Leaf Patterns

It has been dry where I live. That means there may be a particularly colorful fall. But these days it seems impossible to predict what will happen. After all the rain last summer, colorful mushrooms sprung up everywhere.

In 2010, bright leaf colors sometimes created stained glass patterns where the light shown through overlapping leaves. We can be thankful such glory is still here to marvel at even as things become more unpredictable.

Empty and Full

I liked this plate for its design. But its Heart Sutra calligraphy was what called out to me. I left a comment on a modern chanted version of this sutra, “Like emptiness, there is no limit on how to chant the heart sutra. The discordant chord at the end speaks to the unity of seeming opposites”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=958qchBNs60&t=56s.

This Sutra is central to the Mahayana Buddhist tradition that still flourishes in Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Tibet, Mongolia, Bhutan and China as well as parts of India and Nepal. Mahayana Buddhism has also spread to the Americas and Europe.

In the West, the concept of “emptiness,” can imply having run out of something and therefore lack. But this sutra’s “emptiness” seems more like transcendent fullness to me. Commentaries suggest the Sutra’s wisdom fosters compassion, and harmony, that it can make fear drop away. So while I could put whatever I like on that plate, with the Heart Sutra there, it already seems quite full:

Heart Sutra Translation by the Kuan Um School of Zen.

Source: https://www.dharmanet.org/HeartSutra

Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva
when practicing deeply the Prajna Paramita
perceives that all five skandhas are empty
and is saved from all suffering and distress.

Shariputra,
form does not differ from emptiness,
emptiness does not differ from form.
That which is form is emptiness,
that which is emptiness form.

The same is true of feelings,
perceptions, impulses, consciousness.

Shariputra,
all dharmas are marked with emptiness;
they do not appear or disappear,
are not tainted or pure,
do not increase or decrease.

Therefore, in emptiness no form, no feelings,
perceptions, impulses, consciousness.

No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind;
no color, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch,
no object of mind;
no realm of eyes
and so forth until no realm of mind consciousness.

No ignorance and also no extinction of it,
and so forth until no old age and death
and also no extinction of them.

No suffering, no origination,
no stopping, no path, no cognition,
also no attainment with nothing to attain.

The Bodhisattva depends on Prajna Paramita
and the mind is no hindrance;
without any hindrance no fears exist.
Far apart from every perverted view one dwells in Nirvana.

In the three worlds
all Buddhas depend on Prajna Paramita
and attain Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi.

Therefore know that Prajna Paramita
is the great transcendent mantra,
is the great bright mantra,
is the utmost mantra,
is the supreme mantra
which is able to relieve all suffering
and is true, not false.
So proclaim the Prajna Paramita mantra,
proclaim the mantra which says:

gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha
gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha
gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha

Communing with Surfaces

I first met Ken Matsuzaki on a trip to Japan. The first photo is of his pottery on display when I visited in 1997. After I returned, I was delighted to see Ken again, as well as examples of his latest work in Boston at the Pucker Gallery, which continues their long-term relationship with the master potter.

Entranced by the exuberant surfaces of the works on display in 2010, I asked and was granted permission to take closeups. I hope the photos below convey some sense for the joyful adventure of looking closely at their remarkable diversity.











Summer Tea Garden

The Japanese tea garden or roji may appear to be a natural woodland path, but it is actually a designed transition to the tranquil world of Japanese tea ceremony. Tea gardens induce a spirit of openness by bringing the tea ceremony values of harmony, respect, purity and tranquility to nature’s asymmetrical design.

To tend even a very small tea garden is to place oneself into nature’s rhythms. That provides a certain solace even in this summer of unusual heat. I water the moss, and watch it puff up and turn a deeper green. That feels as if I were the one becoming fuller and deeper.

I remember how, after I cleaned and filled the water basin and sprinkled water on the stepping stones as a sign of welcome, the cicadas began their evening song, as if they too, wanted to welcome my guests.






Sharing Tea and Dialogue As A Form of Servant Leadership

The new tea and dialogue practice I have been working on might be considered a form of servant leadership, a style of leadership that is primarily focused “on the growth and well-being of people.”

The respectful sharing of tea and honest open dialogue is aligned with what Lowder (2009) found in reviewing the literature on servant leadership including: mutual power, collaborative participation, non-judgment, a focus on believing in and empowering people, providing opportunities to learn, and valuing differences. Two particularly notable aspects were “openness to spiritual, emotional, and mental inspiration and revelation” (p. 12), and a focus on “overcoming… fear through creating shared meaning” (p. 13).

