Zen Blog

This blog collects various internet feeds aimed towards information, experience and technique exchange in support of our shared spiritual journey.....

”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

Be Kind to Your Inner Parent

In his new book, Prizeworthy: How to Meaningfully Connect, Build Character, and Unlock the Potential of Every Child, psychologist and mindfulness advocate Mitch Abblett explains the benefits of prizing, which he defines as the act of recognizing and acknowledging the inner landscape of potential in every child. He frames this as an alternative to praising, which he explains can have negative consequences. He also shares advice for parents on how to skillfully prize kids while building their own inner awareness.

What parents need—for the sake of their children as well as themselves—is help in walking with, instead of struggling against, their pain, confusion, and doubt. Leave the rationales to sociological, political, and even religious debates, because here we are focusing on the nitty-gritty of making parenting not just a tolerable ordeal but an opening, a doorway to the widest possible array of experience—the grandeur and the gore. 

It is crucial for you to learn to mindfully stand in place and face the parental experience internally—your painful emotions. To face your “inner parent” is to bring self-compassion and mindfulness to bear on your relationship with yourself, with the pain that parents so readily magnify through unskillful means into unnecessary suffering and that gets in the way of the mindset required for seeing into and behind your child to their prize. 

I am not aware of any tool or strategy for ending the inevitable pain of parenting. The vivid momentum of sweet moments such as when kids first learn to pump their legs on the swing will eventually go still. Young kids will walk out of your sight and you will surge with fear. Older kids will hurl dagger eyes and sledgehammer words at you across the years. Even when they are only three feet tall, your emotional buttons will never be out of their reach. 

The whining will continue. Your sleep will be interrupted, either through their crying in their childhoods or your worrying in their adulthoods. They may be disabled or in other ways hampered from the easy happiness you wished for them. You will have no clue what to do in that crossroad moment as they hover in the doorway, their eyes expecting your parental reaction to save them. Every other life domain—your jobs, relationships, your own extended families—will press at you just as they ask for one more thing. And they may lose more than their fair share in life. 

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Aung San Suu Kyi’s Lawyer Says He’s Not Allowed to Speak About Her Case

Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Lawyer Says He’s Not Allowed to Speak About Her Case

In a Facebook post on Friday, Khin Maung Zaw, the head lawyer for deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, wrote that Myanmar’s military has banned him from speaking to the media, international organizations, or foreign governments about the Suu Kyi’s case. Suu Kyi was arrested after the February 1 coup, and has been held in an undisclosed location ever since. She faces numerous charges, including corruption, and she is not allowed to communicate with anyone but her lawyers, who she sees only in court. Reuters reports that the order reads: “Khin Maung Zaw’s communications may cause harassment, hurting a person who is acting in accordance with the law, may cause riots and destabilize the public peace.” The military junta has not released any information about the deposed leader’s case, and on Thursday Reuters reported that while the military is allowing an envoy from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to enter the country, they will not allow him to meet with Suu Kyi. 

LGBTQ Monk and Makeup Artist Joins TIME’s 2021 Next Generation Leaders

On October 13, Japanese monk, makeup artist, and LGBTQ activist Kodo Nishimura was featured as one of TIME’s Next Generation Leaders. Though both of his parents are Buddhist monks, Nishimura was not interested in following their footsteps until he moved to New York City to study at Parsons School of Design. There, he learned to embrace both his LGBTQ identity and his Buddhist roots. At the age of 24, Nishimura began splitting his time between makeup artist jobs in America and monastic training in Japan. Now a certified monk, the 32-year-old lives alongside his parents in the temple where he grew up—but he hasn’t given up his passion for makeup. Recently, he worked as the makeup director for the Miss Universe Japan finals, and his regular clients include celebrities such as Christina Milian and the musical duo Chloe x Halle. While he is an outspoken LGBTQ activist and hopes to help change discrimination legislation in Japan, Nishimura feels that simply staying true to his identity and expressing his most authentic self is also a form of activism. “I want to stretch the horizon and inspire people,” he told TIME. “I can be a monk wearing heels, so you can be who you are.”

For more on Kodo Nishimura, read his interview from Tricycle’s Fall 2017 issue.  

New Report Reveals How China’s Environmental Policies Negatively Impact Livelihoods on the Tibetan Plateau 

This week, the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, an NGO based in India, released a report that shows how Chinese policies that claim to mitigate climate change force nomads off their land, even though their traditional way of life generates very few emissions. China has also labeled large Tibetan watersheds as national parks in an effort to offset its reputation as a major source of global emissions. “[But] as the world’s biggest maker and user of coal, cement, steel, aluminium, copper, and much else, China is the primary cause of climate change emissions,” the report says. The Tibetan Plateau accounts for two percent of the earth’s land surface and is roughly the size of Western Europe, the National Herald points out, underlining the imperative that the region receive adequate attention at the 26th UN climate change conference (COP26) in Glasgow, taking place from October 31 to November 12.

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The World Beneath a Tree

Having never asked for a birthday gift in my life, I found it difficult to do, especially when I was asking it of a man who has never cared for the aura around birthdays. 

“I’d like to turn forty under that tree,” I said. 

