Beginnings –

Embarking on a new journey, a new relationship, a new job, a new practice has always felt a bit like stepping into a cloud of unknowing. It is a moment that seems to allow space for a full spectrum of feelings and thoughts to arise. It is an experience of spaciousness that I have often tried to fill with things to do that would occupy my mind and hands in the absence of things that needed to be done. There was some of that in the preparation for the Gratefulroadwarrior journey when I began thinking about it three years ago, and more when I began choosing the vehicle and rigging them for the journey. But once I hit the road, I drove into that cloud of unknowing with the experience of the “beginner’s mind” that is so eloquently spoken of by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

I knew that I wanted to find a way to express gratitude to teachers throughout my life who had nurtured the mustard seed of aspiration for peace, so that it sprouted and grew enough that I could begin to maintain and cultivate it with my own hands, heart and mind. What I didn’t know was that how my idea of “teacher” was narrow and that the time on the road, from the torrents of rain, the poverty of rural communities, the benevolent rivers, the nights of fear, the mornings of relinquished awe, the desolation of deserts, the weather, the thiefs, the camp stove, the empty skies, the Civil Rights Trail, would not only teach me, but teach me that everything, every thought, breath, fear, love, doubt, rock, mountain, blade in glades, is a teacher, and that the gratitude that I felt for my embodied teachers of the past was only a dust mote in the vast sky of self annihilating gratitude that I experienced on the road and that still resonates in every present moment.

I was able to walk and drive and still remain on this road of unknowing and beginner’s mind because of the practice of meditation and inquiry, and the members of Sangha of the Pandemic that rode along with me and are riding still.

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In these times of so much “knowing” that cuts off potentiality and inquiry; In these times of planning and filling every moment of our life with doing that undermines freedom; In these times of fear and clinging, and the cultivation of ignorance of the suffering of others; In these times it is Urgent!, as Pema Chodron likes to say, to step into the cloud of unknowing that is experienced through the simple practice of meditation and inquiry. It is time to dedicate ourselves to understanding the causes and conditions of our personal suffering which then allows us to understand and have compassion for the suffering of others. As we relinquish our attachments to rigid knowing through the easing that is the result of the practice, we begin to cultivate the possibility of seeing and experiencing reality from the perspective of beginner’s mind.

So we begin;

The Practice

EveryMonday, The Sangha of the Pandemic will offer “beginning” meditation. This will be an opportunity for new meditators to join a group sit, to learn different methods of practice, and to ask questions about the practice. It is also an opportunity for folks who have practiced to reset the practice with the mind of a beginner; relinquishing all of the habits of practice and walking into the cloud of unknowing.

The practice will begin with a brief check-in and questions, followed by some instructions then meditation practice. We will close with sharing for folks who would like and then time for more questions. We’ll plan on an hour but it may go past that. You are welcome to step out of the group anytime after the sit, though we encourage you to tay as long as possible to gain the benefit of other’s experience.

Everyone is welcome and please feel free to share this with others.

Every Monday, we will gather on ZOOM

 https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789 

at 4:30 PM, Pacific Time, every Monday. (7:30 PM Eastern)

You are also invited to join other practices:

Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays: 9 AM Eastern Time

Sunday at 10 AM Eastern Time

and

Wednesday evening at 7:30 PM Eastern Time                                                    

We look forward to sitting with you!                                                                                                                             

Sangha of the Pandemic: William, Linda, Brian, Chuck, Paul, Mike, David, Jeff, Ginny, Tom, Randall, Angie, Damien, Paul, Richard, Christo, Timmer                                                                           

–  May all beings throughout all directions and all times be free from suffering. 

Everything Contributes

Beneficial action is action that contributes to any path that leads to understanding the inherent nature of reality. Through contemplation there is the realization that inherent nature is reality and reality is inherent nature. That the absolute manifests as the relative and the relative reveals the absolute. 

