For Warmth

I hold my face in my two hands.
No, I am not crying.
I hold my face in my two hands
to keep the loneliness warm—
two hands protecting,
two hands nourishing,
two hands preventing
my soul from leaving me
in anger.

by Thich Nhat Hanh, written after the bombing of Ben Tre, Vietnam when an American military man made the comment, “We had to destroy the town in order to save it.” Call Me By My True Names (Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1999)

Betsy Rose, long-time peace activist and friend of Thich Nhat Hanh, shares her version of his poem ‘For Warmth’

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Gatha for Healing Racial, Systemic and Social Inequity

by ARISE Sangha

Aware of the suffering caused by racial, systemic, and social inequities, we commit ourselves, individually and as a community, to understanding the roots of these inequities, and to transforming this suffering into compassion, understanding and love in action. As a global community of practitioners, we are aware of the disproportionate racial violence and oppression committed by institutions and by individuals, whether consciously or unconsciously, against African Americans, Indigenous peoples and people of color across the United States and beyond. We know that by looking deeply as individuals and as a community, we can engage the collective wisdom and energy of the Sangha to be our foundation for Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Mindfulness, and Right Insight. These are the practices leading to nondiscrimination, non-harming, and non-self which heal ourselves and the world.

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Help Now!

Excerpt from “America’s Racial Karma” by Larry Ward

As you cross the bridge of mercy and begin to do the work of healing, you may discover moments of emotional difficulty and physical unease. To move through our the fear, first let us bring our nervous system into balance. The following are Help Now! strategies from the Trauma Resource Institute, where I trained, which can help up us stay within our zones of emotional resiliency.

Help Now! strategies are ten quick, simple, practical, and easy-to-remember activities to engage the senses (designed to build your resiliency when you’re either too amped up or too checked out to be available for yourself due to stress).

Help Now! activities can be helpful as you go through your days. They are not for de-escalating high-stress situations when you may have a legitimate reason to feel unsafe. Rather, they are for when you are in a low or high point in your feelings and want to help regulate your nervous system into a more balanced state by getting in touch with your body and your mind.

When we’re feeling anxious, we need to dial down our stress response, so we don’t get freaked out. This is not a sequential list but a menu of choices – read through them and pick one at a time and practice the strategy.

  1. Drink a glass of water, juice, or a cup of tea.
  2. Look around the room or space wherever you are, paying attention to what you notice.
  3. Name six colors you see around you, indoors or outdoors.
  4. Now close your eyes slowly; then open them slowly after a few seconds; now look around the space again.
  5. However you are able, move around the room counting backward from 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, etc.
  6. If you are inside, examine the furniture and touch the surface, noticing if it is hard, soft, smooth, or tough, etc. If you are outside, focus on the sense of gravity beneath your feet; find a tree to lean against, or hug; if near water, stick your hands in, noticing your physical sensations.
  7. Notice how your skin senses the temperature wherever you may be.
  8. Turn attention to noticing the sounds around you.
  9. If you’re inside or outside, walk and pay attention to the movement of your arms and legs and how your feet are contacting the earth.
  10. Push your hands against a nearby wall, door, or tree, noticing your muscles acting. Or, stand and reach your hands and body toward the wall or tree.

Check in and sense how you feel afterward. Each small action is a small reset of the nervous system toward balance.

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The Good News

They don’t publish
the good news.
The good news is published
by us.
We have a special edition every moment,
and we need you to read it.
The good news is that you are alive,
and the linden tree is still there,
standing firm in the harsh Winter.
The good news is that you have wonderful eyes
to touch the blue sky.
The good news is that your child is there before you,
and your arms are available:
hugging is possible.
They only print what is wrong.
Look at each of our special editions.
We always offer the things that are not wrong.
We want you to benefit from them
and help protect them.
The dandelion is there by the sidewalk,
smiling its wondrous smile,
singing the song of eternity.
Listen! You have ears that can hear it.
Bow your head.
Listen to it.
Leave behind the world of sorrow
and preoccupation
and get free.
The latest good news
is that you can do it.