Like most women, I’d have liked to believe that a husband of long years would be able to interpret the italicized word in my voice. Like most men, my husband looked askance at me, trying hard to recover any clues he might have missed from a previous conversation. 

We were talking in our bedroom, the room in which I spend most of my time when I am at home. It is an unusually large room. In one corner, by the giant windows that I open to let in the cool northern air, stands a big tree. I use the word “big” consciously—it is tall, much taller than my husband who is six feet tall. But it was dead. I had found it abandoned by the roadside near a church and had felt an onrush of affection and attraction for it immediately, of the kind that it is possible to feel only for dead plant life, not dead animals, or dead men. Soon after, the tree had become an occupant in our bedroom, the carpenter having given it wooden stilts so that death had not been able to take away what it immediately does—the dignity of the vertical position. Beneath that leafless tree now sat a statue of the Buddha, his eyes closed. 

My husband turned to the tree and then to me. He looked confused. If his wife wanted to meet her fortieth year by sitting under that tree, who was he to refuse? Especially as, given the kind of person he is, he wouldn’t have been able to remember how his wife had brought in her thirtieth or the thirty-ninth—sitting on a chair or crouched under a table.  

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Turning Emotions Into Wisdom

The newly opened Mandala Lab at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood looks at the power of difficult emotions and their potential to transform while fostering a more informed way of seeing ourselves and the world with greater clarity. 

The exhibit draws from the Buddhist practice of using mandalas as visual tools for working through the emotions of pride, attachment, envy, anger, and ignorance—also known as kleshas. As Tenzin Gelek, the Rubin’s senior Specialist of Himalayan arts and culture, noted in the exhibit handouts, “In Buddhism the five kleshas are the key afflictive emotional responses that are the root cause of our suffering.” Practitioners, with the help of their teachers, find ways to transmute these feelings as a means to navigate the inevitable trials faced in a given lifetime. 

Divided into quadrants—north, south, east, and west—the interactive space, located on the museum’s third floor, takes its inspiration from the Tibetan Buddhist Sarvavid Vairochana Mandala. The Sanskrit word mandala means “extracting a meaningful essence.” Using interactive artworks and experiences, the museum created what Gelek describes as a “mental gym” in order to “understand, unlock, and heal these difficult emotions within ourselves.”

The Rubin’s signature spiral staircase acts as the mandala’s center. Visitors’ first encounter with the installation happens in the south quadrant, where they are greeted with a pointed question: “How does pride show up in your life?” The question is meant to encourage visitors to consider how they view themselves and others as “a first step toward the wisdom of equanimity, which is an abandonment of judgment.” There is an option to choose which statement about pride most resonates by placing a token in the corresponding slot. On this particular day, slots with the most tokens were, “I think I am better than others” and “I think I am worse than others.” 

Photo by Rafael Gamo, courtesy of the Rubin Museum of Art / Peterson Rich Office

The “Scent Library” in the west quadrant investigates attachment through the sense of smell. Six kiosks in the library display a scent selected by a contemporary artist and created by master perfumer Christophe Laudamiel. The artists produced short videos inspired by these same aromas that explore how memory and emotions are intertwined. Musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson talks about the smell of smoke from her Uncle Allen’s cigarettes while writer Amit Dutta reflects on the scent of the earth through a whimsical stop motion animated video.

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Aware: Glimpses of Consciousness Explores the Nature of the Mind 

The documentary Aware: Glimpses of Consciousness begins with the Indian parable of six blind men sent out into the night to assess the source of a commotion outside the city walls. Each returns with a different interpretation—a snake, a rope, a stone wall—based on what they felt: all different parts of the same elephant. The documentary’s closing shot is of a young elephant playing along the banks of a river, tossing around a tire and splashing in the mud. In the interim, the film follows six experts grappling with questions of consciousness, mystical experience, and death from varied perspectives. Are these experts—who include a neuroscientist, a Mayan healer, and a Buddhist monk—like the blind men, grasping at different parts of the elephant? Or are they all circling the playful, muddy, and ineffable essence itself?

Questions surrounding consciousness have been around for, well, about as long as we’ve been conscious. It’s heady territory (literally and figuratively). For all the heavy lifting consciousness does as a concept, it becomes impossibly light when you attempt to pin it to a definition. This subject-object dissonance between what consciousness feels like and what it actually is is known as the mind-body problem. As Christof Koch, the chief scientist and president of the Allen Institute for Brain Science and the first expert we meet in Aware, puts it, “How do you turn the waters of the brain into the wine of our conscious experience?” In other words, how can a specific arrangement of physical matter result in sentience—the ability to perceive—and perhaps more importantly, sentiment—the sense that our perceptions not only belong to us but mean something?

Aware poses these questions at a time of notable dovetailing among varied strands of research on the brain and consciousness, which has opened the doors to topics like plant consciousness and drug-induced mystical experiences and allowed researchers to take seriously the kinds of assertions that might have once seemed flighty to even the most sagacious dorm room pontificator. In one of the strangest scenes in the movie, Justine Fritz, a participant in a psilocybin study (the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms”) at the John Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, answers questions from a researcher on a scale of 1-10 while tripping under the buzzing brightness of a PET scanner. 

“Distance from reality?” the researcher asks.

“Six,” Fritz answers.

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