When contemplating action (or non-action) that is seeded in clinging, attachment, expectation, fear, anger, conceit or thoughtlessness, it is revealed that the result or reaction points back to the causes of those seeds. The suffering that arises from actions sprouted from the seeds of self-fullness, are like gutter rails in bowling, they guide the path back to the middle. In this same way, global environmental catastrophes, wars of greed and anger, and all the subsequent suffering point us back to seeking and end to suffering and actions that will lead to an end to suffering. When contemplating even the smallest of sufferings this understanding is revealed. In some cases the ball is so wildly thrown down the lane that it ricochets from on rail to the other, all the way down the lane until it ends in the gutter without striking a pin. Then the ball is sent back to try again.

When contemplating action that is seeded in the desire to end suffering through generosity, loving kindness, compassion, unconditioned joy and equanimity, it is revealed that the result or re-action, is ease of being, openness, clarity and goodness; the songs of the inherent nature of reality. This beingness in balance is like finding the sweet spot just to the side of the head pin, yielding a strike. And the ball is sent back to go again.

And like bowling (with repeated practice and observation of the causes of the gutterballs and the strikes), repeated contemplative practice, and beneficial actions seeded in kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity will, in a moment or over time, yield the understanding of the causes and conditions of suffering, the liberation from suffering and the manifestation of goodness, for oneself and for all our relations. 

May all beings throughout all times and all directions be free from suffering.

Practice

Through regular practice of attending to our breathing and inquiring into the causes of our suffering and the suffering of others, we may begin to experience a growing ease of being.  As Thich Nhat Hanh explains, this first hand experience may lead to an arising of spontaneous compassion and a motivation to act in a way that brings this ease to all beings who experience suffering. 

According to many wisdom teachings, in order to be of help to others, we are advised to realize our interdependence and interconnectedness with all beings and then to act out of that understanding. How can we do this in a way that recognizes the infinite experiences that have led to suffering, and honor the infinite ways that point to or offer relief from suffering, without judgment, recrimination or any other type of diminishment of those who may be suffering. 

Please feel free to join us in practice once, intermittently or as often as the inspiration arises! Your presence and insights contribute to this practice and the end of suffering for all beings in all directions and in all times.

We practice on ZOOM:

Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays: 9 AM Eastern Time

Sunday at 10 AM Eastern Time

and

Wednesday evening at 7:30 PM Eastern Time

ZOOM Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789

Sangha of the Pandemic

Brian, Linda, Chuck, Paul, Paul, Ginny, Jeff, Ned, Richard, Timmer, David, Christo, Angie, Damien, Mike, William

Helplessness.

“What can I do? I feel so helpless.”

This has been the repeated refrain this week, in check-ins during meditation practices and in community conversations. Inundated with despair is how, at times, I have been feeling about the bombardment of human aggression in the world.  

During the practice with the sangha we have been exploring “beneficial action”; one of the four embracing virtues of a bodhisattva’s practice. This exploration was planned before the war in Ukraine began but feels like it is just right for these times.

The fundamental teachings of Buddhism are founded on the Four Noble Truths:

  • There is suffering
  • There are causes that lead to the conditions of suffering
  • There is an end to suffering.
  • There is a path leading to the end of suffering.

In the practice and our explorations in the sangha, I have wondered if the despair and helplessness that is experienced in these times could be addressed by looking at these truths.

There is Suffering. Even in the peaceful, rural areas of Costa Rica I cannot find sunglasses dark enough to shield me from seeing the ever-present suffering throughout the globe. It is evident in every form of community connection. And if I try to avert my attention from the external manifestations it bubbles up internally somehow. Although there may be palaces or islands that  attempt to shield themselves and their inhabitants form the experience of suffering,( as Shakyamuni Buddha’s parents did ), we live in a time where that is just impossible for anyone. There is suffering! “I know, I know damnitt! Now what can I do about it? Please!!!”

There are causes that lead to the conditions of suffering. In general, if not universally, we want to skip this part. We want to get right to “the path that leads to the end of suffering”. “There’s a problem let’s just fix it.” Or at least let’s try to feel better by talking about ways to fix it. This, it seems to me, is the approach that leads to despair and helplessness. Even though we know from all of the wisdom teachings from Nature, Science, Psychology, Religion, etc, that we must discover the root cause to a problem before we can address it, we’re in a hurry. We want it done now. This research into the causes of suffering cannot be done through intellectual speculation or imposition of theory or relying on someone else, we have to get our hands dirty. We have to muck around in the soil of suffering in order to get our hands on the root causes. “But I cannot muck around in the soil of Ukraine, or Gaza, or the favelas of San Paulo, or the minds of folks who seem to live in another world from me.” So true! We can really only inquire deeply into the causes and conditions of the suffering in our own experience. We can really only understand and grasp the roots of suffering in our own garden.

