Thursday, January 31, 2008

Materialism and Spirituality

People who live only for wealth come to the end of their lives as naked and emptyhanded as on the day they were born.
-Ecclesiastes 5:15 (NLT)

So why, do you ask, am I quoting the Bible on a blog about Buddhism and mindfulness?

Thich Nhat Hanh says that it is important to honor your spiritual ancestors, including the religion you were raised with. I consider myself a Christian Buddhist.

Now that we have taken care of that question, lets move on the subject of money.

How materialistic are you?

When I was younger, I used nice things to make myself feel better. I didn't believe much in anything spiritual, I was more concerned with the here and now. I thought that having a lot of money would give me confidence and make me happy. So I chased it. And chased it. And chased it.

What I came to discover was that I had a God-sized hole in my soul that I was trying to fill with worldly things. And it didn't work. I needed a spiritual solution to my problem.

Through prayer and meditation, I began to see why I did these things. Using mindfulness as a tool, I got down to the core of the problem. I was unhappy and felt alone, no matter how many people were around me.

I had to practice a spiritual way of life. I was happy to discover this didn't mean I had to give up my nice things. It just meant I had to shift my focus. Once I started asking for help every morning and giving thanks at night, my life began to change.

I realized that money, though it has always been an issue, was not going to make me happy. Slowly but surely, I began to look to the sky and pray and my life has radically changed. Try it some time. You'll be amazed at the results.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Doing What We Cannot Do

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
-Eleanor Roosevelt

Tonight was the first time I've read this quote in its entirety. Doing what I thought I cannot do has become my mantra over the past couple of years.

It's funny how I can go out into the world, help at least 50 people through traumas I've never experienced on a daily basis, get to work and leave on time without going more than 45 seconds over my scheduled breaks and lunch hour and seemingly spin the great big world on my itty bitty finger but the things that terrify me I say I cannot do.

Tonight I got into an arguement with my husband. It was a little misunderstanding, really, but all things I cannot do (like talk about my feelings) built up and now I sit here hitting myself with the stupid stick because I still haven't talked about what was on my mind.

After the arguement, we both cooled down a bit pretty quickly. But I must do the thing I think I cannot do it. Because with the help of my Higher Spirit, all things are possible.

Even though my mind is stewing over a number of things that are bothering me, the truth is, things aren't really that bad. But I have some work to do. And yes, even the big invincible woman I am gets afraid sometimes. Especially when my ego is involved. Especially when it involves those I love the most.

But my mindfulness already knows what to do. It has been telling me since that uncomfortable car ride home that I must walk through the fear and pray for the right words to come out of my mouth.

So pray for me tonight, send a good swift kick in the rear my way to pick up the shattered pieces of my fragile little ego and go apologize. We all need a little help sometimes.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Free from Pain

This week I found out a friend of mine has passed away. It was not a happy ending for him, and I was sad.

Then someone pointed out to me that he was now free from pain and in a better place. This made me feel better.

I remember how long and hard he suffered. He hated himself. He was ashamed. He asked me for help, but he was unable to do what he needed to in order to feel better.

By using mindfulness, I was able to see that his suffering is over. He is free. He can be reborn into a new life, with the opportunity to learn from the last. His life was not in vain.

When I feel like I am struggling, I think of my friend. I remember that I don't have to give up like he did. I can learn from his life without having to go far so down the scale. I can remember that everyday I live with a freedom that he never enjoyed.

What hurt me the most is that he never got the chance to feel free. But now I can remember that he is free from pain.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Mindfulness and the Art of Tea

As I sit here enjoying a cup of tea, I think about today's events and tomorrow's plans, eagerly awaiting my bed and another night of pleasant dreams.

Then, I remembered that I hadn't published a post on maha maitri since January 18th and it is almost the 25th.

As an American, I have always viewed tea as a beverage rather than an art form. But when I recently began reigniting my passion for a good cup of tea to finish off the night, mindfulness allowed me to see the art present in the chamomile flowers I was brewing.

I used to microwave a mug of water, throw in a couple of tea bags, and impatiently wait for them to steep. But my husband sometimes boils water for me on the stove, and it tastes so much better that way. So I began to boil my own.

