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One-handed Left-handed Omelette Making: Practicing in ordinary daily life by Kim Woodward

November 2, 2015

I had surgery on my right wrist about a week ago. This is the same reconstructive surgery I had on my left wrist eight months ago. After the surgery they wrapped my wrist in a rigid splint. I’m not supposed to do anything with my right hand for the next four weeks. The first two days after surgery were pretty uncomfortable. After that there was really no pain. I just had to deal with the fact that my dominant hand, my right hand, was unavailable to use. The next few days were no fun. I was angry and frustrated at not being able to do the things I normally do. And this was the way things would be for at least the next four weeks. I grumped and swore and snapped at Gloria.

 

A couple of days ago Gloria had to leave early for a haircut appointment. I was going to have some cereal for breakfast. I said to myself I’d really like an omelette. And for some reason I decided to try it. I had to think of each step that I would do to make an omelette with only one hand… my undexterous left hand. Then I had to execute each step carefully. Nothing was automatic. Each step had to be thought about carefully through out. The final result was fine. I had actually been able to make the omelette completely without my right hand. And I realized, this was truly mindfulness. After breakfast I continued with my one-handed endeavors and cleaned the kitchen thoroughly. Thinking about it afterwards, I realized that this was Zen chopping wood and carrying water. Just doing each thing that needed to be done. Paying full attention to each item.

 

This practice is available to me every day. But it took the event of surgery to make me aware of it. It is amazing how much of my life I live automatically, not fully present. So the next month is going to be a practice month for me. I am going to be fully aware as I learn to negotiate life one-handed left-handed.

Thoughts on the Five Thoughts by Kim Woodward

March 23, 2015

Friends from the sangha were over for dinner a few weeks ago and, as usual, we recited the five thoughts before the meal. One related that they had had dinner with a friend who had found the thoughts “horrible”. I was surprised. The other said she currently finds them a bit harsh.

We recite them daily at meal times. As is often true with something we do regularly, I was no longer hearing them with the same depth as when I first learned them. This exchange made me listen closely and think about them again. What do the five thoughts mean to me?

“We must think deeply of the ways and means by which this food has come.” This has always been fairly profound to me. Carl Sagan said “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”

When I think of the ways and means by which this food has come, I think of journeying through the Salinas Valley, the salad bowl of California. All around are the fields of vegetables that end up on our tables. They are tended by mostly latino farm workers in rows cultivating and picking. They are irrigated by long pipes, which are manufactured all over the world. The ore for the metal is mined in Montana and Chile and Canada and… The power to smelt the ore comes from coal and hydro electric. They are delivered by truck and rail, using oil powered engines. And on and on. We are totally interdependent.

And I think of the fact that we are part of the cycle of life. Life is fed by life. Whether we are vegetarian or omnivorous, we are part of everything carbon based. We are not separate.

“We must consider our merit when accepting it.” This is a difficult line for me. It is so easy for me to read this as “do I deserve this?” So what do we mean by merit? As I understand it, we create merit in the world by living in accordance with the precepts. In each moment we act and either move the world towards harmony or towards disharmony. I need to stop fantasizing about doing the big good thing, and just do the next right thing… the simple acts of seeing oneself in others and acting accordingly. Loving thy neighbor as thyself. So, considering our merit when accepting food is remembering that what we eat is to nourish us in creating merit, in living a compassionate life.

“We must protect ourselves from error by excluding greed from our minds.” Does this mean we shouldn’t desire good food?

I love the Ben Geshe story about the yogurt. Ben Geshe was a wandering monk in Tibet in the 19th century. One night he and a number of other monks were invited to dine at the home of a merchant in the town they were in. They were all seated around a long table and bowls of food were passed around the table. One of Ben Geshe’s favorite foods was yogurt. A bowl of yogurt was passed. As it came to each monk and they served themselves, Ben Geshe watched avidly. How much did they take? Will there be enough left for me? Finally, as the bowl was passed to him, he saw clearly what his mind was doing. He passed the bowl on without taking any saying “No yogurt for this yogurt addict.”

A few years ago I was at Shasta Abbey. We were sitting for midday meal. For dessert there were cookies. My favorite! Each trainee took one cookie. They were delicious. When second helpings were offered, I found myself watching the tray and trying to figure if there would be any cookies left when it got to me. I thought of Ben Geshe, and, when the cookie tray got to me, I had to pass it on. It was not the eating and enjoying the cookie. It was my greed for the cookie that would never be satisfied by another cookie.

