Everyday Dharma Challenge: Week Seven

(normal text is Rebecca, italicized text is Lama Willa Miller)

Well here we are Buddhism fans, week seven of my “Everyday Dharma” challenge. This is the final week which covers self-discipline, enthusiasm, and wisdom. So far each week has still been manageable with regards to time you need to devote to it. Writing everything up takes much longer than actually doing any of the exercises from the book. I’m still struggling with the meditation. I’ll be curious to see if I keep trying to do it after I complete this week. Let’s dive in, shall we?

Day one discussed self-discipline, a thing I sorely lack. However, the self-discipline that Lama Willa talks about isn’t making sure you clean the bathroom or take out the garbage every week. This is spiritual self-discipline, which oddly I find less intimidating. Self-discipline with regards to “Everyday Dharma” is “the art of living life within spiritual boundaries.” The boundaries Lama Willa discusses are the Buddha’s ten moral imperatives: practice nonviolence, respect property, be sexually responsible, be honest and direct, speak with kindness, make peace, speak meaningfully, be loving and forgiving in spirit, be generous of heart, keep your perspective in line with truth. When you give any of these any thought, you realize that they’re much harder than they appear at first glance. However, still easier than me cleaning the apartment weekly! The exercise was to pick three moral imperatives to observe the rest of the week. These can be Buddha’s or of your own design. I picked be honest and direct, be loving and forgiving in spirit, be generous of heart. They seem simple enough on paper, much more challenging to do.

Good choices. Moral imperatives are rich ways of working with our daily habits of body and mind. The purpose of working with moral imperatives is not about trying to be perfect, but about developing mindfulness. Mindfulness is a simply a state of paying attention. When we carry around a moral imperative, we begin to become more mindful of our actions, our speech and our internal attitudes. So, for example, Rebecca is working with being more honest and direct. When we carry a vow like that around, we begin to think about our speech. We start to pay attention to the subtleties of what we say, and our reflex habits of responding in conversation. For example, when someone asks me, “How’s it going?”, I may answer “fine” just out of habit, even though I am feeling lousy. By doing this, it may seem as if I am saving the other person the burden of my troubles. But what if I really told him or her that I am having a hard day? It might open up a whole different direction in our conversation. It might help us connect in a more real and straightforward way. Because it feels hard, we don’t always try this kind of openness. But if we don’t try it, we don’t discover what will happen. Honesty is not always easy. But it a deep practice to try to live with honesty. It builds self-discipline internally, and it makes you a more trustworthy friend.

Day two dealt with enthusiasm and how battling laziness and complacency are key to a spiritual practice. The exercise for the day was working with discouragement. You say what you’re discouraged about, then the reasons you’re falling short, and finally you reevaluate these reasons. I will readily admit to being discouraged, unfortunately I find I can’t sum it up as a simple statement of thing. I suspect that many people would agree with me that sometimes things aren’t so easy to define.

This is a good point and I’m glad you brought it up, Rebecca. This can go on the list for things to explore more here if there is ever a second edition! Actually, if there is ever another edition, it will probably not resemble the first one all that much. It is interesting that once you write something, you discover that there is another, completely different book inside you.

Back to discouragement. There’s a certain kind of sluggishness that goes along with discouragement. Perhaps that is why the Buddha classified it as a type of laziness. When we are feeling discouraged, we just feel frozen. It is easy to complain about the external conditions. These conditions are making us feel discouraged. Or our we take the problem on ourselves: We feel inadequate, and that makes us feel discouraged.

But, there is a usefulness to discouragement. We can look at discouragement as a kind of internal constellation in which we temporarily forget the powerful potential of our own will. When we forget our will, it seems as if we cannot change conditions. But if we use the experience of discouragement as a way of remembering, it becomes like a spur. Just by noticing we are feeling discouraged, we take the first step. From noticing comes remembering. What we remember is that we possess will. When we remember the power of will, discouragement spurs us to reconfigure our priorities, think creatively and take action. If we see can see a part of discouragement that spurs, it helps us reclaim our power from external conditions. With that reclaimed power, we can come up with solutions and alternatives, and find a reserve to keep going in the face of difficulties.

Day three was about the important qualities of curiosity, carefulness, and concentration, and how they support enthusiasm. Although Lama Willa discusses these three things, it is concentration that the day was really about. Meditation requires concentration, a thing that I lack. My mind does not like to quiet down and often it feels as if it fights me the whole way. The exercise was practicing meditation while gazing at an object. I have found that meditating with my eyes open has helped prior to now. Adding an object does not make it any easier or harder.

Generally, Tibetan forms of instruction recommend meditation with eyes open. At first, this can seem distracting to some individuals. But after awhile, the mind learns to settle down with a visual field. Open eyes let in light, leaving the mind brighter and more alert. Because you are more alert, dullness does not sneak as easily into your meditation. In addition, the open-eyed gaze mirrors our ordinary, waking experience, so meditation is more easily integrated into life off the cushion. Open eyes lead to open.

Day four was the first of three days dealing with wisdom. “Wisdom,” Lama Willa explains, “in Buddhism, does not refer only to kitchen-table wisdom. It refers to that part of our mind that knows truth – not partial truths, but the whole truth.” It’s difficult to sum up the whole of what she was talking about, but I’ll give it a try. Essentially truth can only be understood through the nondual wisdom in which the knower (you) and the known (truth) become one. You find this in losing yourself, being in the zone. The exercise was to perform a simple repetitive activity and try to become absorbed in it and become one with the activity. This is harder than it sounds!

This exercise is a practice of meditation in motion, or active meditation. Ironically, active meditation is best accomplished when you just let go completely into what you are doing. That means not even trying to be absorbed in your activity. As long as we are trying to be absorbed, that state will avoid us. But you have to start somewhere, so you begin by trying to become absorbed. Eventually, you need to let the activity “do” you.

Day five discussed wisdom as being innate. That’s right folks, right now you are wise. Not a wise ass. Lama Willa explains, “Innate wisdom is more than an idea; it exists within and of you. It is too intimate to be known with mind, because it is the mind, in its quintessential sense. Wisdom is awareness, the bare, naked, aware, conscious nature of mind.” Therefore your wisdom is your awareness. The exercise for the day was to meditate on your essence, your awareness. As per usual, I struggled with my chattering mind. I must be hyper aware! Look at all the nonsense in my head!

You have showed perseverance these past several weeks! Meditation is not even about making thought go away, but about discovering a new relationship to thought. Contrary to how it may seem, mental chattering is a normal and natural experience when you begin meditation. At first, it seems as if the clattering will simply not slow down, and it seems as if it is preventing us from meditating. But if we persist in practice, two extraordinary things happen. I say “extraordinary” because these things really change us on a deep level.

First, over time and with practice, we get more skilled in relaxation. As we learn to relax physically more deeply when we sit down to meditate, our mind begins to relax and let go. As our mind relaxes, our mind’s chatter settles out. It becomes more like a flow, rather than incessant agitation. Still, it does not go away.

Which brings us to the second thing that happens. Thought does not go away, but as we develop a regular practice, we gradually discover that thought and meditation can peacefully co-exist. The mind can be focusing on something—like your breathing for example—and still experience thought, without getting hooked by thought. Even though thought occurs, it does not disturb the focus necessarily. The only thing that becomes disturbing is when we get “caught” by a thought and follow after it. What we discover here is that focus, and the mental tranquility that comes from focusing, can co-exist with thought. In short, it is possible find a reservoir of peacefulness under the waves of the chattering mind and learn to rest there. It seems hard to believe that this could happen when you first start to meditate. That is why persistence is critical.

Day six examined the three qualities of awareness: luminosity (In this case, “it does not mean that awareness is glowing with some kind of physical light. Awareness is simply and naturally a light unto itself. While experiences change, the light-unto-itself quality of the mind does not.), emptiness (“To say that awareness has the quality of emptiness means that, while awareness is luminous, it is not a thing. It has no inherent identity.), and unimpededness (To say awareness is unimpeded means that awareness is without limits or without an edge). The thing that Lama Willa stresses is that awareness is all of these things at the same time. So if what you’re experiencing in your awareness has all three qualities, then you know you’re onto something. The exercise for the day was again meditation looking for these qualities. As you probably expect by now, it did not go so well for me. It did help to have something I’m supposed to think about, but that focus didn’t last.

Keep it up. It takes time for meditation practice to unfold. I hope that in these seven weeks, you have “tasted” your inner Buddha!

Day seven was processing the journey. This day was about reflecting on the past seven weeks. The exercise was essentially to examine what you’ve done, what practices you will continue, what goals to set, etc. Let’s talk about this next week with my big ol’ summary/book review type article, okay? It’s agreed then, see you all next week.

Congratulations Rebecca on completing the course! It has been a wonderful and educational journey for me to be witness to your responses, your persistent practice and your enthusiasm!

About Lama Willa:
Lama Willa Miller is a meditation teacher in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. She has studied and practiced meditation for the last twenty years, training with Venerable Kalu Rinpoche, Venerable Dilgo Khentse Rinpoche, Lama Norlha Rinpoche, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso Rinpoche, Bokar Rinpoche, and other teachers.

She completed two seminary trainings [three-year retreats] at Kagyu Thubten Choling in upstate New York, becoming authorized as a lama, a Buddhist minister, upon completion of her training. Before and after her retreats, she spent time in Nepal, Tibet, and India, studying Buddhism and engaging in service work.

She currently lives in Arlington, MA with her husband and two dogs, where she writes, teaches Tibetan Buddhist practice and meditation, principally with Natural Dharma Fellowship. She is also working towards a PhD at Harvard University.

Lama Willa is author of the book “Everyday Dharma: Seven Weeks to Finding the Buddha in You” (2009, Quest Books), a practical guide for getting started on the spiritual path. Visit her website here.

