Tag Archives: Mindfulness Practice

Cyberbullying in Schools and Teenage Suicide

Cyberbullying in Schools and Teenage Suicide

The triggers for teenage suicide were brought to my attention through a drastic and dangerous situation with one of my young friends. He had slipped into a deep depression caused primarily by being bullied at school and was seriously contemplating suicide. His father had phoned me in alarm and I suggested that his son come and stay with my wife and I for a while. This would take the heat out of the situation. I also had a long conversation over the phone with the young man without mentioning the word “Suicide.” I talked to him about our kayaking adventures and other things that I knew would bring some joy and happiness to his mind. These were the first steps to transform the hurricane force of his strong feelings and emotions that led him to consider suicide. Over the phone I also taught him a simple meditation about being a tall tree. He was open to Buddhist “stuff” through my and his dad’s practice and somewhat curious about both of us! The analogy I used for the meditation was that of a storm of strong winds coming up and shaking the tree tops and breaking branches, while the bottom of the tree trunk stays solid. So that when something arose like a strong wind to hurt him, to think of these things as the tall branches being damaged by strong winds. If he placed his hands on his tummy and breathed deeply in and out to this trunk for ten breaths, then his distress and anger would slowly calm down. He then accepted my invitation to come and stay with us. I also learned over the phone with this youngster that what destroyed him the most was cyberbullying from anonymous sources.

I had no knowledge or insights about cyberbullying. Before he arrived in Ottawa, I consulted with savvy school councillors across the country. I learned that cyberbullying was now an everyday reality for teenagers in schools. I was shocked by the ramifications of the dark shadow of cyberbullying and by the fact that a whole generation of school children had grown up with it. Most adults were as ignorant as I about the intensity of hate and cruelty crashing through the virtual world of cell phones, twitter, chat rooms and email. Cyberbullying had become an everyday mosaic in the life of teens. The field they played in was a free-for-all virtual reality for immature minds to vent their spite, malice, hatred and cruelty without restraint–simply because they could-as they hid behind a veil of anonymity. The impact on victims was very severe leading to breakdown, depression and sometimes to death through suicide. I learned from multiples sources that cyberbullying, mental issues and depression were a huge issue in most schools across the nation. Parents and teachers were often completely unaware of this odious shadow playing out in schools. With this new and alarming knowledge I knew I had to present to this young teen some simple practices, even if their source was complex.

This prompted me to think deeply about what Buddhist practices would be useful to ground the troubled minds of teens so they could resist cyberbullying and prevent being pulled into self-hurt. I had to be selective and intelligent about mindfulness practice. Strategic too, so that it would be readily grasped by a young teen. It was clear to me that cyberbullying was a malicious enhancement of unworthiness and hate. Many teens played both sides of this virtual reality, victim and bully, so rampant and vicious was this spectre of hate. I started to talk to my young friend about foundation practices I used every day and how they might help to calm his mind when he was troubled. He really got the Two Arrows Teaching from the Buddha. In a nutshell this teaching is about a man walking along a path when suddenly he is hit by an arrow fired by a hidden and unknown attacker. The pain was terrible. Then a second arrow was fired into the same spot and the pain and suffering became unbearable. I asked him if he knew who fired the second arrow. He slowly nodded his head and said: “That would be me. All my fears and insecurities would come up to inflame the hurt of the first arrow.” I was very impressed. I told him that he was exactly correct, that our fears, anxieties, exaggerations and dramas inflame the first wound, causing a small ember to explode into a raging forest fire. The point of the teaching was to assist him and me to come to a STOP, to calm the mind and body. Then find a way to NOT fire the second arrow into a trigger that had hurt us. Buddhism was not such a drag after all.

