Thursday, August 26, 2010

Fourteen Precepts of Engaged Buddhism

I wanted to share this with all of you. If I could do even a small percentage of Thich Nhat Hanh's precepts I would be supremely happy in this life and continually happy in the next...


By Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh (From the book Interbeing)

Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth.

Do not think the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow minded and bound to present views. Learn and practice nonattachment from views in order to be open to receive others' viewpoints. Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge. Be ready to learn throughout your entire life and to observe reality in yourself and in the world at all times.

Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education. However, through compassionate dialogue, help others renounce fanaticism and narrow-mindedness.

Do not avoid suffering or close your eyes before suffering. Do not lose awareness of the existence of suffering in the life of the world. Find ways to be with those who are suffering, including personal contact, visits, images and sounds. By such means, awaken yourself and others to the reality of suffering in the world.

Do not accumulate wealth while millions are hungry. Do not take as the aim of your life fame, profit, wealth, or sensual pleasure. Live simply and share time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need.

Do not maintain anger or hatred. Learn to penetrate and transform them when they are still seeds in your consciousness. As soon as they arise, turn your attention to your breath in order to see and understand the nature of your hatred.

Do not lose yourself in dispersion and in your surroundings. Practice mindful breathing to come back to what is happening in the present moment. Be in touch with what is wondrous, refreshing, and healing both inside and around you. Plant seeds of joy, peace, and understanding in yourself in order to facilitate the work of transformation in the depths of your consciousness.

Do not utter words that can create discord and cause the community to break. Make every effort to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

Do not say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people. Do not utter words that cause division and hatred. Do not spread news that you do not know to be certain. Do not criticize or condemn things of which you are not sure. Always speak truthfully and constructively. Have the courage to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may threaten your own safety.

Do not use the Buddhist community for personal gain or profit, or transform your community into a political party. A religious community, however, should take a clear stand against oppression and injustice and should strive to change the situation without engaging in partisan conflicts.

Do not live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. Do not invest in companies that deprive others of their chance to live. Select a vocation that helps realise your ideal of compassion.

Do not kill. Do not let others kill. Find whatever means possible to protect life and prevent war.

Possess nothing that should belong to others. Respect the property of others, but prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth.

Do not mistreat your body. Learn to handle it with respect. Do not look on your body as only an instrument. Preserve vital energies (sexual, breath, spirit) for the realisation of the Way. (For brothers and sisters who are not monks and nuns:) Sexual expression should not take place without love and commitment. In sexual relations, be aware of future suffering that may be caused. To preserve the happiness of others, respect the rights and commitments of others. Be fully aware of the responsibility of bringing new lives into the world. Meditate on the world into which you are bringing new beings.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Running, Being Mindful and Wearing Funny Shoes

I find that trying to be mindful in all situations gets easier over time. Remaining present has its benefits, and, if you've been reading the blog for a while, you know that being present is really the only way to live a full, balanced, happy life...which leads me to running and being present. Today I went for a run but it wasn't just any type of run...I purposely set out to run "mindfully" in other words, "Running meditation. I would anchor my concentration on something specific in order to keep my mind on the present moment instead of the usual million other things. In this case it was concentrating on the step.

