Mindfulness

“We can smile, breathe, walk, and eat our meals in a way that allows us to be in touch with the abundance of happiness that is available.”

Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh (Bantam Books, 1992, edited by Arnold Kotler). Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching centers around conscious breathing and mindfulness of each activity of our daily lives. His message is simple, yet profound. (All of the quotations are the words of Thich Nhat Hahn.)

Thich Nhat Hanh was born in Vietnam in 1926 and ordained a Buddhist monk at age 16. He taught at Columbia and Princeton Universities before returning to Vietnam in 1963 to help stop the war, calling for reconciliation of the warring parties. He came back to the US to speak out against the war, then was refused permission to re-enter Vietnam. Eventually establishing Plum Village in France in 1982, where he resides, he was recently allowed to visit Vietnam .

“If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile, and everyone in our family, our entire society will benefit from our peace.”

“By concentrating on our breathing, we bring body and mind back together, and become whole again.” “Happiness is there if you know how to breathe and smile, because happiness can always be found in the present moment.” Nhat Hanh explains that “Mindfulness can penetrate the activities of our daily life.” He wants us to be “aimless” and not just think of the future, but always remember to enjoy and be aware of the present moment. Instead of trying to “do” something: “Don’t just do something, sit there.” 

“Working for peace in the future is working for peace in the present moment.”

“Most of the time, we think too much, and mindful breathing helps us to be calm, relaxed, and peaceful…Stop being possessed by sorrows of the past and worries about the future…be in touch with life, which is wonderful in the present moment.”

He reminds us that in meditation we can be comfortable sitting, lying down or moving if need be: “We sit in meditation to help us cultivate peace, joy, and nonviolence, not to endure physical strain or to injure our bodies. To change the position of our feet or do a little walking meditation will not disturb others, and it can help us a lot.”

“Walking meditation is really to enjoy the walking — walking not in order to arrive, but just to walk. The purpose is to be in the present moment and, aware of our breathing and our walking, to enjoy each step.

“Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. It is easy to transform a feeling of irritation into a pleasant feeling.”

“Anger is rooted in our lack of understanding of ourselves and of the causes, deep-seated as well as immediate, that brought about this unpleasant state of affairs. Anger is also rooted in desire, pride, agitation, and suspicion. The primary roots of our anger are in ourselves.” This needs some thought since when we are angry we often want to defend our position and make the other person wrong. Perhaps looking at ourselves first will help.

“We often ask, ‘What’s wrong?’ We would be much happier if we tried to stay in touch with the healthy, joyful seeds inside of us and around us. We should learn to ask, ‘What’s not wrong?’ and be in touch with that.”

“When we are able to take one step peacefully and happily, we are working for the cause of peace and happiness for the whole of humankind.”

“The roots of war are in the way we live our daily lives—the way we develop our industries, build up our society, and consume goods…We cannot just blame one side or the other. We have to transcend the tendency to take sides…Practicing non-violence is first of all to become non-violence.  Then when a difficult situation presents itself, we will react in a way that will help the situation.” This may be hard to do in what has become our polarized world. But Thich Nhat Hanh believes we can overcome that diversity with non-violence, without taking sides. Ah, a challenge for us all.

“If we know how to live every moment in an awakened way, we will be aware of what is going on in our feelings and perceptions in the present moment.”

Thich Nhat Han suggests that another moment of mindfulness is when we are eating and finding joy and happiness in the present moment. “Sitting at the table with other people, we have a chance to offer an authentic smile of friendship and understanding…To me, this is the most important practice. We look at each person and smile at him or her. Breathing and smiling together is a very important practice…So, while eating, we should refrain from discussing subjects that can destroy our awareness of our family and our food. But we should feel free to say things that can nourish awareness and happiness.” 

”Not only do we do dishes in order to have clean dishes, we also do the dishes just to do the dishes, to live fully in each moment while washing them.” Or while putting them into the dishwasher.

Bells of Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh grew up with the temple bells as a reminder to come to mindfulness and to appreciate the beauty around one and the wonders of life. He explains that we can use anything, such as a red light when we are driving or the sunlight coming into the car or into a window at home, to remind us to take a moment and reflect. I find that my cuckoo clock, which cuckoos on the hour and half-hour, is a wonderful way to bring me back to awareness during my day. What might work for you? What is your “bell of mindfulness?”

“The secret to happiness is happiness itself. Wherever we are, at any time, we have the capacity to enjoy the sunshine, the presence of each other, the wonder of breathing.”

“We are One”

“We may see each other as being individual in physical appearance and as being different in human personality, but we do not see others as being different in spiritual awareness. We are One.”

