Generosity is Letting Go

Excerpt from OnBeing blog post: THE REAL POWER OF GENEROSITY by Sharon Salzberg

When we think about generosity, most of us probably don’t think immediately of a powerful force, an inner resource, a real tool for changing how we relate to ourselves , to others and to our world.

Instead, we may think of it similarly to how we think of kindness or compassion — qualities that are gentle, tender, potentially self-effacing — and, as a big misconception, more aligned with weakness than strength. Largely this is because, culturally, we think of generosity purely in terms of the act of giving something up for someone else. This dynamic, by definition, implies at least some degree of self-sacrifice.

Generosity is more than just “giving up.” Generosity generates its power from the gesture of letting go. Being able to give to others shows us our ability to let go of attachments that otherwise can limit our beliefs and our experiences. It might be in our nature to think, “That object is mine for X, Y or Z reason.” But that thought can simply dissolve. This doesn’t just happen passively; we choose to let it through the cultivation of generosity. It is in that choice to dissolve that we carry ourselves to a state of greater freedom.

Our attachments might want to put a cap on our generosity and say, “I will give this much and no more,” or “I will give this article or object if I am appreciated enough for this act of giving.” But it is through the practice of generosity that we learn to see through the attachments, and create space for ourselves.

This doesn’t mean generosity eradicates all attachment automatically or immediately. When we practice the act of simply observing our attachments through acts of generosity, they loosen. They become less opaque, less solid. In that place, we can find greater spaciousness in our minds and tap into a greater sense of inner happiness.

From there, we can continue a deep investigation, cultivating further strength and flexibility to look at everything in our experience this way.  In other words, generosity can make us happier!

The idea that we benefit from being generous may seem like a strange thing to think about. Does that knowledge somehow taint our generous actions, making them corrupted and selfish? No. I think it’s OK to practice generosity knowing that it is beneficial to ourselves as well as to the recipient. It’s not selfishness, it’s an honest recognition that love and generosity creates an exchange of positive energy, and fuels further love and generosity.

I’m asked this all the time by meditation students who want to create better lives for themselves as well as others, but who feel a little squeamish when thinking about bolstering their own happiness through giving. I commonly respond with, “Seeing how the universe operates, having a sense of conditionality and cause and effect, that generosity brings happiness to the giver, isn’t selfish — it’s science!”

Our tendency is to look at other people around us and see them as “other,” that they are fundamentally disconnected from us. It’s self-protective but also keeps us at arms length from others and ourselves. Thinking of the world in this dualistic way causes us to feel a tighter grip on our habitual thoughts that tend to inform the way we act and define ourselves.

The most common problem happens when we act generously along with feeling a strong expectation for our offering to be received by another in a particular way: I want to give you that present because it will make you like me, or, I will bring my coworker a coffee so that she will say something nice about me to our boss. By contrast, a nourishing generosity emerges when we give without the need for our offering to be received in a certain way, perhaps wishing to be recognized or validated, but not needing it. When generosity lets go of these kinds of expectations, it is a movement toward freedom. That is how and why generosity can be a force, a resource, a tool.

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Three Earth Touchings

I
Touching the Earth, I connect with ancestors and descendants of of my spiritual, heart, and blood families.

( Bell)

(All touch the earth)
(Read slowly, with a pause after each paragraph to allow for reflection)

My spiritual ancestors include the Buddha, the bodhisattvas, the noble Sangha of Buddha’s disciples.

They include Jesus and Mary Immaculate; the Jewish prophets and the Hasidic masters; Mohammed and the Sufi masters, the incarnations of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, and the many other wise and courageous women and men who have shown us the way.

My spiritual ancestors include my own spiritual teachers still alive or already passed away. They are present in me because they have transmitted to me seeds of peace, wisdom, love, and happiness. They have woken up in me my resource of understanding and compassion.

When I look at my spiritual ancestors, I see those who are perfect in the practice of the mindfulness trainings, understanding, and compassion, and those who are still imperfect. I accept them all because I see within myself shortcomings and weaknesses. Aware that my practice of the mindfulness trainings is not always perfect, and that I am not always as understanding and compassionate as I would like to be, I open my heart and accept all my spiritual descendants and all those whose lives I touch in my daily life. Some practice the mindfulness trainings, understanding, and compassion in a way which invites confidence and respect, but there are also those who come across many difficulties and are constantly subject to ups and downs in their practice and in their lives.

In the same way, I accept all my ancestors on my mother’s side and my father’s side of the family. I accept all their good qualities and their virtuous actions, and I also accept all their weaknesses. I open my heart and accept all my relatives, my descendants, and my friends and acquaintances, with their good qualities, their talents, and also their weaknesses.

My ancestors my descendants, my friends and my loved ones, are all part of me. I am them and they are me. I do not have a separate self. All exist as part of a wonderful stream of life which is constantly moving.

