It is 5:00 am at the second day of our Mindfulness Retreat. I wake up in the dark with a terrible itch on my left foot. I guess that it is probably fire ant bites from walking in the woods. The itch is overwhelming, it drives me crazy. I start scratching as hard as I can, until I feel it starts to bleed. The itching just gets worse.
After 10 minutes, I finally pause my scratching and attempt to practice “accepting what is”. I breath in and breath out of the terrible itch, and try to have an openhearted curiosity about what it is like to have a big itch. I do my very best to accept the experience, rather than to change it.
I have to say, I am not completely up for the challenge. I fail several times at holding back my scratching. Half of my brain would like to apply a sander to get rid of the itch. The other half gradually surrenders and succeeds at breathing in and out of the big itch.
Eventually I fall back asleep.
The next morning I wake up with less itch and a little more understanding about what I believe Thich Nhat Hanh means by wholesome and unwholesome seeds in our consciousness.
“Whether we have happiness or not depends on the seeds in our consciousness. If our seeds of compassion, understanding, and love are strong, those qualities will be able to manifest in us. If the seeds of anger, hostility and sadness in us are strong, then we will experience much suffering.” Thich Nhat Hanh
At the surface it might seem that Thich Nhat Hanh is making a distinction between good and bad, right and wrong, an instruction to only water the ‘good’ seeds. A moral dichotomy.
After my itchy experience, I see this differently. He is instead simply inviting us to be present with whatever is: to make our choice based on our most mindful vision for ourselves and others. If I want to keep my foot happy, I better stop scratching, even if the scratching feels good in the moment.
By extension, I imagine that if I want more happiness, peace, and love in my life, I might do better if I water the seeds of happiness, peace, love, understanding, and compassion in myself. If I want more conflict, suffering, or stress I might focus on watering the seeds of anger, fear, deficit.
When we are in choice about which seeds we water, we can be in choice of how we experience our lives. This is a practice with no right or wrong, just trying, and failing. Then trying again. Failing. Sometimes doing things that are not so wholesome, but feel good in the moment. We try to be curious and we try again. We continue until we are practiced enough to transform unwholesome habits into more wholesome ones.
Which seeds do you nurture within yourself? Let me know, I would love to read from you.
Walking Mindfully, Walking Happily
It’s March 2017, SXSW week in Austin. A week bustling with thousands of participants trying to get to their coffee, their meetups, their conferences, screenings, and social gatherings in time.
It’s also the week of the premiere of “Walk With Me“, a documentary about monastic life in the mindful communities founded by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Seven monastics flew in from France and Deer Park, California to support the movie. In the middle of the chaos of the Austin Convention Center, they led an hour of mindful walking. An action to nurture a sense of peace, presence and love to the event.
I joined once. I was excited to walk with the monastics in a setting so different from our usual private Sunday Sangha.
When I returned a second time, it was because I was so moved by the first experience.
I feel so touched to see random people ask if they can join our walk. I see them invite friends to walk with them, happy to talk about what mindfulness means to them. I feel delighted to see dozens of new smiling faces carefully take a step, then another, focusing on their breath, feeling their feet touch the Earth. We walk as a river, balancing our individual footsteps with the pace of the community.
“Happiness is here and now
I have dropped my worries
Nowhere to go, nothing to do
No longer in a hurry.
Happiness is here and now
I have dropped my worries
Somewhere to go, something to do
But I don’t need to hurry.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh
I am moved by how inspiring we can be when we offer our suggestions with Santa Claus energy: “Hohoho, wouldn’t life be more wonderful if you joined me for mindful walking?”
If we share what is important to us with an openness to hear a ‘no, I believe we are more likely to get a ‘yes’. Without the force of demand energy, our childlike excitement to share what we imagine is helpful to others becomes contagious.
What can you offer with Santa Claus energy? Which gift can you contribute to the buffet of life-enriching choices?
Let me know. I’m curious to read your special offering.
Have you ever met your inner child?
At the Mindfulness Retreat I attended with my Thich Nhat Hanh Sangha last weekend.
I was enthralled by the workshop Gale and Curt organized for us. I valued the support for deep self-connection, the safety of our group, the sharing in our circle, the individual and pair work it offered.
I cried a lot.
And yet, I was not suffering. I was not even sad. I was just touched to spend time with my inner child.
My inner child has a sense of innocence, happiness and excitement about life. She is curious and eager to learn and contribute. She is satisfied with where she’s at and doesn’t need much.
She certainly doesn’t need the forcefulness of a protector — a protector who lives in the fear and responses she created when I was around eight years old. A protector who still thinks it is 1973 – who believes she has to scramble to get a pancake before they are eaten by her siblings. A protector who still carries the fear that her siblings will start to talk over her as soon as she starts to tell about her day and stutters.