The Mystic Path to Cosmic Power by Vernon Howard (New Life Foundation, 2015, originally published in 1967). This choice deviates from my usual book selection in that the author is neither a mystic nor writing about a known mystic. Rereading this classic, though, was connecting to an old friend. Many years ago, I taped “Ways to Gain New Strength” (see below) to my computer stand. When I replaced the book that had disappeared in one of my many moves, I was amazed to see the list was only one small part of the total message. The volume itself is a treasure of ideas I have read before but needed to hear again. Perhaps the same is true for you.

I recommend this as a beginning primer into the metaphysical world, and I also recommend it as a refresher read. Before I ever thought of my mystic journey, Vernon Howard was presenting many of the necessary components. He explains his ideas simply and clearly. I quote his words for most of this review.

Don’t be overwhelmed with the information. Simply choose the ideas or statements in this article that resonate most strongly with you. Spend time with those that seem most significant. Often the ones we are most resistant to are the ideas we most need to address. “Observe your resistance.”

Ways to Gain New Strength

  1. See the attractiveness of the higher life.
  2. Don’t accept unhappiness as necessary.
  3. Increase your self-awareness.
  4. Abandon self-defeating attitudes.
  5. Insist upon strict self-honesty.
  6. Try to understand your desires.
  7. Make simple and persistent efforts.
  8. Refuse to sacrifice your integrity to anyone.
  9. No longer take excitement as happiness.
  10. Stop wasting energy in negative emotions.
  11. Make self-change your aim in life.
  12. Want the Truth more than anything else.

On your mystic/spiritual path, “you may have to work alone a good part of the time. You may have no one with whom you can discuss things. Never mind. Even that is part of your adventure. Just keep working as best as you can.”

“The greatest love you could ever offer to another is to so transform your inner life that others are attracted to your genuine example of goodness.”

“We cannot recognize a virtue in another person that we do not possess in ourselves. It takes a truly loving and patient person to recognize those virtues in another.”

“All worry — and there are no exceptions — all worry springs from false notions about ourselves…Fear is totally unnecessary.”

“We are exactly where we have chosen to be. But we belong where our original nature longs to be.” On some level, we know exactly where that is.

“Your happiness does not depend on what they think of you…Your happiness depends on what you think of yourself.”

“You must stop living so timidly, from fixed fears of what others will think of you and of what you will think of yourself.”

“You have nothing to do. You have everything to be…Choose to be a new person.”

“Demanding things from the exterior world is an endlessly agonizing process…Turn all demands inward. Demand your own power.”

“Be good-humored  toward everything that happens to you.”

“One minute of experiencing the free flow of life for yourself is worth a thousand hours with books and lectures.”

“Think for yourself always.”

“You have the power to remain perfectly calm in every difficult and unexpected event in life…Start with this: When faced with a difficulty, do not ask, ‘What should I do?’ but rather, ‘What must I understand?’”

“Why are we afraid of others? Because we want something from them. The desire can be almost anything – – companionship, approval, sex, security. The mistake is this: Not having found the true self which is free from compulsive desires, we seek gratification from people. This creates fear that we won’t get what we want, or anxiety that the other person will make us pay dearly for it.”

“The Mystic Path has no moral judgments. We don’t consider a five-year old child inferior to a child of ten. We simply realize that everyone is on a different level of insight and awareness.”

Perhaps after reading Howard’s words, you might want to make your own list from his ideas. Then use that list as a frequent reminder in your quest for personal, inner growth.

“Can you be without noise and stimulation and not be afraid? Can you be inwardly still, without demanding a distraction from the strange stillness? If so, the fearsome silence turns magically into the peaceful harbor you have been seeking all of your life.”

“His Interspiritual Thought”

The significant theme in Bede Griffiths: An Introduction to His Interspiritual Thought by Wayne Teasdale is his interspirituality. In addition, this book, surprisingly, pulls together all of the major thoughts in my previous blog posts:

  • Teasdale in “Each of Us is Called to be a Mystic” and Ram Dass in “With Joy and Suffering” and “Love was his Real Teaching”  each promote the East as a counterpoint to our Western beliefs.
  • Julian of Norwich in “Mirth and Mourning” was critical of the Church and advocates for the feminine, Aivanhov in “Ablaze with Fire” believes the feminine is the way to improve the world, and Starr In “Our Vulnerability is Our Strength” explains femininity as a key to a better future. 
  • Harvey and Baker in “The Severity of Our Predicament” argue the importance of spirituality in our changing world and overcoming the belief that we are separate from one another or the universe. 
  • Bede Griffiths supports each of these ideas.

