Mindful Musings: Jan 21

“The Buddha’s Middle Way: A Lesson for our Times”

By: Forrest Rivers

people walking near buddha statue near trees at daytime

In Buddhism there is a philosophical doctrine called “The Middle Way.” This idea centers on the Buddha’s suggested method for spiritual enlightenment. The revered sage’s story is well known. Siddhartha Gautama, The Buddha, was an esteemed prince raised in the luxury of his father’s palace replete with all the material wealth and privileges bestowed upon men of royalty during his time. Though, his father had been told by an oracle that his son was destined for a life of sainthood outside the comforts of the palace, the young prince knew not of his destiny. That is, until one day while touring outside the kingdom, he saw for the first-time lepers wandering the streets, elderly people on the verge of death, and children begging for food . In response to witnessing human suffering, the Buddha grew disillusioned and resolved to discover the cause and remedy to suffering. As his karma would compel him, the Buddha then made the fateful decision to leave his life of luxury and become a wandering aesthetic or holy man.

After years of deep and intense searching that included enduring brutal physical austerities like prolonged periods of extreme fasting that nearly killed him, the former prince at last found his enlightenment while meditating under a bodhi tree for 49 days. Among one of the many profound truths that he found in his transcended state was the idea of the middle way or path to enlightenment. In stark contrast to his own path, the Buddha concluded that spiritual seekers should try and avoid either extreme of living in luxury or abusing their bodies in their quest for liberation. Instead the Buddha advocated for the virtues of balance and moderation in one’s path to enlightenment.

 Buddha’s middle way could easily be adopted as our guiding vision for the new year that is upon us. If the events of 2020 and the first few weeks of 2021 have taught us anything at all, it is that extreme thinking and action only increase our collective suffering. Recent and turbulent events like the January 6th storming of the US capitol by an angry mob of violent Donald Trump supporters, scenes of chaotic left wing riots that erupted during some of last summer’s BLM protests, the dangerous propagation of QAnon conspiracy theories by unscrupulous right-wing media outlets, the ongoing threats of violence posed by rabid militia groups in the US, as well as Big Tech companies’(like Facebook and Twitter) recent purge of certain conservative leaders on social media are at their core the result of extreme ways of thinking and reacting to the world around us. Each of these events are also representative of a people dangerously out of balance with the greater reality of living spirit. We should aspire to adopt moderation and balance in our discourse and actions when confronting divisive topics in the same manner that the Buddha advocated for the middle way in his suggested path to enlightenment. How might applying the middle way to our divisive environment positively reshape our reality?

First, through finding balance within we would truly learn to listen to the perspectives of those people who we disagree with. This doesn’t mean that we have to agree with everyone’s opinion from the “other side.” Rather, through walking the path of the middle way we would avoid judging, condemning, and ridiculing those with different beliefs from our own.

Second, applying the Buddha’s middle way to our collective predicament would help heal the fractured realities that exists to appalling degrees in nations like America. If we can learn to bring greater awareness, balance, and moderation to our discourse on divisive themes, we will succeed in rebuilding bridges between disparate groups and focus on our common humanity.

Third, following the path of the middle way will help each of us spot extremist thinking at its inception before it has the opportunity to fester in our communities and threaten our common decency, democracy, and goodwill. Regardless of our political, ethnic, or religious affiliations we will become skilled at calling out extremism in any of its forms or disguises if we embrace the principles of balance and moderation.

Finally, adopting the vision of the middle way will help the human race effectively respond to the very dire existential problems like climate change, deforestation, ecological destruction, and nuclear proliferation that transcends the contours of all the “isms” that currently separates us. How can we expect to rise to the occasion as one human family to address our greatest existential and planetary threats if we can’t even agree on the basic facts of a novel virus or the outcome of a contentious election?

The promise of brighter days ahead will be a matter of not if, but when humanity learns to avoid extremes in both thought and action. Let us all look deep within ourselves and embrace our own living Buddhas.

