Each moment, life as it is, the only teacher: quotes from Joko Beck

I posted this originally on June 16, 2011. Needing to remind myself of her wisdom, I thought you might want to (re)read her words and appreciate her wisdom too.

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Charlotte Joko Beck died yesterday, very peacefully, at the age of 94. She was a Zen teacher who made a major impact on American Buddhism.

Here’s a quote from article that puts her work into perspective (no longer available):

The Ordinary Mind School was among the first Zen communities to consciously engage the emotional life and the shadows of the human mind as Zen practice. The late Charlotte Joko Beck and her dharma heirs adapted elements of the vipassana tradition — a relentless inquiry into the contours of the human mind — as unambiguous Zen discipline.

Here are some quotes from her:

With unfailing kindness, your life always presents what you need to learn. Whether you stay home or work in an office or whatever, the next teacher is going to pop right up.

Caught in the self-centered dream, only suffering;
holding to self-centered thoughts, exactly the dream;
each moment, life as it is, the only teacher;
being just this moment, compassion’s way.

Enlightenment is not something you achieve. It is the absence of something. All your life you have been going forward after something, pursuing some goal. Enlightenment is dropping all that.

Wisdom is to see that there is nothing to search for. If you live with a difficult person, that’s nirvana. Perfect. If you’re miserable, that’s it. And I’m not saying to be passive, not to take action; then you would be trying to hold nirvana as a fixed state. It’s never fixed, but always changing. There is no implication of ‘doing nothing.’ But deeds done that are born of this understanding are free of anger and judgment. No expectation, just pure and compassionate action.

Practice is just hearing, just seeing, just feeling. This is what Christians call the face of God: simply taking in this world as it manifests. We feel our body; we hear the cars and birds. That’s all there is.

Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru.

So a relationship is a great gift, not because it makes us happy — it often doesn’t — but because any intimate relationship, if we view it as practice, is the clearest mirror we can find.

Practice can be stated very simply. It is moving from a life of hurting myself and others to a life of not hurting myself and others. That seems so simple — except when we substitute for real practice some idea that we should be different or better than we are, or that our lives should be different from the way they are. When we substitute our ideas about what should be (such notions as “I should not be angry or confused or unwilling”) for our life as it truly is, then we’re off base and our practice is barren.

We have to face the pain we have been running from. In fact, we need to learn to rest in it and let its searing power transform us.

We learn in our guts, not just in our brain, that a life of joy is not in seeking happiness, but in experiencing and simply being the circumstances of our life as they are; not in fulfilling personal wants, but in fulfilling the needs of life.

Meditation is not about some state, it is about the meditator.

Zen practice isn’t about a special place or a special peace, or something other than being with our life just as it is. It’s one of the hardest things for people to get: that my very difficulties in this very moment are the perfection… When we are attached to the way we think we should be or the way we think anyone else should be, we can have very little appreciation of life as it is…whether or not we commit physical suicide, if our attachment to our dream remains unquestioned and untouched, we are killing ourselves, because our true life goes by almost unnoticed.

NYT: Response after trauma may be as crucial as trauma itself

This New York Times article presents research that suggests that what happens right after a traumatic event may be just as important as the trauma in determining how a traumatized person fares.

This may seem like common sense, but the world surely can use more of it.

Here’s the link: A New Focus on the ‘Post’ in Post-Traumatic Stress. And I really dislike the paywall where you can only see so many NYT articles per month for free. It’s early in the month, and I hope you can read it if you’re interested.

One of the damaging things that happened a day or two after my childhood trauma was telling an adult that I wanted to go home and being told I needed to stay where I was.

It wasn’t even that I wanted to literally go home. I can see now that I wanted reassurance that things would be or even could be okay again. I wanted the comfort of my mother’s presence. That’s what home meant then. And at age 11, I just didn’t have the right words to communicate what I needed so badly.

Was that the moment that trauma became PTSD? I don’t know.

Part of my recovery (after the big chunks were in place) was having a series of dreams for a couple of years in which I was trying to get home and couldn’t. I’d find myself stranded and making the best of it in some town miles away from Austin, but always looking out for a way to get home.

Then I finally had a dream in which I was at home, and it was a home I didn’t recognize, but it was my home.

At both ages, home was a metaphor for living in my body and feeling safe.

A note: The work of Dr. Peter A Levine spells out how important it is for a person to connect with and be tended to by a kind, calm person after a traumatic event. He recognizes that “the human connection” is critical in preventing PTSD after a trauma — in his book In An Unspoken Voice, he describes his own trauma and recovery in detail, including a bystander who offered a steady, reassuring presence.

He is one of the most renowned trauma researchers and writers in the world. It seems like an oversight to me for his work to go unmentioned in this article.

