Meditation Poem Series: #44

I didn’t really make new year’s resolutions, but I would like to set the intention to keep meditation on a daily basis, to go deepen my experience by connecting more deeply with my Sangha (community), study the Dharma (the teachings), and find a teacher or guide in the Dharma. I don’t fit into a neat spiritual category, but for now I am happy being a Catholic/Quaker/Buddhist. 🙂

I woke up bright and early to attend a 7AM All Team meeting at work, and to offer a prayer to start the meeting. I was able to sit and breathe in my office for 20 minutes, before facing the tasks of the day.

Meditation Poem #44
stillness, peace, quiet,
noise, chaos, movement,
all converging in me

Reflection: Life, death and Star Wars

I don’t talk about my vocation as a chaplain a lot, but I’ve worked in hospital settings to currently a retirement community. Grief, loss, and death seem to be reoccurring themes in the life of chaplaincy.

I do enjoy being a chaplain in more of a communal setting than the random visits that happen in a hospital setting, but it also makes it more difficult when people die. Pastors and ministers are people too, and it’s sad, when I am constantly saying goodbye to people I form a deep bond with. However, I know God is using me and my gifts to journey with folks as they approach the end, or approach the ultimate new beginning for those of who believe that death is not the end.

It’s interesting what our pop culture says about death. I know Star Wars takes myth and views of multiple religions and blends them in one; I equated Zen Buddhism and Taoism as the largest spiritual inspirations of Star Wars. The Force seems similar to the Great Tao that cannot be named. Jedi masters like Yoda act as strange Taoist sages, or eccentric Zen monks that talk in paradox. I am still unsure where Force ghosts fit into all this, but it does strike to this notion that death is not the end for all of us that we are still tied to life by the Force even in death.

In Christianity, there is a strong sense of the communion of saints. Saints aren’t necessarily force ghosts that come back after death to give us wisdom, but they do speak to us through the walls that divide life and death.  All of this to say that what separates life and death is not as clear as we make it out to be. I love the Buddhist notion that each breath leads to our last, and this is not to make us depressed and withdraw from life, but the awareness of death allows to see each breath as a precious moment and gift.

Meditation Poem Series: #18

Today, I sat in meditation on a wooden bench at a Quaker meeting for worship. There are different sects of Quakerism, but I belong to one where people sit in Silence and speak out that Silence. I was pretty physically tired, the drowsiest I’ve been in sitting meditation.

Meditation Poem #18
the deepest silence cannot
hold the infinite emptiness
of heart

Reflection: Just Sitting

There’s form of Zen, where teachers stress shikantaza, or just sitting. If we just sit fully, then we just are, nothing special. Zen teachers like Kosho Uchiyama teach this sort of zen that embraces the everyday life, in his exploration of Dogen’s writing on the cook of a temple, Uchiyama writes:

The most important point to bear in mind here regarding the buddhadharma is the expression mantoku enman, or perfect harmony. To have goodness emanating naturally from your character is living more truly by Buddhism than having had some so-called kenshĹŤ or satori experience. There should be no doubt that living out your life, acting and being in perfect harmony, is indeed living out the life of the Self. A satori which is unrelated to your personal character is nothing more than a kind of drunkenness. It is no more than the elation you might get from taking drugs. Needless to say, this has nothing to do either with religion or with the buddhadharma.

We are not practicing for some goal, even for a goal of enlightened. We do zazen to do zazen, and in just sitting, we are just being.

Needless to say, I have not been able to just sit, I am distracted by a myriad of thoughts and feelings. But I try to keep coming back to the practice of sitting meditation over and over. Uchiyama says of zazen:

Your practice of zazen must not be something separate from your own experience of your day-to-day life, nor from the overall direction of your life. Rather, in constantly working to refine and clarify your everyday life, or the life of your total Self, your practice accords with the dharma.

I hope I can live this way of being, and live in a way that spiritual life is not a theory but a lived out experience in each moment.

Reflection: “Be a Lamp unto Yourself”

The Buddha’s last words to “be a Lamp unto yourself,” and some translations of the Bible has Jesus saying “kingdom of God is within you.” We don’t have to look far for wisdom. Quakers believe that each person has the Divine Light within them, and part of sitting in silence is to truly listen and nurture that inner Light.

Buddhism makes sense to me on a practical way that sometimes my own Christian faith does not. It asks us to trust our experience that there’s no other authority or teacher than what’s happening right now, Charlotte Joko Beck beautifully captures this idea:

There is only one teacher. What is that teacher? Life itself. And of course each one of us is a manifestation of life; we couldn’t be anything else. Now life happens to be both a severe and an endlessly kind teacher. It’s the only authority that you need to trust. And this teacher, this authority, is everywhere. You don’t have to go to some special place to find this incomparable teacher, you don’t have to have some especially quiet or ideal situation: in fact, the messier it is, the better. (16, Everyday Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck)

So this is what I have been trying to do as I keep coming back to my practice. My meditation practice deepened about 6 years ago, but my daily sitting practice shifted with the birth of my daughter 3 years ago. I was no longer able to sit first thing in the morning…but I’m slowly reestablishing my daily sitting practice.

I am trying to work with the messiness of my life. There’s a lot I can learn from Buddhism as a Christian. The Christian monastics also live this reality of authentically encountering life, but for them they are encountering Christ in each other on a daily basis in community. What good is prayer, if you can’t love the brother who burnt your lunch?

Centering prayer and meditation seem similar and yet the intentions are very different. However, I personally find both practices deeply enriching and help me live a spiritual life as opposed to just believing in it as a theory.