The Five Mindfulness Trainings
The Five Mindfulness Trainings represent the Buddhist vision for a global spirituality and ethic. They are a concrete expression of the Buddha’s teachings on the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, the path of right understanding and true love, leading to healing, transformation, and happiness for ourselves and for the world. To practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings is to cultivate the insight of interbeing, or Right View, which can remove all discrimination, intolerance, anger, fear, and despair. If we live according to the Five Mindfulness Trainings, we are already on the path of a bodhisattva. Knowing we are on that path, we are not lost in confusion about our life in the present or in fears about the future.
Reverence For Life
Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.
Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and stop contributing to climate change.
Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.
Loving Speech and Deep Listening
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.
Nourishment and Healing
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.
-Thich Nhat Hanh, Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices (2009)
I have been working on a chapbook of essays and poems about all of the beings that I have come into contact with in my life. The dogs, the hens, and the bunnies that I have rescued over the years. The birds at Elephant Belly Sanctuary. My little dogs.
Last Saturday, I was reading some of my new work to a dear friend.
She asked me, is everything that you write so sad?
At first I felt the need to convince her that I have joyful work too. That it’s not all about love and loss, animals rescued from neglect and abuse, and the slipping away of life. I searched through the stories to find one that is happy and beautiful wanting to bring her joy through her tears.
But the truth is, that I wake up most mornings crying for the world. I wake up and the first thing I think about is how much pain and suffering is happening at the exact moment that I open my eyes in my bed- safe and warm.
Thich Nhat Hahn taught me that Every Day Is A Miracle. And I truly believe that. And every day 25 million farm animals are slaughtered in the United States. How I have managed to hold both of those truths in my tender heart is a mystery.
Yes, there is beauty in this world. And I desperately want to write about it and sing sweet songs in the morning sun. And I also want to share with you, in the most gentle and kind way, information about the harm that we cause. The effects of our actions. Because you might not know. And you might want to choose to be a part of the miracle of peace today.
Thich Nhat Hanh says,
“Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.”
Just today, a new day full of wonder, can you look at all beings with eyes of compassion?
From Anam Ċara
A Friendship Blessing
May you be blessed with good friends.
May you learn to be a good friend to yourself.
May you be able to journey to that place in your soul where
there is great love, warmth, feeling, and forgiveness.
May this change you.
May it transfigure that which is negative, distant, or cold in you.
May you be brought in to the real passion, kinship, and affinity of belonging.
May you treasure your friends.
May you be good to them and may you be there for them;
may they bring you all the blessing, challenges, truth,
and light that you need for your journey.
May you never be isolated.
May you always be in the gentle nest of belonging with your anam ċara.
The Anam Ċara
In the Celtic tradition, there is a beautiful understanding of love and friendship. One of the fascinating ideas here is the idea of soul-love; the old Gaelic term for this is anam ċara. Anam is the Gaelic word for soul and ċara is the word for friend. So anam ċara in the Celtic world was the “soul friend.” In the early Celtic church, a person who acted as a teacher, companion, or spiritual guide was called an anam ċara. It originally referred to someone to whom you confessed, revealing the hidden intimacies of your life. With the anam ċara you could share your innermost self, your mind, and your heart. This friendship was an act of recognition and belonging. When you had an anam ċara, your friendship cut across all convention, morality, and category. You were joined in an ancient and eternal way with the “friend of your soul.” The Celtic understanding did not set limitations of space or time on the soul. There is no cage for the soul. The soul is a divine light that flows into you and into your Other. This art of belonging awakened and fostered a deep and special companionship. In his Conferences, John Cassian says this bond between friends is indissoluble: “This, I say, is what is broken by no chances, what no interval of time or space can sever or destroy, and what even death itself cannot part.”
In everyone’s life, there is great need for an anam ċara, a soul friend. In this love, you are understood as you are without mask or pretension. The superficial and functional lies and half-truths of social acquaintance fall away, you can be as you really are. Love allows understanding to dawn, and understanding is precious. Where you are understood, you are at home. Understanding nourishes belonging. When you really feel understood, you feel free to release yourself into the trust and shelter of the other person’s soul. This recognition is described in a beautiful line from Pablo Neruda: “You are like nobody since I love you.” This art of love discloses the special and sacred identity of the other person. Love is the only light that can truly read the secret signature of the other person’s individuality and soul. Love alone is literate in the world of origin; it can decipher identity and destiny.
It is precisely in awakening and exploring this rich and opaque inner landscape that the anam-ċara experience illuminates the mystery and kindness of the divine. The anam ċara is God’s gift. Friendship is the nature of God. The Christian concept of God as Trinity is the most sublime articulation of otherness and intimacy, an eternal interflow of friendship. This perspective discloses the beautiful fulfillment of our immortal longing in the words of Jesus, who said, Behold, I call you friends. Jesus, as the son of God, is the first Other in the universe; he is the prism of all difference. He is the secret anam ċara of every individual. In friendship with him, we enter the tender beauty and affection of the Trinity. In the embrace of this eternal friendship, we dare to be free. There is a beautiful Trinitarian motif running through Celtic spirituality. This little invocation captures this:
The Sacred Three
My fortress be
Come and be round
My hearth and my home.
