remember to live

The deaths of two people I never met inspired this post.

Yesterday a man and his dog were killed by a drunk driver one block away from my house. Not even one block away. I wasn’t home when it happened but I am sure I would have heard the crash and the neighbors’ screams and the police because this is a very quiet neighborhood. The truth is that it could have just as easily been me because I also walk in the morning on the street where he was killed. Yesterday morning I did not.

A 57 year old man was walking his dog around 6:30 AM. A drunk driver was speeding, left the road, struck mailboxes, and then hit the man and his dog. He then went back on the street and hit an SUV, pushing it into a front yard. He got out and tried to run away. He was charged with aggravated driving under the influence, reckless homicide, failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident, driving on a revoked license, and failure to give information or aid.

Today my husband attended the wake of the husband of one of his employees. The man was undergoing chemotherapy after a cancer operation and after leaving the hospital after his treatment, he was walking across the parking lot to his car and literally dropped dead. He was 41 years old. My husband stood in line for 90 minutes at the funeral home because there were so many people waiting to pay their respects.

Incidents such as these always make me question how people live their lives. I always tell my husband to live each day as if it will be his last. I try to follow my own advice and after being on this yogic and spiritual path for quite some time, the little things just don’t bother me anymore. The clothes get folded when they get folded, the dishes get done when they get done. Sometimes even the bigger things just don’t phase me anymore.

People come to my classes totally stressed about one thing or the other and sometimes I throw the question out there: how would you live if you knew you only had one more hour to live? What good does all that attachment to the past and fear of the future do for you now? If you knew you only had one more hour to live I guarantee you that you would start cherishing each moment and each breath. I challenge you: visualize it, really feel it in your bones — what would it be like to know you will be dead at the end of an hour?

Contemplating death is an important aspect of Buddhism, yet fear of death is a major fear for most people. It is said that all our fears in life stem from our fear of death. Buddha said that death is certain but the time of death is uncertain. When we allow this reality to become conscious, it jolts us awake to life’s juiciness and heightens our awareness of the beauty and uniqueness of everything.

So why can’t you live as if you were dying? Our delusion is that we live as if we will never die.

It’s a physics fact that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. As a Buddhist I believe that it follows from that fact that what is never born can never die. I heard the Dalai Lama say that “what is never born can never die” in a teaching on dependent origination.

My body will die, but what makes me me will never die — my life energy, my prana, my chi, my soul, my spirit, or whatever you want to call it, will continue on. Fully realizing that was liberation. I no longer fear death or dying. That realization helps me to truly enjoy life, every living, breathing present moment, the good AND the bad. I am as equally grateful for the bad as I am for the good.

It has made me fear-less.

How will you remember to live?


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Happy Saga Dawa!

In the Tibetan tradition, June 7 was Saga Dawa, a remembrance of the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha. Saga Dawa is the entire fourth month of the Tibetan calendar which this year began on May 25 and ends on June 22. The seventh day of Saga Dawa, May 30, is the day of the historical Buddha’s birth for Tibetans. However, the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and entry into Nirvana at his death are observed together on the 15th day of Saga Dawa which was June 7.

A faithful reader sent me this link to a series of gorgeous photos and pithy dharma quotes in the blog of a very talented photographer: Gritz Photo Blog. One bit of wisdom from the blog:

“Conflicting emotions come from within this mind, this inner security we have set up for ourselves, where we think of our emotions as legitimate. For the world to function it is not necessary to have a belief that it is real or permanent. If I am convinced that all phenomena are impermanent I am convinced that my distractions will be reduced. We have to give up wrong views, an improper attitude towards others, that everyone is ever lasting …There is a discrepancy between how things are and how we see them.

We know everything is impermanent but we would rather see it as permanent.”
–Jigme Khyentse Rinpoche

Tomorrow I am off to Vermont for seven days to attend Level 2 training of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy. I’m excited about seeing Vermont as the only place I’ve been out east is Washington, DC. Funny how I’ve been to India three times and never to New England. Here is what I wrote about how I resonated with the Level 1 training. We shall see what Level 2 brings.

may all beings have happiness the causes of happiness.
may all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.
may all beings never be parted from freedom’s true joy.
may all beings dwell in equanimity, free from attachment and aversion.


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shhhhh…..


Sindhu of Flower Girl’s Rural India commented on my sense of my new found spaciousness. She said that she felt the same:

“I practice Silence “Mouna”

My dad used to practice this for a Mandala period, when he would be on complete silence….I am refraining from responding unless otherwise required. I have reduced responding nearly 70% to 75%. (I’m very talkative)

It has given me real inner peace.”

