Thursday, February 22, 2018
Recently I was sharing some of my travel experiences with a friend who also does quite a lot of traveling, even though she has a serious disease that limits her capacity to walk or climb stairs. Still, she travels the world, seeing family and friends, attending retreats and workshops. Our conversation led to exchanging stories of other friends with severe health limitations, and how frustrating it can be to cope with the endless changes that arrive every day, due to health issues and ordinary aging, but also because everything is always changing, and we both feel our aging and slowing down affects our voyaging. At one point, one of us said, "if only there was less change involved in living! We talked about the challenges of leaving home, and the longing to find a place to settle.
Being present with constant change is one of the primary practices in Zen. First, of course, we have to recognize that change is actually occurring. It's much more obvious with the big events -- health crises, the ending of relationships, elections, travel...but it's the daily small changes where we get to practice a more subtle recognition. Every moment is different from the one before, and even our sense of who we are continually shifts. Once we notice this, we may get a bit knocked off-kilter, and the root koans of "Who am I?" and "What is This?" can arise.
On Saturday, James Cordova, Sensei, David Rynick, Roshi and I taught our first "Buddhism 101" class of the winter on the subject of the Sixteen Bodhisattva precepts, which begin with the three refuges. I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. One way we came to understand this taking refuge was that the Buddha is our own awakened heart, the Dharma is the way things are, and the Sangha is the group of people we practice with, both formally in meditation at the Temple, and more generally, with everyone we encounter. And these three jewels of awakening, reality and community are always available in some shape or form.
So, in the midst of constant change, I practice taking refuge. And this means that every moment is an opportunity to come home.
Sunday, February 11, 2018
Pictured at left is the doorway to El Silencio, the classroom at the Blue Spirit Resort in Guanacaste Province in Costa Rica where I just taught a week-long intensive called Mindful Living. My old friend and teaching partner, Florence Meleo-Meyer and I have been offering this stripped-down version of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program for 12 years, and my husband David Rynick comes with us to play on the beach. This year, David took the class as our assistant. We were all so touched by the dedication and sincerity of our 20 students. It's not easy to look at stressful reactive patterns and undertake the discipline of sitting still with whatever arises while residing in paradise. But we all did it, and at the end of the week we all reported feeling a little freer, more open and compassionate, and more willing to return to our busy lives with new skills. The primary skill we teach is to learn to stop, and to bear whatever is happening, whether wonderful or terrible, without running away, fighting, fixing or freezing in response. This simple instruction is not so easy to do, and the support of the community is an important ingredient. And, being on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, we had many other assistants and community members, including howler monkeys, iguanas, butterflies, trees, flowers, the ocean, and of course, pelicans, as shown below in the video taken by David.