Happy frolicking cows!

Yesterday I had a series of conversations with former strangers (by which I mean, once we’d chatted for a while they transformed into new friends). Inexplicably, and not brought up by me, the topic of vegetarian vs. meat eating kept surfacing. It surprised me because I had watched this video yesterday morning and couldn’t stop thinking about it all day long. It’s just delightful. A herd of cows are released into a field instead of being taken to the slaughterhouse. They jump and dance with joy. So sweet.

I’ve been vegetarian on and off in my life, always for reasons of compassion for other living beings. Quite simply, I believe it is terrible what human beings do to themselves and other animals in this world. Even still, these days I choose to eat a lazy version of ‘paleo’ because my body functions better this way. (Grains, in particular, are a terrible storm of inflammation for me.) And also, I eat meat because, when I reason it out, suffering is happening, it’s the very nature of things. Unavoidable. Samsara. That which is born, dies. I kill when I brush my teeth. I can’t drive down a summer road without killing thousands of insects, crushed against the windsheild. It breaks my heart, truly.

I bought chicken breasts again from that super-friendly guy at the market this morning. And I still can’t stop thinking about these lovely, happy frolicking cows. It makes me wonder about all the things I can and can’t control. And leads me to ask, how can I be more compassionate today, with myself and with others?

Calm dot com

calmdotcomCalm.com is a super-chill site for helping you to relax. I’ve been using it to stay calm under pressure at work. It has wordless, meandering music interspersed with tracks of nature sounds. On my second monitor I’ve got the serene videos set to full-screen. So that to the side of whatever demanding job is at hand, I have calming visuals — slow motion water drops, rippling water, rain falling on green leaves, fields of wildflowers with buzzing insects. It’s lovely.

And, although I haven’t sampled them, there’s also guided and timed meditations available and an app for iPhone.

 

Endangered pleasure

IMG_5481I love to hold hands. There is a basic deep connection in the holding of hands. It is intimate. A direct path from one heart to another.

I want to hold the hand of a lover under the covers laying in bed, while walking at night in the park, while driving country roads in the car.

I want to hold the hand of a friend as she tells me her secret thoughts or maybe we just sit silently.

I want to hold my grandmother’s hand again, feel her soft worked-in skin, her strong bony fingers.

I want to go to the hospital and hold hands with strangers who need a hand to hold. Need it more than medicine and more than words.

I want to hold hands with my brother, both in our forties now, and trammel all taboos that hold one heart at a distance from another.

 

About this piece: I wrote this recently as a 10-minute exercise in a workshop held by Melinda Burns. Melinda is a local Guelph writer who has been leading writing workshops for three decades. She is an incredible talent and one of the gentlest people I know. If you’re interested in writing with her, there’s a Fiction Workshop starting up next Thursday, March 13th, 2014 and running every two weeks until May 22nd.

Life is right now

This is one of my favourite short clips of Jon Kabat-Zin speaking on mindfulness.

The whole thing is worth a listen. Starting at about 3 mins, he says:

Even in very stressful situations, you can move in to the actuality of the situation and find ways to move with it, and regulate your own reactivity to it. So that in some very, very deep way, you are not running away, and you’re not pushing through anything, but allowing things to unfold as they do. That’s the heart of creativity. And that way, we get the most work done, with the least distraction and the least effort.

It’s an art form. And it takes a while to learn. It’s not something where you just hear me say this on the web, and the next thing, ‘oh, yeah, I’ll be mindful for the rest of my life.’ It’s one of the most difficult things in the world, if not the most difficult thing in the world for us human beings to do: is to be present in our own lives, and to be kind and less judgmental of ourselves.

That’s why it’s worth doing, it’s worth practising. But it’s not a ‘doing’ really, when all is said and done, it’s a way of being, and actually, a way of being awake and yourself.

A 6-week course in mindfulness

Just Sit!
A 6-week course in mindfulness meditation

This series of six 1-hour classes is an introduction to mindfulness meditation. The sessions are appropriate for new or experienced meditators. Simple instructions, lengthy in-class practice and suggested homework assignments are meant to give you the experience and encouragement to start, and/or maintain, a daily habit of meditation.