Consequently, love is anything but sentimental. In fact, it is the most real and creative form of human presence. Love is the threshold where divine and human presence ebb and flow into each other.
All presence depends on consciousness. Where there is a depth of awareness, there is a reverence for presence. Where consciousness is dulled, distant, or blind, the presence grows faint and vanishes. Consequently, awareness is one of the greatest gifts you can bring to your friendship. Many people have an anam ċara of whom they are not truly aware. Their lack of awareness cloaks the friend’s presence and causes feelings of distance and absence. Sadly, it is often loss that awakens presence, by then it is too late. It is wise to pray for the grace of recognition. Inspired by awareness, you may then discover beside you the anam ċara of whom your longing has always dreamed.
The Celtic tradition recognized that an anam-ċara friendship was graced with affection. Friendship awakens affection. The heart learns a new art of feeling. Such friendship is neither cerebral nor abstract. In Celtic tradition, the anam ċara was not merely a metaphor or ideal. It was a soul-bond that existed as a recognized and admired social construct. It altered the meaning of identity and perception. When your affection is kindled, the world of your intellect takes on a new tenderness and compassion. The anam ċara brings epistemological integration and healing. You look and see and understand differently. Initially, this can be disruptive and awkward, but it gradually refines your sensibility and transforms your way of being in the world. Most fundamentalism, greed, violence, and oppression can be traced back to the separation of idea and affection. For too long we have been blind to the cognitive riches of feeling and the affective depth of ideas. Aristotle said in De Anima, “Perception is ex hypothesi a form of affection and being moved; and the same goes for thinking and knowing. . . . Thinking particularly is like a peculiar affection of the soul.” The anam-ċara perspective is sublime because it permits us to enter this unity of ancient belonging.
I’ve said before that every craftsman
searches for what’s not there
to practice his craft.
A builder looks for the rotten hole
where the roof caved in. A water-carrier
picks the empty pot. A carpenter
stops at the house with no door.
Workers rush toward some hint
of emptiness, which they then
start to fill. Their hope, though,
is for emptiness, so don’t think
you must avoid it. It contains
what you need!
Dear soul, if you were not friends
with the vast nothing inside,
why would you always be casting you net
into it, and waiting so patiently?
This invisible ocean has given you such abundance,
but still you call it “death”,
that which provides you sustenance and work.
God has allowed some magical reversal to occur,
so that you see the scorpion pit
as an object of desire,
and all the beautiful expanse around it,
as dangerous and swarming with snakes.
This is how strange your fear of death
and emptiness is, and how perverse
the attachment to what you want.
Now that you’ve heard me
on your misapprehensions, dear friend,
listen to Attar’s story on the same subject.
He strung the pearls of this
about King Mahmud, how among the spoils
of his Indian campaign there was a Hindu boy,
whom he adopted as a son. He educated
and provided royally for the boy
and later made him vice-regent, seated
on a gold throne beside himself.
One day he found the young man weeping..
“Why are you crying? You’re the companion
of an emperor! The entire nation is ranged out
before you like stars that you can command!”
The young man replied, “I am remembering
my mother and father, and how they
scared me as a child with threats of you!
‘Uh-oh, he’s headed for King Mahmud’s court!
Nothing could be more hellish!’ Where are they now
when they should see me sitting here?”
This incident is about your fear of changing.
You are the Hindu boy. Mahmud, which means
Praise to the End, is the spirit’s
poverty or emptiness.
The mother and father are your attachment
to beliefs and blood ties
and desires and comforting habits.
Don’t listen to them!
They seem to protect
but they imprison.
They are your worst enemies.
They make you afraid
of living in emptiness.
Some day you’ll weep tears of delight in that court,
remembering your mistaken parents!
Know that your body nurtures the spirit,
helps it grow, and gives it wrong advise.
The body becomes, eventually, like a vest
of chain mail in peaceful years,
too hot in summer and too cold in winter.
But the body’s desires, in another way, are like
an unpredictable associate, whom you must be
patient with. And that companion is helpful,
because patience expands your capacity
to love and feel peace.
The patience of a rose close to a thorn
keeps it fragrant. It’s patience that gives milk
to the male camel still nursing in its third year,
and patience is what the prophets show to us.
The beauty of careful sewing on a shirt
is the patience it contains.
Friendship and loyalty have patience
as the strength of their connection.
Feeling lonely and ignoble indicates
that you haven’t been patient.
Be with those who mix with God
as honey blends with milk, and say,
“Anything that comes and goes,
rises and sets, is not
what I love.” else you’ll be like a caravan fire left
to flare itself out alone beside the road.
Rumi VI (1369-1420) from ‘Rumi : One-Handed Basket Weaving
There is no controlling life.
