By HEATHER STAMBAUGH-MUKHERJEE
Practicing with anger has been a big part of my path over the last year-plus, and I recently continued on this path of transformationby attending FCM's workshop, "Loosening the Knots of Anger."
The workshop offered the perspective that anger happens on a spectrum, from mild annoyance at one end to full-blown rage at the other. I have never seen myself as "an angry person." Most people who know me would likely say the same. But an internally annoyed and perpetually irritated person whose mind gripes endlessly about how nearly everything should be different than it is? Yes, there's no denying that!
It was beneficial that the workshop reiterated the simple lesson of watering seeds -- my mind gripes and feels irritated because those are the mind states that were conditioned in me and that I have since nurtured.
But by approaching all phenomena with kind investigation, I am learning to water wholesome seeds. When I notice my mind asking, "Why didn't my husband take out the trash last night like he said he would?!" (complete with the interrobang of frustration at the end), I can breathe, look deeply, and see that he worked late. I can soften as I remember his exhaustion at bedtime. I can ask myself if there is another possible explanation for the trash transgression besides "He doesn't want to pull his weight around here!" (Spoiler alert: There are hundreds of other reasons, and they all make sense given his causes and conditions!)
Of course, some days since I attended the workshop, the irritated seeds have popped up when I'm not practicing diligently. Annoyed rumination waters the seeds when I don't see my thoughts or emotions.
The workshop taught the importance of noticing various signs of anger, including body sensations. I'm realizing that my awareness has largely been disconnected from my body during an experience of anger. Now I'm making an effort to notice that I experience a clenched jaw when I'm annoyed, and that this sensation of tension is a "bell of mindfulness" to check my mind. This "bell" reminds me to relax my entire face, breathe, perhaps even smile, and touch a sense of calm presence.
And sometimes with this practice, there is not a calm presence. As was taught in the workshop, sometimes emotion underlying the anger arises. I've found lately that these underlying emotions for me are hurt and fear. When I become aware that what's present is actually a feeling of wounding or vulnerability, I can then choose a caring response, like RAIN or Metta.
I am deeply grateful for the wisdom, compassion, and skillful teaching that I find in sangha at FCM, and the "Loosening the Knots of Anger" workshop offered exactly that. As I write this, I'm reflecting on what life would be like if I had not found FCM, had not begun to wake up to my perpetual irritation... And I'm struck by a sincere wish that all may know the joy of healing and transforming their anger.
Heather Stambaugh-Mukherjee of Lakeland came to FCM in 2020 after practicing mindfulness-based psychotherapies in her private practice for several years and noticing a spiritual pull toward personal transformation. She has participated in a number of Dharma offerings over the past year, and is currently participating in the Four Immeasurables Intensive. In her spare time, Heather enjoys spending time in nature, making art, snuggling her pets, and baking sourdough bread from scratch.
Every Tuesday morning, Wi Piyasawat drops her husband, John
McHarris, off in Fort Myers so he can catch the bus to Tampa. Every Friday eveni
ng, their close friend, neighbor and FCM member Lindsey McCaskey picks him up and takes him home.
John is living an ordinary life in Naples half a week and a life of service in Tampa the other half, an arrangement blessed by a supportive marriage
and the Dharma.
John, co-leader and community care leader of the Naples FCM Sangha, is at present the only participant in the selfless service residency program at the Tampa FCM campus. Since September 1, he has been living three nights a week in the newly opened Great Cloud Refuge in Tampa while he helps to support the sangha at its headquarters, performing service ranging from pulling weeds to providing kitchen help for retreats.
Theirs is a FCM family. In addition to his leadership role in Naples, John and Wi regularly attend Tampa Sangha via Zoom, and their son Max recently completed an eight month in-person residency program in Tampa.
John chatted with Mindfulness Matters about his service in Tampa.
MM: How did your decision to live and serve part-time with FCM in Tampa come about?