My inner child knows better.
She knows that was then and now is now. She doesn’t fear that there isn’t enough, or afraid that she doesn’t matter. She simply trusts that we share our basic goodness and that the world is a fantastic place – waiting to be explored and enjoyed. My inner child engages people and life with openness, authenticity and vulnerability.
I am so moved to meet her.
As I look at her, I understand Thich Nhat Hanh’s Second Mindfulness Training in a whole new way:
True Happiness: “…I can live happily in the present moment, simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy…”
I always thought that those conditions referred to my material well-being, my physical health, my marriage and friendships. This weekend I learned they do not. The conditions of my happiness are the unconditional acceptance and love I receive from my inner child. With her I can relax. With her I can manifest my true self and realize my dreams.
Contact me 512-589-0482 to understand and nourish the conditions of your happiness.
Thank you, David Nayer, for editing this blog at such a late notice. My life is richer by your support.
Did I climb the ladder against the wrong wall? Did I get faster to a place I didn’t want to go? Am I being a manager instead of an effective leader?
“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” (Peter Drucker in: Covey, S. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 2013, p. 108)
As I wind down from all my excitement and focus on SXSW and reap the fruits of my investments, I wonder if I lost some of my mindfulness and compassion along the way. Was I so rushed to finish all my chores (print business cards, update website, register for Square, install online scheduling tool, post Tweets and FB messages), that I forgot it’s not about what we do? That it’s about who we are and the intention behind our action? About the values we are serving, more than about the actions we complete or not complete?
I realize that in the hassle to get things done, I neglected my spiritual nourishment. I haven’t been to my mindfulness Sangha in more than two months. I haven’t read Thich Nhat Hanh’s writings in more than four weeks, I hardly sat on my meditation cushion since I came back from the Netherlands in February.
Reviewing all I did and didn’t do, AND all I was and wasn’t, I realize that at the end of my life I probably won’t care about the success of my business, the money I made, the fame I built. At the end of my life I hope that others will appreciate me for how caring I was, how I focused on connection, how I walked towards conflict and misunderstanding to resolve it, and how dedicated I was towards empathy and compassion.
And I make a new pledge to myself: “I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion, and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair” (Second Mindfulness Training, transmitted to me by Thich Nhat Hanh in 2011 with my Dharma name “Joyful Harmony of the Heart”).
That’s all I am asking of myself: To master the art of friendship in the context of mindfulness.
You want help to be a leader in your own life? Contact me, 512-589-0482 for a free, discovery session.
Thank you, David Nayer, for editing this post during your travels. I am inspired by your dedication to contribute!
Mara brought me a visit today. Right during meditation.
He usually does that. I don’t know how he knows when I’m gonna sit -my schedule is rather erratic- but he knows. As if he is around the corner, waiting for me to ring the bell, then barge into my room, pull up a chair, and talk right in my face. Rather loudly too. I never understood how my husband sleeps through his barking, but he does.
Mara rants in a non-stop stream of words: “You should do butterflies to transform your pain, not this stupid chunking along with your plans. You’re too attached to your ego, you don’t live from your heart. You’re not funny enough, your website doesn’t have nearly as much humor as your sister’s. You’re not giving enough, you don’t really love from your heart, serving without attachment or expectation.”
A constant cascade of words that undermine my self-confidence, self-acceptance, and self-compassion.
This time it’s different. I remember how Mara threw arrows at Buddha, and how Buddha transformed each of them into flowers.
Mara is just doing what he is supposed to do: to create a world of illusion, of suffering, of despair. Nothing wrong with that. We each have a role to play, and Mara is playing his to the best of his abilities. There would not be any mindfulness, any compassion, if it were not for the suffering in the world.
No mud, no lotus.
All I need to do is to bring my awareness back to my breath, my thoughts, my feelings.
Breathing in, I know I am breathing in.
Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.
Breathing in, I know I have feelings of loneliness, sadness, shame in me.
Breathing out, I smile to the feelings of loneliness, sadness, shame in me.
Breathing in, I know I have seeds of solidity and peace in me.
Breathing out, I smile to the seeds of solidity and peace in me.
I look at Mara. He looks rather cute on the tiny, red seahorse chair. “Hey friend, thank you for visiting me. I would love to hear what you have to say. I’ll listen to you after my sit.”
Breathing in, I know I have unconditional love in me.
Breathing out, I smile to the unconditional love in me.
You want help to smile to all your thoughts, feelings, and sensations? Contact me for a free, discovery session. I would be delighted to help, 512-589-0482.