My wife and I had picked him up from the airport in Ottawa and made him completely at home. At first there was no mention of his depression and strong urge to commit suicide. My wife fed him with mounds of food. It seemed that he emptied the fridge at least twice a day. He could sleep in as long as he needed to and rest. On occasions he would join me in the meditation hall in the basement of our bungalow. He was curious about my practice, so I taught him how to make good friends with his breath, concentrating on the whole length of the in-breath and the whole length of the out-breath. That if he would do that ten times without distraction he would feel calm. He also joined in when I did walking meditation. Here the breath was co-ordinated with each footstep and a simple mantra to follow each breath.
IN – OUT, with left foot and right foot.
NOW – WOW! With left foot and right foot.
He smiled at that. Furthermore, when I added the final concentration of being aware of how our feet touch the floor-heel/ball of foot/toe-he could in fact align himself with Earth Energies. I told him that this part of walking meditation was very important, as it was the catalyst for the strong earth energy already inside his mind to come to the surface. And that this energy was stronger than his troubled feelings and emotions. He looked at me quizzically as I provided a demonstration. Then when he practiced it, he found it to be OK. He related, much later, that walking meditation was the best for him, as he felt a sense of steadiness and of being refreshed. Over the two weeks he stayed with us his visits to the meditation hall were intermittent but by the second week he came down every morning in his pyjamas to keep me company in the meditation hall.

Ian at Pine Gate

Once he got dressed each morning and after a late breakfast, I would take him to the various science and technical museums in the city, as that was his passion along with First Nations culture. Fortunately in Ottawa I knew several curators, one at the Aviation Museum and one at the Museum of Civilization, which had the Grand Hall of North West Coast Cultures. My friends in the museums kindly gave him individual tours. I could see his sense of self-esteem rising with the tours and kindness. He was over the moon about receiving such special attention. We were gladdening his mind – a vital point that arises later.

We played board games, charades and kept on gladdening his mind. This was a vital step in the Buddha’s teaching on mindful breathing. He meditated with me quite often and each time we would do the Tree Meditation together. When the time felt right I asked him if he would like to talk to me about what was going on. He told me about three boys who bullied him at school. He also felt that they were behind the cyberbullying, though he had no proof. Also, that neither of his parents really listened to him. I listened quietly until he finished talking. Then I picked up the telephone and found the number of his school and talked to his vice-principal for a while. She was very open and supportive and had already taken steps to separate the three bullies, keeping two in detention during every recess. I also telephoned his parents and reminded them about deep listening, which they promised to put into practice with their troubled son. This boy had listened to the phone calls and was amazed at the support for him that was being galvanized right before his eyes.

I also brought to his attention that his father and mother were deeply worried and doing their best for him. That if he decided to “off” himself, his father, mother and little sisters would be devastated. He genuinely did not want any of that to happen. We also talked about emotions and feelings overtaking us. He totally understood that he was letting one or two strong emotions get him down, when he had so many others to choose from. I managed to convince him that his feelings and emotions were not fixed. They are self-created in his mind by triggers. That in fact we sort of make it all up as we go along and often increase the impact of triggers. The trick, I told him, is to notice when we are getting stuck on one or two heavy emotions. Then we ask ourselves: “Do I want to go there, knowing what it will lead to?” I repeatedly emphasized that with this kind of awareness we can begin to stop the process of causing harm to ourselves. He really got this. His understanding was that triggers such as cyberbullying were a spark. He could either stamp it out or create a raging forest fire. He had turned the Two Arrows teaching into a personal tool and clearly understood the difference between responding rather than reacting. He was a smart teen.

I introduced him to parts of the Buddha’s teachings about the mindful use of the breath. The focus was on his feelings, emotions and mind. Keeping it simple, I outlined the sixteen breathing exercises that focus mindfulness, concentration and insight first on the body, then on feelings and emotions, then on the mind (mental formations) and finally on objects of mind (perceptions). The Buddha starts with the body where the brain and consciousness are located. The point of this teaching is to take us through each avenue of investigation so we grow stronger and gain some control over our emotions and thoughts. Then we can begin to recognize the triggers that can cause harm to us. The exercises were a systematic package to retrain his troubled mind. There were two aspects of the teaching that I brought to him – that was enough.