John: I wanted to serve more, and I wanted to be closer to my teacher. I think Fred perceptively sensed this, and watered those seeds. The OI (Order of Interbeing) was also emphasizing selfless service. I knew that residing in Tampa part-time would strengthen existing friendships and make new ones possible. I was becoming increasingly aware that my tendency to be "happy as a pea in a pod" spending time with myself was limiting my development and opportunity to make a change for the better. Lastly, I had long been observing a small number of members generously provide a disproportionate share of community service, and that didn't sit well.
I was fortunate because of my personal situation. I had retired early and was active in caretaking Mom, but when she passed away last year, that opened up free time. And especially support from Wi, my wife. I feel so fortunate. I was thinking about it, reflecting about it for a while, not sure I would have her support, so when we talked about it, and she said she would support it, that was really big. Not every partner or spouse would support it.
Also, our son, Max, did a residency program from late 2020 to August 2021 and I had heard him talking about what it was like. He did a lot of selfless service. He was developing friendships and becoming more integrated with the community, and that piqued my interest.
So I started asking myself, what really are the constraints? Is it really the distance and the drive time (2.5 hours from Naples to Tampa)? It's not that far. I found a bus service that was convenient, comfortable, and affordable. I immerse myself in reading and listening to the Dharma while on the bus. The bottom line is I can be very integrated both with the Naples and Tampa communities. I think I also began to realize that the "constraints" were self-constructed as opposed to real.
MM: What does one do in the FCM residency program?
John: There are four areas where selfless service work is needed – gardening, grounds, housekeeping and kitchen – and I have performed work in all of them. Sometimes, I’ll dust or sweep, sometimes pull weeds, and I assisted in the kitchen during a retreat in September.
Today, I was on a ladder pulling ivy away from the retreat center walls and gently placing it on a trellis so it wouldn’t damage the walls. The strands of ivy are very intertwined and tangled, similar to my mind at times. Untangling is good practice.
MM: How does your residency and work integrate with your practice?
John: When I pull weeds, I think about the weeds in my mind, how deep-rooted they are. It’s important to pull them gently from the base. When I'm cleaning a room I also remember the practices related to cleaning my bowl (mind), which definitely needs tending to.
When I’m working with others, there are good opportunities to practice deep listening and right speech and things that make for good relationships. I walk down to Publix for groceries and eat a lot of salads. When I chop carrots in the kitchen for my dinner, I just chop carrots.
Staying in Great Cloud is like being on a retreat. I’m sleeping in a small room. It’s small and minimalist, but I have everything I need. When I’m home in Naples, it’s a much bigger living space, but there are distractions, like TV. Here the whole campus is built for practice. There are fewer distractions. Minimalism is good. It helps me remember how little I need. It feels lighter.
MM: What advice do you have for others who may be considering doing something similar?
John: Do it, if your situation allows! Everybody has other commitments. The advice I would give is ask yourself, Are the constraints that you think you might have hard and fixed, totally non-negotiable, or just challenges? Sometimes we can fool ourselves into thinking that certain barriers are bigger than they are. I urge everybody to do whatever you can, whether Saturday selfless service days, or coming up for a couple of days. You’ll be nourished by the environment. It’s very unlikely that somebody would come away disappointed by this experience.
MM: How long will you continue this arrangement?
John: It’s indefinite. Until they kick me out!
In addition to his other responsibilities, John McHarris also is secretary of the FCM Board of Directors, a member of the current three-year Dharma Transmission Program, an OI aspirant, and has led several Dharma-related programs for FCM.
Diane Powell, co-facilitator of the Mindful Living Path Intensive for the fall of 2021, tells us in this interview about the Four Immeasureables and how Intensives are significant in the development of our practice.
Question: What are the Four Immeasureables and why did the Buddha say they were so important in our lives?
