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Community Gleanings

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  • 10 Sep 2014 3:37 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    We are very grateful for this deep sharing by FCM member Tammy Klein, based on her recent experience in FCM's Summer Intensive.

    When I'm restless, I'm not accepting things as they are. I'm not letting life unfold - I want to control life! I realize the hilarity and futility in that. Life is going to do what it's going to do.  I need to notice when the restlessness (or other hindrance) happens, investigate what's happening and let go. Breathing deeply in the moment and "breathing into" the restlessness helps tremendously.  It passes! Everything passes like clouds so I don't have to be afraid of that drowning feeling I get.

    I should just welcome these hindrances because they're pointers - "Oh, I guess I need to let go and let this pass through me." "Oh, there I go again getting uptight because the plan changed." Now I can begin to identify restlessness and aversion as it's happening and understand why it's happening, and more often before I inflict suffering on others (and myself).  I am increasingly able to stop.

    There's no security in hanging on tightly to life and trying to make it run my way. 

    I can notice my thoughts and feelings and how they can trigger a hindrance.  But there's no substance to them - they're just like puffy clouds in the sky. I can notice them, and let them pass through without making a story, justification, rationalization, etc,

    My "drowning" feelings of restlessness are the same in feeling as aversion. They're overwhelming.  (First I get restless and then I get mad when things don't go my way according to my plan!). They both feel the same in my body, and I can feel my body for clues when I start to cling or tighten up in the chest and gut.

    There are no problems!

    I can always go back to my breathing as an entry to being.  I need to practice deep breathing and build my muscles since I tend to breathe shallowly.

    Being is all around me, and I can just watch it.  And I can tune into that "hum" in the background of life. There is ease all around me.

    It's ok to do one thing at a time - like brush my teeth - and do things slowly.

    I want to spend more of my time cultivating my good seeds rather than my issues. It seems for me like a process of "noticing, now let it go or pass through, notice, pass through..."

    If I have trouble sitting, I can switch up my walking meditation and do that first. But I notice I haven't had that issue of late. I think it's because I noticed, felt it and let it go.

    As much as I "honor" my hindrances by working with them and focusing on them, I can also "honor" my good qualities such as my investigative abilities and my ability to be honest with myself and face things as they are.

    While I'm not ready for the monastery, I'm clearly on a spiritual path leading to some place great. I'm happy about that!

    Tammy Klein

  • 09 Dec 2013 7:56 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    In this two-part article, FCM Member Andrew Rock shares wisdom on how we can live happier and healthier (for ourselves and others) lives by consuming more mindfully.


    Part 1: Mindful Eating & Mindful Gifting

    Many of us feel anxious as the holiday season approaches..  And many of us begin the new year feeling that we over-did it during the holidays.  Ate too much, drank too much, bought too much, received too much, and, afterwards, threw away too much uneaten food, too much gift-wrapping, too many unwanted presents.  We resolve to go on a diet, do our gift shopping earlier and more thoughtfully next time, and be more loving and patient with our difficult family members the next time around.

    Our mass consumer culture encourages the opposite of mindful consumption.  Mindless consumption, conspicuous consumption, and, as I write this on “Black Friday,” frenzied consumption. We know that mindless over-consumption is not nhealthy for us individually, for our loved ones, for our society or for our planet and its myriad living beings. We can’t afford it, our families can’t afford it and our planet can’t afford it. But we get caught up in habit, in what we think are the expectations of our loved ones, and in the constant cues to buy, buy, buy.

    So as December looms, with the new year close behind, let’s take a few minutes to reflect on each of the following questions, and jot down a short response:

    • What are some challenges for me regarding consumption of food?
    • What are some challenges for me regarding the gifts I give or the gifts I receive?
    • What are some challenges for me regarding my consumption of our world’s resources?

    At the end of this article we will revisit our challenges to see how increased mindfulness can help us.

    Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that what we consume creates our inner environment, physically, mentally and emotionally. The consumption of toxic items waters our negative seeds of anger, fear and desire.  He encourages us to “consume in such a way that health, happiness and a future are possible.”  At the recent retreat at Magnolia Grove Monastery in Mississippi, Thay told us that “if we practice mindful consumption, we will be able to heal ourselves, heal our society and heal our planet.”

    Many of the unhealthy foods and unnecessary things that are dangled for us contain a hidden hook buried within the appetizing bait. The hook of physical disease, mental unease and environmental pollution and degradation. If we look deeply, we can see the hook inside the bait, and we realize that we don’t want to bite that hook! The fleeting pleasure promised by the bait just isn’t worth it! A moment of awareness and insight can result in a permanent change in the choices we make.

    This subject is very near to my heart.  Long before I knew about the “M-word” I’ve been on a quest to bring awareness to my choices and to live simply. As a teenager I was fortunate to live overseas in a country where fruits and vegetables were plentiful and fresh, and where there was no television to amp up our supposed needs and wants. When I returned to the U.S. in my twenties, I lived without TV and kept my distance from pop culture, which over-stimulates us in order to hook us, reel us in and sell, sell, sell. I wanted to be a free human being on this earth, not a “consumer” driven by advertising and conditioning like a laboratory rat in a cage. 

