Our Summer Retreat Day

On Sunday we held our West Wight Sangha Summer retreat day. For those of you who couldn’t make it I thought I’d post the supportive materials that we used.

We had a recorded talk and guided meditation by Akincano Marc Weber on the Brahmavihāras.

DOWNLOAD        (Right click and “Save link as….”)
There were two readings, the first was, The Hawk in the Rain by Ted Hughes.

 

‘This water droplet, charity of the air,
Out of the watched blue immensity –
(Where, where are the angels?) out of the draft in the door,
The Tuscarora, the cloud, the cup of tea,
The sweating victor and the decaying dead bird –
This droplet has travelled far and studied hard.
Now clings on the cream paint of our kitchen wall.
Aged eye! This without heart-head-nerve lens
Which saw the first and earth-centring jewel
Spark upon darkness, behemoth bulk and lumber
Out of the instant flash, and man’s hand
Hoist him upright, still hangs clear and round.
‘Having studied a journey in the high
Cathedralled brain, the mole’s ear, the fish’s ice,
The abattoir of the tiger’s artery,
The slum of the dog’s bowel, and there is no place
His bright look has not bettered, and problem none
But he has brought it to solution.
‘Venerable elder! Let us learn of you.
Read us a lesson, a plain lesson how
Experience was worn or made you anew,
That on this humble kitchen wall hang now,
O dew that condensed of the breath of the Word
On the mirror of the syllable of the Word.’
So he spoke aloud, grandly, then stood
For an answer, knowing his own nature
Droplet-kin, sisters and brothers of lymph and blood,
Listened for himself to speak for the drop’s self.
This droplet was clear simple water still.
It no more responded than the hour-old child
Does to finger-toy or coy baby-talk,
But who lies long, long and frowningly
Unconscious under the shock of its own quick
After that first alone-in-creation cry
When into the mesh of sense, out of the dark,
Blundered the world-shouldering monstrous ‘I’.

The second was, Why We Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Suffering
By Thich Nhat Hanh.

We should not be afraid of suffering. We should be afraid of only one thing, and that is not knowing how to deal with our suffering. Handling our suffering is an art. If we know how to suffer, we suffer much less, and we’re no longer afraid of being overwhelmed by the suffering inside. The energy of mindfulness helps us recognise, acknowledge, and embrace the presence of the suffering, which can already bring some calm and relief.

When a painful feeling comes up, we often try to suppress it. We don’t feel comfortable when our suffering surfaces, and we want to push it back down or cover it up. But as a mindfulness practitioner, we allow the suffering to surface so we can clearly identify it and embrace it. This will bring transformation and relief. The first thing we have to do is accept the mud in ourselves. When we recognise and accept our difficult feelings and emotions, we begin to feel more at peace. When we see that mud is something that can help us grow, we become less afraid of it.

When we are suffering, we invite another energy from the depths of our consciousness to come up: the energy of mindfulness. Mindfulness has the capacity to embrace our suffering. It says, Hello, my dear pain. This is the practice of recognising suffering. Hello, my pain. I know you are there, and I will take care of you. You don’t need to be afraid.

Now in our mind-consciousness there are two energies: the energy of mindfulness and the energy of suffering. The work of mindfulness is first to recognise and then to embrace the suffering with gentleness and compassion. You make use of your mindful breathing to do this. As you breathe in, you say silently, Hello, my pain. As you breathe out, you say, I am here for you. Our breathing contains within it the energy of our pain, so as we breathe with gentleness and compassion, we are also embracing our pain with gentleness and compassion.

When suffering comes up, we have to be present for it. We shouldn’t run away from it or cover it up with consumption, distraction, or diversion. We should simply recognise it and embrace it, like a mother lovingly embracing a crying baby in her arms. The mother is mindfulness, and the crying baby is suffering. The mother has the energy of gentleness and love. When the baby is embraced by the mother, it feels comforted and immediately suffers less, even though the mother does not yet know exactly what the problem is. Just the fact that the mother is embracing the baby is enough to help the baby suffer less. We don’t need to know where the suffering is coming from. We just need to embrace it, and that already brings some relief. As our suffering begins to calm down, we know we will get through it.

When we go home to ourselves with the energy of mindfulness, we’re no longer afraid of being overwhelmed by the energy of suffering. Mindfulness gives us the strength to look deeply and gives rise to understanding and compassion.

West Wight Sangha’s Summer Meditation Retreat

Hi Everyone,

It is now just one week until West Wight Sangha’s Summer Meditation Retreat!

We still have plenty of spaces left so there’s room for everyone!

The retreat runs from 10 o’clock on the morning of Sunday the 16th of July to four o’clock in the afternoon.

