Tag Archives: Buddhism

Peace is Every Step – Thich Nhat Hanh

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Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist monk who organized the Buddhist Peace Delegation to the Paris Peace Talks in 1969, has written numerous beautiful slender volumes dense in mindfulness philosophy and practical teachings. Peace is Every Step, introduced by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, translates the mindfulness practice into ordinary life. It is infused with the gentle wisdom Nhat Hanh has shared with readers and audiences since the turbulent 60s and is no less appropriate for these tumultuous times.

Nhat Hanh’s point is that we cannot just work for, legislate or impose peace—we have to become peace to have any influence on our surroundings, our government and on the health of the planet. His is a very empowering teaching. By paying close attention to the moments of our lives, we enter that still space of perfect balance, of being fully present in the now, and release all chaos and confusion.

The book is divided into three main sections—each consisting of subheads with precepts, inspiration and examples to make mindfulness absolutely clear. Breathe! You are Alive outlines how to eat, wash the dishes and walk mindfully with instructions about the attention to the breath that returns your consciousness to the moment. Transformation and Healing deals with anger, love and compassion. Nhat Hanh explains a way to hug using three deep meditation breaths to anchor yourself firmly in the connection. It sounds a little bit awkward but extremely cool. Peace is Every Step talks about real awareness of the immediate and extended world around you, seen and unseen suffering, and how to contemplate clouds when you are the river.

Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the great masters of mindfulness meditation and his appeal to many people is his approachability and his no-fuss notions of how to live a richly rewarding and generous life. From politics to ecology to watching leaves color and fall in autumn, Peace is Every Step is a prescription for healing ourselves and our fractured planet, a do-it-yourself manual for replacing fear, enmity and confusion with a serene and sustainable existence.  

Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life   Thich Nhat Hanh | Bantam Books  1992

Lost and Found – Geneen Roth

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Geneen Roth has a problem with money. In Lost and Found, she details failed investments with a longtime embezzling accountant and an entire life savings lost in the Madoff Ponzi scheme. The Madoff debacle inspired the book—and it inspired the deep introspection that led to an examination of what money had meant to her as a little girl. All things are related, very good Buddhism and very good money wisdom.

Roth is a workshop leader and the author of a bestselling book Women Food and God. She has spent decades battling her own dysfunctional relationship to food—yo-yo dieting and every unhealthy diet and bingeing practice on the planet make her a knowledgeable and compassionate weight issues coach. But her meditation and inquiry practice, so useful in sorting out the food thing, also provided the ground and the strength to help her cope with overnight impoverishment at age 56 (with a hefty mortgage and no idea how money works at all).

The book gives numerous examples, culled from Roth’s endless discussions with fellow financial sufferers and interviews with holistic financial advisors and people she quizzed in checkout lines and at parties. A fugue state is a customary reaction to money conversations and attempts to grapple with understanding personal economics. A sense of panic or exhaustion is not uncommon. Unwillingness to probe for the early beliefs about money we learn in our families—very uncomfortable scrutiny for most of us—leads too often to financial illiteracy and abdication of responsibility. The abdication comes with very high interest or outright fraud. Who takes your money—MasterCard or Madoff?

The same issues surrounding food cluster all over money and it is the topic even more radioactive than sex or politics for party chatter. Roth recommends sitting on a meditation cushion and steeling yourself to look, unflinching, at what comes up. But she assures us that a willingness to confront the past is precisely what will free us from it. If you grew up with concepts of scarcity—they are probably as much about unconditional love and enough attention as they are about your bank balance. In fact, those issues are likely reflected in your bank balance. If money was a wall to hide behind in a loveless house then you may avoid having it to dodge the risk of a loveless relationship. Or you might have inherited the conviction that people who have money are greedy or predatory or “bad.” Maybe money equates for you with loss of friends or social position. Maybe it confers on you a sense of entitlement or a lack of empathy. There are as many ways to be out of harmony with money as there are erroneous myths about it.

Money isn’t real, Roth reminds us. At least not real in the same way as sunshine, shelter, sustenance and people. Money is part of what you can’t take with you but it does give you freedom to make choices while you are an embodied wage slave or fortunate heiress. And an important way to view investments is to follow the money to where it works. Does the high tech stock keep climbing on the backs of child laborers in the developing world? Are you benefitting from that windfall the energy company reaps from drilling—and spilling–in a fragile environment? Should you be putting your money where your beliefs are—at least some of it?

