#Mindfulness: A New Offensive

About a month ago, I was engaged in a conversation about how certain negative outcomes arise when your culture is problem finding and you are solution driven. It’s a wonderful thing to want to fix and improve things but an emotional drawback could be the sensitivity and ease at which you can be offended. You end up being quite judgmental and get quite attached to what is “the right” thing vs “the wrong” approach. We can really dig our heals into our opinions and be given to gossip or conflict in a culture like that. Furthermore, this is the sort of negative energy that usually surrounds our New Year’s resolution. To experience true freedom and creativity, we have to remain open and stay mindful of how we want to behave when we are engaged in life’s circumstances. Then there is a lot of space available when we remain accessible to possibilities.

new energy.jpeg

I recently went to Plum Village on a Mindfulness retreat in Thailand. Plum Village’s founder is Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Master who, if you are a westerner, can thank him if you have heard of the term mindfulness because of his work of bringing this practice outside of Asia. The week was full of a multitude of wonderful practices–things I thought I knew about the practice but have come to understand my deep ignorance. What a blessing to have a revelation like this! One of the monks there asked if we planned to go into the “New Year” with an “Old Mind”? What an interesting question? If I make a “goal” but don’t change my habits or perspectives, how could I really expect 2018 to be any different than 2017?

Which leads me to the practice of mindfulness. What I hadn’t appreciated is how rooted it is in the Noble 8-Fold Path– an essential part of the Buddhist philosophy. (I suppose if Buddhism was a real religion then you could liken it to something like the 10 Commandments traditions because it is supposed to act as a guide for living.) During this retreat, we had to reflect and deepen our practice of how we observe others and their circumstances so that we can cultivate compassion and love. We were invited to make 2 promises: to love people, animals, plants, and minerals; and to seek to understand through deep looking of others and ourselves so that we may bring about more joy and compassion in the world. These 2 promises can be attained through the Noble 8-Fold Path.

“When you look for the good in others, you discover the best in yourself.”
― Martin Walsh

As I prepare to leave this sanctuary at Plum Village, I think about how I might use this Noble 8-Fold Path to transform my problem-oriented mind to one that is understanding- oriented so I can look beyond the circumstances and develop greater compassion. Although this practice is incredibly gentle, I thought that in order for me to really bridge the benefits into the “real world”, then I must take the offensive–prepare myself for the frustration and worries that typically plague me and my world on a regular basis. I must remain driven. But not to be successful, but to be kind, to be present, to be grateful and most importantly… to BREATH.

 

Taking a Beginner’s Class in Life

monk paradeCall it synchronicity or coincidence, but when some image, item or theme repeats itself, I pay attention to it.

It’s 5 am and the day is breaking on my first day in Laos. I hear dogs barking outside my hotel’s bedroom window and as I look outside, to my amazement, I see a parade of Buddhist’s monks doing their daily ritual of alms giving. To see their bright orange robes in the pale morning sunlight sparked joy and excitement in me. Then fast forward later to an introductory ice breaker at my new school when I am asked to select one picture that I resonate with and explain why. I saw an image very much like the one here in this blog post of the monks.  Obviously, the morning experience had left an impression on me, which is why I believed I was immediately drawn to it, but then as I started to explore it more deeply,  I thought it is what the monks represent to me: contemplation and discipline. But to what?–that is what has plagued me and woke me up this morning at 4:14 am.

If I believe that every detail in my life has a message of the divine in it, then what would this repeating image of parading monks mean to me? This urge to understand is what got me leaping out of bed this morning. As soon as my feet hit the ground, it occurred to me that it is the ideal that monks strive towards, a  Beginner’s Mind:  having an open mind and heart, allowing for the mundane in life to become a fresh experience and to invite the magic of living back into awareness.

Moving into a new country, it is easy in many ways to have a Beginners’ Mind because there are all these new “adventures” that you get to explore like food, culture, and scenery. thich-nhat-hanh-quote-beginners-mind.jpgBut what about other elements that are not as novel, like our attitudes towards things, in particular, relationships. These relationships could be anything like how we feel towards our loved ones or how we feel towards mosquitos. It’s hard to enliven these stagnant attitudes with a new point of view. But for me, I think seeing these monks reminded me of the importance of the commitment to keeping open to the possibility that maybe something that I believe to be true may have another version worth exploring. Ideas that popped immediately to my mind were my personal relationships, how I feel about aging and my ideas about living with nature. Can I examine these ideas with a fresh perspective, remaining deeply curious and in awe of its presence in my life?  Although I am not sure what benefit this approach may yield, I am setting an intention to examine the dogma in my beliefs and observe how it impacts my decisions and feelings. I am going to liken this introspection as a taking a  beginner’s course in life. And today my course starts.