Diane: They’re called the “Immeasureables” because the Buddha said they are the boundless capabilities of our hearts. They are very important in Buddhism because we think of there being ”two wings of the bird.” For the bird to fly, one wing is wisdom, and the other is the heart teachings. These are the heart teachings. The Buddha said, “I teach one thing, the cessation of suffering.” Both the wisdom and the heart teachings are pathways to the end of suffering.
The Four Immeasureables are loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity.
Loving kindness is the friendly, loving, kind, positive attitude we have towards other people, wanting the best for others, caring for others. Compassion is partly empathy (being able to feel the suffering of others) but it is more, wanting people not to suffer and, in its active phase, wanting to take action to alleviate their suffering. Sympathetic joy is taking joy in the joy of others. Equanimity underlies all the others, impartiality or even mindedness, applying our loving heart towards everyone, not just for the people we care about or like, but all beings.
This is a direct path to alleviating our own suffering, and to understand it, you only have to look at how your mind feels when you’re feeling loving towards somebody versus when you’re feeling constriction, anger, jealousy or fear towards somebody.
Question: How might this Intensive be helpful to FCM members?
Diane: If you are a newcomer and have not taken an Intensive but have been in some FCM programs and know a little about our teachings, Intensives are an important next step because they give structure and focus to our practice. It is said there are 84,000 Dharma doors, but that can be overwhelming. Where do I start? Intensives give a starting place and structure. If you find the teachings engaging, you should not be afraid to plunge right in and take an Intensive.
There are lots of elements in an Intensive – Dharma talks, readings, instructions about what to do in meditation and practices in daily life, and, one of the most important elements, the mentor group. You meet with the same group of five or six people and a facilitator every other week and share experiences with the readings and the practices. These groups are valuable because they give you a chance to articulate what is going on with your practice and to hear others and learn that the same issues are coming up for them, too. Also, it is a way of forming connections with others in the sangha.
I am so glad we’re offering the Four Immeasureables after the Anapanasati Sutra and the Four Nutriments, which we studied in the spring and summer. For those who have taken these Intensives, this fall our studies will flow naturally to the next level. In those two Intensives, we emphasized mindfulness and learning some stability of mind, bringing mindfulness into our lives to help make wise choices of actions of body, speech and mind. This Intensive will build on that foundation to bring our practice into the arena of relationships with other people and our mind states, the importance of having an open, loving, caring mind. We think of it as having a mind of goodness, a mind that brings goodness into the world. This path of the Four Immeasureables tells us how to do that.
Finally, I know we’ve offered this several times in the past. I’m so grateful to have been involved with it many times. Each time I take it or facilitate it, my mind is in a different place. I’m a different person each time. It always has new meaning and brings new depth to my practice. Like all the fundamental teachings of the Buddha, it can be practiced and realized on different levels. It is the practice of cultivating an open, caring, peaceful mind, but it has meaning at the level of interconnection and non-self for Wisdom-level practice, as well.
Diane Powell, a member of FCM since its formative years, is a senior leader who has facilitated many FCM Intensives and programs and is a member of the Elders Council, the Sangha Harmony Committee, and the Order of Interbeing. She is leading the Intensive on the Four Immeasureables with Bill Mac Millen, also a long-term FCM member and frequent presenter of programs for the Sangha.
By CHRIS SIDWELL
Enriching would be the word I would use to describe my first FCM virtual retreat.
As a longtime Buddhist but a newbie to FCM, I had never committed more than two hours at a time to any Buddhist activity. The FCM retreat was a big step out of my comfort zone and although I have never participated in an in-person FCM retreat in Tampa, I found this virtual format to be very impactful. I enjoyed being in the comfort of my own home and I did not feel distracted.
One point made during deep sharing was that we could implement what we had learned on the cushion minutes earlier, off the cushion during our activity breaks for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I was able to do that by participating at home.