I realized the love and care that goes into every glass. I have a system, and I don't stray from it often. I put the chamomile bags in the empty mug first now, along with just the right amount of raw Florida Palmetto honey.

Next comes the boiling water, the ice, and finally, the vanilla soy milk. I stir it all up with a wedding gift from a friend in Colorado, and I sit back and enjoy my cup of relaxation made to order.

Peace. Rest. After my tea, I always sleep well.

Do you have a nightly ritual to help you drift pleasantly to sleep?

Try a cup of sleepytime tea. You'll be happy you did.

Friday, January 18, 2008

welcome to maha maitri!

If you're looking for exploded view, you've found it. Exploded view is now maha maitri. As we learned in the Faces of Love posts, maitri is Sanskrit for "love" and maha means "great." We will be keeping the same address for now, and possibly moving to a new one later. The content nor the subject has changed, I am just looking for ways to improve the incoming traffic.

"exploded view" is actually a scientific diagram and many people stumble upon this site looking for an exploded view of a piece of electronic equipment, so I felt the name was a little deceptive, though that wasn't my intention.

We will also be getting a logo in the next few weeks, as well as a new site layout. This site is a labor of love right now, so progress is slow-going.


It Takes a Drop of Water to Create an Ocean: on Inter-Being

Many people think that they are too small and insignificant to make a difference in this world. They don't vote, volunteer, or do anything nice because they feel that only one person cannot make a dent in the world's problems.

While it is true that only one person cannot end world hunger or stop all the violence and war, your actions are important. Look at the US Presidential elections.

In the New Hampshire primary, Barack Obama was riding high from his win in the Iowa caucuses. Journalists and political analysts thought highly of his chances in New Hampshire, and pre-primary polls showed him with a pretty strong lead. But he didn't win.

Why, you ask?

The young people who so fervently revered him didn't bother to vote. They didn't think their waterdrop was enough to fill a big ocean like a presidential election. But it did.

While the race is far from over, it goes to show that the individual can make a difference. We are all one with each other, and our actions affect more than just ourselves, though we may not think so. This is at the core of the philosophy Thich Nhat Hanh describes as Interbeing.

What is Interbeing?

The basic theory is that all are one, one are all. While this may seem very broad, let us look at a tree.

The basic substance of the tree is common to all, we would call them "Tree Elements." But a tree by itself is not a tree. If we use mindfulness to look beyond the surface, we can see that a tree is made up of "non-tree elements."

For example, without the sunshine, seed, gardener, or soil in which the tree grows, the tree would not exist. This state is described as Interbeing. Any one thing is dependant on the other, so we are all connected to and responsible for each other.

Though Interbeing may seem to be very simple when explained this way, there are many facets to this type of philosophy. We begin to see how selfishness creates negative consequences for others where we haven't seen it before. We can use this insight to change our behavior to be more kind to the earth and each other.

Some ways to practice Interbeing are:

1. Plant a tree.
2. Stop littering.
3. Volunteer at your local Boys and Girls Club.
4. Smile at everyone you see today.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Faces of Love: Upekka

Practicing the Immeasurable Mind of Equanimity extinguishes hatred, aversion and attachment in the heart of all living beings
-Prajnaparamitra Shastra

Tonight we are going to talk about Upekka, or equanimity. This is perhaps the most difficult of all the practices. While the practice is called equanimity, many tend to focus on what it brings: freedom.

Many adults today are afflicted by a soul sickness. With our "love" comes attachment and prejudice. Upekka teaches us this is not true love.

If you intend to give your loved one the space to be themselves, you have made a beginning. Addictions also fall into this category.

If you are addicted to alcohol, the alcohol robs you of your freedom. You view yourself as nothing without it. Because you are less than the alcohol, you are not practicing upekka.

If you have a girlfriend, boyfriend or spouse, and you cling to them by being controlling, jealous, or posessive, you are not practicing upekka. We must free ourselves of this distrust. It is the corroding thread in a relationship. If you don't trust the one you love, you are not practicing upekka.

But if you know you do these things and have the intention to stop, you have made a beginning. You must transform these feelings, even if they may be justified by actions of the other person in the past.