Mindful Musings

“The Power of Loving Kindness”

By: Forrest Rivers

Home 2018 - Buddha Weekly: Buddhist Practices, Mindfulness, Meditation

Two of the primary purposes of meditation is to learn to let go and to recognize one’s interconnection to all things. During this period of mass sickness and poverty, Metta is a profound meditation technique that at once achieves both goals. Metta roughly translates to “benevolence” or “loving Kindness” in Pali, and comes to us from the Buddhist tradition. The purpose of this exercise is to focus on cultivating and sending feelings of goodwill to all beings. I was first introduced to it at my first group meditation I ever attended. The session was led by an inspiring dharma teacher named Dave Smith. Smith, who has made it his life’s work to aid in the recovery of those with substance abuse issues, led us through a 20-minute Metta practice. In that first sitting, we were asked to imagine sending rays of love to all sentient beings. This guided meditation so moved my spirit and opened my heart that I began attending Dave’s Sunday evening session each week.

Looking back now on that fateful day in early 2013, I am amazed at how completely this simple yet meaningful practice touched my soul. After seven years of reflection on the power of Metta practice, I have come to realize why it is so impactful: loving kindness meditations simultaneously quiet our restless minds and open up our wayward hearts. In these times of fear and uncertainty, what could be more inspiring than sending our deepest wishes of love and goodwill to the planet when we wake up in the morning or go to bed at night?

Through the ages, it has been said by more than a few sages that meditation is the highest form of prayer because it breaks down the separation between the external world and our own soul’s inner yearning for peace and oneness. If it feels right for you, you might find the following COVID-19 adapted Metta practice helpful:

“Find a comfortable position either sitting cross-legged or on the floor or seated up right on a chair of your choosing. Then, slowly close your eyes and bring your awareness to the center of your heart as you begin to inhale and exhale long deep breaths. As you deeply breathe in and out, imagine filling your heart with pink or green light(colors of love) on the in breath and then imagine sending that same light out to the world from your heart on the out breath as you repeat these words to yourself: may all beings be free, may all beings find peace and may all beings be blessed with good health as this pandemic passes like the seasons.” Try this practice for 15-20 minutes. But by all means, feel free to do it for shorter or longer intervals than what I suggest if it feels more comfortable for you”.

Metta meditation has the power to heal our minds and hearts. Remarkably, too, it could also heal the whole world in a time when we are in desperate need of healing. Two studies on the power of loving kindness were conducted in Jerusalem and in Lebanon in the 1980s. In both studies, Scientific researchers found overwhelming evidence of a powerful link between the practice of mass metta(loving kindness) meditation circles and lower incidences of war. As originally reported and published in the academic journal of Conflict Resolution (1988), during days of high attendance at a peace meditation held in Jerusalem, war deaths in neighboring Lebanon decreased by 76 percent. On those days of intention filled Metta Practice, crime and traffic tickets in the near vicinity went down as well. Incredibly, the exact same study was replicated again (with even stricter controls) and produced the same results as reported in the academic journal of Social Behavior and Personality (2005).

If Metta meditation practice can bring peace to a war-torn people imagine what it could accomplish in terms of alleviating all suffering related to COVID-19! When love meets prayer full intentions the possibilities for the evolution of human consciousness are endless. However, one question does arise: how can one go about starting a meditation or prayer circle during a time that requires social distancing? Max Reif, an inspiring writer for the conscious writing collective, the Mindfulword,org, may have the answer. In one of his many thoughtful articles written for this online publication, Reif relates how he has learned to tap into virtual online spiritual communities through Zoom(the interactive web interface program that has soared in popularity during the crisis) to cultivate the feelings of loving kindness:

In Reif’s Words:

“I rise, as often as possible, at 5 a.m. At 6:30, I attend “Virtual Morning Arti,” an international Zoom gathering of Meher Baba devotees. We recite prayers, sing two spiritual anthems and then spend an hour sharing whatever songs, poems, messages or anecdotes people are inspired to contribute. This event often leads me to great heights of joy! While the external world continues its hard slog, my internal world is brought to a point of shining—more than before the pandemic I think.”

Maybe, we can all follow Reif’s example. Is it really a stretch for our imaginations to envision meditation circles popping up all over the world through virtual connections? I don’t think so. Besides spreading some much needed peace and love right now, the emergence of such gatherings(even if they are only virtual) will also inspire hope…..the true motor of the human experience.

