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if you want the audio version of this teaching, click here:
If you’re interested in supporting these teachings with a donation you can go to https://meditationwithdaniel.com/donate
if you want audio version of this teaching, click here:
“Sick of whatever it’s called, sick of the names.
I dedicate every pore to what’s here.”
There is a light at the end of the tunnel regarding this pandemic. We have been struggling with anxiety and isolation for a year and it seems like the sun is coming out now.
Well, I can’t speak for everyone. I’ve been struggling with anxiety and isolation. We have had to face things that we weren’t prepared for. Not only that, but now here in the United States we are a deeply divided people. “People with different views are the enemy” is something that appears to be all too common now. Maybe the pandemic made people a little more prone to that kind of lashing out.
In September I got married, bought a house, and moved. It may have been the most eventful month of my life. Right in the middle of the pandemic my life had some big changes. And in October I got a new position at work.
At some point I realized I really was not meditating anymore. I enjoyed thinking about meditation. But I had fallen off the wagon.
I wanted to do something to re-commit myself. That’s when I started building a statue garden. My house had a shocking amount of old dead leaves in the backyard and some vines. I started cleaning that up and I discovered there had once been a tiered garden. As I was out there thinking about putting up Buddha statues, I found a statue. It was Fiacre, the Patron Saint of Gardening. I suspect he’s one of the lesser known Catholic saints. I decided to keep him in my Buddha Garden. He gets to stay and represent what used to be there.
I was making space for statues and then one by one getting them and placing them in the garden. There’s still some clearing to do out there and probably always will be. It’s a work in progress that never ends.
The spiritual life is too. I think there’s a deeper meaning to this. I didn’t create a sacred space. I uncovered one. You don’t become your true self, you don’t even awaken your true self, really. On the spiritual path you REVEAL your true self. Like finding a statue buried in leaves. It was there all along.
I have a statue out there that’s roughly the same size as me. And he’s surrounded by various other, smaller statues. And I go out and I spend time with them. I burn incense and rake. And one day I found myself chanting.
Chanting is my least favorite spiritual practice…or at least it was.
Being out there in the Buddha Garden, clearing leaves in a mindful way, brought me back to my practice. I’m chanting the Vajrasattva mantra for personal transformation 108 times per day.
Then a stranger reached out to me and offered to give me a big indoor statue. I have a big white Buddha in my living room. Like the one outside, this statute is life size. Getting that statue felt important. And having him right there, reminding me every day to practice…that means so much. I sit with the Buddha every day, burning incense, sitting, counting my mala beads, and chanting.
The truth is I struggled with everything.
I’ve been really interested in having a really simple spiritual practice. I wanted to just grab my cushion and sit for a little while each day.
And ultimately that wasn’t working for me anymore. Stilling the mind wasn’t enough. Taming the mind wasn’t enough.
The truth is that I needed something that hasn’t been part of my practice for a while. Heart centered practices.
I’ve for a long time had this view, “I want to be a Zen Buddhist, I want to be a Zen Buddhist, I want to be a Zen Buddhist.”
But the truth is putting myself into a box hasn’t given me everything my practice needs. I’m a Mahayana Buddhist. I practice the Great Vehicle, the Way of the Bodhisattva, the path of Wisdom and Compassion. The box isn’t real and it never was.
I don’t need to limit myself. All of the teachings and practices are available to me. They’re available to everyone and on this path no one gets left out.
I’m looking at a more open-hearted practice, a practice that builds bridges and brings people together. That’s not to say I’m changing all my teachings. I’m not. But I’m learning that practices that bring kindness and equanimity are just as important as practices that bring clarity and wisdom.
All these things run together as part of the spiritual journey.
My first encounter with Buddhism was the Tibetan tradition. I’m still leery of Tibetan Buddhism, but I’m welcoming elements of it back into my life.
The spiritual journey
It’s with that in mind that I’m going to do a series of teachings on Training the Heart soon. Look for that in the near future. Let’s open our hearts and minds. Let’s open them as widely as we can. No one is left out.
Training the Mind is important, but Training the Heart is too. And if I’m sharing any teachings with others, it needs to be the teachings that I’m finding benefit from myself.
The Governor of Missouri stated that all adults in my state will be eligible for the Covid 19 vaccine on April 9th. I can only assume other states will put similar things in place. That’s good news to me because I’ve been waiting for my turn. That’s not to say the Pandemic is over. I think some aspects of this will change our lives forever.
I think Coronavirus is to Millenials what 9/11 was to Gen X’ers like me. Or it is to Gen Z what 9/11 was to Millenials. It’s a watershed moment, we’re all going to remember what it felt like for the rest of our lives.
A great many people said things like “2020 is the worst year ever!” And to me it feels like 2020 is really coming to an end now, three months after the official end.
It’s been a roller-coaster for me.
