Tag Archives: Thich Nhat Hanh

Right View and the Four Nutriments

The Noble Eightfold Path is the Buddha’s methodology to lead us out of suffering. I will offer dharma talks on the entire spectrum for the remainder of Pine Gate’s Winter Study Session – beginning with Right View and the 4 Nutriments.  This will be a series of foundation teachings, as everything in Buddhism comes around for this visit to the Eight Fold Path. Recommended reading is Thich Nhat Hanh’s “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching” Part Two: The Eightfold Path. The dynamic nature of the Eightfold Path will be highlighted by emphasising how Mindfulness and Concentration are crucial to kick start the process by transforming Views into Insight. The views we hold strongly are often attitudes, perceptions and attachments that are capable of cascading through the other components of the Eightfold Path so that Thinking, Speaking and Action are modelled on wrong views. Right View is no view – rather it is insight, which is why Mindfulness and Concentration are required to start the engine of the Noble Eightfold Path.

Thich-Nhat-Hanh-image-5

“Heads up from Lisa!

Please see from minute 17:30 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfPJ6T-5Z9w

I think Thay was sending you a message!”

Buddhist Online Journal Goes Blogging Ballistic

After thirteen years of presenting a standard online journal Pine Gate Mindfulness Community has taken it to a new blog format thanks to Br. Yves. This permits interaction and feedback on each item, enabling a discourse not possible before. It enhances the graphic/ photo content enormously and is in sync with the links and perks that online offers.

The URL: http://pinegate.wordpress.com/pine-gate-newsletter-autumn-2014/ is essentially the Table of Contents, which contains links to the different articles in the present issue.  Each article on WordPress is actually a blog post. We hope it works. Onwards – lightly and beautifully with Pine Gate Volume 13, Issue 3: Fall 2014,

Ian Prattis – editor

Yves Desnoyers – production editor

PINE GATE MINDFULNESS COMMUNITY                                                                       

Pine Gate is a Zen Buddhist community practicing Engaged Buddhism inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama and Sulak Sivaraksa. It has created an engaged expression for peace, social justice and planetary care as the community is the nucleus of Friends for Peace. The coalition, with Pine Gate at the core, has since created annual events to celebrate peace, social justice and planetary care. The resident teacher is Dharmacharya Ian Prattis – True Body of Wisdom. Ian is a poet, scholar, peace and environmental activist.  As a professor at Carleton University he taught courses on Ecology, Symbols, Globalization and Consciousness – reflected in his 2008 book: Failsafe: Saving The Earth From Ourselves. As an ordained meditation teacher he encourages people to find their true nature so that humanity and the world may be renewed.  He has trained with masters in Buddhist, Vedic and Shamanic traditions.

 

Pine Gate, located in the west end of Ottawa, had very modest beginnings.  Inaugurated in 1997 following Ian’s return from teaching meditation in India, early gatherings featured Ian, his wife Carolyn, and their pets – Nikki the dog and Lady the cat.  Since then it has blossomed into a very vibrant community. In the summer of 2001 major renovations took place to the lower level of Ian and Carolyn’s home.  A new meditation hall emerged from the dust and knocked down walls – the Pine Gate Meditation Hall – named after Thich Nhat Hanh’s story in the book: The Stone Boy and Other Stories. Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh provided a gift of calligraphy, naming The Pine Gate Meditation Hall.  This now hangs on the wall for all to see.  The new meditation hall has become a source of sanctuary for many friends. There are three seasons at Pine Gate – the Fall Study Session from September to December, the Winter Study Session from January to May, and the Lazy Days of Summer program from July to August. June is recess and quiet time.

Pine Gate Meditation Hall

There are regular meetings for meditation and study every Thursday evening from 7.00pm – 9.00pm.  Duong Sinh – Bamboo Stick Qi-gong classes, known as the Life Sustaining Way of the Heart, are offered in addition to regular qi-gong classes throughout the year. Potluck vegetarian suppers, Hikes, Sweat Lodges, Pilgrimages, Days of Mindfulness, and Meditation Retreats are organized on a regular basis.  The voice of the sangha can be heard through its Quarterly Buddhist Journal – Pine Gate – which appears three times a year. Quirky!.

“Our engagement with society and the environment rests on our quality of being. When that quality is rooted in stillness there is a different ground for subsequent actions and so events take a different course. We simply go home to our true nature. We are very active in this way and bring harmony to those we interact with. The most significant interaction is with our true nature. To connect to its boundless quality in daily life, and then to connect to others and the world in the same way is surely the ticket to ride!” 

Website: http://www.ianprattis.com/PineGate/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pinegatesangha

DIRECTIONS TO THE PINE GATE MEDITATION HALL:

In Ottawa, take Queensway to Woodroffe South exit; go to Baseline Rd; RT on Baseline; RT on Highgate (2nd lights) RT on Westbury; LT on Rideout and follow the Crescent round to 1252, which is always lit up with Christmas lights in the winter and full of flowers in the summer.  Tel: 613 726 0881

Contacts: iprattis@bell.net ; carolyn.hill@bell.net 

 

On Being Splendid

When a friend asks – “How are you?” – we tend to automatically reach for a standard descriptor such as “Fine”; “Not Too bad” or “Could Be Worse.” Our automatic pilot rarely delivers uplifting, generous responses. Something obstructs us from replying “I am splendid” or “I am feeling absolutely marvellous.” If we should make such an extraordinary response, we would not really believe it. A serious problem exists that requires investigation. Let me begin by breaking “Fine” down into an acronym:
F – Freaked out
I – Insecure
N – Neurotic
E – Elsewhere.
It is possible to choose other somewhat depressing terms, though I choose the Buddha’s Four Clay Pots metaphor as a starting point for this investigation.

The Buddha categorized his listeners into four different kinds of clay vessels. The first clay pot has holes at the bottom, so whatever is poured into it goes right through the bottom into the ground. No matter what wise skilful teaching or practice is offered to clay pot person number one, absolutely nothing is retained. The second clay pot is one that has many cracks in it. If water is poured in, it all eventually seeps out. The teachings may be retained for a short while, yet sooner or later they are completely forgotten. The third clay pot is one that is completely full. Water cannot be poured into it because it is already full to the brim. A person with characteristics of this vessel is so full of views, self-righteousness and wrong perceptions that they cannot be taught anything about the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Then there is the fourth clay pot – an empty vessel without holes or cracks, empty of views and attitudes. We may recognize that at different times we occupy one or another of the first three pots and thus strive to move to pot number four. How can we do this?

Buddha Picture

To be completely empty of a separate self, as the fourth clay pot, is what our mindfulness practice leads to. On the way there we are bound to have views and attitudes, but may be significantly empty enough to take in the teachings and practices that can move us along the path of awakening. Step by step we let go of clinging and attachment to views and re-build our minds so that equanimity and peacefulness arise. We discover that the art of Being Present is what all of the Buddha’s teachings, practices and trainings lead to. From this vast tool kit of transformation we then use intelligent awareness to work with strong emotions and let go of all clinging and their damaging consequences. The trio of Mindfulness, Concentration and Insight become our best friend, as we step into freedom from brainwashing. I touch base with the Shambhala Warrior training to address the matter of “Being Splendid.”