By using mindfulness, we can see where are actions smother others, including ourselves. But we must go further. We must learn to see how we rob everyone of their freedom, even those we dislike. The observation gleaned from mindfulness is the key to transforming any negative behavior.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Faces of Love: Mudita

Practicing the Immeasurable Mind of Joy extinguishes sadness and joylessness in the hearts of living beings.
-Mahaprajnaparamita Shastra

When people visualize the word love, the imagination will often conjure images of happiness, carelessness and fun. This is the easiest way to describe Mudita, or Joy. But is goes a little deeper than that. Unlike lust, this type of feeling is not fleeting or subject to change without notice. It is a glass of sweet iced tea during a muggy Southern afternoon, or a hearty glass of hot chocolate on a bone-chilling January night for our Northern friends.

If you have the intention to bring joy to everyone, including those you dislike, you may be patting yourself on the back, thinking you've got it. But you don't. You have to not only want to make others happy, but you also have to have the ability.

It is only through mindfulness that you can learn to bring joy to the lives of yourself and those around you. The intention is the seed, and mindfulness is the water and the sunlight to turn your saplings into an old, wise forest.

Tall order? No one ever masters it. But spirituality is about the journey, not the destination.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Site Update

Hello there:

I apologize for the absence, we will be returning to our discussion of love tomorrow. I am working on a new name and layout for the site. The address will remain the same for now. It will be changing very, very soon.

When I began this blog, I was looking for a cute and catchy name, and didn't really have a very clear theme. Now that our subject has emerged, I will be naming it something more appropriate so that others may find us.

I apologize to my accidental readers who have come here by way of the search engines looking for a scientific diagram only to find our discussion of Buddhism!


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Faces of Love: Karuna

Practicing the Immeasurable Mind of Compassion extinguishes all sorrows and anxieties in the hearts of living beings.
--Mahaprajnaparamita Shastra

When you go to the doctor, they do not have to have your disease to relieve your symptoms. This is the heart of karuna.

To have good intentions is important. We see someone suffering and we want to make it go away. We want that person to feel better. We want to do anything we can to put a smile on their face. But as good as our attentions may be, we learned last night in metta that good intentions are not enough. We must go further.

Like metta, karuna involves not only the intent but the ability to relieve the suffering of another. And in order to know what it takes to makes someone feel better, we need to use mindfulness in order to see clearly what it is they need.

When someone is suffering, we must ask them what will make it better if we do not know. And we have to practice this with everyone, including the ones that we don't like. It is important to remember that people we dislike are not bad people, but sick ones. They are suffering from a soul sickness that needs our help to cure.

We must be good listeners. We must not judge. And above all, we must use the tool of mindfulness to open the door to understanding. It is the key to unlock our potential, to know the joy that comes from making someone else happy. Karuna is ours for the taking, if we only reach out and grab it.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Faces of Love: Metta (Maitri)

Practicing the Immeasurable Mind of Love extinguishes anger
in the heart of living beings.
--Mahaparjnaparamita Shastra

Metta is not only the intention to make someone happy, but also the ability.

I used to think I was a loving and kind person, doing nice things for everyone I knew whether they liked it or not. When the concept of Metta came into my life, I was disappointed to learn that I did not embody the principle of lovingkindness. My intentions were good, but I did not have the ability to make the other person happy because I was looking at their happiness from my point of view instead of theirs.

By developing mindfulness, we learn to go past our good intentions. We learn to present the other person with happiness and joy because we have put ourselves in their shoes. If your intentions are free and without strings attached, the "what's in this for me" mindset, we are on our way to learning the freedom that Metta brings.

But we must go even further. We must practice developing the ability to bring happiness not only to those we love, but also those we dislike.

We are all here on this planet to avoid suffering and bring joy to others. To live in any other way would be heresy.
Full Text of the Four Immeasurable Minds

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Faces of Love: The Four Immeasaurable Minds

Some people use the term love rather loosely. They love their pet, rainbows and rainy days. Many of us sometimes (myself included) use the word love in place of lust.

Love is such a broad term, it is easy to misconstrue it or twist its meaning, even though our intentions are good. So what is love, anyway?