I find that holding nurturing safe space for authentic relating makes “aha” moments more possible. Marshall (2016) notes that an intention to improve wellbeing may not lead to action until it is supported by a strong emotional connection, “The aha moment is essentially the sweet spot where the emotional brain and rational brain finally integrate” (Marshall, 2016, p. 65).

Edwards, Elliot, Iszatt-White and Schedlitzki (2015) discuss the potential use of creative techniques like tea & dialogue to support the integration of cognition and emotion that is accessed through the body (Nummenmaa & Glerean & Hari & Hietanen, 2014): “leadership cannot be reduced to an entirely rational process, there has been an increasing interest in emotional and social intelligence in the leadership literature…with arts-based methods and other creative techniques gaining ground…It is argued that these approaches have the potential to connect cognitive and emotional processes” (p. 2).

Fry & Krieger (2009) describe servant leadership, which they rank highly in their model of being-centered leadership as follows: “Servant leadership consists of helping others discover their inner spirit, earning and keeping the trust of others, valuing service over self-interest, and role modeling effective listening…The most effective leadership in this view is not provided by those who seek leadership roles but rather by those who have a compelling vision and desire to serve others first” (Fry & Krieger, 2009, p. 1682).

The embodied awareness of tea & dialogue is particularly useful for leadership that works through supportive relationships. Brendel and Bennett (2016) speak of the benefits of “a practical model of embodied leadership where individuals learn ways to deepen awareness to include both the mind and the body as an interdependent system” (p. 409). They concluded embodied and aware leadership “builds resilience and resourcefulness, and improves relationships in complex environments” (Brendel & Bennett, 2016, p. 409).

References:

Brendel, W. & Bennett, C. (2016). Learning to embody leadership through mindfulness and somatics practice. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 18(3), 409-425. Doi: 10.1177/1523422316646068

Edwards, G., & Elliott, C., & Iszatt-White, M. & Schedlitzki, D. (2015). Using creative techniques in leadership learning and development: An introduction. Advances in Developing Human Resources. 17(3) 279-288, Doi: 10.1177/1523422315586616

Fry, L., & Krieger, M. (2009). Towards a theory of being-centered leadership: Multiple levels of being as context for effective leadership. Human Relations, 62(11), 1667-1696. Doi: 10.1177/0018726709346380

Lowder, T. (2009, June). Best leadership model for organizational change management: Transformational verses servant leadership.

Nummenmaa, L., & Glerean, E., & Hari, R. & Hietanen, J. (2014). Bodily maps of emotion. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Marshall, L. (2016, December). The power of the aha! moment. Prevention, p. 62.

Listening Deeply & Speaking the Truth

It is clear from our body language when we are really present for each other. Photo by Jeff Klein.

All the Insight Dialogue guidelines are fundamental to establishing the meditative qualities for Insight Dialogue relational practice. Without first Pausing, Relaxing, Opening and Attuning to Emergence, I do not know how it would be possible to Listen Deeply and Speak the Truth. In that spirit, during a recent Insight Dialogue practice that I co-facilitated with my guide and mentor, Jan Surrey (bio below), I paused and directed attention both inward and outward, and then called on all of those guidelines to discern what might want to be spoken in that moment.  I heard myself saying that not only people but all of nature listens and speaks and that I always come back to gratitude.

Listening Deeply makes use of the amazing receptive capacity of our sensitive body-heart-minds. We can harness energy and mindfulness to direct attention both outward and inward at the same time. There is deep beauty in opening to the internal and external flow of all that we can sense. That can provide access to wisdom and compassion in that moment, the moment we are alive. Still, I sometimes get lost in my own responses. When that happens, I gently return to mindfulness with kindness and compassion. There is a lot going on at the same time. We take in words and match those with meanings and associations. We take in tones of voice, and changing facial expressions. We participate in the flowing “music” arising between us. Deep listening as meditative practice means allowing oneself to be touched by the unexpected, to open to whatever arises. Awe is possible, so is learning to welcome being influenced.  

Speaking the Truth involves listening internally, discerning, and then speaking emerging truth in relation to a specific contemplation. Not stating what we think is true about the topic. Not sharing theoretical, or scientific truth. We use the support of the Insight Dialogue guidelines Pause, Relax, Open, Attune to Emergence, and Listen Deeply in relation to the contemplation. We draw on the whole body-heart-mind in investigating and speaking with an intention to adopt the teachings on wise speech: to speak what is true and not false; to speak what is beneficial and timely – is it appropriate to say that now? We attempt to speak in a way that is gentle, nonviolent and kind, and finally, to speak from compassion with an intention to liberate from suffering. We take care, knowing that speaking like listening, can influence us and others in ways that matter.

