Thich Nhat Hanh ~ Mastering The Art of Innerbeing

What does love mean, exactly? We have applied to it our finest definitions; we have examined its psychology and outlined it in philosophical frameworks; we have even devised a mathematical formula for attaining it. And yet anyone who has ever taken this wholehearted leap of faith knows that love remains a mystery – perhaps the mystery of the human experience.

Learning to meet this mystery with the full realness of our being – to show up for it with absolute clarity of intention – is the dance of life.

Indeed, in accordance with the general praxis of Buddhist teachings, Nhat Hanh delivers distilled infusions of clarity, using elementary language and metaphor to address the most elemental concerns of the soul. To receive his teachings one must make an active commitment not to succumb to the Western pathology of cynicism, our flawed self-protection mechanism that readily dismisses anything sincere and true as simplistic or naïve – even if, or precisely because, we know that all real truth and sincerity are simple by virtue of being true and sincere.

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At the heart of Nhat Hanh’s teachings is the idea that “understanding is love’s other name” – that to love another means to fully understand his or her suffering. (“Suffering” sounds rather dramatic, but in Buddhism it refers to any source of profound dissatisfaction – be it physical or psychoemotional or spiritual.) Understanding, after all, is what everybody needs – but even if we grasp this on a theoretical level, we habitually get too caught in the smallness of our fixations to be able to offer such expansive understanding. He illustrates this mismatch of scales with an apt metaphor:

 

If you pour a handful of salt into a cup of water, the water becomes undrinkable. But if you pour the salt into a river, people can continue to draw the water to cook, wash, and drink. The river is immense, and it has the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform. When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited, and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things don’t make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others. We accept others as they are, and then they have a chance to transform.

 

The question then becomes how to grow our own hearts, which begins with a commitment to understand and bear witness to our own suffering:

When we feed and support our own happiness, we are nourishing our ability to love. That’s why to love means to learn the art of nourishing our happiness.

Understanding someone’s suffering is the best gift you can give another person. Understanding is love’s other name. If you don’t understand, you can’t love.

And yet because love is a learned “dynamic interaction,” we form our patterns of understanding – and misunderstanding – early in life, by osmosis and imitation rather than conscious creation. Echoing what Western developmental psychology knows about the role of “positivity resonance” in learning love, Nhat Hanh writes:

If our parents didn’t love and understand each other, how are we to know what love looks like? … The most precious inheritance that parents can give their children is their own happiness. Our parents may be able to leave us money, houses, and land, but they may not be happy people. If we have happy parents, we have received the richest inheritance of all.

Nhat Hanh points out the crucial difference between infatuation, which replaces any real understanding of the other with a fantasy of who he or she can be for us, and true love:

Sometimes we feel empty; we feel a vacuum, a great lack of something. We don’t know the cause; it’s very vague, but that feeling of being empty inside is very strong. We expect and hope for something much better so we’ll feel less alone, less empty. The desire to understand ourselves and to understand life is a deep thirst. There’s also the deep thirst to be loved and to love. We are ready to love and be loved. It’s very natural. But because we feel empty, we try to find an object of our love. Sometimes we haven’t had the time to understand ourselves, yet we’ve already found the object of our love. When we realize that all our hopes and expectations of course can’t be fulfilled by that person, we continue to feel empty. You want to find something, but you don’t know what to search for. In everyone there’s a continuous desire and expectation; deep inside, you still expect something better to happen. That is why you check your email many times a day!

Real, truthful love, he argues, is rooted in four elements – loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity – fostering which lends love “the element of holiness.” The first of them addresses this dialogic relationship between our own suffering and our capacity to fully understand our loved ones:

The essence of loving kindness is being able to offer happiness. You can be the sunshine for another person. You can’t offer happiness until you have it for yourself. So build a home inside by accepting yourself and learning to love and heal yourself. Learn how to practice mindfulness in such a way that you can create moments of happiness and joy for your own nourishment. Then you have something to offer the other person.

[…]

If you have enough understanding and love, then every moment – whether it’s spent making breakfast, driving the car, watering the garden, or doing anything else in your day – can be a moment of joy.

This interrelatedness of self and other is manifested in the fourth element as well, equanimity, the Sanskrit word for which – upeksha – is also translated as “inclusiveness” and “nondiscrimination”:

In a deep relationship, there’s no longer a boundary between you and the other person. You are her and she is you. Your suffering is her suffering. Your understanding of your own suffering helps your loved one to suffer less. Suffering and happiness are no longer individual matters. What happens to your loved one happens to you. What happens to you happens to your loved one.

[…]

In true love, there’s no more separation or discrimination. His happiness is your happiness. Your suffering is his suffering. You can no longer say, “That’s your problem.”