    I became more-or-less vegetarian since 1972, and soon after spent a few years as an organic farmer and distributor of organic fruits and veges.   But it wasn’t until many years later, as a member of Sweetwater Organic Community Farm in Tampa, that I learned what organic really means: nothing wasted.  Nature recycles everything.

    Mindful Eating

    The name of the growing Slow Food movement says it all. We can slow down a bit, and see our food and our hunger as they really are. We can be mindful not only when we eat, but when we plan meals, when we shop, when we cook and when we digest our food after we’ve eaten.  This is not about taking the pleasure out of eating; rather, it’s about experiencing a true enjoyment of healthy, nourishing food.  Which, by the way, is usually tastier and much more pleasing than processed fast foods.

    So here are ten tips, things to enhance mindfulness about our consumption of food:

    1. Food doesn’t come from the supermarket!

    Sweetwater Organic Farm runs farm tours for schoolchildren, who visit the fields, see how the veges grow, and pull up a carrot or harvest a tomato, wash it & enjoy a tasty snack. One day a youngster asked: “How come you bought these carrots at the supermarket and stuck them out here in the dirt?”  We laugh, but if you ask where our dinner comes from, we’ll usually name the store where we bought it. Our awareness of the “provenance” of our food is very limited: where it was grown or raised, how it was processed and packaged, how it got to the store and on to our plates. Is it local and in season, or from another region or hemisphere? Grown sustainably or by industrial agriculture? Fresh and ripe, or bred for its shelf life and preserved by refrigeration and chemicals? By looking more deeply into the roots and sources of our food we can enhance our mindfulness and make better choices.

    1. Is it even food?

    Much of our food is processed. Try reading the food labels, not just for the amounts of fat and carbohydrates, but for the ingredients. Nutritionists and food activists have worked long and hard to require food labeling so that we are not totally at the mercy of the food industry. It’s amazing how many chemicals are in everything but fresh fruits and veges – and even there most are grown with chemical fertilizers, weeded with chemical herbicides and coated with chemical pesticides, all leaving some residue. Chemical preservatives, flavorings and coloring agents are the norm. And high fructose corn syrup is in everything, in surprisingly large quantities (the substances in our food are listed in decreasing order on the label; those listed first are there in the largest amounts).

    The food writer Michael Pollan (“Omnivore’s Dilemma”; “Cooked”), when asked what is safe and healthy for people to eat, replied: “Eat things your grandmother would have recognized as food.” (Since the processed food revolution began in the 1950s, some of us will need to go back to our great-grandmothers). If it isn’t food, don’t eat it. It always seemed weird and dangerous to me to put a bunch of unnatural chemicals in my body, and I’ve tried to avoid it all my life, by steering clear of processed foods and looking for those without added chemicals. I haven’t looked for studies linking cancer and other diseases with chemicals in food, but common sense tells me to be mindful and vigilant about putting industrial chemicals in my body.

    1. Listen to your body.

    If we are attentive to our bodies, they will let us know if they are hungry or full, happy or unhappy with what we have eaten. Of course, we must learn to tune out the mental static of our habitual cravings for junk food and comfort food. 

    At FCM we are training to be mindful of the body in the body. As we learn to put our attention on our breathing, on the tensed or relaxed feel of our muscles and joints, so too we can be more aware of our digestive organs and metabolism. Are we really that hungry when we sit down to pack away a heavy meal, or do we still feel full from the last meal? When we eat, we can check in with our bodies to know when we have had enough. Another food writer described an interview with an old and very healthy woman in the Philippines, a country where there is an unusually high concentration of people who live to a ripe old age.  The old woman said that she and her family and friends follow the “80% rule”: they stop eating when they feel about 80% full, because by the time everything they have eaten is registered by the body, they’ve already had too much!

    If we pay attention, our bodies will also let us know whether the food and drink we have consumed feels good to the body. Does it “sit well” with us after we have eaten? Does indigestion or discomfort keep us from a good night’s sleep, or weigh us down as we move about our day? How do we feel “the morning after”? Again, if we listen, our bodies can tell us what they want and need, much like a pregnant woman who craves certain foods. It might be a salad, it might be a starch or protein, or it might simply be resting from eating for a while to digest what we have already consumed. The body can tell us what it needs, and we would be wise to listen.

    1. Slow down and pay attention!

    Slow down when you eat! Enjoy this bite, this plate, this meal, not the next one.  So often we are already planning the next forkful even as we are putting this one in our mouths! Getting ready to help ourselves to seconds before the first plate is finished, so that we are not enjoying the food still on the plate in front of us, much less waiting to see if we really are still hungry once we finish that first plate. When we are on silent retreat, we find that our food is particularly pleasing and that we don’t eat as much as usual.  Why?  Because we are practicing mindfulness of our food, and we are not distracted from our enjoyment of each morsel by talking or by mental chatter.  It helps that we also practice appreciation of our food, and gratitude for the many hands and energies that went into raising it and bringing it to our plates for our enjoyment and nourishment.