What does it take before we can relax into our inherent goodness and be authentically “Splendid”? In the teachings brought to the west by Chogyam Trungpa there is a strong emphasis on Shambhala warrior training. The fifth and final level is the sense of splendidness. It is preceded by four interconnected levels:

1. Being free of deception by recognizing afflictive emotions and discerning habit energies.
2. Truly entering the freedom of being present in each moment.
3. Embracing the vision of sacredness of ourselves and the world.
4. Bringing mind and body together because we are grounded and in harmony with the world around us. (Sakyong Mipham, 2011, Shambhala Sun, November 2011)

In the fifth level, building on these prior steps, we attain confidence in our inherent goodness and simply radiate the energy of splendidness. This visceral sense of unyielding trust in our inherent goodness, of being splendid, enables us to become spiritual hubs and beacons of an extraordinary nature. All the great spiritual masters had this sense and shared it without deception or ego. This power of transformation comes from a place of steady well-being, strength and confidence in our ability to be brilliant and to shine in the face of any adversity. Linji refers to this phenomenon as being rooted in our own sovereignty as Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us in his excellent account of Master Linji in Nothing to Do, Nowhere To Go – Parallax, 2007. Sakyong Mipham rounds out the sense of being splendid through his emphasis on being present in everything we do, choosing to no longer hide behind habitual patterns and old memory tapes. A lack of splendidness simply attracts sorry-ass individuals to ourselves and they become complicit with our hiding patterns. It makes better sense to have the lucidity to train ourselves to be splendid rather than close down and hide.

Cymbals at vesak

Death and Dying

In my family and culture there is very little discussion about death and dying, though as a child I did have an intuitive understanding. When my grandfather died I felt him as a tangible presence when he was in his coffin. I quietly whispered to this gracious being: “Go to Heaven now grandpa.” I also remember at his wake how upset I became by my relatives drinking, arguing and being disrespectful to one another. In tears I sought out my grandmother and complained that everyone was making it hard for my grandpa to go to Heaven. She listened carefully to me and wiped my tears away. Then walked into the living room of her house and with quiet authority asked everyone to go home. It was much later in life, once I was exposed to Buddhist teachings on death and dying, that I realized I was not such a crazy kid after all. I had cared for my grandfather’s consciousness after his physical death. Much later in life, I knew that preparation for death was also training for life, though I did not always pay attention to this insight.

I was intrigued by the opportunity for liberation at the time of death, though I could see clearly that my ego and habits were obstacles in the way. I did want to be able to merge my consciousness at the time of death with what the Sufis call “the great magnificence.” Or if I got confused and fearful at the time of death – to receive guidance to do so. I felt that if my death is aware, then in the final state of becoming, my consciousness would take a form that would serve Mother Earth and all sentient beings. I liked this idea of recycling – it appealed to the ecologist within me! This retraining was done fitfully, not in a consistent manner until just before I left for India. There, the preparation became a daily practice of being aware of universal consciousness totally prepared to merge with my pitifully weak and not-so-awakened-mind. My leap of faith was that these understandings about death and dying were all in my mind. This meant that in everyday living I could use my mind to take the steps to prepare for that final moment of merging with the wisdom mind of the universe and do this while I was alive. Perhaps the “alive” bit is the whole point!

Ian in India

During my training as a guru in India I became seriously ill, but was not surprised by the lack of panic. I clearly remember Saturday, December 21, 1996 as if it were yesterday. On that day I let go of all attachments to my body and surrendered to a sense of freedom never before experienced. Throughout the day and evening I read Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Blooming of a Lotus from cover to cover, practicing meditations that spoke to me. I was living in a small ashram in the city of Mumbai – reserved for saints and holy men. I did not qualify for either category, yet felt their grace close at hand. One humorous manifestation of that grace occurred one morning when I woke up to find a visiting Swami sitting by my bedside. He smiled broadly and helped me to sit up, then surprised me with his words: “We are all so happy that you have decided to die in India with us, if indeed you are to die. And we will be even happier if you live.” The Swami just beamed love and understanding to me. My reply, as best I remember, was to just say: “Me too!” He made me some tea with herbs, provided a blessing and then left. When I went to sleep that Saturday night I was content and happy. Diary entries chart the journey.

Thay Bowing (2)

CAROLYN’S DIARY
December 12, 1996:
Ian called. He is so sick that he can hardly talk and his voice is unrecognizable. A cold chill ran down my spine. He says he’s had surgery and that his systems are all crashing, one by one. But he’s not afraid. I believe he is not afraid of dying if that is what’s happening. What can I do? My first instinct is to go to India, to be with him, to care for him, but no, he says this is a journey he must go through alone. I am so worried. All I can do is surround him with light and love. And I pray, I pray that God will care for him, make him well and keep him safe. Dad is in the hospital dying from heart disease, two open-heart surgeries in the last month. The doctors are amazed that he is still living. I wonder if he is afraid to die. I’m being forced to look at death, my fears, at my attachments. I cry. Dad has been ill for many years and I know he will not likely survive this ordeal, but Ian. Ian is too young. His life work is not done. He still has so much to offer.

Ian speaks about the possibility of death with such calm. He’s not afraid, but I am. I don’t want to lose him. I am not prepared to let him go. Over the phone from India, Ian teaches me about no birth and no death, that we continue living in all that we touch, simply a different manifestation than our physical bodies. But this is too difficult for me to accept at the moment. I am attached. I do not want to let him go. Ian directs me to the teachings on impermanence and encourages me to meditate on the Buddha’s Five Remembrances: being of the nature to grow old, the nature to become ill, the nature to die, the nature for all things to change and knowing that we will be separated from those we hold dear and that our only true possessions are the consequences of our actions.

MY DIARY ENTRY, DECEMBER 20, 1996:
Prem Kutir Ashram, Mumbai, India
Feel weaker than ever this morning. Could hardly make it from my bed to the bathroom. Hope the saints who have passed through this little ashram are casting a protective eye over me. Perhaps they can cheer up Chotolal, the Nepali cook here, who has become quite anxious, especially as I have not had the energy or inclination to eat the special dishes he prepares. He is watching me write in my diary, so I will change hands and write with my left hand so he can laugh and feel less anxious about me. It worked!

Why have I become so ill? All my bodily systems have gone off line. Is there some major purification going on in my body, is there something I do not see? What lessons are there? Or are my days drawing to a close in the silence of this ashram? My blood tests from the hospital show that I am low and deficient in just about every category and the medications only make me feel worse. So many questions and worries yet they do not seem totally important. I ask them then they fade away. It is a bit strange. A few days ago, I collapsed and passed out while at dinner at Madhuma’s house. I know that she and her family would take me in, yet this saint’s refuge is where I feel most comfortable right now. The quiet and simplicity of the place speaks to me. I guess it allows me to prepare for death.
Have been in an almost constant state of meditation for weeks now. A deep quiet silence. Making entries in this diary is almost an interruption. Yesterday, Tom and Bev phoned from Tucson in the States and it was wonderful to talk to them. They sent prayers from the desert. Another friend, Barbara, from Michigan also phoned. She tunes into me very closely and was sufficiently alarmed to offer to fly to Mumbai and take me back to the States to get well in her home. Their love and care is very moving, but I know that whatever is to happen is to be here in India.