The second group of four breathing exercises provided an intelligent focus for his feelings and emotions. We studied them for a while.
5. Skilfully training myself – breathing in and breathing out, aware of experiencing joy.
6. Skilfully training myself – breathing in and breathing out, aware of experiencing happiness.
7. Skilfully training myself – breathing in and breathing out, aware of my painful feelings.
8. Skilfully training myself – breathing in and breathing out, aware of calming painful feelings.
Then we spoke at length about how we all love our dramas and allow ego-distortion to run rampant with our feelings and emotions creating all kinds of out-of-control reactions. However, if we can catch our dramas fuelled by painful mental formations, we can do an end run around our suffering by NOT firing the second arrow into our pain. We can go deeper and learn how to respond rather than react. We see how our feelings actually condition the mind. Feelings are totally normal. It is simply a matter of having the stability of mind not to be overwhelmed by them.

I showed him that he could skilfully use his breath to focus in on the experience of joy and happiness (Exercises 5 and 6). That deeply nurtures our feelings and emotions, creating a steadiness within, providing a foundation to bring awareness and calm to his mind. Exercises 7 and 8, recognizing and calming, provide a preventive measure to transform the hurricane force of strong emotions, a very important message to send to all young people contemplating suicide. The first two exercises nurture and sustain our positive feelings, so we can realize that we are much more than one feeling. So why allow one or two feelings or emotions to take us down into the hell of despair, loneliness and suffering? I asked him to write down the main feelings and emotions that drove him to think about suicide. There were three. Then I asked him to write down all the other feelings inside him. He took his time and wrote down thirty. Then I showed him the two figures, three versus thirty. He nodded his head and remarked “I get it. It’s an absurd decision.” I told him that feelings are just one thing focussed upon by the Buddha to show that the methodology of the sutra works. And that a good strategy is to use Exercises 7 and 8 to bring relief to being overwhelmed by strong emotions.

If the reader understands all of this and puts this understanding into practice then he can see that the particular emotion that is overwhelming him, making her dysfunctional, is just one emotion in their vast ocean of consciousness. This insight undermines the predisposition to be totally crushed by one or two emotions, as there are so many positive emotions we can play with. This is important for young people to know about, as they can quickly go into despair and even suicide when overwhelmed by emotions of fear and unworthiness. There is another group of four exercises that I felt were very important. They dealt directly with what was in his mind.

9. Skilfully training myself – breathing in and breathing out, aware of my mental formations.
10. Skilfully training myself – breathing in and breathing out, aware of gladdening my mental formations.
11. Skilfully training myself – breathing in and breathing out, aware of concentrating on the nutriments that feed my damaging mental formations.
12. Skilfully training myself – breathing in and breathing out, aware of liberating my mind by not feeding damaging mental formations.
This is what I told him after he had read through the four exercises with me. In Exercise 9 we use our breath to recognize, and then look deeply at thoughts arising in our mind. Exercise 10 gladdens the mind. This is a wonderful exercise as we deliberately provide the mind with nourishment to become stronger. Deep in our consciousness there exist many positive and wholesome seeds of potential just waiting for an opportunity to manifest in our mind. So we gladden the mind by taking conscious steps with our thoughts and intentions to water the seeds of Love, Compassion, Joy, Equanimity and other concentrations, so that this good stuff occupies the mind. Furthermore, we take positive action by organizing our everyday living so that external circumstances further the nourishment of the wholesome seeds latent in our deep consciousness. I stressed that we become very attentive about not dwelling on unwholesome seeds like hate, cruelty, despair, anger, jealousy and greed. In effect we are re-writing the programs in our consciousness that can be activated by ego to take us into the realm of suffering and harm.