    I’m on an anti-grabity campaign.” That’s right: “grabity,” not “gravity.”  Notice how often we talk about “grabbing a bite,” or invite our friends to “grab lunch” with us. Food isn’t for grabbing – it’s for sharing, savoring and then calmly digesting. Grabbing food is the opposite of mindful eating.  “Grab” is just a word, but the words we use condition the way we think and the way we act.  We can watch for each time that we or our friends talk about grabbing something to eat or drink, and we can use that heightened awareness as a bell of mindfulness.

    We think we don’t have enough time to eat mindfully and well, but we do.  How often do we grab our fast foods and then sit and watch TV?  Or check our cell phones for messages for the umpteenth time?  Or use the time we think we’ve saved to rush out and buy something? Or grab a meal and get back to work; might we not work smarter, calmer, better, after we take the time to enjoy our food and nourish ourselves?  Really, what better way to use our time than to eat good food and share it with friends or family, or savor it by ourselves, mindfully enjoying each bite and knowing we are doing something good for ourselves?

    1. You don’t have to clean your plate!

    Nor does your child or grandchild.  How much misery has this misconception caused, how many family fights and lifelong traumas?  It is not wasteful to stop eating once you’ve had enough. 

    Sure, it’s better not to take more food than we plan to eat, but sometimes we just don’t know, and sometimes the food is too tempting, so we take too much. Or we want to be generous, so we serve too much to those we are feeding.  If we really don’t want to waste food, we can manage our shopping and meal planning better, or dish up less.  But don’t force your body - or your child’s body - to force down more food than it wants, or than it can healthily digest.

    We’ll look at the other five tips for mindful eating in Part 2 of this article next week, as well as the topic of mindfulness of the environmental impact of our consumption.  But now, before the holiday shopping season is almost over, let’s talk about mindful gifting.

    Mindful Gifting

    Presents … and Presence

    Let’s start by asking ourselves a few questions.  Why do we give gifts?  What are the most meaningful gifts we give, and receive?  What really means the most to us over the holiday season?

    Most likely, your answers have to do with letting our family and friends know that we love them, that we care about them, that we think about them, and that we want to do something special for them.  We tell our children, when they worry about what they’ll get us for Christmas or Hanukkah, “Please don’t think you need to spend a lot of money on us.  It’s the thought and the love that counts.”  And that’s pretty true across the board for most of our relationships.

    Yes, there are people who do need material things: young people setting up their households, those who can’t afford to buy themselves those few simple things that would bring extra joy, and the growing number of Americans who can’t afford the bare necessities : a roof over their heads, adequate clothing and enough to eat.  These folks do need our support, and the holiday season is a particularly good time to practice generosity for those in need.

    But when you get right down to it, so many of our holiday gifts amount to more stuff for people who already have too much.  The new stuff may be bigger, or newer, or have more capabilities than the old stuff, but is it really necessary and does it lead to more than a brief gratification of our materialist desires?  And in many cases we spend more than we can afford, and those to whom we give feel that they must us give back gifts that are equally expensive, more than they can afford or we even want, and we get caught up in an escalating arms race of presents.

    Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that the greatest gift we can give to anyone is our presence.  We all want to be loved, and we want to be understood.  When we suffer, we want someone to listen deeply, and when we are happy, we want someone to share our joy.  We know that caring for others brings us deep and lasting happiness, and we also know how many of our family and friends are stressed, lonely, angry or depressed, feelings which are often exacerbated during the holiday season. 

    How many times have we gotten together with our loved ones at Christmas, and after the brief frenzy of gift-giving and opening has subsided, and too much food and drink has quickly been consumed, we lapse into an uneasy silence or resume feuds and arguments from last year’s holiday get togethers?  We feel that we have been generous because we’ve given and received lots of presents, but have we really shared our presence with our loved ones?  Have we really been there for one another? Do we all go away from the holiday celebrations feeling loved and understood?  Perhaps we can focus more on being present for one another, and less on giving presents to one another.  Instead of sending the children off to watch Disney movies after dinner, while the men watch football and the women gather in the kitchen - pardon the stereotypes, but they still see to apply - how about we let the electronic screens and devices rest, and we talk.  Even better, how about we listen deeply, and when we do speak, it is in such a way that our loved ones feel that they have been heard, understood and supported? 

    Some Alternative gifting strategies:

    1. Donations to favorite charities and organizations

    Instead of buying more stuff, we can make charitable donations to our family and friends’ favorite “causes.” If we don’t already know the kinds of organizations and initiatives they would like to support, we can ask them.  In and of itself, this lets them know we are interested in them, and want to know them better.  It gives us something meaningful to talk about on an ongoing basis, and takes us out of ourselves.

