Thich Nhat Hanh Quote Collectiveॐ

Silence is essential. We need silence, just as much as we need air, just as much as plants need light. If our minds are crowded with words and thoughts, there is no space for us. – Thich Nhat Hanh.

Silence is something that comes from your heart not from outside. Silence doesn’t mean not talking and not doing things, it means that you are not disturbed inside. – Thich Nhat Hanh.

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Tree-Hugging Is About Trees and So Much More Than Trees by Carol P. Christ

Great piece from Carol Christ.

Not too long ago I heard someone deride members a seminar that was building labyrinths in the olive groves of Greece as “a bunch of tree-huggers.”  I bristled! I probably first heard of the Chipko tree-hugging movement which is led by women in the 1970s and 1980s. Because I love nature, I naturally assumed hugging trees is a good thing. Originally, I had no idea that the tree-hugging movement was about much more than saving trees from being felled in the interests of short-term profit.

I did not know that the deeper purpose of the movement is to save a way of life based on forest-culture that is being threatened by the imposition of western ideas and practices promoted by colonialism and its successor, the green revolution. Nor did I know that the traditional forest-culture of India is the provenance of women, with more than 4000 years of observation and…

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Present Moment, Wonderful Moment

 

I’ve been absent from my blog since New Year because I’ve had a combination of health issues that have stopped me from doing much except resting and trying to achieve one thing each day – and sometimes that’s just been managing to stay awake!

I’ve been involved in starting a Mindfulness Group at a local centre that provides support to folk with disabilities drawing the local community into its activities.  The idea behind this group has been to sit together and offer support to one another in our practice.  Some of us have previous experience with Mindfulness Practice and some are new to the whole idea.  I’ve been giving a lot of time to thinking about how to explain Mindfulness Practice to folk who have no idea what it is about, so here’s my attempt.

Mindfulness Practice is the central practice in Buddhism*; at its simplest it is a practice of being present to ourselves in every moment, and to attain this we use our breath.  The great thing about the breath is that it is always with us.  There’s no need for special robes, churches or temples; no need for special books; no need for special days**.  In every moment we can practice just by tuning into our breath and bringing our awareness to sitting here, in this body, on this chair, in this present moment. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, tells us that everything we need is here in this present moment.  No need to live in the past, or try to live in the future, all we need is here, now.

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I used to think there was something esoteric and mystical about this when I first began to practice because the idea that I could give all my attention to only this moment seemed impossible – in many ways it is, and that is why we take our seat and give our attention only to our breath in this body, on this cushion in this present moment.

I began practicing in Spring 1999 with people brought together by our friend, Cathy Bache, who had been exploring mindfulness through the teachings  of Thich Nhat Hanh.  It was a pivotal time in all of our lives.  Each of us were experiencing some difficulties and were determined to break out of the patterns that kept us going round in circles.  I needed a rest, and for two hours every Thursday that rest came in the shape of twenty minutes of guided meditation, ten minutes of walking meditation, twenty minutes of silent meditation followed by sharing (if we wanted to) and sharing the merit of our practice with others not present with us, then tea and conversation.

 

Thich Nhat Hahn talks about how refreshing the practice is; I couldn’t describe it as refreshing at first, it was the rest that was most noticeable to me.  Rest from all the demands in my life as a working single mother; rest from the demands of my responsibilities as a teacher; rest from extremely painful divorce I was at the beginning of.

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Mindfulness Practice is simple (but not easy):  we pay attention to our in breath and follow it, and pay attention to our out breath and follow it, and when the inevitable intrusion of thinking comes in, we notice it and smile to it, and let it go.  No harsh judgements; the invitation is to befriend what comes.

Thich Nhat Hanh uses the term ‘suchness’ which basically means ‘it is what it is’.  We can’t change, for instance, fear in ourselves unless we accept that fear is there; we need to give time to looking into this fear with compassion, understanding its roots, and what it needs to be transformed.  We do this by befriending ourselves, and giving time to ourselves to observe ourselves with compassion.

For me, Mindfulness Practice meant air got into my hot little life and everything became less constricted; in my body; in my mind, and in my heart. In practicing with my friends, my sangha, it became easier to stay with the breath; sharing our difficulties with the practice helped me understand I wasn’t getting it wrong; we were all observing our own minds in action and understanding, for the first time, that we don’t actually need to pay attention to our thoughts; they don’t exist outside of our minds; they don’t become concrete until we make them solid by acting on them.  Some thoughts are pleasant – day dreams for example; some thoughts are frightening – fear of meeting new people; some thoughts are neutral – remembering to buy pasta on the way home.  This mixture of thinking with all the positive, negative and neutral charges they bring, swirl around in our minds and they all call for our attention, (a bit like a classroom with thirty-three ten-year olds!).

