Tag Archive | Thich Nhat Hanh

I’ve come unglued…finally!

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New painting, The Jeezum Crow Inn, is currently displayed at The Village Wine and Coffee in Shelburne, VT, along with a number of other pieces of mine…(all are for sale!)

I used to believe that I was the glue that held things together…. especially when it came to relationships. If I hadn’t contacted someone in what I thought was a reasonable length of time, I would feel guilty and immediately take action in the form of a phone call, email (once upon a time this meant writing a letter), or visit. With one family member in particular, 99% of the time, I initiated the contact because I believed her lack of initiation was “just the way she was”. A friend of hers once told me that she felt the same way, and I guess this was the evidence that I wanted to support the illusion that she “needed” me in this way.

Then one day I overheard another family member say that this person, whom I labeled as unable to reach out to others, called and emailed him often.

I was stunned. It was as if my mind couldn’t take that information in because along with seeing her in a new way I also realized that she didn’t really want to contact me. She wasn’t incompetent, forgetful, or too busy…she just didn’t want to connect with me! What a humbling revelation it was, and how difficult to admit this…even to myself.

I’ve seen and heard this scenario play out with many other people, especially in dating/friendship situations and have heard myself say, many, many times, “If you feel like he/she is avoiding you, he/she probably is. Trust that.”

But that is so hard on the ego. Our minds want to make up a story about the person to explain what is wrong with them instead of taking a deep breath and realizing that there is a disconnect between us… and it doesn’t make either person wrong or defective but if I feel like I’m banging my head against a closed door/person, I can choose to step back and observe myself.

In my case, I didn’t end the relationship, but I stopped initiating contact with her, and began to notice my feelings as I allowed a space to open up. I didn’t know what would happen, but as more time passed without any communication from her, an interesting peace filled the space. Since I was no longer feeling guilty and rushing to take action to alleviate that feeling, I was much freer to ask myself the question, “Do you want to connect with her at this moment?” If I did, then I trusted that and did it, but if I didn’t, I trusted that too.

I’ve spent way too many years anxiously trying to figure other people out…trying to figure out their needs, their motivations, and their issues, so I could be in some sort of relationship with them. It is such a small and controlling way to live, and we can’t do it anyway.

My only “work” is to know what is happening within myself, and I don’t mean understand myself in psychological terms. What I really mean is much simpler than that. All I really need to follow is that still, small, voice that always leads to peace and harmony for me. The reasoning mind comes up with a thousand theories a day in an attempt to make sense of things that cannot be explained, but the “knowing”…the deep knowing of which path, thought or action to take, is our only true and trustworthy guide…and it is always with us, always ready to take the lead.

You don’t experience anxiety unless you’ve attached to a thought that isn’t true for you. It’s that simple. You don’t ever feel anxiety until you believe that a thought is true—and it’s not.” Byron Katie, Question Your Thinking, Change Your World

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front and back of my new business card

reframing the day

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A perfect day with Jack and Luke

Jack and I decided to go on one of our favorite hikes yesterday. It was supposed to be 75 degrees and sunny and we both wanted to be outside. We packed our treats; English breakfast tea for me, strong coffee for Jack, thinking how much we’d enjoy them at the summit.

As we got closer to the mountain (about 1 ½ hrs. north of here) we began to see a lot of snow still on the ground. By the time we reached the trailhead, I realized that I hadn’t dressed properly at all. I had worn only light running shoes and the trail was still covered with either snow and ice or mud and water.

We tentatively headed out with Luke happily running between us, splattering cold, muddy, water all over my bare legs (I’d also opted for shorts, not long pants) each time he came close to me.

We weren’t sure what to do. Almost everything was different than we’d expected and my mind was searching for direction: should be turn back? Should we try another trail? I suddenly said, “I am going to look at this hike as if it were an obstacle course with water, mud, and snow elements.” As soon as I had that thought something inside relaxed and it became an adventure.

We slowly made our way over icy rivers, deep muddy trenches, slippery leaves, melting ice mounds and patches of dry trail. Sometimes we slipped, sometimes we almost fell, one time Jack fell completely into a small creek when a mound of ice that he was walking on broke. It was in the 70’s so our upper bodies were warm enough but at that point, we’d only gone about a mile, and it had taken us an hour, so we decided not to continue up the mountain.

Before we reached our car we sat on a large rock that overlooked a still-frozen lake, drank our tea and coffee, and laughed about it all. It had been so much fun…after we allowed it to be what it was. After we suspended our idea of what we thought it should have been.

We’ve been reading a book to each other every night called, “No Mud, No Lotus” by Thich Nhat Hanh. As I sat there on the rock with Jack and Luke, that title made me smile. There was a time in my life when I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy myself if a day that I’d planned had not turned out as I had expected. I used to get angry and disappointed much quicker, and often I’d look for someone or something to blame, but that didn’t happen yesterday. At the start of the hike, I was silently asking for help on how to view the situation differently, and the idea was right there…all I had to do was say yes to it.