“Mindfulness meditation encourages us to become more patient and compassionate with ourselves and to cultivate open-mindedness and gentle persistence. These qualities help free us from the gravitational pull of anxiety, stress and unhappiness.”
Excerpt from Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World, by Mark Williams and Danny Penman

Where are the classes?
What World Common Room
(where the Hillside offices used to be)
123 Woolwich Street, 2nd Floor, Guelph, ON N1H 3V1

When are they?
7-8pm on Tuesday evenings
February 18, 25, March 4, 18, 25, April 1
(no class March 11 due to March Break)

What does it cost?
$60 /6 classes
Space is limited. In order to encourage regular attendance and a commitment to practice, pre-registration is required and payment for course is due in full at or before the first class.

How do I sign up?
Please email meditate@gentlydownthestream.org for more information or to register.

Who is teaching?
Heather Finlayson has been practicing and teaching meditation for over 12 years. Heather is an independent (or is that interdependent?) graphic designer based in downtown Guelph.

Tell me again, what is mindfulness?
Jon Kabat-Zinn, a well-known mindfulness meditation teacher and founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, gives a wonderful, brief explanation:

Visiting Chan (Zen) Monk to give teaching in Guelph

YouMinVenerable You Min, a monk of the Linji School of Chinese Chan (Zen) Buddhism will be visiting Guelph soon and has accepted our invitation to lead a meditation and give a teaching on mindfulness. The event will be Sunday, June 2 from 7-9pm at Sukha Yoga Centre, 42 Wyndham St (the same door as IF Footwear facing into St George’s Square). There are further details on the event’s poster, which can be viewed and/or downloaded below. Please feel free to cross-post and share and tell everyone you think may be interested.

Ven. You Min’s original connection to Guelph is through having lived here as an exchange student more than 10 years ago. In addition to his studies at the University of Guelph, he attended classes and a formal study program with a local Buddhist Sangha, which is where I first met him.

While organizing this opportunity for the meditation and teaching on June 2nd, I asked him to tell me a little about his path since his time in Guelph, as I thought some people might be interested to know more:

HAF: What is the name of your Buddhist tradition?

VYM: I am ordained under the Chinese Chan lineage (or called Zen in Japan or the West). There are 5 schools under this lineage, and the one I belong to is called the Linji School. Usually when we introduce our lineage to the general public, just mentioning ‘Chinese Chan Buddhism’ is sufficient.

Here is a good reading source on the lineage from  Wikipedia.

HAF: What does your ordained name mean? What exactly do you practice in your tradition?

VYM: I was ordained in 2007 as a novice monk under the name of You Min (有暋) in Chinese, which means ‘diligence’. Two years later (2009) I received the full ordination and became a bhikshu.

I spent the first 3 years in my monastery in Malaysia receiving training from my master, Venerable Zhen Fu. I started my formal studies in Buddhism in 2010, where I enrolled in the M.A. Program of Buddhist Studies at Dharma Drum Buddhist College in Taiwan. Currently I am doing a 9-month student exchange program at Institute of Buddhist Studies at Berkeley, CA.

The scope of Buddhist studies is quite comprehensive, which includes the history and sutra learning of the early Buddhism, as well as Chinese Buddhism. I am especially interested in Yogacara teachings (which is also sometimes called the Buddhist psychology), which is one of the three important philosophical schools developed in Mahayana tradition during 4th Century CE (the other two are the Madhyamika and the Tathagatabhadra).

Here is a link to more details:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yogacara

Regarding the practice, we do meditation and sutra chanting twice daily (we call that morning and evening service). We usually do that with other sangha members while in the monastery. While meditation is the main practice, I also do the Buddha’s name recitation practice.

The reason I choose to further my study in Buddhism is so that I can be properly trained in my tradition in order to have dialogue with other religious representatives, buddhist scholars, as well as the highly literate public. I believe that practice and knowledge should be balanced for our generation of practitioners.

 

Everyone is welcome. There is no cost to attend, although we will be making a collection for the teacher and you are encouraged to give what you can/will. Making offerings is a Buddhist custom known as Dāna, the practice of cultivating generosity, which leads to the perfection of giving and letting go. In particular, it is considered powerful karma to practice giving alms to monks or spiritual teachers.

If you have one, please bring your own meditation cushion or stool. If not, don’t worry, just bring your curiosity.

For more information, to RSVP and to ask questions, there is a Facebook event page or feel free to email me at heather(at)merenamedesign(dot)com or phone 519.400.7862.