To follow Lama Willa on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/lamawilla.

On Facebook? Join the Everyday Dharma Facebook group

10 Questions with Jason Pitzl-Waters

1. For my readers who are unfamiliar with you and your website The Wild Hunt, what is The Wild Hunt and how did it’s creation come about?

The Wild Hunt is a daily-updated blog focusing on news and opinion of interest to the modern Pagan community and its allies. I started it out of the frustration that there wasn’t a site like The Wild Hunt for me to read, so I ending up being the change I wanted to see in the world. Six-plus years later, here I am, still looking for and reporting on Pagan news.

2. As a less thorough and less prolific web writer I’m curious, how many hours a week do you put into The Wild Hunt?

Per week? On a “light” week I spend maybe twenty hours, sometimes more. It depends. Most days I usually spend at least three hours in the morning reading through my news feeds, deciding what goes on the site that day, and then writing it. When I’m doing first-person reporting or interviews it can take a lot longer. I nearly pulled an all-nighter not too long ago, but I value my sleep and try to avoid that.

3. How do you decide what news stories to discuss on your site?

A very good question! I try to pick what I feel are the most “newsworthy” story (or stories) of the day, the ones that I feel will have deep ramifications for modern Pagans in some form or another. So, for example, an update on an important legal case would take precedence over a routine “meet the Pagans” article. It’s a daily judgment call. I avoid trying to be exhaustive; Wren’s Nest at Witchvox does a far better job of that than I do.

4. You’ve covered many topics on The Wild Hunt, what do you feel are some of the more important articles you’ve done?

I think the current case involving Patrick McCollum and the “five faiths” policy in California is hugely important, and I’m proud of the work I’ve done covering it. Dan Halloran’s candidacy and win, and the growth of out Pagans in the political sphere is an ongoing concern. I also think the legal struggles of Santeria in the United States, which I’ve covered extensively, will have ongoing reverberations for all minority faiths, including ours, in the future.

5. Have you ever experienced backlash from any of the Pagan communities due to topics you’ve addressed?

Some, but not a lot, and nothing that got too personal. I don’t please everyone all the time, but I think I have a general track record of being fair in my assessments, and willing to entertain perspectives that I may not personally agree with.

6. What challenges do you see facing the Pagan/Heathen community? How can the community resolve those issues?

Our biggest challenge will be how we continue to handle our growth and (inevitable) entrance into the mainstream of modern culture. Many of the legal cases, conflicts, and big stories I cover stem, in one way or another, from the friction of a “Christian” society dealing with religions that don’t fit into an easily understandable monotheistic framework like Judaism or Islam. This is largely unavoidable, and the best thing we can do is continually engage the world around us, the people we live among, and be “out” about who were are and what we believe in.

7. Tell everyone a little bit about The Pagan Newswire Collective and Pagan + Politics.

The Pagan Newswire Collective is an open collective working to build a better Pagan journalism on step at a time. The ultimate goal being to create a true Pagan-run newswire that can bring news to a variety of Pagan media outlets. A first step has been the creation of topic-focused group blogs to engage and discuss important issues. Hence Pagan+Politics, our political-themed projects, and its sister sites, Warriors & Kin, dealing with Pagans in the military, and The Juggler, dealing with Pagan themes in the arts and pop-culture. Beyond that, we are looking to start building local bureaus that will start gathering and sharing news about their communities, to really engage modern Paganism in telling its own story.

8. Are there other projects that you’re working on that my readers should be looking out for?

See above, regarding the just-launching Warriors & Kin and The Juggler blogs. There’s more to come from the PNC, so keep your eyes peeled! I’ll also be at the Pagan Spirit Gathering in June to discuss the future of Pagan media, and I hope to engage my fellow Pagans at future gatherings as well.

9. What is your favorite interpretation/telling of The Wild Hunt?

I’m a big fan of Herne the Hunter, my favorite wild huntsman.

Sometime a keeper here in Windsor Forest,
Doth all the winter-time, at still midnight,
Walk round about an oak, with great ragg’d horns;
And there he blasts the tree, and takes the cattle,
And makes milch-kine yield blood, and shakes a chain
In a most hideous and dreadful manner.
You have heard of such a spirit, and well you know
The superstitious idle-headed eld
Receiv’d, and did deliver to our age,
This tale of Herne the Hunter for a truth.
— William Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor

10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question!

What do you feel is the most important story within modern Paganism that isn’t getting covered? As a journalist I’d love to know!

That’s actually a rough question because you get there first. I find more relevant, topical news stories on The Wild Hunt than anywhere else. Rarely do I stumble across something I think is noteworthy in Google News that you haven’t already touched on, or you do so the next day. And now with The Pagan Newswire Collective even more stories will be told and made available. Personally, I’m just excited to watch this whole thing evolve. However, if any of my readers have thoughts about things for The Wild Hunt to cover, leave it in the comments section for Jason to see.

About Jason:
Since launching “The Wild Hunt” in 2004, Jason Pitzl-Waters has become one of
the leading voices for analysis and insight into how modern Pagan faiths are
represented within the mainstream media. In addition, “The Wild Hunt” has also
conducted in-depth interviews with prominent figures within modern Paganism, academia, and religion journalism. Jason wants to raise the level of discourse and journalism on important issues within the modern Pagan and Heathen communities, while advocating a broader commitment to encouraging religious multiplicity and solidarity (where appropriate) with surviving indigenous and non monotheistic faith groups.

In addition to his work with The Wild Hunt, Jason has also written for newWitch Magazine, PanGaia Magazine, Thorn Magazine, and Llewellyn Worldwide. He also maintains a weekly podcast entitled “A Darker Shade of Pagan” that explores underground music from a Pagan perspective.

Jason is a former Board of Director member of Cherry Hill Seminary, and is coordinating The Pagan Newswire Collective, an open collective of Pagan journalists, newsmakers, media liaisons, and writers who are interested in sharing and promoting primary-source reporting from within our interconnected communities.

A Letter: To My Letters

Back in July 2008, when we relaunched The Magical Buffet in it’s shiny new blog format, the first article we published was “A Letter: Part One“. This was about a letter that I sent to then President George W. Bush, Senator John McCain, Senator Hillary Clinton, Senator Chuck Schumer and then Senator Barack Obama about the situation in Zimbabwe. You may also recall that I didn’t get a single response, not so much as a form letter from any of them.

Then, when Senator Barack Obama became President Barack Obama I sent a new letter. This was discussed in my article “A Letter: Part Two“. All of my complaining about not getting even a form letter from before was rewarded with the lame form postcard that I received in response. In “A Letter: The End of an Era?” I shared that I had contacted Secretary Clinton about Zimbabwe, and again received no response, but I did get an anti-climatic postcard from the White House.

However, just when I thought I had hit the end of my letter writing endeavors, I had a mischievous epiphany, I could send a letter to United Nation’s Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon! “A Letter: Part Four” outlined my thoughts on this. As I should expect by now, no response, not even a form letter.

I’m not sure if he sent it to make me feel better, or to kick me while I was down (I suspect a combination of both.), but not too long ago my father sent me a link to Govtrack.us. Specifically a link to their page of tips for communicating with Congress, which I read. While reading it I found that they got information from The Congressional Management Foundation’s 2005 project “Communicating with Congress: How Capitol Hill is Coping with the Surge in Citizen Advocacy“. It was only 46 pages, no House healthcare bill for sure, so I read it too.

I learned a lot from these websites, and thanks to what I’ve learned, I feel that several apologies are in order. No, I’m not apologizing to my elected officials or Secretary-General Ban. They can kiss my ever widening butt. No, the apologies go to those most wronged by my whole letter writing agenda, the letters themselves.

5/25/10

Dear Letters I’ve Written to Officials,

I hope this letter finds you well. I understand that you’ve had a rough couple of years. I can only imagine how humiliating it has been for you to be put on public display and then have your communication failures also published for the world to see. Believe me when I say, you’re in no way responsible for any of it. The truth is, it looks like this is the inevitable end that most letters reach. Sad but true. To make amends for the trials I have put you all through, I’d like to make a few overdue public apologies to you and yours.

To the Letters that I sent to my elected officials – I thought the fact that I took the time to write and mail a letter would give my communication some weight, not realizing that in the last decade the amount of letters sent to Congress has quadrupled, while the staff sizes are still roughly what they were in the 1980s. Trying to declare that my letter would be read would be equivalent to announcing that Tilda Swinton (who by the way I think looks great in this clip) is going to win this year’s Fug Madness only to find out she isn’t even in the running! It seems like a given, but that’s before you realize how less Swinton-like Tilda has been as of late, and how heinous almost every actress on the CW dressed this year. So yes, in this scenario, you, my Letters, are Tilda Swinton getting lost in a sea of poorly dressed television actresses.

However, it isn’t just about the competition, because you are the finest batch of letters I’ve written in my life and I’d hazard a guess far better than any letter received on any given day on “the Hill”. I thought that the oddity of you, the fact that you were sent from a total nobody in nowhere New York would illicit a level of curiosity, that you would captivate. Yes Letters, you’re still Tilda Swinton in this scenario. What I didn’t understand was that one letter, regardless of craftsmanship, is just one single letter. How was I to know that in order for you to get any level of respect you needed other letters, coming from other people, to make it part of “a movement” and thus worthy of at least being tallied.

Before you judge me harshly dear Letters, know that if too many of you had been sent to one office, especially with the same text, you would have almost immediately been thrown away. There is a fine line that must be walked between being part of a movement and becoming form letter garbage. Even if thrown away Letters, you were probably handled with far more respect than the emails that I send on behalf of the ACLU. It turns out that many Congressional staffers assume that I’m not even the one who clicked “send” on those. And God bless the faxed letters, for they too meet a quick end.