Yesterday felt like a gift not only because of the fun we had but also because it showed me how I’d changed…the “mud” of my past was very fertile soil. I no longer want to live in an agitated, angry, or disappointed state of mind. I want to trust life. I want to experience more than I expect.

We don’t have to wait for the end of all suffering before we can be happy. Happiness is available to us right here and right now. But we may need to change our idea of happiness. Our idea of happiness may itself be the main obstacle keeping us from true happiness.” Page 56, No Mud, No Lotus

Child-like behavior

Tommy meets Matt for the first time! August 4, 1981

Tommy meets Matt for the first time,  August 4, 1981

I attended a large event last weekend, and as I sat in the audience, watching the speakers address the honoree of the evening, I began to observe the hugs that were exchanged after each person spoke, and before they returned to their seats. Each one talked about their special relationship to the woman who was being celebrated, and yet the hug exchanged, spoke of the real relationship, and the real affection, or lack thereof.

I like hugging. I love the connection of heart-to-heart that is made physically when I hug another human being.

I don’t however, like fake hugs; the kind where the person barely touches me. If this kind of hug were a present, it would be akin to those beautifully wrapped gifts under department store Christmas trees: all show, but nothing inside….very disappointing to open. These hugs really bother me, and so I try not to give them either. When someone hugs me like this, I feel like they are trying to keep their distance, and I receive less affection than I would have if there were no hug at all.

I had the same reaction to these half-hearted hugs when I observed them. They were not uplifting or happy to witness while the genuine hugs, even when I was just watching them, made me feel good too.

When my sons were little boys, they used to hug and kiss each other all of the time. There was no holding back, no fear about how the hug looked or would be received, there was simply a pure exchange of love.

I think that as adults we would benefit greatly by bringing back some of the enthusiasm and delight in each other that we had when we were children. Maybe we can begin by giving real hugs.

“Hugging is a beautiful Western custom, and we from the East would like to contribute the practice of conscious breathing to it. When you hold a child in your arms, or hug your mother, or your husband, or your friend, if you breathe in and out three times, your happiness will be multiplied at least tenfold. If you are distracted, thinking about other things, your hug will be distracted also, not very deep, and you may not enjoy hugging very much. ….If you feel a little hollow inside, you may want to slap your friend’s back while you hug him in order to prove that you are really there. But to be really there, you only need to breathe, and suddenly he becomes very real. The two of you really exist in that moment. It may be one of the best moments in your life.” pp 85-86 Hugging Meditation, from the book, Peace Is Every Step, by Thich Nhat Hanh

What’s not wrong?

Ben, Bodhi and Eleanor napping

Ben, Bodhi and Eleanor napping

A few days ago, something happened to a family member several hours away, and I found myself suspending previously made plans and making new ones (in consultation with other people). I also became acutely aware of  a lot of intense emotion and action around me. I closed my eyes and kept repeating, “This is for me. This is for everyone involved. Only good can come from this”, and while that thought was very soothing at the moment, as I drove home, I felt drained and uneasy.

I called a friend to try to get perspective, but our call was interrupted by another call and a person wanting an immediate answer, so I needed to hang up.

A minute later, a text came to me from this same friend saying, “You always say that everyone is a mirror…..”.  As I read this, I saw the truth: I was the one running around (inside) trying to figure out what to do next. I was feeling guilty about not being more available. I was afraid that I was being judged by my family members, so I was trying to prove to them that I was good enough.

My mind was working over-time trying to vindicate me of a crime that I had charged myself with, and was now feeling the need to defend.

As soon as I saw this, all of the tension in my mind and body melted away. I took my focus off everyone else and was finally able to see that they were indeed just mirrors. What a relief to see this. My thoughts are the only ones that I ever have to pay attention to. My actions are the only ones that I need to know are the right ones. My mind is my friend or my enemy. My mind is the thing that puts me in heaven or hell. What a relief to know this. All is well. Everything that happens this day is right…if my thoughts about it are right.

We often ask, ‘What’s wrong?’ Doing so, we invite painful seeds of sorrow to come up and manifest. We feel suffering, anger and depression, and produce more such seeds. We would be much happier if we tried to stay in touch with the healthy, joyful seeds inside of us and around us. We should learn to ask, ‘What’s not wrong?’ and be in touch with that.” pp 77 from, Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh

A game of hide and seek

Eleanor playing under one of the old throw rugs in the kitchen

Eleanor peeking out from underneath the ratty old throw rug in the kitchen

In Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, You Are Here, he talks about birth and death in a way that feels whole… and sane. Even the words, “Life and death are just a game of hide and seek” are so foreign-sounding to many of us (who have been raised with the concept that death is a tragedy) but they strike me as so liberating as well.  I love the idea of using language about death that is more light, more playful, more hopeful.

On page 120 he writes,

“Don’t hold out hope that life will be possible without death. You must accept both of them, birth and death…..Living is a joy. Dying in order to begin again is also a joy. Starting over is a wonderful thing, and we are starting over constantly.”