It was not easy to communicate this to Carolyn, but I do believe she understands. My prayer is that she does not suffer unduly. Have sent Chotolal to buy some cards and stamps for me. The cards are beautifully hand painted on pipal leaves with pictures of the Buddha, Krishna dancing and other such scenes. Want to make sure I finish my Christmas list. Sending Christmas cards to friends and loved ones. Feel such a calm about all this that would normally surprise the heck out of me. The calm is just there, sitting with me, just fine.
I know there is a distinct possibility I will not live beyond Christmas and want to send out a Christmas message from India:“Blessings and Love from Ian.” Writing the cards has exhausted me, but I feel satisfied and full, mission accomplished. Chotolal brought in a package of mail from Canada: letters and cards from family and friends, a framed photograph of Carolyn, my dearest friend and companion. Made me very happy, also made me cry as I thought of friends I may not see again. Yet they were strange tears, not full of sorrow or anything, just tears as I thought of loving friends.

I keep falling asleep very quietly then waking up very quietly. Sleep is like a light breeze that seems to visit now and then. Ate a little bit of dinner to allay Chotolal’s anxiety, but it is my supply of rice malt and vitamin C that is keeping me going. Chotolal placed some fruit and water on the table by my bed, then left to spend the next day with Nepali friends in another part of the city, taking my pile of Christmas cards to post. I am enjoying the silence and solitude, now that he has left. It is about nine o’clock in the evening and I am drifting off to sleep on gentle wings.

DIARY ENTRY, DECEMBER 21, 1996:
Prem Kutir Ashram, Mumbai, India
Waking up was easy, getting up was a struggle but did that in stages. The quiet and silence inside the ashram is quite palpable and almost visible. I remembered my shamanic training with White Eagle Woman. Had a dream about her during the night, but do not recall all the details. I do remember that she told me to construct a mental medicine wheel around me and include all my spiritual ancestors. Did that and feel an incredible constellation of energies, like millions of guardian angels from everywhere.

Took some fruit and returned to my book of meditations and began to read slowly, stopping frequently to close my eyes and feel the words. Have no sense of time or space today, as each meditation seems to move me with its own measure and carry me along. Feel such a deepening in my heart, all the way inside my body. Aware that there is no fear or panic, just a simple and happy acceptance. That is all that is there. I have never experienced anything like this. Have no thought of anything and feel deeply content for no apparent reason. Is this surrender? Peace with God? No flashing lights, visitations, or visions, only a quiet surrender and being with the inevitability of it all, whatever “THAT” is.

DIARY ENTRY, DECEMBER 22, 1996:
Prem Kutir Ashram, Mumbai, India
I woke up this morning, heard two crows saying hello from the tree outside the window. Feel so happy to be alive. Chotolal is singing in the kitchen and rattling his pots and pans, so I will celebrate this new day with a little breakfast. That will make us both very happy. A clear insight that this “death” is a spiritual one, as is the “rebirth.” I feel completely new this morning, as though I have been rewired and plugged into sockets with a bigger voltage. Part of my preparation to continue moving along the path of understanding.

Swooshing at New Year’s Eve

“Swooshing” anyone?

At Pine Gate on Tuesday, December 31, 2013, 9pm – midnight

“Swooshing” is a technical term for Renewing Buddhism.  For New Year’s Eve at Pine Gate there is homework.  Write down on a piece of paper all that you wish to leave behind and where you want to move to.  This can be personal, global, or both – just as you choose.  After the recitation ceremony on Tuesday December 31 we go upstairs for snacks and fellowship. The fire will be lit and then you place your homework in the fire and “swoosh” – it burns and goes up the chimney taking your intentions out to the universe.  You can read it out if you wish or just “swoosh.” Fake champagne is served at mid-night!

“Swooshing” means letting go, releasing stuff, establishing good intentions.

With community support for all of the previous.

Remember it is a matter of – LET GO OR BE DRAGGED!

You are invited to the most meaningful New Year’s Eve party in Ottawa. On New Year’s Eve there is a special tradition at Pine Gate.  We welcome the new year of 2014 with a recitation of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. (See below) This is a complete map of ethics to navigate the difficult times we are in. The trainings are a guiding light to pierce through the darkness that threatens humanity and the planet. How do we choose to behave towards one another when things begin to collapse? Will we be steady and generous or think only of ourselves?  Pine Gate’s response is: ” Enter The Bodhisattva. ”  There is homework – write down all you wish to move on from and what you wish to move to. Then swoosh it into the fire with community support to make it so!

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Date: Tuesday December 31, 2013.

Time: 9.00pm – midnight.

Place: Pine Gate Meditation Hall.

Purpose: Ethical Dance for 2014.

Program: Recitation Ceremony 9.30pm.

11.00pm: snacks and swooshing homework into the fire.

Mid-night: Auld Lang Syne and fake champagne.

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HISTORICAL BACKGROUND:

The Buddha practiced Socially Engaged Buddhism giving dharma talks to people in society.  His first dharma talk emphasized the Four Noble Truths, the Middle Way and the Engaged Nature of mindfulness practice.  He formulated the Five Wonderful Precepts for lay practitioners, which evolved into the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

In the 4th Century AD in India, the Brahma-Net Sutra (Sanskrit: Brahmajala Sutra) was recorded.  It was known as the “Moral Code of the Bodhisattvas.”  It was translated by the Indian monk, Kumarajiva, into Chinese during the 4th century AD and contained 3 groups of precepts:

  1. Do not what is evil (Do not create suffering)
  2. Do what is good (Do wholesome actions)
  3. Do good for others (Help all sentient beings, be of benefit to all sentient beings)

Contained within the Brahma-Net Sutra are the10 major precepts of wholesomeness and 48 minor precepts.  This was practiced in China, Vietnam, Japan and Korea as an early expression of Socially Engaged Buddhism

In 14th century Vietnam, the Bamboo Forest Master (formerly King Than Nhan Tong from 1258 – 1308), went from village to village teaching the Five Mindfulness Trainings and the 10 Wholesome Precepts derived from 4th century India, strongly influenced by the Brahma-Net sutra and the Buddha’s initial dharma talk. In the 20th century, Socially Engaged Buddhism was renewed in Vietnam and extended to the West.  Thich Nhat Hanh ordained the first 6 members of the Order of Interbeing in February, 1966.  The 14 Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of Interbeing contain the 5 Mindfulness Trainings, the Noble Eightfold Path and are a renewal of the earlier Bodhisattva Precepts.  Thich Nhat Hanh brought them up to date to be in tune with our times, in step with modern historical, socio-economic and cultural developments yet resting on the foundation provided by the Buddha and 4th century expressions of socially engaged Buddhism.  They are Thich Nhat Hanh’s gift and guidance to mindfulness practitioners.