Here we are Letters, at what may truly be the end of our relationship. I’m uncertain as to how to proceed. I’ve for so long considered you to be the superior means of communicating with elected officials, I’m not sure how to go on without you. Going forward it may be emails, although they have their downsides too. Perhaps I can hand deliver some of you at some point, it’s hard to say. Just know this Letters, none of this is your fault. It’s not you, it’s the system you’re forced to exist in.

I hope we can still get together from time to time and reminisce about our past adventures.

Love Always,
Rebecca

P.S. Letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, I’ve got nothing for you. I thought we were in for a good time, but alas I was mistaken. Secretly I had hoped that a couple of nice men in blue helmets with assault rifles were going to visit me and ask about my letter because, let’s face it, you can’t buy that kind of press. I think it’s safe to say that your mission was a failure, and sadly, we’ll never know how it all went so wrong.

Everyday Dharma Challenge: Week Six

(normal text is Rebecca, italicized text is Lama Willa Miller)

It’s that time again! The “Everyday Dharma” challenge is back! This is where I’m sharing my progress of going through the book “Everyday Dharma: Seven Weeks to Finding the Buddha in You” by Lama Willa Miller. Week six was about growing your assets. Padmasambhava, who brought Buddhism to Tibet, developed a list of seven assets that are mastered on the path to awakening. These are trust, contentment, conscience, integrity, self-discipline, enthusiasm, and wisdom. I had the sneaking suspicion that this would not be any easy week!

Day one discussed trust because as Lama Willa says, “Trust is important for the spiritual path in that it is like a key. It opens the mind to possibility for growth and evolution.” There was a focus on trying to have a more open and flexible mind like a child’s. The exercise for the day was to enter into the state of mind that you had as a young child. Now I can get in touch with what I call “my inner 13 year-old” pretty easily, however rolling back to a true childlike state of trust is a bit more challenging. I can feel it in fleeting moments.

At some level, though it might be a deep level, we remember when the world was new to us. There was a time, as children, when we woke up to a world when we did things for the first time: we touched snow for the first time, or went on our first merry-go-round. As time goes on, however, we start to think we have experienced things before, that the world’s newness and novelty has worn off. From the point of view of our day to day experience, this might seem to be true. But it is worth pausing a moment and examining this. This is a perspective that relies on our memories of what we experienced before, but not so much on what we are experiencing now. When we look at things from the point of view of what we are experiencing now, however, we find a new way of being. From the point of view of this moment, things are fresh. We have never experienced this moment before. This moment is fresh, new, alive and completely unique. This very configuration of sounds and sights and feelings is fresh. This moment of touching snow, for example, is like touching it for the first time. Tibetan Buddhist teachings have a word for this. The word is “soma”, which means fresh and new. When we experience the world through the lens of “soma”, nothing is boring or old. The deeper truth is that the world is still new to us. When we get in touch with the wide-eyed openness we had as a child, we are actually more in touch with truth.

Day two was about how to trust wisely. This was about people and things are provisionally trustworthy and ultimately trustworthy. Anyone or thing that helps you on your spiritual path is trustworthy, however due to the impermanent and fluid nature of everything, these are only provisionally trustworthy. However wisdom-nature, yours and others, are ultimately trustworthy because wisdom-nature never departs. Lama Willa also explains the three developmental stages of trust that the Buddha taught: intuition, confidence, and certainty. The exercise for the day was to consider the things you can trust provisionally and ultimately in your own life.

I think it is important for us, as human beings to find a place of refuge in our lives. We need to feel safe and secure to flourish, to live up to our full potential. Unfortunately, we often take refuge in the wrong things, giving our heart and soul away to something unreliable and ephemeral, such as an addiction, money or an individual. Wise trust is an attitude the recognizes that our deepest place of trust is not in the ephemeral and changing world or in any one individual, but in our internal, unchanging wisdom-nature, or Buddha-nature. This is place of refuge that is deep and reliable, even when the world is going to pieces around us.

Because other people also have this wisdom-nature, we have good reason to trust them. But we also need to be wise about that trust, and not invest our heart and soul blindly. Confident relationships are based on a realistic point of view that takes things slowly. We have to know what and who we are trusting, even while looking beneath the surface to recognize their deeper nature, the one that mirrors our own.

Day three examined contentment. Lama Willa explains that “contentment in Tibetan is chok shepa, literally ‘knowing enough’. It means being satisfied with whatever you have, knowing that you do not need that new car, that big house, that person to make yourself content. Spiritual contentment implies being carefree, unattached, and unencumbered.” To achieve this Lama Willa discusses the practice called “equal taste”, which is working to realize that although suffering and happiness appear different; their core is a single taste, a single essence that transcends difference. The exercise for the day was to examine times when you’re happy or sad and look beyond the feeling to the core of the experiencer. This one really stumped me. I mean, I suppose when I’m happy I’m me, and when I’m sad I’m still me. So I am the same person regardless of the emotion I’m experiencing. However, I find happy and sad to be too far apart from each other to find an “equal taste”.

Don’t give up! Keep probing the question. When you are happy, try turning your mind inwards and asking “who is experiencing this state of happiness?” In other words, try to “see” the experiencer directly. When you are in a sad mood, try the same thing. You cannot think your way to an answer here. This is an intuitive exercise, not an analytical one. You actually have to try to catch the “I” that is experiencing pleasure or pain directly in the moment by looking inwards. The point is not to see the relative, constructed self [that person who is made up of our name, our age, our identity] but instead to see the experiencer of the emotion of happiness or the emotion of suffering right in the raw moment. We are not looking at the emotion, but looking at the experiencer of the emotion, so it does not matter how far apart the states of emotion are. The experiencer is still there. It is this mysterious “I” that we are looking at.

Day four was about appreciation helping cut through discontent. When you are discontented Lama Willa offers two methods to help. The first method is the path of analysis. Instead of obsessing over what you are not content with, ask yourself if you can do anything to change the situation for the better. If the answer is yes, there is no point in obsessing about it. If the answer is no, there is no point in obsessing about it because there is nothing you can do to change the situation. The second method is to interrupt your inner dialogue and think about the things you may normally overlook, but cherish in your life. Lama Willa says, “If you have to obsess, appreciate obsessively.” The exercise for the day was to consider the things you appreciate and think about what your life would be like without these things. This will help fill you with appreciation. From my experience, it works. Although I’m a worrier by nature, so it’s sometimes tough to derail my mind.

There is so much in every person’s life to be grateful for. Tangible things like food and clothing, and intangible things such as little daily interactions and coming home to our family. I was recently reading an article by some psychologists on gratitude. These researchers have found evidence that people who are grateful for their life, their friends and their family tend to also be (measureably!) happier and healthier.

Day five dealt with your conscience. According to Lama Willa, “Conscience, as a spiritual asset, is a moral radar that intuits right and wrong. Since a spiritual journey is focused on serving humanity, intuiting right and wrong comes down to intuiting help and harm.” Essentially we’re here to help and serve our fellow man; if we can’t help we should at least focus on not causing harm. We should endeavor to develop a spiritual gentleness. The exercise for the day is to identify your hard social edges, the mental, verbal, and physical patterns that put a wall between yourself and others. You’re then supposed to envision yourself softening and imagining an encounter where you let go of that habit. This is actually very complex for me. I suspect that my sarcasm could be said is something that creates hard edges and potentially builds walls, however, I think that most people who know me would argue that this is not the case. I certainly don’t think I use sarcasm in that way.

I think of a sense of humor as being a generally flexible and intuitive quality. But I suppose, as in the case of sarcasm and satire, it might be “edgy” as well. For the most part, we can rely on our internal feelings for this exercise. In Day 5, we pay attention to those moments when we feel rigid and tight inside. When we feel rigid and tight, that is sometimes an indicator of something in us that is blocked and not flowing easily. At these moments, our “hard edges” reveal themselves to us. When we act and speak at those moments, we sometimes inadvertently shut people out or shut them down. I notice this kind of rigid energy in myself sometimes when I feel anticipatory, such as before speaking in front of a group. Or when we are challenged by a situation or person, this rigid resistance comes up in the mind. The practice of “softening”, as taught by Atisha, is helpful to dissolve our rigid ways of acting, speaking and thinking. In this exercise we change our energy from rigid and fearful to receptive, compassionate and responsive. It takes self-awareness cultivated on a daily basis to begin to identify the rigid mind creeping up, and to replace it with a softer more spacious mind-frame.

Day six was about your spiritual integrity. “Spiritual integrity is the quality of being that prioritizes the transference of dreams into reality, the quality of being that does not settle for less than becoming transparent, honest, and whole now, or at least in the near future,” writes Lama Willa. She doesn’t tell you to radically overhaul your life all at once, but instead to make small changes and take small risks to help you live your life in harmony with the intentions and aspirations that you value most. The exercise was to reflect on if your life reflects the values that you hold most dearly. You’re then to decide on one small risk you’re willing to take this week to help bring your life more in line with your aspirations and intentions. I’ll be honest with all of you, I couldn’t figure out a small risk to take. I don’t feel like I’m living my life absolutely fully to my ideals, but apparently I’m close enough that I can’t think of anything small to try right now.

For me, the small risks sometimes come not in the form of doing, but rather of undoing. Many of us (especially those of us with a “yes” that leaps out of our mouths, seemingly with a mind of its own) can have a tendency to take on too much. It can feel risky to let go of that extra something that is taking our energy and focus away the core commitments of our life. For that kind of person, taking small risks can be just saying “no” sometimes, cutting down on the quantity of our activities, and focusing more on doing some deeply meaningful and fulfilling activities well, rather than many things poorly.