Supplementing the four core elements are also the subsidiary elements of trust and respect, the currency of love’s deep mutuality:

When you love someone, you have to have trust and confidence. Love without trust is not yet love. Of course, first you have to have trust, respect, and confidence in yourself. Trust that you have a good and compassionate nature. You are part of the universe; you are made of stars. When you look at your loved one, you see that he is also made of stars and carries eternity inside. Looking in this way, we naturally feel reverence. True love cannot be without trust and respect for oneself and for the other person.

 

To love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love. To know how to love someone, we have to understand them. To understand, we need to listen.

[…]

When you love someone, you should have the capacity to bring relief and help him to suffer less. This is an art. If you don’t understand the roots of his suffering, you can’t help, just as a doctor can’t help heal your illness if she doesn’t know the cause. You need to understand the cause of your loved one’s suffering in order to help bring relief.

[…]

The more you understand, the more you love; the more you love, the more you understand. They are two sides of one reality. The mind of love and the mind of understanding are the same.

Echoing legendary Zen teacher D.T. Suzuki’s memorable aphorism that“the ego-shell in which we live is the hardest thing to outgrow,” Nhat Hanh considers how the notion of the separate, egoic “I” interrupts the dialogic flow of understanding – the “interbeing,” to use his wonderfully poetic and wonderfully precise term, that is love:

Often, when we say, “I love you” we focus mostly on the idea of the “I” who is doing the loving and less on the quality of the love that’s being offered. This is because we are caught by the idea of self. We think we have a self. But there is no such thing as an individual separate self. A flower is made only of non-flower elements, such as chlorophyll, sunlight, and water. If we were to remove all the non-flower elements from the flower, there would be no flower left. A flower cannot be by herself alone. A flower can only inter-be with all of us… Humans are like this too. We can’t exist by ourselves alone. We can only inter-be. I am made only of non-me elements, such as the Earth, the sun, parents, and ancestors. In a relationship, if you can see the nature of interbeing between you and the other person, you can see that his suffering is your own suffering, and your happiness is his own happiness. With this way of seeing, you speak and act differently. This in itself can relieve so much suffering.

 

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Spiritual Alchemy ~ Understanding Shame

Monica-BellucciTo the extent that we blame ourselves for anything, we feel ashamed. The truth is that no matter what we’ve done, the Divine accepts, forgives and loves us unconditionally. Mistakes are just that. We made an error. It may have been an error in judgment, but we made an error. That’s all we did. We goofed. We made a mistake. We were wrong.

Then … Whatever we did and whenever we did it is over and we need to get on with our lives. We need to realize that everybody living now and everybody that ever lived made mistakes and a lot of those mistakes are far worse than anything we ever did. We need to get over it and get on with our lives. Correct the error to the best of your ability, accept that’s the best you can do, forgive yourself for making the mistake in the first place, love yourself in spite of this mistake and get on with your life.

When you’re ashamed, you’re not living your life and that’s a much bigger mistake than anything you ever did that makes you feel ashamed now. Get over it. Confess to yourself and another human being whom you trust or confess to yourself and confess to the Divine. Confess your mistake. Confess your inability to make it right. Correct the error as best you can, accept this as being the best you can do, forgive yourself, love yourself in spite of this error and get on with your life.

If you don’t, you’re going to wallow around in shame until you do. While you’re wallowing around in shame like a pig in a mud hole, life goes on and passes you by. You remain in your dungeon of shame and people can’t see the best in you. They see only the worst and you continue your downward journey into self-pity, self-judgment and self-condemnation.

What’s wrong with this picture? Other people who’ve done much worse things than you accept their mistakes, forgive themselves and get on with their lives. Why can’t you?

You can. Here’s one way:

MANAGING SHAME – METHOD ONE

Make a list of all the things you did in your life that make you feel ashamed now. Make a list of all the things about your family, job, friends and environment that make you feel ashamed. Then one by one take up each item and ask yourself the following questions about that item:

  1. Does the Divine, who accepts and forgives everything, accept you and forgive you in spite of this mistake? Keeping asking until you find the strength to say yes.

  2. What can you do, in your present circumstances, to make amends for this mistake? Make it a priority to do what you can to make amends and avoid making this same mistake in the future. Do what you can, accept this is the best you can do, forgive yourself and love yourself anyway.

  3. If there’s nothing you can do, for whatever reason, about making amends, turn to the Divine and ask for forgiveness and peace and vow to do something to make somebody else’s life easier. By easing the pain of another person, you release your own pain and shame.

