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Cultivating Mindful Relationships
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Cultivating Mindful Relationships (27 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
June 9, 2013 - Dallas, Texas

Thank you, dear friends, for your practice. This month our theme is mindful relationships, and it coincides with the last few chapters of our book, Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong, by Zen Master Norman Fischer. I hope that you have enjoyed reading the book, and I know that I didn't go into a lot of detail, but if you read the book, you will get more detail. And also if you take Tashi's class, you'll get even more detail. But this is a lifelong practice, so you can keep practicing this. Keep re-reading it. Keep practicing it. In fact, I believe one of our members, Tzivia, suggested that if you really like the book and want to delve more deeply into the lojong practice, that you could create a book club and someone else can lead it. So, please talk with Bobbie and let her know if you want to facilitate a book club this summer.

So, the lojong on mindful relationships—there are many, many slogans for this. Maybe I will go into more detail on specific slogans next week, but tonight I feel drawn to just share some other practices that have been helpful to me over the years in learning how to be mindful and cultivating mindful relationships. This month we will explore our mindful relationship to ourselves, to others, to nature, to our planet, and to our cosmos, and also to spirit, which of course is a generic term. You may have different words for what you refer to as spirit. In Buddhism, we refer to it as the dharma body of reality, or you might also call it Buddha nature, or there are all kinds of ways to describe it. But for us who are in the Western hemisphere of cultures, I think the word spirit is a good word. It is nice in general and generic. For some of you, that may mean God. For others, it may mean just ultimate reality, cosmic reality, whatever.

But anyway, we want to explore these relationships, these 4 relationships to ourselves, to others, to nature, and to the ultimate. In my own life and practice, I have discovered some wonderful things that have been helpful. Now of course, remember, it is a practice. I am not perfect at it. You are probably not perfect at it. But, we just keep practicing. And one thing that is been very helpful to me is to realize that every time I seem to mess up or someone else seems to mess up, it is a wonderful new opportunity to practice.

So, one practice that has been very, very helpful to me is what is called Beginning Anew. Now, originally, there were 3 steps. Then there was a fourth step, and now I've edited this step. So it is based on what I've learned from Thich Nhat Hanh's community, and the first step is called flower watering. Now, what is flower watering? That means that instead of seeing the person who seems to be the problem as the enemy, we see them as a flower, and we see ourselves as a flower. So, it helps to diffuse some of the sort of anger that might be occurring if we are having difficulty with someone. Just remember that they are a manifestation of this universe, a manifestation of nature, like a flower, and so are you. And just like a flower, flowers need sunshine. They need water. They need soil. They need to be taken care of. Flowers can be fragile, but they can also be beautiful. So in their fragility is their beauty actually. So we need to realize that if someone is suffering or if we are suffering, that means that our flower needs some nurturing, that we need to water the flower.

So the first step is to water the flower. Water the flower of yourself and water the flower of the other person. So, this can take many different forms. This could just be a meditation. You don't even have to deal with the other person directly, just a meditation for your own sake, for your own peace of mind. You can also actually do this process with them in person. You might want to explain to them what the process is before you do it, or you could just do it kind of organically. You don't have to necessarily follow it exactly step-by-step, but try to at least include all of the elements. Or, my favorite way is to write a letter because you can take time and you can delete sentences and you can rewrite it, and then you can present it. And then also you don't have to be afraid of their reaction right away. They have time to just read the letter. So my favorite form is to write a letter of Beginning Anew.

So, in the first part, you write about the other person and maybe about yourself too, if you like. But if you're going to write about yourself and the other person, make sure you write more about the other person than yourself. Water their flower. In other words, say all the things that you appreciate about them. Say all the things that you recognize that are helpful and beneficial that you really care about them as your friend, if it is your friend. Or if they are not your friend, maybe just that you respect them as a human being. And so make sure that you write several sentences or paragraphs on this part, because the other part should actually be less long for this to be effective.