    For our part, we can tell those who normally give us holiday gifts that this year, if they intend to get us something, would they kindly make a donation to …(you can have fun filling in the blank). You might choose an organization that provides food for the homeless and undernourished, or a civil rights organization, or disaster relief for the Philippines or another afflicted area, an environmental group or a religious or community organization like FCM.  There is no need for the giver to say or for the receiver to know how much was given, so the “gift arms race” can be ended.  But whatever the amount, such a gift is something that you and your generous friends can both feel good about, and know that their generosity doesn’t translate into just more stuff the day after the holiday is over, more wrapping paper and cardboard boxes to fill the overflowing garbage containers after the holidays are over.

    1. Give consumables or other small everyday items

    A jar of jam or some other food that you know your family member likes, or something you really enjoy and want to share with your friend.  These are thoughtful, and will not go to waste If the recipients don’t like it, they can easily “regift” to someone else.

    As much as I hated being given clothes for presents as a boy, now I love it if my wife gives me a pair or two of socks, or boxer shorts to replace my worn out ones. It’s funny how sometimes we don’t lack for the big things, but we might need and really appreciate the small day to day items that we often do not buy for ourselves.

    1. Accumulate small personalized gifts through the year

    My wife Nancy is wonderful at this.  She travels a lot, and she likes to shop.  Not necessarily to buy, but to look and see what’s there.  And she keeps her many friends and family members in mind, so when she sees something that she thinks will appeal to a particular person, she buys it, though she might hold it until the holidays or a birthday rolls around.  It might be a book someone would like, or a craft item from another country that she thinks will appeal, or a household knickknack like a bowl with a cat on it for someone who loves cats, or a special garlic press for someone who uses garlic.  When she gives presents like this, not only does the recipient usually enjoy the item, but she is warmed by knowing that Nancy was thinking about her as she went about her travels, not just at Christmas time but as she went about her everyday life. 

    1. Gift certificates or money

    Nancy and I used to think that giving money was somehow not in good taste, but we’ve come around on that.  A check or a bit of cash can be very welcome to help enliven a holiday for someone who is on a tight budget, or to tuck away until they have time to go out and have some fun picking something out for themselves.  If you know their tastes and interests, a gift certificate to a favorite store or online service allows them to pick out something they really want or need.


    You get the idea.  Gifts can be modest, yet if they are personal and there is some thought behind them, those gifts can be very enjoyable and let our dear ones know that we care.  It’s the caring, not the stuff, that is the real point.  Above all, we can give the gift of our true and focused presence to our loved ones.  Telling people we love them on a gift card that accompanies a big fancily-wrapped gift is nice and well-intentioned, but the gift of being there for someone, in the happy times and the hard ones, is the gift that keeps giving.

    Part 2:  Mindful Eating (continued)

    Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that “if we practice mindful consumption, we will be able to heal ourselves, heal our society and heal our planet.”  In Part 1 of this article we asked ourselves about our challenges regarding mindful consumption of food, and about mindful gifts.  We talked about why we give gifts – to show our love and to do something special for our family and friends – and about how our true presence may be more deeply meaningful to our loved ones than our material presents.

    We also looked at the first five of ten “tips” that may help us with mindful eating:  (1) Food doesn’t come from the supermarket! (2) Is what we are about to buy and eat really food? (3) Listen to your body.   (4) Slow down and pay attention!  (5) You don’t have to clean your plate!

    Now, many of us are preparing for the Christmas and New Year holidays, a time of heightened emotions, material over-abundance (for many but not for all in our society), and – let’s be honest – over-eating and over-drinking, followed by remorse and resolutions to handle it all better next time round.  The premise of this article is that with greater mindfulness we can handle it better this time round.  In the present moment – which is all that there ever is for us - we can bring a clearer awareness to our actions of body, speech and mind so that we can make choices about our consumption that are more in line with our deeper aspirations for health and happiness.

    Here are the remaining five suggestions for mindful consumption of food and drink:

    6. Eating doesn’t end after the last bite

    After we have swallowed our last mouthful and left the table, our minds may move on to the next activity, but our bodies know that their part has really just begun.  Digestion takes time and energy, especially after we have eaten rich or heavy foods, and if we have mixed together a lot of different kinds of food and drink.  Our appetite has been satisfied, but now our bodies must deal with what we’ve consumed!

    We eat for enjoyment – nature has designed us to be motivated to eat – but most of all we eat for nourishment.  As the saying goes, “we are what we eat” – do we really want to be a cheeseburger? - and our energy level is determined in part by how effectively we convert food energy into body energy.  Some foods, like meats, fried food and dense combinations of fats, processed starch and sugars, may take more energy from the body to attempt to digest than they provide to the body!  They may have good “mouth-feel,” but be a net loss to our metabolisms.

    Obviously over-eating causes indigestion and discomfort, but so can poor food combinations.  I’m not a nutritionist, but it seems only common sense that if we mix together too many foods that are acid and alkaline, hot and cold, solids and liquids we may make it difficult for our digestive systems to do their work properly.  And in fact naturopaths have suggested for many years that poor eating habits create a toxic internal environment that makes us prone to colds and diseases.

    If, as we plan and consume our meals and snacks, we are mindful that eating doesn’t end after the last bite, we can allow our bodies to digest our food easily, as designed, and help to keep ourselves and those we feed nourished and happy.