“Great! I found the root, now I’ll just yank it out.” But as we pull and dig and yank we might see that there is no end to it and maybe, even, that it supports the whole structure of our being and we are back to helplessness and despair. This is where faith comes in.

There is an end to suffering. In my experience, faith seems to be cultivated by a practice of broadening my view of myself and the world. By taking a step back to try to see the whole picture. That allows us to see an expanded perspective of my garden and that the nasty root cause is, not only just a part of the garden but that it may even contribute to the well being of the garden as a whole. When we ask how the root came about and how it might contribute to understanding, we gain perspective. We see that it is not the only root in the garden. We begin to have first hand experience of the other aspects that might sprout and flower: joy, kindness received and offered, the deep compassion to end others suffering that started us on this journey, and ultimately equanimity towards all parts of the garden. From this perspective we can see the causes of the causes of the root of suffering and also begin to understand the causes of kindness, joy, compassion and equanimity. In the same way that we dig deep into the causes of our own suffering, when we begin to explore these attributes we discover the causes of these innate perennials of goodness. Then we can begin to cultivate them, bring the garden into balance and begin to make these experiences sustainable. And, if even only for a time of one breath, we experience being without suffering. And perhaps, in that moment, we also get a glimpse of the true root cause of suffering. That we have been unaware of, the true nature of the garden. That it is not only not Knotweed, but that it is that, and dahlias, and apple trees, and jungle and clay and loam and love, and compassion, and kindness… Then that grumpy neighbor, who always seems to be ranting about the way people put their trash out, walks by and is taken by surprise by the brilliant smell of the jasmine of joy emanating from your cultivated garden. And they ask: “How did you grow that?”

There is a path leading to the end of suffering. “Well ya see, I…” And then we see. And faith flowers and beneficial action fruits and our garden expands and includes.

“But what about Ukraine? It is my experience that all that I have to do is ask the question, be open to whatever arises as action, and then get out of my own way and the tumble of habits of thinking that block the path to action. 

“And helplessness?” The smile on the grumpy neighbor smelling jasmine of joy, the laughter of the child plucking a sunflower of kindness, the fruit of compassion, harvested and shared with family, and community, the cultivation of the garden of equanimity of our being while knowing that  the yield will somehow benefit anyone who experiences it. These may not eliminate helplessness but they will bring it into balance within the garden of our being and this action, this gifting, reflects and makes space for the true nature of all beings to come forth. 

Oh yeah… and practice, practice, practice.

May all beings throughout all directions and all times be free from suffering.

Practice

Through regular practice of attending to our breathing and inquiring into the causes of our suffering and the suffering of others, we may begin to experience a growing ease of being.  As Thich Nhat Hanh explains, this first hand experience may lead to an arising of spontaneous compassion and a motivation to act in a way that brings this ease to all beings who experience suffering. 

According to many wisdom teachings, in order to be of help to others, we are advised to realize our interdependence and interconnectedness with all beings and then to act out of that understanding. How can we do this in a way that recognizes the infinite experiences that have led to suffering, and honor the infinite ways that point to or offer relief from suffering, without judgment, recrimination or any other type of diminishment of those who may be suffering. 

Please feel free to join us in practice once, intermittently or as often as the inspiration arises! Your presence and insights contribute to this practice and the end of suffering for all beings in all directions and in all times.

We practice on ZOOM:

Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays: 9 AM Eastern Time

Sunday at 10 AM Eastern Time

and

Wednesday evening at 7:30 PM Eastern Time

ZOOM Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789

Sangha of the Pandemic

Brian, Linda, Chuck, Paul, Paul, Ginny, Jeff, Ned, Richard, Timmer, David, Christo, Angie, Damien, Mike, William