A Sufi teaching tells of the man who visited a great mystic to find out how to let go of his chains of attachment and his prejudices. Instead of answering him directly, the mystic jumped to his feet and bolted to a nearby pillar, flung his arms around it, grasping the marble surface as he screamed, “Save me from this pillar! Save me from this pillar!”
The man who had asked the question could not believe what he saw. He thought the mystic was mad. The shouting soon brought a crowd of people. “Why are you doing that?” the man asked. “I came to you to ask a spiritual question because I thought you were wise, but obviously you’re crazy. You are holding the pillar, the pillar is not holding you. You can simply let go.”
The mystic let go of the pillar and said to the man, “If you can understand that, you have your answer. Your chains of attachment are not holding you, you are holding them. You can simply let go.” -Dick Sutphen “The Oracle Within”
I honor Timber Hawkeye and his book, Buddhist Boot Camp.
I particularly respect the simple way he’s chosen to tell his story; his direct yet gentle teaching style and the exemplary way he puts his non-profit philosophy into action developing an initiative to get his book into U.S. prisons.
I use Buddhist Boot Camp frequently for meditation, quick pick-me-up’s and thoughtful reading. I’ve shared the book with friends, colleagues and persons seeking consultation. I’m especially fond of its simple and straight-forward approach to applying Buddhist principles to daily living without having to become Buddhist to get there.
Many persons I meet along my ministerial path are “unchurched” yet sincerely eager to explore their experiences and beliefs in search of a spiritual dimension outside organized religion. Indeed, nontraditional, nondenominational interfaith ministers frequently collect a handful of tools for their ministerial toolboxes to share, lend or simply give away. This book is such a tool.
A few of his thoughts for you consideration:
Your mind is like a spoiled rich kid!
“You have raised it to think whatever it wants, whenever it wants to, and for however long, with no regard for consequence or gratitude. And now that your mind is all grown, it never listens to you! In fact, sometimes you want to focus on something, but your mind keeps drifting away to whatever It wants to think about. Other times, when you really want to stop thinking about something, your mind “can’t help it.”
“Training the mind means being in charge of your decisions instead of succumbing to cravings and so-called “uncontrollable urges.” Can you think of a better method for training a spoiled rich kid than some serious boot camp?”
“First things first: stop granting yourself everything you crave. Doing so conditions the spoiled kid to know that it can continue having whatever it wants. Please do not mistake this for deprivation, because that’s not what I’m suggesting. You can still have ice cream, for example, but only when you decide to, not when a craving “takes over.” There is a difference.”
“So when a thought arises, just watch it; don’t react to it. “Oh, I really want ice cream”… that’s nice; see what it’s like to want something but not always get it.”
“The first few times that you try to train your mind you will see the little kid in you throw a tantrum, which is actually hilarious. But it’s understandable; you’ve never said “no” to it before. It’s time you start! You will eventually notice that you have more freedom to choose once you’re in control of your choices. It’s tricky; I hope this chapter from Buddhist Boot Camp makes sense.”
“The concept of “letting go” is everywhere in Buddhist lingo. In a nutshell, Buddhism boils down to “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional”. For example, It isn’t old age, sickness and death that cause our suffering, it’s our attachment to youth, health, and to life itself that makes it difficult to accept these natural changes and let go.”
“If we let go of our attachments, we automatically alleviate our potential for suffering once we inevitably go through old age, sickness and death. Makes sense, right? Love life with all the passion in your heart.. celebrate every single minute of it, without attachment.
I know what you’re thinking… “easier said than done”, but it’s certainly easier than living the rest of our lives resisting change. Think about it.”
“Buddhism is often misunderstood. My own dad used to think we worship a statue of “the fat guy” that he saw at Chinese restaurants.”
“Buddha” means “the awakened one”, and there are a lot Buddhas, not just one. Many sages have awakened from the delusion of separateness, which is what we are all capable of doing. That’s why you are a Buddha as well (we’re just asleep and trying to wake up, that’s all).”
“The Indians have their own depiction of the Buddha, as do the Thai, the Japanese, and, of course, the fat Chinese Buddha you often see at restaurants with kids running around him. It is simply a cultural depiction of absolute Happiness the way they understand it, nothing more.”
“What I really like about Buddhism is that the Buddha was a simple man, not “holier than thou” or something we could never be. He is just like you and I. He wasn’t a God (although some sects refer to him as “Lord Buddha”), nor was he special in any way until the light bulb went off. Once he understood how the universe was interconnected, almost everyone thought he was crazy (some still do), but a few people realized he was on to something… something beautiful, and so his teachings started to spread to neighboring countries…”
“Is Buddhism a religion? That depends on how you define “religion”. There is no “God” theory (in the sense of a Creator), and any reference to God is to the divinity within all beings (leaving no sentient beings behind). So if it is a religion, then it’s like no other. I think of it as a philosophy, or a school of thought. You can be Christian or Jewish, for example, and still find the teachings helpful and motivational.”
