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Choosing to be Present
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Choosing to be Present (38 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
August 10, 2014 - Harmony Fellowship, Ft. Worth, Texas

Good morning, everybody.

Audience: Good morning.

ChiSing: Thank you so much. I am going to bring my chair up so that I can sit on it. I get tired just a little easily right now, so I might want to sit for some of this. And my friend Debbie brought me three monkeys here. They are for a stuffed animal collection that our meditation center in Dallas, we are collecting lots of little animals for their children who are coming up from the South/Central America, and so they are kind of trapped between countries in a way. So we thought this would be a nice thing to do for them. So thank you, Debbie. You know, there are three of them, so you can think of them as a trinity. I've got a few other goodies, too, and John is going to play the flute for our opening meditation. Oh, so good to see all of you.

And I have a surprise today, too. A friend I haven't seen in a long time from high school is here this morning, which is not a surprise to me because it is been interesting—some of you may know I am on a journey right now of healing through cancer, and the conventional Western medical doctors told me I basically have a year to live, but I know that doctors don't always know everything. Nonetheless, I've noticed interesting things happening this year where people I haven't seen in years or decades are suddenly coming back into my life. It is almost like an agreement to whatever we didn't get to do, we'd better do it now. And even if I do heal and live for several more decades, it is an actual ending time in my life, so I can definitely feel there is definitely a phase in my life that is definitely ending. That does not necessarily mean physical death, but there is an ending, and so it is interesting. I'm getting to see all of these friends that I haven't seen in a long time. I don't know why all of a sudden this past year, and we're just wrapping things up. You know? And then I will go onto the next phase, whatever that is.

But anyway, speaking of endings and new beginnings, every time we meditate, we are actually practicing endings and new beginnings. We are just giving ourselves the opportunity to let go of past regrets, worries of the future. Just let go and let be. And this moment is a fresh, new moment. It doesn't have to have all the baggage overlaid on top of this moment of our perceptions in our minds. We can actually open up to meditation, to the freshness, and the newness of this moment. This fresh moment right now, there is no cancer in this moment. There is no fear in this moment. There is no hatred in this moment. There is no worry in this moment. This moment is just pure right now. We only add those other things when we start thinking too much about everything else, but in this moment, we are alive. In this moment, the sun is shining, and the earth is below us. The air we are breathing. There's so much gift right in this moment. So let us practice endings and new beginnings in our meditation.

(Flute plays) Breathing in, we feel our in breath. Breathing out, we feel our out breath. Feeling the in breath and the out breath, we allow our body to be still, strong, solid, and stable like a mountain. Thoughts and sounds, the feelings may come and go like clouds. But as we sit here like a mountain, we can just let the clouds go by. Clouds cannot move a mountain. Clouds cannot bother the mountain. Breathing in and breathing out, sitting like a mountain, we open to our vast true divine mind, which is like a clear blue sky. So clear and vast, spacious and free. There may still be clouds of fog and clouds of sounds or clouds of feelings, but in our true, vast mind, our divine mind, we just allow these clouds to float by. Instead of resting in the thinking mind, we rest in the spacious mind, which is always there underneath and beyond the thoughts.

Breathing in and breathing out, here and now. Breathing in and breathing out, visualizing a sphere of light at center of our abdomen connecting us to the power of the earth, we silently say the affirmation, I am safe. And visualizing a sphere of light at the center of our hearts, we silently say our affirmation, I am loved. And visualizing a sphere of light in the center of our forehead, connecting us to all of heaven and the cosmos, we silently say the affirmation, I am free. I am safe. I am loved. I am free. I am one with the earth, one with the heart of humanity, and one with heaven. Amen. Let us take a deep breath together. Thank you so much.

I have so much to share with you today. I did have a PowerPoint I wanted to show you. At first I thought that was what I was going to do, but I realized that I have so much more to share that I think I will just speak without having a PowerPoint. So I don't really know everything I am sharing this morning because I have to choose a few things from the two hours' worth that are in my mind. But you know, I have been doing this for a while, and I realize now what matters the most is just to be present and to share from the heart.

