Welcome to the blog @ourmeditationchannel!
I’m Pat Harada Linfoot, founder of this community. I am in awe of the inspiring meditators that you’re about to meet who support me and a committed community practice. Over the past year and a half, we have met on Zoom for weekly drop-in classes, workshops, and a 50-Hour Mindfulness Teacher Training. And for the past 51 weeks, a group of 50 of us have systematically cultivated compassion within a conscious model of mind training called Lojong. As Shunyru Sukuki, the Zen monk renowned for founding the first Buddhist monastery outside of Asia wrote: “We are all perfect and we can all use a little work.”
Firstly, what is Mindfulness and how do we create an internal environment that allows for change and transformation to occur? Here’s my definition:
“Mindfulness is the moment-to-moment awareness of our emotions, sensations, thoughts, and other mental activities. Mindfulness is paying direct, nonverbal attention to what is happening without mental commentary. Mindfulness is a profound sense of being in touch with the process of introspection; a powerful reality check. Mindfulness is harnessed attention and that which supports freedom. What is freedom? Being awake. The Sanskrit word for mindfulness is smriti which means “to remember”: remembering Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha or remembering potential, reality, and love. We find the “strength” to experience breath, sensations, emotions, and thoughts and the “flexibility” to return to a place of equanimity and calm. We become free through rather than from our pain.”
The special mode of transmission specific to meditation is a Sangha or a collaborative community of relationships that provide both support and accountability. Norman Fischer, a Zen meditation teacher, describes Sangha as: “Life in a sangha is built on teaching, dedicated meditation practice, and a shared commitment to going beyond self-interest and personal need…It’s not unusual to be in a community with someone who pushes all your buttons. Exactly the sort of person you’d avoid at all costs in ordinary life will appear in your sangha. There he or she is—your father or sister, childhood nemesis, or ancient school or workplace enemy—sitting right across from you in the meditation hall. You will have to deal with this person in ways you never would have if left to your own devices. And eventually, they become a valued friend.”
What does it mean to be a sincere student? Here’s an updated version of the traditional teaching called “the defects of the vessel” which are wonderful (and uncomfortable) reminders of the obstacles that we’ll encounter on the path.
- If you are a student who is like a cup turned upside down, it’s because you’re not paying attention or not listening because you are distracted or falling asleep. Although you are physically present, you are unable to take in new information or to be aware of something/someone outside of yourself.
- If your ability to learn is like a cup with a hole in it, you are unable to remember or retain teachings. You may appear to be present but are disembodied from the process of learning (and life).
- You are like a cup that is overflowing if you can’t empty your cup in order to take in new information and new ways to see the world. This is the notion of beginner’s mind.
- The five mental afflictions—anger, envy, fear, greed, and hatred—are indicative of a cup with poison in it. What you look like and how people see you is everything. This defect breeds separation, isolation, and disconnection.
- Drinking from someone else’s cup is not being able to acknowledge your own lived experience but instead to make another’s (most often a teacher’s) experience more important than your own. This is the cornerstone of the guru model and a blind allegiance to a guru, style, tradition, or lineage.
Of course, assuming the role of a student or of a teacher are two sides of the same coin. We are teachers in the tradition of a kalyanamitra which means “noble mentor” or “spiritual friend.” I am loving our post-lineage culture which has moved beyond a single lineage or teacher as the sole authority. We are now placing more value on the sangha and are guided by a peer-based model based on mutual honesty and shared disclosures. So listen to your teachers but be open to outside voices and influences and learn to trust your instincts.
Relationships between teachers and students co-create the best environment for learning. Sangha friendships are forged in both conversation and in silence and stillness. We become intimate in facial expressions, body language, breath, and in smiles, laughter, and tears. We uphold both truth and tenderness, courage and compassion, and presence and patience. We are learning to be more vulnerable and less confident, to be more accountable and less entitled, and to be present in the exquisite messiness of our lives. My sangha friends have my back. They offer unconditional positive regard. When I fall down, loving hands are there to help me back up. I’ll close with the immortal words of Ram Dass, “we’re all just walking each other home.”