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Obstacles on the Path (September 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | September 2014


Obstacles on the Path

If there’s a rock in your path, you have to move it, go around it, or climb over it. The same is true in meditation, says SAKYONG MIPHAM. You can’t just pretend obstacles aren’t there. You have to relate to them. 

In meditation, we are on a journey from here to whatever we are trying to accomplish, be it mindfulness, peace, or compassion. We are developing the ability to have a fuller experience of our lives. But as we gain understanding and insight, there is a buildup of residue, which in Tibetan we call döns, or obstacles. An obstacle is something that cuts the line of our intention. If, while sitting in meditation with the motivation of benefiting others, we realize we are thinking about work, then obviously our intention has been cut. We are no longer on our intended journey.

The tricky thing is that we don’t always know when obstacles are arising. To detect them, we have to know our mind and our intention. The point is to be vigilant as we practice. As we settle our mind through meditation, any kind of imperfection in our character becomes stronger. With awareness, we can manifest our own genuineness about any obstacle we face. Intention is important.

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s most recent book is
The Shambhala Principle: Discovering Humanity’s Hidden Treasure.

Read the rest of this article inside the September 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

There Is a Path that Frees Us from Suffering / Gina Sharpe profile (September 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | September 2014


There is a Path that Frees Us from Suffering

Insight teacher Gina Sharpe is working to create a truly inclusive sangha. The place to start, she says, is facing the truth that even Buddhist communities aren’t free from the suffering caused by racism. A profile by ANDREA MILLER.

Buddhist teacher Gina Sharpe once asked a student why she only attended meditation retreats that were specifically for people of color.

“Gina,” the woman answered, “I’m from the South. If I’m the only black person in a room of ninety-nine white people, there’s only one thing that’s going to happen.”

“What’s that?” Sharpe asked.

Then came the woman’s answer—graphic and powerful.

“A lynching,” she said.

Looking back, Sharpe pinpoints this as the moment when she “really got it.” While the white Buddhist community may be very sweet, very well intentioned, that doesn’t change people’s visceral experience. “It was nothing I could argue with,” Sharpe explains. “It’s an emotional wound that won’t heal.”

Originally from Jamaica, Sharpe has a complex heritage—white, black, and Chinese. “I’m so assimilated that I’m more comfortable than many people of color in a white world,” she acknowledges. As a Buddhist practitioner in the Insight Meditation tradition, she never had any qualms about attending retreats that were otherwise all white, and for a long time she didn’t entirely grasp how difficult it was for many people of color. Yet the first time she led a people of color retreat, she noticed an unfamiliar feeling of relaxation.

“I didn’t realize that when I’m not in a diverse place, there’s a certain amount of unconscious tension that I carry,” she says. When she practiced with other people of color, the tension dropped away.

Read the rest of this article inside the September 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

On Track with Paul Newman (September 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | September 2014


On Track with Paul Newman

Between blockbuster movies, car racing, and salad dressing, Paul Newman was one of the world’s most recognizable celebrities. Yet, says MICHAEL STONE, he was one of those rare people who could sit still and watch the rain fall.

I’d seen Paul Newman around the track. He wore shades, he always had his collar up, and he seemed like the wise, rebellious leader of both his team and the entire paddock. He said good morning to everyone, like a man from a time when men were elegant.

I was twenty at the time, studying philosophy at the University of British Columbia, and depressed. In the summers I ran communications and marketing for a racing-car team owned by a wealthy businessman from Toronto. Through my girlfriend, Laura, I was introduced to Paul at a dinner in Monterey, California. Laura thought I’d be able to find a job with his team.

Our first private conversation was at the Homestead racetrack in Florida. Paul was sitting in an oversized chair in his custom bus, tracing his fingers down the window as raindrops streaked the glass.

“Michael?” He stood up and reached out his hand.

“Good to meet you,” I said.

“Do you bet?”

“Not really,” I answered, looking down at his white socks and running shoes.

“Have a seat,” he said.

There was just a small table between us, and my left knee was almost touching his. He was wearing a Kmart baseball cap and white golf shirt, and it was funny to see someone his age and so admired covered in corporate logos. Feeling like I needed to say something, I stated the obvious: “It’s been raining a lot.”

“How long,” he asked, “do you think it takes for a raindrop to go from the top of the window to the bottom?” His watch was on the table. Maybe he’d been timing the raindrops as he’d been sitting here alone. Maybe he wasn’t alone much. “Pick a raindrop,” he said.

I pointed to one on the window and he pointed to another. My raindrop moved slowly down the tall, tinted window, touched another raindrop, then shot down to the windowsill. Meanwhile, Paul’s thin, old finger traced the path of his raindrop as it dripped slowly down the glass, then crossed the window toward me and finally came to a stop right in front of my knee.

“Again,” he said.

This time I chose a drop at the top of the window. It moved sideways and then stopped. It was absorbed by another droplet and then the whole area pooled, becoming one large drop, which slid down. Paul’s raindrop made a slow, straight line to the bottom of the window, and he looked over at me and smiled.

Read this complete article inside the September 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

Is Nothing Something? (September 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | September 2014


Is Nothing Something?

THICH NHAT HANH answers children’s questions.