Then he talks about someone singing (to a person who is about to pass from this life) “a verse that is drawn directly from a sutra written by the Buddha”, and he explains the calming, uplifting effect this had on the dying man.

The words to the sutra go like this;

This body is not me, I am not caught in this body.

I am life without boundaries. I have never been born,

    and I shall never die.

Look at the ocean and the sky filled with stars,

    manifestations of my wondrous true mind.

Since before time, I have been free.

Birth and death are only doors through which we 

   pass, sacred thresholds on our journey.

Birth and death are just a game of hide and seek.

So laugh with me,

hold my hand,

let us say goodbye,

say goodbye, to meet again soon.

We meet today.

We will meet again tomorrow.

We will meet at the source at every moment.

We meet each other in all forms of life.

 

Being…. present

Esther

Esther

We watched a movie Saturday night called, The Departure. At one point the main character said about his deceased father, “Is this all there is to show for his life? A couple of boxes?” This made me ask myself, “What do I have to show for my life?” The more that I wake up spiritually, the more I am sure that life isn’t about leaving some physical/tangible thing. I think the only questions are:  Have I been authentic? Have I been honest? Have I expressed the Truth as it has been revealed to me? Have I been interested in the web of life  (the seen and the unseen) that I am such an integral part of? Have I taken the time to listen; to my deepest Self, to the deepest Self in others? Am I truly present for my life, now?

When I woke up Sunday morning, an old friend had sent me (by email) the obituary of a woman who I used to be very close to, but had lost contact with when I moved away from the seacoast 20 years ago. It said that she had died of a heart-attack while on a ski vacation with her sons and that her memorial service was being held that day at 2pm in Portsmouth, NH. Katy and I were the same age. I looked at her photograph and read the brief description of her “accomplishments” as an artist. But it wasn’t really her art itself that made Katy so unique. It was the way that she painted, taught, cooked, talked, listened. …lived.

Katy lived in the present moment. I remember taking walks with her (which were always meant for exercise in my goal-oriented mind) and being so annoyed because every little thing she noticed was interesting and fascinating to her, and she had the audacity to stop and look, when we were supposed to be getting a cardio-vascular workout! I didn’t understand her wisdom back then….it looked like foolishness to me.

As I sat in the filled-to-capacity South Church yesterday, I was reminded of the great wisdom of Katy Baucke and as I drove back home (about 2 hrs into my trip) I noticed my old habit of thinking about what time it would be when I got back, how the roads might be, what time I’d be getting to bed, and I stopped it and thought, “How can I be present for life right now?” I realized that I was hungry. I pulled into a sweet little town in NH and had dinner by myself. I’ve never done that before. I could feel my friend smiling at me.

If you’re like most of us, since you were born, you’ve been running. Now it’s a strong habit that many generations of your ancestors also had before you and transmitted to you–the habit of running, being tense, and being carried away by many things, so that your mind is not totally, deeply, peacefully in the present moment. You get accustomed to looking at things in a very superficial way and being carried away by wrong perceptions and the negative emotions that result. …the practice is to train yourself to stop—stop running after all these thing. Even if you don’t have irritation, anger, fear or despair, you’re still running with this or that project, or this or that line of thinking, and you’re not at peace. So…train yourself to be here, to be relaxed, to stop, to come back to the wonders of the present moment.”

page 79 From the book, FEAR: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm, by Thich Nhat Hanh

The existence of happiness

Esther happy to be inside looking out

Esther happy to be inside looking out.

Years ago, I was taking a 6-week class that focused on prosperity. One of the women in the class (who always seemed angry at something or someone) shared that before she became aware of the power of words, she used to say, “All I need in life is a roll of toilet paper and a car that starts.” She went on to say, “Watch your words! I’m living that now.”

In class, we focused a lot on the use of specific words and affirmations, but it seemed like something was missing. I now know that the missing part was the feeling of ease, the feeling of expansion, and the feeling of happiness that needed to be a part of the affirmation. We can state, “I am wealthy. I am prosperous. I am joy-filled”, day in and day out, but if we’re angry, fearful, tense and unhappy, would money really change us? Would it really bring the feeling of happiness that we are hoping to experience?

A few years after the class ended, I ran into this woman at a concert in Saratoga. She told me that she had won (or been given, I can’t remember the details) $250,000. I expected her to be happy but she wasn’t. She started complaining about the taxes and how people were coming out of the woodwork to “mooch off” her.

We are so conditioned to believe that when some big thing happens (money, success, an important award or event) we will be happy, even when we know deep down that this isn’t true, even when we see evidence all over the place of “others” grasping and reaching for happiness outside of themselves, and we clearly see the folly in this, it can be so much harder to recognize in ourselves.

As I was searching for a quote for today’s post, I read the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, “It is not necessary to look for happiness outside of ourselves. We only need to be aware of the existence of happiness, and we have it right away.

Over this weekend, it is my intention to become aware of the existence of happiness. …I am not quite sure what this means, but I love the feel of it, and hope that you will join me.