This was my first encounter with Bryan Hindert, yet another sincere, experienced and educated teacher at FCM. Bryan was very well prepared and organized, and I appreciated how he structured the intensive down to the minute, letting us all know exactly what to expect hour by hour throughout the three days. He presented Dharma in a unique and contemporary way that really clicked with me. He asked us to focus on gratitude and, rather than asking ourselves, "What’s wrong?", suggested that we ask ourselves, "What’s not wrong?" -- a very powerful twist on our words and thoughts. I have incorporated that phrase into my daily practice.
The theme of the retreat was “Anchoring our Minds in the Present Moment.” I appreciated his analogy of an anchor being lowered into the depths of the ocean to illustrate grounding ourselves deeply in our bodies and minds. The image really clicked with me and was raised by many others, a great new tool in our belts to generate and deepen mindfulness.
Cultivating boundless love for all beings in the universe was the other main theme -- something that does not come naturally for me. Bryan introduced us to the Metta Sutra, or Discourse on Love, which I printed out and is also now part of my daily practice.
Bryan not only introduced us to 19 Gathas from Thich Nhat Hanh, but he showed us how to breathe during recitation of those gathas for deepest impact. Like many people, I found the gathas to be the most influential part of the retreat.
My takeaway is that I feel a deeper level of calm, and it’s not just post-retreat bliss. I'm filled with a new level of confidence from the many new tools I have gained that I can use to manifest mindfulness at any moment by utilizing breathing and bringing my breath deeper into my body.
Also, the retreat pointed out areas that I need to focus on in my daily practice – gratitude and generating love and compassion.
I have also gained a deeper sense of Sangha/community due to engaging and sharing with others throughout the retreat. Since I have previously participated in the Intensives, I feel this retreat was the next step in the evolution of my practice. I am profoundly grateful that I was given the opportunity to participate.
Chris Sidwell lives in Cape Coral and attends the Naples Sangha. He has been practicing Buddhism for 29 years but joined FCM in August of 2020. Chris relocated from Los Angeles in 2005. He and his wife founded Pacific Coast Music, a smooth jazz record label.
Because of love and deep reverence for his teacher, Guo Gu, the Florida State University professor who spoke at a recent FCM Sunday Sangha meeting, has created a thriving community of Chinese Buddhism in Tallahassee and beyond.
His goal is to make FSU one of the leading universities for Buddhist studies.
Guo Gu, whose American name is Jimmy Yu, is the founder of the Tallahassee Chan Center (www.tallahasseechan.com) and the guiding teacher for the Western Dharma Teachers Training course at the Chan Meditation Center in New York and the Dharma Drum Lineage. Chan is the Chinese precursor of Zen, which originated in Japan.
Guo Gu is one of the late Master Sheng Yen’s (1930–2009) senior and closest disciples, and assisted him in leading intensive retreats throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. He has edited and translated a number of Master Sheng Yen’s books from Chinese to English and has authored four books of his own. He is a professor of Buddhism and East Asian religions at FSU in Tallahassee.
Born in Taiwan, Jimmy first was exposed to meditation when he was four years old in 1972. He studied with one of the most respected Chinese meditation masters and ascetics in Taiwan, Master Guangqin (1892-1986). In 1980, at age 11, he moved with his family to the New Jersey and New York area.
Also in 1980, encouraged by his mother, he began learning meditation from Master Sheng Yen, who was residing in New York at the time. After a period as a bass player in two hardcore punk bands, he began to attend intensive Chan retreats in 1987 with Sheng Yen. After the first retreat Master Sheng Yen gave him the Dharma name, Guo Gu, which means, “Results From Being the Valley.”
In 1991, Guo Gu was ordained as a monk and became Master Sheng Yen’s first personal attendant who traveled with the master. Guo Gu described his former master as a man born at the margins of society who lived through war-torn China to become one of the most respected Buddhist clerics of our time and a leader who helped to carve out a presence of Chan in mainstream Buddhism in the world today.
Even though Guo Gu had left monasticism and re-entered lay life nine years before his master died, he returned from the funeral in Taiwan in 2009 and vowed to create a center in Tallahassee in Sheng Yen's honor and to carry on his work of teaching Chan Buddhism. He had received his Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from Princeton University a year earlier and was a new teacher at FSU. All of that has come to pass.
