Sermon on the Mat #6: Tonglen

Tonglen is a Tibetan Buddhist practice.

It takes the typically egoic way of wanting to avoid pain and gravitate towards pleasure, and turns it on its head. Instead, we learn to breathe in what’s uncomfortable and painful in the world, and breathe out blessings, comfort and happiness.

Tonglen meditation is truly transformative, putting into perspective the pains and pleasures of all living beings, while taking the attention off of our small egoic selves. It’s also an effective way to work with difficult emotions.

Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun, teacher and author, in her book The Wisdom of No Escape, is a true expert in tonglen and I encourage you to pick up her writings if you want to delve more deeply into this practice.  So what exactly do you do in this practice?

Tonglen is a meditation practice.  A Tibetan word, tonglen means “giving and receiving.” As such, the concept of this meditation technique involves giving and receiving, which refers to taking in the suffering of the self and others and giving compassion and support to those in need. In this way, Tonglen meditation increases compassion toward others and develops the ability to aid in addressing another’s distress.

The Psalmist speaking to God in Psalm 104 writes, “You set forth your breath and renew the surface of the earth.” This is what tonglen does; uses the breath to transform the suffering of others.  Tonglen is this art of transformation.  This practice reveals that “spacious mind” has room for infinite suffering.  Just like the sky is never filled with clouds but is always greater than them, so the spacious mind is never filled with suffering but holds it within a greater love.  It is like the crucifixion of Christ.  It is a way to take upon oneself the pain of the world and transform it into love.  Christ came to earth to die for our sins.  He took on the sins of the world so that we could be saved. With this practice, we can learn to hold the suffering but not be diminished by it.

What if when we encountered suffering we “breath it in” and in turn breath out “infinite peace”  The suffering does not stay but transformed and returned to the world as love.  So too am I: love.  We begin to feel love for both ourselves and others; we begin to take care of ourselves and others. Tonglen awakens our compassion and introduces us to a far bigger view of reality. It introduces us to the unlimited spaciousness of shunyata. By doing the practice, we begin to connect with the open dimension of our being. At first this allows us to experience things as not such a big deal and not so solid as they seemed before.

TONGLEN INSTRUCTIONby Pema Chödrön

When you do tonglen as a formal meditation practice, it has four stages:

1.First, rest your mind briefly, for a second or two, in a state of openness or stillness. This stage is traditionally called flashing on absolute bodhichitta, or suddenly opening to basic spaciousness and clarity.

2.Second, work with texture. Breathe in a feeling of hot, dark, and heavy-a sense of claustrophobia-and breathe out a feeling of cool, bright, and light-a sense of freshness. Breathe in completely, through all the pores of your body, and breathe out, radiate out, completely, through all the pores of your body. Do this until it feels synchronized with your in-and out-breaths.

3.Third, work with a personal situation-any painful situation that’s real to you. Traditionally you begin by doing tonglen for someone you care about and wish to help. However, as I described, if you are stuck, you can do the practice for the pain you are feeling and simultaneously for all those just like you who feel that kind of suffering. For instance, if you are feeling inadequate, you breathe that in for yourself and all the others in the same boat, and you send out confidence and adequacy or relief in any form you wish.

4.Finally, make the taking in and sending out bigger. If you are doing tonglen for someone you love, extend it out to those who are in the same situation as your friend. If you are doing tonglen for someone you see on television or on the street, do it for all the others in the same boat. Make it bigger than just that one person. If you are doing tonglen for all those who are feeling the anger or fear or whatever that you are trapped in, maybe that’s big enough. But you could go further in all these cases. You could do tonglen for people you consider to be your enemies-those who hurt you or hurt others. Do tonglen for them, thinking of them as having the same confusion and stuckness as your friend or yourself. Breathe in their pain and send them relief. Tonglen can extend infinitely. As you do the practice, gradually over time your compassion naturally expands, and so does your realization that things are not as solid as you thought. As you do this practice, gradually at your own pace, you will be surprised to find yourself more and more able to be there for others even in what used to seem like impossible situations.

