Body and Breath as Refuge

One of the joys of mindfulness meditation is coming to the realization that there is a refuge of peace, understanding and calm with you at all times. It’s one’s own body and breath. When one notices the mind catastrophizing, there’s the body to drop into: feet, butt, shoulders, jaw, breath. When the mind is reeling from a heavy emotion, there’s the breath in the belly to focus on. Breathing deep and slow, one begins to make friends with the feeling of the emotion itself, which aids in letting go of what the mind thinks it is. What’s happening is not what the response in the mind is, that can end up being a non-stop rerun reel, the reality of the emotion is the actual feeling in the body.

Even if there is an injury in the body, it’s still a refuge, as it’s there with you all the time. To come to that place of unpleasant sensation with the breath, to feel the sensation, to breathe with and through the sensation, one becomes friends with the actual reality of the situation. When doing this, knowledge rises and a calm abiding is born through acceptance and understanding.

As one’s practice continues to mature, there’s the simple pleasure, relief, and  stability of residing in the breath. This elixir of life, ferrying energy throughout the body, provides a place of comfort, ease and spaciousness. With each moment, there is the ability to come to the breath, to notice what’s happening in reality at that time, to check in: “what is going on?” “what am I doing?” “how do I feel?” Stabilized in the moment while breathing in and breathing out, this reflection helps point the mind toward whatever the particular wholesome, kind, generous, loving response is called for in that situation.

No matter what, until the body gives out, there are these twin refuge points of body and breath. Coming back to the body, dropping in to visit the old friend, then turning attention to the breath over and over again throughout one’s life results in a collectedness of awareness, which leads to clearer seeing, which leads to deeper understanding, which leads to more skillful means in day to day living.

The Greening of the Buddha

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The Greening of the Buddha

Looking at the caption to the right, of course the Buddha has always been “green.” The Dharma of Siddhartha Gautama rose from an understanding of the truth of Nature, and the path points to the benefits of respecting all forms of life, human and non-human, sentient and non-sentient. It’s interesting to examine how northern and western people’s environmental tendencies have conditioned the path of practice by bringing Earth-based issues to the forefront of mind and path, as well as issues of gender, economic and social equality. This conditioning of the Dharma that Siddhartha taught means that we’re not only looking deeply within to see our own mind-made dukkha, we’re also looking without to see dukkha on a systemic level across the totality of experience.

We explored this two-fold examination of dukkha during our recent Deep Ecology Day of Mindfulness. We reflected on how important it is to simplify our lives enough, to slow down our lives enough, so we can again hear the voice of the Earth, to feel/touch the subtle vibrations of life pulsating around and through us here in the Milwaukee River Watershed. Slowing down and touching the Earth gives rise to energy, inspiration, renewal and healing. When we touch, feel, and hear the Earth, we also come in contact with the cries of life, the calls for help from our fellow beings, sentient and non-sentient. The Earth is telling us that many things are not in harmony, that a large majority of the human family has lost its connection to the Earth.

It can be a challenge to face, look at, see and feel deeply the pains and cries of life. Yet, something wonderful happens when we do that. We find authenticity, because we’re not denying reality anymore; we find courage, because we’re not turning away from the fear and pain anymore; and we find energy to engage our imagination as we come together in community to rediscover old ways of being and co-create new ways to live a life of simple, joyous, sustainable, abundance.

Day of Mindfulness Meditation in Milwaukee

The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses, calling them by the names and adorning them with the properties of woods, rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations, and whatever their enlarged & numerous senses could perceive.
–  William Blake

Join us for a day of Spring Renewal as we access our own “enlarged & numerous senses” to make a deeper connection to the earth as we experience it here in the Milwaukee River Watershed. We’ll move into silence in order to deeply touch those connections, to acknowledge the feelings we have for the precarious state the earth is in, and to move forward with renewed energy and creative ways for engaging life.

Deep Ecology Day of Mindfulness, Saturday, April 5, 2014, 9 am to 4 pm.
For more information, email ordinarydharma@sbcglobal.net.