Now the second part, after you do flower watering, is called beneficial regrets. Beneficial regrets means that you next share how you feel that you may have done something not so mindfully in the situation to cause the situation. So you do not jump right away to what you think they did that caused the friction. First, try to see if you can honestly been officially just share how you see that you may have not done things so well. Maybe you didn't quite listen as well to them when they were trying to do whatever they were doing or say whatever they were saying, or maybe you just didn't quite handle the situation as peacefully as you would've liked or something like that. The reason why we call it beneficial regret is not about, "I am such a terrible person." You're not victimizing yourself, just like you're not trying to victimize the other person. It is more about just very—it is coming from a place of peace and strength, just admitting that, okay, I may have done some things not so well. And so does a beneficial way of dealing with regret, which of course is very different from wallowing in self-pity and self-deprecation.

So then you can talk about that for a little bit. And you know what? This actually is so helpful. I didn't realize it until I tried it. I tried it a few years ago. I probably should do it more often, but I remember when I did do these kinds of letters a few years ago, what I realized was instead of jumping right to blaming, when the other person sees that you see good qualities about them and they also see that you are able to see some of your own faults, it makes the other person be much more willing to listen to what you have to say because now they see that you're not completely deluded, right? Because when you're angry and you are confrontational, most of the time people assume you're really deluded, right? But if they can see that you can see some truth, you can see the truth of their goodness and you can see the truth that you may have done something not so well, when they see that you're doing that, and they are more willing to see that maybe have something truthful to say about maybe some of their faults in the situation.

And that is the third part, okay? Sharing hurts. Or however you want to call it. So then—now, this part should be shorter than the first 2. Okay? It should be shorter. It should be to the point and not going on and on and on, okay, blaming and criticizing. It should just be to the point and specific on what they did or said that seemed to trigger in you a reaction of hurt, okay? So maybe something that you think they may have done that with a little unmindful that seemed to be hurtful to you, but not saying that they hurt you, but rather that what they did or said seemed to trigger something in you that brought up the feeling of hurt. That way you're not blaming them, but you're just sharing that hurt arose when this and that happened based on what they did or said. Okay? And then you just share that honestly.

Now what is really nice is over the years, that other step was developed, which I think was really helpful, and I'm not sure how to write it. It would be basically exploring what this situation triggered in you that helped you see your past and other things that might've contributed to your reaction. So maybe we could say, exploring—

Audience Member: Insight.

ChiSing: Insight? Okay. Sure. Insight into this reaction. So in other words, "When you did such and such or such and such and I felt hurt, I started to realize that this hurt is not just about you, but it also comes from this and this and this and my past, and so I realized that it is not all about just this." So if you can do that, that can help bring insight for yourself and the other person to understand you because what you want is the person to understand you. You want the other person to—[cell phone rings] Exactly. See? Sign from the universe. You want the person to understand you. The universe said, "Yes. You really want to remember that moment." Okay? What is the point of communication with another person?

Audience Member: Understanding.

ChiSing: Exactly. It is not to blame. It is not to take revenge.

Audience Member: Minimize and end the suffering.

ChiSing: Exactly. If that—we have to remember what our real goal is. See, because in the heat of the moment, we might forget what our real goal is because we have a substitute goal of we just want to feel better and vent and make the other person feel what we are feeling and blame, right? That actually is not going to help anybody. That is not going to help make things better in the world, and is certainly not going to contribute to your enlightenment or their enlightenment. So we must keep in mind that our intention is actually reconciliation, understanding, happiness for both you and the other person and other people in the world. So that is why we want to explore the insight and help the other person and ourselves understand.

Now, I created a fifth little thing to wrap it up, because I like to wrap everything up nice and positively. So then the last part is to share your positive intention of why you communicated with them about all of this. What is it that you really want out of this? So you share your intention that if you're friends with them, I want to stay friends with you or I want to make sure that our friendship is honest and beneficial. Or if they are not your friend, then maybe your positive intention is you just want them to understand and you want to understand what they are going through and why they did this so that this kind of suffering doesn't have to be created for others. So, close it with why you are communicating in the first place because you have a positive intention, right?

