Love and Compassion Are the Other Faces of Beauty

I look out the window of our den and notice the standing Buddha in the garden has a hat of moss, of both a light and dark green with a lighter tone on the right side of his nose. He also has a shawl of moss over his robes. Does it keep him warm? His smile is so calming and clear it draws me in. Then he seems to dance, or is it breathe, or maybe the whole scene is breathing as my eyes dance over him.

 

My breath and his are after all the same breath.

 

He looks so beautiful to me. Is this what beauty is, a quality of me or a way of relating to something or someone else, a quality of focus, attention, or breathing? A drawing in. And can everything in this scene or anything anywhere that draws us in be touched like this? There is a large stone behind him ⎼ rust, grey, green, and shaped like a mountain. It also looks beautiful. What about the bush, the tree, the flowers, the weeds? In the right light, the Buddha looks bigger than a mountain. But why does he draw us in?

 

We say beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Maybe it’s this quality of attention of the beholder in the specific moment. Right now, is beautiful. I had a plan for this morning, but the Buddha took it over. Or maybe beauty did that.

 

Buddhism and other traditions say the separation we often feel between ourselves and others, between us the seer and what we see, is an illusion. But what does that mean? Can we feel as if we were the statue breathing? Is that possible? And who wants to be a statue? Instead, maybe it means that we live each inch of space occupied by mind.

 

We see something and think that statue, that person, that dragonfly or flower or car is over there, and I am here. But what about the air an inch from my face? Or the pavement I am standing on? What about the suffering we see over there or the injustice? The thing or person next to me is next to me all the way to whatever. Why separate the me here from the you there, the eyes from the eyed? Why forget all that is there between us linking us? Don’t we live the world we breathe in?

 

Maybe we separate because there’s hurt here or there, and over and over we re-build a wall to shield us from the pain. We all have hurts. But the wall can be more like a suit of armor we wear wherever we go. And everything we try to touch has the wall, the metal suit, standing in the way. All we ever touch is the inside surface of our armor and so we feel that just on the other side and way too close, a battle is raging.

 

Gently, consciously, we can find a safe way to name what we feel, or find a place of comfort inside as well as outside ourselves. By doing this gently, mindfully, our mind becomes gentler, and we perceive more consciously, and clearly.

 

Constantly, we are switching perspectives back and forth….

 

**To read the whole article, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

 

We All Need A Break Sometimes: A Place of Ease and Beauty

Unbelievably, it’s almost mid-August, and I can feel the end of warm weather approaching, the nearness of fall and winter. Considering how tough the last two, or five winters have been, we might have an added dread of the season. So, the end of summer can be a good opportunity to reflect on what we want or need from this time of year, and this time in our lives. And to try to make it reality before it’s gone.

 

Last night, I woke up at 5:15 and got out of bed. The moment was delicate, and not only because I was barely awake. Outside, light fell on the grass and trees like mist, like a mist of color, lighter than moonlight but not as deep as midday sun.

 

It was delicate, fragile because it felt so new, like a newborn. And I seemed to have the moment all to myself. I could hear no other person in the house or on the street. No cars on the road. If we don’t have to get up early for work, or don’t do it naturally, we don’t see the earth like this, just emerging from darkness, as if it were trying to figure out “how do I do this?”

 

There were birds awake outside singing loudly. One could not contain itself. I don’t know if it was berating the sun for having previously left the world to the dark, or if it just couldn’t find its mate. Or maybe it was telling the universe the story of morning; and every song it sang, every note or exclamation sprang single-mindedly from its mouth.

 

We often fear the fragile, fear it could too easily become hurt, especially after this last year and a half, or four years and a half. We all carry hurt. It is the nature of being human, or the nature of being alive. We have the scars and memory of pain, and some have way too much. Being delicate is vulnerable. But it can also be the strongest part of us. It can teach us not only what to avoid or fight, but how. It can shield us or release us.

 

When the world feels delicate, we notice the tiniest of changes in our surroundings and ourselves. If we don’t retreat into thoughts or get lost in memories, our awareness is heightened. We feel the tiniest tug on our heart. We notice changes in the posture of people we speak with, the quick inhalation, the deceptive movement in the eyes or incipient smile of joy in the lips. And we have the opportunity, if we can allow ourselves to feel it, to move with it. Move in-between the cries of pain, the calls to pleasure, the enticements, or dangers of memory and let all of these teach us the steps in a healing dance….

 

*To read the whole piece, please go to The Good Men Project.

We Are Always in Conversation with the Life that Surrounds and Sustains Us

The world is constantly in conversation, talking with itself, or maybe singing to itself.

 

As I stood in the front yard this morning, gypsy moths by the hundreds fluttered around our trees in the yard. Sunlight bounced off their brownish wings, a blue jay was flying between the moths, leaves dancing with wind, while a car crunched the gravel on the road and a crow cried out. I disliked what the moths represented, the oak, maple, and apple trees stripped bare of leaves. But at that moment, all was different. The air itself felt alive and was speaking.