 

I am a Christian who practices Yoga

I am a Christian who practices yoga daily. There is a belief that you can’t be a faithful Christian and practice yoga. This saddens me greatly.  As with anything, it is a matter of intentionality.  I have done a lot of reading on this topic over the last two years and have contemplated on the writings and feelings of people on both sides of this sometimes controversial issue.  For me, I see no problem.  When I step on the mat I have the intention to honor God by bringing my whole self – body, mind and spirit into communion and worship.  “Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others.” (Col 3:23) and “whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31) say’s the Lord.

I certainly realize not everyone who practices yoga is Christian.  Not everyone who walks into a church is one either!  And, how many Christians only hang out with Jesus on Sunday in church and go about their lives the rest of the week?  Not everyone you may encounter at work or school, the store or the gym is a Christian.  Just as Jesus walked among sinners and ate at their tables, we too are both sinners and believers who should reflect the love of Christ daily.  We all fall short!  Not one of us is the perfect manifestation of Christ but we are to put our best foot forward moment by moment.  This is a very “yogic” idea and one that a person will get better at as they step onto the mat more and more.

Acts 17:28 states, “In Him we move and breathe and have our being.” The ancient vedic (ancient Hindu writings) texts parallel many biblical principles as well.

Think about it.  Do you have to be Brazilian to do Zumba?  Do you have to be Argentinian to dance the Tango? Do you have to Buddhist to practice martial arts and do you  not have to be Hindu to practice yoga? Hearsay and opinions about Christians practicing yoga should not come from a preachers mouth, especially one who has not practiced, or even from the author of an article or from a friend.  Rather, I encourage you to go directly to the Source, the Word of God, our TRUE NORTH!  Dive in and read for yourself.  Sit with scripture, maybe even add in your Lectio Divina practice of reading!  Mark 12:30 “Love the Lord with all of your heart, all of your mind, all of your soul and all of your strength.” 

I believe God leads and guides seekers to the truth.  Yoga can truly be worship in action, your faith and prayers in motion. Yoga also teaches us to be still so we can hear Him, hear that still small voice.  Did you know that yoga predates religion and that religious people have and do practice yoga?  As a Christian, no matter what we choose to do to “honor our temples” that the Lord has given us, we take our everyday comings and goings to glorify Him.  When we take care of ourselves we are honoring and glorifying Christ.

If someone were to ask me to honestly share what I have experienced in my practice, I think there would be a book in it!  But here, in a nutshell, I can share a few major ah-ha moments with you.

  1. My walk with the Lord has strengthened.  I can sit in meditation or contemplative prayer, and truly listen in silence and stillness.  I can mediate on a word or scripture verse, I can sit and visualize myself walking with Him and having a conversation. I can come before Him with questions and concerns, prayers and intercessions.  By learning the tools to come into stillness, this has strengthened my prayer life and enriched my connection to His divine presence in my life.  There are times I can now sit for long stretches of time and not lose focus.
  2. When I slow down my mind and focus on my breathing (pranayama), another tenant of yoga, I can not only bring myself to a place of calm and peace, but I can also visualize healing in my body.  Being an asthmatic all my life, my practice has allowed me to increase my lung capacity and to get myself to a place of peace and ease when I am in dis-ease!  Having an asthma attack or getting sick when you have an already compromised immune system, can cause mental and physical stress.  My practice has taught me to remain calm.  The pranayama exercises offer a variety of options to help relax and strengthen my lungs. Our faith encourages us to not only ask Christ for healing but to visualize, and believe we are already healed.  I love the idea of “INHALE HIM and EXHALE ME”
  3. We store emotion and the experiences of daily life in our bodies without even noticing.  By moving through asanas, I can be fully present in the moment and begin to uncover what these are, where they came from and even how to change my “stinking thinking” so that I can become more like Christ.  I can be less judgemental, more loving and forgiving.  Become less ego-driven and more service oriented.  This list can go on but I think you get my drift! When we can learn to stop labeling ourselves as this or that we can allow ourselves to get in touch with who we really are and what we are to give of ourselves during our life.