In 9 days I leave for Spirit Rock Meditation Center to do the last retreat of my Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation Training. While we can talk a bit during the yoga training, the rest of the time we are in silence. I can’t tell you how much I love that. But when I tell people that I’ve been on more than few silent retreats, even yoga teachers say, “no way could I do that.”

Those sentiments lead me to thinking about speech in general, but particularly the first principle of ethical conduct in Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path which is RIGHT OR WISE SPEECH.

Silence makes people uncomfortable. I’m not a big talker to begin with, especially around people I don’t know, and that makes people uncomfortable.

We had to read Phillip Moffitt’s book Dancing With Life: Buddhist Insights for Finding Meaning and Joy in the Face of Suffering for this retreat (and I highly recommend this book.) When I read the chapter on Right Speech I kept nodding my head:

“The practice of right speech is built around meeting three conditions simultaneously:

Say only what is true and useful and timely. If any one of these criteria isn’t met, then silence is the wise form of speech. This is such a simple formula and easy to recall even in moments of strong emotion, but it is very hard to execute even under the best conditions, because the grasping mind corrupts speech faster than it does action….

You may not realize the aggressive nature of your speech until you try to make it a mindfulness practice….

Applying the filter of saying only what is useful is even harder. We live in a culture where ‘speaking your truth’ is promoted as a form of empowerment and good communication. Yet this is not the case if your words don’t provide useful information or better understanding….

Practicing right speech includes actively refraining from giving unsolicited opinions or stating your view when it serves no purpose….You also don’t use the truth as a weapon for making yourself look better in comparison to another, or to put others in their place…don’t use speech to satisfy your ego.

Right speech involves listening from the heart…you give full attention to the words of others and listen without judging, preparing a response, or comparing….

You may utilize right speech with others, but have violent, unsettling or crippling interior speech.”
(DWL, pp.233-236)

I am the first to admit that my mouth has gotten me into trouble over these many years. Not that I say malicious or hateful things to people, but I am outspoken and am guilty of giving unsolicited advice (especially about yoga.) But the longer I am on this Path, I am much more mindful of things I say. Believe me, I try, and intention and motivation are everything. I think before I open my mouth and if it serves no useful purpose then I usually keep my mouth shut (my friends might disagree with that but they can also keep their mouths shut…;)).

I also pay close attention to when I listen with an open heart. I notice whether I am fully present when someone is speaking to me. I notice whether my Ego is telling me “I wish they’d shut up….hey, I have to get some rice milk on the way home…I have to call….” I think you get the idea. I have heard the Dalai Lama admit that in meetings even he thinks “this is boring. I’m hungry. I want some tea.” True story.

Now with the internet and things like blogs and Facebook, it’s this Buddhist’s opinion that Right or Wise Speech is even more important. Right Speech also refers to the written word.

As bloggers many of us have dealt with trolls on our blogs, people who write nasty comments or argue with everything you write or insult your other readers. Useless.

As for emails I’m sure there is not one person reading this who has not regretted firing off a nasty response to someone and it’s come back to bite them in their yoga butt. I am very familiar with that one. I wrote an unflattering email about someone and sent it to the person I was writing about instead of to the person I had intended to send it — definitely the epitome of mindLESSness, not mindfulness. But I had the guts to own up to it and called the woman to apologize. I knew that this yoga teacher had said some untrue and nasty things about me before I wrote my email but two wrongs don’t make a right.

As for blogs, online newspapers, and Facebook and MySpace, we all know the things that are said publicly on those websites. Accusations, misrepresentations, insults, oneupsmanship, always having to get in the last word, you name it. We can agree to disagree but it’s good to remember to “say only what is true and useful and timely.” As I told my husband four years ago when he was not supportive of my going to India the first time, “if you have nothing positive to say then don’t say anything at all.”

One of my students told me about her 9 year old niece who she said was out of control ADD. She said that ever since the girl was born there has never been a moment of silence in her brother’s house, that a radio or TV is always playing, ever since this girl was one day old. I thought that supported Jon Kabat-Zinn’s belief in his book Coming To Our Senses that it is not the ADD child who is dysfunctional, the entire family is dysfunctional — we are an ADD nation. Think of all the people you see and know who are always texting, talking on a cell phone, or listening to their IPods non-stop. The thought of never being still or silent boggles my mind. We all know people who talk just for the sake of talking and end up saying nothing.