In running meditation we use the experience of running as our focus. We become mindful of our experience while running, and try to keep our awareness involved with the experience of running. I strapped on my Vibram Five Finger KSOs (If you don't know what these funny looking shoes are CLICK HERE) stretched a little and started my run. I can tell you simply what the benefits of mindful running are: You get far less tired, you are much more settled and at peace and you get in wonderful shape physically and mentally. How? Like in seated meditation, Zazen, you concentrate on the breath....nothing else. Not yesterday, tomorrow, grocery lists or birthday parties....The same holds true for running meditation. Like walking meditation one focuses on the step. Concentrate on each individual step. So as you start out, take it easy and think about everything that leads up to the step. Feel the ground meet the ball of your foot. Feel your heel come down. Be AWARE of the step. If it helps, every time you take a step say "step" in your mind..."Step, step, step, step...etc. By doing this you run peacefully. Although you are running you are slowing your mind down. Think of your breathing every once in a while during your run. Above all, don't expect anything from this! Don't tell yourself you are going to be more at peace or that you will feel this way or that. Simply be. Remember...The reason why this works so well is because you are not forcing yourself to do anything. As Nike would say JUST DO IT! Be the run. You are not running from something and there is no goal in mind so you are not running to something. You are just running. Be totally aware of all that is happening around you while taking your steps. Feel the wind on your face and neck, listen to the traffic. Look about four feet in front of you and try to not think that you are running to a certain point. If at all possible keep your mind anchored on the step, the sounds, your breathing. You will be present. You will naturally slow your mind down even though you are running! And guess what happens? You are not nearly as tired as you used to be. You are not thinking, "I must speed up" or "I have to get to the corner of the street." You are running for the sake of the moment. You become the step. You get closer to the world, the Universe around you. By doing so you open yourself are "stilling" the glass of water that is your mind.

As I ran, I looked about four or five feet in front of me and concentrated on every action of my body...specifically how the ground felt every time my foot made contact with it. The lifting of one leg, the other coming down. Which leads me to the Vibram Five Finger shoes. Vibrams were invented in Italy for the sake of being a sensible, more natural alternative to traditional shoes. After all, humans have only been wearing shoes for a relatively short amount of time when you compare it to how long we've been around so the folks at Vibrams decided to design a shoe that would be the closest thing to barefoot as possible. Vibrams are like being barefoot. The small rubber "shell" of a shoe fits snugly on your foot. Your toes go into little "fingers" or pockets. It truly is like running, hiking, cycling, rock climbing or training with no shoes on. Go to Youtube and type in "Vibrams Five Finger" and see what happens...

Regardless of whether you wear funny little shoes or steel toed work boots, running mindfully is the way to go if you desire to be healthier, more in touch with the world and yourself and less stressed. It is amazing the difference in breathing when you run mindfully. If you concentrate on the step and the things that are present, your mind naturally does not force itself to focus on goals or whether you need a drink of water and so forth. As a result, the body is less fatigued, more alert and refreshed. You should know is that it’s easier, for most people, to be more intensely and more easily aware of their bodies while doing running meditation, compared to sitting forms of practice. When your body is in motion, it is generally easier to be aware of it compared to when you are sitting still. When we’re sitting still in meditation the sensations that arise in the body are much more subtle and harder to pay attention to than those that arise while we’re running or walking for that matter. This can make running meditation an intense experience. You can experience your body very intensely, and you can also find intense enjoyment from this practice.

So have at it...give it a try. You'll find just like I did that this mindfulness stuff is life changing and enjoyable beyond compare.

All right, now to mindfully vacuum my apartment!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Listening. Really Listening.

Really listening

I sat in silence least I thought it was silence until I listened. I didn't have to try hard, after all, I was sitting outside my cabin at the Grand Canyon of the east, Letchworth State Park. I woke early, made a cup of coffee and wanted to just "be". I really desired a bit of quiet peace, far from the daily grind of everyday urban living. My cabin is rustic. The way I like it. No running water or heat but it does have electricity, a stove and a fridge. The coffee was piping hot and I sat in my camping chair next to the fire pit I used the night before. I looked around me in the beautiful, early morning. Everything was so green and alive! I soaked it all in and paused to breathe....appreciate my little respite far away from my home. Then it happened! It occurred to me that it wasn't silent. It was peaceful but not quiet like I thought it would be.

You see, I thought it would be silent, I assumed it was naturally quiet because of where I was. I could not be farther from the truth! We are conditioned from an early age to expect....expect happiness from a given situation...expect that if you work hard you will be rewarded the way you think you should be. Expect that children, dogs, people at the shopping mall, toll takers....everyone will do what you want them to do. We do that with situations. Especially with communication. I expected complete quiet outside my feeble little cabin in the woods. Instead I heard a symphony of blessed sound. Insects buzzing dizzily around my head, birds chirp chirping through the thick blanket of leaves overhead. And sounds that I could not possibly tell you where they came from. Then it occurred to often do I REALLY listen? If you focus your mind, your ears, your soul on the soundscape around you, you will find and hear things like never before. You actually learn, feel, HEAR!

