There Is No Way To Peace, Peace Is The Way

It is generally understood that meditation is a way of attaining peace, and many believe this peace will only come after many years of intense, dedicated practice.  As a meditation instructor, I find most people come to meditation believing this to be true. It is quite natural for those starting on this path to feel as though meditation will give them something that will somehow fix or cleanup the messiness of their lives, and through much effort they will no longer experience their pain, anger, depression, anxiety, confusion, or cravings. As naive as this sounds, many of us have this subtle hope that our meditation practice will lead to some ultimate comfort, security, and satisfaction. Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is as Suzuki Roshi used to say, “Not always so.”

“There is no way to peace” is the first line of a quote I once read by Thich Nhat Hahn, the second line reading, “Peace is the way.” I find this saying very profound, and only recently, have I started truly appreciating and understanding its message. The first line explains how we are not going to find a way to peace; the way to it is unattainable. Not because it doesn’t exist, but rather because it must be something we bring to each moment of our lives. Peace is gentleness, compassion, and wisdom in action, right smack in the middle of ordinary, everyday living. Peace literally is the way!  Meditation is not a means to gain peace, but rather a way to practice bringing peace to whatever is occurring in that moment. I am not saying meditation does not bring about tranquility and inner calm, but naturally the feelings from deeper meditative states dissipate like an early morning fog on a sunny day. The warm fuzzy feelings come and go; nothing can ever be static in an ever-changing universe. If we believe peace is only a feeling we must attain and maintain, it will always be waxing and waning, but as we mature on our meditative path we find peace to be what we choose to bring to every moment – pleasant or unpleasant.

Understanding peace in this way allows our meditation practice to become the training ground where we are able to bring peace to ourselves, all of ourselves. By sitting with our monkey minds, difficult emotions, body pains, and storylines, without judgments or labels, we are actually bringing peace to our entire being. Naturally, this begins flowing into each moment of everyday life, such as doing the dishes, being stuck in a traffic jam, working, eating, going to the bathroom, etc. Instead of waiting for peace, our life becomes our expression of peace moment-by-moment. We eventually realize peace doesn’t necessarily mean feeling good, but rather is our approach to all the circumstances we experience in our lives. Maybe the Zen masters weren’t crazy when they claimed: practice IS enlightenment, or peace IS the way!

What are you waiting for? Be peace right now!

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Be Here Now: How To Practice Mindfulness In Daily Life

By Mark Van Buren

The path of meditation is not limited to just sitting and following the breath. In fact, our true meditation practice is right smack in the middle of our daily lives. Meditation throughout our day involves simply doing whatever it is we are doing. If we are walking, we just walk. If we are eating, we just eat. If we are sitting in traffic, we just sit in traffic. The only difference between someone practicing in daily life is the attention and precision in which things are done. Attention and precision come directly from two important tools: mindfulness and renunciation.

Mindfulness is our ability to pay attention to the present moment without judgments or labels. With mindfulness our awareness is like a mirror, simply reflecting whatever is placed in front of it. Mindfulness doesn’t get involved with concepts such as right/wrong or good/bad, but rather sees everything clearly, just the way it is. From this open state of mind there is no picking and choosing, but instead a clear-seeing, which allows us to relax into the present moment regardless of the circumstances.

Although concentration is needed for mindfulness, mindfulness is not concentration. Typically, concentration is a goal-oriented practice; keeping the mind focused on one object to attain a special state of mind. Mindfulness, however, has no goal as it is a full presence of mind. Instead of narrowing our awareness to one object of meditation, the entire present moment becomes our focus. If our mindfulness practice is based on a goal attained at some future time, we are literally missing the whole point of the practice. Don’t worry about results, attainments or goals, just simply be open to and aware of the present moment. This is mindfulness.

Renunciation, on the other hand, is our ability to let go of resistance to whatever we find ourselves facing each and every moment. We literally renounce struggling with our lives and ourselves, learning to open our hearts even when everything is screaming within us to close it down. Renunciation teaches us to stay, keeping us from our normal means of escaping life when it becomes uncomfortable or painful. It retrains us to be with the uneasy feelings which underlie all our painful habits, addictions, and harmful behaviors, rather than quickly finding expedient means to get rid of them. The more we practice renouncing resistance and escape, the more we learn to not take the bait of our habitual ways that keep us from fully experiencing the present moment, no matter what its flavor may be.

