All the Joy the World Contains

September 15, 2017

ntbtp_800px-Shantideva“All the joy the world contains has come through wishing happiness for others. All the misery the world contains has come from wanting pleasure for oneself.” ~Shantideva

I recently posted this quote from the 8th-century Indian Buddhist monk and scholar, Shantideva, on Facebook. I received some comments and questions in response that helped me realize that these words, when taken out of context, might send the absolute wrong message — the myth that the most important (and spiritual) thing we can do is to sacrifice our own happiness for the sake of others’. This couldn’t be further from the truth of the teachings of the Buddha, so I wanted to unpack this quote a little bit in order to clarify things.

First of all, self-care and love are healthy (and necessary!) And the Buddha recommended in no uncertain terms that we include ourselves in our circle of self-care and love. The root of that particular teaching are these words from the Pali canon (translation by Bhikkhu Thanissaro): “Searching all directions with one’s awareness, one finds no one dearer than oneself. In the same way, others are dear to themselves. So one should not hurt others if one loves oneself.” (Basically, the truth that everyone suffers and wants freedom from that suffering just like we do, and when we remember this about our common humanity it is easier to practice love and compassion for everyone, without exception.)

In Lovingkindness practice, for example — especially in the West where we are notorious for having entrenched self-hatred and self-judgment and a lack of capacity for self-compassion — it’s usually recommended that we cultivate kindness and friendship for ourselves as the first step before venturing out to cultivate same for others. Self-care creates the foundation for other-care. Nowhere in the Buddhist teachings, to my knowledge, is there an advocation of sacrificing for others at the expense of self (insert oxygen mask analogy here) unless one is already spiritually strong enough to handle said sacrifice.

“Pleasure” (in the quote) is very different from “love and self care”. I believe Shantideva was getting at the heart of the Buddha’s teaching on the Four Noble Truths: that clinging and craving are at the root of all suffering, and that pleasure-seeking often has misery as its close-following companion. Shantideva’s words alert us to the truth that when we are not able to find a way to be satisfied with the way things are and we pull and push to move the externalities around ’til we’re comfortable, we may achieve relief for a moment or a day or even longer, but these machinations do not ultimately lead to sustainable and long-term happiness and peace because everything necessarily changes.

So seeking after pleasure as an antidote for our deep dissatisfaction will always fail us in the end. “True happiness” (as Thich Nhat Hanh calls it) can only come from within, and from the realization and acceptance of the impermanent nature of reality, and from developing equanimity and compassion and clarity and insight and other qualities that help us relax into the moment, into what is actually happening.

The Buddha taught, in most basic terms, the cause (clinging/craving) and end (eightfold path, which includes meditation along with ethical living) of suffering. In Shantideva’s quote, as I understand it, “pleasure” is meant to refer to the kind of pleasure-seeking and pain-avoidance that is associated with clinging and craving — when we want to obtain that which we do not currently have (stuff, people, feelings, mind states) and want to push away that which we do not want (stuff, people, feelings, mind states) in order to feel better or avoid feeling bad. It’s this desire+aversion dance that causes us to suffer when we don’t get our way, and when we can’t be ok with things the way they are.

Obviously, sometimes we do need to change things in our environment (job, relationship, furniture arrangement, etc). But we also need to develop enough discernment to figure out when it’s appropriate to change things (because they’re not supporting our highest good rather than because we need a fix), and learn to live with the parts of life that are not going to be “solved” by any sort of external shift (insert Serenity Prayer here). Within that process, developing the ability to “calmly abide” no matter what’s going on is key to our happiness and sense of true and long-lasting well-being.

A few more words about the pleasure-misery connection. In our personal lives, pleasure-seeking has the potential to keeps us from meeting our issues head-on and working with them in ways that might take more work but could lead to true healing in the end. I’m sure if we look closely and honestly at our own personal lives, each one of us can come up with examples of situations where our clinging and craving and desire for the short-term fix (rather than a commitment to the effort and sometimes renunciation necessary for long-term healing) have caused harm to self or other. So there is one form of pleasure-induced “misery”.

