Over the years of teaching, I've found a growing need for profound lovingkindness and compassion--a transformation of the heart--to underlie the insights and understandings that come out of the practice. An opening of the mind needs to be supported by compassion from the heart if the practice is to be integrated, fulfilled, and lived in our lives.
The value of mindfulness practice is discovered in the freedom we find through awareness. Without awareness, we repeat the patterns of fear and conditioning that keep us entangled individually and collectively. Without awareness, we suffer. With awareness, we can see the contractions of the mind, how the mind gets caught and how we can learn to let go. With awareness we can reawaken to the purity of joy and freedom that is fundamental to our true nature.
As a Dharma teacher, I simply remind others how it is possible to live in this world and find freedom. I listen to practitioners and try to remind them that it is truly possible to be free.
Let yourself be settled. Turn your attention to here and now, and the present experience. You can rest on the Earth with ease and trust in this moment. With this embodied presence, begin to notice the experiences here and now. There will be sensations of the body, sounds, emotions, feelings. A parade of images and thoughts will come and go. You can take your seat just where you are, in the midst of these rising and passing experiences.
Let yourself settle here on the Earth. Feel how the Earth can completely support you. You can let go. Let the heart be soft to receive whatever arises with compassion. Invite presence. Acknowledge the waves of experience.
What kind of seeds are you planting and tending with your words and your deeds? Every seed watered can become something that changes the world. If you want to practice, take a walk and look at the buds on the trees in the spring. Each bud is an answer to despair or apathy. You start to sense you are part of something so much bigger. Feel the survival of thousands of years of ancestors in your bones supporting you.
“Though I do not believe a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”—Thoreau
Reflect on the value of a peaceful heart. What is it like to have a peaceful heart among the worldly winds of praise and blame, gain and loss, pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, fame and disrepute. These are the worldly winds that constantly change.
It's important to stop, take a pause, and feel that we are part of something so much greater than the individual life that we live. Our awareness is big enough to hold all of this, because we are awareness itself.
We are in a time of great transition. The climate crisis, the pandemic, war, injustice, racism: they're all pressing on us to live in a different way. And if you live with a peaceful heart, the point is not to let your heart get hardened. Don't turn your gaze away. But see another possibility—see with the great heart of compassion.
My teacher Ajahn Chah said, "We human beings are constantly in combat, at war to escape the fact of being so limited by so many circumstances we cannot control. But instead of escaping, we continue to create suffering, waging war with evil, waging war with good, waging war with what is too small, waging war with what is too big, waging war with what is too short or too long, or right or wrong, courageously carrying on the battle. It's time to stop the war. "
The sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson said, "The real problem of humanity is the following: we have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions, and god-like technology."
The first response is tend the wounds, feed the hungry, and stand up for peace in whatever way you can. But there is also an inner response needed. We know where war starts—it starts in the human heart. We must make the heart a zone of peace. Set your compass to your highest intention. Something in us knows there is another way.
Tonight I had planned to talk about Thich Nhat Hanh, the great and wise Zen master and teacher who died recently at age 95. But it seems critical to also acknowledge the grief of the war in Ukraine. As it says in the Buddhist teachings (and in other wisdom teachings), in this world, hatred never ceases by hatred, but by love alone is healed.
There has to be a better game than war for human beings. We have to look at the war within ourselves as well.
Thich Nhat Hanh’s instruction was to stop—stop making enemies.
Make prayers. Make blessings. This is our moral task.
When we sit quietly and face the stillness, we start the feel the grief that we carry—and the immense beauty of life. When we get quiet we can see in a new way.
Make of yourself a light. It’s never too late to start over and set an intention of the heart. It could be as simple as “I vow to be kind.” By aligning our dedication with our highest intention, we chart the course of our whole being. Then no matter how hard the voyage and how big the setbacks, we know where we are headed.
Release whatever wants to be let go of in this moment. Let yourself become loving awareness itself. Feel yourself relax with each breath. You can nourish, connect, and come to rest. As you feel the breath come and go, there will likely be a stream of thoughts. Bow to your thoughts and say to yourself, “I love it when they come, and I love it when they go.” You can rest here and now in the reality of the present.
Like the waves of the ocean, the breath rises and falls. Bring loving awareness to the breath.
Shift your attention from the breath to all the sensations in your body. With mindful loving awareness, notice the whole field of sensations. If there are areas of pain or stiffness, bow to them and hold them with kindness. Hold them as you would a child who is going through a hard time. Notice how this kind loving awareness allows for the tension and knots to soften in their own way.
Now as an expression of gratitude, say thank you to your own body for caring so much, for holding so much as you move through the days and nights. Tell your body, “I’m ok just now—you can relax. You can rest.”
Now bring your attention to your heart that carries so much. Notice all that your heart has been holding: longings, fear, love, worry, frustration, excitement, sadness, appreciation, doubt, deep love. Say thank you to your heart for caring so much, for trying to help and protect you. Tell your heart, “I’m ok just now—you can relax. You can rest.” Let your heart be at ease.
Now bring your attention to your mind that produces a stream of thoughts, images, pictures, plans, memories, ideas. Feel the energy of the mind, creative, sometimes obsessed, analyzing, exploring, opening. Say thank you for working so hard to take care of you, to protect you. Tell your mind, “I’m ok just now—you can relax. You can rest.”
Notice that you’re not your body, feelings, thoughts. You are the loving witness, you are consciousness itself. You are the loving awareness that acknowledges the body, heart and mind. Relax into loving awareness. You are the silent, vast witness to it all.