Notes to Myself

So much has changed in the last year. I have let go of so much and embraced so many new challenges and opportunities. What follows are a few things that arose as I anticipated meeting with my Appamada practice discussion groups online earlier this month. I shared a very brief version of these reflections with the groups which convened online in July, but I decided to revisit my notes in preparation for resuming our beloved meetings and then decided to write a bit more in the hope of encouraging you to consider your “in-most request” as Suzuki Roshi would say, or your deepest desire for not only these precious meetings but everyday practice no matter where you are.

Truth be told, most of us long to simply reconnect, to catch up with each other, and to be reminded of the warm nourishment of mutual care which a sangha and spiritual friends afford. However, these simple points of practice may support us in remembering what it really means to sit together and open to the transformative potential of community. What is possible when we practice in a vibrant community with dedicated spiritual friends? Here are the things that came to me.

We start with the basics. We sit down, sit still, and settle into a generous silence. By continuing these practices over time we encourage each other to stick with it, and as we do we have a greater capacity to meet whatever arrives with more kindness and maybe a bit more patience. We practice paying attention to our body, our heart and mind, and in doing so we release that which binds us to the self-centered dream and separates us from the fullness of lives and from our love for each other. Through ongoing practice we are able to more fully integrate all that moves in us and between us, learning to embody the Bodhisattva’s Way.

Here are the notes I wrote for myself as reminders about practice essentials. They are things I needed to remember. You might consider your own essentials and make a list of your own important reminders.

1. The Willingness to Begin and the Perseverance to Continue
What are you willing to begin to do which you have previously avoided; to what have you been clinging which you are now willing to release; what do you now have the courage to meet given the support of your friends; and, what do you now see that you must turn away from or refrain from which you realize to be unwholesome?
Perseverance in the face of any challenge requires courage and constancy, two important qualities which can best be fostered through spiritual friendship.

2. Embodied Immediacy and the Discipline of Practice
- Intimacy with the present moment is foundational; we begin with attention to the body and we continually return to the body, all the while cultivating a capacity to witness our impermanent thoughts, feelings, inclinations, and entrancing stories.
- Mindfulness is a form of remembering — remembering to wake up within the present moment.
- Discipline is remembering what you want, not what you crave or fear.

3. Deepening and Letting Go
- Bearing witness to both our private inner world and our busy and complicated outer worlds, without being too caught up in the content of either world, allows us to rest more deeply in pure awareness. The contents of awareness are held more gently and are allowed to arise and pass away more easily with practice, especially if we refrain from manipulating and fighting with our minds.
- What is an “appropriate response?” What is called up in this body-mind by present moment circumstances? -- What is called for if we are to live by Precepts and the Bodhisattva Vow?

4. Integration and Opening to What Comes
- “Being just this moment” becomes understood as a natural and continual unfolding of our True Nature, not as an elevation of consciousness or any kind of specialness. In doing so we learn to step forward more fully into our gifts because they come to be seen as responsibilities and opportunities to serve.
- “Compassion’s Way” is more deeply understood as offering our attention and energies as care for each other as well as for ourselves.

I also encountered this wonderful set of instructions given by Patrol Rinpoche, a wise Tibetan teacher:
Don’t invite the future
Don’t prolong the past
Don’t fear appearances
Don’t disturb your innate wakefulness

My great friend Donna Martin once noticed that these very concise instructions are all couched in the negative. She suggested that we might consider what they would look like if they were transposed into invitations rather than as prohibitions. “Don’t invite the future” becomes, “Be here, now.” Further, “Don’t prolong the past” could also be stated, “Be here, now.” The instruction “Don't fear appearances” (not to get caught by our reactive constructs) would become, “Be here, now.” And, of course, the last warning, “Don’t disturb your innate wakefulness,” (the very essence of our True Nature) could also translate as “Be here, now.” All four admonitions or encouragements are essentially instructions for zazen — not leaning into the future, not clinging to the past, not overly identifying with thoughts and feelings, and not manipulating or disturbing our primary awareness which is already awake. We sit to express our nature which is that of a Buddha, not to achieve something extra or special.

If we have the willingness to begin again and again, and to persevere no matter what; if we commit to embodied immediacy and the discipline of mindful awareness, we find we can rest in the simplicity of our natural wakefulness. From this perspective we can discover, or maybe re-discover again and again, that we are actually generous resources for the world rather than needy demands on it. By practicing gratitude and humility, we are naturally more generous and kind. This is the Way we are when we are together in with our spiritual friends and practicing in a warm sangha. These are some of the qualities which call us back to practice and to each other, both giving and receiving spiritual and emotional nourishment, the necessary food of life.

With my warmest aloha,

P.S. Sometimes it is as important to stand together and look in the same direction than it is to turn to each other and look into each other's eyes.