Guo Gu is the author of four books, the most recent of which is Silent Illumination: A Chan Buddhist Path to Natural Awakening, published in March of this year.
In his talk at FCM, Guo Gu described a practice beginning with "progressive relaxation" of the body leading to “Silent Illumination,” a way to awaken to our true nature, aware to the unfolding of each new moment.
As he stated, "Mind, body, heart -- all one." We should follow the breath-body experience with great determination and great interest. When the whole body is relaxed, the meditation will be more beneficial. Only then can our true Buddha nature arise.
This can be described as the grounded embodied experience of just sitting in the present moment, Guo Gu taught. He also includes a period of “self-massage” while sitting after the formal meditation to practice mindfulness of movement and sensation in the body.
To Guo Gu, practice leads to Silent Illumination, which is an aspect of “correct view.” Silent Illumination isn’t a method; rather it is a metaphor for awakening to our true nature. It involves an awareness of the freshness of each moment as it unfolds. Each moment-to-moment experience is a “new beginning,” a manifestation of impermanence and emptiness. Silence is an aspect of our true nature, free from “stories” and notions of self.
By NINA HATTON
Making a vow affects us in ways that cause us to think and act with more focus, intention, and commitment than before we made the vow.
Having taken the Five Mindfulness Trainings almost 20 years ago and then committing as an aspirant of the Order of Interbeing two years ago, I have become aware that, for me, making a public vow has boosted and solidified my commitment to live in a way that aligned with the a life that brings me home to who I truly am, taking refuge in the Three Jewels and traveling on the Eightfold Path.
I have found that making such commitments not only makes the “way” more clear to me, but I feel energized by it. Making these vows had changed me in some ways, for the better. I used to feel that the Five Mindfulness Trainings were like a North Star for me, the direction was there, and provided support and guidance. Since committing to OI aspirancy, the image that has arisen is more like a “Yellow Brick Road” and this has encouraged and guided me even more. I can always see it, with all its beauty and promise, and truth. It’s the way home. The more I’ve learned from Fred, Angie Parrish, and other teachers at FCM, the clearer the path becomes.
At FCM we are incredibly fortunate to have an abundance of Intensives, retreats and workshops we can choose from to deepen our practice and our understanding of ourselves. The Way of the Bodhisattva, also known as the Bodhicharyavatara, was written by Shantideva, an 8th Century CE Indian monk, philosopher and poet.
While attending university as a young man, Shantideva's fellow students considered him to be quite a slacker, so they challenged him to give a Dharma talk in front of everyone. The discourse he gave literally blew everyone ’s minds. This seemingly lazy, disinterested young man eloquently, in long, elaborate, exquisite poetry, with the colorful, dramatic imagery of his time, presented step by step instructions on just how to relinquish one’s attachment to the Self and become a Bodhisattva.
Shantideva is quoted often. He takes us through systematic steps, beginning with extolling the excellence of bodhichitta, and on through deeper and deeper levels of how to combat our doubts, impatience, misdeeds, lack of diligence, and so on, ending with perseverance, meditation and wisdom.
In his fierce and convincing manner, Shantideva insists we examine our behaviors, reactions and mind states, convincing us that we really do want very much to relinquish the samsaric world and find joy and meaning in a bodhisattva way of life. To slay the ego and be solely alive for the purpose of helping others awaken, to help them heal and see the true nature of reality, is the mission of a Bodhisattva. As one of his verses teaches:
77. The source of sorrow it the pride of saying "I;"
It's fostered and increased by the false belief in self.
To this you may believe that there is no redress,
But meditation on no-self will be the supreme way.
Early in his treatise, Shantideva instructs us to make a commitment to follow this path of a Bodhisattva, to make our lives much happier by conquering the ego, (giving up feeding a false sense of self) and dedicating our lives to helping others wake up and reduce their suffering.