As is now our usual practice we’re looking to evenly balance the morning and afternoon sessions so we’ll be having lunch from 12:30 finishing at 1:30, so it would be nice if you’re only coming for the morning or afternoon to stay or come at half twelve and join everyone for lunch…… usual format of bringing vegetarian food to share. Also feel free to bring any readings that you would like to share.

Please let me know if you intend coming so that I have some idea of the numbers.

Virtual Reality Meditation

This story, by Dan Ackerman, appears in the spring 2017 edition of CNET Magazine

The first thing I see is sunlight glistening off the gently rolling waves in the distance, while I stand on a small foliage-decked island so green it almost glows. Later, I’m standing on the balcony of the kind of aggressively minimalist luxury apartment only seen in movies and television shows. I can imagine a soft breeze flowing through these expansive spaces, but it’s only that: imagination.

In fact, I’m standing in my own living room and in a virtual reality creation, one especially designed to complement the practice of meditation, or at least one very specific version of it.

The program I’m using is called Guided Meditation VR, and I’m experiencing it through an HTC Vive virtual reality headset connected to powerful desktop computer. Besides choosing from about a dozen different locales to meditate in, I can listen to a wide variety of audio programs, called guided meditations, that run from 2 to 10 minutes and cover topics from breathing to compassion. (The app is $15 on the Steam platform for Vive, and a limited version is available for free for the phone-based Gear VR headset.)

Meditation in virtual locations isn’t the most traditional way to approach the practice, but it may entice sceptics who aren’t keen to sit in their living rooms with their eyes shut. “VR adds a really powerful, emotional ability to be in another place and to actually feel that emotional weight of another place,” says Josh Farkas, CEO of Cubicle Ninjas, Guided Meditation’s developer. “You can meditate anywhere, but at the end of the day, the ability to actually go to a virtual world and take a breather lowers the barrier to entry, and I hope gets people more excited.”

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“Walk With Me”, Premieres at SXSW

On Sunday the film “Walk with me”, about mindfulness advocate and Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh had its world premiere at SXSW, otherwise known as “South by Southwest” which is an annual conglomerate of film, interactive media, and music festivals and conferences that take place in mid-March in Austin, Texas.

Filmed over three years, at Plum Village monastery in rural France and on the road in America, the film is a meditation on a community grappling with existential questions and the everyday routine of monastic life.

As the seasons come and go, the monastics’ pursuit for a deeper connection to themselves and the world around them is amplified by insights from Thich Nhat Hanh’s early journals, narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch.

Mindful Eating – A Resolution

At our most recent Sangha meeting I raised the subject of new year’s resolutions and kicked things off with the perennial post Christmas diet resolution. Hands up, I need to lose weight and I have decided to do so mindfully
 
Yes, as a Buddhist my aim is to live as much of my life mindfully as possible, but there is actually a Mindful Diet.
 
I recalled reading an article on the subject a while ago in the New York Times and, after a bit of hunting around, tracked it down and have reproduced it here……………..

Mindful Eating as Food for Thought
By Jeff Gordinier, Feb.7, 2012

TRY this: place a forkful of food in your mouth. It doesn’t matter what the food is, but make it something you love — let’s say it’s that first nibble from three hot, fragrant, perfectly cooked ravioli.

Now comes the hard part. Put the fork down. This could be a lot more challenging than you imagine, because that first bite was very good and another immediately beckons. You’re hungry.

Today’s experiment in eating, however, involves becoming aware of that reflexive urge to plow through your meal like Cookie Monster on a shortbread bender. Resist it. Leave the fork on the table. Chew slowly. Stop talking. Tune in to the texture of the pasta, the flavor of the cheese, the bright colour of the sauce in the bowl, the aroma of the rising steam.

Continue this way throughout the course of a meal, and you’ll experience the third-eye-opening pleasures and frustrations of a practice known as mindful eating.

The concept has roots in Buddhist teachings. Just as there are forms of meditation that involve sitting, breathing, standing and walking, many Buddhist teachers encourage their students to meditate with food, expanding consciousness by paying close attention to the sensation and purpose of each morsel. In one common exercise, a student is given three raisins, or a tangerine, to spend 10 or 20 minutes gazing at, musing on, holding and patiently masticating.

Lately, though, such experiments of the mouth and mind have begun to seep into a secular arena, from the Harvard School of Public Health to the California campus of Google. In the eyes of some experts, what seems like the simplest of acts — eating slowly and genuinely relishing each bite — could be the remedy for a fast-paced Paula Deen Nation in which an endless parade of new diets never seems to slow a stampede toward obesity.