And there’s also a darker and more insidious and rampant result of pleasure-seeking, a direct and overwhelming cost to ourselves, our community, our planetary home. The misery people and animals and plants and Earth are experiencing in war-torn regions and as a result of the hurricanes and droughts and fires and increasingly rampant climate disasters is a direct result of human beings’ addiction to fossil fuels and the pleasures offered by its byproducts. In the big picture, the current climate chaos is a result of the developed world’s manic seeking of short-term pleasure, instant gratification, and the illusion of safety and comfort promised by consumerism and consumption.

In general, the suffering of the poor and downtrodden of the world, the animals and our beautiful planet Earth can be linked to the greed, hatred and delusion driving attempts by humans to fill coffers and hearts and hours with power, money, control and other things that bring pleasure in the moment but long-term strife in the grand scheme. Our comfort in the West literally relies on the discomfort and often destruction of people and ecosystems in developing nations that are at the receiving end of our insatiable greed for more, more, more — all in vain attempts to fill holes that cannot be filled that way. Our Pleasure == Their Misery.

We desperately NEED everyone to wake up right now. And practicing love and compassion and tenderness for oneself is a huge part of that — actually inseparable from that, since we’re all interconnected and interdependent, and loving me means loving you! It’s the truth of inter-being…we all inter-are. And then we direct this love and compassion outward, to all beings, in every direction. It’s something we can, and must, do. When you can’t figure out what to do about the state of things, at least do this.

To listen to the Dharma talk which inspired me to post the quote in the first place, go here. (Jill Shepherd: Anatta, Not-Self, and the Five Aggregates Subject to Clinging).

Now, go forth, with love for yourself and all beings!


Song Story: Shine

May 2, 2016

Welcome to today’s Song Story, “Shine“, track #6 on our album, “EARTH“.

As with many of the songs on the album, this one is a reminder of our place, as Earthlings, in this interdependent world, and the opportunity (responsibility?) we’ve been given to cultivate peace, joy, and love in ways that then afford us the possibility of contributing something positive to the world and other beings.

The song started out in my mind as a rhythmic, almost primal chant centering on the words:

Dance your love into the Earth
Dance your love into the Earth
Sing your love into the sky
Sing your love into the sky
Spread your love around the world
Spread your love around the world
Put your love into your life
Put your love into your life

The suggestion to “dance your love into the Eearth” is a somewhat mystical concept. But, in my experience, a child will have absolutely no problem believing it is possible or enacting it with her/his body. The direction to “dance your love into the Earth” speaks to long-forgotten rituals, Earth-based spirituality, and the practice of lovingkindness.

And the echo-response repeated after each line of the verse, “together, with each other”, is the reminder to do all of this together, with each other, in community — the time is now for us to break through isolation, separateness, and otherness and participate in healing work and practices, not only in our individual lives but also within our communities. It’s time to cultivate and strengthen our bonds of interbeing — together, with each other.

The verses go on to encourage the same actions (“dance, sing, spread, put”), first with our joy and then with our sense of peace, balance and equanimity. I practice lots of mindfulness with the kids and parents in my programs, and one of the most requested and favorite exercises is “sending love”. That’s really all we’re doing with this song!

And when it comes to children embodying these ideas, there’s a ready-made movement experience inherent here. All of our music has accompanying choreography, and this particular song appeared in my mind as a complete dance. I pictured the kids at our concerts and in my classes stomping, jumping, swaying and shining as they translated the words of the song into the visual dimension, literally dancing their love into the Earth.