In Dogen’s Rules For Meditation we recite “Of what use is it to merely enjoy this fleeting world?” I think the word “merely” is important here. It is not a statement that enjoying the world is wrong. We should enjoy the moments of our lives. And we should go beyond pursuing pleasure. This is what the Buddha found. The Way is neither mortification nor glorification of the flesh. When we are given something that is good to eat, enjoy it as it nourishes us. Don’t grasp after it. Don’t want more and more beyond our needs.

“We will eat lest we become lean and die.” Again, the Middle Way. Accept our bodies. our physical needs and desires as normal and appropriate. Nourish and care for our bodies. St. Francis tenderly said “This body is Brother Donkey. I will feed him and care for him, but I will ride him, he will not ride me.” So the Middle Way is to take and enjoy nourishment, but not to let the greed for ever more pleasure to dictate our lives. It is only through our human bodies that we have the opportunity for training and enlightenment.

“We accept this food so that we may become enlightened.” The word enlightenment contains several snares for me. First snare, that there is some place or state of enlightenment. Krishnamurti said “There is no such thing as enlightenment. There is only enlightened living.” I think this is a good understanding for me. No place to get to, just moment by moment living with the choice of being awake or asleep in each moment. “Sentient beings are numberless. May I and all sentient beings fully awaken, moment by moment.” Second snare, that there is some thing to be attained. Just wake up now and now and now. This is the gift of our human bodies. This food nourishes us so that we can awaken each moment.

Self Arising by Kim Woodward

May 28, 2012

I was driving back from Shasta Abbey last weekend and listening to a teaching by Mark Epstein, a Buddhist practitioner and teacher and clinical psychiatrist, on working with the emotions. Mark was teaching that it is a common error to think that meditation is a tool to  eliminate the emotions. Instead, the practice is to notice them arising and work skillfully with them. Periodically in the teaching, he asked the listener to join in a short meditation.

I always find it interesting when I’m listening to a teaching on the road and am asked to meditate. Often the teacher says “Close your eyes.” Not such a good idea at 65 mph. But I do find a kind of meditation while driving not only possible but quite interesting. Many of us have had the experience when driving of suddenly realizing we can’t remember the last ten minutes. We have moved miles in the car thinking of something else and suddenly awaken to the fact we are further on our journey with no memory of the last few miles. Clearly we have driven the car safely and competently (we didn’t run off the road or hit anything). So we do not need to have our whole mind engaged in the process of driving. There is room for listening to a teaching and for some type of meditation. For myself, I find it helpful to sit straight in the driver’s seat and take the wheel equally with both hands. Then I bring my thoughts fully to the act of driving. This is almost like using the breath as the object of meditation, which I do if I become particularly distracted in my daily sitting meditation. I find driving can become a very meditative experience in this way.

At one point in the teaching, Mark asked that the listener move into the space of meditation and pay particular attention to thoughts arising and to notice when self arose. What triggered it? What were the thoughts and emotions associated with self arising? I did this and found that while driving as meditation, self co-arose with other. Not before and not as a result of, but simultaneously. When I noticed self, I was noticing other. It might be another driver driving in a way I found irritating or dangerous. It might be my own speed requiring my full engagement and attention. But in every case, regardless of the particular circumstance, self and other were two sides of the arising. When I was just in the driving as meditation, the road was flowing beneath, the scenery was passing, other cars were in front or behind or passing in the other direction, and there was really no “me”. It was just the flow. When self and other co-arose, I noticed that often (always?) there was some defensive emotion (fear or anger) associated with the arising. In the few cases where a defensive emotion did not manifest, feelings of desire were present (I love that car!!).

When I was just driving… anatta!

A Small Precepts Ceremony at Shasta Abbey by Andrea Spark

May 20, 2012

Last month a member of our meditation group took part in a ceremony in the Buddha Hall at Shasta Abbey in which she solemnly vowed to live her life within the mandala of the Buddhist Precepts. The celebrant for the ceremony was Rev. Astor Douglas, assisting her were Rev. Master Shiko Rom, Rev. Master Jisho Perry and Rev. Helen Cummings. Rev. Vivian Gruenenfelder was one of the group of witnesses.

Although such a ceremony held at the request of the new Buddhist is an abbreviated version of the Jukai ceremonies which are held each year at the Abbey and therefore shorter, it is not any less meaningful. As I sat watching and listening to this ceremony I was struck repeatedly by the solemnity, care and gentleness of it all. The other three witnesses and myself were seated in the spacious Buddha Hall facing a small altar in front of and to the  right of the main altar. Doreen, the new Buddhist, was invited forward to kneel at the small altar behind which sat Rev. Astor. To either side of them were Rev. Master Jisho, and Rev. Master Shiko. Our group were the only people in the hall and yet it was not empty. As the Precepts were offered to Doreen, we joined our response with hers in a soft-spoken reaffirmation of our own intention to keep them. It was a very moving ceremony. I have only been to one other Jukai besides my own nearly 35 years ago. This one reflected back to me all these years of training and I realized that we don’t “take the Precepts” as individuals. I too, was being given the Precepts  together with Doreen and all the other beings in that Buddha Hall. They are offered to us as signposts to use as we walk on the Path. By choosing them rather than our ancient habit-energies as a source of guidance we  naturally become less inclined to do harm.