– Thich Nhat Hanh

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Don’t Blame the Match

 Raw Mindfulness post “Don’t Blame the Match” by Annie Mahon

Thich Nhat Hanh often uses matches to illustrate the idea of causes and conditions. He brings a little box of matches out of his brown monk’s bag, he opens the box and takes out a single match. After closing the box, he holds up the match. He then carefully strikes the match along the side of the box, generating a small flame at the tip of the match. This is not a magic trick, and something you and I have probably done countless times, yet he illustrates a very profound truth about the universe.

Before TNH strikes the match, all of the causes and conditions for the flame are already there, with the exception of that one condition — running the match tip along the box. That final condition causes a flame to manifest. Although we often think that striking a match is all we need to do to cause the flame, there is so much more. The wood that makes the match itself, the oxygen in the air, and the box all contribute to the flame. If we picked up a toothpick and ran it across a box of cereal, we would not manifest a flame, even if we did it with the same force and direction as we struck the match. And if we tried to light the match in a room devoid of oxygen, no flame would appear.

In order for something to manifest, causes and conditions must be sufficient. Causes and conditions can be physical form, our thoughts, our genetic history, and our habits. Sometimes when we act, we are the last condition necessary to manifest something, like the flame. Sometimes we simply contribute another condition which will manifest in the future. But our one action alone is the never the only cause.

It’s the same with every thought or action we produce. This morning it was raining here on retreat, and there were only a few spaces in the dry dining hall to eat breakfast. While I was eating, a woman approached me to indicate that I had taken her seat. We were in silence, and I wasn’t entirely sure what she was saying, so I did not relinquish the seat quickly enough, and she left looking quite irritated. For a moment I thought that I had caused her anger. But remembering the match, I realized that her irritation was not simply because of my action. Other causes and conditions were already present, and I just struck the match. I wish that I had been able to act more compassionately. But remembering causes and conditions allowed me to let go of blaming myself for single-handedly causing her anger.

Every moment is already full of causes and conditions before I arrive. My part is quite small. And yet my action plays a significant part. My small action may be the thing that leads to manifestation of anger, joy, or a flame. So in any situation I can ask myself: what is the most skillful action I can offer, given the causes and conditions I know and those that may be hidden from me? What is my one contribution going to be to this moment?

When I understand causes and conditions, I know my true impact on any situation. Each time I act, it is as if I am running the matchstick against the box — nothing more, and nothing less. And when I am triggered by someone else’s actions, I can see that they too contributed just one cause. The other causes and conditions were already in me, from my childhood, my ancestors, my previous actions and my thoughts.

We are always just one cause. We can try to be as skillful as possible, but will never be able to control the environment into which we contribute our actions. And that understanding frees us from blaming ourselves and others for situations that are much more complex than we ever realized. And, for me, less blaming means more happiness.

 

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We Are the Beaters; We Are the Beaten

By THICH NHAT HANH – APRIL 15, 1991 – Los Angeles Times https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1991-04-15-me-32-story.html

People everywhere on the planet have seen the image of the Los Angeles policemen beating the young driver. The moment I first saw it, I saw myself as the one who was beaten, and I suffered. I am sure most of us felt the same. We were all beaten at the same time, and we were all the victims of violence, of anger, of lack of understanding, of lack of respect for our human dignity.

But looking more deeply, I was able to see that the policemen who were beating Rodney King were also myself. Why were they doing that? Because our society is full of hatred and violence. Everything is like a bomb ready to explode, and we are part of that bomb. We are co-responsible for that bomb. That is why I saw myself as the policemen beating the driver. We all are these policemen.

In the practice of awareness, which Buddhists call mindfulness, we nurture the ability to see deeply into the nature of things and of human beings. The fruit of this practice is insight and understanding, and out of this comes love. Without understanding, how can we love? Love is the intention and capacity to bring joy to others, and to remove and transform the pain that is in them.

From the Buddhist perspective, I have not practiced deeply enough to transform the situation with the policemen. I have allowed violence and misunderstanding to exist. Realizing that, I suffer with them, for if they do not suffer, then why would they do what they did? Only when you suffer much do you make other people suffer; if you are happy, if you are liberated, then there will not be suffering in you to spill over to others.

utting the policemen in prison or firing the chief of police will not solve our fundamental problems. We have all helped to create this situation with our forgetfulness and our way of living. Violence has become a substance of our life, and we are not very different from those who did the beating.