Nothing survives in our mind without our allowing the flow of nutriments and energy to feed whatever occupies our mind. In Exercise 11 we investigate the nutriments that fed harmful notions in our mind, seeing them as an energy that requires some serious surgery. It is like cutting the affliction away. Once we become aware of the causes that feed our negative thoughts we can immediately reduce their potency. We first of all recognize the triggers that kept the affliction in our mind alive. And we realize the negative affliction is there because we are feeding it. This is followed by Exercise 12, liberating the mind whereby we choose to cease feeding the harmful mental formations by cutting off the nutriments that fuels them with energy. We stop feeding our demons – and they become afraid because they realize that you have got their number! And it is Number 12. There were lots of questions which I answered in his form of language. He eventually understood these weighty concepts..

This quartet of exercises played a big part in in this young teen’s rehabilitation. The focus by my wife and I on gladdening his mind was vital for him to eventually see that he could change the internal CD’s he listened to. We had listened carefully to him in order to identify the nutriments that fed his impetus towards suicide and then did our best to encourage him to eliminate them, so he could stop feeding the nutriments that inflamed his damaging mental formations. After emptying our fridge one day and finding it bare he started to laugh and said – “Nothing survives without food!” He got it and I was very proud of him and told him so. He had learned very valuable tools from this teaching and found some balance and steadiness.

The “treatment plan” from my wife and I was not in any way codified or formalized. In fact, we did not really have a plan per se. On reflection, I saw some key factors that are useful to highlight. They are not offered as a recipe for all situations of potential suicide by teenagers in schools. The causes of the desperate contemplation of suicide are complex and each situation has to be dealt with uniquely. Nor do I think it is always possible for the components of the adventure with this young man to be replicated in other circumstances. This young man had a prior exposure to Buddhist practice that helped him to be open to methods of breathing and walking that a street kid would find somewhat alien. Cyberbullying is a new phenomenon for our times, scarcely twenty years old. It affects all strata of society, not just teens, through online forums, listserves, social media and other internet vehicles that provide a semblance of anonymity for the perpetrators. The explosive birth of cyberbullying coincided with the ramification of distraction technologies. Cell Phones, chat rooms, ipads and the internet created an ecosystem of interruption technologies that many teens have become addicted to. They crave a global interconnect directed by this virtual world, yet rarely know how to use it responsibly so that harm is not done to others. In less than a generation the world has been fundamentally changed by this virtual reality and we have yet to catch up with its consequences. Nor are there sufficient failsafes and regulations for curbing cyberbullying. Parents and councillors are scrambling to deal with it and parenting skills have to adapt radically in order to protect our young children. Thankfully, an organization of dedicated educators-The Mindfulness in Education Network-has taken huge strides over the past decade to turn the tide through the development of mindfulness education programs for all levels of the school system. Their reach is expanding across North America and the planet. My fervent wish is that their efforts are not too little, too late.

 

The bottom line, however, is that distracted people do not realize they are in so much danger. I am reminded of a terse view from Rumi:
“Sit down and be quiet. You are drunk and this is the edge of the roof.”
Neuroscientist Nicholas Carr in his book The Shallows (2011) documents a vast amount of scientific evidence that excessive use of the internet impairs precious human mental capacities. Margaret Wheatley (2013) writes:
“We have made this world into an unpredictable monster because we’ve refused to work with it intelligently. And the ultimate sacrifice is the future.”
There are many other reputable sources bringing attention to an issue that is overwhelming. We need many antidotes, especially as young people see before their eyes on a daily basis many forms of systemic cyberbullying – from Negative Political Attack Ads, Facebook rants to brutal Twitter attacks. Are these aspects of modern society any different from the anonymity of sitting behind a computer spewing out violent malice, simply because they can? Think about it.

This is why I refer to our cobbled together “treatment plan” because it worked. It evolved on a daily basis and I think it was effective for several reasons. Having this youngster leave a troubled environment was a great start. Consulting with his parents about his home situation was crucial. Surrounding him with love, attention and deep listening was a vital key. Teaching him how to be calm, in control of his feelings, and taking back his power through the teachings was an effective strategy. It worked well, as he has grown into a mature, thoughtful and caring young man. He was prepared to notice the behavior of cruel distractions that devastated him and then take steps to try something different. I pray that other teens suffering from cyberbullying will be so open.

