If you have a “significant other” in your life, you know that you should not just be practicing self-compassion for yourself – you should also be practicing compassion for the relationship. I thought my wife and I – together thirty years (today is our anniversary!) – had been doing a pretty good job at it, having developed a nice rhythm of conflict resolution long ago.
But then we took advantage of a check-in and clearing exercise that my teacher Jonathan Foust mentioned that he did with his wife – Tara Brach – every week or two. My wife and I started doing that exercise a few years back and it really helped. It has brought a deeper connection into our marriage because it’s so easy to let the days, weeks and months go by and not really check in.
It’s interesting that because we rarely have a conflict these days, we don’t have many of those intense conversations that we used to have early in the marriage when we did have conflicts more regularly. And of course, a clearing exercise would be of great benefit for those that do have conflicts. You’re creating an opportunity to have an open and direct conversation at a time when you’re not seeing red. Under those circumstances, these clearing talks wind up being more productive.
A group of us spent last weekend helping out a farmer friend with some chores around the farm, including the clearing of a few dead trees. This friend is quite attuned to her environment and I thought I would share what she so thoughtfully wrote (with her permission):
In prep, this afternoon, I did already drop one of the trees. One of the dead oaks had fallen a couple months ago and gotten stuck in a hickory (smaller than the oak) that was still alive. The weight of the oak pushed and bent the hickory so badly, I didn’t think it would recover from the fall of the oak.
So I dropped the bent hickory that was holding up the fallen oak. Observing the angles of both trees, knowing the strength of hickory wood, understanding the weight and pressure that the oak laid on the hickory, then making the wedge cut, listening intently to the first crack, and reacting to the anticipation of the fall (in this case, two trees would fall together).
It’s really an incredible feeling to have all senses “turned on” so intensely. To me, this is concentration meditation and open awareness meditation in full bloom simultaneously. After the drop, it’s quiet. Then I acknowledged to the tree that I took it probably a year or even two early. I don’t know for sure, but I sensed with that harsh bend, it would not have lived a regular time.
But I don’t sense at all that trees suffer, even when they are dying. They seem to be just fine when they are dying. It’s amazing. I used to go through the forest cutting off these giant vines that choke and kill trees, thinking I was being nice and “saving trees.” Maybe I was saving the trees, but not for them; it was for me. It’s interesting to re-think intentions.
And I don’t say that trees don’t suffer because they aren’t capable of suffering. They might very well be capable. I don’t know at all and take comfort in my forever agnosticism. But I’m pretty sure trees get – not in a thinking/understanding way, but rather in an actuality kind of way – that dying is just another process that is part of the “life” cycle. Suffering simply isn’t attached to that process for a tree.
Trees have been along far longer than humans; they have had more time to reach a higher evolution than us in that sense. This sense of tree (non)suffering came to me on a retreat once. There was a tree down by the river that was covered, really covered, in giant poison ivy. But before that break in silence, that tree let me understand that it was absolutely fine with the poison ivy. The poison ivy would kill it for sure, my guess is within one year, but the tree was absolutely fine – things were as they should be. Huh, we have so much to learn from our elders.
If you’re interested in learning about the basics of meditation, a painless read of one man’s journey towards that path is “Ten Percent Happier” by Dan Harris. Dan’s story is entertaining, a New York City news anchor who hit rock bottom before he found meditation & mindfulness as a way to redemption. It was a #1 bestseller. And it was motivational in moving my practice forward at a time when I needed the push a while back.
In his book, Dan posits that if there was a fairly easy way for you to become 10% happier in your life, why wouldn’t you do it? I found it to be an inviting way to approach mindfulness. Just think baby steps. Not looking for a cure for all your ills. Just alleviate some of your pain & suffering. And that’s how I look at the practical tips I’m sharing. Pick out just a handful for you to consider. The ones that resonate with you. You don’t have to try them all.
Dan’s book was so popular that he’s got an entire wellness business now. Including a great podcast – he has access to whomever he wants and he’s obviously experienced as an interviewer since that’s been his profession…
A few weeks ago, I re-read Deepak Chopra’s “Buddha.” It’s an easy-to-read, entertaining version of Buddha’s alleged life – with a few pages about the basics of Buddhism at the very end. It’s always refreshing to be reminded of what the basic teachings are:
1. The Three Universal Truths
2. The Four Noble Truths
3. The Noble Eightfold Path
And then drilling down into each of these, as pulled from this document:
The Three Universal Truths
1. Nothing is lost in the universe
2. Everything changes
3. The law of cause and effect
The Four Noble Truths explore human suffering, described as:
1. Dukkha: Suffering exists: Life is suffering. Suffering is real and almost universal. Suffering has many causes: loss, sickness, pain, failure, and the impermanence of pleasure.
2. Samudaya: There is a cause of suffering. Suffering is due to attachment. It is the desire to have and control things. It can take many forms: craving of sensual pleasures; the desire for fame; the desire to avoid unpleasant sensations, like fear, anger or jealousy.
3. Nirodha: There is an end to suffering. Attachment can be overcome. Suffering ceases with the final liberation of Nirvana (Nibbana). The mind experiences complete freedom, liberation and non-attachment. It lets go of any desire or craving.
4. Magga: In order to end suffering, you must follow the Eightfold Path.
The Eightfold Path consists of:
– Panna: Discernment, wisdom:
1. Samma ditthi: Right Understanding of the Four Noble Truths. Right View is the true understanding of the four noble truths.
2. Samma sankappa: Right thinking; following the right path in life. Right Aspiration is the true desire to free oneself from attachment, ignorance, and hatefulness.
– Sila: Virtue, morality:
3. Samma vaca: Right speech: No lying, criticism, condemning, gossip, harsh language. Right Speech involves abstaining from lying, gossiping, or hurtful talk.
4. Samma kammanta Right conduct or Right Action involves abstaining from hurtful behaviors, such as killing, stealing, and careless sex. These are called the Five Precepts.
5. Samma ajiva: Right livelihood: Support yourself without harming others. Right Livelihood means making your living in such a way as to avoid dishonesty and hurting others, including animals.
– Samadhi: Concentration, meditation:
6. Samma vayama: Right Effort: Promote good thoughts; conquer evil thoughts. Right Effort is a matter of exerting oneself in regards to the content of one’s mind: Bad qualities should be abandoned and prevented from arising again. Good qualities should be enacted and nurtured.
7. Samma sati: Right Mindfulness: Become aware of your body, mind and feelings. Right Mindfulness is the focusing of one’s attention on one’s body, feelings, thoughts, and consciousness in such a way as to overcome craving, hatred, and ignorance.
8. Samma samadhi: Right Concentration: Meditate to achieve a higher state of consciousness. Right Concentration is meditating in such a way as to progressively realize a true understanding of imperfection, impermanence, and non-separateness.