Rachel Naomi Remen

‘I am reminded that death, like love, is intimate, and that intimacy is the condition of the deepest learning’. (foreword to The Five Invitations)

A friend of mine who works in the field offered me their copy of Frank Ostaseski’s book, which is my commute read, now that I have got to the end of The Third Turning of the WheelExpect to see more passages from it over the coming weeks.

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Sharon Salzberg

‘I had a dream once, and in it, someone asked me, “Why do we love people?”
Still dreaming, I responded, “Because they see us.” I woke up thinking, That’s a really good answer.’ (Real Love)

We all yearn to be seen, and this is something we can learn to do with anybody. Usually our ideas about people get in the way of really seeing them; any practice we can undertake that loosens our ideas and brings us closer to actual happenings is going to be beneficial. You can imagine which practice I might recommend for this…

Judy Lief

‘We can learn a lot by observing how we oscillate between distraction or entertainment and boredom. Boredom has an edge to it. We feel our ground slipping away; we struggle to find some way to secure ourselves. There is too much space; we need to fill it. There is nothing happening; we need to do something. It is too quiet; something must be wrong.

Paying attention to these kinds of responses to boredom is extremely valuable. It is a great practice.’ (quoted in Lion’s Roar)

Sharon Salzberg

‘At times, reality is love’s great challenge. When our old stories and dreams are shattered, our first instinct may be to resist, deny, or cling to the way things were. But if we loosen our grip, often what fills the space is a tender forgiveness and the potential for a new and different kind of love.’ (Real Love)

I feel like I have managed before to open this book at a random page and find a beautiful passage to quote. It certainly happened this time.

Reb Anderson

‘A buddha is someone who sees the way things really are. When we see the way things really are, we see that we’re all in this together, that we are all interdependent. A great surpassing love arises from that wisdom, and that love leads buddha to wish that all beings would open to this wisdom and be free of the misery that arises from ignoring the way things are. Buddhas appear in the world because they want us to have buddha’s wisdom, so that we will love every single being completely and protect every single being without exception and without limit – just as all buddhas do.’ (The Third Turning of the Wheel)

This is another book I borrowed from my friends’ shelves recently. I have a feeling that I have not posted a single quote from Tenshin Roshi the entire time I have been writing this blog; it is at least a dozen years since I read one of his books, and I hold opinions about his personality and teaching style. This book interested me however – I was in the room when some of the lectures it is based on were given, during the first of two Tassajara practice periods I attended where Reb was the teacher, this one back in 2003.

At the time I could make very little sense of what was being discussed; the Samdinirmocana Sutra is considered fairly impenetrable. I do remember trying to explain what I had retained a year later to my best friend from London, in a failed attempt to have him see how wonderful Buddhist thinking was. These days more of it makes sense, even reading it on BART, my current main practice. I would still think twice about attempting to explain it all, though I did try paraphrasing some of it to my students last week, since the conversation had veered towards the relative and the absolute. You might have noticed that this passage is not impenetrable in the slightest; it is rather lovely, and it is the opening paragraph in the book; I was encouraged to continue. I also find it reads as a nice reflection on yesterday’s post.

Words of Wisdom

Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Wisdom 2.0 conference in San Francisco. I have had mixed feelings about it in the past, but this year I enjoyed myself more overall. There were different elements that went into that: I reconnected with people I have met in past years, which gave me more of a sense of community; I ran into a number of Young Urban Zen alumni, which made me feel glad to have been part of getting that group to where it is now; I spent time with some of the senior Zen Center attendees, which kept me feeling connected to that organisation; I got to see friends connecting with each other, not least the two people who have paid for my tickets for each of the times I have attended, but also one student and an app developer he had introduced me to previously; I made one strong new connection, in conjunction with the same student, which could result in another meditation teaching offering in the city. Most of all though, there was the chance to listen to some wonderful teachers offering their wisdom.

Many of these were dharma teachers, who I have seen before, or at least read: Sharon Salzberg, Joan Halifax, Frank Ostaseski, John Kabat-Zinn, Steven Mitchell, Chade Meng Tan, but there were also some wise voices from other areas. I enjoyed hearing Tristan Harris speak, but most moving were the presentations that formed a crescendo on the main stage on Friday afternoon – after the conversation between Sharon Salzberg and Joan Halifax, first was Nadine Burke Harris, whose TED talk a friend had shared with me a month or so ago, speaking forcefully and clearly on childhood trauma and its impacts on health (I persuaded a couple of people to stay to listen to her because I knew how good she was, and they agreed, having heard her); finally with Tarana Burke, whose years of activism has left her grounded and humble at her new position of prominence.

I had also been offered a ticket to go to see Joan Halifax in conversation with Rebecca Solnit on Tuesday, and was very glad to attend that and take in more sage words from two such articulate women;  in the midst of serious conversation and gloom at the state of the nation, there was also a reminder to keep in mind both hope and the social progress that has already been made in many areas.

One of the main messages I kept hearing from the speakers at the conference was that words alone are not much use. We all have to embody the practices that we know are beneficial and healing, and take those out into the world consistently to affect positive change. I don’t know how other attendees will take that on, or if there is any way to stay accountable to each other once the cheering and sense of community has worn away, but I found it helpful as a support and confirmation for my own practice; these days I feel confident in how I have absorbed the teachings so far, and how I can offer them to others, and I know I need to keep learning how to be more compassionate and effective in the world. What is clear to me is that listening to these wise voices, especially women’s voices, and especially those of women of colour (I don’t think it is a coincidence that the two books I have chosen to read recently are both by remarkable women of colour teachers) is how I will continue to broaden my limited awareness.