Acknowledgements
Thanks to Leonard Poole and Catherine Cosstick for their critical eyes on this essay. And to:
Carr, Nicholas, 2011, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Minds.
Wheatley, Margaret, 2013, Living in the Age of Distraction. Shambhala Sun May, 2013.
Mindfulness in Education Network: MiEN@yahoogroups.com

CREATING FAILSAFE: Saving The Earth From Ourselves

CREATING FAILSAFE: Saving the Earth From Ourselves

 failsafef 2 -banner

Available from Amazon Kindle for $4.99

http://www.amazon.com/Failsafe-Saving-Earth-Ourselvesebook/dp/B006DLB4AK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1329677682&sr=8-1

 Many of the ideas expressed in Failsafe were presented to students – both at the university and in the meditation hall. Their feedback, helpful suggestions and sometimes boredom prompted me to refine the basic ideas.  I first talked about a Failsafe in Consciousness in my 2002 book The Essential Spiral: Ecology and Consciousness After 9/11, drawing on the post Enron crash where financial analysts actually talked about responsibility and ethics.  I also drew on the writings of E.O. Wilson – that despite all that was happening around us there was still an unmistakable link with nature’s systems in the human psyche.

 

So I endeavoured to improve on the ideas floated in 2002 and tried it out on my ecology class at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. I had the privilege of meeting two outstanding students – Eric Smith and Paul Schlissel. They took up the challenge of mapping my ideas into diagrams and re-arranged how I addressed the components of the emerging concepts. Failsafe, due to their promptings, became more than a set of ideas.  It had substance and a design based on three interconnected components. These were Innate Earth Wisdom; Counter Culture; Tipping Points in Consciousness – all of which intertwined with consciousness transformation. Can we fix the planet? This is the wrong question. Our present values and patterns of consumption are the architects of the present global ecological emergency. The right question is can we transform ourselves? My point in addressing Climate Change and Global Warming was that they were not the problem.  The real problem was the mind-set that created the ecological conditions for Global Warming to explode dramatically into the lives of every human being on earth.  I needed a set of interconnecting variables to link into the really crucial aspect of changing human consciousness.  I suppose it is an act of faith on my part, but I feel that once consciousness changes then different questions will be asked and different solutions found.  Out of the transformation will emerge the structures and institutions that can regulate global affairs without endangering all species – including our own.

 

Failsafe provides understanding of global eco-crises and issues a call to change the existing world order by arriving at a deep spiritual understanding of what needs to be done. Step by step methods to transform our existing mindset are laid out to usher in a new era of planetary care, social justice and peace. Failsafe is about hope and faith and the clear knowledge that we have the capacity to get things done. There is hope for future generations to occupy a healthy planet and faith in the human consciousness to change. There is faith that we beings can awaken to the miracle and beauty of all of life. Failsafe provides examples and guidance for transformation and change. Failsafe is a critical response to Lovelock’s 2006 book “Revenge of Gaia” where he argues that the present self-regulating mechanisms of Gaia cannot be controlled by human agency.  In the context of Global Warming and dire predictions for a habitable econiche for homo sapiens I present a Failsafe in Consciousness. I describe how consciousness expansion will be held in abeyance by wilful human ignorance until the global ecological situation deteriorates to a breaking point.  This breaking point will then act as a catalyst, penetrating such ignorance and activating consciousness so it is propelled into expansion, deliberation and change.

 

I drew a lot on the new discipline of Neuroscience, the Wisdom of Aboriginal Elders and the teachings of the Buddha about changing the human mind. Taming the human mind was a major issue, because to change external circumstances with technological fixes still leaves a damaging mind-set intact.  If our minds are not clear and at peace, we simply pass on our disturbance and selfishness to everything we create. In the final chapter – Taming The Wild Mind – I felt it necessary to include highly personal accounts to show that Taming the Wild Mind was not easy for me.  My particular journey is not for everyone – yet some form of journey is absolutely necessary for all of us – one that takes us beyond the superficial into the deep reality of our true nature.  This is nothing other than old fashioned goodness, caring and wisdom coming out to play instead of the greed and negativity that stalks the mind of humanity.

