Tag Archives: Sangha

Mindful Consumption

In order to shift our patterns of consumption from a non-mindful state to a mindful state, we need a great deal of support. Part of that support can be engendered by an awareness of the consequences of our consumption, yet we also need the support of friends, family and sangha, so that a shift from meat eating to vegetarianism, from cooked food to raw food can be effected. It is helpful if pot luck vegetarian meals are organized on a regular basis with friends, that certain mealtimes with family are conducted in silence, while everyone contemplates the nature of the food consumed. For instance, when I am fully present with my food and look deeply into how it came to be on my plate, there are often wonderful surprises, especially in the summertime when I eat a bowl of raspberries. I slow down, breathing consciously in and out, and before eating these plump red berries I look deeply into how they came to be there. I see raspberry canes, the elements of sunshine, rain and good soil. I see the gardener looking after the raspberries with weeding and composting, people picking them and placing them in baskets, truck drivers taking them to market, people buying them. Above all else I see my grandmother.

As a little boy I believed that my grandmother had the biggest raspberry patch in the world! I would pick raspberries with her, some for bottling and jam, but mostly to sit down with my grandmother and enjoy eating them with her. My grandmother was very special. I would be sent to her house once a week by my parents to do gardening and chores for my grandmother, but she had other ideas. She wanted to spend time with me, her first grandson, and so she hired another little boy in the neighborhood to do the chores and paid him a shilling a week. This clever strategy was one I fully enjoyed. We would talk, have tea, and pick raspberries together. She used to make exquisite lace with a crochet needle, and one of my favorite memories is still that of curling up in her big armchair with a bowl of raspberries, while she sat in front of me making lace. I ate the raspberries very slowly, as I was so happy. She was my first teacher in mindfulness, though it was never called that, but that was its true name. She passed away many years ago, yet eating raspberries with deep looking reminds me that she is with me still, as I touch the elements and web of life that brings raspberries to my bowl. This kind of support is essential to bring about the shift in consciousness that enables us to consume mindfully with compassion.

To assist deep looking at mealtimes, or whenever we eat food, there is a simple exercise to do – the Five Contemplations. If we have a bell at home we can invite it twice before reciting it. If there is not a bell, a half filled glass of water and a spoon to tap it with will do just as well. Once the bell has been invited twice we recite the Five Contemplations:

THE FIVE CONTEMPLATIONS

THIS FOOD THIS DAY, AND THIS FAMILY ARE GIFTS OF THE WHOLE UNIVERSE – THE EARTH, THE SKY, THE STARS, NUMEROUS LIVING BEINGS AND MUCH HARD WORK
MAY WE RECEIVE THEM WITH STABILITY, JOY, AND FREEDOM, AND SO BE WORTHY OF THEM
MAY WE TRANSFORM OUR UNSKILLFUL STATES OF MIND, ESPECIALLY OUR GREED, AND LEARN TO EAT IN MODERATION, AND LOVE IN ABUNDANCE
MAY WE KEEP OUR COMPASSION ALIVE BY EATING IN SUCH A WAY THAT WE REDUCE THE SUFFERING OF LIVING BEINGS, STOPS CONTRIBUTING TO CLIMATE CHANGE, AND HEALS AND PRESERVES OUR PRECIOUS PLANET
WE ACCEPT THIS FOOD, THIS DAY, THESE FRIENDS, SO WE MAY NOURISH OUR SISTERHOOD AND BROTHERHOOD, STRENGTHEN OUR FAMILY AND NOURISH OUR IDEAL OF SERVING ALL BEINGS.

Then another sound of the bell is invited and we eat in silence for 10–12 minutes, looking deeply into our food, the consequences of its production and consumption, and connect to the web of life of the entire cosmos. Part of that connection is to be very aware of the millions around the world who are starving, and as we eat mindfully we may resolve to help alleviate the suffering of world hunger. After the period of silence, the bell is invited once again so that people can speak.

This is a wonderful exercise for families. Place the children in charge of the bell and the reading of the Five Contemplations. When the final bell is invited for speaking – adults talk about what is going right on this day, enquiring about their children’s good experiences. It is not the time to collar their offspring for misdemeanors. No wonder kids often absent themselves from family meals. Rather than intimidation, the children enjoy becoming empowered, as they are on the bell, reading and timing and enjoy exploring deeply what the food meant to them at this meal time. This nurtures family dynamics in a beautiful way.

Ian and Lady at Pine Gate

At home when I am on my own, I make a special effort to prepare and consume meals mindfully. It is such a joy as I have two assistants – my dog Nikki and my cat Lady. As I set the table I tell them that this is a mindful meal and after the first two bells I cannot talk to them. I set a bowl of treats for each of them on the table and after I recite the Five Contemplations, I put their bowls down on the floor and I begin my meal. My two dharma pets always sit quietly after their treats until the bell is invited once again to bring the silence to an end. Then Nikki will want her ears scratched and Lady climbs up on to my lap. They bring such fun and joy to my mindful meals with them.

At Pine Gate Mindfulness Community we occasionally practice eating a formal meal together in the meditation hall. There are two rows facing one another and we sit in silence for a while before standing and slowly going upstairs to where the pot-luck supper is laid out. We file out with Carolyn leading followed by myself and then alternating between men and women. We prefer this form to the monastic style of men going first followed by the women. Quietly we place food on our plates and return to our sitting places in the meditation hall. The Five Contemplations are read out in English and in French by Sangha members. I then state: “The Buddha invites us to enjoy eating our meal in mindfulness,” at which point we begin to eat our food with the attention described above. Slowly, contemplatively, tasting the food and its source, we connect to all the beings that played a part in bringing such food to land on our plates.

When everybody is finished eating, the bell master invites the bell for us to stand. Another bell has Carolyn leading us upstairs as before. We now have dessert to look forward to and tea. We sit in small groups upstairs, or out on the deck and in the garden and talk to one another. Without fail everyone enjoyed the exquisite nature of the taste of food and silence. As much of the ingredients of the formal meal came from our organic garden, there is the natural investigation of the plants thriving in the garden. It is a wonderful way to eat together as a community. Mindful consumption nourishes our minds as well as our bodies.

Pine Gate Meditation Hall

Burn Out, Take Refuge

Burn Out, Take Refuge      

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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.