Day seven explored self-inquiry. Lama Willa states that “asking the question (who am I?) is an essential Buddhist practice because, no matter how good we are at philosophical speculation, we all live, breathe, act, speak, and function as if we believed in the existence of a self. That would not be so terrible, except that clinging to the notion of self causes our greatest sufferings and is the single biggest hindrance to developing universal love. It is the barrier that keeps us from recognizing out interdependence with the rest of humanity.” Repeatedly asking yourself, who am I, while in meditation is one of the best ways loosen your habit of grasping at your character traits, body and thoughts as if they were a solid self. You see your selflessness. The exercise for the day was to meditate and then abruptly ask yourself who is meditating. I must just not be there yet, because this did nothing but make me feel self-conscious and awkward. Maybe with time….

Yes, this takes time. Sometimes following along with a guided meditation makes the meditation of self-inquiry easier. Here’s a link to this meditation [and others from the book] on is iTunes!

This week has certainly given me a lot to reflect on! Stay tuned for the last week!

See you next week, Rebecca!

About Lama Willa:
Lama Willa Miller is a meditation teacher in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. She has studied and practiced meditation for the last twenty years, training with Venerable Kalu Rinpoche, Venerable Dilgo Khentse Rinpoche, Lama Norlha Rinpoche, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso Rinpoche, Bokar Rinpoche, and other teachers.

She completed two seminary trainings [three-year retreats] at Kagyu Thubten Choling in upstate New York, becoming authorized as a lama, a Buddhist minister, upon completion of her training. Before and after her retreats, she spent time in Nepal, Tibet, and India, studying Buddhism and engaging in service work.

She currently lives in Arlington, MA with her husband and two dogs, where she writes, teaches Tibetan Buddhist practice and meditation, principally with Natural Dharma Fellowship. She is also working towards a PhD at Harvard University.

Lama Willa is author of the book “Everyday Dharma: Seven Weeks to Finding the Buddha in You” (2009, Quest Books), a practical guide for getting started on the spiritual path. Visit her website here.

To follow Lama Willa on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/lamawilla.

On Facebook? Join the Everyday Dharma Facebook group.

Astrology’s Last Stand: The Science of Celestial Influence

By Tony Cartledge

The planets are in us.
Paracelsus

Astrology’s chances to qualify as a true science seem to be dead, but a small door of possibility remains open

Astrology has been a mainstay of spiritual seekers for close to four thousand years. It is one of those spiritual tools that are simply accepted without question as a reliable window into the soul and the soul’s journey on earth. Such spiritual maps are somehow exempt from critical investigation, yet the great 20th century mystic G I Gurdjieff said that critical thinking was an essential requirement on the path to awakening, and that gullibility was one of modern man’s most serious obstacle to seeing the truth about himself and the world.

Astrology has been subjected to hundreds of controlled scientific tests and has failed almost every one. Some of the more high-profile tests have been undertaken not by critics, but by astrologers and their supporters in order to find true scientific proof, so the charge of prejudiced scepticism can not be used as an excuse.

The significance and value of astrology seems to me to fall into two camps – let’s call them the ‘mechanists’ and the ‘humanists.’ Humanists believe astrology’s value is primarily therapeutic and diagnostic, while mechanists also look for real and verifiable effects according to current laws of physics.

For the humanist, there is more to astrology than being true or false. For most people, astrology works if it provides meaning. Faith needs no facts: it is all a matter of belief. A warm and sympathetic astrologer provides easily accessible therapy that gives emotional comfort, spiritual support, and intellectual stimulation. A caring astrologer provides personal support and affordable sage advice.

However, if you demand of the cosmos some form of empirical evidence of its influences, then you embark on a more rigorous and challenging road. But it’s a road already littered with the unsuccessful attempts in the search for proof. Astrology has failed almost every test of the more than 600 it has been subjected to. With one possible exception.

Michel Gauquelin tested hundreds of thousands of subjects in numerous experiments to prove that the planets influence character. His results are still disputed by most scientists, despite the sheer mass of experiments undertaken and the unexpected results.

It may now be possible to approach the Gauquelin findings from a fresh, new angle. The Gauquelin planetary types bear a remarkable similarity to a scheme of types discovered by mystic and author Rodney Collin, a student of the Russian polymath and mystic Peter Ouspensky, a pupil of Gurdjieff. This system of planetary types has been a tool in esoteric schools since at least the beginning of the Christian era.

What distinguishes these types from other schemes is the connection made by Collin between the ancient astrological archetypes and the endocrine types of veteran endocrinologist Dr Louis Berman. The endocrine glands strongly influence physiology and psychology, giving a very definite physical shape and character, and were seen by Collin as the physical link to the planetary world. The link between planets and man are the endocrine glands via resonant frequencies. Each gland is tuned to the frequencies of the planets.

Given the easily identifiable physical characteristics of these types – eg, Martial types often have red hair, Jovial males are prone to baldness, Saturnine types have long bones and are usually the tallest – it has now become possible to subject the planetary types to statistical tests that prove to be more accurate than Gauquelin’s original experiments. This new research into the Science of Celestial Influence has attracted the interest of innovative astrologer AT Mann and veteran researcher Dr Geoffrey Dean. The experimental results of the Science of Celestial Influence have been examined by Dr Dean and have shown enough promise that more experiments are being set up to establish once and for all whether the planets influence life on earth.

The planetary types have their origins in ancient Harran, the birthplace of Gnostic Mandeanism and the mystery schools of Mithraism, but are echoed in the endocrine types of Louis Berman, which gives us one foot in ancient esotericism and the other in science. Astrology and science have never really been able to forge a successful partnership in the past: this may be astrology’s last and best chance of establishing a ‘physics’ of celestial influence.

THE SEVEN TYPES

The seven ‘organic’ planetary/endocrine types that are the foundation of the research are unique in human typology and offer profound insights into human nature and behaviour. For the student of self-knowledge, they are the most accurate map to understanding oneself.

The Saturnine/anterior pituitary type: the paternalist/teacher/leader; the tallest of all types, with long bones, high cheek-bones, a strong jaw, and high forehead.

The Martial/adrenal type: the warrior/fighter/defender/destroyer; small, muscular, robust and strongly built. They often have a short, thick neck on rounded but powerful shoulders and a large chest, a strong jaw-line and chin and often a pale or ruddy or freckled complexion, with red hair or blonde hair and blue eyes.

The Jovial/posterior pituitary type: the maternalist/humanitarian; a large frame and a big waist on top of thin legs, the men often have thick, bushy eyebrows and are prone to baldness, and both men and women have poor eyesight and more Jovials wear glasses than any other type.

The Lunar/pancreas type: the hermit/dreamer/clerk
The classic Lunar is small and thin with soft and rounded features. Their complexion is very pale and the chin is receding or always small in proportion to the rest of the face.

The Venusian/parathyroid type: the libertine/nurturer
The pure Venusian has gracefully rounded, shapely or well-balanced features, and a soft, rubenesque voluptuousness, with abundant and wavy hair, nearly always black or dark brown.

The Mercurial/thyroid type: the thinker/performer
The classic Mercurial type is short, wiry, and compact, with an angular face. They are tidy and fastidious and it shows in their grooming; the men with facial hair nearly always opt for goatee beards, and thin moustaches.

The Solar/thymus type: the eternal child
The classic Solar is small, thin and waif-like, with a light, supple, childlike body, a slender waist, little body hair. They are distinctly androgynous with transparent, “milk and roses” skin, delicate features and delicate health.

About the Author:
Tony Cartledge is the author of “Planetary Types: the Science of Celestial Influence,” a critical look at astrology, and scientific research into a unique approach to planetary influences. http://planetarytypes.com.au He was born in Victoria, Australia and currently lives in Bundaberg, Queensland, four hours north of Brisbane, where he works as an advertising features writer and page designer for the local newspaper. He is currently working on a book that further explores the intersection of belief and reality, of science and spirituality, critically examining many hitherto accepted tenets of the spiritual path.

A Magical Buffet of Authors

It started simple enough, author Deborah Blake sent me an email saying she was going to be in the Saratoga Springs, NY area and did I know of anywhere she could do a book signing. Having worked at the Saratoga Springs, NY Barnes and Noble as a Department Manager I immediately mentioned it as an option.

Six months later I found myself in the Barnes and Noble café with my friend and former co-worker Crystal Jenkins, who is now the Community Relations Manager at the Saratoga Springs store. However, in the months between talking to Deborah and that evening in the café, a single author book signing event wasn’t what I was there to pitch. I had realized that I had connections, and Crystal had experience and a store.

As we sipped our coffee I handed her a sheet of paper, “Here is a list of authors that I am friendly with that live within a 4 hour driving radius of this store.” On the sheet were 10 authors that read like a fantastic whose who of Magical Buffet contributors. And with that, an event was born!

Out of those 10 authors, 7 authors have committed to an event that had never been tried before, in a town they may or may not have ever heard of, and without any compensation for travel or lodging. The enthusiasm they have shown makes me feel humble and like the luckiest blogger in the world. Also, the excitement and appreciation Crystal at Barnes and Noble has expressed makes me feel like a rock star, and when she suggested calling the event “A Magical Buffet of Authors”, well, see the previous humble and lucky comments.

With all of that out of the way, I am here to proudly announce the first ever Magical Buffet “branded” event!

A Magical Buffet of Authors

Date: Saturday September 11, 2010
Time: 2 – 6 pm
Location: Barnes and Noble 3029 State Route 50 Saratoga Springs, NY 12866 For more info, here’s their website.

But enough of the teasing, let’s do this thing!

Here are the participating authors (with personal Rebecca notes italicized).

Deborah Blake is the author of “Circle, Coven and Grove: A Year of Magickal Practice” (Llewellyn 2007), “Everyday Witch A to Z: An Amusing, Inspiring & Informative Guide to the Wonderful World of Witchcraft” (Llewellyn 2008), “The Goddess is in the Details: Wisdom for the Everyday Witch” (Llewellyn 2009), and the forthcoming “Everyday Witch A to Z Spellbook” (2010) and “Witchcraft on a Shoestring” (2010). She has published numerous articles in Pagan publications. Her award-winning short story, “Dead and (Mostly) Gone” is included in the “Pagan Anthology of Short Fiction: 13 Prize Winning Tales” (Llewellyn, 2008). Deborah can be found on the web here.