Listening takes on all forms. Depending on your situation. A conversation with a friend, your cat meowing, a co-worker coming to you with a problem, your fish tank, sitting outside a cabin with coffee. Truly listening when someone speaks to you honors them. It gives them you. If someone takes the time to speak with you they actually WANT you to listen to them. How often do we really do that. Listening takes focus, work even. You'll find it easier to do once you get into the swing of directing your mind to your ears in whatever space you're in. As I listened to the panoply of sound all around me it filled my heart, my soul with joy! I realized, as I truly heard all around me, I was the sound! We became one! When the meditation bell sounds just before sitting feel it! Hear it! Know you are not just listening to the sound of a bell signifying the start of meditation, you are the bell!

Truly listening, hearing, connects us with the world the way we were meant to be connected. Real listening lifts you up, educates, entertains, communicates and fills your body, your mind, your heart with a healthy econo-sized dose of Spirit.

Here's a little exercise: find a a task, a chore, a time that you do something that you have done a million times in your life; sitting, walking the dog, making copies at work...whatever, feel your breath move past your nostrils into your lungs, feel the belly swell and move back and forth and then LISTEN. Let your ears be like a satellite dish. You will experience life like you never have before. By listening to all around you life takes on new meaning. You will be alive. You will be happy knowing that you are an important part of this time and space. You will see that being connected to all living things is the natural flow of the Universe. WE ARE THE UNIVERSE! All things, animals, plants, minerals, have life running through them. Hearing them, listening to them reveals the truth within the soundscape, that we are all family. Peace is achieved knowing we are related...after all, if we listen, hear all around us and realize the true connection, it is easy to love our relatives....and we are all relatives.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Children and the art of being mindful

The other day I was filled with awe! As many of you know, I am a professional musician and I play many venues around New York state and beyond. Earlier this week I played at a Catholic School day camp. My friend Kate asked me if I would be kind enough to come and do a little performance...Nothing big, just a guitar...not my entire set up. She wanted me to explain to the children (ranging from about five years old to about sixteen) how I got into music, what kind of music I play, where I perform, what it takes to be a professional musician and so on. So the day came...A beautiful sunny Tuesday afternoon. The kids were rambunctious and excited after eating their lunch. They were told of my arrival and anything to do with music really charges them up so they were good and ready. They had me set up on a stage right next to the altar of a Catholic church...pretty interesting. All the kids piled into the pews and the waited with eager anticipation for me to start performing. I started to speak to them....the old teacher in me loves being in front of elementary school aged children. They're so wide eyed and happy. I told them that my father brought me to a symphony when I was about seven years old and my first Rock concert at age thirteen (It was Blood Sweat and Tears. Amazing!)..Then it happened, some kid yelled out..."when are you gonna play a song?" So I started playing...They echoed anything I asked them to. They jumped up and down and they LOVED the Beatles! They were after my own heart when it comes to the Fab Four so I continued to play tunes like Twist and Shout and Please Please Me.

I watched the children....really observed them. It was kind of a opera that we were all a part of. The capper to everything was when a twelve year old came up to me and asked if I knew any Pink Floyd. His eyes widened when I told him I loved Pink Floyd and I'd be glad to play Comfortably Numb on the baby grand. I sat at the bench and lifted the weighty piano key cover. Played a few notes and then launched into Comfortably Numb...."Hello, hello, there anybody in there?" All of a sudden from behind me came some beautiful drum licks! I turned around to see the twelve year old happily playing percussion to my piano work. He was good...Very good. We went through the entire song together. In a world of our own we shared the moment. We were present, mindful of the situation together. We were not off somewhere else. We were not thinking of what we should be doing later or what to do when we get home. We simply were present. When we were done the young man was filled with joy. People clapped, I was overjoyed. He burst out that this was the first time he EVER played for anyone. He stated that he was in three bands and none of them have played out. He was filled to the rim.