    7. Every day is a special occasion!

    Truly it is, another 24 hours to be alive and awake on this amazing planet!  So often, though, this expression is used like a ritual incantation to allow us to overeat and to overdose on particularly sweet and rich foods, and often on alcohol too.  Then after the special occasion is over, we try to diet and vow to do better hereafter… until the next special occasion turns up.  That’s a stressful roller coaster to be on, when in reality every day really is special, and we want to feel good every day. It’s an unhealthy cycle for our metabolisms, which find it much easier to settle into a regular routine, so everything can stabilize, rather than lurching between extremes of binging and fasting without a chance to recover.

    Holidays should really be a time to treat our bodies especially well, and to encourage – by example – our loved ones to do the same.  We really do all want to be as healthy as we can, for many more special occasions to come.  

    8.  Sugar does not = love

    We think we are being kind to our family and friends when we provide them with heavy, rich food, or, as is often the case, with very good food but too much of it.  And in particular, we think we are being “sweet” to ourselves and our guests when we provide them with lots of sugar.  Especially on birthdays and throughout the holiday season.

    Our comfort foods are often sugar-based.  No doubt we associate them with happy interludes in our childhoods.  I can remember many depressive binges on ice cream or chocolate or donuts, or some combination thereof.  Fun for a very brief time, then uncomfortable for a much longer time.  Is that really the best we can for do for ourselves when we what want is to feel “comforted”?  Maybe if we called them “discomfort foods” it would help us be more mindful the next time our strong attachment to sweets kicks in. 

    Then there are those of us who are mindful of our own consumption, so we don’t eat the cake and ice cream and so on ourselves, but we urge them on our family and guests because we want them to have what they like.  That’s totally understandable, but more applied mindfulness may lead us to realize that the most loving thing we can do is to provide healthy food, and to use our own understanding and example to support and encourage our loved ones to be mindful of what they consume.  

    This is not to suggest that we become food Nazis about sugar.  I love chocolate, and nothing quite does it for me like a pistachio ice cream cone on a hot summer afternoon. As a friend of mine likes to say, quoting Oscar Wilde: “Moderation in all things, including moderation.”  A little sugar now and then, sure. Too much sugar on a regular basis, bad news for our metabolism, our bodies and our emotions.

    9.  Excessive drinking does not = fun

    “Drinking to excess equals fun” is another equation that needs to be rewritten.  In the Five Mindfulness Trainings, Thich Nhat Hanh encourages us not to use alcohol, drugs or other products which contain toxins.  Some practitioners totally refrain from drinking alcohol at all, and others may enjoy the occasional glass of wine or beer, but our aspiration and our practice is not to cloud our minds and damage our bodies by drinking too much.  

    We have been conditioned to believe that intoxication is fun, and that feeling bad during and after is just part of this enjoyable experience.  Many of our friends and family are overdoing it, especially over the holidays, and if we don’t use mindfulness to create an opportunity to choose moderation or abstinence, we tend to go along with the crowd.  We needn’t make a big point of not drinking or of drinking moderately, we simply stop after we have enjoyed one or two drinks and switch to water, tea or juice.

    The unexamined assumption behind drinking for fun is that we need to be intoxicated to really enjoy ourselves.  That we have to escape from reality into a happier state of mind.  It is the antithesis of our mindfulness practice, which seeks to wake up to reality as it is, knowing that true happiness is always available to us in the present moment if we are alive to that moment.  Seeking escape just perpetuates our suffering, and the things we think, say and do when we are drunk only compound our problems.  As with over-eating, we can do ourselves and our friends and loved ones a favor by opening up alternatives.  “Hey, I’m having a wonderful time just being here with you, and I don’t need to become intoxicated to enjoy our time together.”

    10.  Adopting a vegetarian diet is not a sacrifice, it’s a pleasure!

    Our teacher Fred has encouraged us to strongly consider adopting a vegetarian diet - please read his wonderful Nov. 2012 letter “On Eating Meat” in the Resources section of the FCM website.

    Eating a vegetarian diet is delicious, varied and satisfying.  Fruits and vegetables are much tastier than meat by, especially when they are fresh.  You’ll enjoy it, and your friends will enjoy it too when they visit you.  Most good restaurants have tasty and satisfying vegetarian appetizers and salads and entrees, and even those that don’t have vegetarian entrees have vegetable side dishes that can be put together for a delicious dinner.  Same thing at family holiday dinners: without making any fuss about it you can pass on the meat and have a great meal of side dishes.

    Certainly, our bodies and our cooking techniques need time to adjust, and it isn’t necessary to go “cold turkey” on meat all at once.  Listen to your body (see Tip 3 from Part One of this article) and see if you feel a lack of energy.  On the other hand, you may quickly find that an all or mostly vegetarian diet is very satisfying from the get-go, that you feel lighter and more energetic, and that you miss ‘meat and potatoes” meals much less than you expected.  Once you start to experience the alternatives, which are endless, the traditional meal of meat, starch and a side of overcooked vegetables begins to seem boring and rather unappetizing.  