What can I say about Deborah Blake that hasn’t already been said? What could have easily been a brief exchange when she did a 10 questions interview for the site back in September 2008, instead became a wonderful friendship. She’s been a constant supporter of all things Buffet. Deborah is funny, warm, and a huge fan of chocolate. You should buy all of her books, but particularly “The Goddess is in the Details” (my favorite) and “Witchcraft on a Shoestring” (if it’s available), and you should bring her Choxie chocolates from Target. Did you know there is no Target in Oneonta, NY?

Gordie Little has spent 36 years in radio; 8 years as a Crime Victims Advocate; and has written 653 weekly newspaper columns for the Press-Republican newspaper in Plattsburgh, NY. He has done more than 700, 90-minute television documentaries in the North Country region of New York State and loves to study all things paranormal and has written “true” ghost stories for many years. His new book, entitled “Ghosts of Clinton County,” was published by North Country Books in Utica, NY.

I met Gordie Little at last year’s Northern New York Paranormal Expo where his first book of ghost stories, “Ghosts of Clinton County”, was unveiled. Since then he was kind of enough to share a story about “Spicy Italian Ghosts” with my readers. Gordie has infectious enthusiasm, so be careful, it truly is contagious. Also, this is true, Gordie will send you an unexpected email, seemingly at random, that says nothing but that he appreciates you. If you meet him, you will buy his book, seriously, consider yourself warned.

David J. Pitkin has sought understanding of the mysteries surrounding life and death following an experience with a ghost in 1968. In the process, he has written 7 books, beginning with “Saratoga County Ghosts” in 1998. Fascinated with the unconscious mind and on evidence for consciousness surviving body death, he published his first metaphysical novel, “The Highest Mountain”, in 2007. He also has completed two books of New York State ghost stories, and one detailing over 200 tales in the northeast US and Canada. In the process, he has interviewed over 1,100 people, whose stories make up his fascinating rendition of ghost stories. His book “New England Ghosts” releases September 1, 2010.

I love, love, love David Pitkin. Way back in October 2006, when The Magical Buffet was a monthly online e-zine, David contributed the very first guest authored feature article “The Art of Telling a Ghost Story”. He did this even though our website was still just a page holder where people could subscribe and our subscribers numbered around 50, as opposed to the over 500 that it is today. He treated me as a professional, despite all indicators to the contrary. I’ve been a devoted Pitkin fan ever since. If you’ve never met David in person, be prepared to get charmed right off your feet. Whether at a book signing with about 4 customers (like the signing I’ve been to) or at Barnes and Noble surrounded by dozens of readers (like the time he did a reading while I worked at Barnes and Noble) he treats each person as an honored guest. That probably explains why Saratoga loves him so.

Maria Kay Simms, a professional astrologer for nearly 30 years, is the former elected Chair of National Council for Geocosmic Research, Inc., a prestigious non-profit organization for astrologers best known for its rigorous 4-level certification program. Maria holds the Level 4, or CA NCGR, and she also holds the PMAFA, professional certification from American Federation of Astrologers. Maria is author of two popular ACS personalized reports, “Planetary Guide to Your Future” and “Your Magical Child”, and is the creator of the ACS art charts, and is a contributor to the “Electronic Astrologer Reveals Your Future” software program. Her books include “Your Magical Child”, “Moon Tides, Soul Passages”, and “Future Signs”. Her “Dial Detective” is considered to be a classic in the astrologica specialties of Cosmobiology and Uranian Astrology. Maria can be found on the web here.

These days it’s not uncommon to read a book review on The Magical Buffet, but back in 2007 it seemed ludicrous to think anyone would want to hear my thoughts on books, let alone have a publisher send me a book to read! That was until Starcrafts Publishing sent me a copy of Maria Simms “Moon Tides, Soul Passages”. That opened the door and now I receive books and samples from publishers regularly. I would recommend getting your hands on a copy of “Moon Tides, Soul Passages”. As I said back in 2007, “Are you Wiccan? Are you interested in astrology? Are you interested in the moon? Are you interested in mythology?” If you answered yes to any of those questions, get a copy, you’ll love it!

Ellen Evert Hopman has been active in American Druidism since 1984. She is co-chief of the Order of the Whiteoak (Ord na Darach Gile), a popular author of Druidry-related titles including: “Priestess of the Forest: A Druid Journey” and “The Druid Isle” (Llewellyn), “A Druids Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine” (Destiny Books), and “Walking the World in Wonder: A Children’s Herbal” (Healing Arts Press) and a master herbalist. She lives in Massachusetts. Ellen can be found on the web here.

Words simply cannot express the gratitude I have for having Ellen Evert Hopman in my life. She wrote the award winning article “Female Druids” for The Buffet back when we were still a monthly online e-zine, and once we converted to the new blog format she has regularly contributed articles about tree medicine, magic, and lore. And her books! “A Druids Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine” is fantastic! Now she’s also branching into fiction, giving people an enjoyable story that teaches others about Druidism. Ellen is one of the authors that continually treats me, and The Magical Buffet, as a valuable media platform. Prove her right by getting a book signed, we’d both love it.

Gail Wood started her writing career early when a story she wrote in the first grade was posted on the board by her teacher. The story was about Jo-Jo the monkey. Her mother saved that story for Gail! Currently she lives in a 100+ year old house with her partner Mike and their two dogs. Mike shares her spiritual interests and is an exceptionally fine priest, following the ecstatic path of Gaia.

Gail is the author of “Rituals of the Dark Moon: 13 Rites for a Magical Path” published by Llewellyn in 2001. She is also the author of “The Wild God: Adventures with the Sacred Masculine” from Spilled Candy, as well as the forthcoming “Ecstatic Witch: The Path of Shamanic Witchcraft” from Red Wheel/Weiser. She contributed a chapter entitled “Sweet Dreams” to “Cakes and Ale for the Pagan Soul” edited by Patricia Telesco (Crossing, 2005). Her short writings have appeared in Sagewoman magazine and several Llewellyn Annuals including “The Witches Calendar”, “The Spell-A-Day Almanac” and “The Tarot Annual”. Gail can be found on the web here.

I met Gail Wood at this year’s Oneonta Spiritual Arts Fair. She is just so darn loveable! I already mentioned that she is more photogenic than Deborah Blake or myself. Just as an FYI, saying things like that in a public forum is a sure way to insure receiving articles to publish in the future. I’m just saying a little flattery gets you everywhere. Also, she writes really nice things inside the books she autographs. Like what? Only one way to find out, show up and pick up one of her books!

Lama Willa Miller is a meditation teacher in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. She has studied and practiced meditation for the last twenty years, training with Venerable Kalu Rinpoche, Venerable Dilgo Khentse Rinpoche, Lama Norlha Rinpoche, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso Rinpoche, Bokar Rinpoche, and other teachers. She completed two seminary trainings [three-year retreats] at Kagyu Thubten Choling in upstate New York, becoming authorized as a lama, a Buddhist minister, upon completion of her training. Before and after her retreats, she spent time in Nepal, Tibet, and India, studying Buddhism and engaging in service work. She currently lives with her husband and two dogs, where she writes, teaches Tibetan Buddhist practice and meditation, principally with Natural Dharma Fellowship. She is also working towards a PhD at Harvard University.

Lama Willa is author of the book “Everyday Dharma: Seven Weeks to Finding the Buddha in You” (2009, Quest Books), a practical guide for getting started on the spiritual path. Lama Willa can be found on the web here.

So, remember when I thought it would be fun, and funny, to publicly write about going through the book “Everyday Dharma: Seven Weeks to Finding the Buddha in You”? Well, the “Everyday Dharma” challenge is still going on! What on earth would make a highly educated spiritual author put up with me? I couldn’t tell you. What I can say is that regardless of me telling people to suck it, implying that there are people I don’t like, and comparing setting up your home altar to the television show “Pimp My Ride”, she just keeps contributing to The Magical Buffet. True story, I was telling some of my friends how in one of my early “Everyday Dharma” posts I said that considering all the trouble my body gives me I treat it awesome and that I treat my body better then it treats me, and how her response was basically, well it’s good to see you treat your body well. I explained to my friends that her response showed why she is a Lama and I’m just an asshole. Crazier than all of that is that she is willing to be seen in public with me! I suspect no one will want to miss out on THAT!

As you can see, we have a diverse and lively bunch lined up. They will be speaking, taking questions, and of course, signing books. I hope that some of you will be able to come out and show some love to many of the folks that have made The Magical Buffet the website that it is today.

Everyday Dharma Challenge: Week Five

(normal text is Rebecca, italicized text is Lama Willa Miller)

Hello again friends! Here we are at week five of my “Everyday Dharma” challenge. Only weeks away from finding my inner Buddha! Consider yourself warned! If you have no clue what I’m talking about, go back to the introduction.

Day one was “Begin with Action”. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by goals, or putting things on hold until you get your act together, Lama Willa encourages you to take action immediately. Every day you can take small actions that help you take a small step towards putting your aspirations and intentions into action. The exercise for the day was to take a moment a few times a day to check in with your actions and consider what kind of future you’re creating with them. What kind of karma you’re creating. I tried this and at first thought how pointless most of my actions during the average day feel. However, with a little more thought I realized that almost every action, regardless of how mundane, does in fact touch people’s lives. Doing the dishes let’s my husband get more rest while he’s sick. Doing my paperwork at the office promptly and accurately allows others to do their jobs better. Even spending time reading an online blog matters, it encourages the people who create it to continue with their endeavor. There are truly thousands of times a day that my seemingly mundane actions help and encourage others.