“In the smallest nutshell I could possibly find, the Buddha taught that we cause our own suffering when we get attached to impermanent things. We cling to people, health and youth, even though we intellectually know that nothing lasts forever. That’s why the concept of “letting go” is so fundamental to Buddhism.”
What you allow is what will continue.
“We are active participants in our lives, not merely victims of circumstance. Take a step back to get a better view of how decisions or indecisions you make are contributing to what’s going on in your life, and if those decisions worked in the past but aren’t working in the present, stop making them. If it hurts every time you pinch yourself, don’t complain about the pain, take medicine for the pain, and live with the side effects of the medicine, just stop pinching yourself!”
“I often find myself in unfamiliar situations, uncomfortable scenarios, and overstimulating places, but even though my mind, body and heart wants to tense up, shut down, reject and resist the unfamiliar, I approach the situation with curiosity instead of fear, which makes all the difference in the world to me because the fear is often based on made-up information that isn’t even accurate. What’s that acronym? F.E.A.R = False Evidence Appearing Real. So replace fear of the unknown with curiosity, and take a step forward.”
Forgiveness has been a formidable challenge along my personal path toward inner peace and well-being. I think about forgiveness a lot. I search for forgiving feelings almost daily. I’m drawn to pay attention to challenges needing forgiveness looking for acts of compassion, mercy and pardon that may soften the trauma of injury and the scars of guilt.
Forgiveness is on my mind when I pray in search of ways to resolve, fix or release. Forgiveness is also in my soul when I feel afraid. Almost always, I am in need of forgiving myself. That seems the hardest part.
I read many books about forgiveness and sometimes wonder aloud about these fancy words: reconciliation, clemency, absolution, amnesty and exoneration.
I wrote papers in seminary about the necessity of forgiveness for spiritual healing; the Christian notion of redemption as forgiveness and the concept of amnesty as a “family value.” (Think: New Testament story of the Prodigal Son).
Forgiveness is fundamental to my ministry. Indeed, forgiveness is a pillar of belief and action within my ministry. My personal need to forgive was one of my primal reasons to change careers and become an interfaith minister. My ministry is as much about my own personal path to forgiveness as it is helping others find their own paths to personal and interpersonal forgiveness. Frankly, I’ve discovered that each one’s road to forgiveness is as unique and varied as that individual’s personal context and history. While I’m often called to forgive and to empower others to forgive themselves or another, forgiveness is on my agenda daily…and seemingly on the agenda of many people I encounter.
I am sure of two things regarding forgiveness: Forgiveness must include me…and…Forgiveness that does not include me is incomplete and will need to be revisited. I’ve not always been a very good forgiver and still sometimes argue with myself about letting go. I have know hatred, revenge, animosity, spite, bitterness, malice and retaliation.
I have learned that some forgiving is huge and requires attention over and over again. That’s when forgiveness teaches me patience. I have also learned that not forgiving takes valuable time, mental and emotional energy and very literally can make us physically and spiritually ill.
Other kinds of forgiving seem to be relatively easy as the issue needing pardon just seems to age out, gets old or simply just runs out of steam (read: I don’t care about it anymore). Still other kinds of forgiving need reminding, motivation and reinforcement (not always the positive kind).
I continue to learn how to practice both the attitude and behavior of forgiveness.
Although, I’ve not yet mastered it, I have learned that forgiveness is essential for peace: Peace inside me… and peace outside of me.
I have found its pretty easy to hold the opinion that Israel should just forgive Palestinians… and the Palestinians should just forgive the Israelis… and all will be well… now on to the religious extremists! What I have had to learn and what I need to continue to master is that forgiveness begins at home.
The forgiveness requirement inherent in 12 Step recovery programs seems to work for many people enabling them to forgive and make amends.
Forgiveness cleans. Forgiveness transforms. Forgiveness changes lives.
Forgiveness requires honesty. In fact, sometimes we have to stop lying to ourselves to get at the truth of what needs forgiving.
So I leave you with some thoughts about forgiveness: bury the hatchet… make peace…let by gone’s be by gone’s… forgive and forget…wipe the slate clean… turn the other check… make up. Whatever path you choose, practice forgiveness.
Forgiveness has and will be a common blog theme for this Compassionate Gardener. 2014 was my Year of Forgiveness. 2015 is my year of mastering forgiveness even further – a year to meditate about forgiveness; read some more about forgiving; listen more carefully for forgiving words; look more closely for forgiving gestures.
I can tell you that with patience and with practice forgiveness does become easier and the period of time affected by the interference of the what needs to be forgiven does get shorter and shorter. In fact, forgiving is liberating and, I dare say, changes everything. Forgiveness changes perspective of me and what needs forgiving.
Today I pray: We are all wounded yet we are all wounders too. Forgive yourself…then forgive others.
Please consider this post as your personal invitation to forgive. As always, I welcome your feedback and comments.
Some resources you might find helpful along your forgiveness path:
Forgiveness: The Greatest Healer of All by Jerald Jampolsky
The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming by Henri Nouwen
The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace by Jack Kornfield
When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron
Forgiveness is a Choice by Robert Enright
Until next time, please consider: