Archive for month: July, 2012

Can’t Sit Still? 7 Simple Tricks for Slowing & Centering

Categories: Adventure, Buddhist Practice, Conscious Living, Meditation, Mindfulness, New Age, Psychology, Self-Improvement, Spiritual, Yoga - Tags: ,

Welcome to Our World In The Fast Lane.  How many of us are caught up in what Wordsworth so sapiently described in an earlier, ostensibly simpler time, “Getting and Spending….” and he added, “We lay waste our powers.”   It is so easy to get caught, or hooked by the rush of deadlines, the press of demands of job, children, housekeeping, driving, financial insecurity, even keeping up on the internet.

But clearly, we know there is a better way–we need to find that off ramp to serenity and calm.  So, here are seven simple tricks I have learned as both a Buddhist mindfulness practitioner, and a clinical psychologist, that are sure ways to find that sweet off ramp to calm in the midst of storm.

They are so simple and so available that we can practice them easily in our everyday life.

The first one I learned from a wise old nun in a monastery.  Every morning she wakes in her cold cell before dawn and is called by a bell to meditate.  In order to come into the present moment and into centered awareness, on awakening, for just a moment before arising, she pulls on her earlobes.

1) PULL ON YOUR EARLOBES , Massage your ears ON AWAKENING.  This simple action where we have lots of nerve endings both wakes us up to the present moment, it also awakens our consciousness to the intention to be present to the new day.

2) HAPPINESS BEGINS WITH YOUR LOVELY SMILE.  The Second is one of many I learned from Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. When you wake up, and you stand before the sink to wash your face in the morning, SMILE at yourself in the mirror.  Really SMILE.This is a brilliant trick to practice throughout the day.  Just stopping to smile to yourself, to feel your facial muscles move from tense to relaxed and smiling is a wonderful pathway to present centering.

3) FACE WASHING:  Smiling, turn on the water in the sink and notice how extraordinary it is that this fresh clear water streams from our pipes, whether we are living in a backwoods cabin, a high-rise in the East, Middle or West, or a suburban motor home or house, this precious water flows for us and is available for us to WAKE UP–and refresh our faces==shaving, washing, whatever, an opportunity for gratitude practice!

4) TOOTHBRUSHING MEDITATION.  I have a timer on my electric toothbrush.  What a golden opportunity to practice mindfulness meditation.  Here we are, earlobes pulled, refreshingly present, we’ve smiled at ourselves, and now we are going to enjoy the refreshing zip of cool water, minty toothpaste in our mouth, and an opportunity to polish those amazing tools we rarely send our gratitude to, our TEETH!

5) During the day take time out to practice THREE DEEP, CLEANSING BREATHS.  This can be at your desk, at your workstation, in your car, wherever.  Just promise yourself that when you find yourself amped up, anxious, preoccupied, pressured, whatever, you will STOP, BREATHE DEEPY THREE TIMES.    Here is a lovely mantra to accompany your in and out breath:

“Breathe in, I bring calm to my body.  As I breathe out, I smile.  I am alive in this present moment.  This moment is wonderful!”

You may not think this particular moment in rush hour traffic or on a deadline or beset with the demands of children or boss, is “wonderful” but when you stop to think of it, it IS!! You are alive, you are here, you are present.  This mantra brings you back to the present moment. Whatever is going on within it. you are here , alive, and this too shall pass!

This is the CORE practice of these seven simple tricks.  Never forget it.  It is golden.  it is free!

6) STAND UP STRETCH, UP, DOWN, AROUND, RECONNECT WITH YOUR BODY. This is another key yogi trick for slowing and centering.  It is so easy to carry tension in our bodies without offering our precious bodies an opportunity to relieve their stress.

7) STEP OUTSIDE AND LOOK AROUND–No matter where you are, walk mindfully, periodically from whatever you are doing, to go outside, breathe the air–is it icy?  hot? humid? fresh? Let it into your lungs, let your breath become conscious and present, and celebrate the timelessness of the sky and the clouds and your surroundings. And don’t forget to practice tricks number 5 and 6 while you are at it.
I guarantee, if you practice these seven simple tricks on a daily basis, you will notice a palpable change toward centering and slowing and rejoining this precious present moment!


How Can I Know I Will Never Die?

Categories: Buddhist Practice, Meditation, Mindfulness, Personal Growth, Self-Improvement, Spiritual, Writing - Tags: , , , , , ,

Welcome back.  I hope you have been savoring the practice of our virtual retreat with Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.  Let us continue…..

The next day of the retreat, Thay offered the children a powerful dharma talk on death and on birth and the Buddhist philosophy of “No coming, no going.” He spoke gently to an imaginary cloud, saying, “Dear Cloud, do you know when you were born?” And the little cloud said, “Thay I was never born. Before I was a cloud, I was rain, river, ocean, tears, water in the cells of plants, animals and people, and I was your tea. When conditions were right, I manifested as a cloud.”
And Thay replied, “And when you die?” and the little cloud said, “Dear Thay, I will never die. When conditions are right, I will manifest as raindrops, rivers, tears, and tea!” “And so, Children, there is no birth, and no death. There is always impermanence.”

This calligraphy “A Cloud Never Dies” was done by Thay and offered at the retreat  for sale to benefit hungry children in Vietnam.

On another day during the retreat, Thich Nhat Hanh offered another deceptively simple but profound teaching about interdependence that even the children can understand. He said, “My right hand is quite gifted. She can write poetry. She can cook and sew. My left hand can’t do any of those things. But my right hand doesn’t say, “Stupid Left Hand, you’re good for nothing. Look what I can do!” And my left hand doesn’t say, “You always get to do everything! It’s not fair!” They get along so nicely together. They support each other. One day, I was hanging a picture in my hut and I was using a hammer in my right hand. My left hand was holding the nail, The hammer slipped and pounded my left thumb instead of the nail. Immediately my right hand dropped the hammer and rushed to cradle and comfort my left hand. My left hand didn’t say, “You are stupid! How could you do that to me?” She just accepted the comfort of her sister. So my left and my right hands are friends. They are very different and they get along peacefully, just as we need to do with everyone and everything which is different from us.
When the children file out of the dharma hall with some of the brother and sister monks and nuns, Thay then offers his dharma talk to the adults. Each day, the talk goes deeper and deeper into Buddhist psychology and philosophy, teaching ethical values of equanimity, releasing anxiety through breathing meditation, coming into the present moment, learning to choose which “seeds” to water in the store conscious (or unconscious) , and which to let wither–of course seeds of compassion, calm, equanimity, generosity are the seeds to water, and anxiety, envy, cruelty, greed are the type to let wither.

How to Create a Virtual Retreat With Zen MasterThich Nhat Hanh

Categories: Buddhist Practice, Conscious Living, Meditation, Mindfulness, Spiritual, Travel - Tags: , ,

Some retreats are real, actual, tangible  journeys to meditate in a monastery. When that is not feasible, another intangible retreat can be practiced through mindfulness meditation, journeying in our heart mind to re-nourish ourselves at the spring of a retreat we have attended in the past.

This month Plum Village Monastery  in the south of France, is again hosting a 21 day Retreat with Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.  While I wish I could be there again, my current vow is loyalty to my book tour–and we have been on the road a lot with Pulling Up Stakes: Stepping Into Freedom.  Just this past week, we were at the Harvard Co-Op Bookstore in Cambridge, at the Vassar College Bookstore in Poughkeepsie, and in privately hosted “Meet the Author” events in New York and in Washington DC.  More about that later.

Now, in my heart’s mind, I am re-envisioning my last retreat with Thay (“teacher” in Vietnamese, for the Venerable Zen Master and poet Thich Nhat Hanh, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King).  Being on retreat with him is like a long cool drink of refreshing spring water after a long, long hike. It is so replenishing! So fresh! So deeply healing.

Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, California is my Zen “home” in this Buddhist tradition. I enjoyed coming here monthly to meet with the “Ripening Sangha” from 2001-2006 during the years of my preparation for ordination into the Order of Interbeing. Now, I in my mind I am revisiting my last retreat at my “Dharma home” from my new home in Santa Cruz. What a joy it is!

Here is how to create a virtual retreat with Thay.  Settle yourself quietly on your meditation cushion, enjoy your “soft eyes”–lids resting almost closed, so the outside world recedes, rest your hands palm upward on your lap, and breathe deeply into the present moment.  Because there is “no end and no beginning”, “no here, no there” and because all things inter-are, including past, present and future, there are no impediments to meditating yourself into a virtual retreat with Thay.  Join me on my own inner journey revisiting my last retreat with him at Deer Park:

Rosemary, my dharma sister who hosts the Malibu Sangha where I first began to practice regularly (“sangha” is the community who practice together) meets us at the airport. It turns out she has been ferrying arriving retreatants from the airport to the monastery all day. In gratitude I decide to call her the “Roadisatva” as a Bodhisatva is one on the path to enlightenment and who remains dedicated to the well-being of others.
We enter the monastery grounds, breathing, smiling and deeply connecting to this special practice center, made more special because our teacher, Thay, now in his 85th year, is in residence and will be offering the Dharma talks through this retreat. All the more poignant because this retreat falls on the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001. A very good place to be for the mindfulness practice of transformation of suffering.

Ten years ago, just after the Twin Towers fell, I was also with Thay in Northern California. He was leading a September 15′ 2001 retreat for Vietnamese people at Kim Sum Monastery in the Santa Cruz mountains. Everyone there was shell-shocked and grieving about the attack. Our then president from Texas was already talking like a cowboy about revenge and urged Americans to show their pluck by going shopping.

Thay was the ONLY public voice I heard calling for restraint rather than revenge, for looking within ourselves to try to understand why others so far away would hate us enough to attack our innocent. As our government set us up for a course of retaliatory war in the Middle East, Thay, himself exiled for nearly forty years from his Vietnamese homeland for refusing to side with either the Communist North or the U.S. backed South, had seen it all before. Speaking outdoors before a giant statue of a contemplative Buddha in the garden of the monastery, with the wisdom of a refugee from a war ravaged country, he knew the dead end alley we were headed for. As he spoke in Vietnamese and I listened through an interpreter, I looked up above me at the canopy spread over the Kim Sum monastery garden. Suddenly, looking at it more closely, I realized it was actually a parachute! These Vietnamese refugees had brought a slightly damaged silk U.S. parachute with them to remind them of the war in Vietnam. Here we were, with these victims of American short sighted engagement in a no-win war in their country, gathering to listen to their pacifist teacher under that relic of a devastating war. It was a kind of “postcard from the edge” foretelling a dark, misguided course for our country seeking revenge and the mythical weapons of mass destruction halfway across the globe from us.

Entering the grounds of Deer Park Monastery ten years later brings it all back.  Breathe into the sweetness of entering this sanctuary in your mind.

In my next post, we will continue.  In the meantime, Breathe, Smile, and enjoy your virtual retreat.