Beliefnet
Mindfulness Matters

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On Christmas Day when gluttony may be a strong temptation, I am posting one of your favorite entries from the archive (originally posted 20 July 2010). Accept my sincere wishes for a wonderful holiday and an invitation to be mindful throughout!

New Jersey (or anywhere in the United States), I am returning from a meal at a Japanese Sushi buffet. All you can eat sushi? This sounds too good to be true. The restaurant is as big as a supermarket and four times the size of any restaurant I’ve seen in Vermont. The array of choices and the volume of food is staggering. Oysters, clams, sushi, sashimi, nori rolls, maki rolls. And if you don’t want raw, you can eat cooked Japanese and Chinese entrees by the dozens. Perhaps you’d like some tempura or BBQ, crab legs or roasted octopus? None of this is to mention desert. Unlike supermarkets, this is all meant to be eaten now. And people were eating, including myself, lining up like pigs at a trough. The Buddhist meal chant prepares us to eat in a mindful manner. It can be translated as follows:

This meal is the labor of countless beings, let us remember their toil.

Defilements are many, exertions weak, to we deserve this offering?

Gluttony stems from greed, let us be moderate.

Our life is sustaiend by this offering, let us be grateful.

We take this food to attain the Buddhaway.

We can throw moderation right out of the window. This expereince is designed for gluttony. People, myself among them, make multiple trips to the buffet expanse. At least we’re getting some exercise as we do so. It’s hard to conceive al lthe actions that resulted in this meal being oferred. Even a simple meal comprises countless events. The food must be grown, harvested, transporrted, prepared, and served. The soil must be nurtred by earthworms and bacteria. Rain must fall. The sun must shine. When we eat in this way, boudndless entincing food that just appears, we can’t possibly appreciate the complex intertwining events that bring this miracle of food to our table. How many fish offerered their lives? How much reverence do we offer in return? Early humans worked hard to secure food or perished. We inherit the tendency to gorge to balance the eventual famine. But today, we have no famine. Food is never ending, always available, and as a result we tend to become obese. Approximately 25% of Americans are obese and the trends are getting worse. The sheer abundence of such “all-you-can-eat” dining options can’t be helping the problem. The second stanza of the Buddhist meal chant asks if we have made sufficient effort to warrant this food? Have we worked to be mindful? (and if we are at such a trough it’s likely we are risk for mindlessness).

While our life is susatined by this food we could be sustained by much less. When I look around at my fellow human beings at the trough, I don’t detect gratitude. I sense entitlement. I pay my money (and a ridiculous low amount at that) so I get to eat as much as I want. And this is why people come, to eat without restriction. This gives us a distorted sense of how much food there is on this planet. It obscures the fact that in many regions of the world, including the United States people don’t have enough to eat (in fact, 1 of 4 children in the U.S. do not get adequate nutrition).

We take this food to attain the buddhaway? Why do we eat? For obvious reasons, of course, but why do we eat in this way? This restaurant was packed; the concept of all-you-can-eat is popular. I’m still digesting my meal, hours later. 

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Suzanne Matthiessen is my eMindful.com colleague and a fellow blogger and mindfulness-baseed practitioner. 


She has dedicated her life and work to teaching integrated Mind/Body approaches to well-being for over two decades. She has successfully employed proactive holistic wellness awareness tools and techniques to help individuals and teams strengthen attention and focus, shape positive and productive thoughts, choices, actions and behaviors, reduce stress internally and externally, and build empathy, compassion and interconnection. Suzanne specializes in teaching others to honestly and fearlessly address their shadow thoughts, choices, actions and behaviors and the importance of the impact they have upon all they come into contact with as well as themselves, and how they can actualize lasting, transparent change in their lives.

She recently featured my work on her blog http://suzannematthiessen.blogspot.com/. I am honored and humbled to be called a “contemporary bodhisattva.” It’s a big obligation and one that I embrace. However, I would clarify that I am not a bodhisattva — at least not yet. I am aspiring to be and have taken the vows to move in this direction. 

What do these vows mean? They mean that I am working towards awakening in the service of helping my fellow beings. That sounds a bit grand, if not grandiose. 

At the very least, to take the vows means to not bring more violence into the world. This is a benefit to all, if indirect. More directly, I do my best to reach people and inspire them to embrace the dharma. I do this through my writing and through teaching meditation and through my therapeutic work. By this definition, Suzanne is a bodhisattva too, and I encourage you to read her blog. 

There is a growing web of mindfulness-based practitioners and writers. The wisdom of the Buddha’s teaching is accessible like never before. For a complete list of Buddhist-based blog, visit blogisattva.org (and perhaps someone can nominate one of my blog entries for the 2011 Blogisattva Awards!). 


winter.jpgLast night marked the winter solstice — the longest night of the year. Today the days grow longer, even as we reach into the deep belly of winter here in Northern Vermont and elsewhere. The solstice marks the end of a long contraction, started six months ago at the summer solstice. We are now expanding.

We go through a mini-solstice expansion and contraction cycle each time we breathe. Each time we draw in the next new breath, we’ve completed a cycle of contraction and are now expanding. We embody the changing seasons within us. 
We celebrate the solstice and we, too, can celebrate each breath as a renewal of life. Breathing is a constant reminder of impermanence and an invitation to be with change as the nature of the universe. It’s an invitation to see if we are trying to impose our own agenda of constancy onto things that are constantly changing. That, of course, is frustrating, and futile.
So enjoy the this change and, indeed, each change in each moment — whether expanding or contracting. 

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Mindfulness meditation in prison? What better place to practice? Kiran Bedi is a visionary Indian civil servant who, among other things, reformed Tihar prison in New Dehli, one of the biggest and most dangerous prisons in the world. Her work was the subject of the moving documentary film, Doing Vipassana; Doing Time.  

In this brief talk, she shares her collected wisdom on acceptance, learned from her parents. They taught her that we construct 90% our experience.
She notes, “Crime is a product of a distorted mind.” Ten thousand prisoners were under her authority and her goal was to make the prison into an ashram through education and vipassana meditation.
Bedi has taken skillful means (upaya) to new heights by bringing the dharma to so many and those, perhaps, in most need of it. She’s a truly remarkable human being.  

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