I gave up on a meditation group I was trying to establish. It was costing me too much money to rent a space. Giving that up was hard for me. I really want to share meditation practice with people, but it is what it is. There are so many places people can go for that in Kansas City. If I could work for someone else as a meditation teacher instead of trying to make my own opportunities I think I’d like that. Some of this was because I really wanted a new spiritual community after I got uncomfortable in my old one (the rime center) a few years ago.
I traveled to Washington DC in March to meet with members of Congress as a representative of Federal workers. That was an amazing experience. I met then-Senator Kamala Harris, among many other people. The last time I was around a crowd was a rally on the lawn of the US Capitol. This was all for my labor union. I was elected to a leadership position near the end of the year. Representing workers that need help feels like a calling to me.
When I got back from that trip in March things changed. That sticks in my memory.
I found out I have the gene for a heart condition and I’ll have to see a cardiologist every year for the rest of my life, but I’m considered low risk as far as this dangerous condition goes. I call it “the other kind of broken heart”
Lots of people had bigger struggles with Covid than me. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to work from home for the last year. Alicia has as well. We know how lucky we are and how many people have not been lucky. If/when we have to return the transition will be hard.
Speaking of Alicia. We got married this year. We had planned a big reception, which we felt the need to cancel (we’re having a big first anniversary party in September) so we just had a small simple wedding. It was wonderful. I can say this relationship is the best I’ve ever had by far. I have the family I’ve always wanted.
We also bought a house in Parkville. (a cute little college town outside of Kansas City, if you’re not local). It took us a long time to find a house with enough space, we have four kids. But we did find a wonderful house and we love it here. I’m building a garden full of Buddha statues in the backyard. I call it “the Buddha Garden” but I’m hoping I come up with a better name.
I’m now meditating and burning incense every day, and working in the garden. I’m chanting too, which was always something that I didn’t like very much. I’ve been doing mantras dedicated to personal transformation.
And it all feels like it’s doing something for me.
I’m coming out of this Pandemic a better person than I was at the beginning. I have some optimism.
I didn’t cry at all between the ages of 15 and 40.
The reason I know that for sure is because I was 15 when my father died. A part of me shut down. This means I didn’t cry when my mother died, or when we found out she was sick. I never cried when I lost a job or when I struggled to pay bills. I didn’t cry during my first divorce. I didn’t cry during my second divorce. I’ve lost everything and had to start over more than once but I never shed a tear.
And then one day last year I cried. My feelings were suddenly wide open. It was a combination of things. I’ve grown as a person, of course. I have a wife that has helped encourage and empower me to be vulnerable. It was during the pandemic and I’m sure the pandemic has opened all sorts of things for people. I was watching Hamilton with my wife and I cried during the last song. (if you know it, you know it) And it was as though a door opened in me. Things make me cry now. I have feelings and I’m not afraid to express them. I thought I was dead inside.
I spent a lot of my life keeping everything in. I spent a lot of my life being a bitter, sad, and negative person. And it has been a process to grow out of that. Honestly for years I thought I was broken and that there were a lot of things wrong with me. I have grown so much.
I think our culture doesn’t serve us very well in this area. Men are taught to not be sensitive. We are taught that sensitivity and emotion are weaknesses. It’s not always direct. “You shouldn’t be sensitive” isn’t something I ever heard. But I did hear “Don’t cry like a girl.” That’s not a good thing to say. Why do men have a higher suicide rate than women? I think it’s because we’re taught to bury our feelings. It’s not healthy and it’s not good.
Open heartedness is not a weakness. It’s a strength.
Vulnerability brings connection, compassion, and empowerment. Cultivating it is one of the best things we can do for ourselves and the world around us.
I see a lot of people saying things like “People are too sensitive these days”. I respectfully disagree with that. We should be sensitive. Facing the world with kindness and an open heart is a good thing. It’s what can uplift humanity and bring us together. Maybe nothing else can.
If the world is leaning more and more toward caring about the feelings of other people I think that is a good thing.
The truth is that I didn’t realize how much I valued having a spiritual community until I didn’t have one anymore.
I’ve not said much about this.
I went to a Buddhist Center here in Kansas City for 8 years. I did lots of volunteering and teaching. I led the Youth Program for a while.
I stopped going 3 years ago. It was hard for me. I don’t get comfortable in groups or places very easily and I don’t have a lot of friends. I don’t want to say, “I was mistreated” or something because that would be overstating what happened. I’ll just say that I felt a sense of belonging and it was made clear to me that that feeling was misplaced. I will add that the leadership didn’t agree with me regarding how much respect should be given to members and on the importance of good communication.