Winter Study Session at Pine Gate Mindfulness Community

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Winter Study Session at Pine Gate  Mindfulness Community                               

Pine Gate is a meditation community practicing Engaged Buddhism inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama and Sulak Sivaraksa – great teachers for our present times. It has created an engaged expression for peace, social justice and planetary care, as the community is the nucleus of Friends for Peace Canada, which now has a page on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/#!/friendsforpeacecanada  The coalition, with Pine Gate at the core, has created annual events to celebrate peace, social justice and planetary care. Fierce Light of Engaged Buddhism in practice.  Pine Gate is also on Facebook – check it out and click “Like” if it appeals: https://www.facebook.com/pinegatesangha  On YouTube there is a new Pine Gate Channel. http://www.youtube.com/user/pinegatesangha  

 

I am the resident teacher at Pine Gate and founder of Friends for Peace. I now prefer to stay local to help move things just a little bit, so that good things continue to happen spontaneously in my home city of Ottawa, Canada. With lots of help along the path. I am a poet, scholar, peace and environmental activist.  As a professor at Carleton University from 1970 to 2007 I taught courses on Ecology, Symbols, Globalization and Consciousness – reflected in the 2008 book: Failsafe: Saving The Earth From Ourselves.  As a meditation teacher I encourage people to find their true nature so that humanity and the world may be renewed.  I have trained with masters in Buddhist, Vedic and Shamanic traditions.

 

Pine Gate, located in the west end of Ottawa, had very modest beginnings.  Inaugurated in 1997 following my return from teaching meditation in India, early gatherings featured my wife Carolyn, me and our pets – Nikki the dog and Lady the cat.  Since then the sangha has grown in numbers and depth.  In the summer of 2001 major renovations took place to the lower level of our home.  A new meditation hall emerged from the dust and knocked down walls – the Pine Gate Meditation Hall – named after Thich Nhat Hanh’s story in the book: The Stone Boy and Other Stories. Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh provided a gift of calligraphy, naming The Pine Gate Meditation Hall.  This now hangs on the wall for all to see.  The new meditation hall has become a source of sanctuary for many friends,

There are regular meetings for meditation and study every Thursday evening from 7.00pm – 9.00pm.  The first Saturday of every month has a Mindfulness Gathering from 5.00pm – 8.00pm for dharma and a mindful meal. Duong Sinh – Bamboo Stick Qi-gong classes, known as the Life Sustaining Way of the Heart, are offered in addition to regular qi-gong classes throughout the year. Potluck vegetarian suppers, Hikes, Sweat Lodges, Pilgrimages, Days of Mindfulness, and Meditation Retreats are organized on a regular basis.  There are three seasons at Pine Gate – Fall Study Session from September to December: Winter Study Session from January to May; Lazy Days of Summer Session from July to August.

“Our engagement with society and the environment rests on our quality of being. When that quality is rooted in stillness there is a different ground for subsequent actions and so events take a different course. We simply go home to our true nature. We are very active in this way and bring harmony to those we interact with. The most significant interaction is with our true nature. To connect to its boundless quality in daily life, and then to connect to others and the world in the same way is surely the ticket to ride!”

In 2014 our program continues with the “Fully Alive” retreat by Pema Chodron as the main study of the Winter Study Session beginning on Thursday January 16, 2014, 7.00pm – 9.00pm. The Fall Study Session provided some deep and pithy dharma from Pema Chodron. It was interspersed with talks from me on Engaged Buddhism, Consciousness, Judgement, The Sutra on Knowing the Better Way to Be Alone and the Science of Mantra.  Deep Relaxation with Carolyn and a Five Mindfulness Trainings Recitation rounded things out.

The Fully Alive retreat is on 2 DVD’s and totals 5 hours. We begin the Winter Session with Talk 4. The book – Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change by Pema Chodron – is the text. Folk are encouraged to get a copy – either from Singing Pebble or Serendipity bookstores in Ottawa.  The second DVD and discussion sessions will be interspersed with the Buddha’s Foundation Teachings, plus important ceremonies such as a Tea Ceremony to stir the pot of dharma. The focus on the “Fully Alive” retreat addresses the difficult times we are in. Life sometimes seems like a roiling and turbulent river threatening to drown us. Why, in the face of that, shouldn’t we cling to the safety of the shore – to our comfortably familiar patterns and habits? Pema Chodron teaches: that kind of fear-based clinging leads only to greater suffering. In this recorded retreat, based on the program “Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change” she provides a wealth of wisdom for learning to step right into the river, to be completely, fearlessly, present even in the hardest times, the most difficult situations. It’s the secret of being fully alive. When we learn to let go of our protective patterns and do that, we begin to see not only how much better it feels to live that way, but, as a wonderful side effect, we find that we begin to naturally and effectively reach out to others in care and support. The teachings and practices include:

1. A teaching – based on Native American prophecy – for cultivating the ability to take nothing personally.

2. A guided meditation for developing patience in the midst of irritation.

3. A curiosity practice to release your mind from old habits.

4. Tips for accessing your innate strength and confidence – simply by altering your posture.

5. Ways to make your practice the impetus for serving others.”

Meditation Guidance from Pema Chodron:
1. First of all – come into the present. Be aware of what is happening with you right now.
2. Be fully aware of your body, its energetic quality.
3. Be fully aware of your thoughts and emotions.
4. Feel your heart, place your hand on your heart. Accept yourself just as you are.
5. Go into the next moment w/o any agenda
6. Now deal with an incident that has hurt or alarmed you
7. Just be with the pain of it.
8. Ask yourself – am I going to dwell on who/what caused this suffering or am I going to take care of it?
9. Come back to the pain and just be with it
10. Ask yourself – who is running the show – all my fears, negative thoughts, blaming and judgements or the best that is in me?
11. Make a conscious choice – the best in me
12. Summon your resources of Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity – The Buddha’s Teachings on Love.
13. Come back and be with the pain
13. Place Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity in a practice – Walking Meditation, 4 Brahmaviharas Meditation, Touching the Earth etc
14. Come back to your heart – place your hand on your heart.
15. Breathe and smile.

For a glimpse – take a look at the video of the talk on Consciousness and Judgement:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmZoyyluTZs

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The Territory of Suffering

Territory of Suffering    

Extract from Portals and Passages Book 2 – $2.99 on Amazon Kindle

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007EECFUI#_

 Portals and Passages BK 2 FC4

I turn to my teacher Thich Nhat Hanh (Reconciliation: 2010: 64) to open this essay on Healing the Inner Child.

“Dealing with suffering is like handling a poisonous snake. We have to learn about the snake, and we ourselves have to grow stronger and more stable in order to handle it without hurting ourselves. At the end of this process, we will be ready to confront the snake. If we never confront it, one day it will surprise us and we will die of a snake bite. The pain we carry in the deep levels of our consciousness is similar. When it grows big and confronts us, there’s nothing we can do if we haven’t practiced becoming strong and stable in mindfulness. We should only invite our suffering up when we’re ready. Then, when it comes we can handle it. To transform our suffering, we don’t struggle with it or try to get rid of it. We simply bathe it in the light of our mindfulness.”

 

First we have to develop and nurture our mindfulness, which means waking up to the reality of our suffering that we would rather avoid. There are clear warning signals if we choose to pay attention. We get caught in our dramas and find ourselves telling and retelling our stories to whomever will listen. We also court our suffering and keep it alive. We often engage in a competitive aspect – my suffering is bigger than yours. The courtship of suffering can be an ugly romance for we enter into a co-dependent relationship, which has to be called by its true name – Addiction. Physiologically and emotionally we become so tightly tied into our suffering that we cannot be without it even though it is destroying our well being. We grasp at brief insights that “Yes – this is suffering” – but deal only with surface appearances. Yet the surface exposure has a long history of gathering momentum and energy until it actually surfaces. The small snake has become a monster. The addiction to suffering is now embedded in our mental state. We respond to any glimpse of suffering with such destructive emotion that we reinforce the causes and conditions that created the suffering in the first place. And so we continue shooting ourselves in the foot, torpedoing our lives – over and over again.