(Pause for 5 to 10 breaths)
(Bell)
(All stand up)

II
Touching the Earth, I connect with all people and all species that are alive at this moment in this world with me.

(Bell)
(All touch the earth)

I am one with the wonderful pattern of life that radiates out in all directions. I see the close connection between myself and others, how we share happiness and suffering.

I am one with those who were born disabled or who have become disabled because of war, accident, or illness. I am one with those who are caught in a situation of war or oppression. I am one with those who find no happiness in family life, who have no roots and no peace of mind, who are hungry for understanding and love, and who are looking for something beautiful, wholesome, and true to embrace and to believe in.

I am someone at the point of death who is very afraid and does not know what is going to happen. I am a child who lives in a place where there is miserable poverty and disease, whose legs and arms are like sticks and who has no future. I am also the manufacturer of bombs that are sold to poor countries. I am the frog swimming in the pond and I am also the snake who needs the body of the frog to nourish its own body. I am the caterpillar or the ant that the bird is looking for to eat, but I am also the bird that is looking for the caterpillar or the ant. I am the forest that is being cut down. I am the rivers and the air that are being polluted, and I am also the person who cuts down the forest and pollutes the rivers and the air. I see myself in all species, and I see all species in me.

I am one with the great beings who have realized the truth of no-birth and no-death and are able to look at the forms of birth and death, happiness and suffering with calm eyes. I am one with those people, who can be found a little bit everywhere, who have sufficient peace of mind, understanding and love to be able to touch what is wonderful, nourishing and healing, and who also have the capacity to embrace the world with a heart of love and arms of caring action.

I am someone who has enough peace, joy and freedom to offer fearlessness and joy to living beings around me. I see that I am not lonely and cut off. The love and the happiness of great beings on this planet help me not to sink in despair. They help me to live my life in a meaningful way with true peace and happiness. I see them all in me and I see myself in all of them.

(Pause for 5 to 10 breaths)
(Bell)
(All stand up)

III
Touching the Earth, I let go of my idea that I am this body and my life span is limited.

( Bell)
(All touch the earth)

I see that this body, made up of the four elements, is not really me and I am not limited by this body. I am part of a stream of life of spiritual, heart, and blood ancestors that for thousands of years has been flowing into the present and flows on for thousands of years into the future.

I am one with my ancestors. I am one with my descendants. I am life manifested in numberless different forms. I am one with all people and all species, whether they are peaceful and fearless, or suffering and afraid. At this very moment, I am present everywhere on this planet. I am also present in the past and in the future.

The disintegration of this body does not touch me, just as when the plum blossom falls it does not mean the end of the plum tree. I see myself as a wave on the surface of the ocean. My nature is the ocean water. I see myself in all the other waves and see all the other waves in me. The appearance and disappearance of the form of the wave does not affect the ocean. My Dharma body and wisdom life are not subject to birth and death.

I see the presence of myself before my body manifested and after my body has disintegrated. Even in this moment, I see how I exist elsewhere than in this body. Seventy or eighty years is not my life span. My life span, like the life span of a leaf or of a Buddha, is limitless. I have gone beyond the idea that I am a body that is separated in space and time from all other forms of life.

(Pause for 5 to 10 breaths)
( Bell)
(All stand up)

(Bell — standing bow to conclude the Touchings of the Earth.)

(Invite everyone to return to their places and form a circle for the discussion.)

 

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Roots of Intentions

Post by The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society

Tree of Contemplative Practices

Tree of Contemplative Practices

On the Tree of Contemplative Practices, the roots symbolize the two intentions that are the foundation of all contemplative practices. The roots of the tree encompass and transcend differences in the religious traditions from which many of the practices originated, and allow room for the inclusion of new practices that are being created in secular contexts.

The branches represent different groupings of practices. For example, Stillness Practices focus on quieting the mind and body in order to develop calmness and focus.

Generative Practices may come in many different forms but share the common intent of generating thoughts and feelings, such as thoughts of devotion and compassion, rather than calming and quieting the mind. (Please note that such classifications are not definitive, and many practices could be included in more than one category.)

Because this illustration cannot possibly include all contemplative practices, we offer a free download of a blank Tree that you can customize to include your own practices. Activities not included on the tree (including those which may seem mundane, such as gardening or eating) may be understood to be contemplative practices when done with the intent of cultivating awareness and wisdom.

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All We Need is Love

“Falling in Love with the Earth” by Thich Nhat Hanh

This beautiful, bounteous, life-giving planet we call Earth has given birth to each one of us, and each one of us carries the Earth within every cell of our body.

