More and more, the teaching practice takes me into the community where I engage directly with students. My focus right now is on bringing the continuity of the Dharma into the market place. Although retreating is an important form for self-knowledge, I find myself less interested in the immediate results of a retreat and more interested in helping students investigate their relationship to the ups and downs of their everyday life.
Nature, death and spontaneous freedom continually interweave themselves into my teaching. From the forest of Thailand, where I spent several years, I bring a deep awareness of the healing quality of nature into my teachings. Relaxing into our true nature allows us to realize what it means to be a human being. It is here we find a resting point, a counterbalance to the speed and turbulence of our culture.
My work in hospice brings a sense of urgency into my teaching. Working with the theme of death and dying reveals the here and now of life to us, how important it is to open to each loss, change and transition that marks our path. Life is precious. We need to awaken without hesitation.
Many of us crave to be more calm and centered. We know that life has more to offer than this fleeting material world. For each of us, the Dharma offers an immediacy of freedom for which we do not have to strive or wait. In practice, we can learn to relax deeply into the moment and rediscover spontaneous freedom.
Watch any tendency to lean into a problem or situation. Is the leaning motivated by a resistance to the situation or by a desire to push your own agenda? Are you willing to drop what you want and ask, Where is the vertical stance in this moment? Start by finding easier ways to practice this vertical posture (standing in a slow-moving line at a grocery store or frozen in traffic), and then progress to the more difficult situations (with family or at work). What is the value to yourself and others of standing vertically rather than pushing forward or leaning backward?
Is your meditation directed toward learning about who you are? What areas do you shy away from paying attention to yourself? Where are you self-protected? Do you feel the pain associated with those areas? Become increasingly aware of one of those areas and see what difference bare attention (caring attention) makes to that pain. Offer that area metta to ease the pain of looking. The pain will ease in direct proportion to your understanding of it, and understanding is achieved through direct observation.
Notice how frequently you second-guess your generosity. You may have the desire to be generous but you let it pass without acting. This week act upon any impulse to be generous: if you have the thought to give something to someone, do not delay or second-guess the impulse. Give.
Each time you open the Internet this week begin by going to thehungersite.com and offer a free donation to all the similar sites listed on that web page. Say metta phrases to each disadvantaged group as you make the offering. May all being have sufficient food; may all beings be free of breast cancer.... Feel the pain associated with each category of people and wish them well. Explore the relationship between feeling pain for another and generosity. Does the pain motivate you to move towards or away from giving?
Notice your meditative posture and see if the chest and shoulders are fully open when you sit. How does your posture affect your mind? As you move through the day notice your posture when you feel selfish or irritable. Notice it when you feel generous and confident. When you feel selfish and closed down to generosity adjust your posture to a more open stance and see if that has any effect on your state of mind.
Reflect on how generosity is related to equality. When you offer a gift to someone you perceive as unequal is that generosity or pity? Feel the difference between these two forms of giving. How does the heart feel and how does the mind hold the offering in a generous act and in pity? When you perceive someone as a human being regardless of their present condition you can only perceive them as equal. When you give to the less fortunate, you are lost in the pain of the circumstances. The generous heart feels that pain but gives to the human being.
This week find several occasions to give something away to someone less privileged. Before you do, release the projections and allow equality to surface. One person giving to another. Look the person in the eye when you hand them the gift. Let your heart meet theirs. Feel the humility of true generosity. Feel the joy of release. Notice the qualitative difference between giving with humility and the self-importance of "helping the disadvantaged."
Carry the statement, "Seek first to understand before being understood," throughout this week. How does this intention create a listening attitude? Experience the effect of listening on your heart, how it opens you to caring. How does your behavior change when you allow actions to flow from listening instead of making assumptions prior to the action? Watch how the phrase interrupts reactive and impulsive thinking. Do you see the potential for changing many of your relationships through this intention?