  4. Release your shame and let it go.

If you feel ashamed about something, you’re holding yourself back in life and impeding your spiritual growth. If you seek acceptance, forgiveness and love from the Divine because of this situation, you will instantly receive it. If you accept, forgive and love yourself to the best of your ability over this situation, you empower yourself and you grow spiritually.

The choice is yours and yours alone.

MANAGING SHAME – METHOD TWO

Make a list of all the things you did in your life that make you feel ashamed now. Make a list of all the things about your family, job, friends and environment that make you feel ashamed. Then one by one take up each item and ask yourself the following questions about that item:

  1. What can I do to make amends for the wrong that I’ve done?

  2. Can I make restitution to the person I harmed or their family?

  3. What restitution can I make?

  4. Can I help other people instead to make this restitution?

  5. What people?

  6. What can I do to help these other people?

  7. What do I have to do to stop feeling ashamed about this?

Your spiritual growth and your ability to live life to its fullest depends upon your ability to resolve your issues of shame. As long as you insist upon hanging onto your shame, your shame will retard your spiritual growth. As long as you insist upon hanging onto your shame, your shame will weigh you down and make life ever so much more difficult for you. As long as you insist upon hanging onto your shame, you cannot reach your highest potential in this life.

You must resolve your issues around shame to become free. Spiritual Alchemy is one tool to help you become free of the past so you can improve the quality of your life beyond your wildest dreams.

Spiritual Alchemy ~ Understanding Blame

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When we blame others for the things that happen to us, we are mistaken.

Most of us don’t believe that for a minute. But it is the truth.

Things happen. Some of them are accidents. Some of them are designed by the Divine to help us learn something about ourselves and others. Some of the are actually designed by us to help us learn something we want to learn. Some are caused by people in the grip of pain, wild emotions, drugs, mental problems or psychological disorders. Some are random acts of cruelty and evil.

What’s important to our spiritual health is not what happens to us but how we react to what happens. The event that happened did hurt us. Our reactions to that event continue to hurt us every day of our lives. We can’t stop what happened. We can stop our reactions to what happened. We do that through the simple process of understanding why we blame somebody or something else for our pain. We make a list of what happened and our current understanding of why we blame anybody or anything for what happened. We can learn to understand the evil deed they did was not them and the evil deed we did was not us.

We blame them, us or it because they, me or it did it.

We heal ourselves by understanding the other person was out of control and couldn’t stop before they hurt us. They were physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically or spiritually out of control. We heal ourselves by understanding we were out of control when it happened and that’s all there is to it. We heal ourselves by understanding the thing was out of control when it hurt us and that’s all there is to it.

What we need to do is accomplish this aspect of our spiritual alchemy is to the best of our ability at this time. Healing always follows such an effort in Journaling.  So, break out the laptop, PC or book journal and go through this self-examination process:

  • List and understand what you blame your father for doing to you

  • List and understand what you blame your mother for doing to you

  • List and understand what you blame your child or children, brother or brothers, sister or sister, aunts, uncles and cousins for doing to you

  • List and understand what you blame your grandparents, great uncles, great aunts, nieces, nephews and all your other ancestors for doing to you

  • List and understand what you blame your friends, fellow students and fellow employees for doing to you

  • List and understand what you blame your enemies and antagonists for doing to you

  • List and understand what you blame all other persons whatsoever for doing to you

  • List and understand what you blame yourself, your mind, body, attitudes, beliefs, intentions, health and actions for doing to you

1. List and understand what you blame your father for doing to you

For our purposes the term father refers to the male person who contributed most to your childhood. This may be your biological father, a step-father or other male figure. It may include other men or be a combination of several men. If this is the case, you may want to do this task for each of them.

Your father, whether he is currently dead or alive, is a human being complete with strengths and weaknesses. He is a product of his environment and his heredity. He is a product of the prejudices and biases of his own parents and the society in which he grew up. He was and still is imperfect and he made and may still be making many mistakes.

Your father loves you and he wants the very best for you and he always has. He always did the best he could do in everything he did based on who and what he was at the time. He never intended to harm you, but he did intend to protect and teach you as best he could based on who and what he was at the time. He was imperfect and he made mistakes.

Your task is to sit quietly, become comfortable, take a few deep breaths and write down everything you remember you blame your father for. List the things he said and did that made you feel badly and explain these feelings.

Make certain your list is as complete as it can be for now. This may take you several days. So be it. Write as long as thoughts and ideas arise and as long as you’re comfortable. Take a break when you need to take a break. The intent of this part of the task is to recall as many details as you can comfortably recall about the things for which you blame your father. Write them all down together with a description of your feelings at the time.