Listening and speaker inter are and work together. The wisdom of bringing attentive care to listening and speaking is clear from many Buddhist teachings: 

Right View (Anguttara Nikaya): “there are these two conditions for the the arising of right view, Which two? The voice of another and appropriate (or wise) attention.”

The Holy Life (Kalyanamittata): Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life.”

Right Speech (Samma Vaca) One tries to abandon wrong speech & to enter into right speech: This is one’s right effort. One is mindful to abandon wrong speech & to enter & remain in right speech: This is one’s right mindfulness. Thus these three qualities — right view, right effort & right mindfulness  & run & circle around right speech.”

 When listening deeply and speaking the truth something quite remarkable can happen – a working toward and aligning with what is true now. That creates an opening to release and ease that comes from a place beyond the personal. It is also a means to cultivate wisdom and compassion that bring with them a greater capacity for peace, happiness and wise action. In so many small and large ways, we really do practice Listening Deeply and Speaking the Truth for the benefit of all beings.

Instructions for dyad dialogue practice:

I invite you to Pause, Relax, Open, and Attune to Emergence as you explore how Listening Deeply & Speaking the Truth work together.

      Structure: – 20 minutes: S1, L1, (switch roles) S2, L2, Open 

S1 – Speaker 1 speaks for 4 minutes while Listener 1 listens. Pause

L1 -Listener 1  reflects for 4 minutes on the process of listening. Pause

          The Partners switch roles (Listener 1 becomes Speaker 2)

S2 – Speaker 2 speaks for 4 minutes while Listener 2 listens. Pause

L2 – Listener 2 reflects for 4 minutes on the process of listening. Pause  

Open – 4 minutes of open exchange with no formal speaker or listener roles.

Note:  At the start of dialogue practice, participants take a minute to introduce themselves and determine who will speak first.  At the end, participants thank their partners for the opportunity to practice together.

Contemplations for dialogue practice:

When speaking: What do you notice about how your partner’s practice of listening affects you as you Speak the Truth?

When listening: What did you notice about how your partner’s practice of speaking affected you as you Listened Deeply?

During Open Dialogue: What is it like speaking and listening with formal roles dropped?

It Might Sound Like This:

As Speaker: I notice I am pausing to see what is here. There is anxiety about not knowing what to say. Sensing you watching me, I feel a bit self-conscious. Noticing your smile, I feel myself relax. As I pause and settle, I can sense you are not judging me. That is encouraging.

As Listener: I noticed that you really took your time figuring out what to share. That helped me pause and relax. When you tilted your head, I felt welcome. When your tone of voice softened, that affected how I understood your words. I could feel myself bringing in energy, becoming really interested in what you had to say.

 I invite you to draw on the support of all the guidelines and make good use of the Pause before, during, and after speaking.  

******************************************

With deep gratitude for all the support and guidance from my Insight Dialogue Teacher, Janet Surrey, who teaches Insight Dialogue retreats worldwide as well as leading a monthly practice group in the Boston area. She serves on the Teachers Council for the Insight Dialogue Community. Starting in 2007, she has been working with Gregory Kramer, founding teacher of Insight Dialogue meditation, a relational meditation practice within the Theravādan Buddhist tradition. She is a practicing clinical psychologist and a founding scholar of the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute at Wellesley College. She is also on the board of the Institute for Meditation and Psychology.

Horizon Gazing

One of the more accessible mindfulness practices is “horizon gazing.” You simply sit comfortably in a place where you can see the horizon. Then you bring a soft, wide mindfulness and a gentle gaze to what is in front of you.

Nearby Robins Farm Park, with its grassy slope seemed ideal. But where you do this practice is far less important than just taking it in. At any time of day, and in all weather conditions, the sky is there for us. While these photos do not provide the full sensory experience, they do hint, I think, at the wonder, peace and even awe that horizon gazing can provide.


Looking Through Windows

Gazing out the window

All is stillness in the garden

What does my cat see?

When my Japanese tea ceremony teacher, Giselle Maya, told me that the poetic word for 2022 is “window,” I thought it might be time to revisit “Dream Window” by Peter Grilli. He had metaphorical reasons to choose that title for his poetic film about Japanese gardens. But it is also true that gardens are often viewed through actual windows – Such sight lines are an important consideration in garden design. What do you see through the windows where you live?

Whether another building, a field, undisturbed nature, an empty lot, busy sidewalk or a garden, looking through windows can bring out the poetry of this world. A limited view into space-time somehow makes the ever-changing wholeness of everything “out there” easier to relate to.