We and the Earth are one

The Earth is our mother, nourishing and protecting us in every moment–giving us air to breathe, fresh water to drink, food to eat and healing herbs to cure us when we are sick. Every breath we inhale contains our planet’s nitrogen, oxygen, water vapor and trace elements. When we breathe with mindfulness, we can experience our interbeing with the Earth’s delicate atmosphere, with all the plants, and even with the sun, whose light makes possible the miracle of photosynthesis. With every breath we can experience communion. With every breath we can savor the wonders of life.

We need to change our way of thinking and seeing things. We need to realise that the Earth is not just our environment. The Earth is not something outside of us. Breathing with mindfulness and contemplating your body, you realize that you are the Earth. You realize that your consciousness is also the consciousness of the Earth. Look around you–what you see is not your environment, it is you.

Great Mother Earth

Whatever nationality or culture we belong to, whatever religion we follow, whether we’re Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Jews, or atheists, we can all see that the Earth is not inert matter. She is a great being, who has herself given birth to many other great beings–including buddhas and bodhisattvas, prophets and saints, sons and daughters of God and humankind. The Earth is a loving mother, nurturing and protecting all peoples and all species without discrimination.

When you realize the Earth is so much more than simply your environment, you’ll be moved to protect her in the same way as you would yourself. This is the kind of awareness, the kind of awakening that we need, and the future of the planet depends on whether we’re able to cultivate this insight or not. The Earth and all species on Earth are in real danger. Yet if we can develop a deep relationship with the Earth, we’ll have enough love, strength and awakening in order to change our way of life.

Falling in love

We can all experience a feeling of deep admiration and love when we see the great harmony, elegance and beauty of the Earth. A simple branch of cherry blossom, the shell of a snail or the wing of a bat – all bear witness to the Earth’s masterful creativity. Every advance in our scientific understanding deepens our admiration and love for this wondrous planet. When we can truly see and understand the Earth, love is born in our hearts. We feel connected. That is the meaning of love: to be at one.

Only when we’ve truly fallen back in love with the Earth will our actions spring from reverence and the insight of our interconnectedness. Yet many of us have become alienated from the Earth. We are lost, isolated and lonely. We work too hard, our lives are too busy, and we are restless and distracted, losing ourselves in consumption. But the Earth is always there for us, offering us everything we need for our nourishment and healing: the miraculous grain of corn, the refreshing stream, the fragrant forest, the majestic snow-capped mountain peak, and the joyful birdsong at dawn.

True Happiness is made of love

Many of us think we need more money, more power or more status before we can be happy. We’re so busy spending our lives chasing after money, power and status that we ignore all the conditions for happiness already available. At the same time, we lose ourselves in buying and consuming things we don’t need, putting a heavy strain on both our bodies and the planet. Yet much of what we drink, eat, watch, read or listen to, is toxic, polluting our bodies and minds with violence, anger, fear and despair.

As well as the carbon dioxide pollution of our physical environment, we can speak of the spiritual pollution of our human environment: the toxic and destructive atmosphere we’re creating with our way of consuming. We need to consume in such a way that truly sustains our peace and happiness. Only when we’re sustainable as humans will our civilization become sustainable. It is possible to be happy in the here and the now.

We don’t need to consume a lot to be happy; in fact we can live very simply. With mindfulness, any moment can become a happy moment. Savoring one simple breath, taking a moment to stop and contemplate the bright blue sky, or to fully enjoy the presence of a loved one, can be more than enough to make us happy. Each one of us needs to come back to reconnect with ourselves, with our loved ones and with the Earth. It’s not money, power or consuming that can make us happy, but having love and understanding in our heart.

The bread in your hand is the body of the cosmos

We need to consume in such a way that keeps our compassion alive. And yet many of us consume in a way that is very violent. Forests are cut down to raise cattle for beef, or to grow grain for liquor, while millions in the world are dying of starvation. Reducing the amount of meat we eat and alcohol we consume by 50% is a true act of love for ourselves, for the Earth and for one another. Eating with compassion can already help transform the situation our planet is facing, and restore balance to ourselves and the Earth.

Nothing is more important than brotherhood and sisterhood

There’s a revolution that needs to happen and it starts from inside each one of us. We need to wake up and fall in love with Earth. We’ve been homo sapiens for a long time. Now it’s time to become homo conscious. Our love and admiration for the Earth has the power to unite us and remove all boundaries, separation and discrimination. Centuries of individualism and competition have brought about tremendous destruction and alienation. We need to re-establish true communication–true communion–with ourselves, with the Earth, and with one another as children of the same mother. We need more than new technology to protect the planet. We need real community and co-operation.