Sitting in mindfulness practice helped to learn how to not pay attention to my thinking****; to notice the thought, label it, and let it go.  The more I did this, the more it became habit and the easier it became to give my time to the thoughts that needed my attention, when I needed to make a decision and put that decision into action; in turn I was able to focus on my breath to ease anxiety, anger, and overwhelm.  Thich Nhat Hanh says all we need is three mindful breaths to bring us back to the present moment – back to ourselves.

The sense of refreshment did come.  Present moment, wonderful moment is every moment because in every moment we can choose to tune in to our breath and regardless of how bad or good the last moment was, in this moment we can choose to begin anew, one in breath, and one out breath at a time.

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Peace and smiles

Julia

*  Mindfulness Practice is central to Buddhism across the world, but has also been utilised in the West in medicine as a way to deal with physical and mental health issues; in the business world to help workers focus better, and in education to help children in school to focus on their learning.  Some people are against removing mindfulness practice from its ethical roots, while others think the benefits of the practice are felt regardless of the context in which it is practiced.

**  Which is not to say that sacred texts, sacred spaces and ritual have no importance; the point is that we can practice anywhere.

*** I should point out that I am a very cerebral person; as a child I was always asking why, and that continued into adulthood – twenty years of practice later and I can now let some why questions go by!

Letting go of anxiety

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Last week half a dozen people, all women as it happens, met in a beautiful setting overlooking the Firth of Forth in order to support one another in the practice of mindfulness , a practice many people feel intimidated by, but is as simple as giving our concentration to our in breath and our out breath; each breath as it comes.  In giving our full attention to our breath we also practice letting go of the stories our minds engage in.  At its most basic, this is a practice that gives our minds and bodies rest.

One theme that often occurs when people first decide to practice mindfulness is the need for respite from anxiety.  We have many circumstances in our lives where anxiety arises, and it’s very easy to get caught up in the story lines anxiety brings – we’ve all done it.

Last year I did an online retreat Mindful In May.  One of the teachers was Achayra Fleet Maull, a teacher who had learned mindfulness practice while serving a sentence in prison.  I was drawn to his approach because it resonated with me, and I could see his practice was honed during times of difficulty.  When it comes to addressing difficulties in life I find it easier to trust those I know to have been in the eye of the storm, so when I wanted to address the anxiety that arose for me last year due to serious illness, this teaching from Fleet Maull resonated with me, and was most helpful.

The first practice with any feeling is to acknowledge it as simply being a feeling;  we are not compelled to act on feelings. In Buddhist practice the teaching is to label the feeling and let it go.  For instance when we notice we are angry, we label that feeling as anger, let it go, and return to our in breath and our out breath. When this feeling returns, or another feeling arises, we do the same practice; label it, let it go and return to the breath.

At times of overwhelm, I find this practice I learned from Fleet Maull very settling.

First we bring our attention to this present moment, letting go of the past, and the future.

Second, we focus on the fact that we are safe in this moment. When I was leaving a violent partner, I was aware of the potential for further violence, but when I practiced mindfulness I did it in my own safe space, and when I practiced with others I knew them to be safe people.  Whatever circumstances surround us, giving time to this practice brings into our awareness the people, places and spaces in our lives where we are safe.

Breathing in,  I am safe.

Breathing out I let go of anxiety.

We do this for six in and out breaths.

 

Third, we focus on the fact that we are resourced; in this moment our basic needs are met – shelter, food, warmth, clothing. We may be struggling to pay bills; we may have to get our clothes from thrift shops; we may have to buy the cheapest food or even use a food bank; we may not live in the area we would prefer, but here in this moment our basic needs are met.

Breathing in my basic needs are met.

Breathing out, I let go of anxiety.

We do this for six in and out breaths.

 

Fourth, we focus on the fact we are connected; we have family and friends and even if we only speak to them on the phone, by text, on Facebook, we are still connected.  Most of us have neighbours, and we say ‘good morning’ to them, and ask how they are when we see them; we speak to the lady at the check out when we shop.  We may not have the relationships we desire, but in this moment we are connected.  Reading this blog is a form of connection.

Breathing in, I am connected.

Breathing out, I let go of anxiety.

We do this for six in and out breaths.