Our suffering is caused by abuse – emotional, physical and sexual – and it becomes an organizing template in our mind. We then create an abusive relationship with that template’s qualities – addiction; fear; co-dependency. To stop the cycle of harm we need an OMG moment.  The insight that: OH MY GOD THIS IS WHAT I HAVE BEEN DOING ALL MY LIFE. HOW DO I STOP IT? That insight has to arrive in the mind before we can apply ourselves to developing mindfulness as an antidote to the abusive relationship established with our suffering. It is an awesome realization to penetrate the darkness and realize that the abuse you have suffered has created an abusive relationship with yourself. Mindfulness practice can bring the abusive relationship to a halt. This is the required OMG moment that propels you to get to work. To go backwards from the surface and investigate the causes and conditions that placed you in such suffering. And so we learn the practices, tools and concentrations that support this journey of understanding suffering and taking care of it. We break the cycle through re-training and mindfulness practice. We equip ourselves for a journey to be well that requires our determination to practice mindfulness daily and ensure that we take refuge in wise support.

The Wounded Inner Child

Emotional, physical and sexual abuse during childhood creates a lost, frightened and frozen child within us.  If we are unable to reach this lost and wounded child then we may never heal ourselves.  We prefer not to remember the sufferings of childhood, so we bury them and hide.  We run away from seeing deeply into the causes of our suffering.  Whenever the memories arise, however fleetingly, we think we cannot handle them and deflect them into the deepest realms of our unconsciousness mind. This results in the wounded child not being seen for a long time simply because we are terrified of further suffering. Yet we have to find a way to reach the hurt child and make her safe. This means we have to get past the fear and address the suffering, realizing that it is suffering which provides the way through to awakening.

Although we may now be adult, there is also a little boy in us, a little girl in us, who is so afraid and suffers deeply, no matter what kind of happy pretend face we present to life.  This suffering child within our adult frame colors everything we do, generating our fears, insecurities and self loathing, wounding us in our relationships and life.  That wounded child is you, is me, and we must extend a different energy to him so that the energy of childhood suffering can be understood, defused and transformed. Mindfulness is the way through to the inner child. We have to embrace him, embrace her exactlty where they are caught by the past – in fear and with anger at being neglected for so long. Moreover we have to be very skilful.

This means touching the seeds of childhood suffering from an adult state of being mindful and aware, knowing that we must make it safe for that child to come out from hiding behind the closed doors of suffering and pain.  It is we as adults who must no longer run away.  We must have the courage and awareness to bring healing to our hurt inner child and thereby produce a transformation for ourselves.  The steps we take are not only to heal ourselves, we somehow connect to all wounded children – those in our ancestors and descendants and elsewhere in the world.  For once we cultivate the seeds of mindful healing in ourselves, the energy of these seeds continues on into all that we interconnect with. A quantum leap from our cellular memories to everyone else’s throughout time and space. With awareness we take our inner child into our daily life, on picnics, walks, sitting at the dining room table and doing the dishes together. Patiently realizing that we are on a splendid adventure to bring the cycle of suffering to a close, for it may have persisted over generations. Thus we are healing and transforming generations of ingrained patterns transmitted from our ancestors and continued through us to our descendants. Such patterns build up like corrosive rust through time and amplify the fears and suffering of the wounded inner child

Thich Nhat Hanh addressed the issue of child abuse in a Question and Answer session held in the Lower Hamlet of Plum Village, France on the 17th October 1998.  Very gently he spoke about the ignorance and pain of the abuser as well as that of the abused, and stated clearly that understanding was the basis of recovery.  Not blaming or feeling guilt and shame, but seeing deeply and understanding.  First of all to understand that the person abusing must have lived under ignorant and deprived conditions without support, guidance or a wise teacher.  So much so that the power of ignorance was stronger than the person, and thus they were driven to do wrong things.  If the person abused can begin to understand just a little bit of that, then their anger, shame and outrage can transform into a droplet of compassion and through mindfulness practice their suffering can diminish. When forgiveness and understanding are there, suffering decreases.  The second step he suggested was to recommend that the person abused practice mindfulness, to transform herself into a Bodhisattva and engender the compassion to help and be of service to all children who need protection.  By merit of understanding the experience and recovery from abuse, such a person can practice and use their talents to promote measures to protect children.  This helps to eradicate the ignorance that generates abuse.

There are many techniques and methodologies of therapy that address issues of the inner wounded child.  The first one I am going to describe is simple and anyone can do it.  It is a first step and I recommend that it be practiced under the guidance of a therapist, shaman or spiritual teacher.  You are going to start a diary or log book for you and the inner child to write to one another.  The adult you will write using the hand that you normally write with.  You begin by saying “hello” to Little John, to Little Allison.  Then go on to say how sorry you are for having been away and neglectful; that you are grown up now and strong, and that you are going to do everything to make it safe for Little John, for Little Allison.  They will be safe, loved and cherished.  Write in your own words along these lines.

Then with your other hand, the one you do not write with, allow the inner child to express herself.  Do not edit.  Just write down whatever comes out.  It may well be angry, blaming and abusive words that come out, and it is your job not to be shocked or defensive but to provide constant re-assurance, love and guidance.  You bring to this communication with the wounded inner child all the qualities of love, compassion and wisdom you can muster.  These are the seeds of mindfulness you consciously bring to support the wounded child inside you.  The energy of these seeds works on the energy of the traumatized inner child to reduce his pain and suffering.  Talk to him through writing in this way – with total love and acute mindfulness. Then read your diary entries out loud – placing yourself in your adult shoes and then in your inner child’s shoes. This simple act of reading out loud is a way for both of you to be heard. On a daily basis register with how deeply your understanding and love is getting through to the wounded child, for she is listening carefully to every word and knows that you are now listening to her. You draw closer – the adult and the inner child – as you bring awareness, love and healing to the suffering and pain of the child.

Details of trauma may be revealed that you did not know about, which is why you need the help and guidance of a trusted therapist, shaman or spiritual teacher.  This is to support you being a wise and loving parent to your wounded child.  And with time you will notice shifts and changes in patterns of expression as the child becomes trusting and starts to grow, eventually merging fully with you as an adult.  (You also learn to write very well with your other hand!)  In your letters tell your inner child about yourself and your life, take him on outings, treats and give to that child all the care, attention and love you feel you did not receive when you were a little boy, a little girl.  The suffering will diminish and you will experience such a transformation, for you discover that your relationships with co-workers, friends and family start to change, and your fears of the past and anxieties about the future do not have the same driving force.  When you notice things like this tell your inner child: “Thank you for being with me.  That makes me so happy.”   The experience of being with the inner child in the healing journey is a stimulus for this kind of happiness.  There are times you may cry, or feel total joy and also suffer despair, which is why guidance and support is necessary on this beginning journey of reclaiming yourself.  You need that wise spiritual friend and teacher to keep you steady and mindful.  I know, for I went through it.  I am happy to say that it worked for me, as I experienced the painfully slow establishment of trust, then the exhilarating joy of safety and integration, until finally my inner child was the adult me, integrated with a freshness and vitality that I continually treasure.  Ultimately there is only one pair of shoes!

