One of my beloved dharma teachers, Katy Brennan, leads a lunchtime meditation every Thursday at the Kadampa Meditation Center NYC. Because of the pandemic, she now conducts her class via live streaming video.
She sent the following dharma thoughts to her core students prior to today’s class. It’s so beautifully written (no surprise, since Katy is a writer!) and so timely that I asked her for permission to post it on my blog. I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.
Happy Thursday. It appears to be a beauty as we head into Memorial Day Weekend in all of its unpredictable glory (generally, weather-wise; this year, in more ways than one.)
Given the date and the emergence of a season around which I still experience a lot of attachment, I was somehow loathe to lead with the subject line, “The Truth of Suffering” and yet, that’s where I ought to begin. It’s where the Buddha began in his very first teaching, the Four Noble Truths.
The first of these is sometimes articulated as “true sufferings” or “you should know suffering.” Neither of these means we ought to go out looking for suffering or that we somehow “deserve” to suffer. We just do.
This moment in human history (as countless others before, as unprecedented as current conditions feel to us) is showing us all this truth very clearly. As a friend said this week, one of the silver linings of this moment is that we are all getting honest about this. We are all suffering. Some who are presently sick and dying, losing loved ones, caring for the sick and the like are certainly suffering more abjectly. But everyone is feeling the strain of current conditions in one way or another.
In some ways, even as some conditions in some places are returning to “normal” this time has opened our eyes to the ways in which suffering is, in fact, “normal.” In some ways, this is a particularly precarious and frightening time; from another perspective, present conditions offer us an amazing spiritual and creative opportunity.
That’s what Buddha meant. In his First Noble Truth, he is not suggesting that we wallow in suffering; he suggests that we recognize the nature of suffering. In the Four Noble Truths, he did two things, essentially: he presented the problem and offered a solution. So, the following three truths: true origins, true cessations, and true paths. In essence, we should know where suffering comes from, experience cessations of suffering, and follow spiritual paths.
In this context, a path is a mind. Our minds take us everywhere; everywhere we go, all that we experience depends upon our minds. Our minds create our reality.
At the moment, we are all experiencing the “conventional truth” of relatively challenging conditions. Ultimately, how we experience this time, and all times and all conditions, depends on our mind.
When we meditate, we realize this. We close our eyes and let go of what feels “external” for us—sights, sounds, and physical sensations—and then become aware of our thoughts. We let those go, too. We choose to focus on a single “virtuous” object: a beneficial object; one that brings about a feeling of peace, well-being and happiness.
We generally begin by focusing on the “virtuous object” of our breath. This simple, single-pointed focus allows us to let go of distractions, including all un-peaceful thoughts and feelings, so we can experience the true nature of our mind: peace and clarity. We take some time to abide in this peaceful experience for however long we are able.
It’s sometimes helpful to move our awareness from our head to our heart as we drop more deeply into meditation. According to Buddha’s teachings, the center of our body, our heart chakra, is the seat of our consciousness. But since the mind has no actual physical location or characteristics at all this is (as everything is, really) up to you. I find it helps.
Even if we experience only a moment or two of peace, we can recognize this is true: our mind is by nature peaceful. We take some time to connect with our potential for peace, which is, in fact, infinite. Our peace and happiness do not depend on external conditions. Our peace is natural and it gives rise, naturally, to a good feeling, a feeling of well-being. Again, even if we only “tune in” to this feeling for a moment, we recognize that it’s there. We have that potential.
So what have we done in meditation? We’ve created a new reality for ourselves. When we rise from meditation, we can keep tuning in to this creative potential, moment by moment.
So whether we spend our “meditation break” (meaning, the rest of our lives outside of meditation) in some conventionally “creative” endeavor like writing, painting, making music, or art, we are all creating our lives, choosing where to place our awareness, how we experience whatever appears for us in every moment.
Having dipped in to the wellspring of peace and happiness at our heart, in meditation, we have tasted our creative potential. As we move through this time, and all times, we can take deep nourishment in this.Katy Brennan