Mr. Rogers and 5 random acts of kindness for each person who died

This has been quoted on Facebook about how to help young children who encounter scary things in the news:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world. ~ Fred Rogers

Here’s a link to the whole web page from which the quote came.

This is part of why I don’t own a television:

The way that news is presented on television can be quite confusing for a young child. The same video segment may be shown over and over again through the day, as if each showing was a different event. Someone who has died turns up alive and then dies again and again. Children often become very anxious since they don’t understand much about videotape replays, closeups, and camera angles. Any televised danger seems close to home to them because the tragic scenes are taking place on the TV set in their own living room. Children can’t tell the difference between what’s close and what’s far away, what’s real and what’s pretend, or what’s new and what’s re-run.

It’s not just children who become very anxious. Your consciousness is taking it in. Even though I’ve been an adult for a long time, and I’ve been conditioned about what “reality” is, watching the events of 9-11 really brought it home to me: the way “the news” televises tragedies is traumatizing. So many replays, so much repetition to get all “the facts” right, so much effort to keep people glued to their sets, feeling horrified and helpless, while taking in those images and words over and over again.

Turn off the news. Go for a walk. Pray and take care of yourself and your family. And look for solutions.

One Facebook friend (Ginger Webb, whom I’ve never met but whose fabulous herbal products I buy and recommend) proposed doing five random acts of kindness for each person who died.

I like that. I so wish that our government would enact gun control laws and make treatment for PTSD free and accessible for everyone. We do not need to be as highly armed as we are, and we’re not doing a very good job keeping guns out of the hands of the emotionally disturbed.

It will take time and effort for that to happen, and it may not, judging by the past. This time could be different, though. Please let your voice be heard.

Meanwhile, put some good into the world. You never know how stressed or hurting someone might really be, and how meaningful your unexpected kindness could be.

What you can do to be happy

This article, 12 Things Happy People Do Differently, lists things you can start doing today to experience more happiness in your life.

Besides the usual suspects like gratitude, optimism, and forgiveness, some tips were unexpected, like this one:

Avoid over-thinking and social comparison. – Comparing yourself to someone else can be poisonous.  If we’re somehow ‘better’ than the person that we’re comparing ourselves to, it gives us an unhealthy sense of superiority.  Our ego inflates – KABOOM – our inner Kanye West comes out!  If we’re ‘worse’ than the person that we’re comparing ourselves to, we usually discredit the hard work that we’ve done and dismiss all the progress that we’ve made.  What I’ve found is that the majority of the time this type of social comparison doesn’t stem from a healthy place.  If you feel called to compare yourself to something, compare yourself to an earlier version of yourself.

I also liked what it said about how just watching kindness in action increases serotonin in those witnessing it as well as in the person performing the kind act. By being kind, not only do you feel better, it’s contagious! 

Nurture social relationships. – The happiest people on the planet are the ones who have deep, meaningful relationships.  Did you know studies show that people’s mortality rates are DOUBLED when they’re lonely?  WHOA!  There’s a warm fuzzy feeling that comes from having an active circle of good friends who you can share your experiences with.  We feel connected and a part of something more meaningful than our lonesome existence.

Thanks to friend Shelley Seale for posting this link on Twitter.

Dalai Lama quote: “Kindness is society”

Just encountered this quote by Jeffrey Hopkins, professor of Tibetan Studies at the University of Virginia and interpreter for the Dalai Lama for 10 years:

During a lecture while I was interpreting for the Dalai Lama, he said in what seemed to me to be broken English, “Kindness is society.” I wasn’t smart enough to think he was saying kindness is society. I thought he meant kindness is important to society; kindness is vital to society; but he was saying that kindness is so important that we cannot have society without it. Society is impossible without it. Thus, kindness IS society; society IS kindness. Without concern for other people it’s impossible to have society.

Do something kind for another person today.

Each moment, life as it is, the only teacher: quotes from Joko Beck

Charlotte Joko Beck died yesterday, very peacefully, at the age of 94. She was a Zen teacher who made a major impact on American Buddhism.

Here’s a quote from an article that puts her work into perspective (no longer available online):

The Ordinary Mind School was among the first Zen communities to consciously engage the emotional life and the shadows of the human mind as Zen practice. The late Charlotte Joko Beck and her dharma heirs  adapted elements of the vipassana tradition — a relentless inquiry into the contours of the human mind—as unambiguous Zen discipline.

Here are some quotes from her:

With unfailing kindness, your life always presents what you need to learn. Whether you stay home or work in an office or whatever, the next teacher is going to pop right up.

Caught in the self-centered dream, only suffering;
holding to self-centered thoughts, exactly the dream;
each moment, life as it is, the only teacher;
being just this moment, compassion’s way.