    Yes, vegetarian cuisine may require more time for food preparation, but it’s enjoyable and rewarding.  Many of us say we don’t have time to make vegetarian meals or snacks, but then we sit down and watch TV for hours while we eat our fast food!

    We all know the primary reasons for not eating meat, and they are all true.  It’s not good for our health, it’s not good for the animals and it’s not good for the environment. 

    When humans were living off the land and doing very hard physical labor in adverse conditions, we may have needed the concentrated fats and proteins meat could provide, but today we live pretty sedentary lives and we do better with lighter foods and less of them.  Further, the meat we are sold today was generally raised on inferior foods laced with antibiotics and chemicals - you are what what you eat has eaten - in unsanitary and incredibly inhumane conditions.  It is almost certainly true that if we knew more about how the animals that we eat were raised and treated, most of us would stop eating meat on the spot.

    The meat industry is a major cause of environmental problems. The land used for grazing livestock and growing animal feed takes about up 30% of the earth’s entire land mass, land that is not available for more efficient forms of agriculture.  Animal agriculture is also a significant contributor to the greenhouse gases causing global warming.

    I want to make one final and very important point about being vegetarian, and about all the mindful food tips discussed in this article:  Eating well and healthily is not a sacrifice, it is a pleasure! As long as we have the attitude that “I know I should eat better but I want to enjoy my food,” we won’t change, and why should we?  The reality for me and for many millions of others is that good food is more fun to purchase and prepare, more appetizing on the plate, tastier and more interesting to eat, and easier to digest.  We feel better nourished, more energized and happier. 

    Mindful eating is a delight, and I wish you all a mindful “bon appetit” over the holidays and into the new year.

  • 26 Nov 2013 10:45 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Our sangha sisters Nancy, Charner and MT each share from the heart their experiences, below.

    At the last retreat I received transmission with my sangha sisters Charner, Evelyn and MT.  This was not the first time.  I had actually received transmission the first time in Naples from Fred, our teacher, back in 2005.  The transmission ceremony is offered to both those wanting to commit to the Buddhist path of practice for the first time and those who would like to “re-enlist”, meaning those wanting to re-commit anew to the path of practice.  I definitely wanted to renew and refresh my commitment.

    The first time I received transmission, I was overwhelmed.  The path was big, the challenge great and although I heard the words of the transmission I had no real idea how to put into practice many of the mindfulness trainings.  I also knew that some of them would present more of a challenge then others.  This time at the retreat in the Franciscan Center I heard the mindfulness training on Nourishment and Healing almost as if it was the first time. 

    Using food all my life as a method to escape my body, mind, and surroundings I knew this particular training spoke directly to me.  During the transmission, I heard the words, “Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption” as if for the first time.  I was aware.  I was deeply aware of how unmindful eating has caused pain in my mind and body for many years.  This time I heard another phrase in the training statement about practicing mindful eating, not just for oneself, but for all of society. 

    Since I have always lived alone, I never realized that when I eat mindfully I am doing it not only for myself but for everyone, especially those who are hungry.  When I heard the transmission this time, a light went on in my mind.  Even if the majority of my eating is done alone in my kitchen with no one around, it matters when I don’t consume food mindfully.  It matters to society and I need to practice for society, especially for those who, every day, do not have enough to eat. 

    Taking transmission is a powerful step, even after the first time.  You are declaring once again with your mind and heart and in front on the sangha community your intention to practice these five trainings.  As we live in a culture suffering from a dearth of healing and transformative ceremonies, doing this one thing on retreat had a significant impact on my path of practice.  I walked away with a new understanding that I was practicing this particular training not for myself or in service of a self-image molded from women’s magazine advertisements, but for my community, society, and especially those who suffer from hunger. 
    ~ Nancy Cunningham

    “To the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, I go for refuge.  By this practice, may understanding, compassion and equanimity be achieved for the benefit of all beings.“  As we say these or similar words each morning before sitting down to meditate, the meaning gradually has its effect upon us like water flowing over rocks slowly smoothing their surface.  Repeating our intention every day reminds us why we practice and energizes our effort.  Though on some days I recite these words rotely without clearly seeing their meaning, on other days the words penetrate more deeply.

    It was on the last morning of the recent Fall retreat at the Franciscan Center, led by our teacher Fred, where four of us, surrounded by the Sangha and facing Fred and the Buddha’s alter, formally vowed to go for refuge to the Three Jewels - the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha - and to practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings.  As I listened to the recitation of the ceremony’s words prescribed by Thich Nhat Hanh and detailed in his book Chanting from the Heart, they deeply penetrated my being.  Standing in the middle of this harmonious gathering and touching the earth after each vow, I felt the warmth, love and support of the entire community, my spiritual family, and experienced great happiness inside of me for choosing this path.
    ~ Charner Reese


  • 13 Oct 2013 10:03 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Andrew Rock shares about the recent experience of being on retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh at Magnolia Grove Monastery.