So if you're nervous about doing some public speaking or something like that, just do not worry about it. It does not have to be the perfect speech. You don't have to have every single illustration or example or cross-reference or whatever you want to put into your talk. What really matters more than the specific content is to make sure the content is something you really, really feel passionate about. If the content of what you have to share this something that really, really comes from your heart, that is what people will feel. That is what people will sense, and then you can truly just be present with people. People, we don't need more lectures and information. We have so much already. Just Google it, okay? What we need are people who actually can put down their cell phones long enough to actually have a real conversation with you, just to really be present.

And that reminds me. Thich Nhat Hanh, my teacher, he always tells us this story every year usually around the holidays about a little boy who has a father that is always really busy at work. The father asks the son, "What do you want for your holiday gift?" And the little boy just says, "I just want you home, daddy. I just want you to be here at home with me. That is what I want."

By the way, am I speaking loud enough? Can you all hear me?

Audience: Yes.

ChiSing: Okay. So really the greatest gift we can give to each other is to be present, just to really be present, and whatever we share, let it be from our hearts. Because there are so many things that people share these days that are superficial and are not really from the heart, and what people really want and need is speaking from the heart and listening with the heart.

So I guess I will share that a few months ago, I had an insight that I am going through a cocoon phase in my life journey. I am moving from being a caterpillar to something different, something new. And right now, I'm kind of in a cocoon of the unknown and the uncertain, and I am wrapping things up, and basically I have to say goodbye to my old life or the last phase of my life. I'm saying goodbye to the caterpillar way of being, as good as it was. But there is something new ahead of me, and I realized while I was meditating a few months ago that it is that I am going to become like a butterfly. Here's the thing.

As the caterpillar in my human form going through this cocoon process, I have no idea what is going to happen next. I have no idea. But what I do know is that I am going to be a butterfly, no matter what happens. So if I heal and live for several more years or decades maybe, I know for sure that the next phase of my life will be so much more expansive than it has ever been. I will be in a new phase of my life where I will be a much deeper and richer human being and a more effective teacher because of what I'm going through now, because of this process of healing.

But also, if I don't live physically after the next year and if I do die, guess what? I am still going to be that butterfly, and oh boy, that will be even better. As I meditated on this—because, you know, I had a lot of fear and worry, and I had a lot of sadness and grief. It took me several weeks and months to process and really face the possibility of death. It is one thing to think about it theoretically. It is another thing when it is right in your face. So it took me a while, but thanks to spiritual practice and meditation, I have come to a deeper place of peace with it.

Let's see. What was I talking about?

Audience: The butterfly.

ChiSing: That's right. Where was I going to go with that? Oh yes. I realized I was focusing a lot on the cancer. I was focusing a lot on the fear and worry and uncertainty, and that was consuming my thoughts every day. And then it dawned on me through spiritual practice and meditation that I don't have to choose to think about this in this way. I don't need to think about the cancer every day. I don't need to think about worry and fear and uncertainty in every moment. That doesn't have to be my focus. I can choose to think differently.

So I started to think about what are the positive things, you know? And I realized what a gift that this possibility of death is sharing with me, what a gift going through the healing process of cancer, what a gift that is for me right now because I try to look at the positive side of it, which is some people don't even get a chance to prepare for death. They don't get a chance to say goodbye and wrap things up. So I realized, oh, well, if I don't end up healing physically, at least this is a wonderful opportunity to give me time to really examine my life before I go to the next phase of eternal life and to really wrap things up with people and to make amends and to forgive and to have a conscious life review before my big life review, to really look over my life and see what were the lessons I learned and what were some things that I could've done differently.

And you know, one of the things that also has taught me is to do something. I realized that I need to forgive. It is like I need to forgive reality. And again, forgiveness is something we hear about all the time all of our lives, but when you are really confronting true forgiveness, it is another thing. I realized I have an opportunity now to face the reality of the possibility of death a little earlier than I thought it would happen, and I get to choose to forgive reality for that. I forgive reality. I forgive that possibility. And I also forgive those that maybe I felt like did not treat me as well as they could have maybe. But I do not want to hold onto that while I am going through this. I want to let that go, so I need to let that go and forgive them.