The Buddha spoke of Dharma as Nature, of Nature as Dharma. To clearly see the way to quenching the spiritual disease, the Buddha urged those who followed his dharma to become as intimate with nature as possible. And through that intimacy come to understand the truth of the way things are. To see the coming and going of things, their radical interdependence, that there’s nothing to hold on to because it all fades away, and to know that everything you do matters – every word, thought and deed.

Within this knowing also comes the understanding and wisdom that we are a part of Nature, that Nature is a part of us. Sadly, in our contemporary experience, this sometimes is not so easy to see, to feel, to know.

Join us on Saturday, April 5 to explore how to reclaim our deep connection with Nature, to celebrate our shared destiny with the Earth, and cultivate skillful ways to engage with all of existence to co-create a life-sustaining future.

Deep Ecology Day of Mindfulness, Saturday, April 5, 2014, 9 am to 4 pm.
For more information, email ordinarydharma@sbcglobal.net.

The Discourse on Love

If you want to live in truth and integrity, if you hunger for joy and freedom—then live simply. Be impeccable in everything you do—in every word, thought and deed.
Be receptive, gentle, and unassuming.

Avoid irrelevant obligations and extraneous distractions.
Learn to be content with less, modest in what you consume.
Simplify your tastes, tread lightly. Be gracious and appropriate, self-sufficient.
Find ways to create balance in your relationships, especially with those people you love the most.

Respect the needs of others, avoid antagonizing them unnecessarily.

MAY ALL BEINGS BE HAPPY AND PEACEFUL! MAY THEIR HEARTS BE FULL!

ALL LIVING BEINGS—strong ones and weak, large or small, seen or unseen, those nearby or far away, those already born and those yet to be born, beings you can only imagine, as well as those that are beyond imagination, wherever they are, whatever they are—

MAY THEY ALL . . . . MAY ALL BEINGS BE JOYOUS AND HAPPY!

Let no one deceive another. Let no one despise another.
Let no one out of resentment or anger wish harm to another.

Just as a mother would give her life to protect an only child, so cultivate that same boundless, open heart towards all of life.

Let your thoughts of unconditional love and kindheartedness permeate the cosmos, extending in all directions without obstruction, free from preconceptions or fear.

Whatever you happen to be doing, whether you are seated, standing, walking, or lying down, so long as you draw breath, find ways to cultivate this quality of loving-kindness, this tender quality of mind, which of all qualities is said to most accurately reflect the truth of who you are.

Let go of any idea you are separate from the web of living beings. Let your life be informed by the understanding that all things are interdependent. Find ways to relinquish what you have used as substitutes for love, and accept in their place the gift, and infinite pleasure, of boundless love.

Wake up to all that surrounds you!
Wake up to your life and be free!

The Middle Way of Understanding

The investigation of the Middle Way of Understanding with Santikaro began January 22. People gathered to listen to, reflect upon and dialog around a rich offering of teachings related to discerning the middle way path within our own heart-minds. This follow-up note from Buddhadasa Bhikkhu helps point the mind toward further inquiry:

When Opinions Conflict

Between oneself and others, or even among ones own opinions, there are always two sides. The best approach is to choose the way that is or must be truly beneficial for all. There’s no need for anyone to be wrong or right, loser or winner. If we insist in talking in terms of who is right, there won’t be even a smidgen of Buddhist left, because of the power of “me” & “mine.”

Gaining insight into Right View is crucial for understanding the depth of what the Buddha taught. Concurrently, how we view things is also key when it comes to applying oneself to the path. Where is the path of letting go and non-harming when we’re buffeted between the likes and dislikes we experience in our day to day living? At a recent Sunday Morning Sangha there was a conversation about whether human beings are inherently violent as a species, or not. Is the violence of the culture, say all the things that arise within and around the game of pro football, inherent to our species, or is it based more on conditioning? Maybe it’s a combination of both? The Middle Way of Understanding asks us to notice how if we get too wrapped up in our opinions, in our likes and dislikes, we’ll end up clinging to a view, whatever side of the fence it is, which creates tension in the mind and stokes the flames of dukkha. When we stop to look and see our clinging, we’ll also see that the more important question to ask ourselves in this situation is whether violence if coming up in one’s own heart-mind. And, if so, to apply the necessary antidote(s).