Lots of good advice and shrewd observation in this tale of goodies and gambling. Geneen Roth might not have a million dollars anymore—actually, she never had it, Bernie Madoff did—but she managed to keep her house and even patch the leaky roof on it.  In the process of dealing with loss, she found a few major fault lines to address and rediscovered what really mattered to her–a significant windfall, in her opinion. 

There may be no FDRs with the political will to tackle the great American 21st Century Depression (call it what it is, please) but there are some profound individual antidotes to be applied. Audit your own mind, isolate your own money issues, let go of hereditary beliefs and allot some investment to your own good causes. Figure out how to fill the holes in your soul with compassion, not compulsive shopping. And steer clear of anyone Roth chooses as an investment advisor—she admits she’s still trying to figure all that out.

Lost and Found: One Woman’s Story of Losing Her Money and Finding Her Life   Geneen Roth | Viking   2011

Everyday Zen – Charlotte Joko Beck

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The Laundromat is atypically uncrowded and I get two jumbo washers right next to each other so I don’t need to take a deep breath and remind myself to accept life “just as it is.” I was ready for it, though, after spending the morning immersed in Charlotte Joko Beck’s Everyday Zen, a book-length collection of dharma talks on Zen practice, its purpose (no purpose) and the philosophy behind it all. I did manage to misread the SOAK and WASH cycles and dumped the detergent and bleach in the wrong ones. Oh well. Perfection is not the point, after all.

Beck was a plain-speaking, no-nonsense Zen teacher (she died in June at age 94) who covered the Zen precepts from basic practice to enlightenment with stories, examples and candid directives. Sitting zazen—the Zen term for a meditation session—seems uncomplicated: sit, breathe, empty your mind. But it is a rigorous practice that exacerbates or initiates aches and pains and could torpedo your psyche. Get too emotionally uncomfortable, a very real possibility, and you might abandon the effort in order to avoid confronting your callous, misguided and unattractive dark side.

The dharma talks explain how—and why—to persevere. “From the withered tree, a flower blooms” is Beck’s favorite quotation from classic Zen teachings, much repeated. Uh oh. Guess who’s the withered tree in this metaphor? The flower represents your progress—maybe a joyful breakthrough or an experience of inner peace. Don’t count on a big explosion of light, O Buddha-wannabe. Imperceptible change is the norm—very incremental. Sit down on your cushion and settle in for the long haul.

It’s a seductive practice, though, tough as it may be. “Enlightenment is not something you achieve,” Beck writes. “It is the absence of something.” Sounds nicely minimalist and elegant, unlike the life of someone with every towel and bathmat in the house putting the soap in the wrong cycle and trying not to splash bleach on herself. I think I soaped too early the last time I was here, too.

Beck cautions that to seek enlightenment is futile and ambitious. Zen is a progressive clarification, a lifetime of lifting veils, shedding misperceptions, accepting the moment. She details ways to handle anger, pain, disillusion, confusion, even breathing. She punctures all the bright balloons of dreamy, nirvana-like states and says simply that you get better at knowing what is true for you and making decisions about your life as you progress.

Duality and individuality are false notions in Zen. Everyone and everything is connected, no separation, no difference. That maniac neighbor who screams and cusses at his kid for six hours straight on Saturday night? You. Every Presidential candidate with his hand out for corporate largess? You. That prune-faced fourth grade teacher who kept you in for almost every recess all year? You. The Dalai Lama? You. All the same. Zen is great physics. Nonduality contradicts James Hillman’s theory of The Soul’s Code, the book I read before this one. Hillman builds his work around the concept of individual fate. Zen is a zebra of another stripe. Not only are you interrelated to the entire universe but nonattachment is a central issue and benefit of all that focused sitting.

Nonattachment loosens the bonds that lash you to your desires so your life becomes calmer, less driven to get and do things, less tinged with disappointment at all you want but don’t have. People who aren’t in the grip of attachment tend to have fewer things, Beck says, but that’s really irrelevant. What is crucial is that you can tell the difference between what is impermanent and what is important. Soap cycle—impermanent. Clean towels—a greater good. All the toys in the toy box? Fine. Few or no toys–make do with your imagination? Also fine. You become free, light and smarter about how to live.

Zen isn’t for everyone. But it isn’t some esoteric practice reserved for a few hardy initiates either. Sit every day, according to Beck, and you’ll gradually open your life to a quiet joy and a peaceful acceptance of each moment as it is.

Everyday Zen: Love and Work (Plus)   Charlotte Joko Beck | HarperSanFrancisco  1989