Receiving the Precepts and thus formally committing oneself to deepening one’s training as a Buddhist practitioner is one of the most important steps one can take in the quest for self realization. It publicly affirms one’s desire to begin lessening the impact of our greed, anger and delusion. As we then begin to truly look at ourselves through the mirror of meditation and  preceptual living, we catch glimpses of a kinder, more thoughtful and compassionate being that is actually right there inside just waiting to be let out into the world.

At a cursory reading, the 16 Precepts may seem to be simply another list of prohibitions. And if that’s as far as you see, that’s as far as you get. Although they may be simply written, as you bring them into your awareness each day their meaning becomes less clear and more complex. This work of burrowing into, of chewing on the Precepts seems to let you gradually become aware of your interactions with yourself and others. As you digest them and they become more and more a part of you, their kaleidoscopic nature becomes evident. They expand and contract as we breathe through our day. They sustain our search for Truth.

The Writing on the Wall by Andrea Spark

March 21, 2012

In Buddhism, one of the Five Laws of Existence

is the Law of the Dharma

Without fail evil is vanquished and good prevails.

Not long ago, we spent a chunk of intense time in Portland helping out our dear friend and Teacher, Rev. Master Meiko who is, as most of you know, the Prior of Portland Buddhist Priory. Being in a very different environment with different expectations and responsibilities can be trying to one’s patience and forbearance. Especially one who is prone to impatience and sometimes, even, ill humor.

Being such a one as this, I found myself in the kitchen, one late afternoon, rather tired and feeling unhappy with whatever the universe was displaying to me at the time. I was looking out the window at a dying fruit tree in a soggy yard when a framed quote written beautifully in a practiced calligraphic hand asked politely for my attention. The hand written words fit perfectly in a small space between the window and the kitchen door that opened to a narrow porch, its stairs leading to the soggy yard below.

Moving my gaze from the yard, now lit by some interesting strips of sunlight, my eyes again encountered the words that made up the quote. This time my mind woke up and I read the words. They seemed scattered to me, too much of an effort to move my attention from myself to make much sense of anything “outside” of me.

Fortunately, some part of me grew tired of this game and I deliberately brought my attention back to the framed calligraphy message from the Universe. I read slowly, trying very hard to comprehend what it was telling me. It took awhile, standing there in the silent kitchen because my mind seemed to need time to get up to speed with the incoming information, but finally I could actually read it. A few beats after that the joy of recognition and acceptance rushed through me as I read:

Without fail grumpiness is vanquished and playfulness prevails.”

I felt a smile begin to form as my mood shifted from alienation to inclusion. Sure enough, The Grumps was slinking away and Amusement was knocking on the door.

I hope I never lose my sense of humor. It has rescued me from many self-generated periods of suffering.

Putting aside the theological trap of “good vs evil”, I can relate to grumpiness; the state of which can serve to warn me of my impending “I don’t want this to be happening” slump where I close myself off from what is. The word playfulness has a gentle quality to it. It brings to my mind an innocence of spirit, an ability to be without agenda. It speaks to me of the enjoyment of the present; an invitation to join the dance.

Freeway Dana by Kim Woodward

February 20, 2012

I was driving home from an appointment in Sacramento. It was late afternoon and traffic was fairly heavy… not stop and go but pretty dense. I was conscious of how I was driving. Trying not to tailgate and also keeping pace with the traffic in my lane. I was feeling pretty Zen about it all, pretty self congratulatory.

A car came up on my right and pulled a little ahead. I knew he was going to pull into my lane and he did. I shook my head and eased back. Too bad everyone wasn’t as Zen and cool as me. Another car came alongside. She pulled in front and into my lane. Enough! I started gauging my distance from the car in front of me carefully. I wanted to be the perfect distance so I wasn’t following too closely and so there wouldn’t be room for others to continuously pull in front of me.

And it suddenly struck me what an ungenerous place that was to be. How miserly I was being with “my” space on the freeway. As if there was some shortage of space on the freeway and I had to grasp and hold my little portion. How different it would be if I instead practiced dana, if I was generous with the space, if when someone appeared to wish to change lanes I eased back to give them room.

I tried it and immediately noticed the change in myself. Instead of the tension of carefully calculating and holding distance to keep my space, I felt the relaxation of making the space needed available, not grudgingly but openly and freely and in the spirit of dana.