In Buddhism, there are several different words for love, all describing a different aspect:

maitri/metta*: love or lovingkindness
karuna/karuna: compassion
upeksha/upekka: equanimity
mudita/mudita: joy

While all of these words do not directly translate to the English word love, they are all essential to true love. One of these cannot exist without the other.

If our love is not compassionate, it is not true love. The same is also true is we do not bring the other person joy or allow them the freedom to be themselves. And although this may seem glaringly obvious on paper but harder to practice in real life, true love also means that we must be kind to one another.

Many people do not learn this type of love growing up, and all of their relationships suffer as a result. It is unfortunate that these same people will pass these unhealthy characteristics down to their children. And as spiritually mature as I may seem at this point in my life, I know I am included in this group.

That's why its so important to change these habits, as they affect not only us, but generations to come. We will talk about these aspects of love, also called the Four Immeasurable Minds, in the next few days.

*the first word is the Sanskrit translation, while the second is the Pali. Pali is usually the more widely-used term.

Full Text of the Four Immeasurable Minds

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Seeds for Change: a Month of Mindfulness

Change we must or die we will.

Change is inevitable, whether we like it or not. What are some of the things you would like to change about yourself?

Nothing? Come on, I know about your New Year's Resolutions. Even if you've resolved not to make any, there must be something you're thinking about.

Even though I don't make resolutions, after all the reviewing I have done at the end of my year, there are habits I'm considering changing.

Mindfulness an important part of change. In order to know what we don't like about ourselves, we have to be mindful of it. Although this process happens subconsciously, making an effort to look at my behavior as an outside observer is the first step in figuring out what it is about myself I want to change.

Take a month to try this. Instead of going about your day acting and reacting without paying much attention, try to watch your behavior as if you're looking at a friend. Don't change your behavior because you know someone (you) is watching. If you do that, it won't work.

Keep a small notebook with you wherever you go and take notes of what you see. Next month we'll see how we can use mindfulness to initiate change.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Doing the Right Thing

Spirituality is all about action. What you do daily is important to your journey and shows your maturity. You will hear a lot of talk about doing the right thing. What does this mean?

Doing the right thing means taking the road less traveled. It means doing the selfless thing, the thing that will make you of maximum service to God and others. Spirituality is all about service. We were put on this earth to help each other.

Another word about doing the right thing: there should be absolutely no strings attached. You don't do the right thing because you are trying to get something in return. If you are, than its not the right thing, at least for you anyway.

Doing the right thing does not guarantee you what you want, and many times is harder than what you're used to doing. But the rewards are endless. When you get that peace, that joy inside you, then you will know why it's better to do the right thing.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008 we can all breathe again.

The holidays are over... we can all breathe again.

Have you ever been driving 90 miles an hour and collided head first into a brick wall?

Me neither. But I think that's how I'm feeling right now.

With all the parties, shopping, and working to make sure the season didn't put me in a financial bind, I feel like I've been constantly in motion and I can give myself permission to stop.

The responsible side of me is saying, "No! No! There's still too much to do," while the young woman feeling like she's trapped in an old woman's body is telling me if I don't stop I'm going to end up in bed for the next few days.

By taking inventory and paying attention to the signals that it's time to halt, my responsible side can give permission to take a little break. And that's progress.

So take the day off of your New Year's Resolutions tomorrow. Don't worry. It'll be our little secret. Tomorrow we will get back on track. I promise.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A Clean Slate

Yesterday, a friend of mine called the new year a clean slate. and she's right. It's a chance to take the time over the last week we spent reviewing and planning and put it into action.

When you woke up this morning, this year awaited with you with all the wonder and surprise that it hold. Take the time to pray for guidance in the upcoming year and put your plans into action.

Some recommendations from our friends:

Thich Nhat Hanh recommends meditating for an hour a day. Begin gradually, and work yourself up to it.

Marianne Williamson, author of The Course in Miracles, recommends reading spiritual material for an hour each day. She also suggests doing affirmations 50 times daily.

The book Alcoholics Anonymous, which contains wisdom for more than just alcoholics, suggests morning and evening prayer, daily meditation and inventory.

Now that you've done your review, you'll know what you have planned. Set up a rough schedule loose enough to allow time for adjustments for you to use in the beginning until your tasks become as natural as breathing.

Good luck, and Happy New Year!