Enlightenment is not something you achieve. It is the absence of something. All your life you have been going forward after something, pursuing some goal. Enlightenment is dropping all that.

Wisdom is to see that there is nothing to search for. If you live with a difficult person, that’s nirvana. Perfect. If you’re miserable, that’s it. And I’m not saying to be passive, not to take action; then you would be trying to hold nirvana as a fixed state. It’s never fixed, but always changing. There is no implication of ‘doing nothing.’ But deeds done that are born of this understanding are free of anger and judgment. No expectation, just pure and compassionate action.

Practice is just hearing, just seeing, just feeling. This is what Christians call the face of God: simply taking in this world as it manifests. We feel our body; we hear the cars and birds. That’s all there is.

Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru.

So a relationship is a great gift, not because it makes us happy – it often doesn’t – but because any intimate relationship, if we view it as practice, is the clearest mirror we can find.

Practice can be stated very simply. It is moving from a life of hurting myself and others to a life of not hurting myself and others. That seems so simple — except when we substitute for real practice some idea that we should be different or better than we are, or that our lives should be different from the way they are. When we substitute our ideas about what should be (such notions as “I should not be angry or confused or unwilling”) for our life as it truly is, then we’re off base and our practice is barren.

We have to face the pain we have been running from. In fact, we need to learn to rest in it and let its searing power transform us.

We learn in our guts, not just in our brain, that a life of joy is not in seeking happiness, but in experiencing and simply being the circumstances of our life as they are; not in fulfilling personal wants, but in fulfilling the needs of life.

Meditation is not about some state, it is about the meditator.

Zen practice isn’t about a special place or a special peace, or something other than being with our life just as it is. It’s one of the hardest things for people to get: that my very difficulties in this very moment are the perfection… When we are attached to the way we think we should be or the way we think anyone else should be, we can have very little appreciation of life as it is…whether or not we commit physical suicide, if our attachment to our dream remains unquestioned and untouched, we are killing ourselves, because our true life goes by almost unnoticed.

Generosity, root vegetables, and an offer on my house!

Today is the fifth day of my 21-day gratitude challenge. It’s still raining! I mentioned my gratitude for that yesterday. Another day of rain in January translates to more wildflowers in April in Central Texas. Plus, with the summers we have here, variety is welcome!

Here’s what else I’m especially grateful for today.

Generosity

Today I’m feeling especially grateful for the generosity of friends and strangers. Since my car has been disabled since Christmas eve (but ready tomorrow — yay!), my friend Thomas has twice let me use his car while he was traveling.

I have appreciated that, and his friendship, very much. The car loan has helped me out tremendously, since I didn’t have rental coverage on my insurance (do now!), and he hasn’t had to pay for long-term parking. I’ve picked him up and dropped him off at the airport (with my daughter filling in once when I had a yoga workshop), returning his car with a full tank of gas. Thank you, Thomas!

I also appreciate my friends letting me bounce my ideas about creating my right livelihood off them, supporting me and sharing information about possibilities for training and people they know who have an inside scoop. I’m mulling over a lot now, and I recognize that my friends have a lot of resources, wisdom, and connections to share.

This last anecdote falls into the category of random acts of kindness, a form of generosity. Who isn’t grateful for those? My friend Victoria shared a story about how she (currently carless) accidentally left her bag with the extra layer of clothes needed to wait at bus stops in January at her workplace, and how a woman waiting behind her in line at a coffee shop offered to drive her back there to get her bag. The woman refused any compensation, as she had had the experience being a carless bus rider herself. Victoria felt supported by the Universe and appreciated having that extra layer of clothes as she went about her day.

Root vegetables

I just made a big ol’ pot of borscht, with parsnips, carrots, red-skin potatoes, and most of all, beets, among the ingredients. Red beets and orange beets and sliced beet greens.

Beets and rainy winter days go together really well. The jewel-like color of borscht made with lots of beets is a warming, heart-opening color to nourish you during these days of low gray clouds and cold dampness. Beets have an earthy taste like no other vegetable I can think of. If you need grounding, eat beets.

Negotiating

I got an offer on my house yesterday, and this time it was in the ballpark! Yay! I’m feeling very grateful. It’s been six weeks since it was first listed, and to tell the truth, it’s been a tiny bit nerve-wracking. It’s not the best time of year to sell.

So I am grateful that a prospective buyer and his realtor are taking my listing seriously enough to make an offer.

I met with my wonderful realtor/neighbor today, and we made a counteroffer. This could go back and forth several times, and it could also fall apart, with one or the other of us walking away. I’m asking what I want, having already come down once, because if you don’t, guess what? You won’t get it!

She’s letting another couple of very interested prospective buyers know that I’m currently negotiating, so if they want to make offers, now is a good time!

Keep ya posted!