 

Mindfulness Meditation June 2 2013

 

You can download a copy of the above poster in pdf form, by clicking the green link below. Please feel free to print and post and/or distribute electronically.

Mindfulness Meditation Poster June 2 2013

Willing to be

With the GrainI am the one who is willing to grow. Fresh, bright, blooming. From mud, from shit, from seed, then sprout. From sunshine and rain, cooling wind. From garden bed. From a beginningless past, a universe of conditions. Bumping and exploding through space and time.

I tell stories. Like, I am the yellowest flower on the table. Or, I remember a day that smelled like fresh cut grass. And O, Lordy, when they came to cut me down, you can’t believe the tears. Sit and let me tell you about how my petals are numbered, won’t be long before I wilt, then wither, then decompose.

Endless stories tell endless stories tell endless stories.

I am the one being grown. Life streams around me and through me. Regardless of how I feel about it. If I rail against it or if I dance with it. Doesn’t matter. It unfolds and unfolds and unfolds.

I am the one who is willing to change, to relax, to listen as much as I talk.

I am willing to be, lived.

Escaping thoughts prison: ramblings from a dream interpretation

thedayyoudecideA buddhist teacher once told me, while describing samsara, that the most diabolical prison would be one in which the inmates were completely unaware they were in prison. Then not even the thought to escape would cross the prisoners’ minds. Whether the prisoner experienced relatively good conditions or terrible conditions, being completely unaware that she is held, she would simply accept and manage those conditions without even considering that she had an alternative — to leave the prison.

In a dream I had the other night, a puppy is drowning, its small body sinking under the surface. I lift it with both hands and it’s very heavy. At first I can’t get enough leverage from the lake bottom and my arms are not strong enough. But after the first time I’ve touched his small body, I realize he is seriously in trouble and I will myself to get a proper footing and lift with all my strength. This time the puppy surfaces, choking, limp and heavy. I put him down on the beachfront and he proceeds to throw up all of his internal organs. He does it neatly, in one heave. Everything from inside the dog comes out tucked into a bag of fur that now hangs from the dog’s mouth. It’s not just the contents of his stomach, it’s all the internal organs, all tissues, all blood. And I realize he is empty. I feel fear that he will die, but instead, the sac filled with his innards falls away from his mouth to the ground. He licks a little blood from his mouth and wanders off in the direction, presumably, of home. At the time, I was filled with the fear that he would die. Now I realize he was a dream dog and can never die.

In some circles of buddhist dream interpretation, water is associated with attachment. Dreams of your house flooding, feelings of grief as heavy and wet, puppies drowning: all symbolic of attachment.

What do you understand attachment to be? When you hear buddhists talk about giving up attachments, do you feel some pressure to quit what you might consider to be your bad habits? Do you think attachment is about your compulsive habits? For example, your attachment to chocolate, to wine, to cigarettes, to sex, to gossip? Does ‘letting go’ suggest to you some way to be a better you? A superior version of you that is not blown by the winds of craving. A you that experiences everything evenly, peacefully, serenely — free from nagging desires.

Attachment also lives much closer to the bone. Yes, you will live a lighter, happier life, the more you let go of your attachment to ‘good’ or ‘bad’ compulsive habits. And this freedom is worth striving for. Discipline, wisdom, effort in this direction is worth it.

But the root ties that bind you to suffering are more subtle, more difficult to see. For example, we are attached to our thoughts. We believe the content. Even if we step back and question it sometimes — ‘am I going crazy?’ — we never really let go of our belief that through our thoughts we can find a ground to stand on. That our thoughts represent some concrete phenomena.

Thoughts never stop arising in our minds continuously, day and night. This steady narrative is for the most part what we are referring to when we say ‘reality.’ What is your reality? Other than your direct sense perceptions, it’s your thoughts, isn’t it?

But what is the ‘reality’ beyond your thought-story about reality? What is there beyond our thoughts of this world? What is the world other than our thoughts about it? Although I write these as questions, it’s not best considered a theoretical topic for discussion, it’s not about creating a philosophy.

More thinking is not the way out of this prison.

To cross over and borrow wisdom from another liberation movement, I give you Audre Lorde:

“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.”

Freedom from the suffering of your thought prison is a matter of internal exploration. It is experiential. Only a direct experience will be of any use. Being told that your thoughts are a prison that bind you is one thing, seeing for yourself the walls of that prison, and planning an escape, is quite another.