Why is this so amazing? That moment changed that boy's life. He will always remember the first time he played out and what it felt like. I was fortunate enough to share in a landmark moment in that child's life. Then it dawned on me...That boy shared in a moment that was a landmark time for me too. A landmark time because it was the moment that I saw clearly how mindful and present children naturally are. They are so Zen like and they don't even know it. They say it the way it is (When are you gonna play a song?) and they are filled with the moment. They let the music lift them up...They become part of it, of the entire situation. They are the moment! We can learn so much from children. I spend a huge portion of my life meditating and working toward being mindful and present, yet children just do it...No one tells them to pause and try to be mindful...they just are.

When I think back on the situation, what the kids did, the looks on their faces, their shrieks of glee, the laughter, the dancing, the letting go with reckless abandon I am reminded to simply be. That's all. Simply be. The young man was moved to play the drums. No one told him to get up there. He just did it. He jammed with some guy with earrings at a piano and loved it. I'm sure he went home and told anyone who would listen. Instead of growing out of that and getting practical it is good to realize that we all have the power to truly pause and be one with the moment. We can feel whatever it is we are feeling. Not cover it up with thoughts or emotions. If you find you mind racing off into this direction or that, bring it back...gently, to the present. Even if you're at work and a colleague is talking or your boss...give them the courtesy of truly being in the present and listening to them. Here's the kicker: YOU ACTUALLY FEEL BETTER AND GET SOMETHING OUT OF IT!

I am just about moved to tears when I think that I was given the precious opportunity to spend time with some beautiful children and have them fill my heart. The thing is, I don't need to wait for spectacular moments like that. Every moment is wondrous! Every moment is perfect in its own right. For some reason children realize life is a fantastic jewel, a gift...They can't put it into words but they live it just the same. Children don't think "If I say this or that he's going to break up with me!" or "I really can't skip rope today because I have to make sure there is enough play dough in the toy bin." They live for the moment. They are the moment. Even when they fib to you they're honest.

In an article from the University of Rochester web site they have this to say about mindfulness:

"Several major Eastern philosophies stress the importance of mindfulness, but is there really a mental health benefit to being more conscious and more focused on what's happening in the here and now?

In the April issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, University of Rochester researchers report that individuals who are mindful are more attuned to their emotions and act in ways that are compatible with their values and interests. Mindfulness, which is an enhanced attention to and awareness of the present, can be linked to better mood, higher self-esteem, life satisfaction, and optimism-all signs of positive psychological health.

Co-authors Kirk Warren Brown and Richard M. Ryan researched the phenomenon of mindfulness and tracked indicators of psychological well-being. They designed a scale to measure this quality of consciousness and administered it to subjects from college students and working adults to people who meditate and those with cancer.

'Mindfulness appears to heighten the joys one can experience in everyday events, as well as to be in better touch with what one really needs and feels,' says Ryan, professor of psychology and psychiatry. 'It helps people make better choices in a complex world.'

With roots in Buddhist and other contemplative traditions, mindfulness is the subject of innumerable books, seminars, and workshops designed to facilitate this state of consciousness as a means to help people live richer, happier lives. But very little research has examined its direct role in psychological health and well-being, the psychologists say.

'We've shown that mindfulness can be reliably and validly measured and has a significant role to play in mental health,' says Brown, visiting assistant professor of psychology. 'It does appear to make a meaningful difference in how happy people are.' "

So next time you look at a group of children really look at what they do. Observe them. Listen. Smile. Everything they do has some type of meaning and it's not's there for all the world to see and enjoy.

"Just nod if you can hear me. Is there anyone at home?"

Thursday, August 5, 2010

There is no death

The eye that I see God is the same eye that God sees me. Life and death are not two things but one. There is no death. There is no line between them.