‘I’ve come to consider embodiment to be one of the primary benefits of my time in retreat – and perhaps it is the radical revolutionary practice of our time. Though I would say that I am not 100 percent at home in my body. I am further along the path of coming home to my body than I have ever been. My body and mind are beginning to partner; I try to bring both of them together into every interaction and situation. This definitely slows me down, but it also keeps me grounded and healthy. I now listen to my body as much as to my mind, because my body has its own wisdom, which is just as important as that of my mind.’ (Love and Rage)
I heartily concur with these notions – sitting sesshin allowed me to be in touch with my body and its wisdom (as well as the temporary pain of so much sitting), though I feel lucky that I have never in my life felt distant from my body, or that I only lived in my head.
Last weekend, I attended this year’s virtual iteration of the Gen X teachers’ conference. While four hours on Zoom is a lot, it was wonderful to be back in the company of this peer group of teachers. There were about fifty people on the call, and I knew at least forty of them, either through Zen Center or from previous conferences.
I think Buddhist teachers tend to be pretty good at attuning to current realities, and the main theme of the conversations was how we had all been dealing with teaching through the pandemic, and strange demands of the interface of video and sangha. Prompted by one powerful presentation, there was discussion on finding what I noted as ‘models of vulnerability’: how to be honest about our own struggles; does this set up an expectation for our students to be taking on emotional labour of supporting us; or does it increase authenticity and intimacy in the group.
As always, these remained open questions, to be navigated with compassion and curiosity. What I aspire to is the constancy of being able to meet people, as outlined in the post by Joe Moran the other day, and in these words by the ever-illuminating Corey Ichigen Hess:
‘Being with people, caring about people, lifting them up, listening to them, appreciating them, showing them that they are beautiful and that they are connected to life. Life is not against them. Being yourself, loving life, welcoming them into your joy. Not forcing them to see the light. Letting it be contagious. Most of my work has been covert operations to spread joy and unity. Connecting with them and with this great life energy always there, it feeds everyone, everyone is lifted.’
‘The louder the talk about burnout, it appears, the greater the number of people who say they’re burned out: harried, depleted, and disconsolate. What can explain the astonishing rise and spread of this affliction? Declining church membership comes to mind. In 1985, seventy-one per cent of Americans belonged to a house of worship, which is about what that percentage had been since the nineteen-forties; in 2020, only forty-seven per cent of Americans belonged to an institution of faith. Many of the recommended ways to address burnout—wellness, mindfulness, and meditation (“Take time each day, even five minutes, to sit still,” Elle advised)—are secularized versions of prayer, Sabbath-keeping, and worship. If burnout has been around since the Trojan War, prayer, worship, and the Sabbath are what humans invented to alleviate it. But this explanation goes only so far, not least because the emergence of the prosperity gospel made American Christianity a religion of achievement. Much the same appears to apply to other faiths.’ (from the New Yorker)
I enjoyed this train of thought in an article about burnout. Of course there is one faith – if you want to call it that – where the sitting still, ritual, and letting go of notions of achievement are built in…
‘In a sermon the Buddha preached for his son, Rahula, he called for considering before, during, and after every action whether it was potentially abusive or exploitive or genuinely rooted in kind intent. Sufficient clarity of mind—through wise mindfulness and concentration—is required to discern negative intent, and sufficient wise effort is required to exercise self-restraint. Through wise understanding we deeply intuit the legacy of losses that we share with other livings beings, and through wise intention we find an ever-growing resolve to respond to all life with compassion.’ (from Lion’s Roar)
‘To love my anger means that I must love myself. This is what a loving and liberatory relationship with anger demands, and these demands must be met fully without reserve or aversion, because the consequences mean that my love of anger alone turns to an abuse where I begin to demand of my anger what I believe the root fo my hurt to be.
