Planning ahead in this moment

I remember when I first started learning about Buddhism, I was really puzzled by the idea of ‘staying in the present moment’ because if I am only experiencing what is happening to me right now and trying to remain mindfully present in this very moment… how can I look ahead, point my mind towards beyond-now to make plans for dinner, or for anything that is ‘in the future’? That seems like such a contradiction. A paradox.

I still think about this conundrum a good deal, and it continues to be the basis of one of my meditations… as I chop the carrots and prepare for dinner!

When I quietly sit in Wabi’an, watching my thoughts come and go; when I quietly sip my tea, inhaling it’s steamy fragrance; when I watch the birds in the birdbath, coming and going; when I mindfully chop my carrots… all these things I understand as being “present in the moment.” And these moments are calm and reassuring because I feel comfortable that I’m ‘doing’ it… staying in the moment.

But that’s the easy part!

However, as we get all caught up in day-to-day mundanities of planning the week ahead with our calendars full of appointments for work or leisure, the doctor or other health matters, and visits to and by friends and family; remembering birthdays and buying presents; making shopping lists which involves thinking ahead to meals; making sure we get the bookings we want for future holidays (remember those in pre-covid?!); and even planning well ahead for weddings, births, and so on to retirement and even death.

So how do we stay in the moment and plan at the same time? Isn’t that a contradiction?

As time has gone by, I have become more aware that ‘planning’ is simply an activity of my mind, in just the same way as being aware of those quiet, calming moments are activities of my mind. It is simply one thought, followed by another thought, and being mindful of those thought processes. The key is in the awareness of the transient nature of these thoughts and being mindful of what is happening to your body in those moment-by-moment thoughts that relate to “I am now planning.”

But what happens instead is that too often our thought processes get commandeered and away we go galloping off in all directions at once, to anywhere but this centre that is this present moment. We launch into full overdrive of second-guessing our unknown future and filling our minds with scenarios one after another of WHAT-IFs? Our bodies get caught up in the maelstrom of our imagination until we’re in full fight-flight mode of catastrophising. This wild thought process has nothing to do with the simply one-step-at-a-time thought process of “I am now planning”.

So planning whilst staying in the present moment means to bring your awareness to your thoughts… as you plan. Yes, it involves projection into an unknown future in your imagination: planning dinner involves mentally observing the process involved in that preparation and then moving to the fridge to see if that ingredient is there and making a note on a shopping list to add that ingredient, and so forth. All the time, the practice is bringing your awareness to that single thought and then moving on to the next thought, observing that process of your mind.

Catastrophising is also just a mental state, a thought process that has not been observed and has simply run away in its present moment of unawareness. But that is okay too, there is no need to berate yourself and be harshly judgemental. It is simply what is happening in that moment, and bringing your attention to that process.

And if you do find your catastrophising, then your practice is to bring your attention to what is happening and then stop a moment: take just a moment to simply observe how your body is feeling in this very moment of intense anxiety or worry. Take a deep breath and let out a sigh, take another breath and let out a sigh, bring your awareness into your feet and work your way up through your body to the tips of your fingers, to the top of your head. Take another deep breath and let out a sigh. Accept yourself wholly in that moment and be kind. Hold yourself with compassion.

Bringing awareness to whatever you are engaged in in that moment, without judgement, without trying to ‘change’ anything, that is the practice. ‘Planning’ is a mental process of one thought after another… in this present moment. Practice observing the process of how ‘planning’ thoughts follow one another, just resting in the present. And always remember to breathe ūüôā

Opening our hearts to hate and fear

With the election of Trump, I feel a tsunami of hate has been unleashed surging around the world, in which so many acts of racism, misogyny, homophobia and prejudice have been legitimised using Trump as a role model. The fear at the root of this negative, destructive energy is swallowing up not only those who are the targets of this hate, but also the perpetrators as well. Hatred wells up out of fear, out of ignorance, out of a feeling of being overwhelmed and helpless. And yet, even if we meet this hatred with anger, then we too become consumed by its energy. So how are we to deal with these negative energies? Where do we find comfort? How do we protect ourselves?

I have often been asked how I deal with the negative energy of angry or aggressive people I encounter, or how I cleanse the energy of Wabi’an to make it clear and pure, or how do I protect myself from negativity. But spiritual practice for me is not about building armour around myself or my sacred spaces; it is about learning how to open my heart wider and wider so that negativity simply flows through. Openness is not the same as filtering; it is not that your heart becomes a strainer collecting all the crap! The practice is to open your heart until it is like the vastness of the sky.