That’s true. What we do always matters. Lately, I have been thinking about another angle on this, inspired by an ancient Mahayana Buddhist practice. In this practice, you make daily actions into prayer. We usually dismiss our small, everyday activities as insignificant. But it does not have to be this way. We can make every action count. When we eat, we can think “May this food satisfy all hungry beings”. When we sing, “May this melody bring harmony to the hearts of all beings.” When we drive, “May all beings travel the road to enlightenment.” When we watch a movie, “May all beings experience the joy of losing the self.” The possibilities here are endless. This is a way to join our actions with our aspiration to be of service to the wider world. This is a way to bring every little moment onto the path to awakening. An action done with neutrality is a ‘sleeping action’ and an action done with intention and mindfulness is an ‘awake action’. There’s a big difference. Awake actions help make our life more full and meaningful. They make our life into prayer.

Day two discussed becoming “other-centered”. Many people, and I definitely include myself here, are focused on their selves. What do I want? What do I need? This day Lama Willa explains the importance of shifting our perspective to focus on others, and their needs and desires. To put yourself in another person’s place. The exercise for the day is the next time you get irritated by someone else’s actions ask yourself “How does the person with whom I am now irritated experience this moment?” People, as I love to say, are people. How do they experience the moment? They think I’m an obnoxious irritating person, much the way I feel about them at that moment. Humans are fantastic creatures that way.

Thinking about how other people experience the moment is a wonderful exercise in getting outside of ourselves. When we are wrapped up in ourselves, we miss so much, and we give into our own reactivity. If we care only about our own perspective, for example, we think irritation is justified. But in truth, irritation is just a reactive habit. Irritation tells us much more about ourselves than it does about the other person! We can either go along as we have, reacting, becoming irritated, and being unhappy, or we can begin to shake ourselves out of the narrow focus on ‘me’ and ‘my wants’ to ‘the other’ and ‘her/his wants’. It is much more interesting to think about the perspective of the other, and more liberating. But because we have not trained much in the past to do this, we need to make considerable effort in that direction. Shifting the center from self to other takes effort, especially in the beginning.

Day three dealt with generosity and sacrifice. Lama Willa explains that “in the Buddhist context, generosity – the attitude and actions of giving – is the very first quality a seeker on the path works to perfect.” She says that “sacrifice implies both exchange and purpose,” and stresses the importance of making an empathetic sacrifice as opposed to an ambivalent one. I’ll admit, all this talk about sacrifice had me a little concerned about what the exercise for the day would be. Turns out it was a simple exercise that Lama Willa calls the “smiling experiment”. You make a conscious effort to smile at the people you interact with and cross paths with while making an inner wish for their well-being. I found it surprising how often even when I smiled I wasn’t giving it my full attention. Smiling is harder than you would suspect!

It has been shown in psychological studies that the act of smiling at someone makes us happier. Therefore, we don’t always have to wait until we are happy to smile!

Day four discussed the many ways to give. Yup, more giving, are we all seeing a trend here? Lama Willa explains the different ways you can give: material giving (I suspect we can all figure that one out), giving protection (Relax, she’s not asking you to become a vigilante. Protection, in this context, is helping someone feel safe or helping them become safe. Not necessarily running around looking for a gun man to get in front of.), giving ease and comfort (You know, like giving a friend a hug when they need it.), and offering encouragement (Which again, I assume we can all figure that one out.) The exercise for the day was offering encouragement to someone striving to accomplish something. I’m actually not too shabby at this one.

You got it. Giving—or I am also calling it magnanimity here– is the theme of this chapter. On the bodhisattva path, generosity is the very first and most basic step to enlightenment. Why is that? It has something to do with the power of generosity to remedy desire and grasping. Why do we care about getting rid of alleviating grasping? For one, grasping interferes with our experience of natural ease. We are predisposed to want what we don’t have. It is probably somewhat instinctual. But it is also the root of our suffering in so many ways. The more we grasp after something, the more it seems to slip through our fingers. We are left only with an uncomfortable feeling of neediness. Our biggest mistake is that we think this feeling of neediness comes about because we didn’t get the thing we wanted. This is a conventional perspective, but it is not a true perspective. The truth is our neediness predates the ‘not getting’. We are predisposed to feel as if we don’t have enough. That is why people who have everything material they could wish for are often not happy. Until we loosen the grip that neediness has on our minds, we cannot become truly at ease. This brings us to the second way that desire and grasping gets in our way on the spiritual path: it keeps us from developing true empathy. If we are not at ease because we are feeling needy, we stay rooted in place of self-centeredness. When we are self-centered, it is difficult for us to imaginatively place ourselves in another’s shoes, the root of empathy.

So methods that shake us out of the grasping mind put us in a state of relaxation. They are powerful methods that have repercussions in our immediate environment. Generosity is one of those methods. It naturally remedies our mental habit of grasping. Just by giving of our selves—our time, our resources, our attention– we undermine this deep-rooted belief that we somehow do not have enough, and suddenly we feel more at ease. What a paradox that by giving, we feel wealthier and happier!

Day five was about paying attention. Lama Willa says that “the act of being attentive is a form of ‘paying’ our presence forward. When we are simply and directly attentive to another person – to their interests, their needs, their dreams, or merely to their presence – we offer them something lasting and deeply significant.” She highlights more ways to give: sharing knowledge, helping the sick, repaying kindness, offering assistance, listening, and giving victory to others. The exercise for the day was to consider all the ways of giving that have been covered these past few days and decide on your target mode of giving. It should be one you think will be difficult for you. Then look for the opportunity to try it out. I’m guessing helping the sick or giving victory to others would be the hardest for me, however I haven’t had the opportunity to try it out.

Giving victory to others is on my list too. I have always found giving victory to others to be a most challenging—and subtle— practice. It is so counter-intuitive. I remember when I first started to try this as practice, it was big surprise that it was so helpful, psychologically and emotionally speaking. We grow up believing that we should not give victory to others. Rather, it is much better to come out on top. We take this belief right into our subtlest ways of interacting, speaking and thinking. This brings us a lot of invisible trouble and suffering. If we always want to come out on top, where does that leave other people? The more you examine your subtle attitudes about being on top and winning, the more you notice that you unconsciously—or perhaps sometimes consciously– put others down, simply out of a habit of wanting to be smarter, wiser or ‘better’ than they are. In order to give victory to others, you have to reverse this attitude and wish them to come out on top. When you really practice this, it is remarkable. Conflicts are easily resolved, and people begin to really trust you, because you are no longer always rooting for yourself: you are rooting for others. But it requires a brutal sense of self-honesty to make this practice really work for you. You have to be willing to go into the shadows.

Day six talked about trying to “move from haphazard giving to conscious and purposeful giving” by following the Five Steps of Giving. One, look for a need or an opportunity. Two, Plan. Three, Give. Four, do not expect thanks. Five, rejoice and dedicate (Dedicate here means to “mentally dedicate your action of giving to the fulfillment of your spiritual journey.).” You guessed it; the exercise for the day is to follow the Five Steps of Giving. I can’t claim I found momentous needs to help fill, but I did try to think about the work I did at the office. To remember how everything I do makes all the other employees’ lives easier. I’ve been enjoying my job much more since starting this book.

Yay! This is gratifying to read. The signs of success in spiritual practice are not necessarily dramatic and soaring moments of benevolence or wisdom. The deep signs are in everyday moments: real awakening unfolds as our everyday experience becomes more meaningful and we become more grounded in love and wisdom.

Day seven discussed spiritual sacrifice. It’s about building compassion through the “Contemplation on Giving and Receiving”. And yes you clever readers, the exercise for the day was the “Contemplation on Giving and Receiving”. You start with The Three Arrivals, then say your Awakening Prayer, relax and breathe. You then visualize someone you know who is currently suffering from illness, mental anguish, or other difficulties. Consider what it must be like to be that person and develop the heartfelt wish to relieve this person of suffering. Engage in pulling in pain as your breathe in and sending out love when you breathe out for at least ten breaths. Here’s the deal folks, anytime I need to speak out loud it ruins it for me. What should be a contemplative endeavor becomes awkward when I’m supposed to recite things out loud. Same thing happens with I attempt magical practices. If I talk out loud, I immediately feel stupid. This exercise became much more effective when I quit saying my Awakening Prayer out loud. The universe can hear my thoughts, right?

I’m glad you have adapted this practice to make it work for you! Yes, silent prayers are heard. I’m glad you brought this up. This goes for all the practices in this book: adaptation and flexibility is a virtue.

And with that, it’s onto week six! Almost there! See you next week!

About Lama Willa:
Lama Willa Miller is a meditation teacher in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. She has studied and practiced meditation for the last twenty years, training with Venerable Kalu Rinpoche, Venerable Dilgo Khentse Rinpoche, Lama Norlha Rinpoche, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso Rinpoche, Bokar Rinpoche, and other teachers.

She completed two seminary trainings [three-year retreats] at Kagyu Thubten Choling in upstate New York, becoming authorized as a lama, a Buddhist minister, upon completion of her training. Before and after her retreats, she spent time in Nepal, Tibet, and India, studying Buddhism and engaging in service work.

She currently lives in Arlington, MA with her husband and two dogs, where she writes, teaches Tibetan Buddhist practice and meditation, principally with Natural Dharma Fellowship. She is also working towards a PhD at Harvard University.

Lama Willa is author of the book “Everyday Dharma: Seven Weeks to Finding the Buddha in You” (2009, Quest Books), a practical guide for getting started on the spiritual path. Visit her website here.

To follow Lama Willa on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/lamawilla.

On Facebook? Join the Everyday Dharma Facebook group.