But I also need to forgive even God, right? Because subconsciously when we go through anything that is difficult or facing the possibility of disease or death, there is a part of us, if you admit that you're a little upset at God. Why in the world are we living in this world where death and disease is even possible? So it is like you have to forgive this world for what it is like and forgive God in a sense. But also very importantly, forgive yourself, because you know, when you look over your life, you realize all the different things that you could have done differently and you didn't, and you have to let that go also and just accept life as it happened and as it is and forgive.

So I am learning about forgiveness, much more than just theory, but in reality. And you know, it is not all doom and gloom really. I am so happy that this spiritual practice, the meditation practice, for the most part—I mean, I am a human being, so I do have my days of ups and downs. But for the most part, I have discovered gratefully that I have more joy than not through all of this, even on the days when I am not feeling very well at all and when I am feeling very tired.

You know, a few weeks ago I went to Galveston to just walk on the beach, because I don't really know about many beaches here in Dallas-Fort Worth area. So I went down to Galveston, and I took my shoes off, and I walked on the wet sand and in the water, on the shore. And the sun was shining through the clouds, and the seagulls were singing, and for that 20 minute walking meditation on the beach, there was no cancer. There was no death. There was no disease. There was no worry. There was no fear of suffering. There were no regrets from the past.

There was only this love, this love relationship, this communion with God. So there was the sunshine shining rays of love on my body and the wind caressing my skin and the water and the earth beneath my feet. Earth, air, fire, and water all there in oneness and harmony. And at the center of all of that was my soul, my soul in love with God, my soul in love with God. And that is the reality, and I was able to touch that reality for 20 minutes very deeply and gratefully because of spiritual practice, because of meditation. And you see, this is the reality always. It is never not the reality. But through practice, we get a chance to consciously engage that reality, right?

So whether I feel like I am one with God or not, whether or not I feel the universal love, it is always there. But through spiritual practice, through letting go and letting be and this precious moment now, this is how we can consciously engage that reality and experience that consciously. I can't say in those states of consciousness for more than a few minutes at a time usually. I guess I won't really stay in it until I am fully enlightened, but that is okay. I don't need to stay in it consciously all the time because it is still the reality even when I'm not conscious of it. It is still the reality always embracing me, always radiating from within me, whether I am conscious or not. But I get to celebrate the moments that I am conscious of it, and I cultivate being able to be more aware of those conscious moments. You see?

But I also don't complain when I step out of that conscious awareness. Because that is just part of being human, being here. We volunteered to come here in the physical realm for a reason. There are many lessons we need to learn, and we had to forget certain things so that we could actually fully engage this physical life. Otherwise we would just be always on cloud nine staring into space and not really doing our earth work. We voluntarily forgot so that we can be more fully engaged here and learned the lessons we need to learn. So it is not a bad thing that you are not conscious. It is just being part of the human process.

So when I'm experiencing the fullness of that divine love, I just say thank you, and then when my mind starts to slip away from that consciousness and I don't feel it, I also just say thank you, thank you that it is still there, thank you.it is still reality, even though I am not able to always be in that pure state of consciousness.

And I guess I will share this one last thought with you. You know, sometimes we may cause ourselves unnecessary suffering. There is already enough suffering in the world. Why do we need to add to it? But really, reality is what it is. Reality is as it is. You might be experiencing something pleasant or unpleasant, but that is just the reality of what is. When we use our minds in such a way that we overlay something on top of reality in a way that judges the reality, resists reality, or complains about the reality, we actually cause more friction than necessary. For example, if you have certain expectations of what reality should be like versus just living reality as it is, as it flows from moment to moment with this sort of childlike awe and wonder—see, reality just is what it is, but if you have this, okay, reality is supposed to be like this, then guess what? You will be miserable your whole life because reality is never ever exactly like what you think it should be, is it? No.