2016-11-17_sky

In Japanese Buddhism, the word for emptiness is the same as the word for sky, so that when we practice “emptiness” it means to feel like your heart and mind are as vast and open as the sky. In meditation terms, this is “sky mind”: a feeling of complete expansive openness. When your heart is as wide as the sky, that ’emptiness’ is then filled up with feelings of unconditional love and compassion for all beings. And this includes unconditional love for those who are tormented by the hate that leads to harmful actions. This practice of opening your heart is the antidote to fear.

That is not to say that you shouldn’t feel anger or sadness or the need to vent and rail at injustice. I felt so sad after the news that Trump was to be president because I have many dear friends who are suffering a deep and genuine grieving at this turn of events and who fear for themselves and their children. And I also believe that there is no one who is not going to impacted by this – in Australia, as well as America, and in fact all of the world. His presidency is a harbinger of dark times.

It’s natural to feel these strong emotions, and indeed you can use these emotions as an object of meditation: when you feel angry, feel it with your whole body, feel where in your body that anger expresses itself, explore that part of your body with careful attention and mindfulness. You don’t have to berate yourself for having strong reactions to everyday life events, but it is important to use those feelings as a focal point for your attention. Ask yourself, what is happening inside me when I feel this anger? This shift in awareness is enough in itself to also dissipate the intensity of the emotion.

But after the rant, there has to be a conscious working towards collective healing. I have always felt secure and safe, ensconced in my little cocoon of isolation here in a beautiful corner of the planet, surrounded by my birds and trees and Kuan Yin blessings; and yet, I cannot ignore the burning heat of the negative energy of the anger and fear that is now corroding the peace of the people I care about and love. It is up to you and I to make a commitment to keep practicing opening our hearts because the world is suffering and our genuine, unconditional love is the only balm for our own grief and pain and it is the only antidote to hatred.

The events surrounding Trump’s election have deeply rocked me and I can no longer be complacent. I am now definitely out of retirement and I am available for spiritual counselling if you need support or guidance for your own spiritual practice. You can make an arrangement to visit me at Wabi’an or have an appointment via Skype. Let’s work together to heal all sentient beings¬† ‚̧

 

 

Being Gratitude

Offering prayers at Warrungup Spring

Offering prayers at Warrungup Spring

Meditation:
Breathe in beauty; breathe out gratitude
Take a moment to look around you and allow your eye to settle on something that strikes you as beautiful – the view out the window, the way the light glances off a surface, your own reflection in the computer monitor. Feel that beauty with your body, breathe it in. How wonderful it is to be touched by beauty – realising that something is beautiful fills our hearts with a deep emotion that includes peace, happiness, calm, connection, and gratitude. Feel a sense of gratitude for being blessed with the presence of beauty and, as you breathe out, feel your body respond to that gratitude in a gentle sigh.
Breathe in beauty; breathe out gratitude
What are the blessings in your life – yes, count them ūüôā And with each blessing remembered, breathe out gratitude. After a short while, your whole body will be feeling a gentle soft tenderness that is simply ‘gratitude’ without an object. Rest a while in “being gratitude”.
Breathe in beauty; breathe out gratitude

2013.01.20.01Gratitude is a blossoming flower¬†of spiritual practice. When we feel gratitude, our hearts open up like a flower opens in the nurturing warmth of the sun and we are no longer isolated and alone – there is a profound recognition of connection with another person, a recognition of our interdependent relationship with something and everything that is beyond our narrow framework that defines “me”.

This is the key lesson I have gained from my own spiritual practice, and “being gratitude” was the central focus of my training in preparation for the Womb World initiation given by the Dalai Lama in Japan in April. I have tried a number of times now to write about some of the intense realisations that I experienced during that trip, but each time I have not been able to capture the essence of those experiences in words. I think it will require a book! So many small steps along the path, since I began practicing in the Buddhist way twenty-five years ago after my bout of cancer, which seemed to culminate in a profound moment of understanding and recognition of the blessing that is simply being alive. This recognition released a flood of gratitude to all the people who have helped me in my life, and all my ancestors’ labours that led up to the point of my own existence, and all the people, animals, plants, wind, sunshine, earth…all the entire cosmos somehow working together so that I might live. How profoundly humbling!

Fishes in Warrungup Spring

Fishes in Warrungup Spring

It has been one hundred now since the Dalai Lama initiated me into the Womb World. During that time I have continued to practice the rituals associated with that initiation, including reciting 10,000 mantras each day. Over this one hundred days I have also continued to offer the prayers that were entrusted to me and yesterday I went down to the sacred Warrungup Spring and made a ritual of reciting the names of petitioners and finally offering up their prayers, which marked the end of that prayer cycle. The sun came out just as I offering the last name and seemed to fill the world with light and blessings.

