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.

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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  ❤

 

 

A year with my mother

When I said early last year that I was ‘retiring’, little did I know what challenges the following year would hold. It was as if, without realising it, I was clearing the space so that I could be completely available for the journey I was to share with my mother in the following year. Shortly after I decided to withdraw from my public role as a Buddhist priest, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. What had started as a little sore on her face, which she thought was just a mosquito bite, became a virulent facial cancer that quickly spread to the lymphatic nodes in her neck.

And so I became her primary carer throughout the ordeals that followed as her medical team worked to save her life by extensive face and neck surgery, which left her terribly disfigured, and brutal doses of radiation treatment, which caused her enormous pain, utter debilitation and the distress of losing her ability to eat and speak. The doctors held little hope of her recovery and the treatment was in order that she could die in the least amount of pain. It didn’t seem likely that there was very much of a win any way you looked at it. Then after the radiation finished, when she was supposed to be recovering, my mother suffered from a severe MRSA infection of her radiation burns that meant she another long stay in hospital, extremely ill and in continuous pain.

But throughout this nightmare, my mother met these ordeals with enormous courage, humility and dignity. And she was always so appreciative of every little kindness or attention shown to her by the wonderful nurses in the hospital and at home and she never complained. I saw a side of her that deeply moved and inspired me – she was nothing short of truly heroic!

Then, after all this, in order to give a final prognosis, she had another PET scan to see how far the cancer had progressed in her lymphatic system, but the medical team was astonished to find that the cancer had disappeared! This was completely unexpected as the surgery and radiation were seen as palliative measures only. The doctors were at a loss to explain it. However, for my mother the explanation was simple. She was absolutely sure that what had cured her was love: the love of her children who rallied to help, the love of her friends who prayed for her, the love of the nurses who cared for her. She said that throughout these terrible ordeals she could nonetheless feel healing love flowing through her body and she said she drank it up as a sweet medicine, focussing her meditations on fully opening to this love that was all around her. Then as her strength slowly returned and she felt her life-energy returning, she meditated on feelings of gratitude as a way of returning that love into the world.

16.08.19_blossomsAt the time when my mother’s suffering was at its greatest, the almond blossoms at my home were blooming. I cut a twig of almond blossom that still had tight buds and I placed it in a bottle by Mum’s bed. One by one the blossoms burst open and then gradually the petals fell. Mum and I would meditate on the beauty of the almond blossom and reflect on how fleeting and beautiful life is. Even when all the petals had shed, we left them there because somehow they seemed to embody the journey we were sharing. Then, after all the suffering was past and the healing had begun, a whole year and a lifetime later, the almond blossoms once again bloomed this week and again I took a twig of blossoms over to Mum. When she saw the twig she immediately recognised its meaning and we both just hugged and cried because those blossoms still embodied that journey we had taken and yet here we were a year later, still together. It was indeed a miracle.

For me, to bear witness to my mother’s pain and to share in her journey was a tremendous privilege. It is so hard to watch someone you love suffering and to feel that there is nothing you can do to alleviate that suffering. But now I know that the greatest healing gift you can give a loved one who is in pain is to bear witness to their pain with love, to hold their hand and feel your own healing love flowing from your heart into theirs. This is the source of all miracles.

Retirement

Medicine Buddha - healing with light energy

Medicine Buddha – healing with light energy

In times gone by, it was the tradition in China and Japan for Buddhist monks to withdraw from their public role in their 58th year. The 58th year in Buddhist astrology is known as kakumei, which literally means ‘revolution’ but actually refers to a complete change of life from being focussed outwardly in the public mundane realm to turning inwardly to focus on developing deeper spiritual awareness. This is my 58th year and so I too am following this ancient tradition by retiring from my public role as a Buddhist priest and spiritual advisor to a life of contemplation. This ‘revolution’ is a shift from the masculine energy work of ‘doing’ to the feminine energy work of ‘being’.

I will now turn to practicing more deeply the skills that have been taught to me by my teachers. This requires a lot of time and inwardly focussed energy work. It is the time for Yin practice: drawing inward the feminine energy of darkness, coolness, moonlight and solitude. I want to continue my dream yoga practices and to perhaps to one day express the visions I receive in art. This is following the way of the 13th-century Buddhist monk Myoe and also the way of the Christian mystic Hildegard of Bingen, both of whom painted their dream visions. These paintings then were used as amulets for spiritual healing and I hope that one day I can do the same.

I believe that a spiritual practice is useless unless it is lived fully and completely and honestly. My public role has been a vital part of my own practice, but it has also been very exhausting for me because I am not very skilled at replenishing my spiritual energy efficiently. I always felt that I just needed to try harder! But this effort was misguided and did not acknowledge my own deep nature which requires a great deal of quietude and solitude to replenish the deep wells of spiritual wellbeing. Recently I have come to realise that I am not going to be much help to anyone if I continue to ignore my own nature.

I am beginning to understand that my most effective role is that of the contemplative: I know that in the past many prayers have been answered when I adopted the role of the ‘prayer vessel’ and offered prayers along the Kannon Pilgrimage route and in Wabi’an. Whilst I have always been so happy to know that my counselling skills have been useful, it is my contemplative prayerful role that fills me with joy and peace. And this flowing of joy and peace is what I am able to offer to heal the world in my own small way.