The chorus gets to the heart of things — let’s shine our love, joy and peace EVERYWHERE, even (especially!) on the suffering in the world. For when we bring our suffering, or the suffering of another, into the light of our compassion, into the gentle yet fierce glow of our love, and begin to nurture, cradle, listen to and be present for it, true healing can begin:

Shine it on the mountains
Shine it on the sea
Shine it on the cities
And the trees and the green country, come on
Shine it on all beings
Those who walk and crawl and swim and fly
Shine it on the suffering
Bring it right into the light

And no one is left out or excluded from this shining love, this shining presence: Earth, cities, plants, people, animals, fish, birds, and any suffering that these beings might be experiencing — we send, share, and offer our love and presence to ALL, without exception. (Extra credit for catching the “Free to Be, You and Me” reference in the chorus ;-))

In the middle of the song there’s a mysterious, quiet bridge where we send the love in all directions (“to the East, West, North, South, Above, Below, Within, Without”), reminiscent of ancient rituals that honor and invite in the full dimensionality of the world. Shine it EVERYWHERE, in ALL directions, on ALL beings! The bridge builds into the “dance your peace into the Earth” verse, and finally arrives at the final chorus. We have undertaken a journey, through our love, joy and peace, through the earth, sky, world and very own hearts, arriving home to shine our best selves, our ever-present, enduring love and light, all around.

“Shine” is ultimately about what we have to offer to our world. Part of our job in this life is to cultivate positive qualities in ourselves — like peace, joy, and love — and then to reflect these outward, sharing our best selves with others and our planet. And, perhaps most importantly, to remember that suffering is also part of life, and that all beings suffer. When we remember this truth — that we all suffer, and we all wish to be free from suffering — we are then capable of true compassion.

For this truth blurs the lines between us, reminds us we’re connected, jolts us awake out of delusion and into awareness, shows us our sense of separation and “otherness” is false, snaps us out of judging, criticizing, comparative mind. And when we shine our love, our presence, on our own suffering or that of others, and hold and honor and witness this suffering, we are providing a healing service. Simply being present for another’s suffering (think “active listening”) is perhaps the greatest gift we can give another being. And the more we do this for each other, and for ourselves, the lighter we will all be.

ACTIVITY IDEAS:

    • Make up a family dance to the song!
    • Teach your dance to a friend or family member.
    • Practice listening meditation with the song. Lie down in a comfortable place and just listen to the words, to the music. Visualize yourself full of love, full of joy, full of peace. Pay attention to any feelings that come up. Sense yourself as part of the Earth. Believe in your ability to send love all around.
    • Can you remember a time when you felt sad or mad? Imagine sending some love and care to the sad or mad feelings or parts inside of you.
    • Do you know someone else who is sad or mad about something? Imagine sending some love and care to the person who is suffering
  • When someone in your life is having trouble, make them a Compassion Card. Simply draw a picture that shows you love them and are there for them, and/or write (or get help writing) a few words like, “I hear you. I see you. I love you.” And offer this to the person who is having trouble.
  • Enjoy our “Peace Breath” meditation to practice cultivating the energy of peace in your mind, body and heart.

I hope you enjoy the song, “Shine“. And scroll down if you’d like to listen to our entire EARTH album!

Namaste (the light in me bows to the light in you, for it is the same light!)

Love,
Charity


Sit Breath Love: Guided Meditations for Children and their Grown-Ups

January 3, 2015

SBL_9_600Dear friends,

In conjunction with the birth of the new year, we are very excited to announce the birth of a new JAM project:

Sit Breathe Love:
Guided Meditations for Children and their Grown-Ups

Listen + Download Here

Our intention is to share every month or so a new guided meditation you can listen to and practice with the children in your family or classroom. Click the “Follow” button on the download page to be notified when we add new ones.

These meditations will be in the mindfulness vein, and will touch on such areas as awareness of breath, cultivation of lovingkindness and non-harming, mindful listening, body scans, gratitude, joy, difficult feelings, and beyond.

Our January offering is called “Ball of Light Meditation”. You can use this guided meditation with your children when you’d like to cultivate a little peace and love. Try it at bedtime, or perhaps in the morning before leaving the house, to plant seeds of presence, calm and kindness. Listen, relax, and enjoy!