Renunciation, like many of the meditative practices, is much easier said than done. It sounds like an inspiring and profound idea to not act out when you are angry, or not grab a glass of wine when you feel the onset of anxiety, but the actual practice is not so easy. This is because we have been habituated to escape discomfort at all costs, and true renunciation is not always very comfortable! Liberation is not just rainbows and unicorns like we all hope it will be. Meditation master Ajahn Chah explains it in this way, “There are two kinds of suffering: the suffering that leads to more suffering and the suffering that leads to the end of suffering. If you are not willing to face the second kind of suffering, you will surely continue to experience the first.” In this case, the first type of suffering is acting out on our impulse to escape. Our quick fixes become addicting and ultimately lead to an endless cycle of suffering. Facing the discomfort without acting out on the other hand, although uncomfortable, leads to freedom and peace.

Together, mindfulness and renunciation lead to a peaceful life. Mindfulness allows us to actually be in the moment, and renunciation gives us a chance to fully rest there without struggle or resistance, regardless of the circumstances we may find ourselves in. Although difficult at times, I encourage all of you to practice wholeheartedly. The world will appreciate your practice, no matter how small. I wish you all well on your journey.

Mark Van Buren, a yoga/meditation instructor, personal trainer, and musician, has been promoting health and wellness for over 10 years. He has run dozens of workshops and retreats, and has been asked to speak at numerous colleges including Columbia, Montclair State and Bergen Community. A handful of yoga studios have already opened their doors to his message, allowing him to give talks and run guided meditations and retreats. He has also worked with autistic children and adults, and released two solo albums, based on his inward journey through meditation, under the band name “Seeking the Seeker.” Van Buren holds a Bachelor of Arts in religious studies from Montclair State University and two Associate Degrees from Bergen Community College in exercise science and music. He is currently the owner and head instructor of Live Free Yoga Studio in Northern New Jersey, and recently published his first book, Be Your Sh*tty Self: An Honest Approach to a More Peaceful Life.

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She who hears the cries of the world. . .

Kannon Bodhisattva—

Invisible and with a light, almost imperceptible touch—

When you’re with me, holding me,

I don’t feel you.

 

I don’t feel you

Until after you’ve done your work.

 

Only then I know you’re with me—

Always with me.

 

Always watching and never sleeping,

So you can sweep in

To work a miracle

When I need saving.

 

February 3, 2014

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Hogetsu’s Stone Bridge (after Case 52, Blue Cliff Record, Joshu’s stone Bridge)

 

Even with wrinkles, a crack-
maybe some patchwork-
Hogetsu’s great Stone Bridge
supports our strivings. Then,

————————————————————-at the apex,

above the echo of laughter
and masonry of Mind,
——————————————————she thrusts up the shore.

Inexplicably,

———————————————————–you are here.

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Emergency Room Zendo

I am finishing up another 10 hours of emergency call, with, as usual, all sorts of thoughts running through my head: “I’m so tired,” “I hope I made correct decisions today,” “How could I have missed another Sunday morning sitting at HCS. Gotta work on scheduling more Saturday’s instead,” “My teacher will think I’m slacking off, “I need a vacation.” It go on and on… You would think one would not have time for such thoughts when one is so busy, but sometimes the mind really is much busier than the body that propels it.

There’s a chapel across from the emergency room where I sometimes will sit for a minute or two. There is silence there; maybe some shining candlesticks under an imitation electric flame and the faint smell of cedar. Reminds me of our zendo and the solace I sometimes seek there. But then more thoughts intrude: Is this setting more real and desirous than what I experience across the hall, where I can hear other bells and claps: a beeper going off, an alarm at a patient’s bedside, the smell of vomit over vaporizing alcohol, a weeping daughter in room 26? Then it occurs to me that the chapel/zendo is not a place to escape (as initially comforting as it may be), but a container  (as the late Joko Beck would call it) to hold and see all those thoughts rising and falling. The very place we sit offers a skillful means, a place where I learn that even one mindful upright breath–maybe even smack in the middle of the ER– teaches me that all of this experience is Dharma. I am always (as are you) always at the center. What I think I hate, love, or simply find neutral are just extra. But sit with that for a while, and that’s Dharma too! It’s empty.