 

Peter Doobinin, in his book, Skillful Pleasure: The Buddha’s Path for Developing Skillful Pleasure, describes how we can use thought to improve thinking. When we are working on a complex task, or we have an appointment later in the day, we talk ourselves through it or to it. We remind ourselves what we need to do or what time we need to leave our home in order to arrive on time. Likewise, when practicing mindfulness, or maybe anytime, we can remind ourselves to arrive right here, now, to be present, to fully focus on whatever task we undertake, or be aware of the quality of our breathing.

 

For example, before a meeting, or engaging in an important conversation, we might remind ourselves to first stop, take three conscious, deeper breaths. Notice how fast or slow, deep or shallow are our breaths, then our thoughts. Notice how we feel before engaging with others.

 

We use thought not only to arrive on time or complete a task but to construct an idea of ourselves, or an identity. We plan our future, select labels for our character, write mental reviews of past actions as if we were writing a review of a movie or play. Thoughts can pop up so easily.

 

In Buddhism, thought is considered the sixth primary form of consciousness, or sense consciousness, following sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch/feeling; it is closely tied to sense experience. So we need to remember that a thought has a different quality than direct perception. It can weigh a great deal emotionally. It can block or expand our viewpoint, aid or obscure the senses in discerning how completely tied we are to the universe. But when isolated from the senses, thought colors are less brilliant than that of bird wings, flowers, or a sunset.

 

Bruce Chatwin, in his book The Songlines, takes us to the Outback to learn about the First Nation People of Australia and the creator beings who sang the world into existence; song being the original language of people. The original songs are called songlines, or dreaming tracks, and mark the routes followed by creator-beings as they carved the earth during the Dreamtime, or time of creation.

 

But dreaming tracks are not solely about the past. They mark both a where and a when, a time and all time, or the continuous process linking the Aboriginal people to the land and heavens.

According to Wikipedia, a knowledgeable person even today can navigate vast distances, cross deserts and mountains, by singing and following the directions in the songline.

 

In this way, maybe we sing a songline to reach ourselves, or sing ourselves into existence through song.

 

Two metaphors, songs and conversations, or songs as conversations and vice versa. I don’t know which is more apt. We hear the universe singing; we hear the universe in conversation all the time but maybe don’t know exactly what we’re listening to….

 

*To read the whole post, please use this link to The Good Men Project, who published the piece.

 

 

The Skill We Most Want to Learn is Intimacy

It is so easy to lose sight of what originally inspired us to do what we do. We can focus more on how others might think of us, what material goods we might gain, or what grade or prize we might earn. And then we forget the meaning in what we’re doing and lose contact with the truth in ourselves.

 

When learning a skill or studying subject, we can forget the joy of learning itself, or the joy in doing something skillfully. When we use a cellphone or other device during a meal or movie, we can lose the pleasure in eating or engagement with the movie. Or if we read the news on our phones or write or text as we take a walk, we can forget the joy of walking, forget to notice the birds, trees or people around us or the feel of our steps on the earth.

 

Even with meditation, we can get caught up in goals that meditation might advance, like increasing focus, improving health, finding intellectual answers, or reducing stress. By centering on these goals, they become impossible to achieve. We lose the meditation itself.

 

If we meditate, for example, to get an answer to a problem, then as soon as a possible answer pops into our head we might stop meditating in order to write it down. Or if we meditate to reduce stress, what happens if, during a meditation, we realize our heartbeat is speeding up, or notice tension in our body?

 

Instead of treating the stress as part of the meditation, as an opportunity to learn from it, we might try to hide or end it. And the stress gets worse. Our mind becomes the act of hiding and we think of ourselves as unable to face what we feel.

 

Sometimes, we do need to distance ourselves from a painful memory or moment or switch our object of focus. And we need to respect that need, especially after 18 months or so of a pandemic and four years of DT anxiety. We can use different strategies to help us let go of tension and fear. When meditating we can focus on our feet on the floor instead of the breath in our chest, or on the sounds outdoors instead of thoughts indoors.

 

As Peter Doobinin describes it in his book, Skillful Pleasure: The Buddha’s Path for Developing Skillful Pleasure, we can use thinking to strengthen thinking. Instead of trying to stop all thought, we can use it skillfully to feed awareness instead of distraction and to keep alert. if we get caught in a thought, for example, we can step back, and note what is happening. We can say to ourselves, “in” as we inhale, “out” as we exhale. (If you are not experienced with meditation or mindfulness, please read or listen to the book to get the full practice.)

 

The breath goes through stages: the beginning, middle, and end of the inhalation, a pause; then the same with the exhalation. We can ask ourselves where we feel comfort inside us, or what is the quality of the breath⎼ rough or smooth, fast or slow, etc. If they don’t go by too quickly, we can observe which stages are more easeful, comfortable. By noticing, we feed awareness and allow the body to regulate itself. We discover the pleasure in the breath. We might notice, for example, an ease and comfort in the pause and in the middle of a longer, softer exhalation. And then the comfort can spread….

 

To read the whole piece, p-lease go to The Good Men Project