Try corralling a lightning bolt,
containing a tornado. Dam a
stream and it will create a new
channel. Resist, and the tide
will sweep you off your feet.
Allow, and grace will carry
you to higher ground. The only
safety lies in letting it all in:
the wild and the weak; fear,
fantasies, failures and success.
When loss rips off the doors of
the heart, or sadness veils your
vision with despair, practice
becomes simply bearing the truth.
In the choice to let go of your
known way of being, the whole
world is revealed to your new eyes.
-Danna Faulds From “Go In and In: Poems from the Heart of Yoga”
photo by Jeffery Coolidge
by Mary Oliver
I want to make poems that say right out, plainly,
what I mean, that don’t go looking for the
laces of elaboration, puffed sleeves. I want to
keep close and use often words like
heavy, heart, joy, soon, and to cherish
the question mark and her bold sister
the dash. I want to write with quiet hands. I
want to write while crossing the fields that are
fresh with daisies and everlasting and the
ordinary grass. I want to make poems while thinking of
the bread of heaven and the
cup of astonishment; let them be
songs in which nothing is neglected,
not a hope, not a promise. I want to make poems
that look into the earth and the heavens
and see the unseeable. I want them to honor
both the heart of faith, and the light of the world;
the gladness that says, without any words, everything.
*From New and Selected Poems: Volume Two by Mary Oliver
Life’s Golden Dreams
Life is sweet, so sweet to me, in all it’s golden dreams,
Ah! How I love to revel in it’s soul -inspiring themes,
like a surging mighty river,
Oft to me it seems,
Life is overflowing,
into Chrystal streams.
And so I lift, my soul God,
In reverential praise, and ask Him in His wondrous love.
To multiply my days.
Not that I would care to live for worldly, selfish gain, but to help to lift mankind
Upon a higher plane.
I often think, when all alone, and in my golden dreams,
That man is but a pendulum
Between the two extremes .
He wanders up and down the land
Is tossed on every sea, his life is but a phantom,
His death a mystery.
Then let us live, in noble deeds, and trust the rest to fate,
Our lives will then
Be holy, our names will then be great.
In golden dreams, yes let us live, in golden dreams of youth, in golden dreams of beauty, in golden dreams of truth.
Emory W Justus
Call Me by My True Names
Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.
Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower, to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry, in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death of all that are alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river, and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time to eat the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond, and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones, my legs as thin as bamboo sticks, and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.
I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat, who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate, and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.
I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to, my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.
My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once, so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up, and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.
by Thich Nhat Hahn
Waking up every day at Elephant Belly Sanctuary is a miracle.
At dawn, Monroe, my little blonde Doodle, eats her early morning meal while I fill the light blue Le Creuset tea kettle with the ice cold well water and put it on the burner. Five tight scoops of blended coffee fall into the french press and then Monroe and I head out to take care of the ladies.
The Chickenbergs, my family of rescued hens, are always excited to welcome the new day. I open their coop and they come pouring out with their soft baulk baulks and feather shakes. I throw them a scoop of scratch, fill their water and feed, and do a quick check of their feet, combs, and eyes. I love how the all say good morning in their own way.
I head to the garage, fill the gray bucket with four scoops of black sunflower seeds and walk into the back yard. The first view of the heart shaped mountains, the Hudson Highlands, is breathtaking. At this time of year, the trees are bare and the pink sunrise illuminates their vulnerability. They stand strong, naked, and still. Taking a deep breath in, I feel like them- alive and excited- to feel the warmth of the morning sun.
The birds- black capped chickadees, tufted titmice, nuthatches, goldfinches, and downey woodpeckers- meet me on my way to the feeders. And the fat squirrels, hide on the edge of the forest waiting for their morning snack. I say hello with a smile and fill the feeders to the brim.
Before heading back inside, I am certain to check the cairns that mark the memory of our dear bunnies- The Roosevelts- Franklin, Eleanor, and Teddy. Rescued, deeply loved, and lost…I pause…my eyes still stinging with tears- and straighten the balancing stones.
Monroe and I head back inside, pour the boiling water into the press, warm the soy milk, hit the 5 minute timer, and we sit for our morning love session. I pet her, kiss her, love her as she burrows her head into my lap. Her face so soft and smelly. Her blonde curls, wispy and cute. Her bumpy old body tight and little. We kiss and coo and cuddle. Smile and love and lay side by side gazing into each other’s eyes.
The timer beeps and the coffee is ready. Once poured and prepared perfectly, I bring the two cups of liquid love into the bedroom- with my Doodle right behind me. My Love is sleeping soundly with her Chloe- a black and white Shih Tzu- curled around her head like a cat. Warm, still, breathing sweetly, they are one animal resting in a bed of cozy blankets and dreams. I set the coffee on her night stand and whisper “Good Morning My Love, your coffee is ready.”
There is a song we sing in the morning and it goes like this:
“It’s a beautiful day in Cold Spring,
What a wonderful day in Cold Spring,
Gonna love my baby in Cold Spring,
It’s gonna be a wonderful day!”