These are just a few things that are at the top of my list.

So I repeat, yoga is not a religion.  Aspects of yoga have been incorporated into some groups and religions, however yoga itself is not a religion and you don’t have to be religious to practice yoga. At my wonderful studio here in Charleston, Holy Cow, I have met and made life long friends with so many wonderful people.  They are teachers, scientists, writers, owners of local stores, creators of non-profits that offer outreach to the community, and so much more. Yogic principles of exercise, breathing, relaxation, diet and self study are offered to anyone and everyone who wishes to come on to the mat and learn.  The good news is that this is not a cult or club that forces you into a set of beliefs or makes you conform to some set of rules.  Stepping on the mat is personal through and through.  Stepping into my studio is an opportunity to be with a diverse and above all accepting group of men and women who desire, as I do, to love all and serve all.

Doesn’t that sound like something Jesus would want us to do?

After Who Moved My Cheese – What Hem Learned

Picked up this very short little book while I was in Tucson called “Out of the Maze” – An A-Mazing Way to Get Unstuck by Spencer Johnson.  This little sequel cones on the heels of “Who Moved My Cheese?”

I read it in less than an hour and came away with some solid information.  Nothing earth-shattering or mind blowing, but things I know and you know and we sometimes forget that we know that we know!   LOL.

So we all get “in the maze” sometimes. The maze represents our life and patterns that we got stuck in and hold on to and continue to fight for even when it’s not working for us any longer and we need to change.  Change is can be hard.  Change can be scary and unpredictable.  But change is a reality and we need to find the tools to help us.  This cool little gem gives the reader a pathway for adapting to change that can be used in your personal life and career.

I have had so much change in my 55 years of life.  If I didn’t adapt and move on and let go I shutter to think of where I would be right now.  Has every decision been a good one?  Probably not.  Do I regret the changes I have made?  I have done lots of therapy on this one and my answer is that I did the best I could, or made the best decision I could, with the information I had at the time.  So I can’t ask for more than that.

Do you want to change your destiny? Do you need tools to adapt to change?

Here is your pathway in a nutshell.

Notice Your Beliefs.  A belief is a thought that you trust is true.

Don’ Believe Everything You Think.  Sometimes “facts” are just how you see things.

Let Go of What Isn’t Working.  You can’t launch a new quest with old baggage.  I love this one!!!

Look Outside the Maze.  Consider the unlikely and explore the impossible.

Choose a New Belief.  Changing what you think does not change who you are.

There Are No Limits to What You Can Believe.  You can do, experience, and enjoy a lot more than you think you can.

Beliefs are a powerful thing.  So fake it til you make it as they say.

Mark Twain said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble.  It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Remember the Titanic?

Make it a great day.

Joy and Peace Always

 

 

Sermon On The Mat #5: Living Grace Through Sabbath Keeping

Why are we so rarely in the state of grace? 

I believe the reason is that we rarely have the courage to expand ourselves fully in the moment.  Living with grace is knowing what time it is, and then acting in sync with it.  If we draw from Ecclesiastes Chapter 3: “there is a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to reap; a time to kill, and a time to heal…” In the Hindu belief, the idea of karma yoga, or the way of detached action also shares the same idea.  If it is time to plant, plant.  If it’s time to harvest, harvest.  But if your mind is on harvesting when it is time to plant, you will most likely plant poorly and your harvest will be small.  The Bhagavad-Gita states, “No one exists for even an instant without performing action: however unwilling, every being is forced to act by the qualities of nature.  Always perform with detachment any action you must do; performing action with detachment, one achieves supreme good.”

If somehow we can live every moment to the fullest then nothing will be left over.  You must use up each moment and become empty again in order to live the next one, and the next, and so on.  So this is where we come to knowing what time it is and putting down the burden of time.  There should be nothing left a the end of your day or the end of your life!