 

Mindful Musings

“The Power of  Loving Kindness”

Meditation Circle|VC Reporter | Times Media Group

Two of the primary purposes of meditation is to learn to let go and to intuitively recognize one’s interconnection to all beings. During this period of mass sickness and poverty, Metta practice is a profoundly remarkable meditation exercise that at once achieves both goals. Metta roughly translates to “benevolence” or “loving Kindness in Pali”, and comes to us from the Buddhist tradition. The purpose of this practice is to focus on cultivating and sending feelings of goodwill to all beings. I was first introduced to this practice at my first group meditation I ever attended back in 2013. The session was led by an inspiring dharma teacher named Dave Smith. Smith, who has made it his life’s work to aid in the recovery of those with substance abuse  issues, led us through a 20 minute Metta practice in which we pictured sending rays of love to all sentient beings.

This guided meditation so moved my spirit and opened my heart that I began       attending Dave’s Sunday evening session each week. Looking back now on that fateful day in early 2013, I am amazed at how completely this simple yet meaningful practice touched my soul. After seven years of reflection on the power of Metta practice, I have come to realize why it is so impactful: loving kindness meditations simultaneously quiet our restless minds and open up our wayward hearts. In these times of existential fear and uncertainty, what could be more inspiring than sending our deepest wishes of love and goodwill to the planet when we wake up in the morning or go to bed at night?

Through the ages, it has been said by more than a few sages that meditation is the highest form of prayer because it breaks down the separation between the external world and our own soul’s inner yearning for peace and oneness. If it feels right for you, you might find the following COVID-19 adapted Metta practice helpful:

“Find a comfortable position either sitting cross-legged or on the floor or seated up right on a chair of your choosing. Then, slowly close your eyes and bring your awareness to the center of your heart and you begin to inhale and exhale long deep breaths. As you deeply breathe in and out, imagine filling your heart with pink or green light(colors of love) on the in breath and then on imagine sending that same light out to the world from your heart on the out breath as you repeat these words to yourself: may all beings be free, may all beings find peace and may all beings be blessed with good health and good fortune as this pandemic passes like the seasons.”

Try this practice for 15-20 minutes. But by all means, feel free to do it for shorter or longer intervals than what I suggest if it feels more comfortable for you.

Meditation has the power to heal our minds and hearts. Remarkably, too, it could also heal the whole world in a time when we are in desperate need of healing. In his book titled: The Hidden Messages in water, Japanese author and scientist Masaru Emoto showed how our human consciousness can affect the molecular structure of water. In his study, Emoto filled two glasses full with water from the exact same source. He and his assistants then repeated positive words and affirmations in a loving tone to one glass and repeated negative words and affirmations to the other glass for a period of time. Emoto then analyzed the water under a microscope and found that the glass of water that had received positive reinforcement appeared perfectly clear and highly crystallized. In contrast, he found that the glass of water that had received negative reinforcements appeared murky and polluted. Incredible results indeed!

In similar but much earlier studies conducted in Jerusalem and in Lebanon in the 1980s , scientific researchers found overwhelming evidence of a powerful link between the practice of Metta prayer circles and lower incidences of war. As originally reported and published in the academic journal of Conflict Resolution (1988), during days of high attendance at a peace mass meditation held in Jerusalem, war deaths in neighboring Lebanon decreased by 76 percent. On those days of intention filled Metta Practice, crime and traffic tickets in the near vicinity went down as well. Incredibly, the exact same study was replicated again (with even stricter controls) and produced the same results as reported in the academic journal of Social Behavior and Personality (2005).

If Metta practice can bring peace to a war-torn people imagine what it could accomplish in terms of alleviating all suffering related to COVID-19! When love meets prayerful intentions the possibilities for the evolution of human consciousness are endless!

Mindful Musings

A Meditation on Freedom During COVID-19

By: Forrest RiversSo What IS Spiritual Freedom? — Spirit Quest with LindaAs the United States begins relaxing stay at home orders it has made me reflect on the meaning of freedom in the age of COVID-19. During this period of self-quarantining and social distancing, freedom has come to mean many different things to people.