Cultivating Authentic Connection

Sharing tea during tea and dialogue practice (photo by Jeff Klein)

Convinced there is great need to create opportunities for authentic connection, I started working on a new mindfulness practice that involves respectfully sharing tea and dialogue. While technology has numerous practical advantages, many of us engage much less in the kind of trusting face-to-face interaction that helps our social species thrive. Loneliness and social isolation, which have been found to be as bad for us as smoking, were on the rise even before the pandemic.

This post explains why I chose to take elements from two very different relational practices to create what I hoped would prove to be an accessible and adaptable new secular “tea and dialogue” practice.

At first glance, Japanese tea ceremony’s largely silent formal sharing of a bowl of tea might seem worlds away from the in-the-moment candid verbal sharing of Insight Dialogue. But both practices provide the safety and support needed to bring sustained attention to social interaction that deeply taps the wellbeing of felt connection. And both can open the door to life-transforming insight.

Japanese tea ceremony is a performance art that takes place in a tranquil setting apart from everyday worries. Water is whisked into a bowl containing a mound of powdered green tea and bowls of tea are shared with a few guests. After much practice, body learning makes it possible to carry out the detailed prescribed procedures with artless ease. Time slows down. Sustained embodied awareness opens one to the deeper beauty that can be found in imperfect objects, in nature, in all those gathered in the tea room, and in each moment. Sharing tea with many different guests over the years always left me feeling centered and at peace regardless of what else was going on in my life. Japanese tea ceremony began to feel like a time capsule of wisdom that was badly needed in these particularly stressful times.

Insight Dialogue is a practice with three elements; meditative awareness, investigation of a topic capable of imparting wisdom, and human relating. Participants form into pairs or small groups and take turns for timed intervals sharing what arises in the moment on the designated contemplation topic. That all listen without commenting creates safety, while the practice’s guidelines – Pause, Relax, Open, Attune to Emergence, Listen Deeply and Speak the Truth – provide powerful support. The subjective impressions that are shared tend to be intrinsically interesting. They are often wise and moving; more like poetry than everyday speech. Being truly heard is rare. Listening carefully is a natural way to encourage others to continue returning that precious favor. After a time, I found myself bringing the same nonjudgmental supportive energy to everyday conversations, even stressful ones, and that transformed my life.

Bringing sustained embodied awareness to authentic sharing amplifies the wellbeing and resilience that generosity and gratitude provide for our species. That compassion is warranted becomes clear (given how much each of us has to contend with), but so are joy and gratitude (given how much we are able to give and receive from each other).

Posts describing variations of the new practice combining elements of Japanese tea ceremony with meditative verbal sharing are available by clicking on the Tea & Dialogue category to the right and scrolling down. Whether with dear friends or with someone new, it is well worth remembering how much we benefit from authentic connection.

Object Lessons

I recently acquired a tiny (4 cm tall) copper “Three Wise Monkeys” statue. Finding a ceramic version confirmed my suspicions that the three monkeys statue was a futaoki (lid rest in Japanese) used to support the kettle lid when hot water is poured into tea bowls. But associations with manmade objects can be complex and change over time. I wanted to learn more.

An article about the symbolism of the three monkeys noted, “During the Warring States period of China, around 475 to 221 BCE, the Analects of Confucius included the proverb of looking not at what’s contrary to being right; listening not to what’s contrary to being right; making no movement which is contrary to being right.”

I was glad to learn from this article that the monkeys were present in Japan at the time tea ceremony was gaining popularity; “By the time of the Tokugawa period, also known as the Edo period, which lasted from 1603 to 1867, the three monkeys were portrayed in Buddhist sculptures. At the Toshogu Shrine in Nikko, Japan, an eight panel sculpture represents the Code of Conduct developed by Confucius. One of the panels is the Three Wise Monkeys, symbolizing the principle of not seeing, not hearing and not saying anything evil…The message is that we should protect ourselves by not letting evil enter our sight, not allowing evil words to enter our hearing, and finally to not speak and engage in evil words and thoughts.”

The meaning ascribed to the three monkeys changed as they spread to new lands; later in Europe, the monkeys provided a reminder of the need to be blind, deaf and dumb in order to live in peace. Now with technology making it possible for fake news to travel faster than real news and the increasingly subtle ways evil doers are finding to manipulate our harmful human mind tendencies, the monkeys’ warning is taking on new poignancy.

They are also used as emojis – the hear no evil monkey to suggest hearing something one did not wish to “hear,” and speak no evil, when a comment seemed inappropriate for the topic under discussion.

I wonder what new associations these three enigmatic little monkeys will acquire in the future? I will smile as I place the little monkeys next to the hot water kettle before guests arrive to share tea in my hut.