Living in such a society, one can become like that quite easily. The half-million soldiers in the desert, along with the millions who daily absorb the violent images of television, are also being trained like those who did the beating: to accept violence as a way of life, and as a way to solve problems. If we are not mindful–if we do not transform our shared suffering through compassion and deep understanding–then one day our child will be the one who is beaten, or the one doing the beating. It is our affair. We are not observers. We are participants.

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Body, Mind And Breath Are Friends

Posted on Plum Village YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3yvgHciZEk

Brother Freedom shares about the friendship of body, mind and breath in the present moment.

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Working with Chaos

Edited excerpt from Lions Roar postThree methods for Working with Chaos” by Pema Chodron. 

When we feel squeezed, there’s a tendency for mind to become small. We feel miserable, like a victim, like a pathetic, hopeless case. Yet believe it or not, at that moment of hassle or bewilderment or embarrassment, our minds could become bigger.

This place of the squeeze is the very point in our meditation and in our lives where we can really learn something. The next time there’s no ground to stand on, don’t consider it an obstacle. Consider it a remarkable stroke of luck. We are given changes all the time. We can either cling to security, or we can let ourselves feel exposed, as if we had just been born, as if we had just popped out into the brightness of life and were completely naked. Right there in the uncertainty of everyday chaos is our own wisdom mind.

Go to the Places that Scare You

When we sit down to meditate, whatever arises in our minds we look at directly, call it “thinking,” and go back to the simplicity and immediacy of the breath. Again and again, we return to pristine awareness free from concepts. Meditation practice is how we stop fighting with ourselves, how we stop struggling with circumstances, emotions or moods. This basic instruction is a tool that we can use to train in our practice and in our lives. Whatever arises, we can look at it with a nonjudgmental attitude.

This is the primary method for working with painful situations—global pain, domestic pain, any pain at all. We can stop struggling with what occurs and see its true face without calling it the enemy. It helps to remember that our practice is not about accomplishing anything—not about winning or losing—but about ceasing to struggle and relaxing as it is. That is what we are doing when we sit down to meditate. That attitude spreads into the rest of our lives.

Use Poison as Medicine

We can use difficult situations—poison—as fuel for waking up. In general, this idea is introduced to us with the tonglen meditation practice of taking in pain and sending out positive energy. When anything difficult arises—any kind of conflict, any notion of unworthiness, anything that feels distasteful, embarrassing, or painful—instead of pushing it away or running from it, we breathe in and connect with it fully.

The three poisons are passion (this includes craving or addiction), aggression, and ignorance (which includes denial or the tendency to shut down and close out). When suffering arises, the tonglen instruction is to let the story line go and breathe it in—not just the anger, resentment or loneliness that we might be feeling, but the identical pain of others who in this very moment are also feeling rage, bitterness, or isolation. We breathe it in for everybody.

This poison is not just our personal misfortune, our fault, our blemish, our shame—it’s part of the human condition. It’s our kinship with all living things, the material we need in order to understand what it’s like to stand in another person’s shoes.

Regard What Arises as Awakened Energy

Everything that occurs is not only usable and workable but is actually the path itself. We can use everything that happens to us as the means for waking up.

We’re trying to learn not to split ourselves between our “good side” and our “bad side,” between our “pure side” and our “impure side.” The elemental struggle is with our feeling of being wrong, with our guilt and shame at what we are. That’s what we have to befriend. The point is that we can dissolve the sense of dualism between us and them, between this and that, between here and there, by moving toward what we find difficult and wish to push away.

Regarding what arises as awakened energy reverses our fundamental habitual pattern of trying to avoid conflict, trying to make ourselves better than we are, trying to smooth things out and pretty them up, trying to prove that pain is a mistake and would not exist in our lives if only we did all the right things. This view turns that particular pattern completely around, encouraging us to become interested in looking at the uncertainty of everyday chaos as the working basis for attaining enlightenment.

