Thursday, March 31, 2011

April Daily Practice: Enlighten Up!

April.... it's Spring in the Northern Hemisphere, but if you're in the Southern Hemisphere, it's a good time to "enlighten up" as well!

What do I mean by "enlighten up?" Primarily, it's not taking ourselves all that seriously all the time. It's learning to smile at our 'foibles' and 'follies.' One of my favorite "Dalai Lama Stories," is told by Sharon Salzberg. Apparently, the Dalai Lama was interested in having a tour of Gethsemene Monastery to see how they managed to be self-sufficient. As usual, he was accompanied by a retinue of other Buddhist teachers (including Sharon) as well as the ever-present media.

During the tour, the Dalai Lama learned that the monastery makes both cakes and pastries as well as cheese. At the conclusion of the tour, the abbot presented the Dalai Lama with a big wheel of cheese. The Dalai Lama took the wheel of cheese in his hand, looked at it, then looked up with that marvelous twinkle in his eyes and said, "But I was hoping for a cake!" And then he burst out in his famous belly-laugh! When I heard Sharon tell this story, she remarked that in that moment, she realized that if she had been in the Dalai Lama's position, she too would have preferred the cake, but would have played the "Spiritual Person" part and accepted the cheese with a smile (while feeling disappointment inside).

The Dalai Lama, however, showed that he could not take his role, his identity, or his preferences so seriously that he couldn't laugh at himself!

So, this month, perhaps we can remember (sati, usually translated as "mindfulness" actually refers to remembering) to 'enlighten up' when we catch ourselves taking ourselves overly seriously. We can set the stage by sitting up at the side of the bed when we awake in the morning and placing our hands in anjali, (palms pressed together at the heart) and smiling while taking three breaths.  Then, throughout the day -- whenver we find ourselves lost in that serious drama in our heads -- we can pause, practice smiling anjali, and take three breaths. If we are in mixed company, we can skip the anjali, but please, don't skip the smile and three breaths!   :-)

AND, really.... I would LOVE to hear from more of you! There are 124 "Followers" of the blog, and I would really like to hear from you! Please offer any ideas for future "Daily Practices" as well as sharing how these practices are for you.

in metta, and with a big smile,
poep sa

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Book Club: A Twisted Story by Jill Satterfield

Obviously, as the nature of this chapter is so personal, and simply put, one person’s story of her yogic path, I am not about to address it as I have the other chapters. There is no ‘agreement’ or ‘disagreement,’ no real comments possible, other than the following.

I had the pleasure and honor of finally meeting Jill (I had had some brief e-mail exchanges back when I lived in NY) during the first Spirit Rock Mindfulness Yoga Teacher Training, where she shared her story with the group. I was moved then, and I was moved once again while reading her story.

I think it should be manifestly clear from her story just how non-dual the body and mind are. My teacher, Samu Sunim, always spoke of mindbody (which more or less translates the Sanskrit term namarupa). Rupa is form, and in particular refers to the body, and nama, from which we get the word, “name,” refers to what in Buddhism would be called the other four aggregates (skandhas): feelings, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness.

Even before I met Jill, we bonded over an e-mail exchange where she wrote me to offer her agreement and gratitude in response to a letter to the editor I had had published in Shambhala Sun. My letter spoke to the point that in the Buddha’s teaching of the First Foundation of Mindfulness, it is eminently clear that all activities of the body, from walking, bending, reaching, and twisting or turning to the side to defecating, urinating, eating and bathing can – and should become – expressions of practice. Jill says the same thing in the section entitled “Sitting Straight” when she writes: “…practicing a Yoga posture became just another shape in which to meditate.” My only comment would be to say, make that ‘hatha-yoga posture’ as Yoga itself is meditation – or perhaps more precisely, the meditative ‘stance’ or attitude of mind.

As she states in the section “Straight To The Heart,” with the awareness a master teacher such as Jill brings to her teaching, the postures of hatha-yoga can indeed become a “doorway into the mind,” and one that may often be more accessible to many folk who would find sitting meditation much too difficult to engage in. Mindfulness of the body “in the body” is the meditative approach to cultivating greater intimacy with the body – and seemingly paradoxical – just what allows one to come to the realization that body is not-Self! In order to touch the water of the ocean, one must penetrate the wave. The wave is the ocean; form is emptiness. Yet, we cannot touch the water without touching the wave; emptiness is form!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

March Daily Practice: Mindful Eating

Ah, March is here and Spring is in the air. Here in Tucson, our windows and doors are open, the birds are singing, the chickens are laying, and the hiking is lovely!

For this month, I thought we’d take up the practice of “Mindful Eating.” Now, before any of you grumble and complain, I am not necessarily suggesting what you should eat, nor how, other than suggesting chewing your food a bit more than you most likely do now. There’s no need to count your chews or anything, but notice when the urge to swallow arises, and simply chew a few more times, savoring and noticing any changes. What have you been avoiding by swallowing when you normally do?

I remember the first time I participated in an “Apple Meditation,” eating one apple mindfully. I found that my conditioned tendency was to swallow as soon as the intense sweet taste started to fade. By continuing to chew, I found that the taste became a bit ‘sour’ or tart, then bitter, until eventually, the skin was just about all that was left and it had a definite ‘astringent’ quality. This amazed me!

In Ayurvedic teaching, there are six ‘tastes’ (rasa): sweet, sour, salt, pungent, bitter, astringent. These can be thought of as forms of prana or even ‘intelligence.’ When we eat the apple just for its sweetness, we only assimilate one ‘code of intelligence.’ No wonder one apple is rarely ‘fulfilling.’ I found that when I chew the apple, and experience the other tastes (four of the six!), I actually feel more satiated from the apple. It’s like I assimilate more of the energy/intelligence the apple has to offer.

In any event, we can practice a very simple form of Mindful Eating, by first sitting down to eat; turn off the radio or tv; and refrain from reading while eating. If you have the opportunity to eat an occasional meal in silence, that’s great!

The following “Contemplation” and “Meal Gatha” are simply ‘bells of mindfulness’ allowing us to take a few moments to really look at, and acknowledge, the food we are about to consume. As Thich Nhat Hanh has said, if we do not pay attention to the food, it is not real to us, and we cease to be ‘real.’ "If the broccoli is real, we are real."

At Plum Village, the following Five Contemplations are said before meals. As you will see, they are a specific form of the traditional Meal Gatha:

1.    This food is a gift of the whole universe – the earth, the sky, and much hard work.
2.    May we live in a way that makes us worthy to receive it.
3.    May we transform our unskillful states of mind, especially our greed, and learn to eat in moderation.
4.    May we take only foods that nourish us and prevent illness.
5.    We accept this food so that we may realize the path of practice.

Meal Gatha

First, seventy-two labors broght us this food; we should know how it comes to us.
Second, as we receive this offering, we should consider whether our virtue and practice deserve it.
Third, as we desire the natural order of mind to be free from clinging, we must be free from greed.
Fourth, to support our life, we take this food.
Fifth, to attain our way, we take this food.

First, this food is for the Three Treasures.
Second, it is for our teachers, parents, nation, and all sentient beings.
Third, it is for all beings in the six worlds.
Thus we eat this food with everyone.
We eat to stop all evil,
To practice good,
To save all beings
And to accomplish our
Buddha Way.

Please, enjoy your food, and do please share your practice here at the Mindfulness Yoga Blog. What kind of reaction or response arises when you read and contemplate the above verses? What is your experience of slowing down (a wee bit) and really savoring what is on your plate?

in metta,
poep sa frank jude