The whole experience makes me reflect on what I think communities need to do regarding things like how to deal with problems, how to make people feel valued, how to strengthen the community. These are difficult things to handle and many communities fall short. And the truth is my issue in that community has had an impact on me. I don’t know if I’ll be comfortable joining some other community in the future. I sort of tried to start my own so I wouldn’t have to and that didn’t work out. I don’t have a community that I really feel part of right now, although I have explored some of the other Buddhist communities in Kansas City, I don’t know if I’ll ever feel comfortable and like I belong. That’s just the way it is. Spiritual leaders have to be careful.
I used to wonder why spiritual friendship is so important in Buddhism. I’d say it’s important in most spiritual paths. This is not included in the teachings for no reason.
“And what is meant by admirable friendship? There is the case where a lay person, in whatever town or village he may dwell, spends time with householders or householders’ sons, young or old, who are advanced in virtue. He talks with them, engages them in discussions. He emulates consummate conviction in those who are consummate in conviction, consummate virtue in those who are consummate in virtue, consummate generosity in those who are consummate in generosity, and consummate discernment in those who are consummate in discernment. This is called admirable friendship.” – the Buddha, the Dighajanu Sutta.
Admirable friendship is another way of talking about community. On reflection I think the idea of “admirable friends” (kalyana mitra) resonates with me a little more than “spiritual community” or any of the various other terms we could use. It strikes more at the heart of why we’re doing it. It is good for us to spend time with people who are making the same efforts on the path that we are. It motivates and inspires us. It helps us stay on track and reminds us of what’s important.
But also, the question sometimes gets asked, “How do we make friends as adults?”
Ideally the sangha, or spiritual community, would be a good place for that too. I know I wouldn’t know any other Buddhists if I hadn’t gone to a Buddhist Center. I wouldn’t have met and married my wife if I hadn’t gone to a Buddhist Center.
I’ve heard it said that we become more like the people we spend the most time around. What does that mean we should do? Spend time with virtuous people. Spend time with people that you want to be more like. If we’re on this journey and it’s important to us, then it makes sense to engage with other people on the journey with us. The ideal situation is your whole household goes with you and everyone is exposed to good influences. Often it simply doesn’t work out that way and that’s okay.
What can someone do if there are no communities around to join? Or if the communities around haven’t felt right?
I don’t know. I don’t think there’s a good answer to that besides try to start your own.
But I’d say anyone that lives somewhere with Buddhist centers around should at least try to make the effort to get involved. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, run away if there are red flags. But trying is important.
This path isn’t just something to study and think about. It’s supposed to be a path we’re walking on. And we should try to figure out how to walk on it together whenever we can.
My new book, Sharpen Your Mind, is now available for purchase. You can click here to order your copy.
Are ancient teachings meaningful to our modern lives? Can regular people like you and me get something out of studying and practicing a 2600 year old spiritual tradition? In this collection Daniel answers these questions and more. This is about meditation practice for the real world. This is about applying ancient teachings to our lives and finding new meanings.
I was watching a wonderful movie called “The Happiest Season” with my wife on Thanksgiving. It’s a romantic comedy/drama that you can find on Hulu. In it Kristen Stewart plays an orphan. Her parents passed when she was 19. As a result she doesn’t really like holidays.
That sounds sillier than it is.
Her girlfriend convinces her to go meet her family for Christmas. But her girlfriend has not come out to her parents. Lots of crazy things happen.
Equal parts hilarity and heart. Five stars.
There’s a scene where the family is meeting her for the first time and they have this attitude of “I’m so sorry about your parents.” They pat her on the shoulder and they have incredible concern for her.
And she’s just like “Um…it was a long time ago…”
It’s sort of played for uncomfortable comedy. The family is a little over the top with their sympathy, saying things like, “You’re so brave. And you don’t need to be.”
I’m telling you all this for a reason.
I didn’t really know how to explain it until I saw it in the context of this movie. That’s exactly what it’s like.
I lost my parents when I was 19 too. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a clear presentation of what it’s like. I started thinking holidays were stupid after my parents died. I became a negative person. I’ve definitely made more than my share of mistakes.
And the sympathy is exactly what it was like for many years too. Now that I’m 40, a lot more people my age have lost their parents. It’s not nearly as unusual as it was. But through my 20s and even into my 30s I received plenty of “Oh, I’m so sorry.”
It wasn’t easy. I carried the weight of that loss for a long time. I guess I still do. For years I was just miserable. And I also I wasn’t really capable of letting people get close to me. I didn’t know how to show up for relationships like I needed to. I was just sort of broken and numb.
I still carry some baggage. I have real attachment issues and fears of abandonment. That’s gotten better but it will probably never totally go away.
The truth is we’re all carrying emotional baggage from childhood. We like to think we outgrow that stuff, but I don’t think we do. Whether your parents were mean, or didn’t show the kind of love you needed, or passed away too soon like mine…that’s manifesting in our relationships. It can take a lifetime to figure out how to put that baggage down.
I’m still working on it. Are you?