  1. No more struggle: “Whatever arises, train again and again in seeing it for what it is. The innermost essence of mind is without bias. Things arise and things dissolve forever and ever. Whatever happens, we can look at it with a nonjudgmental attitude. This is the primary method for working with painful situations.”
  2. Using poison as medicine: “When suffering arises, we breathe it in for everybody. This poison is not just our personal misfortune. It’s our kinship with all living things, the seed of compassion and openness. Instead of pushing it away or running from it, we breathe in and connect with it fully. We do this with the wish that all of us could be free of suffering.”
  3. Regarding whatever arises as awakened energy: “This reverses our habitual pattern of trying to avoid conflict, trying to smooth things out, trying to prove that pain is a mistake that would not exist in our lives if only we did the right things. This view encourages us to look at the charnel ground of our lives as the working basis for attaining enlightenment.”
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Sweet Sixteen

The Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing offers sixteen exercises:

1. “Breathing in, I am aware I am breathing in.” ”Breathing out, I am aware that I am breathing out.”

2.“Breathing in a long breath, I know I am breathing in a long breathe. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out a long breath.“

3. “Breathing in, I am aware of my body. Breathing out, I smile to my body.”

4. “Breathing in, I am aware of my body. Breathing out, I calm the activities of my whole body and release any tension in my body.”

5. “Breathing in I am aware of the energy of joy. Breathing out, I smile to the energy of joy.”

6. “Breathing in, I am aware of the energy of happiness in me. Breathing out, I smile to the energy of happiness.”

7. “Breathing in, I am aware of a feeling present in me (pleasant, unpleasant & neutral). Breathing out, I smile to the feeling present in me.”

8. “Breathing in, I calm my feelings. Breathing out, I calm my feelings.”

9. “Breathing in, I am aware of my mind. Breathing out, I am aware of my mind.”

10. “Breathing in, I make my mind happy. Breathing out, I make my mind happy.”

11. “Breathing in, I skillfully concentrate my mind. Breathing out, I skillfully concentrate my mind.

12. “Breathing in, I skillfully liberate my mind. Breathing out, I skillfully liberate my mind.”

13. “Breathing in, I observe objects of my mind. Breathing out, I observe the objects of my mind“

14. “Breathing in, I observe my attachments and unwholesome desires. Breathing out, I observe the dangers of my attachments and unwholesome desires.”

15. “Breathing in, I observe the no-birth, no-death nature of objects of mind. Breathing out, I observe the no-birth, no-death nature of objects of mind.”

16. “Breathing in, I observe letting go. Breathing out, I observe letting go.”

The first four exercises are about practicing with the body. The second set of four are practicing with feelings. The third set of four are practicing with the mind. And the last four are about practicing with the objects of mind.

Form

  1. in /out
  2. long / short
  3. experiencing body
  4. calming body

Feelings

  1. experiencing joy
  2. experiencing bliss
  3. experiencing mental formations
  4. calming mental formations

Mental Formations

  1. experiencing mind
  2. gladdening mind
  3. concentrating mind
  4. liberating mind

Perceptions

  1. contemplating impermanence
  2. contemplating non-craving
  3. contemplating nirvana
  4. contemplating letting go

 

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I Can Say

A poem for Thay by Dr. Larry Ward

What can I say about my beloved teacher?

I can say the soft whisper of his voice in the dark night of confusion, fear and violence calls us home to our true self.

I can say that his teaching brings the dharma rain and invites us all to bathe in its healing touch.

I can say that his gentle footstep on the earth brings the winds of peace, the thunder of compassion, and the powerful moonlight of understanding.

I can say that I have been graced to enter the stream of awakening, finding the sun of love in my heart and the miracle of mindfulness in my very breath.

I can say that he tirelessly engages with his whole being in the noblest of callings, healing and transforming the breaking waves of our shadows.

I can say that I have my teacher because he has caused the noble teacher in me to wake up, to wake up, to wake up.

I can say that his practice, prose, poetry and pedagogy speaks with the clarity and honesty of the Buddha within.

I can say that on this very day we are blessed to be here with him and to be here together in this holy moment of no coming and no going.

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