 

I started to give talks to the most unlikely audiences about all of this stuff, and found to my surprise that most of the folks listening got the drift of where I was going.  Their questions and requests for clarification enabled me to sculpt the Failsafe in Consciousness concept into a more understandable form.  I want to reach every man and woman in the street, as the sheer necessity of a bottom up revolution in patterns of consumption and behaviour is necessary for the Failsafe notion to kick in. Failsafe is taken from engineering, where the term is used to describe a stop lever or valve that comes into action whenever the machinery is in danger of exploding or breaking down.  As such, it is a useful metaphor for what is happening globally with Climate Change. I add to the Failsafe notion – particularly the idea of tipping points in consciousness.  This is akin to the Hundredth Monkey syndrome, where once a critical mass is reached then behaviour changes across the board.  In other words once a tipping point is reached there is a quantum leap of energy across the population.  For humanity I set this threshold at 2% of the human population. If 2% can truly commit to changing their minds and altering their patterns in the direction of voluntary simplicity, planetary care and compassion – then this is the tip of the spear that lances through the problem of Climate Change.  Let’s face it – Climate Change is very dangerous to us continuing to inhabit the earth, and still we do all kinds of senseless things to not face this reality.

 

Failsafe is by no means finished. There will be bright minds who will take it further, find loopholes in it and re-fashion it.  All this I gladly welcome. I look forward to the dialogue as it helps us move on. My hope is that you enjoy the book and share it with friends.  I will keep you up to date with my continuing journey as it evolves.

 

Every blessing to each one of you.

 

Ian

What If Nobody Shows Up?

What If Nobody Shows Up………?                         

 Ian and Lady at Pine Gate

It happens.  That unanticipated moment when you – the facilitator – are there, and nobody shows up.  I remember with a mixture of anxiety and humor the first time this happened.  One fall evening I had cleaned the Pine Gate Meditation Hall, set the cushions in a neat semi-circle in front of the simple alter, meditated beforehand, and made sure the notes for the Dharma talk were ready.  And nobody showed up.  At first I thought friends were just a little late, but thirty minutes past the hour convinced me that nobody was coming.  I was disappointed and remained so, until two beautiful beings caught my attention.  My dog, Nikki, and my cat, Lady, were sitting patiently close by me in the meditation hall, waiting for my attention.  They were fully present, only I was not.  When I did notice them, I smiled.  Only then could I look deeply at my thoughts.  What in fact was disappointed?

 

My ego, expectations, habit energies, and mental formations – these were all certainly disappointed.  Yet the moment I smiled to my loving animals, the disappointment began to fade away.  I was left with the insight that of the many elements necessary for a sangha facilitator, on this night it was Equanimity with a capital “E” that I needed most to nurture.  After inviting the bell for Nikki, Lady, myself and absent friends, I meditated on the Four Brahmaviharas – Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity – the Buddha’s teachings on Love – with a particular emphasis on the Fourth one – Equanimity.

 