In one of the fascicles of Dogen’s Shobogenzo, he inverts the usual derogatory status of thoughts and ideas as illusory flowers and instead calls them “flowers of emptiness.” Each moment of this samsaric world–including what’s in my samsaric head–is blooming in dynamic flux. All of it is truly empty, and there’s a genuine peace in my accepting whatever grows and dies in this moment, wherever I find myself.
I am grateful for this practice, Joan, our Roshi, and all of the students–senior and novice–under her tutelage. As part of Ango study, I will re-read this wonderful Dogen chapter again and meet you after the new year.
Peace,

Jakudo

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Real Rakusu

Today when I was giving meditation instruction, I noticed that something was hanging from my rakusu and then saw that the end of one of the straps was no longer attached. I had sewn this blue rakusu with a brownish-golden thread, each stitch visible, each stitch a dot, symbolizing all directions, everything.

I remembered that there was an envelope in a dresser drawer with some materials from when I sewed the rakusu and I thought that perhaps there would be some golden thread in there. The envelope was a treasure trove of things I had forgotten — rakusu sewing instructions, chalk-like sewing markers, white thread, blue thread, and even the cloth where I had practiced the stitches — but no golden thread.

I began by sewing with the white thread and it just wasn’t working because I no longer remembered how to do the stitch. It was a horrible disaster so I pulled it out and returned to the cloth with the practice stitches. Attached to the cloth was a needle and thread so I was able to figure out how the stitches had been done.

Slowly, like a child just learning a new skill, I sewed this small area with the blue thread.

Now the strap is attached with thread that doesn’t match and isn’t quite visible and with stitches that aren’t all dots, but when I looked at the rakusu, it was a perfect match. It was a perfect match because this 17 year old rakusu, with its worn fabric, discolorations, and some spots left by long ago oatmeal, is a real rakusu. Unlike the scraps used by monks of old, it started out with new cloth, but now speaks of practice and life and that perfection lies even within the flaws.

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Chirping crickets

Noise inside my head.
Zazen brings the quiet mind
hearing crickets chirp.

(9/5/12)

 

{a pun:}

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Reflections on Joan’s reception for Sri Lanka Relief

Although I made a decision to make a small monetary donation to Sensei’s team of psychotherapists weeks before an upcoming reception for them on July 22nd, I am happy I was able to attend the small gathering for them, in honor and support for their ongoing efforts. Joan’s presentation of the facts of the country’s long and fluctuating crises, both natural and man-made, was an eye-opening reminder of the extreme suffering that takes place all over the world. What I was unexpectedly delighted to hear and feel, however, was the love and intimacy which seemed to simply exude from my fellow sentient beings who simply decided to celebrate, in a small way, the simple and straightforward kindness of others. My fellow sangha members helped prepare for the event while I hemmed and hawed about whether I could or should make it late to the event from work. But when I got to Joan’s, I was slowly immersed in a lovely glowing ambience and surrounded by tender laughter, good food, calming music and a beautiful dawning sky. As one of the visiting therapists was strumming a guitar, I began to calm down from the day’s hectic pace , started to eat more slowly, and glanced over to my lovely wife, Doreen, and told her “I love you.” By the end of the evening, what I learned was that–along with the real concrete need to give money and resources–we also have a very critical need to provide love and emotional support to each other. In fact, the two are intertwined: It is money that helps these talented and caring individuals to continue their work abroad. I guess what really struck me, however, was how I, inadvertently, was also the recipient of this love and support: I felt their kindness right here. I didn’t know I needed it when I entered the room, but there it was exuding itself, slowly enveloping me, allowing me to switch gears, and reminding me that much of my own suffering is self-propagated. My day was hectic but I helped make it so. The magic of walking into the sangha, this community of sober and like-minded individuals, gave me the scaffold and support to make this realization possible. I reflected on the fact that we truly are interdependent, and remember Joan’s little phrase that in giving we transform the gift as the gift transforms us, or, as I believe Mother Theresa put it, “There are no such things as great acts, just small acts done with great love.” Maybe Dogen would say this kind of love leaves no trace and that this no-trace continues forever. May it be so.

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Power Outage Haiku

Zazen in the dark.
Children giggle in their beds
While I watch my breath.

candle in the dark

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Haiku

Hearing the birdsong
Cacophony of nature
Night sky is revealed

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