This active, yang cycle is now complete. Now it is time for me once again to withdraw into a passive, yin cycle that rests, reflects and contemplates. ¬†In honouring and nurturing our spiritual lives, it is essential to¬†carefully¬†balance the yang of outward-flowing energy that is active, with equal amounts of yin practice that draws energy inward and is passive and quiet: to rest in gratitude. Therefore, I will not be engaging in my usual public Wabi’an events for the time being. This means there will be no Kuan Yin Day in August. Thank you for your understanding.

Breathe in beauty; breathe out gratitude

Kuan Yin Day

Dragon Kuan Yin

Dragon Kuan Yin

Just a reminder that next Friday (18th July) is Kuan Yin Day
Kuan Yin Day is held every month on the 18th to provide a chance for women to get together and talk about their own spiritual journey, to hear stories from other like-minded fellow pilgrims, to share a meal together and spend a couple of relaxing hours in the peace and gentle energy of Wabi’an, a Buddhist chapel nestled in bushland in Bouvard.
The event starts with some chanting by Cate of Kuan Yin sacred texts and prayers, which you’re welcome to join in or just listen to, followed by some quiet time in meditation. Then we have lunch for which everyone brings along a plate of something yummy. Regardless of your own spiritual practice, everyone is welcome to come along and share in this gathering.
Friday, 18th July¬†11:30am ‚Äď 2pm (Wabi’an is open at 10:30am if you would like to come earlier for quiet meditation)
8 Bouvard Drive, Bouvard
I look forward to seeing you then ‚̧

The Way of Toast

Tea pots in my kitchen

Tea pots in my kitchen

I was in the kitchen making breakfast the other day when my husband, Russell, glanced over at me and with a wry smile commented that the complicated ritual I have for making my toast should be called “The Way of Toast”, like how the tea ceremony is¬†the Way of Tea, or calligraphy is the Way of the Brush, or any other kind of ritual art. We had a bit of a laugh about that because it is true that over the years I have created a certain ritualistic way of preparing my toast “just so”. But later I thought about what is meant by “The Way of …” and it seems to me that just about anything that you engage in in your daily life could be made into a ritual art that expresses your spiritual practice.

Although we might see tea ceremony¬†as a beautiful but complicated ritual art shrouded in mystery and largely unintelligible to the non-initiated, it is basically simply about making a cup of tea and sharing it. Shunryu Suzuki, a much-loved and respected Japanese Zen Buddhist monk who is largely responsible for bringing Zen in the United States, would make tea ceremony using a polystyrene foam cup and instant coffee to show that you didn’t need fancy implements or some special occasion to share the essence of tea ceremony with another person. The purpose of the ritual is in fact to practice a way of emptying your mind to such a degree that all that remains is that single, precious, present moment of connection, of communion with another person – or even if you are alone, communion with the cosmos. The ritual helps you to be fully present and engaged without the background chatter of mind interfering. The longer the process, the more you have to really concentrate and the longer time it takes to master. This long-time investment of your energy and practice is a reflection of your own commitment to perfecting a ritual art and, despite our insta-everything world, reveals slowly the peeling away of the layers of mind chatter as you continue to practice. My dear friend in Japan, a tea ceremony master who had learned the art from her parents since childhood, once told me that she looked forward to her 60s because then she thought she might have reached a stage of being able to perform the tea ceremony with a “true heart”.

Cumquats ready to pick

Cumquats ready to pick

But you don’t have to aspire to become a master at a particular ritual art – what about becoming a master of the art of your own life by just fully engaging in the small rituals of everyday life? A spiritual practice can be developed by making your whole life into a ritual art: a work of art that is ever-evolving. This ritual practice can be fully realised even when you engage in the most seemingly trivial of acts such the act of peeling a humble potato and experiencing a moment of joyful awe at how it is that you and this here spud have arrived at this very moment in time together, a moment of being fully present. Now that might sound a bit OTT but in fact it is possible to live a life deeply imbued with a sense of wonder and joy whilst engaging with any moment of your life. It begins with bringing into your consciousness the awareness of every little action of your body when it moves through the routines of everyday life – cleaning your teeth, drinking a glass of water, putting on your clothes, making a cup of tea or preparing toast! When your mind is fully occupied with being aware of what your body is doing, that is a great spiritual practice because by emptying your mind of its usual white-noise chatter, you are creating an open space – this space is the place where spiritual transformation is possible, a space within which the pure joy of being is able to flow freely.

So next time you make a cup of tea, take a moment to feel the way your body moves step by step through the actions of creating a cuppa – feel your footsteps, hear the sound of the water boiling, feel the heat of the cup in your hand, feel the weight of the cup, feel the steam rising into your face as you raise the cup, feel texture of the cup as it meets your lips… and really feel the tastes and textures in your mouth as you drink, feel your breath coming in and out in rhythm with your drinking. It might sound a bit crazy, but the moment of enlightenment might be right there in your next sip! Enjoy!