Mindful eating is not a diet, or about giving up anything at all. It’s about experiencing food more intensely — especially the pleasure of it. You can eat a cheeseburger mindfully, if you wish. You might enjoy it a lot more. Or you might decide, halfway through, that your body has had enough. Or that it really needs some salad.

“This is anti-diet,” said Dr. Jan Chozen Bays, a paediatrician and meditation teacher in Oregon and the author of “Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food.” “I think the fundamental problem is that we go unconscious when we eat.”

The last few years have brought a spate of books, blogs and videos about hyper-conscious eating. A Harvard nutritionist, Dr. Lilian Cheung, has devoted herself to studying its benefits, and is passionately encouraging corporations and health care providers to try it.

At the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University, Prof. Brian Wansink, the author of “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think,” has conducted scores of experiments on the psychological factors that lead to our bottomless bingeing. A mindful lunch hour recently became part of the schedule at Google, and self-help gurus like Oprah Winfrey and Kathy Freston have become cheerleaders for the practice.

With the annual chow-downs of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Super Bowl Sunday behind us, and Lent coming, it’s worth pondering whether mindful eating is something that the mainstream ought to be, well, more mindful of. Could a discipline pioneered by Buddhist monks and nuns help teach us how to get healthy, relieve stress and shed many of the neuroses that we’ve come to associate with food?

Dr. Cheung is convinced that it can. Last week, she met with team members at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and asked them to spend quality time with a chocolate-covered almond.

“The rhythm of life is becoming faster and faster, so we really don’t have the same awareness and the same ability to check into ourselves,” said Dr. Cheung, who, with the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, co-wrote “Savour: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life.” “That’s why mindful eating is becoming more important. We need to be coming back to ourselves and saying: ‘Does my body need this? Why am I eating this? Is it just because I’m so sad and stressed out?’ ”

The topic has even found its way into culinary circles that tend to be more focused on Rabelaisian excess than monastic restraint. In January, Dr. Michael Finkelstein, a holistic physician who oversees SunRaven, a holistic-living center in Bedford, N.Y., gave a talk about mindful gardening and eating at the smorgasbord-friendly headquarters of the James Beard Foundation in New York City.

“The question isn’t what are the foods to eat, in my mind,” he said in an interview. “Most people have a general sense of what the healthy foods are, but they’re not eating them. What’s on your mind when you’re eating: that’s mindful eating to me.”

A good place to try it is the Blue Cliff Monastery, in Pine Bush, N.Y., a Hudson Valley hamlet. At the serene refuge about 75 miles northwest of Manhattan, curious lay people can join Buddhist brothers and sisters for a free “day of mindfulness” twice a week.

At a gathering in January, visitors watched a videotaped lecture by Thich Nhat Hanh , who founded this and other monasteries around the world; they strolled methodically around the grounds as part of a walking meditation, then filed into a dining room for lunch.

No one spoke, in keeping with a key principle of mindful eating. The point is simply to eat, as opposed to eating and talking, eating and watching TV, or eating and watching TV and gossiping on the phone while Tweeting and updating one’s Facebook status.

A long buffet table of food awaited, all of it vegan and mindfully prepared by two monks in the kitchen. There was plenty of rice, herbed chickpeas, a soup made with cubes of taro, a stew of fried tofu in tomato sauce.

In silence, people piled their plates with food, added a squirt or two of condiments (eating mindfully doesn’t mean forsaking the hot sauce) and sat down together with eyes closed during a Buddhist prayer for gratitude and moderation.

What followed was captivating and mysterious. Surrounded by a murmur of clinking forks, spoons and chopsticks, the Blue Cliff congregation, or sangha, spent the lunch hour contemplating the enjoyment of spice, crunch, saltiness, warmth, tenderness and like-minded company.

Some were thinking, too, about the origins of the food: the thousands of farmers, truck drivers and labourers whose work had brought it here.

As their jaws moved slowly, their faces took on expressions of deep focus. Every now and then came a pause within the pause: A chime would sound, and, according to the monastery’s custom, all would stop moving and chewing in order to breathe and explore an even deeper level of sensory awareness.

It looked peaceful, but inside some of those heads, a struggle was afoot.

“It’s much more challenging than we would imagine,” said Carolyn Cronin, 64, who lives near the monastery and regularly attends the mindfulness days. “People are used to eating so fast. This is a practice of stopping, and we don’t realize how much we’re not stopping.”

For many people, eating fast means eating more. Mindful eating is meant to nudge us beyond what we’re craving so that we wake up to why we’re craving it and what factors might be stoking the habit of belly-stuffing.