“Interspirituality is the activity and the process of exploring other traditions in more than an academic sense. It presupposes an intense personal interest in these other forms of faith and spirituality.” Teasdale

Bede Griffiths, born in 1907, was an English Benedictine monk and mystic who devoted his life to finding similarities between Christianity and Hinduism, while studying other religions and spiritual traditions. Wayne Teasdale is the perfect person to write about Father Bede’s interspirituality since Teasdale himself believed in and discussed the same idea in his The Mystic Heart: Discovering A Universal Spirituality in The World’s Religions.

My focus on Father Bede and his work is not about the details of his extensive struggle to intermix Christianity and Hinduism. While I admire his complex, comprehensive and worthy life’s dedication to that pursuit, my interest is the main points of agreement and disagreement he discovered in the two religions.

“He always emphasized solidarity with everyone and the whole planet.” Teasdale

Father Bede wants a union of intuitive wisdom and scientific reason. Christianity does not, he believes, allow us to see a bigger picture or a mystical truth. I agree. He explains that Rationalism separates the mind and the world. Instead, he sees the world as organic, with all parts interrelated, an idea from quantum mechanics. I wrote about this in my book The Trust Factor: The Art of Doing Business in the 21st Century, commenting that “the behavior of the whole, not individual parts, is significant.”

Father Bede studied this new science, this quantum mechanics. Seeing the world as organic, with parts interrelated, he saw the Eastern view of mystical union as a necessary component to religion, one missing from the Judeo-Christian tradition. As he explained, “The sciences which for centuries have been opposed to religion and spirituality are discovering links with it.” While this link has yet to be defined, the ever-changing field of science may be getting closer.

Another crucial difference between Hinduism and Christianity, this one favoring rather than critiquing Christianity, is that the masses of the poor and suffering in India believe this life is their karma and they will be reborn to a better life next time. If they can help one another, that is good, but there is no duty to do so. Father Bede feels that “when they reject the orphan and the widow and the poor they reject God.” Jesus taught that it is our responsibility to help one another, a moral demand. Unlike Hindus, Christians have an obligation to help, explains Teasdale. 

“In the Christian tradition there has been very little recognition of the feminine aspect of God.” Griffiths

Father Bede sees the need for the “recognition of the feminine aspect of God” in Christianity, another example of a major difference in the two religions. He makes an interesting comparison of the Hindu use of gods and goddesses, explaining that Hinduism is not really polytheistic as the prevalence of the deities seems to indicate. Rather all are simply part of one God, Brahman, the One Reality. Hinduism also refers to Divas (masculine) and Devis (feminine), allowing for both the feminine and masculine. 

While no gods and goddesses, Christianity does have many angels, such as the seven archangels, cherubim, seraphim, other ranks of angels and the individual guardian angels, all mentioned in the Bible. Just as many of the Hindu deities have specific roles, our archangels have assigned tasks such as Angel Raphael in charge of healing. 

Father Bede believes that Hinduism embodies the feminine. “Bede is convinced of the necessity of including the notion of the Motherhood of God in Christian theology, of restoring the feminine aspect to its place in our understanding of the divine nature.” Perhaps the Holy Spirit could be the feminine person of the Trinity, he argues.

When I started this mystic blog and journey, I did not expect to have my research evolve into finding the feminine within the spiritual. As mentioned above, Julian of Norwich, Aivanhov, Ram Dass, Starr, and now Father Bede all reflect that inclusion. Father Bede even comments on the value of the body, not a stance one expects from a monk. “We have had a negative, or unbalanced view of the body and of sexuality,” he claims, reminiscent of Julian of Norwich’s view and her belief in the importance of honoring the body. This is the time for an awakening of Christianity to a recognition of all aspects of the feminine.

“He has made a beginning.” Teasdale

Father Bede believes Christianity focuses too much on our separation from one another and on our separation from the divine, while ignoring a mystical union and the feminine. Hinduism does not include the necessity of helping others. These are significant differences, yet Father Bede does not find them impossible to overcome. He spent his lifetime searching the theology of the two in order to show their compatibility and, convincingly, finds the similarities more important. 

We need optimism in these times. Too much division is evident in our lives and in the world. What if we open our hearts to an understanding and acceptance of all religions, spiritual paths and indigenous traditions, as suggested by Father Bede? While expanding our hearts and minds, we can also include room for the feminine in Christianity, a seemingly ridiculous oversight today. Interspirituality should include all spiritual beliefs and all people.

