November | Stop Telling People to Love Themselves

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Article: Rachel Webb / Image: Unknown 

An Open Letter to the Spiritual Community:

The first time someone encouraged me to love myself was about ten years ago. I had just entered the yogic and New Age spiritual community. I was a college student living in New York City for the first time. Like many college students, I was propelled by a newly prominent existential fear, and the recognition that my parents and friends had never loved me in the way I wanted them to. I was beginning to turn emotional wounds into the light, recognizing that I would be better without their deep traces. My mind was filled with the confusion and skepticism of adulthood. I was in pain.

Yoga was a dumb liniment. I craved it. I moved my body like a prayer, without knowing why, and felt I was getting closer to some center. I was beginning to connect with myself. But, self-reflection requires remembering.

A teacher read Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese to encourage self-love: “You do not have to be good./You do not have to walk on your knees/For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting./You only have to let the soft animal of your body/love what it loves.”

I tried to do that: be easy on myself, relax, let my desires happen to me. I would close my eyes. I would think, ‘What do I really love?’ Like a reflex, I remembered what the soft animal of my body had led me to do. I had lied to people. I had screamed at lovers in the street. I had judged. I had hurt people close to me. I had revealed their deepest shames with blades of anger. I had hated with the deepest power of annihilation. And I had numbed myself so thoroughly that I couldn’t feel guilt for more than a moment.

I tried to love that part of myself. I thought, “this is what normal people do to heal”. As a result, I oscillated between arrogant pride and deep shame. One moment, I convinced myself that my actions were warranted or excusable— that the brilliance of my passionate nature was above ethics. Another moment, I recognized the impossibility of being both good enough to love and having abused so many people. I felt wretched, weak, disgusting.

I could not love my hatred. I could not love my selfishness. I could not love something that caused pain to others. I did not even want these things as possessions of my memory. I could not understand why spiritual practitioners would encourage such a fallacy. It seemed either lazy or stupid to embrace wrongdoing. I wanted to be good. I wasn’t afraid to work hard and I intuitively refused to excuse or embrace my own vitriol. 

A few years later, when I began to study Buddhism, I found an answer that was both logical and compassionate, that I have not yet been able to defeat with skepticism. Though found in Je Tsongkhapa’s Three Principle Paths, one will find this truth saturating any scripture in the Madyamika Prasangika school of Buddhism, or implicitly in any Buddhist teaching, if you know where to look.

My answer to self-love was one of the tripartite vehicle that is at the essence of the entire scope of Mahayana (Greater Way) teachings: the Buddha jewel. At any Buddhist teaching or ceremony, monks and nuns and laypractitioners will recite a prayer of refuge in the Three Jewels in recognition of their power to bring one to a place of the highest spiritual potential, and a place of complete bliss. The Three Jewels are: the Buddha Jewel, the Dharma Jewel and the Sangha Jewel.

The Buddha jewel is not the Buddha. Buddha nature is not a tiny Buddha living somewhere in the center of your heart or brain waiting to be unobscured. The Buddha jewel, also known as 'Buddha nature' is the quality of the Buddha’s mind, which is the same quality our own minds possess. This quality is emptiness.

The emptiness of the mind (ours, the Buddha's) is its ability to be any kind of mind at all. Its emptiness is that it can change. It can be a stupid mind that evolves into an evil mind. An animal mind that evolves into the mind of a saint. The mind of a demon. The mind of a human. This emptiness is what allowed Sakyamuni Buddha, the Buddha that first spoke the truth of Buddhism, to go from a human to a Buddha’s mind in the same lifetime. Our minds are changeable in the exact same way. Now, we are unenlightened. The mind is changeable, so enlightenment is completely possible. This is the Buddha jewel. This is our Buddha nature. This is the unchangeable, untarnished aspect of our mind which we can love purely, without guilt.

It is a waste of time on the spiritual journey to work to embrace imperfections, or to cultivate a dull faultlessness about aspects of ourselves which are not perfect. Direct that energy instead toward the complete recognition of your Buddha nature; the fact that you can become an entirely perfect being simply because you have a mind, regardless of how the mind looks to you now. Then, begin to train the mind.

When a beginner musician purchases a great, expensive, sensitive instrument, they cannot quite use it properly. They cannot yet make it sing to the height of its beauty, but they treasure it for its capacity, and treat it with reverence and care. A sour note does not make this instrument less desirable-- it simply reflects on the student’s level of expertise. So too should we treat our own minds and bodies, knowing that once we have understood how to perfectly utilize them, they will produce something so profound it is beyond conception. Each mistake becomes lesson in getting closer to perfection until there are no more mistakes, no more false notes or sour chords. We must simply learn to play.

Recounting tales of mahasiddhas with impressive powers, my teacher said to me that these achievements, ecstatic experiences, and attributes of limitless love and wisdom are not only for the beings in the books. They are for us, in this lifetime.

This love, then, is not for the “self.” That would be missing the point. The self is simply a ever-changing encasement for the truly lovable thing: Buddha nature. Instead, I love that I am wisdom’s perfect instrument. I love that I am love’s perfect instrument. There is nothing my yet unskilled self can do to diminish this love because it is beyond the self. It is not for the self. This applies as equally to my self as it does to yours. All this being said: you can love you now.