The following evening, the doorbell rang at 7.00pm and two friends from the sangha came in, followed by another three, then five minutes later by another four.  I welcomed them with surprise at seeing them.  They were puzzled by this welcome, then told me that this was our sangha evening.  I had prepared for them the day before in error!  We all laughed until the tears rolled down our cheeks when I told them the story.  Our meditation and gathering that night became known as the Night Of Warm Smiles And Quiet Chuckles, as once again Nikki and Lady joined us.  Not surprisingly, after meditation, our discussion was about Equanimity.  Of how we can so easily get caught in our projections and mental formations when Equanimity is absent.  Also we shared at length our experiences of its interconnection with Love, Compassion and Joy – the remaining trio of the Four Brahmaviharas.  To make this come alive we all knew that our practice had to become more skillful, drawing on one another’s support. The second track of the Pine Gate Meditations CD is about the Four Brahmiviharas, based on the Buddha’s teachings on Love. The gentle offerings on this hour long CD nurture the heart so that love and understanding are nourished.  The Buddha’s teachings on love were first given to a Hindu Brahmin, who asked the Buddha to tell him how he could be with Brahma, the universal God.  The Buddha replied with a practice devoted to cultivating Love, Compassion, Joy, and Equanimity in each moment, and he expounded with great clarity on the nature of these four components, all of which are interconnected.  They are also known as the Four Immeasurable Minds, as the potential expansion of each one is infinite, each one can embrace the entire world and universe.

 

There are many things I could write about Pine Gate sangha practice – our hikes in the forest, finding a quiet place for a Dharma talk, then on to a waterfall for a silent and mindful lunch.  Of the generosity of sangha members as they take their practice out in an engaged manner.  The sangha practices in the true spirit of engaged Budhism with the introduction of mindfulness practice into city schools, and the formation of Citizen’s Coalitions to protect the city environment from inappropriate development, and peace celebration days to bring about an end to war.  The other groups in these Coalitions are quite happy to find a meditation group at their core, and I do believe we assist them with our steadiness There is so much more – yet for me the Evening Of Warm Smiles And Quiet Chuckles after the Day When Nobody Showed Up, provides a benchmark for the qualities actively cultivated as a basis for sangha practice.  Whenever I talk about the Buddha’s Teachings on Love, usually at our Christmas gatherings, the sangha revisits this benchmark. 

Burn Out, Take Refuge

Burn Out, Take Refuge      

                                                  photo12                        

Over the years I have observed many young activist friends in the peace and environmental movements becoming overwhelmed and suffering deeply from stress and burn out.  Despite my best efforts, they have not always been open to mindfulness practice.  I firmly believe that activism without mindfulness practice will lead to burn out and disillusion of one form or another.  At the other end of the continuum, I consider spirituality without an engaged expression to be equally unbalanced.

 

I encourage all of us embarking on this 21st century adventure in Peace and Planetary Care to root ourselves deeply in mindfulness practice on a daily basis. Touch the stillness of non-action first of all so that our ensuing actions come from a place of effortless abundance and clarity.  This is how we can take care of stress, burnout and disappointment.  Guidance is essential.  It is there in abundance from Thich Nhat Hanh, as he specifies very clearly how to reach out for help.  He encourages us in times of adversity, despair and burnout to take refuge in the sangha – the community of spiritual practice.  Elder brothers and sisters in the community who are steady, patient and wise can help us step out of despair and anger by practicing meditation with us, returning us to mindfulness in order to take care of our distress. Be sure to take refuge in wise and steady friends.  There is no point in taking refuge in folks who are as bummed out as you are! Then there is taking refuge in the dharma – through practices like Deep Relaxation, Touching the Earth, of heeding the Mindfulness Trainings to protect us from making harmful decisions.  There is also taking refuge in the Buddha whose awakened mind is in the sutras that guide us step by step from despair to happiness.  Each Refuge encourages us to foster positive and wholesome mental formations rather than fostering further despair and angst.  Instead of running away from our fear and distress by hiding it under addictive behaviors, we learn from Taking Refuge just how to embrace and transform our fear and distress – first of all by clearly recognizing it.

 

We have to become good gardeners of the mind to do this.  It takes skill, mindfulness and
retraining to become a good organic gardener, so that the garbage in us is turned into rich compost rather than rejected or repressed.  It also takes much understanding based on a non-dualistic view – accepting and recognizing just what is there in the mind.  So if our mind is dark with sorrow or anger we recognize that this is just so.  With awareness we know how to practice walking meditation to take care of the mind-state recognized.  Without the darkness and sorrow we would have no idea about the light dance of happiness.  Instead of being overwhelmed by darkness, which can so easily happen, we use our skills of practice to recognize our mental states, nurture and transform them to a state where there is no danger of being overwhelmed.  This non-dualistic way of looking at our mind states makes good sense, particularly as the alternative of suppression, of not practice, of not mindfulness, keeps us caught in the burnout, deeply mired in suffering with the conviction that there is no way out of this misery.  This “not” alternative rapidly leads to depression, mental illness and damage to others as well as to ourselves.  The mindfulness alternative of developing the necessary skills is a very wise and therapeutic option.