So you might think in your mind, well, I am supposed to have a life without any disease that all or any problems or any unexpected surprises. If you believe that, you are just going to suffer. Or if you have this belief that I am supposed to have the perfect spouse who will never make a mistake or make me angry or do anything wrong, you will really, really suffer. Or the perfect children or the perfect job or the perfect whatever. You see, life actually already is perfect, but our idea of perfection is not the same as reality's idea, right? So we need to have struggles and problems and setbacks and things that cause us to grow. We are here for that reason. If we weren't meant to have these, we would be in a different realm with different sets of rules, these are the rules that exist here, and it is perfect.

Because you cannot realize full enlightenment, which is wisdom and compassion, without going through some of these things in life, the struggles of life and the lessons of life. How can you have compassion if you don't even know what suffering is? How can you cultivate true, deep love when you don't even know anything about pain or suffering? How can you really understand true wisdom? There's a difference between wisdom and knowledge. We had knowledge before we came to the earth because we are infinite beings of light. We had knowledge, but not necessarily wisdom, but through coming here and struggling through learning compassion and going through the journey of this life, knowledge then is transformed into wisdom.

So maybe as I am facing the ending of one phase of my life, I am realizing wow, maybe the people that I was meant to love, I have loved them already. Maybe the accomplishments that I wanted to get done, they are now done. Maybe all the books that I've wanted to read, I've read them. Maybe all the songs that I wanted to write, I have written them. And maybe the parents that I had, they are exactly the parents that I needed. And the struggles that I went through in my life are exactly the struggles that I needed to grow, to learn, to evolve, to realize full enlightenment.

So maybe just we don't need to complain about everybody else so much. We don't need to wish that they were a little bit better spouse or better children or better parent or whatever. They just are what they are, and you are who you are. Can we just learn to be open to this moment and accept reality as it is and just see it as a grand adventure instead of seeing how close it matches our expectation and our perceptions or misperceptions? I didn't realize until this year that oh, this life is not that long compared to eternity and compared to the eons of time in this physical universe, compared to human history. It is not a very long life. I don't want to waste any more precious moments on expectations and worries and judgment and forgiveness and nonacceptance.

So however long I have, whether one day, one year, one decade, several decades—who knows? None of us know, do we? I am determined to live my life fully here and now and see the gifts, smell the flowers. My cancer—actually, someone told me not to say "my cancer." The cancer in my head blocks my nasal passage, and I was thinking, what an interesting phenomenon. What could this metaphorically be a lesson for me as a possibility? I don't necessarily take everything literally, but why not just play with the possibilities? So I think, okay. Maybe it is a message to remind me don't forget to smell the flowers and, you know? So I can't really smell much anymore, but I am using this as a reminder. Don't forget to smell the flowers.

There's so much love and joy and peace in myself and in the world and in my experience from moment to moment, but I miss it when I only focus on my past regrets, my worries about the future, and when I'm not really here and now, when I am just lost in the temporary so-called problems of the present.

So I will conclude with a short story from the Zen tradition. There was a man who was walking through the wilderness and suddenly saw a whole bunch of hungry tigers, and he began to chase them and he ran and ran and ran and he finally found himself at the edge of a cliff. There is nowhere to go, and down below, far down below was a raging, flooding river. And he knew for sure if he jumped, he would die for sure and drown, but if he stayed up above, the tigers would surely eat him up. So he tried to climb down to a branch on the side of the cliff. So he is hanging there. There are tigers above. There's the flooding river below.

But right in front of him as he is hanging there on the branch is a wild strawberry grove at the side of the cliff. So he looks up at the tigers above, which you might say represents the worries about the future. And he looks down below at the river—the raging, flooding river. Maybe that represents the regrets of the past. And here he is hanging. And what does he do? He looks up. He looks down, and then he looks straight ahead. He picks the strawberry and takes a bite. Ooh, yummy. What else can he do?

So let go of regrets about the past and worries about the future. In this moment, whether it is a pleasant moment or an unpleasant moment, whether it is an easy moment or a difficult moment, choose to be present and find that strawberry in the difficulty, smell that flower, hug that friend, and praise God. Amen.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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