For the mostly conservative anti-shutdown protesters in the United States (and to a much lesser extent in Great Britain and Germany) freedom has meant the right to work and operate one’s own business without undue interference by government. For these protesters, it has also implied the liberty to make one’s own personal decisions free of state tyranny. Yet, for other folks, freedom has come to mean something different. For many liberal urbanites and senior citizens freedom has come to be seen as the right to be protected from the threats posed by others’ irresponsible actions. In the context of this pandemic, some shoppers’ insistence on not wearing face coverings in crowded public places is an example of such a threat.

Medical workers on the front line of fighting the virus have also arrived at their own unique understanding of freedom. My sister, who is an ER doctor, has expressed to me that she and other medical workers would just like the freedom to be able to perform their (very vital) jobs without encountering societal road blocks along the way. A prime example of such a road block, is the US Government’s colossal failure to provide an adequate number of personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing kits for hospitals.

In an inspiring development, a growing number of spiritual seekers, too, are coming to their own profound realization of freedom. In the context of the times, seekers of truth are regarding freedom as something that extends beyond the individual AND as one’s conscious choice to use their free will to alleviate the suffering of all beings. Such an understanding of freedom is akin, in a Christian sense, to being our brother’s keeper. And, in a Buddhist sense, rising to the level of becoming a Bodhisattva or one who devotes their life to service. This perception of freedom has everything to do with right intentions and challenges us to step outside ourselves and to flow with the great river of life. In the end, this acknowledgement of the interrelation of all things (oneness) is possibly the highest truth that mystics of every faith have discovered. Very fortunately for humanity, it appears that more people are beginning to understand that true freedom springs from an awareness that we are all connected. Below, are two powerful examples of this kind of freedom in action:

Example 1: My friend Jamie

For as long as I have known him, Jamie has been passionately devoted to the path of spirit and spreading the light of love. Recently, he began a live stream on Reddit centered on the themes of positivity and personal self-improvement. In just a few months, his platform has drawn up to 500 people at once from across the world. However, it is not the number of participants that matter in this story, but how Jamie has chosen to use his vehicle of expression to uplift others in this anxiety filled time. Recently, Jamie related a touching story to me about how he has been coaching (in his terms) one of his live stream participants through a difficult period of depression and sadness. Most significantly, Jamie revealed how this individual has been finding peace and comfort through their correspondences online. Incredibly enough, this participant lives in Australia! Jamie’s inspiring story is a testament to the fact that the vibrations of love can literally transcend the barriers of both time and space!

Example 2: My friend Austin

Austin has to be one of the kindest souls I have met in my life. And, as an inspiring musician, he has always succeeded in moving others to God through his creativity. During the thick of the stay at home orders, Austin could sense that his neighbors were feeling a little down from this extended period of isolation. So, he took out his guitar and started playing soulful melodies daily with the intention to uplift everyone around him. Austin brought so much joy to the people around him, that he received humbling letters of gratitude from some of his neighbors for spreading peace and love during an otherwise dark time for many.

The examples of Jamie and Austin are powerful reminders that you can still (responsibly) respect social distancing guidelines while positively impacting other beings through your freedom of choice to acknowledge the cosmic threads that tie us all together. In these unprecedented times of suffering and hardship, shift your perspective of freedom from what is good for you to what is also good for all your brothers in sisters!

Mindful Musings

“Some Thoughts on Zen”Zen Buddhism | Classification Wiki | Fandom

By: Forrest Rivers

Zen appears to have everything to do with being in tune to “What is”. It seems, that “what is” can only be understood through intuitive direct experience.  Immersed within one’s deeply personal and profound spiritual exploration, is the unspoken acknowledgement that we are all but flowing waves in an eternal ocean of being. There is no this or that…no concept of the creator or created. We are all already THAT. From the mystic’s vantage point, dualistic language is merely a conceptual tool we use to try and give expression to the clearly conscious and in graspable flow of life force energy that is at the source of everything in this universe.

True divinity, or awareness of the underlying reality, is found not though intellectual reasoning but through our own harmonic flow with the mysterious oneness that defines our essence. What Zen appears to strive for in practice, if it can even be said to strive after anything at all, is the abandonment of all rational approaches in knowing that supreme state of being. In learning to be present with “what is”, one transcends all concepts of “reality” and just knows like a wolf knows to howl, that they are a part of the indescribable and conscious whole.