Sunday, July 24, 2011

Metta Meditation

May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I live my live with ease.
May I be at peace.

May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you live your live with ease.
May you be at peace.

This was my offering of metta mediation for this week's classes.  Metta can be translated as loving kindness or compassion.  I share this Buddhist practice to deepen our study of Ahimsa (non-violence/compassion) from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. There are many versions of the metta meditation.  I consider our chant, Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu, to be one of them.  I have shared other versions in the past and will share them here eventually.  Perhaps you might feel inspired to create your own.

We learn, in the Buddhist tradition, to begin the metta meditation with ourselves so that we cultivate our own inner peace and freedom since only then can we be a light to others.  The next step is to offer the wishes to our beloveds, then to those who are neutral to us, and finally those who have caused us harm.  It may feel quite easy to send the wishes to your loved ones.  Your heart will sing and dance as you send them this love.  For those neutral to you, you might like to think of others in the world who are just like you, trying to find happiness in their daily lives.  You can send the wishes to the service people you come in contact with throughout your day:  the gas pump attendant, grocery store clerk, bank teller, person driving in the car ahead of you or sitting on the train next to you.

Sending the wishes to those who have caused us harm may be more difficult.  However, it can be a very helpful and liberating practice.  We can start with the mildest harm if we aren't ready to face the more difficult ones.  We approach this by understanding that people often cause harm to others when they are fearful or hurting as an unskillful way of expressing themselves (ourselves).  We do this practice knowing that we have also caused harm to others.  And, we hope they will forgive us for our shortcomings.  That we will forgive ourselves for our own shortcomings.  We send these wishes to those who cause harm and terror in the world in hopes that they will find freedom from their suffering and stop hurting others.

Thich Nhat Hanh writes a beautiful poem for us to see our interbeing with all, to soften our hearts with compassion for all.  We are reminded, "There, but for the grace of god, go I."  We can be thankful for our resources, our teachers, our life circumstances that provide us with the tools we need to transform our suffering, to make good choices, and live a good life.  We also become thankful for the difficult experiences we have lived through that teach us to appreciate how amazing all the wonders of life truly are since we have seen the other side.  May we keep reminding each other with loving kindness.

Please Call Me By My True Names  by Thich Nhat Hanh

Don't say that I will depart tomorrow--
even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring  branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all this is alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

I am a frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay
his "debt of blood" to my people
dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up
and the door of my heart
could be left open,
the door of compassion.

(from the book Call Me By My True Names: The Collected Poems of Thich Nhat Hanh)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

More on freedom

Estuary  by Danna Faulds

There is peace here, where the river
widens to meet the sea.  The rapids
are past; the boulders and the rocky
places at last give way to a broad
and sweeping current, flowing
slowly into vastness.  The river
moves silently, tastes the salty tide
that marks its demise, and slips
without a backward glance, into
the ocean's infinite embrace.

This Saturday, I asked the class, what freedom means to them and on what levels they ponder and work towards freedom.  We had a beautiful dharma talk highlighted by the wisdom of the sharing in class.  "Freedom from oppression, being lucky, having choices, and freedom from incarceration of emotions" were some of the replies.  We can consider our freedoms and the sources of our oppression on so many levels.  Ultimately, the broader layers including business, government, and international affairs, don't work unless we find inner freedom as individuals and the peace that comes from reconciling our own mistakes and finding a way to compassion for all beings -- including ourselves and the most hurtful people in our lives. 

Pantanjali gives us a prescription to this freedom in the Yoga Sutras with his eight limbs of yoga.  The first two limbs - the Yamas and Niyamas - are applicable in a practical way for our daily lives.  Recently, we have been focusing on the first limb, the Yamas, translated as restraints or masteries, of which there are five.  The first is Ahimsa, translated as non-violence or compassion.  In a very direct way, it is clear how to master non-violence.  Do not physically harm another being.  However, as we look more deeply, which beings do we include?  Do we include animals?  Do we go deeper to consider the harm caused not just by our physical actions but by our words and even deeper our unspoken thoughts?  Do we include non-harm and compassion to ourselves?  Do we even notice the ways in which we keep ourselves "incarcerated by our emotions" and by the stories we repeat in our minds about how life has treated us or how we have "performed" in this life? 

