-legged with your hands open on your lap.
Sit with your middle fingers touching your thumbs.  No, your index fingers.
Don’t sit.  Lay down.  Or stand up walk.  Just shut up and be quiet.
Wear an orange robe and only an orange robe.
Shave your head.  Let one piece grow.  Let two curls grow.  Let one long hair on your face grow.
Don’t cut your hair.  Don’t cut your beard.  Now hide it all in a turban.
Hide your hair, hide your shoulders, hide your ankles.  You know what?  Just hide your whole face.
Kneel down, stand up, cross yourself, repeat after me, say it again, say it again, one more time, say it again.
Eat this dry cracker.
Now return to your pew and continue with your dozing off.

Who made these rules anyway?  (Men.)  But seriously, who?  (Old men.)  Really, though.  We judge others so harshly when they don’t abide by the rules.  Meanwhile, the most important rules are often ignored – BE KIND, BE PATIENT, BE HONEST, BE HERE NOW.

Well.  Now that I have thought and pondered and assessed and analyzed the things we humans do and why we do the things we do, I have to go explain to my kids why they can’t say “fart” in the classroom.

From mine to yours,
Vanessa
*Reposted from my June 8, 2012 entry on Everything Old is New Age Again

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