To support this journey there are other practices and meditations that are valuable for the steady process of healing. We have brought mindfulness, concentration and insight to our inner child and constantly enveloped him in the refreshing energy of transformation. We have worked diligently to nurture seeds of happiness, joy and safety in the consciousness of the inner child – the same seeds that are also in us, our ancestors and descendants. When despair and fear arise from the child we have the presence of mind to listen deeply and surround the fear with the stronger energy field of mindfulness. This is a deep and beautiful process because we are no longer running away or hiding from afflictions that have rendered us dysfunctional. Thich Nhat Hanh in his book Reconciliation tells us: “The capacity to be aware – that is, to be a human being who is mindful – is what will save us” (2010: 114).

Buddhist teachings contain a multitude of tools, concentrations and practices that can nurture this process. Such as The Five Remembrances, Five Year Old Child Meditation, Sutra on Mindful Breathing, Deep Relaxation, Touching The Earth and Removing The Object to mention only a few. In Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh’s practice center in France, he has provided a much loved practice gatha for the meditation community, which begins with “I have arrived, I am home.”  This is used in walking and other meditations as an instrument to concentrate on breath and be present.  In this way the fears and traumas of the past and anxieties about the future do not crowd in and overwhelm the mind.  The gatha with walking meditation, connected to in-breath and out-breath, provides an essential tool to take care of the many mental formations that flood our waking consciousness with fear, pain and suffering.  With daily diligent practice we can examine these same mental formations but from a place centered in mindfulness.  This simple gatha has become the dharma seal of PlumVillage.

I: Inner Child Has Arrived Meditation

The Vietnamese origin of the gatha provides a penetrating tool to touch our inner child who suffers from trauma and abuse experienced in childhood.  It does not translate as:  “I have arrived, I am home.”  It translates as: “Your child has arrived, your child is home.”  This is so beautiful to say to yourself as you breathe in and out whenever you do walking meditation, for each step welcomes your wounded child to be well and to come home to you.  When you walk to your car or your office, by a river or in a park, you can be more specific and recite to yourself:

In-breath          “My inner child has arrived”

Out-breath       “My inner child is home.”

This is good practice, for with intelligence you use your conscious breath and concentration to heal, simply by welcoming your wounded inner child home through the practice of being present.  We are capable of arriving in every moment of practice, whether it is sitting meditation, walking meditation, having a mindful meal, taking a shower or doing laundry.  Being present in each moment is a way of practice that welcomes home the injured, frightened inner child harmed by abuse.

In order to heal it is necessary to cultivate the internal energy of mindfulness before stopping and looking deeply into what caused the fears and traumas of abuse.  The practice of arriving in each moment nurtures that strength.  From the space of clarity provided by locating yourself in the present moment, not only is your inner child welcomed home, there is also the lucidity of mindfulness practice to deal with the ghosts of the past and at the same time put the ghosts of future anxiety to rest.

In-Breath:        My inner child has arrived

  Out Breath:       My inner child is home

II:  Love Meditation for the Inner Child

Another tool is to adapt the Four Brahmaviharas meditation to focus on the injured inner child and is based on the Buddha’s teachings on Love.  Prepare for meditation by sitting comfortably with the spine erect.  Bring your concentration and focus to breath on the In-breath and breath on the Out-breath.  After ten or twenty breaths, whenever you feel calm and stable, begin by bringing each of the components – Love, Compassion, Joy, Equanimity – into yourself, the adult you.  The next sequence now provides a focus and concentration to water the seeds of Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity within your inner child.

In-breath                      I bring Love

Out-breath                   to my inner child.

You can say a loving name for your inner child if you wish.  Say silently “Dear Mary” or “Darling Joseph.”  Feel the energy of love fill you from top to toe and register with the energy for several breaths.  Then continue in the same way with:

In-breath                      I bring Compassion

Out-breath                   to my inner child

In-breath                      I bring Joy

Out-breath                   to my inner child

In-breath                      I bring Equanimity

Out-breath                   to my inner child

Then conclude the meditation by once more bringing Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity to the adult you.  This meditation nurtures the wounded inner child wonderfully and at the same time nurtures the adult you.  The Buddha’s teachings on Love provide the foundation for this Love meditation to the wounded inner child.  The concentration on these four qualities is an incredibly powerful instrument for healing.  I do not have the words to adequately describe the impact but Thich Nhat Hanh does:

The Buddha says if we gather together all the virtuous actions we have realized in this world, they are not equal to practicing love meditations………If we collect together all the light from the stars, it will not be as bright as the light of the moon.  In the same way, practicing love meditation is greater than all other virtuous actions combined.

 

There are many other methods of meditation and practice that could be documented here.  I felt it appropriate to indicate some of the ones I used to good effect in my process of healing.  These were practices that accompanied the shamanic healing conducted in an Altered State of Consciousness (See Healing Journeys in Portals and Passages – forthcoming).  One factor that was very important is that I was determined to heal once understanding dawned in my consciousness.  From that awareness I took specific steps and relied on wise teachers, medicine women and steady friends to help me along the path of healing and transformation.  I must emphasize that this is not a journey that can be taken alone, so do ensure that you have support from your sangha and good guidance from a therapist, shaman or spiritual teacher.

Thich-Nhat-Hanh-image-5

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. 

Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity

This is an extract from a chapter – Consciousness As Food – in a  book available on Amazon Kindle  – Keeping Dharma Alive. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0074A3LNC

In the groove

Buddhist masters for over two thousand six hundred years have observed the process of their own awakening.  The training of disciples and observation of their similar steps into awakening empirically confirmed the validity of their own experience.  This would not be a verification process that Western science would necessarily concur with, as examining the mind from the vantage point of an awakened mind is not something that Western science is equipped to do.  In 1987 Francisco Varela made a statement that has shaken scientific turpitude:

The chance of surviving with dignity on this planet hinges on the acquisition of a new mind.  This new mind must be wrought among other things, from a radically different epistemology, which will inform relevant actions

Varela was the catalyst for the Mind and Life dialogues between neuroscientists and Buddhist meditators. He maintained that a third person observational stance was inadequate for modern science as the first person experiential component was necessary to make science complete. He turned to Buddhism for this component and enlisted the support of the Dalai Lama for a series of dialogues, which began in 1987. Varela clearly saw that Buddhism used investigative practices that rested on observation, mind training, logical thinking and a rigorous experimental/verification process that relied on a person’s own experience. Verification of Buddhist teachings did not come solely from faith, but relied on testing the teachings out in the laboratory of personal experience and the mind.

The Dalai Lama sent eight highly trained senior monks to the Wisconsin laboratory of Dr Richard Davidson in 1992.  The monks had trained in the Tibetan Buddhist Nyingma and Kagyu traditions for periods of 10,000 to 50,000 hours.  They were observed for high frequency gamma waves and brain synchrony, hooked up by 256 brain sensors to electroencephalograph (EEG) and fMRI machines and compared with control groups without meditation training (see Lutz et alia 2004).  The results were sufficiently astonishing to encourage further ongoing research, as the sensors picked up in the monks’ brains an exponential increase in gamma waves, much more highly coordinated than that observed in the control groups.  Significantly, activity in the left prefrontal cortex of the monks was very high.  This brain region is usually associated with positive thoughts, feelings of balance and harmony (Lutz et alia 2004; HOPES 2003).