When you’re done try to understand what mental, emotional, psychological or spiritual illness caused him to act in this way. Yes, he may have been the cause of your pain, but you don’t need to hang onto that forever. You can let it go and that choice is yours and yours alone. When finished, go to step two.

2. List and understand what you blame your mother for doing to you

For our purposes the term mother refers to the woman who contributed most to your childhood. This may be your biological mother, a stepmother or other female figure. It may include other women or be a combination of several women. If this is the case, you may want to do this task for each of them.

Your mother, whether she is currently dead or alive, is a human being complete with strengths and weaknesses. She is a product of her environment and her heredity. She is a product of the prejudices and biases of her own parents and the society in which she grew up. She was and still is imperfect and she made and may still be making many mistakes.

Your mother loves you and she wants the very best for you and she always has. She always did the best she could do in everything she did based on who and what she was at the time. She never intended to harm you, but she did intend to protect and teach you as best she could based on who and what she was at the time. She was imperfect and she made mistakes.

Your task is to sit quietly, become comfortable, take a few deep breaths and write down everything you remember you blame your father for. List the things she said and did that made you feel badly and explain these feelings.

Make certain your list is as complete as it can be for now. This may take you several days. So be it. Write as long as thoughts and ideas arise and as long as you’re comfortable. Take a break when you need to take a break. The intent of this part of the task is to recall as many details as you can comfortably recall about the things for which you blame your father. Write them all down together with a description of your feelings at the time.

When you’re done try to understand what mental, emotional, psychological or spiritual illness caused her to act in this way. Yes, she may have been the cause of your pain, but you don’t need to hang onto that forever. You can let it go and that choice is yours and yours alone. When finished, go to step three.

3. List and understand what you blame any of your children, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins for doing to you

Use the same technique you used for your mother and father and consider as many of these people as possible. Write it all down and open yourself to accepting each person as doing the best he or she could do at the time. When finished, go to step four.

4. List and understand what you blame your grandparents, great uncles, great aunts, nieces, nephews and all your other ancestors for doing to you

Use the same technique you used for your mother and father and consider as many of these people as possible. Write it all down and open yourself to accepting each person as doing the best he or she could do at the time. When finished, go to step five.

5. List and understand what you blame your friends, fellow students and fellow employees for doing to you

Use the same technique you used for your mother and father and consider as many of these people as possible. Write it all down and open yourself to accepting each person as doing the best he or she could do at the time. When finished, go to step six.

6.List and understand what you blame your enemies and antagonists for doing to you

Use the same technique you used for your mother and father and consider as many of these people as possible. Write it all down and open yourself to accepting each person as doing the best he or she could do at the time. When finished, go to step seven.

7. List and understand what you blame all other persons whatsoever for doing to you

Use the same technique you used for your mother and father and consider as many of these people as possible. Write it all down and open yourself to accepting each person as doing the best he or she could do at the time. When finished, go to step eight.

8. List and understand what you blame yourself, your mind, body, attitudes, beliefs, intentions, health and actions for doing to you.

We’ve intentionally saved the most difficult task for last. Having gone through this process for others makes it easier for us to go through it for ourselves. But go through it we must if we really intend to become the person we want to become. Go through it we must if we wish to advance spiritually in this lifetime. Go through it we must to continue our advancement in The Sanctuarium.

When you’re finished journaling on each of these eight relationships, decide how you want to handle all the paperwork you’ve generated. You may save or destroy it at your option. If you save it, you can use it later. The Sanctuarium will never ask you for your private papers. We will trust you when you say you’ve completed the task and wish to proceed.

Lao Tzu ~ Two Kinds of Blessings

kina“There are two kinds of blessings. The first are worldly blessings, which are won by doing good deeds. These concern the mind, and thus are confined in time and space. The second is the integral blessing, which falls on those who achieve awareness of the Great Oneness. This awareness liberates you from the bondage of mind, time, and space to fly freely through the boundless harmony of the Tao. Similarly, there are two kinds of wisdom. The first is worldly wisdom, which is a conceptual understanding of your experiences. Because it follows after the events themselves, it necessarily inhibits your direct understanding of truth. The second kind, integral wisdom, involves a direct participation in every moment: the observer and the observed are dissolved in the light of pure awareness, and no mental concepts or attitudes are present to dim that light. The blessings and wisdom that accrue to those who practice the Integral Way and lead others to it are a billion times greater than all worldly blessings and wisdom combined.”

~ Lao Tzu

For Tibet and the World

dalai lama walking

I pray for all of us, oppressor and friend,
that together we may succeed in building a better world
through human understanding and love,
and that in doing so we may reduce
the pain and suffering of all sentient beings.

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.

~ Dalai Lama