Sumer’ Is A Comin’ In

By Lady Passion

“Summer is a comin’ in,
Loudly sing ‘Cuckoo’!
Seeds grow, and meadows blow —
The forest springs anew…”

— English translation, earliest printed European folksong

Many know the bare-bones basics of planting by the lunar cycle (plant during the moon’s waxing or full phase, and weed and harvest during the waning or new moon times), etc. However, there are many ancient wise words whose efficacy we can rely on to remember what to do when and that convey profound religious meanings, as well. For example, consider the deep spiritual implications contained in the following Old English seed-sowing rhyme:

Four seeds in a hole.
One for the rook, and one for the crow.
One to rot, and one to grow.
Four seeds in a hole.

To many gardeners and farmers, putting quadruple seeds into a single hole is an
arbitrary waste of time and effort to be roundly rejected. What a frustrating
slowing down of frenetic activity! I mean, the gall of it all to be charged to
carefully count out four minute seeds per poke — why not three or five, instead?
They consider it a waste of space as well — some hackneyed, old wives’ folly
that will inevitably result in the shoots competing against each other when
struggling to sprout, as they’ve obviously been planted in too confined a place.

Yet, this country charm packs perceptive wisdom in its seemingly simplistic,
sing song verse. The first two lines teach, respectively, that each seed stands for
one of the four Elements — the very Earth, Air, Fire, and Water that plants
require in order to germinate, blossom, and thrive, and that precise patience from
planting to fruition is required in order to coax any life form from seed to its fullest
expression.

The inclusion of rook and crow acknowledges the inherent give-and-take
reciprocity that comprises Life. Birds may, in fact, eat one or two of the seeds
post-planting — and this is just, as things of the wing deserve their portion from
human labor, for we depend on their eating bugs that pester us when we’re
weeding a field. More subtly, though, it warns of the likelihood that the Air itself
at once the bringer of rains that water our rows may as swiftly waft aloft a seed or
two, despite our attempts to prevent it.

The reference to rot reminds that, as with corrupt people, not all seeds are viable.
As some folks wallow in sorrow, drown in drink, or mold with madness, some
seeds resist nurturing: They shrink from the brink of greatness, decompose in
fertile soil, and never know their full potential.

Thus, by Fate or whim of Chance, but one in four seeds sown is likely to beat the
odds and burst though the earthen ceiling; to bloom as it should and we desire.
This tenacious tendril equates with the 1% of humans that are truly spiritual
they who accept and even embrace the unique quirkiness of their genetic
predispositions and the whisperings of their conscience derived from their ethical
directives.

These suffer no less than others the buffeting by modern perils; they simply
choose to do so with grace. And, duly tempered by the Elements and their
ongoing experiences, transcend the slings and arrows of their environment to
become strong, free — lush of self.

The charm concludes reiterating how it began, in a cycle, a round that proves
perpetual impermanence. It ends stressing the importance of not eschewing the
nature of Nature.

In the Craft, as in Life, two types of folks exist: Those who see simplicity in the
complex, and those who see complexity in the painfully simple.

It’s easy for many these days to see the forest but not the trees — to insist that
folk magic is essentially simple, and hence, fail to consider, see, and even
disdain the ancients’ ability to impart insight in a few strokes, minimal lines.

Equally easy it is for their opposite kind to flog a metaphor past all semblance of
reasonableness — to create meaning out of whole-cloth for the sake of sounding
clever.

But transparent as a petal it should be that, during this time of food and herbal
medicine-wont, eroded land and floral extinctions, any who would plant or nurture
the uncontaminated remainder heed the wisdom of ages past — both to nurture
the plants and trees that can save them, and for the spiritual ‘juice’ rhyme charms
can provide their soul.

About the Author:
Lady Passion is co-author of The Goodly Spellbook: Olde Spells For Modern Problems. She’s been an R.N. for 24 years, and High Priestess of the 501(c)(3) religious nonprofit Coven Oldenwilde in Asheville, NC for 16 years. She may be reached at: oldenwilde.org.

The 2010 Oneonta Spiritual Arts Fair

This past Sunday my husband and I hit the road to attend the 6th Annual Oneonta Spiritual Arts Fair! For those of you who remember me writing about the event last year, I want to let you know right off the bat that we did not lock ourselves out of our car as we had the previous year. We brought an extra key for the car just to be on the safe side.

This year’s fair had twenty different workshops, seven psychic or intuitive readers, nine energy healers, and so many vendors selling a variety of goods that they needed more than one building to hold them all! When I attended in 2009, besides dealing with some car drama, I packed the day with attending an almost nonstop schedule of workshops. This year I wanted a more leisurely experience. I wanted to take time to really talk to some of the vendors, to not feel rushed while looking over dozens of tables loaded with everything from books to clothes to jewelry to soap, and so much more! Besides, I had a lunch date I didn’t want to miss.

The one thing aside from lunch that I knew I wanted to do at the fair was get another henna tattoo from Jessica Halter, aka “The Henna Lady”. I loved the one I got last year and was looking forward to getting a new one. I was pleased to be her first customer of the day and spent time catching up with her on everything that had been going on since we last saw each other in 2009. A few people stood by to watch the process and I enjoyed the opportunity to tell them about my wonderful experience with my previous henna tattoo. In fact, an hour later I had people coming up to me to excitedly sharing their tattoos with me. One woman is considering having a “girls night” where she and her friends will get together and drink some wine and get henna tattoos. Sounds like a great night to me! Last year I let Jessica do whatever design she wanted, and I was bummed I hadn’t ended up with a good photo of it to share. This year I again let her do what she felt like (always let the artist work) and my husband made sure to take lots of pictures!

Jessica Halter at work

You may remember last year I got an aura reading from Barbara Ellen, the lady behind AURA’bout You. She was there again this year, but I passed on a new photo. However, she’s such a nice lady that I wanted to be sure to mention her again and publish a link. Here it is!

One of the other booths that I spent some serious time at was for the artist Maryann Stow. She is a regional artist with roots in Oneonta, NY and in her bio she states, “I have had some formal training, but most of my skill as a watercolorist has come from ‘The School of 1000 Bad Paintings’, as I like to call it.” I love art. Much like wine, I don’t know a lot about it, but I know when I like it. The work she had displayed made use of vibrant colors, a thing I like. There was one piece in particular that I loved, it was titled “New Growth”. Of course with so many bookshelves lining our walls, and years of collecting works by NeNe Thomas, there is very little open wall space anymore. Luckily she had a small card featuring “New Growth” so I got a mini art piece to bring home.

New Growth by Maryann Stow

I easily filled two hours with just walking the vendor rooms, so seriously folks, it’s worth it to go just for the shopping. Two hours put me at lunch time, so it’s time to talk about my lunch date.

You may remember that last year my primary reason for going was to get to meet author Deborah Blake in person. This year not only was I going to get to see her again, but I was also going to get to meet another author, Gail Wood! Yes, I was a happy camper. Happier still when lunch time rolled around. Both Deborah and Gail had a busy morning of doing mini tarot readings and discussing their books with the people filing through the vendor room so I really appreciated that they carved out a little time in their schedules to have some lunch. Since Deborah’s birthday was just a few days before the event I brought her some chocolate rum balls for her to enjoy and share. However, if people thought I was a super fan for making the trip and bringing her chocolate, you would be sorely mistaken. Another woman who is a big fan of Deborah’s work brought essentially an entire picnic worth of lunch as a surprise for Deborah! Soon Gail and Deborah’s table was piled high with food!

Both Gail and Deborah are just wonderful ladies. They both really love what they do, and it shows. I learned a lot from those two this past weekend. The primary thing being that Gail Wood is the most photogenic of our trio.

(left to right) Me, Deborah Blake, and Gail Wood

As we were getting ready to leave Oneonta there was one more place to visit. You may remember that before the fair I mentioned that there was a comic/game store right across the street from the event. Well, it was still there. It’s a pretty nice little comic/rpg storefront called Bearded Dragon Games and Comics. Normally I wouldn’t bother mentioning our little side shopping trip. I didn’t last year. But this time I stumbled across something too fun not to share.

I don’t know how many of you are familiar with a card game called “Fluxx“. For those of you who aren’t, it’s a fun little game based on one simple rule at the start, draw one card, play one card. As the game progresses it gets crazy because each card played changes the rules! It’s really a fun game that is frighteningly easy to teach to others. Attention gamers, this is a great “gateway” game to get your non-gamer friends and family into games. As an aside, another excellent “gateway” game is “Lunch Money“, but I’ll talk about that some other day.

As Jim was waiting to get rung out I stood by the door looking at card games on a spinning display and that’s when I saw these rare gems: “Jewish Fluxx” and “Christian Fluxx”. Being a fan of “Fluxx” and religious doodads, these packs hit a total geek sweet spot with me. I’m bummed that Judaism and Christianity are the only religions to have gotten a “Fluxx” treatment. I would love to see other religions get their “Fluxx” on! Come on Looney Labs, if draw one card play one card isn’t Zen I don’t what is!

With that, we headed home. Another great time at the Oneonta Spiritual Arts Fair. I hope to see everyone again next year!

Everyday Dharma Challenge: Week Four

(normal text is Rebecca, italicized text is Lama Willa Miller)

Here we are at week four of my “Everyday Dharma” challenge. For those of you just tuning in, check out my previous posts to get caught up. I’m at the halfway point! I hope you’re all finding my journey amusing and enlightening. I’ll admit, it’s a lot harder to bring the funny when discussing this stuff than I thought it would be when I set out. Sorry folks! On the other hand, I’m halfway to getting my Buddha on! Let’s focus on the positives. With no further ado, let’s look at week four.

This whole week was about growing love. As Lama Willa says, “A spiritual journey takes courage and vision at the outset, but to sustain such courage and vision you need fuel: a love that is correspondingly courageous and visionary.” With day one we considered love. The exercise was to find out what love means to you. You finished the following sentences, what was in the text is in bold.