The significance of these ground breaking research results by neuroscientists is that in terms of meditation effects – it is clear that the trained mind is cognitively and structurally different from an untrained mind, as new neuronal connections are created so that ingrained perceptions fall away.  Yongey Mingyur, who was one of the original experimental subjects, refers to the essence of the Buddha’s teachings as: the mind is the source of all experience, and by changing the direction of the mind we can change the quality of everything we experience (2007:102).  Prolonged meditation has the effect of producing permanent changes in levels of awareness in the direction of harmony and balance.  Just what we need as a species!

Thich-Nhat-Hanh-image-5

The medical implications of neuroplasticity are nothing short of astonishing, as mechanistic biology and genetics are progressively thrown out of the window.  Previously, neuroscience in the twentieth century had established a dialectical relationship between the brain and the body.  Scientists had identified the health of the immune, hormonal and nervous systems with discrete areas of the brain – frontal lobes, amygdala and hippocampus respectively (Pollard 2004).  At that time it was thought that the brain was fixed in its structure and functions early in life – that the brain contained all its neurons at birth.  But from the 1980’s onwards, experimental research clearly demonstrated that this assumption was incorrect, that new neurons and synapses were generated throughout one’s lifespan as a consequence of new learning processes activating memory functions in the brain (Milgram 1987; Racine & Kairis 1987).  Recent studies by Begley (2004) and Lutz et alia (2004) using sophisticated MRI scans on the brains of Buddhist monks in meditation, demonstrated in no uncertain terms that meditation as a long term practice rewired the chemical and physical structure of the brain and as a consequence promoted behavioral and attitudinal changes in the direction of balance, harmony and happiness.

Now that the doctrine of the unchanging brain is thoroughly discredited, radical new vistas have opened up both for medicine and culture.  Eric Kandel received a Nobel Prize in 2000 for advancing the argument that learning and challenging memory functions stimulates genes to create new proteins and new neural circuits in the brain.  This has significant implications for curing memory disorders, treatment of neurological problems as well as reversing memory loss in the ageing brain.  Norman Doidge (2007) has argued further that this is how the brain always works – only we did not allow ourselves to understand this feature of constant malleability.  Though Buddhism does have a handle on brain structure being impermanent and everchanging.  The brain is inherently “neuroplastic” and therefore can change both its structures and functions.  Doidge documents the case history of Michelle Mack, born without the left hemisphere of her brain.  Nevertheless, Michelle leads a full and active life because the right hemisphere of her brain reorganized itself to create the synapses and brain circuits to do what were thought to be exclusive left hemispheres functions.

The changing brain is normal; furthermore the ageing brain – often beset with decline – can be stimulated by a variety of brain exercises that create new processing functions.  Costa e Silva’s work in 2004 demonstrates that depression and chronic pain are a function of a lack of plasticity in brain structures and the search is on for drug combinations that can stimulate the creation of new proteins and synapses so that brain circuits expand.  The groundbreaking work of Davidson (2000, 2003) has already shown that prolonged meditation reorganizes frontal hemisphere activity related to the stimulus of theta and alpha brain waves, which are associated with calm, harmony and attitude shift.

Furthermore, being permanently stuck with the same old cultural assumptions and predispositions is a notion that is no longer tenable.  While we most certainly shape culture, culture also shapes our brain structure.  The commonly held view that cukltural differences are implacable has to give way to the fact that we can change our cultures by simply changing our minds and the way we think about things.  Our synapses, senses, brain circuits and cultures are all malleable.  So an “unchanging world” perspective is no longer tenable particularly as the recent work of Iacoboni (2008) postulates a “mirroring” neuron.  His argument is that we understand the world around us through brain circuits that copy what we sense and see, yet do not do.  He thinks the mind explores beyond the item copied and reaches into the realm of intuition and feelings.  Are we getting closer to a “neuropolitics” and a “neuroeconomics”? Iacombini does think this is indeed possible and already happening (2008). Whether one agrees with his experiments on monkeys and further inferences – it is clear that static views in medicine, science and consciousness are exceedingly hard to justify.

The term “Neuroplasticity” was coined to describe the phenomenon of continually adjusting and reorganizing brain neurons, synapses and neural pathways.  There is no longer a place in modern neuroscience for Cartesian mind/body dualism, nor for a plausible distinction between mind and brain.  This meeting ground between Buddhist meditation and modern science in the twenty first century has produced a series of groundbreaking studies in neuroscience, accompanied by a flurry of international conferences and collaborative research projects between seasoned Buddhist meditators and contemporary neuroscientists.  It is all about consciousness change!

 

An interesting departure from the conference circuit and testing the brain scans of Buddhist meditators are the retreats (such as Plum Village 2006, Garrison Institute 2006) where neuroscientists have the opportunity to practice meditation surrounded by the Olympic athletes of meditation – highly skilled Buddhist meditators.  If it holds true that our store consciousness consumes the mind states of surrounding beings, then a pertinent question arises.  With neuroscientists surrounded by skilled Buddhist mediators in a retreat setting – how will the scientists subsequently practice their science once they return to their laboratories?  Only time will tell, though Buddhist meditators may provide an educated guess!  At the very least the explorations between Buddhist meditation and neuroscience create the conditions for a compassionate foundation to emerge for science, while at the same time Buddhism is refreshed by a novel experimental foundation rooted in scientific procedures (Chopra 2005).

Transformation in India: Part I

Transformation in India Part I

 

Excerpt from Chapter Five of forthcoming book – Trailing Sky Six Feathers.

 

Streaming video of “Cremation Pyres on the Ganges” – text, photos and voice – http://www.ianprattis.com/poemmovies/cremationpyrepoem.htm

 

We are so happy Ian that you have decided to die with us in India. And even more happy if you live.

Huddled on a bed in an ashram in Mumbai, India I opened my eyes to see a visiting Swami sitting beside me. I felt very calm about letting go of my bodily existence. I knew that the experiences of joy and freedom flooding through me at this time were dissolving my many mistakes and bodily pain. Trailing Sky was there constantly – I even wrote in my India diary and notes that there was a female deity orchestrating all the energies to keep me alive. Not realizing, until reviewing my diaries years later, that Trailing Sky was staring me in the face, challenging me to acknowledge who it was that saved my life in India. She must have been exasperated with how dense and unseeing I was at that time.

I had traveled to India in 1996 to teach and train in Siddha Samadhi Yoga. The Vedic tradition I was studying was ecumenical in character, a wisdom tradition totally relevant to the modern day. The ashram in Mumbai was reserved for saints and holy men. I did not qualify for either category. Lying close to death, the lack of fear provided a sense of freedom and strength. At last I felt truly like me, very peaceful, no longer a maverick standing alone. I did survive and completed my guru training six months later at a remote ashram, going into total silence during the last two weeks. Before I took my leave from the ashram the Swami arranged a parting ceremony – an initiation to receive the mantle of the guru that I was now recognized as.