On March 14, thirty-two FCM members who had enrolled in the yearlong 2020 Intensive The Way of the Bodhisattva, took the Bodhisattva Vow in a ceremony conducted by Fred. Eleven bodhisattvas-to-be were present in the FCM Meditation Hall and the others took their vows via Zoom. Seven participants renewed the vows they had made in a previous year.
The ceremony was quite moving and the vow, which we all read in unison, was lovely and powerful. After the evening chant and incense chant, the ancient Bodhisattvas’ names were invoked and we all made prostrations to them, touching the earth.
Angie, Maria Teresa Jaureguizar and Fred each read offerings to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, Confession for Wrongdoing and the Seven-Limbed Prayer. Then we all repeated after Fred vows of Taking Refuge, Generating Bodhichitta, and the Bodhisattva Vow. After these, a Prayer of Rejoicing was read in unison by all.
At the end of the ceremony, participants walked up individually to Fred so that he could cut a lock of their hair. Those of us not physically present in the hall also cut a lock of our own hair at that time, and mailed it to Fred. He keeps the hair of his flock together, in the tradition of the Buddha.
For those of us who took the Bodhisattva Vow on March 14, I believe there is more joy and clarity in our walk along this path. I feel much gratitude for this opportunity to deepen my adherence to and reverence for this journey. And, to quote Ram Das, “we are all just walking each other home.”
Nina Hatton of Tallahassee is a retired speech-language pathologist who has been a member of FCM for four years, having studied Buddhism and practiced in the Plum Village tradition (off and on) for over 20 years. She is an OI aspirant about to ordain, along with six other OI aspirants from FCM, on May 2, and is co-lead of the FCM Membership Team.
By LIBBY DUNN
As Fred covered basic concepts from the detailed framework of Yogacara in the recent four-week study group, he encouraged us to approach it from the perspective of our practice, instead of approaching it as a philosophy.
By helping us to imagine the mind as an ever-evolving process, Yogacara provides a powerful source of motivation and encouragement that can support us when we become frustrated by challenges and setbacks along the way.
We first learned that every physical and mental phenomenon -- every “thing” -- has three simultaneous natures: conceptual, interdependent, and empty.
It helped me to understand that at the conceptual level, we interact with projections of our own (often mistaken) ideas! Instead, it’s better to focus on the interdependent nature of phenomena. When I’m thinking about people with whom I feel conflict, if I can reflect on how their actions -- like mine -- flow from many prior causes and conditions, it helps calm my unwholesome feelings and loosen my grip on strongly held ideas.
One practice I followed to help absorb this teaching on the three natures was to select a physical or mental “thing” several times during the day, then identify and reflect on each of its three natures. This simple reflection also helped remind me of relative and ultimate truth. The importance of asking “Am I sure?” became obvious when we learned about the three subjective transformations taking place continuously within our minds.
Yogacara understands the mind as having eight levels, with six sense consciousnesses operating at the surface, and a much larger part, called the alaya, operating below the surface. Manas also operates at this deeper level, taking its inputs from both alaya and the six senses. Manas transforms the raw data to create a distorted version of reality that prioritizes a sense of self, guided by manas’ deep inclination toward self-delusion, self-view, self-conceit, and self-love. These details about manas’ functions and inclinations have helped me understand how my mind works behind the scenes to actively distort my very perception of reality.
For me, one of the most powerful teachings from Yogacara is its description of the deeper mind as an ever-evolving process. If we relate this to Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings about the mind as a garden, it can motivate us to become much more attentive gardeners.
If we want greater spaciousness and ease in our minds, then we have no choice but to get busy as our minds’ gardeners to cultivate more wholesome seeds and/or fewer unwholesome seeds. Thay calls this process “transformation at the base” and he teaches us that the “goal of our meditation is to make a change at the root of manas and the store consciousness. (Understanding Our Mind, p. 106)."
