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"Energizing Our Spiritual Practice"
Transcript of a talk delivered by Br. ChiSing
Breath of Life (Interfaith Mindfulness Fellowship)
April 15, 2007 - Dallas, Texas

Thank you for being here, dear friends. Tonight's topic of course is virya paramita, the practice of energy, vitality, strength, nourishment.

I remember about 2 years ago after my ex and I broke up I found myself in a depression and I think I was already somewhat in and out of a depression a few months before the final break-up, and I didn't realize what was going on inside of me. I wasn't sure what I needed to do to help myself. I didn't know what would nurture me and support me at that time. I did try to do some of my daily routines and practices that I find helpful. But nothing seemed to help me break out of that cycle. Until a few months into that period after the break-up, I made time to go to a retreat with my teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, with our teacher, in Colorado, for about 5 or 6 days. And I was amazed at the transformation inside of me that took place during that time, for just 5 or 6 days. I remember sitting on a rock with the sun coming down, near the Rocky Mountains, with about 800 people doing walking meditation nearby, and I was just sitting on the rock, 'cause I didn't want to be in the crowd that particular day. I just sat and watched everyone walking. And I felt so much joy and peace and freedom, and I knew in that moment that the depression wasn't there. I guess I had been so used to the depression, in and out a little bit, but always still slightly in it that I didn't know… I had forgotten what it felt like not to be in that. And when I wasn't in it, it was such a contrast, that that's when I realized, "Oh, that's what I was in." I wasn't just in a funk. I was in this depression. And even though I had good days in the depression, I was still in that fog. And now I was completely cleared from that. And I thought to myself, if I had only known how transformative this really can be, if I had remembered how transformative this can be—because I had experienced this before, but I supposed I had forgotten—I would have chosen to go into retreat months before, maybe even before the break-up.

So from my own experience I know that going on an extended retreat where you practice mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindful sitting, mindful eating, mindful silence, and mindful speaking, with others practicing with you, and with a teacher and brothers and sisters who are solid in the practice, supporting… that is so nourishing, that is so energizing.

So for me, going at least once a year, or once a quarter if you're able to, to a retreat is an important part of energizing your spiritual practice. At least, I know that from my experience.

And not only going to retreats, which are like booster shots or vitamin shots or something like that, I don't know what to compare it to, but also locally spending time with a weekly meditation group, our brothers and sisters. Even if you're not going to be chummy friends with each other, yet there is a deeper friendship that takes place beyond words… just coming faithfully each week, being present to receive and to give your presence and each other's presence. That is so nourishing. And maybe once a month, you can assign one whole day for yourself to practice with a friend or with that community in a day of mindfulness, so that you start from very early morning waking up until you go back to sleep at night, to do everything with care and mindfulness, slowing down and breathing and being intentionally not too busy and not too noisy and not too chattery… just taking out things in that day that aren't necessary. You don't need to be listening to the news when you wake up. You know, I know a friend who has a partner who has the alarm set to the news station, and the first thing they do waking out of this beautiful, restful sleep is listening to the radio, on the news, usually some bad news. That's not nurturing. So you might want to change that habit. Is it really necessary to plug into the system so early on in the day, so you are inundated by what the media and the government and others want you to hear, all the time? I don't know that that's necessary.

So first thing in the morning, enjoy the quiet. First thing when you wake up, say good morning universe, or good morning God, or good morning Buddha nature, or good morning my true self, whatever. Start the day in that gratitude of another 24 hours, a brand new day of living. Start off with mindfully brushing your teeth, mindfully washing your face, mindfully having a piece of food and some water, and then sit for 20 minutes in meditation, in prayer, in whatever spiritual practice you can do. And then go have your breakfast and shower and exercise or whatever. It's so important to get ourselves in tune with starting the day that way, because it sets the mood for the rest of the day. It really does.

So, every year, practicing in the long retreat. Every month, taking one day for yourself to be a day of mindfulness, whether by yourself or with a friend or with a community. And every week with a sangha, a community of practice, and every day practicing at home. And not just in the formal ways. Even if you accidentally have to skip your morning practice, you can still do walking meditation to the car, to work, to school, whatever. You can still take one minute before lunch to just look at the food and think of all that has made it possible for this food to be there… the sunshine, the rain, clouds, the earth, the soil, all the different people and animals that make life possible on the planet to produce this food, these vegetables. And just eating the first minute at least in mindful, slow, thoroughly chewing meditation, just enjoying it. I know most of us are in a fast-paced lifestyle and it's not possible to always do a whole 20 minutes of anything. But just the first minute, can't we do that? Just the first minute of washing the dishes, just the first minute of walking out the door, the first minute of eating.

Don't just do it alone. What is most nourishing to me, I have found, is community. Who are you hanging out with? That can be your mantra: Who am I hanging out with? Because if you examine your life, are you actually… is there a higher or lower percentage of people who you're hanging out with who are on the same or higher spiritual frequency, or is the majority the same and lower frequency? And it's not a judgment, it's just a reality, there are some who are on a higher and some who are on a lower, we've all been there and we're all going there. But just examine, who are you hanging out with?