    Northern Mississippi might seem an unlikely place for a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh to generate a wonderful energy of mindfulness, kindness, clarity and healing, based on the teachings of the Buddha. But the fourfold sangha of monks and nuns, laymen and laywomen who worked so hard to develop the Magnolia Grove Monastery near Batesville, Mississippi have created just such an environment.  

    The brand new red-roofed meditation hall, named the Rising Tide, comfortably held almost a thousand of us; the surrounding fields and woods sprouted colorful tents by the hundreds. We ate our meals under a shady grove of mature oak trees. We were inspired by a huge mindfulness bell hanging in its beautifully ornate bell tower and, nearby, the large white statue of Quan Yin (the female, Asian form of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion), rising from an island in the middle of a lush green lotus pond.

    Thay, as everyone calls Thich Nhat Hanh (it means “teacher” in Vietnamese), told us that “the collective energy generated by the environment you create is very important.  That is why sangha building is so important.  If you put a person in a good environment of brotherhood and sisterhood, peace and kindness, that can be very healing.”

    Thay gave a long Dharma talk every morning, the highlight of each day. If we know how to breathe and walk mindfully, Thay told us early in the retreat, we don’t have to be dominated by anger, anxiety or depression. We can bring our mindfulness up from our store consciousness – where our experiences have planted dormant seeds of happiness and suffering – and give our afflictive emotions a “mindfulness bath,” to relax and heal them with our tender attention.  Practitioners know how to generate compassion as an antidote to anger, stability as an antidote to anxiety, joy as an antidote to depression.  And we know that concentration has the power to burn away obstacles to happiness.

    Sometimes suffering may be unavoidable, and Thay told us that a good practitioner also knows the “art of suffering.”  She knows that happiness, which like everything else is empty of its own intrinsic existence, is made of non-happiness elements, including suffering; and suffering is made of non-suffering elements, including happiness.  Suffering and happiness inter-are.  So we can use our practice of mindfulness, understanding and loving kindness to be present to our suffering, without shooting a “second arrow” into the same wound by blaming ourselves or someone else for our suffering.  We know that it is impermanent, like everything else, and that even as we suffer, we also have more than enough conditions to be happy. “A practitioner should be an artist,” Thay told us, “and know how to skillfully create joy and happiness.”

    Thay’s clear, calm voice, and his effortless, flowing movements as he rose and glided over to write on the whiteboard were teachings also.  He embodies mindfulness, stability and a simple, peaceful joy.  Yet he has great confidence based on deep insight, and he has no illusions about the extent of the degradation of our society and environment from greed, violence, war, and pollution.  On the fourth day of the retreat, instead of a formal Dharma talk, Thay held a Q&A session, and several questioners asked how to create world peace and about the role of political activism and civil disobedience to address environmental problems. Thay said:

    “I have seen ecologists who are very angry. They have a lot of pollution in them.  When they become less angry, it is easier to help.

    “Protesting is not the best way – that does not help them to transform their anger, fear and craving.  It is by loving speech and deep listening that we can show them another way and help them transform.  We should learn to write love letters, not protest letters, to our politicians.  That is the way to world peace. ‘Dear Mr. President:  we understand that you have many difficulties.  We have a way to help you.”

    The better way, Thay told us, is to set an example of peace, to show that happiness is possible without a lot of money and weapons.  Healing yourself is healing the world. The most important thing, he told us, is to live happily as a sangha.  Calm down first, and live harmoniously and simply together. Other people come and observe your community and they learn.  When they see the way you live, they wake up and they change. Your community can practice peace education – go and tell people very concretely how it is possible to be happy.

    Several times Thay talked about mindful consumption.  The consumption of toxins waters the seeds of anger, fear, and desire.  “We should consume in such a way that health, happiness and a future are possible.  If we practice mindful consumption, we will be able to heal ourselves, heal our society and heal our planet.”  This is important for us as individuals, families and in our sanghas.

    Building a sangha is not easy, he told us.  We need a lot of compassion and patience. We need to practice deep listening. We need to give ourselves enough time and space to come together and transform.  Without a loving community we cannot realize our dream.  “The most important thing is to live happily as a sangha.  If you have that, the rest will come.”

    There were about twenty members of the Florida Community of Mindfulness at Thay’s Magnolia Grove retreat.  We met briefly every day, at the bell tower, to share our daily experiences as our teacher, Fred Eppsteiner, had asked.  We also met daily in small group discussions with other practitioners from Florida and the southeast, many without sanghas or teachers.  We realized how fortunate we are at FCM to have such a learned and dedicated teacher, and such a kind and committed community.  We also realized that, as a large and geographically dispersed community, FCM can be a resource for other practitioners in Thay’s tradition, and so we “spread the word” at the retreat about our community, our weekly sanghas, and our new website as a gateway for information and access to our programs.  Already, in the two weeks since the retreat, several of our new friends have become members of FCM and have attended FCM activities.

    Fred asked that our FCM members at the retreat think about what we can bring back home with us.  One thing we have certainly brought back is a renewed appreciation for the good and important work of sangha building that we are engaged in. Another is a refreshed inspiration to continue our practice in the tradition of our root teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, and also a strong infusion of the joy that is embodied by Thay, his monks and nuns, and the sanghas that grow up around them at every stop of this North American tour.

