I find that practitioners can practice Vipassana for a long time without paying attention to the role that fear plays in their lives. Living with fear that is unacknowledged leads to fragmentation in life and practice. I encourage people to look at the energy of fear, for fear can limit our access to freedom.
It is quite possible to diligently practice mindfulness, yet keep fear at a distance. Not becoming intimate with fear creates a dualism and complacency that gives a silent nod of approval to living with fear. When we begin to look at, and become friends with, our fear, we suddenly discover a lot more space in our lives.
In the larger picture, Vipassana offers us all a practice that goes counter to the tremendous cultural momentum around us of materialism and consumerism. With practice, we can learn how to take full responsibility for ourselves, and so pay attention to developing inner qualities capable of sustaining us as we navigate the shifting sands of life.
Because I've been teaching in Burma the last three years, I've been able to see how mindfulness can be nourished by a culture that supports the ancient liberation teachings and by daily experiences of happiness arising from acts of generosity, morality and renunciation. Thus the practice of Buddhism and the living of Buddhism are woven together in a seamless tapestry.
If there is anything that is most engaging to me now, it is the desire to bring this sublime way of life into our culture in the West.
What began as a deep compassion for the suffering of the existential predicament of human beings deepened as I understood that we need not identify with our experience. It is this understanding that has led me far onto the path of befriending others on their spiritual journey. My greatest inspiration is working with students wherever they are in the moment. We are all capable of so much more than suffering; once we learn how to be mindful, it's only a matter of remembering that it is the purity of intention which frees us. Dismantling the myth that we need to be something other than what we are is so important, because if we can learn to be mindful of exactly where we are, we experience the happiness of peace, which is what we deeply are.
My deepest appreciation is for the joy of the spiritual adventure. The purity of mindfulness, which soothes our sophisticated, intellectual, analytical, and out-of-touch-with-our-bodies mindset, is the moment we remember to pay attention without embellishment, interpretation or judgment. That moment becomes overwhelmingly touching because it brings us what we most wish for, unconditional love and peace. This truth, this purity of intention is what brings us home.
Mushim (Patricia) Ikeda-Nash is a Buddhist teacher, writer, diversity consultant, and community activist. She is a core teacher and Leadership Sangha member at East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland, California (www.eastbaymeditation.org), and she appears in two documentary films, Acting on Faith: Women's New Religious Activism in America; and Between the Lines: Asian American Women's Poetry.
So much of my inspiration and joy comes from bearing witness to the unfolding of the dharma in myself and others. My teaching is most engaging when I'm involved in an on-going relationship with students and having the opportunity, and honor, to see what's happening in their lives. We may begin our practice on our cushions; and yet, as we learn to bring practice to all corners of our lives, we get a glimmer of the true possibility of liberation.
Simplicity has been most helpful to me, so I stick with basic instructions and try to distill my words to the bare minimum in a simple, clear and precise way.
My interest focuses on how to liberate the mind. I like to explore and find different ways that are most useful to people. I'm aware that various aspects of the practice, and the teaching, resonate with different people at different times. What is that person's experience right now and what will be most helpful to them? Often the answer comes to me by looking at what has happened to me in practice, and using that experience to help someone discover their own intuitive wisdom.
In my teaching, lovingkindness supports the developmental unfolding of wisdom. It doesn't do us much good to practice in ways that perpetuate self-judgment. When we come from a place of caring and lovingkindness, we allow for the possibility of transformation in our lives. Lovingkindness and wisdom allow us to move from a life of reaction to a life of inner resonance with the world around us. They take us out of a place of reaction and into one of responsiveness.
I try to help practitioners approach their meditation practice and their lives with compassion and wisdom. Bringing a loving attentiveness into each moment allows us to learn kindness rather than condemnation, and discernment rather than judgment.
I feel that it is essential not to make a split between the formal practice that happens on retreat and the informal practice that happens in daily life. At the core, formal practice and daily life practice are the same. In all arenas of life we can create the same dedication to wakefulness and sensitivity. The right place to practice meditation is wherever we are. The right time to practice is right now. And the right way to practice is to know what we are doing whenever we are doing it.
We can live each moment in a fresh way, free from expectations of how things should be and open to how things are whether we are sitting on the cushion, washing the dishes, or talking with a friend. With practice, we can discover a current of underlying joy and find that all of life is sacred.
Meditation practice is an offering to the world. When we meditate, we practice not only for ourselves, but for all beings. In meditation there is a gradual purification of heart. This purification allows us to trust ourselves and to respond spontaneously to others with compassion and insight.