Love is (list some adjectives) exhilarating, liberating, and compassionate.
Love is never needlessly cruel.
I find it easy to love my husband.
My definition of love is that love is a thing that allows you to be your authentic self.

I like your definition! Why is thinking about how we define love useful? For one, we carry around, and therefore act on, definitions that we rarely evaluate. Assumptions about love, and other aspects of our affective life, often remain hidden from us. Many of these definitions are cultural, and some may be related to our personal history. We rarely bring these to light and then as: is this assumption useful? Is it even true? When we figure out how we define love, we can begin think about whether the assumptions therein are useful and true.

Once we have some definitions to work with, we can begin to think about how we might redefine love consciously in a way that is true, and that is useful. We can explore a deep definition of love that we feel great about living by. Another reason to think through our definitions is to discover the vision of universal love’s fruition, such as the qualities you mention– exhilarating, liberating, compassionate. If we look at what we mean by ‘love’, we often find something liberating there, but we may not have worked hard to cultivate love’s liberating power. Spiritual practice should help us grow love in order to unfurl its ability to free us from suffering.

Day two discussed two myths about love. Lama Willa explains that “you cannot effectively accept and love others unless you initially accept and love yourself”. The first myth was that you do not deserve to be loved, when the truth is everyone is worthy of love. The second myth was that no one ever really loved me or loves me now, when the truth is that you have been loved in the past and are loved now. The exercise for the day was to identify benefactors. In this context a benefactor is someone who has loved and cared for you. That one is easy, my husband.

Benefactors can be found in the most unexpected places. Even a pet can be a benefactor. If you have felt loved by someone or even an animal, just once, they are a benefactor for you and have reminded you that you are loved. Pets do a great job of ‘benefacting’ non-verbally! (Was that a neologism?) The term ‘benefactor’, used in this sense is inspired by some of the practices developed by American Buddhist teacher John Makrasnky. He does a great job of discussing benefactors thoroughly in his book Awakening through Love.

Day three addressed two more myths about love. Myth one was that love is something that “happens” to people, the truth is that love needs to be cultivated. When I first read this I was ready to call B.S. I mean, my love for my husband just “happened”. However, further reading has Lama Willa explaining that “love is a choice that sometimes happens to people. Even when it “happens” to someone, it will quickly “unhappen” without cultivation.” And she’s right, my love for my husband just happened, but what if we had never carved out time to spend together when I worked my crazy retail schedules, what if we didn’t take the time now to let each know that they mattered? I suspect Lama Willa is right, our love would potentially “unhappen”. Myth two was that you say to yourself, “I gave everything I had to him/her/it and now I have nothing left to give,” when the truth is that no matter what your personal history, you are capable of love. The exercise for the day was to forgive small harms. You attempt to make a commitment to forgive a person who made you feel harmed, angry, and/or hurt. Since I try to keep The Magical Buffet a positive place, and the fact that anyone anywhere can read this, I’m not going to share with you all who I’m attempting to forgive. I’m a woman, I have a laundry list of people, who as Kathy Griffin would say, can suck it. I’ve picked a few who I will endeavor to take a little less of a Kathy Griffin philosophy with.

Forgiveness is one of the most powerful spiritual practices around, and Buddhism is deeply concerned with its cultivation [touché, Brit Hume!]. Buddhism teaches that forbearance—or patience—is an essential key to enlightened living. Forbearance includes the practice of being tolerant and forgiving in the face of harm. Forgiving runs contrary to much of our cultural conditioning: we are taught that by putting other people down [especially those that have—in our view—harmed us], we become stronger. But the opposite is the case. By forgiving, we become stronger. Many of us also are inclined to believe that those who forgive are weak. But that is not true, because forgiving is not easy. Anyone can hold onto a grudge. It takes a strong person to forgive.

But being forgiving does not mean tolerating the continuation of harm. There is real injustice in the world, real falsity, and real cruelty, and wherever injustice, falsity and cruelty exist, they need to be addressed and challenged. But anger and spite may not be the most stable place from which to challenge the world’s injustices. Forbearance, an attitude that includes an element of forgiveness, is a more stable ground to start from. Forbearance is not an attitude ‘what this person did is okay’. It is rather the recognition that people are not merely what they do. They act under the influence of a lifetime of conditioning. Forbearance also means entertaining the possibility that our own reactivity plays a big role in ‘harm’. Therefore, it is usually not enough to blame a person for harm—the picture is much more complex than that. If you acknowledge such a possibility, you create a space where challenge and arriving at justice can take place effectively.

Day four discussed universal love. Lama Willa examines universal love by outlining it’s qualities: universal love melts boundaries, universal love evens terrain, and universal love tears up contracts. The exercise for the day was assessing boundaries. I’m going excerpt the whole exercise here because honestly, the exercise really puts things into perspective.

“Consider: What kind of boundaries do you place around your feelings? Are there people whom you do not love because of what they do or have done? What kind of “ifs” do you put on love? Now consider, is it possible to love someone with no “ifs”? Consider whether it is possible to love without agreeing with or condoning another’s actions. Are there any valid reasons to withhold love?

Now think of one person from whom you withhold the feeling of love, not entirely but somewhat. Can you imagine what it would be like to push your boundary out with this person and let yourself feel a love with fewer conditions, at least sometimes? Visualize for yourself what this would be like. What do you gain by withholding love? What do you lose by giving it?”

Again, I’m not going to share with you the individuals I’m thinking of, but I will tell you that the exercise did resonate with me. If you think I’m being nicer to you, it’s totally a coincidence….I would never think of you that way.

I have found it to be life-changing practice to push my boundaries around love (always understood here to be platonic!). This can be done in the simplest of ways, by noticing how we approach people every day, especially those who we don’t necessarily cherish. What would happen if we tried to be a little warmer, and a little kinder? This kind of constant attention to our attitude pays off, because we discover that it actually feels really good to be kind. It is much more enjoyable than being cold or neutral. We can work on this in so many small ways.

Day five continued examining the idea of universal love. Universal love is nonjudgmental, selfless, compassionate, and joyous. The exercise for the day was to contemplate overcoming the judging mind. “Consider: In what ways does judgment get in the way of loving those closest to you? Is your love clouded by judgment? What is worse, the tendency to find fault in others or the faults you judge others to have?” I know that I judge people, but I am definitely more harsh in judging myself. Does that make me slightly more enlightened than those who judge others but find no fault in themselves? Here’s hoping!

I’m glad you brought up self-judgment. I did not address that in this section of the book, but self-judgment is also something to work on. In fact, if we are harsh on ourselves, we tend to be harsh on others too. These two are of a piece. When you begin to soften your judgment of others, you discover that others—even those people we have not previously considered special– are very precious and special in many ways. We cannot discover that special treasure in others if we put all of our energy into judging them. Once we begin to discover the preciousness of others, we can entertain the idea that we too are precious. It can go the other way as well: we can also work on letting go of self judgment, and use that as a door to letting go of our judgment of others.

Day six discussed four ways of perceiving others. Every person is your only child. Every person is your parent. Every person is your best friend. Everyone is a sage. Essentially the exercise for the day was to try and view your social interactions with this new angle of perception to attempt to widen the scope of love to include more people.

In the context of Buddhist doctrine, this practice is sometimes expressed within the context of reincarnation. From the point of view of reincarnation, this is not the first or only life we have lived. When we meet someone, we are never meeting them for the first time. We have met many times before, over the course of many lives. From this wider perspective of many lifetimes, people around us have literally been our mothers, fathers, sisters, best friends, teachers and helpers before. From that point of view, they are not strangers, so we should not treat them that way. We should reserve a place in our heart for all of them.

Even if you do not believe in reincarnation, it can be a helpful exercise to imagine the web of relationships that connects all of us in this life. From the point of view of being connected to everyone through degrees of closeness [I prefer that to degrees of separation], we are all of one human family.

Day seven was “Growing Your Love through Contemplation”. The text for the day was basically detailing the meditation that was the exercise for the day. To sum it up, you focus on someone you love, so that you can feel the love, and then let the feeling grow and radiate out of you. Now I was honest about my difficulties with meditation, well it’s worse when I’m supposed to follow a progression of things. It’s much easier for me to think in, out, with my breath than to go through a whole mental script. However, I made my best attempt here.

It can take many repetitions [perhaps 20 times] sitting down with a practice to memorize it and become really relaxed with it, without needing to rely on instructions. It is worth the effort. The key is to take a considerable time to do each step, really relaxing into each instruction for a few minutes so that you can get its flavor and meaning. For those readers out there encountering these meditation practices for the first time, guided meditations for the book are on iTunes! It can help to have a voice guiding you through these meditations at first because then you do not have to keep glancing at the book.

Week four, done! See you next week!

Congrats on finishing Week 4: You are more than half-way!

About Lama Willa:
Lama Willa Miller is a meditation teacher in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. She has studied and practiced meditation for the last twenty years, training with Venerable Kalu Rinpoche, Venerable Dilgo Khentse Rinpoche, Lama Norlha Rinpoche, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso Rinpoche, Bokar Rinpoche, and other teachers.

She completed two seminary trainings [three-year retreats] at Kagyu Thubten Choling in upstate New York, becoming authorized as a lama, a Buddhist minister, upon completion of her training. Before and after her retreats, she spent time in Nepal, Tibet, and India, studying Buddhism and engaging in service work.

She currently lives in Arlington, MA with her husband and two dogs, where she writes, teaches Tibetan Buddhist practice and meditation, principally with Natural Dharma Fellowship. She is also working towards a PhD at Harvard University.

Lama Willa is author of the book “Everyday Dharma: Seven Weeks to Finding the Buddha in You” (2009, Quest Books), a practical guide for getting started on the spiritual path. Visit her website here.

To follow Lama Willa on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/lamawilla.

On Facebook? Join the Everyday Dharma Facebook group.