    Thay and the monastics conducted transmission ceremonies the last two mornings of the retreat.  On the first morning, fourteen aspirants were ordained as members of the Order of Interbeing (“OI”), including our own FCM members Darlene Stewart and Anne Kracmer. We were delighted to be there to support and congratulate Anne and Darlene, and to present them with the brown jackets worn by OI members to symbolize their commitment to humility and service, understanding and compassion.

    On the final morning, Thay transmitted the Five Mindfulness Trainings to those who wished to receive them for the first time, and to those who wanted to renew their prior transmission.  Many of the retreat attendees were new practitioners, or new to Thay’s tradition, and virtually every one of them wanted to receive the transmission.  It was wonderful to see hundreds of people simultaneously touching the earth as Thay transmitted each training, and to see their smiling faces, alight with happiness and purpose, at the end of the ceremony.

    The retreat ended with a final walking meditation, led by Thay and the children, through the lush green meadows of Magnolia Grove, pausing to rest in a shaded forest glen, and then back, refreshed, invigorated and inspired, to return to our communities, knowing that wherever we are, we are always home.

    Andrew Rock
    True Collective Healing

    October 2013

  • 31 Jul 2013 7:01 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Recently, Andy Solis, a long-term member of the Florida Community of Mindfulness, was part of group of members who travelled to the Magnolia Grove Practice Center in Mississippi to help with preparations for Thich Nhat Hanh’s upcoming retreat. Andy wrote Fred a letter about his experience there, and especially what he learned about the practice of community.

    I would like to share a wonderful experience that several of us recently had at the Magnolia Grove Mindfulness Practice Center in Batesville, Mississippii. Our trip was an effort to create a deeper connection between the Florida Community of Mindfulness and the monastic communities within the Thich Nhat Hanh tradition. On July 11th five FCM Sangha members travelled to Magnolia Grove. Rosaria Pugliese (Miami), Dennis Brown (Naples), Tim Niell (Tampa) and Ned Bellamy (Tampa) travelled with me. Magnolia Grove is the newest of the monastery/practice centers in the US practicing in Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh's (Thay) Plum Village tradition. It is home to approximately 25 monastics. The land for the monastery was originally purchased by a group of five Vietnamese families in the Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama areas.

    The monastics and the lay community are working extremely hard to complete the hall prior to Thay's arrival. Most of the heavy framing and detailed stonework had been subcontracted to outside companies. However, the majority of the finish work, painting, and landscaping is being done by the monastics and lay community volunteers. The hall is quite large and will seat 1000 when completed. Needless to say, completion of the Hall by the time Thay arrives will be difficult and the extra hands were greatly appreciated.

    The FCM road-trip was successful in establishing a deeper connection with this monastic and lay community close to Florida. They were very enthusiastic about friends visiting from Florida and welcomed us like family members who had been away and recently returned home. We were all touched by the way they immediately included us in their community. After working along side both lay volunteers and monastics for a whole day, we became "Uncle Rick, Aunt Rosaria, Uncle Ned, Uncle Tim and Uncle Andy." This gave us some insight into how the Asian communities practice Sangha. At some level, the Asian meaning of sangha is different than the western understanding of sangha. The lay community is committed to creating a place where lay people and monastics can be together in an open, loving, mindful way, i.e. like a healthy family.

    Their commitment amazed us all. Numerous lay members would work all day at their professions or businesses, arrive for dinner, and work until 12 o'clock at night. They did this in a joyous and relaxed way. The lay families spent entire days at the Center working, eating, meditating, and playing together. They were not going to Magnolia Grove just to "do something" or "practice something". The doing and practicing was secondary to "being together in harmony." Each early morning sitting and chanting, each meal, and each period of working meditation was done with a sense of love and openness. The time spent was about being together for the pure enjoyment of being together, rather than to only to accomplish a specific task. There is a massive amount of work to complete prior to Thay's arrival, and yet all of the work was done with a sense of unity and togetherness. Nothing was done in a hurry. Finishing the work seemed less important than being together mindfully and as a family.

    Periodic breaks were taken from the meditation hall work. When a break was announced we would all stop, sit in a circle, and mindfully talk and enjoy tea or salted lemonade. During one break, one brother sat down next to me and put his arm around my shoulders. He did this without any thought that he didn't know me or that I was a stranger to him. He simply sat down as he would have with a sibling to enjoy a snack. All of the conversations were about being together, the community, or Thay’s visit. No one engaged in a monologue about themselves or attempted to tell everyone their life story. We just enjoyed each other’s presence. This was truly a sangha flowing as a river.

    On our return trip, the group talked about what a great experience it was and how beneficial it could be for our FCM community to develop a connection with the Magnolia Grove community. We invited several monastics to visit us in the winter and they were highly enthusiastic. I hope that our new Center will become a place for everyone to just experience “being together” without any separation and “to flow as a river”.

    With a smile and a bow,
    Andy Solis
    True Land of Mindfulness Training
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