The Five Lay Precepts

This conversation came up within the monthly check-in of the Five Precepts. So often, as we contemplate and discuss these guideposts for living, the discussion veers toward the external world, which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. However, sometimes when we do that, we miss the deeper meaning of the teachings. In this case, are we able, as individual practitioners of the path that quenches dukkha, to be aware of the violence in the world, and the power of non-violent resistance, to then stand in the presence of the earth, the ancestors and future generations, and vow to cultivate the compassion that seeks to protect each living being? Are we able to live the life of the precepts within our own heart-mind first, so that they take root within us? Beginning with one’s own mind stream, reflecting on the precepts while also cultivating a steady, stable, focused mind as a foundation for discernment and action, forms a skilful, wholesome basis for moving into the wider circles of the world within which we live.

Moving Mindfully into 2014

We were busy in 2013 with lots of activities: classes, retreats, building local community and supporting Liberation Park. We continue to be energized by our Sunday morning and Wednesday evening meditation group gatherings, and are thankful for all the support and inspiration of the community.

Over the course of the year, we led two meditation classes and one study class where participants had the opportunity to learn about and gain a deeper understanding of mindfulness meditation, love and compassion. Santikaro visited several times to lead day-long retreats, and we journeyed to Liberation Park for work and weekend refuge practice sessions, and helped organize an Open House in October. Our community hosted a Deep Ecology Day of Mindfulness to support the work of environmental activists educating about the Alberta tar sands, and took part in energizing the Milwaukee chapter of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.

We look forward to a 2014 filled with more opportunities to study, learn and teach the Buddha Dharma, and to forge new ways to gather in community to co-create resilience, sustainability and abundance in the swiftly changing world in which we live. To start the year mindfully, join us at the annual Milwaukee Buddhist Peace Fellowship New Year’s Day Peace Gathering. This year we are gathering at the Milwaukee Shambhala Center, Jan 1, 2014, 10 am to Noon.

For people who are new to meditation practice, as well as others who wish to deepen or re-charge an already existing practice, we’re offering a Mindfulness Meditation class that takes place on 6 Tuesday nights from January 21 through February 25. For more information on the class, go to the Classes & Retreats page for more information.

We hope to see you soon.

Solstice Greetings from Meditation Milwaukee

We had a wonderful Solstice Retreat this past weekend as we gathered to give thanks and reset intentions. Beginning the day by reflecting on our good fortune to be alive; that this life will end in death; that our only true possessions are our actions of body, speech and mind; that there will always be challenges and opportunities to learn, no matter how far along the path one attains; and to engage the world with compassionate action balanced with equanimity, we set the stage for a day of practice and insight.

Some simple physical exercises followed the reflection, then alternating periods of silent sitting and silent walking, all of which prepared those gathered to take part in the Precepts Recitation Ceremony. The ceremony is a beautiful way to remember the ancestors; to honor and give thanks to those who started the wheel of Dharma turning and have kept it turning across the millennia; and for we present beings to reset our intentions to do the same.

After a silent lunch, we returned to the Zendo for small and large group discussions on what we’ve accomplished and what we’ve left undone related to our spiritual paths; and our intentions for moving forward into the next solar year. Reflecting like this reminded us of this short story in 5 chapters:

1) I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost… I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

2) I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes me a long time to get out.

3) I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in. It’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault. I get out immediately.

4) I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

5) I walk down another street.

Looking back over the past year can inspire us to practice in two ways: by appreciating the healthy growth we clearly see if we look (walking down another street), and by recollecting insights into what remains to be done (still falling into other holes in other sidewalks). This type of reflection brings both energy and understanding: some things are working, and there’s more work to do.