Do we include compassion toward even the most hurtful people in our lives?  Do you think those who cause the greatest harm in the world or even to you personally know inner freedom from suffering?  If they did, do you think they would commit the horrible actions that bring so much suffering to others? (See Thich Nhat Hanh's poem: Please Call Me By My True Names).  Can we see the potential we have, and the actual times we have caused suffering to others or in ourselves, and work towards lessening the harm in the world? Can we find a way to forgive ourselves and the other, to flow beyond "the rocky places" to the "ocean's infinite embrace?"

There is peace here, where the river
widens to meet the sea.  The rapids
are past; the boulders and the rocky
places at last give way to a broad
and sweeping current, flowing
slowly into vastness.  The river
moves silently, tastes the salty tide
that marks its demise, and slips
without a backward glance, into
the ocean's infinite embrace.

Estuary  by Danna Faulds
from her book Go In and In

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

An invitation to a morning of music, movement, and meditation

Join us at Highland Yoga Studio in Butler, NJ on Sunday, August 14th, at 9:30am to participate in Dances of Universal Peace, sanskrit chanting, singing songs of mindfulness in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, and periods of silent meditation to soak in all the goodness. We will bask in the light of our community, receive the vibrations of our voices and energy, and open to the potential for healing and transformation for ourselves and others by sending the wishes and good vibes out for all beings.

Use your class card or pay the drop in rate to attend. A portion of these proceeds will be donated to the Sufi Ruhaniat International, the organization which continues the work of Hazrat Inayat Kahn and Samuel Lewis to support the ongoing practice of the Dances of Universal Peace and other peace works.


Saturday, July 9, 2011


"Nirvana means pacifying, silencing, or extinguishing the fire of suffering.  Nirvana teaches that we already are what we want to become.  We don't have to run after anything anymore.  We only need to return to ourselves and touch our true nature.  When we do, we have real peace and joy." 

from Thich Nhat Hanh's book The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy and Liberation 

Remember the five koshas?   When we sit comfortably in our body and we relax the body (anamaya kosha), we can more easily notice the breath.  When we notice our breath - long, deep, full, and slow; we see that it ignites our prana, our life force energy and we can enjoy the subtle vibrations in the body (pranamaya kosha).   With the body relaxed and with awareness on the breath and the vibrations in the body, the mind (manomaya kosha) has an inward focus and can begin to quiet from all the storytelling that causes us to suffer.  As the mind quiets from these obstacles, the gateway to the deeper koshas is open to reveal our wisdom (vijnamaya kosha) and our bliss (anandamaya kosha).

This yogic concept takes us into this definition of nirvana.  Our wisdom and bliss, our deep peace and feeling of connection to all beings and forms, is our true nature.  Realizing we contain the universe within us - the power and light of the sun, the cool and soothing nature of the moon, the beauty and openness of a flower, the solidity of the mountain - we know that we don't need to chase after anything.  We have the resources within -including the wisdom of when to ask for help - to enjoy all the wonders of this life and to navigate through the suffering. 

Remember your sangha (community).  You are not alone.  The community of your family, your yoga class and studio, your meditation group, the teachers and teachings you find in your inspirational reading, supports you on your way.  We walk together on this journey in the footsteps of those who came before and inspire us, and showing the way for those that follow, shining our own light of inspiration for others.  Yes, you are a light!  Let it shine.

"This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine"

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Freedom from Suffering

Lokah Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu
May all beings be filled with peace and joy, love and light.

This month's chant, in honor of Independence Day, asks for peace and joy, love and light for all.  Just as our founding fathers and mothers worked diligently for the liberation of our country to form the United States of America, we come to our yoga mats to breathe and feel, move our bodies and ignite prana (life force energy) with our own diligent practice so that we can find freedom from suffering and the liberation that follows from our steadfast efforts.  Remember how it feels when you release from a long holding of Utkatasana (chair pose)? 

Lokah Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu
"May all beings be happy and free and may my life be a giving to this happiness and freedom for all"  Donna Delory sings this translation on her CD Sanctuary.  It is one of my favorites - lyrical and sweet.

Lokah Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu
Ansar's recording of this chant is called Alone.  With a strong beat and a nice groove, it is another favorite found on the compilation CD Yoga Chill.