So this is a wonderful five-step process that has built and evolved over time. Maybe as we keep practicing it, you may also develop more steps, you know? That is how we get things like the Three Refuges and that becomes the Four Noble Truths and that becomes the Eightfold Path and that becomes the Seven Factors of Enlightenment. It just grows. So, yeah.

Now, another practice that has been very helpful to me very recently, which I have not deeply explored but I would like to in a retreat setting is something from Japanese Pure Land Buddhism called Naikan. There was a Japanese Buddhist priest who invented this process called Naikan to help people in retreats. And it is just basically meditating on 3 questions for 7 to 10 days. The 3 questions that you meditate on—you contemplate another person that you're having to deal with. Usually in Japanese culture, they start with their mother for some reason. But you can also do your father or some other person that is important in your life. It doesn't have to be your mother or father. But at least the Japanese start with their mother.

They ask the question, what has this person given to me positively? What positive benefit as my mother given to me? And you meditate on that for a couple days. And then, the second question is what have I given back to this person, to my mother, or whoever it is. What have I positively given to my mother or this person? And you meditate on that for a couple days. And then the third question is a very interesting question. It is interesting because in our Western culture, we would like to think we should have a fourth question, but there is only this third question. There is only the third question. What suffering have I caused this other person? Or what grief have I caused or what have I done that has not been helpful to this other person, my mother or whoever it is. And you meditate on that for a couple days. And those are the 3 questions. There is not a fourth question, like what they done that to me? No. It is a very ingenious meditation method.

So this is called the meditation method of inquiry, of deeply being with the question, being with and contemplating this reality. We do not use our analytical mind too much. We just breathe with it. We sit with it. We walk with it throughout the entire day in silence in a retreat center for a couple of days on each question. And then of course the last couple of days you can just wrap up with insights that arise from contemplating the question. Or, if you have time, you can contemplate the next person that you want to reflect on.

And remember, every person is also a reflection of everyone in the universe, so it is not necessary for you to resolve every single conflict with every single person you have in your life. Many times if you can just resolve the conflict with your mother and father within yourself, it resolves so many other relationships. But anyway, because each person—or even resolving just the relationship between you and your spouse or your partner because they are a symbol and an embodiment and an expression of everyone in the world. Just like you are also part of everyone and everyone is a part of you, so also your partner. So that's why when you can love deeply one person, Thich Nhat Hanh says to love deeply one person is our practice to love all beings.

And so, you know the saying at the end of our bodhisattva vows, "Countless beings we vow to free," we free all beings by freeing one being. If you can free the relationship you have with one being deeply, that helps you to free yourself deeply. That is your way, your practice a freeing all beings because we are all interconnected and we are not separate. So when there is one person liberated, it liberates something and everyone. That is why the Buddha said when he was enlightened, "Ah. All beings, all mountains and rivers, all stars, all the earth and all the cosmos is liberated with me." In that moment of enlightenment, the Buddha realized there is not the separation. In the Buddha's enlightenment, he knew that was the enlightenment of all beings.

And that is why when anyone of us resolves something or finds insight into something or liberates ourselves from something, a little bit of liberation, a little bit of enlightenment happens for every other being in the universe just a little bit more. And then of course, when we all get liberated together, we are all collectively liberated.

This reminds me of another tradition. I think it is a Christian mystic who said, "There is no happiness for any saint in heaven until every sinner comes to heaven too." There is a beautiful Christian mystic. This person understood the truth also in their own different language and theology. So a saint can never be fully happy in heaven until all beings, all persons, also join him or her in heaven. This is the same truth that the Buddha is pointing to also, that we are all interconnected and our liberation is always tied in with every other being's liberation. There is no such thing as only self liberation. It is either all or nothing really.

So, that is a beautiful process. Maybe someday we can do a weekend retreat using the Naikan process, if you would like, or at least a daylong retreat. I would like to actually go to an actual retreat facilitated by someone who is trained in this before I try to share it.

