Obstacles on the Path (September 2014)
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
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.
There Is a Path that Frees Us from Suffering / Gina Sharpe profile (September 2014)
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
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.
On Track with Paul Newman (September 2014)
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
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
“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.
Is Nothing Something? (September 2014)
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.
RAIN Cools the Flames of Anger (September 2014)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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