Car Karma by Kim Woodward

February 18, 2012

I was driving to town on the freeway a couple of weeks ago and got chopped by another driver. As chops go it wasn’t a really bad one… maybe a 6 on a scale of 1 to 10… but I noticed that little tightening I get in my diaphragm when irritation arises. And I noticed that the other driver was obviously impatient and in a hurry and was lane changing to move ahead more quickly than the flow of traffic.

A few moments later I was coming up on a freeway entrance and a car was entering to merge. There was that little moment of decision. Should I slow down and let them enter in front of me or should I speed up to get ahead of them. That little tightening in the gut wanted me to speed up, to get in front, to win in some subtle way.

It was such a clear example of the law of karma playing out on the road. The actions of the impatient driver creating irritation and impatience in other drivers, and continuing to move outward until one could see the entire flow of traffic being affected. The level of tension and anxiety on the road increased and amplified. There was a consequence for the view (it’s all about me), thoughts (I’m in a hurry) and actions (weaving in and out of traffic) of one driver.

Equally, there is consequence when one driver is calm and courteous. The acts of allowing someone to enter ahead, of making space for another driver to change lanes, of being aware of one’s own speed and selecting a slower lane to avoid impeding faster moving traffic, each reduce the level of tension on the road. Courtesy begets courtesy.

And with mindfulness, karma can be converted. If I can be aware of the tightening in my gut when I judge another’s actions to be wrong, when anger begins to arise in the form of irritation, then I can make the choice to not follow that irritation, to step away from the view that it’s all about me, to see the thought of “she chopped me so I’ll chop you” and to instead make the conscious choice of courtesy.

Right View; the Journey, Not the Destination

December 7, 2011

by Kim Woodward

I often drive to Sacramento to see my son and daughter-in-law. They live about 45 miles away, mostly freeway driving, and the last half in urban traffic. So there are a lot of cars surrounding me, a lot of different drivers and vehicles.

Sometimes I am able to make the journey peacefully. Other times, I find myself getting tense, irritable, angry that other drivers are somehow not doing things right (my way). I have been noticing this for a long time, and I am mostly pretty careful with my actions, but even there I can behave aggressively and with subtle discourtesy if the tide of irritation rises enough.

So what is the difference between a peaceful drive and a decidedly unpeaceful one? Partly it is due to external circumstances of course. There is certainly a tendency to anxiety and anger when traffic is heavy, or when I encounter other drivers who are aggressive. Time is also a factor. When I feel I have plenty of time, I drive with a lot less anxiety. But why, then are there times with heavy traffic, crazy drivers and time constraints when I am calm and at peace in my body and mind? What is different?

I think the major difference has to do with right view. If I begin the trip with a view that the important thing is attaining a certain destination by a certain time, then other drivers, vehicles, traffic situations all become obstacles to overcome in order to reach my intended goal. If I begin a trip with the view that what is important is that I and others I encounter have a safe and peaceful journey, then there is true peace. I don’t feel my stomach knotting or my hands getting tense on the steering wheel, and of course don’t feel any need to behave discourteously to self or other.

And, I have to view myself into right action. I am never long term successful in acting myself into right view.

Sometimes I’m the Fast Car, Sometimes I’m the Slow Car

December 7, 2011

by Kim Woodward

Living in rural California and driving a lot, I continue to do a lot of my training on the road. This past month I was driving daily from our home to the barn where we keep our horses about 15 miles away. The route is a quiet two lane country road with very little traffic.

I noticed when driving out in the morning that I didn’t even identify myself as “car”. I was just driving. Then, when a car would appear in front of me or turn onto the road from a side road or driveway I would judge the driver in front of me. “He’s driving too slowly! Come on, come on, don’t take all day.” Or, if the car pulled away from me, “She’s driving too fast! Where does she think she’s going so fast! It occurred to me that I never met drivers that really drive “right”, i.e. the same speed as I do. (Of course, if there are such drivers, I never would meet them because I wouldn’t overtake them or they overtake me.) So, having noticed this judging in my mind, I started trying to eliminate it. Very difficult! As long as I saw them as “other car” I judged, no matter how much I tried not to. I was able to modify my actions. I didn’t tailgate, or race to catch up, but the judgement was still there.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I was just driving… not fast, not slow… just driving. A car turned out in front of me that was going more slowly and I began to overtake it. And, another car appeared in my rear view mirror overtaking me. Suddenly I saw myself from the other drivers’ point of view. Sometimes I am the fast car. Sometimes I am the slow car. When I could see their judgements of me I found myself able to genuinely let go of judgements. I could go back to just driving.

Kim Woodward