So how then do we do this?

By making Shabbos.  We can drop all that we carry and do for one day each week and live as if we trust God’s grace. In this way the narrow mind learns the power of trust and grace.  It stops worrying so much and can function more efficiently without having to carry the past or future around as a heavy cloak.  Shabbos is surrendering to the greater reality of God as the place you are here and now. It is more than a rest day; it is a day of grace.  A day to celebrate what is and not creating what might be. It is a day for turning off distractions, releasing obligations and allowing yourself to hear your SELF, that still small voice of holiness that can get so easily drowned out.

So here are some ideas to create a Sabbath day:

Open and close your Sabbath with the lighting of candles: Even if your Sabbath is just a few hours, begin by lighting multiple candles.  Why multiple? Well, in Jewish tradition, the minimum is two to symbolize the state of duality that usually precedes Shabbos.  You come with a split mind so you light multiple candles to honor where you are. The candles offer a singular light so you are beginning with two and aiming at one!!!

Offer a blessing:  Say a small prayer or read something inspirational that you hope will embody your purpose for this time.

Prepare a simple meal and offer thanks before eating it.

Bless children, loved ones, and friends.

Take a walk and enjoy nature.

Go slow: There is no rushing on Shabbos.  Do everything with attention and care, and you will find a rhythm that is your “Shabbos speed.”

Pamper yourself: Take a bath.  Enjoy a long nap. Surround yourself with fragrances you love and books you want to read and people you want to chat with.  Make love.

Make a to do list for this day and post it:  NOTHING

Get off the grid: Turn off the computer, the tv, the phone and anything else that can be a distraction.

Close the Shabbos with candles: I learned that the Jewish people who keep Shabbos, close it with a ceremony called Havdallah. It marks the return of the week.  The candle they use to close Shabbos is different from the candles lit at the start of Shabbos.  This candle is a single braided candle made of wicks.  So beginning with multiple candles to honor your diversity as you move toward unity, you end with one candle that signifies unity blossoming into diversity.

Here is a prayer to end your time:

May this be a week of faith;

Faith in truth, faith in love, faith in friendship, and faith in you how manifests all things and their opposite.

May my labors hasten the perfection of the world, and may kindness awaken those deadened by despair.

May this week arrive with gentleness, good fortune, blessing, success, good health, prosperity, justice and peace.

May it be a week for uplifting the children and honoring the aged.

May this be a week of constructive purpose for me, for my loved ones, and for all who dwell upon this good earth.

Amen

 

Dolce far Niente – The Art of Doing Nothing

One of my favorite Italian sayings is “Dolce far Niente”, which means “the sweetness of doing nothing.” It does not mean being lazy, it is referring to the pleasure one gets from being idle. … Dolce far Niente is something Italians embrace and something they do very well.  Maybe this is why I LOVE Italy so much and hope to spend more time there in my retirement!  🙂

A friend posted an article from Elephant Journal recently and it reminded me of this saying.  You can check out their article here: Elephant Journal

The idea that “doing nothing,” is actually an event in and of itself. The idea that we no longer run on a treadmill of activity from getting the kids to and from activities, to staring at social media, to picking up dry cleaning, to working your job, to grocery shopping and cooking, to washing clothes and making beds, and the list goes on until we wake up and do it all over again.  The idea that our actions day to day become influenced by our intuition (listening to and honoring as best we can to that still small voice that is telling us what we need) and no longer by routines, have to’s, and musts.

This kind of relaxation exists within each of us and is ours for the taking if we’re willing to put in the effort.  The “la dolce far niente” relaxation can be cultivated. The sweetness of doing nothing and enjoying where we are in the present moment- is the greatest thanks we can give for the lives and blessing we have.

If you are a fan of Thoreau, as I am, in Walden, he said, “When I go out of the house for a walk, uncertain as yet whither I will bend my steps, and submit myself to my instinct to decide for me, I find, strange and whimsical as it may seem, that I finally and inevitably settle south-west, toward some particular wood or meadow or deserted pasture or hill in that direction.”