“As we practice this regularly, we become aware that we don’t need to eat as much,” said Phap Khoi, 43, a robed monk who has been stationed at Blue Cliff since it opened in 2007. “Whereas when people just gulp down food, they can eat a lot and not feel full.”

It’s this byproduct of mindful eating — its potential as a psychological barrier to overeating — that has generated excitement among nutritionists like Dr. Cheung.

“Thich Nhat Hanh often talks about our craving being like a crying baby who is trying to draw our attention,” she said. “When the baby cries, the mother cradles the baby to try to calm the baby right away. By acknowledging and embracing our cravings through a few breaths, we can stop our autopilot of reaching out to the pint of ice cream or the bag of chips.”

The average American doesn’t have the luxury of ruminating on the intense tang of sriracha sauce at a monastery. “Most of us are not going to be Buddhist monks,” said Dr. Finkelstein, the holistic physician. “What I’ve learned is that it has to work at home.”

To that end, he and others suggest that people start with a few baby steps. “Don’t be too hard on yourself,” Dr. Cheung said. “You’re not supposed to be able to switch on your mindfulness button and be able to do it 100 percent. It’s a practice you keep working toward.”

Dr. Bays, the paediatrician, has recommendations that can sound like a return to the simple rhythms of Mayberry, if not “Little House on the Prairie.” If it’s impossible to eat mindfully every day, consider planning one special repast a week. Click off the TV. Sit at the table with loved ones.

“How about the first five minutes we eat, we just eat in silence and really enjoy our food?” she said. “It happens step by step.”

Sometimes, even she is too busy to contemplate a chickpea. So there are days when Dr. Bays will take three mindful sips of tea, “and then, O.K., I’ve got to go do my work,” she said. “Anybody can do that. Anywhere.”

Even scarfing down a burrito in the car offers an opportunity for insight. “Mindful eating includes mindless eating,” she said. “ ‘I am aware that I am eating and driving.’ ”

Few places in America are as frantically abuzz with activity as the Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., but when Thich Nhat Hanh dropped by for a day of mindfulness in September, hundreds of employees showed up.

Part of the event was devoted to eating thoughtfully in silence, and the practice was so well received that an hourlong wordless vegan lunch is now a monthly observance on the Google campus.

“Interestingly enough, a lot of the participants are the engineers, which pleases us very much,” said Olivia Wu, an executive chef at the company. “I think it quiets the mind. I think there is a real sense of feeling restored so that they can go back to the crazy pace that they came from.”

It’s not often, after all, that those workhorse technicians get to stop and smell the pesto. “Somebody will say, ‘I ate so much less,’ ” Ms. Wu said. “And someone else will say, ‘You know, I never noticed how spicy arugula tastes.’ ”

And that could be the ingredient that helps mindful eating gain traction in mainstream American culture: flavor.

“So many people now have found themselves in an adversarial relationship with food, which is very tragic,” Dr. Bays said. “Eating should be a pleasurable activity.”

A Simple and Easy New Years Resolution

Some of you may recall that last June we ran a piece about mindfulness exercises. For some time I had been emailing out regular weekly mindfulness/meditation exercises to the members of the West Wight Sangha and to other friends and associates. Last New Year I introduced an additional Daily Mindfulness Exercise and post a reminder of this with each weeks email.

Quite simply, the exercise is to remember to pick up and dispose of one piece of litter every day.

 

So it was with interest that I read the following letter from Marion Draper in the Isle of Wight County Press just before Christmas…………….

“MANY will soon be making new-year resolutions, most of which will probably be abandoned before the month is out. 

How about we all make a resolution to keep the pavement, verge, gutter in front of our home, shop, business or school free of litter for the whole year? 

It will cost each of us nothing more than a minute of our time each day to do that and it will help turn our beautiful Island into one of the cleanest places to live and to visit. 

Of course, it would be wonderful if the slovenly, thoughtless people who discard all the rubbish could be persuaded not to, but that’s a harder nut to crack. 

However, if we can enthuse the youngest in our communities to come up with ideas to encourage the older children and adults who do the littering to alter their behaviour, perhaps in tune we can reduce the amount of rubbish that is so carelessly discarded in the streets and countryside, sometimes no more than a few feet from a bin.”

Mindfulness Courses on the Isle of Wight

Two Buddhist friends on the island are both about to run mindfulness courses.

The first is from Shahida. Her next 8 week Mindfulness and Compassion course starts on Thursday 20th October in Newport. Please contact her for details at mindfulnessmattersiow@gmail.com

The second one is from Sylvia and is a 6 weeks course running from the 4th of November to the 9th of December 2016 from 10:00 to 12.30 a.m.

It is entitled “Be Calm Be Happy: A short course in Mindfulness – Isle of Wight”. Click the link for further details.