We need to own our anger, but we don’t have to operate from that anger. We can operate from the love while anger continues to inform what’s going on. But it also continues to direct us back to our hurt, and to let the hurt connect us to others, and to let the broken heart remind us that we’re not the only ones in the world struggling. We are all experiencing broken hearts. None of this is working the way we wanted. I find this realization to be incredibly important for me. It continually reminds me that I am not special because I am hurting. I am basically just like everyone else.’ (Love and Rage)
‘We all know what it feels like to treat others this way and to be treated like this—as a device rather than a person. it is very painful and, at the same time, very ordinary. You can tell when someone is looking right at you but not seeing you at all. They see their projection and, when you match it, there is harmony. When you diverge, there is discomfort. We all do this to others, all day long.
One definition of generosity in relationships is this: turn the projector off. Continuously set the intention and make the effort to separate the person you love from your projections about who they are and who you think they ought to be. Instead of holding them to your ideals, let down your guard. Open to them as they are. Release your agenda over and over. This is an incredibly generous thing to do.’ (from Lion’s Roar)
I have been studying this article on relationships with my student group, and this notion of releasing our own agendas again and again resonated.
‘Our liberation is actually not about transcending or distancing ourselves from trauma or pain and suffering, but it is to acknowledge how we can transform ourselves, our communities, our nation, our world, from all that pain.’ (from the New York Times)
This is from a report about the ceremony held on May 4th as a memorial for the victims of racial violence. I suspect that many people I know were tuning in; it’s hard to tell with the masks, but I might have met some of those in attendance. I recommend clicking on the link at least to look at the gorgeous photos. The words and the sentiments are also beautiful; we can all ask ourselves how we can contribute to this transformation.
‘Every choice we face provides us with an opportunity either to embrace or to break the hold that the past has had on us. No matter how often we have chosen a certain way in the past, so long as we are human, we retain the freedom (to always varying degrees) to disown earlier patterns and to break out onto a new path. But all of our previous decisions are weighing heavily in the direction of the character we have formed for ourselves through previous actions, thus making decisive change difficult. Decisions made do weigh on us, and their presence is lasting. That is why human freedom is so profound in its significance, awesome in its magnitude. All of us, to the extent that we are human and free, remember with terror and regret bad decisions that we have made in the past. These memories sensitize us to the responsibilities that accompany our freedom and help us to grasp just what is at stake each time we choose.’ (The Six Perfections)
‘Nirvana is not a place! Rather, it is simply a view! Remember what the Indian Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna said: “Between samsara and nirvana, there is not the slightest thread of difference.” The only difference is in one’s perception of it. Viewed with attachment, our world of experience is samsara; viewed without such attachment, it is nirvana.’ (from Lion’s Roar)
‘Those who have great realization of delusion are buddhas; those who are greatly deluded about realization are sentient beings.’ (Genjo Koan)
I am sure there are other words from Dogen that illustrate the first point, but this was the one that came to mind.
‘I think that there’s a paradox about, for example, going out and saying, I am going to meditate and stop trying to get goals. Because I have this goal, which is I want to be a much better meditator. And I have done a bit of meditation and workshops, and it’s always a little amusing when you see the young men who are going to prove that they’re better at meditating. They can sit for longer than anybody else can. But I think it’s important to say when you’re thinking about things like meditation, or you’re thinking about alternative states of consciousness in general, that there’s lots of different alternative states of consciousness. So it isn’t just a choice between lantern and spotlight. There’s lots of different ways that we have of being in the world, lots of different kinds of experiences that we have. And I suspect that they each come with a separate, a different kind of focus, a different way of being. And in meditation, you can see the contrast between some of these more pointed kinds of meditation versus what’s sometimes called open awareness meditation. So open awareness meditation is when you’re not just focused on one thing, when you try to be open to everything that’s going on around you. And the phenomenology of that is very much like this kind of lantern, that everything at once is illuminated. And I think that kind of open-ended meditation and the kind of consciousness that it goes with is actually a lot like things that, for example, the romantic poets, like Wordsworth, talked about. So there’s this lovely concept that I like of the numinous. And sometimes it’s connected with spirituality, but I don’t think it has to be. It’s this idea that you’re going through the world. And often, quite suddenly, if you’re an adult, everything in the world seems to be significant and important and important and significant in a way that makes you insignificant by comparison.’ (from the New York Times)
I found this whole piece pretty intriguing, not least because they brought ‘beginner’s mind’ into the conversation. This paragraph made me smile, as did several others, so look out for further extracts to come.