Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Building blocks

“When I was little, possibly the biggest treat in my life was going to FAO Schwartz, a massive fancy toy store in New York…From across the store, the Lego robots looked solid and statuesque—whole, complete, and monolithic. But when I got up close, I could see all the tiny fissures between the individual Lego pieces, and I could see the thousands and thousands of building blocks, all different colors and shapes interlocking, that made up the thing in front of me. That eight-foot tall dinosaur was really a heap of many tiny pieces, perfectly arranged to create the impression of a singular, unchangeable whole.

When we become aware of the myriad building-blocks of our identity, we get new perspective on who and what we are. What we sometimes mistakenly assume to be one mind, one being, one self, one “me,” is really a construct comprising many interlocking elements. I am never one thing; I am always many. And the many things that I am are themselves the result of, and connected to, many other things.”


Excerpt from "One City" by Ethan Nichtern

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Useful Mantra

In Being Peace, the Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh has provided a useful tool for calming oneself in the face of stress, anger, frustration or fear. It is a mantra that in it's simplest form it can be repeated as follows:

Breathing in, I calm my body
Breathing out, I smile
Breathing in, present moment
Breathing out, wonderful moment

The full value of Thich Nhat Hanh's teaching is better understood reading his own words:


From time to time, to remind ourselves to relax, to be peaceful, we may wish to set aside some time for a retreat, a day of mindfulness, when we can walk slowly, smile, drink tea with a friend, enjoy being together as if we are the happiest people on Earth. This is not a retreat, it is a treat. During walking meditation, during kitchen and garden work, during sitting meditation, all day long, we can practice smiling. At first you may find it difficult to smile, and we have to think about why. Smiling means that we are ourselves, that we have sovereignty over ourselves, that we are not drowned into forgetfulness. This kind of smile can be seen on the faces of Buddhas and bodhisattvas.

I would like to offer one short poem you can recite from time to time, while breathing and smiling.

Breathing in, I calm body and mind.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is the only moment.

"Breathing in, I calm body and mind." This line is like drinking a glass of ice water - you feel the cold, the freshness, permeate your body. When I breathe in and recite this line, I actually feel the breathing calming my body, calming my mind.

"Breathing out, I smile." You know the effect of a smile. A smile can relax hundreds of muscles in your face, and relax your nervous system. A smile makes you master of yourself. That is why the Buddhas and bodhisattvas are always smiling. When you smile, you realize the won-der of the smile.

"Dwelling in the present moment." While I sit here, I don't think of somewhere else, of the future or the past. I sit here, and I know where I am. This is very important. We tend to be alive in the future, not now. We say, "Wait until I finish school and get my Ph.D. degree, and then I will be really alive." When we have it, and it's not easy to get, we say to ourselves, "I have to wait until I have a job in order to be really alive." And then after the job, a car. After the car, a house. We are not capable of being alive in the present moment. We tend to postpone being alive to the future, the distant future, we don't know when. Now is not the moment to be alive. We may never be alive at all in our entire life. Therefore, the technique, if we have to speak of a technique, is to be in the present moment, to be aware that we are here and now, and the only moment to be alive is the present moment.

"I know this is the only moment." This is the only moment that is real. To be here and now, and enjoy the present moment is our most important task. "Calming, Smiling, Present moment, Only moment." I hope you will try it.


Even though life is hard, even though it is sometimes difficult to smile, we have to try. Just as when we wish each other "Good morning," it must be a real "Good morning." Recently, one friend asked me, "How can I force myself to smile when I am filled with sorrow? It isn't natural." I told her she must be able to smile to her sorrow, because we are more than our sorrow. A human being is like a television set with millions of channels. If we turn the Buddha on, we are the Buddha. If we turn sorrow on, we are sorrow. If we turn a smile on, we really are the smile. We cannot let just one channel dominate us. We have the seed of everything in us, and we have to seize the situation in our hand, to recover our own sovereignty.

When we sit down peacefully, breathing and smiling, with awareness, we are our true selves, we have sovereignty over ourselves. When we open ourselves up to a TV program, we let ourselves be invaded by the program. Sometimes it is a good program, but often it is just noisy. Because we want to have something other than ourselves enter us, we sit there and let a noisy television program invade us, assail us, destroy us. Even if our nervous system suffers, we don't have the courage to stand up and turn it off, because if we do that, we will have to return to our self."