I want my spiritual contribution to the world to be what comes from my heart as I fully embrace my practice. When, for example, I walk through the supermarket, I know that if I am balanced in my own spiritual energy, then I can radiate a healing to whoever I pass by. This is the result of living practice, of being the embodiment of practice. It is nothing special but at the same time it is the very foundation of healing, joy and authentically living.

So I hope that you will forgive me, my dear fellow pilgrims, for seeming to have abandoned you! In our very masculine energy Western society, it seems that unless we are seen to be doing, then we are not active agents in the world. However, there is great healing in being: being fully present, being fully aware, being authentic. By its nature, being is formless: it does not have a shape, a label or job description. But being has an energy: in the same way that science tells us the greater part of the universe is made up of mysterious ‘dark matter’ (the ultimate feminine energy!) that cannot be experienced by the physical senses, so being is an invisible expression of spiritual energy. Very difficult to describe in words, which are physical entities! It is this practice of being that is to be the focal point for my own spiritual practice that I wish to nurture and develop more strongly.

Once again, I feel the need to withdraw from the cyber world: I have found social media and the internet to be very useful tools but also, for me, sometimes quite overwhelming. I might wander back some day, but for now please know that you are all in my heart and I send you all my warmest blessings. My gratitude to you knows no bounds, as all that you have taught me has brought me to this place that I feel is my truest calling. I bow in deepest appreciation and thanks.

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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 🙂 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

Emily Kngwarreye’s Mandala

Anwerlarr anganenty (Big yam Dreaming) by Emily Kame Kngwarreye

Anwerlarr anganenty (Big yam Dreaming) by Emily Kame Kngwarreye

This week is Naidoc Week and I so I wanted to share with you one of my favourite paintings: It is called Amwerlarr Anganenty (Big Yam Dreaming), painted by Emily Kame Kngawarreye, an Anmatyerre woman from Utopia community, 250 kms north-east of Alice Springs. It is a massive painting 3m x 8m, taking up one whole wall of the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, so it is difficult to capture the majesty of the painting in such a little photo. However, I have been fortunate enough to sit in the gallery on several occasions and meditate up on this deeply spiritually moving image and if you live in Victoria, I highly recommend you visit Emily’s painting.

Emily Kame Kngwarreye

Emily Kame Kngwarreye

On the surface the image is a representation of Emily’s Country, Alhalker, and her Dreaming, which is the amwerlarr (pencil yam), and suggests the lines of the roots of the pencil yam as it covers the earth. Emily painted this all in the course of two days, sitting on the canvas, laid out on the red desert earth, and covering it with thick white lines, all the time singing her Dreaming story as she painted. Emily started painting when she was 80 years old and to me this reveals the greatest significance of her work: her profound wisdom. In her paintings she re-creates the wisdom of countless generations passed on to her by teachings from her Elders over many decades. When Emily was asked what her painting was about, Emily simply replied “Whole lot, that’s whole lot… That’s what I paint, whole lot.” That is, although this painting looks like the roots of the yam, in fact there is a much deeper significance to her work: it is a visual representation of the whole cosmos, in the same way that the great Buddhist mandalas reveal the Truth that underlies our superficial understanding of reality. Within the lines of the painting there is a profound and mystical teaching that, even if we can’t understand it intellectually, we can receive by quietly meditating on the image. This is the same as the Buddhist practice of meditating on a mandala.

Diamond World Samaya Mandala

Diamond World Samaya Mandala

In a Buddhist mandala the image might be of a particular deity or set of symbols, but that is only the superficial meaning of the painting. Underlying the lines of the painted work is a deeper teaching that has come from the vision of an enlightened person – the one who first painted that mandala, who had a deep experiential understanding of Reality – which is then copied over periods of centuries by monks who then use the image as an object of meditation. Using your eyes as your instrument of practice, meditate upon the mandala and allow the teaching that is inherent within it to connect to your own deep innate wisdom.

Emily’s wisdom pours forth from her entire being as she sings her painting into life, through the medium of paint and brush, as an extension of herself not separate from the land, onto the canvas. Within the painting there is a story about Country that relates to the way people have an inherent interconnection with the land around them – the land that contains and includes the self, or self as a microcosm of the land itself, inseparable. Although the superficial meaning of the painting is the roots of the yam, within the lines and, far more importantly, between the spaces are revealed deep teachings of a cosmic Truth that can be apprehended not with the mind but with whole body simply being in its presence and meditating upon the lines in quiet stillness – allowing the message to seep into your own being via your eyes.

And this is exactly what Emily Kame Kgnwarreye is offering us in her mesmerising paintings – mandalas that offer us profound spiritual teachings that connect to our own deep wisdom. This is the sacred offering that the ancestors of this land have to share with all of us, regardless of  our colour or background – how to recognise and apprehend our inseparable, ineffable spiritual connection with the land. So I encourage you to sit quietly and meditate upon the works of the Elders.

Happy NAIDOC Week 🙂

Emily Kngwarreye working on the painting "Earth's Creation"

Emily Kngwarreye working on the painting “Earth’s Creation”