This gives me an optimistic view of my own agency and capacity for transformation and healing. It motivates me to stay on the well-lit path of practice, do my best to follow the precious instructions, and trust that the practices we’re following are designed to propel us forward.
The teaching on the ever-evolving mind also encourages me. While we were studying Yogacara, I participated in the FCM-wide emphasis on aspirations and vows. I tried to set explicit aspirations and send some of them in daily text messages to my aspiration buddy.
When the aspiration practices helped me identify where I was having difficulties following through on my aspirations, the Yogacara teaching encouraged me not to become disheartened. Instead, I took refuge in the knowledge that my mind is an evolving process and that I can take steps today that will make it easier for me to fulfill my aspirations in the future.
Instead of wasting time in self-doubt and discouragement, I can take a moment to recall some of the positive changes I’ve experienced since first entering this path and then get back to tending my garden.
Libby Dunn has been an FCM member for five years. She lives in Gainesville with her husband and two dogs, while her two adult children live in Tampa.
By MARIA WINKLER
For four consecutive Friday evenings, eight members of FCM gathered virtually and shared reflections and personal insights inspired by our reading and study of the book, Happiness, by Matthieu Ricard, instead of pursuing the worldly idea of fun on a Friday night.
We were learning, studying and reflecting on life’s most important skill – learning how to be happy -- in the class “Cultivating Happiness in a Difficult and Changing World.”
It was the second time that I had worked with this book. This time I had volunteered to facilitate a discussion group, and that small step from participant to facilitator made a difference in how carefully I read the book and let the written word sink into my awareness.
Ricard’s approach is broad. He refers to many Western philosophers, such as Aristotle, Seneca, St. Augustine, Wittgenstein and others, and weaves in their knowledge and wisdom to support Buddhist insights and spiritual path.
Ricard posits that we all strive consciously or unconsciously to be happier – and that some do it competently, some clumsily. And I have to admit that I have been quite clumsy in my approach to happiness for decades.
For many years I thought and acted with the ingrained belief that if I just worked harder, applied better standards and set stricter boundaries in my work and private life and defended these boundaries vigorously, I would be happier. Now I realize I do not need to have the strictest of standards to be happy.
What I actually need is to change this notion “this is my territory – this is your territory!” When I approach family life, work and life in general with openness and a sense of interconnectedness and interdependence, I am kinder, less harsh in my expression and less demanding of myself and others. In other words, I am much happier.
Aristotle called happiness the ONLY goal! And St. Augustine posits that “the desire to be happy inspires every thought, every word, and every act so naturally that we are totally unaware of it.” This was such an “Aha” moment for me that I have this sentence underlined in red as well as highlighted in yellow. Imagine, EVERY act you do, EVERY word you say, EVERY thought you think is motivated by the desire to be happy! When I was wishing that someone would “drop dead,” all I was trying to do was to be happy?? How misguided!
“Dropping dead” thoughts made me feel jittery, made me feel lonely and prone to saying harsh words, and they did NOT make me happy! How could I have been so unaware of the effect of my mind states on my ability to be happy? It seems I needed to come to FCM, this “University of the Mind,” and listen to lectures, take courses, attend retreats and practice sessions and learn about the proven path to happiness!
Ricard gave us an exercise to look at how little one’s happiness is derived from outer circumstances and how much from one’s state of mind. I say harsh words and expect to be happy? I have judgmental thoughts, desiring or aversive thoughts and still believe they have no bearing on my inner harmony and fulfillment? Up until this reading and reflection, I really didn’t connect the dots.
Now that I have connected the dots between inner harmony and happiness and my thoughts, words and actions, I am slowing my life down. If I am going too fast, I miss the opportunity to recognize and be mindful of my desiring, craving or averting mind state. To let go of wanting or to let go of expecting a particular behavior or outcome is key for me.