How different would your quality of life be if you made time throughout the day to experience la dolce far niente? Instead of using your free moments to catch up on what happened on Southern Charm or Housewives of _________________, instead of looking at your Instagram or Facebook page to count your LIKES over your latest post, instead of checking your email one last time to see if anyone else is needing you to do something, instead of using your free time to find mindless uninspiring distractions; What if you just did nothing?

For observant Jews they keep the Sabbath.  We all can take time, maybe not an entire day, but a small amount of time to carve out to honor the idea of doing nothing.  Buddha, Jesus, Mohammad, Moses, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and many more great saints and sages have all practiced the art of doing nothing.

Let’s all take a page from their books!  May you enjoy NOTHING!

 

Sermon On The Mat 4: The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness/ The Image and Likeness of God

I am in the middle of this beautiful book entitled, “The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness” by Rabbi Rami Shapiro.  I picked it up on the last night of my silent retreat at Mepkin Abbey and never got to read it through but I knew I had to spend time in this book so I ordered it as soon as I returned home.  Reading this book in the lexio devina style is taking me some time but I am getting so much out of Rabbi Shapiro’s words.

His first chapter is all about becoming the image and likeness of God and realizing the divinity of self and that of others.

Being the image of God means we are God manifest and as we are in the likeness of God, we have the potential to act in a godly manner. What I love about this idea of being the image and likeness of God is that we can greet each other and see each other across all lines of religious beliefs, political sides, races or genders with lovingkindness.

In Hebrew the name of God is Y-H-V-H (oyd-hey-vav-hey) and when written vertically it takes on the shape of a human body.  Rabbi Shapiro offers us the suggestion to see another person with the Name of God on them head to toe!  What a reminder to who we really are: God. Or as the Upanishads put it, “tat tvam assi” Thou art That.

Practice visualizing yourself with the incarnate Name of God written on your body maybe standing in front of a mirror and then seeing everyone else as well.  Then ask for your angel to come alongside you and to show you your true nature.  Listen in your daily meditation and quiet time. In time “you will break up the hard-packed soil of narrow mind and plant in it the seeds of lovingkindness  that will soon grow and awaken in your the spacious mind that is your holy and most true self.”

I will share more in other posts on the Thirteen Attributes of Lovingkindness and how they will shift our narrow mind to a spacious mind where we engage life from a place of interdependence and compassion. But I will end with a conversation between Philip and Jesus in John’s Gospel:

Philip said to him, ” Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father… Believe me   that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”

 

 

Sermon On The Mat #3 – Unexpected Gifts

The unexpected moment is always sweeter.  Wouldn’t you agree?  Life is always bringing unexpected gifts.

Yesterday a dear friend gave me a beautiful journal that she picked up.  She said that when she saw it, she thought of me. And that is how I became the proud owner of this gift.  This out of the blue, unexpected gift got me thinking of all the ways we share our gifts or can share our gifts every day.

Our gifts don’t always come wrapped in a pretty paper with a lovely bow on top.  Although those are nice, gifts of the heart can be just as sweet.  Here are a few ways we can share.

Greet the person you are next to with a warm smile and a compliment or greet them hello.

Offer to help someone.

Send a letter or card for no other reason than you thought about them.

Hug your spouse or significant other and offer a compliment. Let them know you appreciate them.

Let someone know you believe in them.

Extend a hand of friendship.

Kindness – right.  Show kindness.

Time is a great unexpected gift!

When we make even a small effort we can create a huge impact and the cost is FREE.  THAT is something we all can afford.

I believe the best gifts are not the ones we get wrapped in paper and bows but the memories we make with people we love!

I love my friend dearly.  She means so much to me and I have enjoyed watching our friendship grow over the years.  The unexpected surprise and joy of my journal is now a part of my journal and my memories!

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