I am far from perfect and it will probably take me another lifetime or two to get over my penchant for sarcasm. I can certainly be the queen of yoga snark. I will always speak my truth but I’m definitely more mindful of what I say and how I say things. Intention and motivation are everything and each moment of mindfulness and awareness is a step closer to awakening. As Sarah Powers said in the last workshop I did with her, her favorite teachers are the ones who are also human as they teach and try to live the dharma. I am certainly human.

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books for your Buddhist path

In a comment to this post Kristen asked for book suggestions to start exploring a Buddhist path.

I first read books on Buddhism and the other Eastern wisdom traditions when I was in high school and college over 30 years ago. I put them down and picked them up again when I started back on the yoga path. I was in a different place so they resonated with me in a different way. I can not separate my spirituality from yoga although the yoga teacher trainings that I know of rarely mention Buddhism. I think that’s unfortunate, but that’s me. Here are my suggestions:

Of course, a good translation of The Dhammapada. I recommend Eknath Easwaran.

Whenever a beginner asks me what book they should start with I always recommend Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das. Clear, concise, simple but not simplistic. I’ve read the book about five times.

What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula. A great book for the traditional teachings.

Buddhism, Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen. Classic.

Any book by Jack Kornfield, especially Seeking the Heart of Wisdom: The Path of Insight Meditation and A Path With Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life (my favorite.)

I’ve studied both Theravadan and Tibetan Buddhism, so in the Shambhala tradition, books by Chogyam Trungpa: Journey Without a Goal: The Tantric Wisdom of the Buddha and Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior. My two favorite phrases that Trungpa uses are “spiritual materialism” and “idiot compassion.” You can google those.

Being Dharma: The Essence of the Buddha’s Teachings by Ajahn Chah, Jack Kornfield’s teacher.

Loving-Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness by Sharon Salzberg.

Buddha Takes No Prisoners: A Meditator’s Survival Guide by Patrick Ophuls. One of my favorites.

Dancing with Life: Buddhist Insights for Finding Meaning and Joy in the Face of Suffering by Phillip Moffitt (which I have to finish before returning to Spirit Rock at the end of April!)

Good Life, Good Death by my teacher, Gelek Rimpoche. Contemplating my own death made me feel so much more alive and in a way liberated me because I know that what is never born can never die. That realization is freedom.

This a very short list but I believe these books contain the essence, at least for me. Some of these books will not resonate with you because we are all different. Search amazon.com or any book store and you will find hundreds more books and a hundred more authors. Just as there are different styles of Christianity, there are different styles of Buddhism: Zen, Theravadan, Mahayana, Vajrayana, Pure Land, etc. Walking my own path I’ve found that it all boils down to the same thing, the essence of Buddha’s teachings: The Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, nothing more, nothing less.

The picture above is Prajna Paramita, the Mother of All Buddhas. Here is the most well-known quote from the Heart Sutra, an essential discourse on Prajna Paramita:

“Form is emptiness,
Emptiness is form,
Form is not other than emptiness,
Emptiness is not other than form.”

Simple.

OM MANI PADME HUM

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this is me on yoga


not really, but it looks like me….I have cats, I have the dark, curly hair, I have the incense and the mala and the orange walls in my yoga room.

I bought this giclee from the Shambhala Sun, a Buddhist magazine that I’ve subscribed to for a long time. had to have it, and yes, very un-Buddhist of me to be attached to it. the artist is Tatjana Krizmanic, an artist and illustrator from Croatia and a Buddhist practitioner.

The painting was the cover of one of the Shambhala Sun’s yoga issues. their current yoga and Buddhism issue is on sale right now so check it out.

If you want to buy some giclees of their covers and other art that appeared in past issues, check out this link (my giclee was on sale when I bought it.) you’ll find calligraphy by Thich Naht Hanh and the work of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. and who wouldn’t want a giclee of George Washington meditating?

Shambhala Sun is an independent nonprofit corporation, so the art you buy funds their organization — help keep them publishing and spreading the dharma.

dharma in your world, dharma on your walls!

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where the rubber hits the road

“Buddhism is a practice,” says Levine. “It’s not a bumper sticker. It’s not about attending the Dalai Lama’s teachings with 10,000 other people. It’s about practicing generosity in your daily life. It’s getting on your ass and training your own mind on your meditation cushion.”

from Dive-bar Dharma

Considering that I just spent two days in the Dalai Lama’s teachings in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the last paragraph from this salon.com article was pretty potent.

I love that quote — get off your ass to get your ass on the cushion or on your yoga mat.

I am certainly guilty of laziness just like the next person, but when I feel the need to get my yoga butt on the cushion or the mat, I do it. it may not be daily, but I stopped beating myself up about that a long time ago. it is a tangible feeling I get in my body that says “get thee to your yoga room” or to someone’s class.