Recognizing these expectations early in the mental game is most important. Often, I fail at early detection of the need for letting go. However, I catch myself more and more when angry or unwholesome thoughts arise. Then I close my eyes and pause to access inner calm. Or I look directly at the disturbing thought and something of its power is undermined and it dissipates. Now, l when I sit in meditation and practice to be centered and equanimous, more often than not, I feel grateful and happy.
Yes, it is true, we can cultivate happiness because happiness is essentially an interior state of being.
Maria Winkler is a retired mathematics educator and a yoga/wellness instructor and a member of FCM since 2012. She practices with the Naples Sangha.
By FRED EPPSTEINER
Some members have referred to the amount of programs offered by our community in the past ten months as a “fire hose of Dharma.”
Intensives, retreats, workshops, classes and daily guided meditations have all helped sustain and develop our members' capacities to lead more balanced, peaceful and open lives. Many have been able to use this time to devote more energy to learning the teachings of the Buddha and to practicing the way of mindfulness and meditation.
Upon reflecting, it seems a good idea to pause for a month and give our members an opportunity to catch up from all they’ve learned and experienced in 2020, to reflect on what has been most significant in their past year’s learnings, and decide what to focus on and integrate into their personal and practice life now and in the near future. We can’t practice every teaching and meditation that we’ve learned, so we need to decide what is most essential and needed at this time in our lives.
To help support our members during the month of January, we will be offering a free workshop, “Empowering Your Life with Aspiration and Vows,” on Saturday morning, January 23. In addition, I am suggesting that we ‘buddy-up” for the next four to six weeks to give an added boost to our intentions for the new year.
Many of you participated in our Beginning Anew ceremony and created your list of aspirations/intentions for the coming year. This first month is most important if we seek to implement changes in the way we think, act and behave. Having someone to check in with daily for just a few minutes around our specific change goals will produce a better outcome because this produces accountability. You will be receiving an email about this program in the next few days.
By CHARNER REESE
Seventy beings came together on Zoom recently to participate in a Daylong skillfully led by Diane Powell and Ken Lenington, where we deepened our understanding and practice of the Dharma so beautifully explained in Shantideva’s poem, The Way of the Bodhisattva. The focus of this retreat was on diligence and meditation, two of the Six Paramitas.
Knowing that wholehearted practice of the paramitas will bring us to the “other shore,” I sensed among our virtual community a heightened desire to learn and practice together the teachings being presented that day.
Particularly meaningful for me was the guided meditation on equalizing self and other, where Diane first read and explained some of the poem’s verses relating to this practice and then invited us to meditate, just as Shantideva did so many years ago:
Strive at first to meditate
Upon the sameness of yourself and others.
In joy and sorrow all are equal.
Thus be guardian of all, as of yourself.
Diane instructed us to choose someone in the online community to gaze upon, guiding us with specific reflections to contemplate as we looked into the eyes of another being, and in doing so, as Shantideva said in verse, “embrace a sacred mystery:”
Those desiring speedily to be
A refuge for themselves and others
Should make this interchange of “I” and “other”
And thus embrace a sacred mystery.
Suffering has no possessor.
Therefore no distinction can be made in it.
Since pain is pain, it is to be dispelled.
What use is there in drawing boundaries?
And so, why not identify
Another’s body, calling it my”I”?
And vice versa, why should it be hard
To think of this body as another’s?
So I chose the Sangha Sister in the Zoom square next to me. And as the guided reflections were stated one by one, I considered them as they related to her. One might think it would be difficult to do this virtually, but in fact that sacred truth of interbeing was experienced in those brief moments.
Once the guided meditation concluded, Diane asked us to do this meditation regularly, both in formal meditation and in daily life, because as with every practice to transform our minds, it is an ongoing process. And so the process continues. May all beings be happy!
A deep bow of gratitude to Ken and Diane for leading this retreat.
Charner Reese has been a member of FCM’s Tampa Sangha since 2011.
Florida Community of Mindfulness, Tampa Center
6501 N. Nebraska Avenue
Tampa, FL 33604
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St Petersburg Sangha