In the groove

In November and December of 1996 I had become seriously ill in India. As I observed my bodily systems crashing one by one I knew there was a distinct possibility of death. To this day I am still amazed by my calmness and lack of fear. In my family and culture there is very little discussion about death and dying, though as a child I did have an intuitive understanding. When my grandfather died I felt him as a tangible presence when he was in his coffin. I quietly whispered to this gracious being: “Go to Heaven now grandpa.” I also remember at his wake how upset I became by my relatives drinking, arguing and being disrespectful to one another. In tears I sought out my grandmother and complained that everyone was making it hard for my grandpa to go to Heaven.  She listened carefully to me and wiped my tears away, then walked into the living room of her house and with quiet authority asked everyone to go home. It was much later in life, once I was exposed to Buddhist teachings on death and dying, that I realized I was not such a crazy kid after all. I had cared for my grandfather’s consciousness after his physical death.

While in India I also trained in the mastery of “bija” mantra.  Bija means “seed” and the seed mantras are powerful instruments of transformation. The major mantra I trained with, however, was the Gayatri Mantra, the main feature of the Sandhya–Upasana ceremony – a sacred ritual for Brahmanic definitions within Hinduism. It was part of my training in becoming a guru in Siddha Samadhi Yoga. The Gayatri is considered by Indian sages to be the most powerful mantra of purification and transformation, as it expands consciousness in multiple directions. The successive sounds of the Sanskrit syllables move the individual chanting it into elevated states of spiritual experience. As an invocation for enlightenment it has the effect of drawing other individuals into the same state.  This is the theory – as told to me in India.

Two twenty eight day training periods, six months apart, were the high points that the rest of my training built up to. My cultural and religious background was not the same as my two cohorts, yet the experiences we shared were remarkably similar. I could observe my mental states, compare them with reports from my peers, then verify them with the Swami overseeing the training.  Then from my experience, I could verify – or not – the claims made about the Gayatri mantra. The Gayatri ceremony was conducted at sunrise and sunset each day. The mantra was the central component of a long Sanskrit chant that prepared each one of us to experience the full effects of Gayatri. Prior to the training retreats I had months of preparation – with attention to specific meditations, dietary regime and sexual abstinence. I learned how to chant the Gayatri and co-ordinate it with the four components of breath: inhalation, holding the air inside, exhalation, holding the emptiness. There was a mathematical precision in tone, pitch and resonance of the mantra, as it was exactly co-ordinated with the different components of breath and hand movements over the body. It was all quite complex and overwhelming and I frequently wondered if I would ever get it right. I benefited from the persistence and encouragement of my cohorts who were determined that I not be left behind. I also had skilled and patient teachers who made the effort to transmit this oral tradition, thousands of years old, to a westerner not used to this form of education.

Our preparation for each ceremony was through extensive pranayama – breathing exercises – before sunrise and sunset. Attention was always brought to the union of the individual with the Universal. The rituals of the Gayatri ceremony had to be performed with grace, and clumsiness was frowned upon. In the early days I certainly drew a lot of frowns from the Swami and Rishi who oversaw the training. The effects on me were far reaching. During the first training period the twice-daily recitation brought on heavy night-time fevers. I would feel perfectly fine during the day, yet at night it felt as though I was running a high fever, although there was no unusual increase in temperature.  I found that my peers were feeling similar discomfort, though nobody was ill. I asked the Swami about this.  He indicated that we were all feeling the initial effects of the Gayatri Sandhya. Before it could penetrate our being and expand consciousness there was a great deal of “dross” to burn off – hence the fever-like states. I reported back to everyone’s relief.

My consultations with the Swami became quite an amusing ritual, as members of my cohort would not ask questions. Yet they encouraged me to do so and gave me questions of their own. It became a way to check my experience with that of others, and then seek verification from the Swami, who had quite a benevolent attitude towards me. My fellow trainees would wait for the results of my consultations, crowd round and listen to whatever I had to report. We would then discuss it from the perspective of our own experiences. It was amazing at how similar they were.  I felt it wise to always give my experiences last, so as not to provide an influence or “track” for others’ reporting.

The most significant cognitive changes came about when chanting the Gayatri with the different phases of breath and levels of mantra. These combinations produced hyper-lucidity and sharpness. This sharpness was essential for me, because there was so much to co-ordinate at different levels. I felt very alert, as though I was climbing stairs of consciousness. This was similar to the experiences of my shamanic training with White Eagle Woman. I was moving through states of consciousness to different levels of cognition but always felt a sense of being aware of where I was, of what was taking place in the multiple levels of consciousness experienced. New spaces were opening up in my mind, while I was also very aware of being located in the physical realm – an insight confirmed by the Swami without my asking. Not all members of my cohort experienced this aspect of dual consciousness. The Swami was on the lookout for trainees who got “stuck” and had difficulty returning. He also confided that he had fully expected me to be the one he had to look out for the most and was pleased that this was not so. Me too.

The second training period was with a different cohort in a different part of India – Karnataka as opposed to Andra Pradesh.  My new cohort was made up of experienced meditation teachers and exceptional gurus – quite the lineup of wisdom. With this powerful group of beings the sunset ceremony was conducted by running water to deepen the silence, stillness and penetration of the mantra. The chanting of the Gayatri took place with all of us standing up to our waists in the water. When it came to the point of suspending thought and allowing the Gayatri to arise spontaneously, to my total astonishment it did just that.  At the same time I could feel and identify the particles of mud between my toes, see minute electrons in the air and look down on my wisdom buddies from a great height. I felt encompassed by the evening sky and at the same time I encompassed the sunset, the evening sky and everything beyond it. This experience was repeated with varying intensity during every sunset rendition of the Gayatri-Sandhya. I never felt it necessary to communicate this to the Swami or to members of my second cohort. I went into total silence during the last two weeks and do not recall talking to anyone, as everyone very carefully left me in the silence.

In my diaries I recorded my experiences in poetry and art – a totally inadequate exposition for something that cannot be fully expressed in either. I persist with this inadequacy, through words, to convey some semblance of the experience. Before I took my leave from the ashram the Swami asked to speak to me. He described my experiences in complete, precise detail and arranged a parting ceremony – an initiation to receive the grace of a guru through the name assigned to me: Prem Chaitania.  My wisdom buddies were delighted by this. My teachers informed me that the Gayatri would continue to work on my consciousness, whether I was aware of it or not. Any awareness would provide an arrow of insight into further changes.  There were other perceptual and cognitive experiences that I am not at liberty to communicate, and still others that I choose not to relate.  Training with Gayatri had major life changing effects, not the least being that I became a better and more skillful teacher, both to meditation and university students.  As for the rest of my life – that it is still a work in progress!

What I can say from personal experience is that once my wild mind was reined in, clarity and compassion were suddenly there in greater compass. This provided a different basis for how to be with the planet and others in a new way. It was how to move from the Seventh Fire to the Eighth Fire – the Seven Fires Prophecy learned from Grandfather William Commanda. Whatever it takes to tame the wild mind. This partial account of my journey in India is to demonstrate that my activism for peace, planetary care and social justice now came from a different place as a result of the internal work. Steadiness, clarity and compassion are there rather than ego posturing from the lunatic fringe. Though there was a “rush” from the latter, I prefer the still-point, uncoloured by the excess of ego and desire for control and kudos-seeking. Such a still-point permits me to be free in my own sovereignty, no matter what I am doing. It also propels me to serve the planet and humanity in a way of creating bridges and pathways of harmony that make sense – to make the Eighth Fire a reality rather than a prophecy. My work in progress is ongoing, anchored by the presence of Trailing Sky throughout my journeys. I have no doubt about her presence throughout my process of healing and transformation and know she was waiting throughout the shadows of my life.