Let me tell you a secret: we have plenty of people who are on the same or lower frequencies around us to hang out with. That's not the problem. The challenge is, are we finding enough people who are on the same and higher frequencies to spend time with, to support them and to allow them to support us? As someone that feels like sometimes when I'm spending time with friends and trying to date others, I just feel like I just don't have enough choices to choose from, options. But, there are times as someone who is on a spiritual path that I feel lonely. But then when people consciously choose to come to sangha or consciously choose to be supportive, I can't tell you how much I appreciate that. So much. I really do, and you may not even know how much I appreciate it, when I see the same faces coming back. When I see you improving your life, it's such a joy, and it really supports me. Don't you want to support those who are on a high spiritual path? Don't you want to bring joy to those people? So, hang out with Thich Nhat Hanh. I don't know anyone who's any higher right now on the planet, so hang out with Thich Nhat Hanh. Go see him. Spend time with him. Hang out with the monks and nuns. Hang out with spiritual friends. Hang out with me. Hang out with each other.

Spiritual community One person told me, "Well, you know, I have to hang out with my lower frequency friends because they need me." But the thing is, you're always going to have them. It's kind of like what Jesus said, you know. I think it was mistranslated, because he said, well, the poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me with you in this physical form. I like to think of it as, the spiritually poor you will always have with you, but the spiritually rich, how many opportunities do you have to hang out with people like that? So, you'll always have those lower frequency friends. They'll always need help, and you'll always be there to be of help. But are you supporting yourself, are you nourishing yourself so that you can be of better support to those of a lower frequency? How do you do that? Spiritual friends, spiritual community. Teachers, people of a higher frequency… hanging out with them, being with them. And you know what? not only are you supporting yourself by doing that, you support them. Because it is lonely at that highest and higher levels. It really is lonely. So please support us. Please support yourself. Please support each other.

So. This first aspect of nurturing ourselves is through spiritual community—yearly, monthly, weekly, daily. Another support of energy in our practice is taking care of ourselves physically. I know that this seems obvious, but is it really obvious if we're not doing it? I know that in my own life, ever since I started taking vitamins, like, the good kind, that really are like not just 100% but like 1000% of this or that—I think vitamin B was the key for me—but just taking those vitamin supplements. Because what we're eating in our American western lifestyle these days, if you look at how all that food's processed and where it comes from, it's just not really good. So it's necessary to try to eat more healthy, more organic. Even if it costs a little bit more now, it's better for you in the long run financially because you won't be having to deal with all the problems later on in life as you get older, paying all those hospital bills because of all those things that didn't nourish you for all those years. So, in the long run actually it is cheaper to eat healthier, to eat organic, and if you're able, to eat more vegetarian, even if you're not going to be fully vegetarian, but eat more vegetarian than normal, and take really good vitamin supplements. Ever since I started doing that, I haven't felt my chronic depression that I've had all my life and I've been dealing with it. And because of my sensitivities to medications I never could take the medications. So I always had to figure out natural ways, which is one of the reasons why I practice meditation, because it really helps. But also the vitamins and eating better has really helped a lot. And I know exercise also can help and I want to do more of that, more of the yoga and all of those things. And spending time in nature—letting the sun just shine on your face. Spending time with animals is very very healing. Just make sure you don't let them take over your life.

And finding joy from your spiritual practice is energizing. Allowing yourself to be open to the surprising mystical experiences in life that can occur. Or the just gentle openings, breakthroughs that happen through retreats and practice.

I wasn't sure I was going to share this or not, but I guess I will anyway. Because virya paramita comes from the root word virya, which is the root for our English word virile, erotic energy, powerful energy, life-force energy. A few years ago, well several years ago, before I even came into Buddhist meditation practice, I had a very mystical experience with another person in an intimate setting, and it surprised me that all these years I was, you know, trying to get in touch with the Divine, you know, open to some sort of mystical experience, and here I'm having it in the middle of lovemaking. What happened was my consciousness expanded and it was as if the walls in the room weren't so solid, and I felt like I could feel the whole universe beyond the walls, and every molecule was a dance of lovers and that I was God making love to God who was making love to God. And I just became one with this reality, and it was like, "Oh, this is always happening, this is always true." And I get to experience this consciously at this time. And it was interesting because in my mind I knew that the possibility was there that this experience isn't going to last forever. And it was OK, because I glimpsed the truth long enough to know its reality forever, even if in my conscious experience I don't always feel that. And so it was interesting because I wasn't grabbing and trying to attach to this experience, but just grateful to have this experience, to remind me that everything is a dance of love and union. We are all divine beings expressing in this divine universe.

So experiences like that from time to time are very energizing. They remind me of the truth. So that in the days when I'm bored with my practice, in the days when I'm bored with my life, in the days when sometimes sangha people just aren't coming, you know whatever, or not getting it… Well, it's OK because these experiences… I can just remember them and they energize me.

A monk once asked the Buddha, "Honorable One, one of my fellow monks said that he thinks that half of the spiritual life is holy companionship, or holy friendship. Is this true, do you think?" And the Buddha answered, "No, dear disciple. The holy life is not half of good friends. Good friends is the whole of the holy life, not half. The whole." This is the Buddha's answer to all the problems in our world. Good spiritual friends is the complete, entire basis of the holy life, of the sacred life, of the spiritual life.

Thank you.

Transcribed by Eileen Denning

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