Our spiritual practice also has larger implications. Santikaro’s teacher, Ajahn Buddhadasa, encouraged Dharma students to see beyond their own practice to the greater world. As each of us takes a few more steps of progress along the path, we also contribute to the Dharmic evolution of our species. Whether we become awakened or reach the goal is not so important. Rather, do we do our part in moving humanity forward? At a time with so many profound questions about the long-term well-being of economies, democracy, and the climate, such a great vehicle perspective is vital for our health and sanity. It lessens our attachment to the individual view.

Our work tends to the ending of dukkha wherever possible. As we look for signs of lessening dukkha – outside and in – satisfaction and joy are fostered, study-practice is fueled, and service to the diversity of beings expands. From a different view, as we ponder the meaning of the numerous and ominous crises facing the planet and her children – where dukkha can seem to be ever increasing – we are urged to begin sooner, rather than later to gain sobriety in the face of such a view. Now, more than ever, the cultivation of calm, bright awareness; clarity and compassion are necessary in order to step forth into every moment with an appropriate response.

May we all live our lives in a way so that a future may be possible.

Happy Interdependence Day!

One of the truths at the heart of nature is that all things are present in the core of creation. Nothing’s separate, the Monk Gotama said. Look deeply into any one thing, and the investigation takes you down into the heart of all things, empty space, then through and out into the unfolding of all creation. Pretty cool that.

When this is, this is
This arising, this arises
Where this is not, this is not
This not arising, this does not arise

All things are thises, when you look at them from a primal point of view. Everything is a this! Creation is myriad thises -  a bunch of thises arising, abiding, ceasing in an interdependent dance of coming and going. One of the profound beauties of this is, as a this, one can effect the thisness of things. Action co-creates all the thises, and with intention, intelligence, discernment, applied effort, one can inject creation with thises of non-harming. What a gift!

When love is, love is
Love arising, love arises
Where love is not, love is not
Love not arising, love does not arise

The formula seems pretty straight forward, doesn’t it?

With all the thises interpenetrating and interpermeating, when looking deeply and seeing clearly, one begins to feel with all things too.

When trees burn, you burn
When seas rise, you rise
When a baby smiles, you smile
When a flower blooms, you bloom
When someone is sick, you are sick
When someone is well, you are well

The Monk Gotama woke up to this truth of Nature, of Dharma. He didn’t make it up. It was always here, is still here, will continue to be here. Check into it for yourself. Is it true? Given his awakening, it makes sense that he asked folks to bring forth non-harming and love into every aspect of life.

From the Discourse on Love:

Let no one deceive another. Let no one despise another.
Let no one out of resentment or anger wish harm to another.

Just as a mother would give her life to protect an only child, so cultivate that same boundless, open heart towards all of life. Let your thoughts of unconditional love and kindheartedness permeate the cosmos, extending in all directions without obstruction, free from preconceptions or fear. Whatever you happen to be doing, whether you are seated, standing, walking, or lying down, so long as you draw breath, find ways to cultivate this quality of loving-kindness, this tender quality of mind, which of all qualities is said to most accurately reflect the truth of who you are.

Let go of any idea you are separate from the web of living beings. Let your life be informed by the understanding that all things are interconnected. Find ways to relinquish what you have used as substitutes for love, and accept in their place the gift, and infinite pleasure, of boundless love.

Wake up to all that surrounds you!
Wake up to your life and be free!

And, it goes without saying, every day is interdependence day.

May all being be happy!

Santikaro in town May 19 & 20

Santikaro will be in town from Liberation Park on Saturday May 19 for a day-long workshop, and Sunday May 20 for a morning Sangha session.

For more information, email ordinarydharma@sbcglobal.net.

Mindfulness Meditation Class Series Starts in April

The next Mindfulness Meditation class series starts Tuesday, April 17. Select Classes & Retreats for more information.