“Bede Griffiths contributed substantially to the advancement of the ideal of universal unity and solidarity…Most important, it is a prophetic indication of the future.” Teasdale

“Our Vulnerability is our Strength”

Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Woman Mystics by Mirabai Starr (Sounds True, 2019). Throughout this wonderful telling of Starr’s own life and that of many women mystics, she claims “The tender attributes of the feminine do not render her weak and ineffectual. They glorify her.” And, as in the title of this article, “Our vulnerability is our strength” along with “Our capacity to forgive is our superpower.” Starr’s words are powerful and often need little explanation. She speaks for all of us.

“Women do not always feel comfy inside traditional religious institutions…We would rather be undefined than ordained in traditions that don’t fit our curves.” Starr

Starr grew up amongst many spiritual traditions and religions. Her extensive knowledge is evident in her discussions of women mystics from Hinduism, Buddhism. Taoism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and indigenous wisdom ways.

“Perhaps you, like I, have associated spirituality with rising above the human condition, rather than consciously embodying it.” Starr

But “spiritual awakening does not leave us immune to the human condition. Quite the opposite. It brings us into the heart of reality, where we mourn, rage, bow and give thanks, ache and surrender.” You might want to read that last sentence again. Starr opens us to being human with all aspects of what that means, not just a sanitized version. As women, we need to honor our full range of emotions. 

“A more feminine flavor of leadership…feminine wisdom feeds the human spirit.” Starr

“…we are beings out of balance when we deny the value of the emotions, the dark, the hidden.” This is one of Starr’s most significant statements. “Beings out of balance” probably defines so many of us because we have not been encouraged or allowed to “value the emotions, the dark, the hidden.” In our feelings, we find who we are, not thoughts to be feared but ones to be honored and accepted. The way of the feminine is to be guided by the heart, not the mind. Her claim that “the way of the feminine is neither repressing or indulging” releases us from any confining beliefs.

“And that’s the path of the feminine: the path of connection.” Starr

“Connection is liberation. Cultivate it.” She cautions against waiting for anyone to save us. Instead, look to other women for guidance.  “Our way, the way of the feminine, is to find what everyone is good at and praise them for it and get them to teach it to one another.”

“…the balance of the masculine and feminine has been so terribly out of whack in human history.” Starr

She mentions Ram Dass (see my two previous posts on Ram Dass “Love was His Real Teaching” and “With Joy and Suffering”), her lifelong friend and mentor, as “a feminine mystic in the body of a man.” It is not just women who embody the feminine, some men do also.  

“Contemplative life is not for the timid. It’s scary to be quiet, and it takes courage to be still.” Starr

“For the feminine, however, the line between contemplative life and social and environmental action is blurry to the point of insignificance. She turns inward, where she recognizes herself in all beings, which moves her to turn outward and act on behalf of the whole.” Starr

Starr believes that we have an environmental crisis and  “must break the habit of overconsumption and engage in voluntary simplicity,” echoing the thoughts of most mystics. She shares the mystical Jewish wisdom, which teaches that everyone has a particular task to heal the world. This task is most likely something a person is already good at and is definitely something the person loves to do. Sit quietly, think of our strengths and imagine how to harness them, she suggests, and in doing that “Be wildly creative.”

“Child-rearing is arguably the most difficult path possible, a hero’s journey that leads us on harrowing adventures but for which we receive no credit.” Starr

This statement needs no comment, except to remind women of their endurance and importance in providing for the next generation in hopes of a better world. “Family is the most powerful spiritual teacher I have known.” Similar to the statement on raising children, I think most women intuitively understand this, especially as we age and find challenges and empathy with family and/or close friends.

“It wouldn’t hurt if we didn’t love and that love is worth the pain.” Starr

An important part of her book is the section on grief, an overriding emotion for Starr who lost her 14 year old daughter suddenly in a car accident. With no chance to say good-bye, even years later and after writing a book describing her grief, Caravan of No Despair: A Memoir of Loss and Transformation, her pain remains strong. In her darkness, she reminds us of our role in helping others. Women often carry the burden of comforting their sisters, both biological and close friends, in a time of crisis. If you have lost a loved one, are close to someone who did, or want to be reminded of the solace of other women, I encourage you to read this book. 

“Acceptance does not mean not caring…of course we care. We must care. Acceptance means being with things as they are, not turning away and not trying to shape them to our will.” Starr

After her own tragedy, Starr became a death counselor. “Once we have made our way to the bedside of one dying beloved, however, it gets easier to gain access to the next.”

“…but the most important part is to sit quietly and bear witness. Bear loving witness.” Starr

She helps us understand loving, living and dying. “I did not turn away from their suffering. I bore witness. This is our task as women on the path of transformational love. We guard one another’s hearts with our lives.”

“I believe in the healing energy of the feminine as a fire that can melt the frozen heart of the world.” Starr