I use these meditations in my JAMcamps with children aged 4-10, but you can try with younger and older children, too, and see what happens.

Perhaps the most important thing is to model for your children your commitment to cultivating your own mindfulness. So do the practices with them as often as you can! You will show them, via embodiment, that it is important to you, too, and that you have faith in its value.

We would love to hear about how, where and when you use these practices, and how your children respond to them. So stay in touch!

May you be happy, healthy, safe and at peace in the new year and always 😉

Take care,
Charity


Lovingkindness Practice: Concrete Action for the Chaos of Our Times

October 18, 2014

elephant-metta-borderI am constantly struck by how many opportunities we have as humans to be more present and more compassionate. We have truly been given a precious opportunity to continue growing up into more wise and loving creatures. This is one fact that helps me remain in love with and committed to life despite its outrageous challenges and seemingly never-ending pitfalls.

I hosted one of my JAMcamps this past Monday for 14 children ages five through eight. Our theme for the day was “non-harming”. In addition to singing songs and making art and books related to this theme, we practiced a little meditation I call Finger Meditation. Basically, we “promise” or set an intention that “we will NOT HARM people, animals, plants, the earth, or ourselves.” We also “promise” or set an intention that “we will HELP people, animals, plants, the earth, and ourselves.” And we simply commit to doing our best in these areas, and to staying present for opportunities where we can choose non-harming over harming, and choose helping over doing nothing.

These little children understand immediately the power and relevance of these promises and intentions. They comprehend deeply the necessity of making them. They unabashedly want to follow through on them. They literally shine with light and love as we discuss things like why it’s important not to intentionally squash a spider, why it’s a worthwhile endeavor to respect the incredible complexity and intelligence of an ocean and its creatures, why it’s crucial that we treat each other and everything with respect, why it might be a healthy choice to shake off our hands after washing them rather than use yet another tree-born paper towel. The brilliance, intelligence and heart I continually witness in the children I share time with gives me more hope for the future of our planet than most things. They GET it.

It is important for us to find and nourish these sources of inspiration, lest we fall into the traps of apathy, depression, overwhelmth, and fear. For apparently we have been born into a time of great upheaval, change, chaos, even darkness. Most of our political, economic, social and environmental systems are desperately off balance and increasingly sick. If you are awake to what is actually occurring, you certainly feel at times overwhelmed, paralyzed, confused, angry and/or apathetic. Yet we are tasked with the seemingly crazy and impossible job of making sense of all of this, while somehow continuing on with our lives with a modicum of equanimity, compassion, joy and ideally also a dash of optimism and a dose of helpful action.

So what are we to do about it all?

Obviously, there’s no “top ten” list to answer that question. Yes, we should change our light bulbs, but that can’t be where we stop. Unfortunately there’s no single big “fix” we can make in our own personal lives (like moving to the land), or in the workings of the systems of which we are an inseparable part (like gaining control of the Senate), that will turn this ship around. But there is very important work to be done in the world, so we do continue to make choices that are healthy for ourselves and our communities and our environment — some of them big and radical and transformative — and we certainly must continue to vote. And there is VERY important work to be done on ourselves — to awaken to and shatter the forces of greed, hatred and delusion within our own hearts and minds. This has always been true, and it is perhaps even more true and urgent now.

There’s a wonderful Pali word that speaks to this moment we inhabit and how we feel about it: samvega. It basically means, “a sense of shock, anxiety and spiritual urgency leading to wise action.” Certainly one of the best and most effective forms of wise action for us as human beings in the face of today’s immense challenges and the associated difficult emotions that come up for us is to continue and deepen our meditation practice. For this practice has as one of its fruits the strengthening and fortification of our ability to bring more presence and awareness to everything — every moment, person, situation, emotion, thought, experience. And the better able we are to be present, non-reactive, non-judgmental and clear, the better chance we have of behaving in a way that helps rather than harms.