I teach seven classes a week so I need to feel another’s yoga. I did my first teacher training in 2002 and I still go to my trainer’s studio in Chicago every other week, besides doing my own personal yoga therapy practice. frankly, I don’t understand how any yoga teacher can NOT do their own practice or take someone else’s yoga class because you always have to feed and nourish your own practice or else you become stale, at least in my opinion.

How can a teacher feed his or her students unless they are feeding themselves? in my mind, it’s impossible. when I returned from India this third time I really felt like I needed to stop teaching for a while and totally immerse myself in being a student again. I just might do that — I’m feeling in my bones that I need to spend 6 months in India but that involves giving up my classes, a scary thought giving up my yoga security — you know, all that attachment and clinging.

My siddha yoga sista in California told me that it’s her experience to see people return from long India retreats to find their “material world” suddenly do a change up for the better. she asked me, “what would happen if you went, like you’d come back and nobody would sign up for classes? I don’t think so…because when you’re off on your retreat, you’ll be posting on your blog and otherwise stay connected to your past students and other interested types, even once a month, just to keep it fresh and alive. …I tell ya, sista, when you’re plugged into the divine Ma Shakti of India, good stuff happens…”

In her book Bringing Yoga to Life, Donna Farhi writes:

“…determine whether this teacher has his or her own strongly developed personal practice. Such a teacher will naturally stress the importance of self-practice. Teachers who believe that teaching class is their personal practice are likely using the students as their motivation for practice and have probably yet to develop a strong allegiance with their own inner atman. …Any teacher who claims that personal practice is no longer necessary has probably stopped learning and is ill prepared to foster an appetite for fresh inquiry in students.”

I am always a student first, and a teacher second.


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in his presence again

I leave tomorrow for Ann Arbor, Michigan where His Holiness the Dalai Lama will give a teaching. I will see him again in July when he visits Madison, Wisconsin.

Last year I wrote about the first time I saw him in Madison, which was an incredible experience. to be in his presence is simply amazing. as soon as he appeared on stage I felt my heart chakra open and I broke down in tears — not tears of sadness, but tears of joy, happiness. I expect that I will do that again.

Christian fundamentalists demonstrated against His Holiness last year in Madison. This year the Chinese will be demonstrating — from the Jewel Heart website:

“A Statement by Gelek Rimpoche, April 15th

I am aware that a group of Chinese Students have applied for permission from the University to stage a demonstration during this weekend’s teaching at Crisler Arena. We support all non-violent expression of free speech and expect anyone attending the teaching to respect that right of expression without confrontation. We do not anticipate these demonstrations to interfere with any of our programs.”

To listen to excerpts from Gelek Rimpoche’s teachings on the events in Tibet, compassion, and more, click below:

http://downloads.thespringbox.com/web/wrapper.php?file=RSSReader.sbw

The Dalai Lama has said how the events in Tibet have upset him:

“As pro-China demonstrators waved signs in downtown Rochester on Wednesday, the Dalai Lama admitted to having feelings of helplessness in recent weeks. “Since March, last month, my mind is much disturbed,”….

When asked about how he keeps his composure amid recent troubles, the Dalai Lama said he never loses compassion for people, choosing instead to focus on the negative emotions that cause their actions.

“I take their afflictions to task,” he said.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate added that he has coped with recent difficulties by practicing tonglen, a meditation technique in which a meditator mentally takes on the suffering of other people and sends out warm feelings in an effort to alleviate that suffering.

When facing disturbances in life, the Dalai Lama said, it’s important to keep a basic mental attitude of calm and inner strength.”

The Dalai Lama has always said that he is a simple monk. so for him to say that his mind is disturbed comforts me. it comforts me to know that even the Dalai Lama feels helpless sometimes, as I do. each of us can take a lesson from His Holiness about compassion, and next time when I have my own doubts about myself, whether I am “good enough” for this Path, I won’t beat myself up (so much….)

I will endeavor to keep His Holiness’ words about compassion in mind when I see the Chinese flag waved in protest of the Dalai Lama. I admit that it will be very difficult (pictures of Tibetans shot dead by Chinese armed police), but I will recite the prayer that I use to end my classes:

may all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness

may all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering

may all beings never be parted from freedom’s true joy

may all beings dwell in equanimity, free from attachment and aversion

I will write about his teaching when I return.

OM MANI PEDME HUM

PEACE

SHANTI

SALAAM ALEIKUM

SO SHALL IT BE



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