 

You may see for yourself the value of taking refuge in sangha eyes to guide your perceptions; of taking refuge in the practices, trainings and sutras for guidance in order to apply the energy of mindfulness to the energy of burnout.  With the assistance available through taking refuge in the Three Gems – Buddha, Dharma and Sangha – the practice comes alive as a highly strategic set of tools and skills to produce transformation of the suffering caused by difficult and painful circumstances that lead to burnout.  Activism is full of crises, curve balls and disasters.  But even so we do not have to be overwhelmed and crushed by them.  Mindfulness practice helps us.  Understanding and compassion hone our skills so that we become excellent gardeners of the mind.

 

 

Taking Refuge in Grand-Children

Taking Refuge in Grandchildren                                                                  Ian Prattis

 

Taking refuge can provide surprises.  It is not always a dharma teacher, wise sister or high monk who is there to provide solace and guidance.  My grandson Callun has provided quite a few surprises for me.  His home is on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.  One summer holiday Carolyn and I spent a sea kayaking adventure with Callun and his father Iain, exploring the fascinating coastline of Vancouver Island.  On one occasion when Iain and Carolyn went shopping, I stayed at the house to meditate.  Callun was playing outside.  He came in crying after a while and tapped me on the shoulder.  “Grand Pooh Bear” – that is what he called me when he was a little boy – “Grand Pooh Bear, sorry to disturb your practice but I’ve been stung by a bee on my neck and it hurts.”  I opened my eyes and took Callun into my arms and said: “My dear Callun, you are my practice.”  I gently took the stinger out of his neck, put some ice on it and cuddled him for a while before he happily went outside again to play.  He had brought home to me that all of life is my practice.  To my grandson Callun I bow down in gratitude for being such a mindfulness bell for me.

When I take refuge in this manner, I am aware of Buddha nature being graciously presented to me. Another grandchild, Millie, sent me some drawings for my birthday a few years ago. With her five year old determination she endeavored to draw a picture of me – no feet, only one arm, with a fuzzy beard, jug handle ears and much slimmer than in reality!  Over my head she had drawn a yellow halo, which is totally undeserving, yet I learned from her mother that this is how Millie thinks of me. Millie was revealing her Buddha nature to her grandfather and I joyfully took refuge in her love and kindness

Several years ago, after leading a meditation retreat on the British Columbia mainland I arranged to take a ferry across to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island to visit with my son and grandson Callun.  It was a beautiful calm sea voyage with the sunset dancing in the wake of the ferry.  Although I was tired from the retreat, this was a delightful respite.  Both Iain and Callun were there as the boat docked in Nanaimo.  As it was almost Callun’s bedtime, he asked if I would read him a story once we got to their home.  I was happy to do this.  Callun quickly changed into his pyjamas and chose a story for me to read.  I lay down on his bed beside him and started to read.  In only a few minutes I was fast asleep!  My son, Iain, on hearing the silence, came into the bedroom and saw that Callun had pulled the bedcovers up over me and was sitting up in bed with one hand resting lightly on my shoulder, a beautiful smile on his face as he took care of his grandfather.  My son was moved to tears by this.  He drew a chair into the bedroom and sat there with us for several hours.  He did not want to miss the magic.  Three generations taking refuge in one another. Totally present, hearts wide open.  Only one snoring, but gently!

Ian is the dharmacharya (teacher) at Pine Gate Sangha. Author of Song of Silence – available on Amazon Kindle E books.