A final suggestion for dealing with anxiety overwhelm, again suggested by Fleet Maull:

On the in breath,  hold it for the count of five.

On the out breath, breath out slowly, as though through a straw, for the count of ten.

Repeat this three times.

When we are anxious our sympathetic nervous system, our ‘fight or flight’ mechanism, kicks in raising our heart rate and blood pressure, getting us ready to fight an enemy or run away from it; the human mind responds to anxiety in the same way we respond to a physical threat.  When we become aware we are anxious, and engage in this breath practice it influences the vagus nerve , which connects the brain to everything from the tongue, pharynx, vocal chords, lungs, heart, stomach and intestines, to different glands that produce enzymes and hormones, influencing digestion, me­tabolism, and much more; the body and mind then relax, reducing anxiety.

I hope you find yourself able to try these practices and you find them helpful.  The word ‘practice’ is important here; the more often we practice, the greater the benefit.

 

Peace and smiles.

 

Julia

 

 

New Year’s Eve 2018

In a few hours the year will have turned once again, the old year behind us, and a pristine new year ahead – at least that is how we traditionally view it.  Today is the day for making decisions about New Year Resolutions.  This tradition goes way back to 2000 BCE to the Babylonians who made promises to their gods at the turn of each year; they promised to return borrowed objects and pay off debts, thus gaining favour with the gods.  21st century people promise to go on a diet; give up smoking, or become more assertive to improve their lives rather than pacify the gods. The intention I’ve set for the year to come is to expand my social circle; being housebound for so long has made it contract, and now that I’m getting out more, I’m hoping to meet new people.

I’ve just finished doing my bit to prepare for tomorrow’s New Year dinner.  The menu has become a tradition with my family.  We have creamy leek and potato soup, followed by steak pie (my mum’s recipe) and Delia Smith’s Chocolate Truffle Torte.  This menu has been going now for 26 years, except for the years I’ve been too ill to do any cooking at all.  These days I don’t do everything, my son does much of the preparation and I get to be the chef who does the impressive bit!  Neither the steak pie nor the torte require a lot of work, though it’s enough work for me to need a lie down afterward.

My steak pie isn’t all stewing steak; it’s a mix of equal parts stewing steak, steak mince and steak sausages, a recipe handed down from my mother and possibly a West of Scotland tradition created to feed a large number of people without it costing a fortune.  It may be a poor man’s steak pie but, for me, there is no steak pie like it. My internet research reveals that steak and sausages are traditional to Scottish steak pies, but I’ve only ever had this steak pie at home and from members of my family;  steak pie bought in shops and served in restaurants never have sausages, and are the poorer for it to my taste.  My family originated in Kildare in Ireland and settled in Lanarkshire here in Scotland, hence my suggestion this recipe is from the West of Scotland.

I found Delia Smith’s Chocolate Truffle Torte in a magazine, and it’s been an instant hit with everyone who has ever tasted it.  It has one unusual ingredient – liquid glucose.which keeps the filling soft.  I noticed liquid glucose a few weeks ago when I was picking up some flour, but decided not to buy it until I’d checked my store cupboard.  I wish I’d just bought it then, because it’s been impossible to get anywhere this week, and many in the family have tried. I tried the local delicatessen, and the chemist but no joy, then the lady in the wee shop that sells everything suggested making it myself with sugar and water – Google it, she suggested, so I did.  In my search I discovered I didn’t need to go to all that bother, I could use Golden Syrup as a substitute, which I had aplenty.  The most demanding part of making this torte was searching out the ingredients; putting it together was done by melting chocolate and  syrup, then whipping double cream using the electric mixer and folding in the chocolate.  I did all of this sitting on my stool, preserving energy – or at least not expending energy unnecessarily

I’m now having a break with my feet up and looking at this view from my bedroom window.

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As we inch closer to 2019 I leave you with this from a poet who lives nearby, and send out every good wish to you for the year ahead.

TWENTY BLESSINGS

By Thomas A. Clark

May the best hour of the day be yours.

May luck go with you from hill to sea.

May you stand against the prevailing wind.

May no forest intimidate you.

May you look out from your own eyes.

May near and far attend you.

May you bathe your face in the sun’s rays.

May you have milk, cream, substance.

May your actions be effective.

May your thoughts be affective.

May you will both the wild and the mild.

May you sing the lark from the sky.

May you place yourself in circumstance.

May you be surrounded by goldfinches.

May you pause among alders.

May your desire be infinite.

May what you touch be touched.

May the company be less for your leaving.

May you walk alone beneath the stars.

May your embers still glow in the morning.