Children have a special place in the Plum Village tradition of Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. There are special practices, vows, and programs designed especially for children and teens, and Thich Nhat Hanh often fashions the first part of his dharma talks with them in mind. He regularly takes questions from children, and by and large adults can identify with what they ask. Children may be smaller and younger and they may have a funny way with words, but their questions reveal that they, like adults, are grappling with the human condition. What follows are real questions from children and Thich Nhat Hanh’s insightful answers from a new illustrated book, Is Nothing Something? “I always try to give an answer that offers the best of myself,” Thich Nhat Hanh says. “I am much older than the children who asked these questions, but when we sit and breathe together, it seems that we are the same.” —Andrea Miller

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is energy. This energy helps us enjoy what is happening right now. Mindful energy can bring us a lot of joy. It helps us suffer less and learn from our suffering. A good way to get some mindful energy is to close your eyes and breathe easily. Just pay attention to your breath. If you can enjoy your in-breath and out-breath, you are creating mindful energy.

Is nothing something?

Yes. Nothing is something. You have an idea in your head of nothing. You have an idea in your head of something. Both are things that can create either suffering or happiness.

Why do I sometimes feel lonely and that no one loves me?

Sometimes the people around you are distracted and may forget to express their love. But if you feel like no one loves you, you can always look outside at the natural world. Do you see a tree out there? That tree loves you. It offers its beauty and freshness to you and gives you oxygen so you can breathe. The Earth loves you, offering you fresh water and delicious fruit for you to eat. The world expresses its love in many ways, not just with words.

How can I love someone who likes different things than me?

To love is to discover. If you keep on loving another person, you will keep discovering wonderful things about that person. You can enjoy the differences because it would be boring if everyone were the same. Even if the other person has a quality that doesn’t seem lovable, you can practice loving that person  anyway, just as they are, and not how you wish they were.

See more inside the September 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

RAIN Cools the Flames of Anger (September 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | September 2014

RAIN Cools the Flames of Anger

EMILY HORN teaches us how to recognize, accept, investigate, and not identify with our anger. 

The best way to transform anger and other strong emotions is to befriend them. As with any relationship, it takes time to become intimate with the inner workings of our minds. To do it we need courage and strength. And we need the help of an effective technique.

Peeling away the layers of anger moves us closer to life and empowers us to stand up for justice. One of the most effective ways to deepen and transform our relationship with anger is a four-step mindfulness-based practice known by the acronym RAIN: Recognize, Accept, Investigate, Non-Identify. Here’s how it works.


1. Recognize Anger

The first step of the practice is to recognize the many forms that anger takes. The energy of anger can move from irritation to resentment to rage. One form can fuel another in a fiery chain reaction that takes just seconds to explode.

We must be willing to face the demons that lie inside us so we are not controlled by them. There are many moments when anger arises without being recognized. Because we fear the intensity of anger, we allow it to build up over time, but pushing anger away or denying it only causes unconscious aggression.

Anger doesn’t just disappear when we start to meditate. But with mindfulness practice and the support of others, we can recognize it more quickly when it arises and have the presence to respond appropriately.


2. Accept Anger

Learning to accept anger is the second aspect of RAIN. Nonjudgmental acceptance melts the frozen and unconscious aspects of anger and cools the heat of active anger.

It is natural for our protective instincts to arise in certain circumstances. These are an important part of our evolutionary history. Befriending anger requires us to welcome our survival instincts as they arise. You don’t need to judge or condemn them.

We must learn to accept not only our personal anger but also the collective anger that permeates our world. Patience and forgiveness, for both ourselves and others, are important practices to help cool the flames of aggression.


3. Investigate Anger

The third step is to investigate the nature of anger. What is this energy that morphs and changes? That can burn like fire and harden like ice?

When you recognize anger is arising, you can use your attention to zoom into all the different layers and forms of anger. This includes bodily sensations, thoughts, and the whole range of feelings on the anger spectrum.

Is the anger light, dark, murky, or hot? Where is it felt in the body? What happens to your breath when you’re angry? What are the themes of your thoughts?

By applying your curiosity directly to the feeling of anger, you can change a potential damaging moment into a powerful experience of energy. This will create wise change.

By investigating anger you begin to notice how anger morphs into other emotions. You see the subtle ways you identify with your anger, and how the intensity of anger is like a glue that sticks you to your storylines. This leads to the final step of RAIN practice.


4. Not Identify with Anger

When we practice non-identification, we set aside the stories we tell ourselves about our anger. Focusing on the movement of the breath softens our identification with these stories so we can simply be with what’s happening.

When we move beyond our personal story, we open into awareness. Non-identification brings the understanding that anger arises and passes away. In that moment we become even more intimate with anger.

We burn out quickly when we identify with our anger, when we don’t recognize how it is driving us, when lack curiosity and investigation. But when we befriend anger, it fuels empowerment, resilience, and change. It deepens into non-separation and living in less harmful ways. Learning to use RAIN—recognizing, accepting, investigating, and non-identifying—turns the suffering of anger into a conscious and workable energy. Through the art of mindfulness, we see the harm that our anger has caused and use it instead to power our lives for the benefit of all.


Emily Horn is an Insight Meditation teacher and the community director of Buddhist Geeks, which explores what it means to be a Buddhist in this high-tech world. She lives with her husband in Asheville, North Carolina.

From the September 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

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