All civilizations are impermanent and must come to an end one day. But if we continue on our current course, there’s no doubt that our civilization will be destroyed sooner than we think. The Earth may need millions of years to heal, to retrieve her balance and restore her beauty. She will be able to recover, but we humans and many other species will disappear, until the Earth can generate conditions to bring us forth again in new forms. Once we can accept the impermanence of our civilization with peace, we will be liberated from our fear. Only then will we have the strength, awakening and love we need to bring us together. Cherishing our precious Earth–falling in love with the Earth–is not an obligation. It is a matter of personal and collective happiness and survival.

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Refuge Chant

From “Chanting of the Heart: Buddhist Ceremonies and Daily Practices” by Thich Nhat Hanh and the Monks and Nuns of Plum Village

Incense perfumes the atmosphere.
A lotus blooms and the Buddha appears.
The world of suffering and discrimination
is filled with light of the rising sun.
As the dust of fear and anxiety settles,
with open heart, one-pointed mind,
I turn to the Three Jewels.
[BELL]

The fully enlightened one, beautifully seated, peaceful and smiling,
a living source of understanding and compassion,
to the Buddha I go for refuge.
[BELL]

The path of mindful living,
leading to healing, joy, and enlightenment, the way of peace
to the Dharma I go for refuge.
[BELL]

The loving and supportive community of practice,
realizing harmony, awareness, and liberation,
to the Sangha I go for refuge.
[BELL]

I am aware that the Three Gems are within my heart.
I vow to realize them,
practicing mindful breathing and smiling,
looking deeply into things.
I vow to understand living beings and their suffering,
to cultivate compassion and loving kindness,
to practice joy and equanimity.
[BELL]

I vow to offer joy to one person in the morning,
to help relieve the grief of one person in the afternoon,
living simply and sanely with few possessions,
keeping my body healthy.
I vow to let go of all worries and anxiety
in order to be light and free.
[BELL]

I am aware that I owe so much
to my parents, teachers, friends, and all beings.
I vow to be worthy of their trust, to practice wholeheartedly
so that understanding and compassion will flower,
helping living beings be free from their suffering.
May the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha
support my efforts.
[BELL, BELL]

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Winter of Listening

Excerpt from from On Being Blog “A New Life I Must Call My Own” by Parker J. Palmer

The Winter of Listening
by David Whyte

No one but me by the fire,
my hands burning
red in the palms while
the night wind carries
everything away outside.

All this petty worry
while the great cloak
of the sky grows dark
and intense
round every living thing.

What is precious
inside us does not
care to be known
by the mind
in ways that diminish
its presence.

What we strive for
in perfection
is not what turns us
into the lit angel
we desire,

what disturbs
and then nourishes
has everything
we need.

What we hate
in ourselves
is what we cannot know
in ourselves but
what is true to the pattern
does not need
to be explained.

Inside everyone
is a great shout of joy
waiting to be born.

Even with the summer
so far off
I feel it grown in me
now and ready
to arrive in the world.

All those years
listening to those
who had
nothing to say.

All those years
forgetting
how everything
has its own voice
to make
itself heard.

All those years
forgetting
how easily
you can belong
to everything
simply by listening.

And the slow
difficulty
of remembering
how everything
is born from
an opposite
and miraculous
otherness.

Silence and winter
has led me to that
otherness.

So let this winter
of listening
be enough
for the new life
I must call my own.

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For or Against?

Excerpt from THE BHIKKHU AND THE BUTTERFLY:  A Conversation between  AJAHN PASANNO and JULIA BUTTERFLY HILL – Full Interview

JBH: My whole approach to the people I meet is to communicate the language of love, so I make it a point not to have conversations based on issues. I learned in the tree that “issues” are just symptoms of a disease.

IM: But Julia, how do you talk about the environmental crisis without talking about individual issues, without talking about the species die-offs, or the need to transform our oil-based economy? Where do you go?

JBH: In my organization, Circle of Life, every time we approach an issue or problem, we approach it from the place of the solution versus the place of the problem. We focus our intention and awareness on what it is we want: peace, love, justice.

When I climbed up in that tree I was new to activism, but I soon realized that we had become so good at defining what we were against that what we were against was beginning to define us. I saw the problem in meetings where activists were “clear-cutting” each other with their words and their anger. As people were talking, I could literally hear the chain saws in their words, cutting each other apart. I saw that the peace rallies had become antiwar rallies, places where I couldn’t even walk up close to the rally because of the way people were speaking through the megaphone; it sounded like they were dropping bombs.

This all became clear to me about halfway through my time in the tree, when I was experiencing a lot of pain and really felt like I was falling apart. That’s when I went deeper and realized I had climbed up in the tree not because I was angry at corporations and governments—although I was angry at them—but because I loved the forest and I loved the planet and I loved this sacred life that we’re all a part of. And so I began to approach all the issues from that place of love.

When we are committed to approaching issues from the perspective of what we want—rather than what everyone else is doing wrong—it’s important to look into our own daily practice to see all the ways we are out of integrity with the world we want to live in.

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