We need to practice (ideally, daily!) in order to strengthen these tendencies and habits — in order to water the seeds of kindness, generosity, gratitude, forgiveness, and love inside of us, rather than the seeds of greed, hatred, fear, doubt and delusion which we all also carry within. Training our minds and hearts and changing ourselves in this way WILL ultimately change the “outside” world, for we are inextricably woven through with that entire world — all of its molecules, all of its energy, all of its beings and non-beings. There is no true separation we can actually measure. Inter-being is a fact. So the transformative effect of this work we do with and inside of ourselves in meditation practice is not something to underestimate.

Merriam-Webster defines crisis as follows: “a difficult or dangerous situation that needs serious attention” and “the turning point for better or worse in an acute disease or fever”. I just love this! For certainly, we are, here and now, alive during a time that “needs serious attention”. And certainly things are both “difficult” and “dangerous”. But notice the “better or worse” clause. It is as if the earth and humanity were infected with an acute disease, and we are right now at or approaching the height of the infection. In which direction will the illness go? Toward death, or toward life? Toward annihilation, or toward a great turning? I firmly believe we can do our part to turn this crisis in the direction of love and healing, starting from our very own meditation cushions.

One beautiful and effective way to fortify the mind and heart and create stability in your practice, especially during difficult times or when emotions are running high, is to practice Metta, or Lovingkindness, meditation, on a regular basis. There are some wonderful guided meditations available on the internet here and here and here, and you can read more about the practice here and here and here. The basic idea is to generate feelings of goodwill in ever-widening circles, beginning with yourself. The technique employed in the meditation is to repeat certain phrases over and over again, dropping them into your heart, cultivating this sense of wishing others well as you go along:

“May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be safe. May I be at peace.

May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe. May you be at peace.”

In addition to a very beautiful way of loving and caring for ourselves, this practice nourishes the heart, stabilizes the mind, and is generally a comforting place to land. Certainly, we can all use all the comfort we can get these days. And the odds of us being able to find and cultivate this comfort within, taking charge of our own suffering and our own karma, are a lot higher than finding it in any leader or system or anything external for that matter. Yes, we have to mother ourselves. And, in doing so, we mother the world.

So, we must find ways to act, and we must find ways to sit and do nothing. Start off be getting inspired by some human beings practicing courageous and dramatic action in support of the healing of our earth — the Pacific Climate Warriors’ recent efforts in the seas off Australia. And then spend some time on your cushion, loving the earth by loving yourself, being kind to the earth by being kind to yourself, cultivating the wish for ALL BEINGS to be happy, healthy, safe and at peace. This is certainly something we can do.

October Mindfulness Tip: Practice Lovingkindness Often!
Experiment with adding a short (5-minute) or longer (25-minute) lovingkindness practice to your meditation schedule. Perhaps 2-3 times per week for the next month, replace your daily meditation with a period of lovingkindness. Alternately, you can end each of your regular sits with a short period of lovingkindness practice. Or even expand your practice to add a lovingkindness meditation on a day you’ll also do your regular mindfulness practice (For example, when I can make the time, I like to practice Lovingkindness in the morning, and do a regular sit later on. It starts my day off in such a gentle way and sets the stage for kindness and a more open heart all day long). This is also a wonderful practice to do as a “last thing” before you go to sleep. Get cozy, release your the worries and anxieties and stress of your day into the bed/floor/earth, and give yourself a little extra love! Finally, if it feels overwhelming to do the whole practice (starting with yourself, moving to a benefactor or friend, then a neutral person, then a difficult person, then all beings), just stay with yourself and practice there. You’re worth it!

I will leave you with a song. It’s about lovingkindness and sharing our love, all around. Sing it in the shower. Sing it with your kids. Sing it to your partner. Sing it to the trees and the oceans and the rivers and the skies and the breeze. And sing it to your very own heart.

I love you.

charity_signature