 

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Rachel is a yoga instructor and meditation teacher at Three Jewels specializing in Lady Niguma yoga, a subtle body practice that is over 1,000 years old. Rachel is a dedicated dharma student of Three Jewels President Hector Marcel, and receives dharma and yoga training from Coco Korniczky. She credits any wisdom you may receive to these teachers and their teachers who have never given up on her. Rachel also assists in running marketing and social media platforms for Three Jewels. She is lover and feeder of feral Brooklyn cats in her spare time.

October | Beginner's Mind

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Article: Haila Macedo / Artist: Alisa Aiv

“In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few.” Suzuki Roshi

Have you ever felt the repetition of life weighing you down? How does it feel to wake up on Monday mornings? I know, I feel it too. It’s as if every year that passes it gets heavier and heavier. Is this it? Is this how life feels, with small doses of moments of happiness, then we arrive at death? If you’re reading this now then you know this isn’t the truth. If you’re reading this now, you’re a truth seeker. The truth is that this is merely an illusion brought about by our environment and outer stimulation. These mental habits, or neuro-patterns, were created simply because we were unaware, too busy, or too lazy to be in the present moment filtering out these illusions. We don’t live in mindful retreats or beautiful forests that promote this type of living, and if you do, lucky you. Do you happen to have a spare bedroom? There is a starting point to create space for this change, as well as, practices to develop this type of perception. Before I begin to explain these points, I would like you to understand how important it is to cultivate a beginner’s mind. A beginner’s mind allows you to experience life the fullest way possible. It allows you to experience life as a human who knows that one day it’s life will end, who understands the law of impermanence and who perceives unlimited beauty through this universal law. You are so lucky to be here, to have this human experience, to still have time on this wondrous planet. Do you understand this while you walk? Do you understand this while connecting with another living being that is also experiencing being alive? Do you feel this when an emotion arises? Do you feel this when you observe a leaf, a flickering flame, or the sensation of a breeze on your delicate skin?

Beginner’s mind, otherwise known as Shoshin, is a limitless and vast state of mind that does not cling to titles, accomplishments, teachings, emotions, or experiences. It does not allow these thoughts or titles to obstruct the way you process new information. The beginner’s mind is a flexible mind that is ready to learn and to understand. Yamaguchi Shihan, an aikido instructor, said that “standing strong and firm without any hardness or inflexibility is the state of real positive spirit. It is all-accepting and yet never loses the consciousness of its own existence.” Being open minded in this way does not mean that you allow everything to be a part of you, yet you allow yourself to be open to the experience of it in a non judgemental way, viewing it as if you’ve never known anything like it before. I believe it is possible to learn something from everything. Maintaining equilibrium and balance, so as to not be pulled left or right, assists me in learning what is there instead of what favors me. 

Meditation is the starting point at which a beginner’s mind can be cultivated. This practice brings awareness to the old, habitual mental patterns and it’s strengths. This awareness allows us to understand these habits, giving it the attention it needs, and creating space for it to unravel and dissolve. Some practices that are used in retreats are mindful walking and mindful eating. Both of which are simple, yet extremely powerful. Slowly walking down the block towards your next errand or walking your dog can be a good time for this practice. Just give yourself a couple extra minutes and leave early. Start by slowly walking and feeling every inch of your foot as it comes in contact with the floor while fully inhaling and exhaling. After a couple of minutes of doing this you can start to observe your surroundings, letting go of all preconceptions. Notice the trees, the leaves, the birds, and the people going about their own moments. There was a time when you weren’t here to experience this and there will be a time when, once again, you won’t be here to experience this. It is new because it is impermanent. 

When practicing mindful eating, observe your food with curiosity. Observe the colors, feel its temperature, smell its scent, and think about its history. Where did it come from? Who planted it? Did it receive love? Think about its timeline. Thank everyone that was involved in bringing this nourishing food to your plate. Send it loving energy before it enters and becomes a part of you. These practices create space to undo and do, to destroy and create. This is extremely beneficial for creatives, therapists, instructors, entrepreneurs, parents, everyone. Everyone can benefit from this. Everyone can accomplish more when they are able to view each moment as a blank canvas, as a new moment with infinite possibilities. 

This perception also gives you the space and power to manifest the reality you desire. Jon Kabat Zinn says “This moment is always fresh, always new. We’ve never been in this moment before.” What a gift this is! You have the ability to create the life you wish for because this moment is new. You have the ability to choose, to be, to live however you wish. Beginner’s mind can also elevate your frequency and allow you to connect to divine energy, whatever you may believe that to be. You can do this by giving your mind a break and entering your body, feeling and experiencing the world around you through your senses. This assists you in cultivating a mindful life. Because of conditioning, we tend to pack up our beliefs, past experiences, and emotions and bring them with us on our path through life as if they were essential. What if we left these on the side of the road and re prioritized, deciding that now we have new essential belongings such as these mindful practices that create space for beginner’s mind to arise so that we may experience life clearly as it was meant to be experienced?

Give yourself the gift of new possibilities, new vivid experiences. Give yourself the gift of a meditation practice. Be with yourself throughout the day and coach yourself along the way. If this seems too overbearing, look for a coach that can help you. You can have routine without feeling monotonous. Your days can be different and your routine can lead you to new beginnings, as long as you are open to receive, just as a beginner would, the lessons or inspiration that will lead you there. 

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Haila is a volunteer at Three Jewels and a writer for Elephant Journal. She's also a Holistic Wellness Coach, an explorer of truths, a lover of nature and all things healing. She has a deep desire to help all beings in need. Her personal practices include meditation, yoga, writing, energy work, and sound healing. She is the founder of Om Metta Bloom.