Now another couple of modalities that have been really helpful for me before I encountered Buddhism, something called RC, rehabilitation co-counseling. Now unfortunately, it is not very popular here in Dallas. I don't think there are any groups practicing this in Dallas. There is one in Austin, and a lot of them are in Seattle and California and other major places where they're very spiritually progressive. Anyway, this is a wonderful process where you sit together with someone and to equally share 5 minutes or more each on what is going on with you. The other person just listens, and then you turn around to the other person. So one person takes the role of wisdom, of Buddha, of enlightenment, of love and just only holds you in that love and is that love for you as you express your suffering. But then, you switch the roles, and the other person is that Buddha and you expressed your suffering.

So what is interesting about this kind of dialogue and role play is that it helps you to be fully in touch with both the darkness and the light that exists equally within yourself because, see, what happens is when you do not identify with the light that you are, then you only suffer. Then you are stuck in your darkness. But if you do not ever identify or be in touch with or embrace the darkness in you, then your light is superficial. Your life is not real, because the true light can embrace the darkness, all of it.

So then, the other modality that has been very helpful to me, which I only experienced a few times from someone else doing this process with them—but I again would like to take a class or workshop or a retreat in nonviolent communication. So if any of you have the opportunity to do this and get trained in that, please feel free to do a workshop here at the Center. Nonviolent communication can be very powerful, at least from what I have seen and, in the way we talk and the way we use our language and the way we talk about our wants and our needs and our feelings. You know, many times we don't really know how to express our feelings and we don't know how to distinguish between our wants and our needs, and therefore when we make a request, it is not really a request. It is a demand or a threat or an ultimatum rather than a request. So this can be also a very helpful process.

Audience Member: Now is there a workshop coming up?

ChiSing: I do know that someone teaches it who comes to the center of the Unity Church in Dallas, but I am not sure when the next class is. But I'm just sharing this with you so you can look it up yourself and see if you can utilize this and be helped by it and also help others.

So yesterday morning, someone had their foot stuck on the accelerator and ran their car into our building in the front, where Vanessa has her office. Thank goodness Vanessa wasn't right there at the moment. She was adding other spiritual community support place for her that saved her life, literally, yesterday, and so there was no one in that room when the car ran into it. But what is interesting is that luckily, of course, there's this thing called insurance. Sometimes I don't like the fact that we have to buy the insurance or whatever, but it's nice when sometimes we do have insurance for some things. The insurance will cover everything hopefully, but I was reflecting on that, and the person's name who ran into the building, her name in her native language means "song of the child."

So I have been reflecting on, well, what kind of lesson can I learn from this, you know? Perhaps all of us have an inner child, a beautiful radiant inner child, and here she is calling to us, singing to us to remind us to take care of that inner child. Because if we don't take care of it, bam. The universe always will share with us what we need to learn, but when we don't listen, the universe gets louder and more dramatic, which is why you are also blessed that you practice meditation and mindfulness thing. That way the universe doesn't have to be surgery mattock to get your attention and so loud to get a hold of your attention.

Okay. We have about 10 minutes left, and I would like for us to practice a little bit of this with each other. I would like for us to pair up into 2 persons and to do a listening practice of really one person being the Buddha and just listening to whatever is going on for the other person, if there's a suffering are a joy or concern or when everyone share that's going on in your life, or maybe something that relates to the teaching, the practice of meditation, or whatever. You might want to share. Let one person listen for about 3 minutes, and then I will bring the bell and then the other person will become the Buddha and listen to you. So we will take turns being the Buddha for each other and just really listening and holding the space of love for each other.

Now, part of your ego might think, oh my gosh, this is scary. I don't want to talk to the stranger. I don't want to pour out all of my heart and guts to someone I don't know. That is understandable. Just hold your little ego and rock it like a baby. It'll be okay because there is something deeper in you than your ego, and it is your powerful, strong Buddha mama, Buddha papa. Okay? And you can handle it. You can handle it. So just listen and speak from that space of your stronger self. Okay. Of course if there is anyone who really, really doesn't want to do this, I'm not going to force anybody. You can do mindful walking meditation in the hallway for a few minutes and then come back. But do come back at the end because there are some important announcements. But I hope everyone will at least give it a chance… [audio fades]

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch