Posts by Vicky Matthews

“You are Here” by Thich Nhat Hanh

"You are Here" by Thich Nhat Hanh

“Happiness is possible,” Thich Nhat Hanh reassuringly begins the three-CD audiobook You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment.

I arrive back from two months in India and twenty days of Vipassana insight meditation retreat, where I was practicing mindfulness, and waiting for me on my doorstep is a copy of Thich Nhat Hanh’s You Are Here

It promises to offer simple and effective practices for cultivating mindfulness. Perfect, I think to myself as I try to maintain the few remaining grains of equanimity I had cultivated back in India. 

Title: You Are Here
Author: Thich Nhat Hanh
Read by: Lloyd James
Publisher: Shambhala
ISBN: 978-1-59030-727-4
Available from: Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Monk and internationally known author, poet, scholar and peace activist. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King, Jr. 

“Don’t wait to start living, live now. It’s now or never”. 

You Are Here offers guidance on healing emotional pain and manifesting real love and compassion in our relationships with others. 

Thich Nhat Hanh advises “Do not fight against pain, embrace with tenderness.”

This is a wonderful teaching, but it’s so easy to forget when you are caught up in a negative emotion, it can overwhelm and all you want to do is run away from it and make it go away, but of course if I’m serious pursuing the spiritual path I cannot run or suppress, I must get deeply in touch with the existence of pain and suffering in order to cultivate compassion – without compassion, there is no happiness or true love.

I had first hand experience of this on my recent trip to India. I felt deeply unhappy. I had arrived in Delhi alone; my relationship had just come to an abrupt end just a few days earlier. I was confused, empty, slightly relieved with tinges of excitement – I had a two month adventure ahead of me, but I couldn’t have been further away from peace and equanimity.

I headed down to Bodhgaya to embark on the first vipassana retreat in a Thai Monastery. I waited and watched negative emotions pass and sometimes be replaced with more negative emotions but sometimes they would be replaced with joy, peace and equanimity! Thich Nhat Hanh mentions that joy and pleasure should also be part of our meditation.

I also more recently weathered another emotional storm when I returned. I was sitting with feelings of rejection, hurt and humiliation. I had been feeling like I had hit a roundabout on the path – and couldn’t find the right exit. I was facing the same obstacles again and again. I sat with anger, pain, regret and jealously. l didn’t want to be alive, but of course on the other side was the insight or “flowers” as Thich Nhat Hanh refers to. He suggests that you talk to depression and anger as you would a child, with no discrimination or dualism.

 “You Are Here” explores the Dharma whilst furnishing the listener with relevant practice “tips” for both beginners and more experienced practitioners.

Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us “Just breathe. You are here, body and mind. Breathe light into the lamp of awareness”

With this lamp of awareness shining I know the relationship couldn’t have been sustainable as it was. We weren’t acting with awareness or compassion; so of course the love could not be cultivated, and I now understand it is easier to suppress negative emotions and use ‘the relationship’ to hide by cradling someone else’s pain and suffering and neglecting myself and my own suffering.

Thich Nhat Hanh advises, the gateway is the breath, don’t look for an escape and be responsible for the self and armed with energy of mindfulness cradle the suffering. “Wake up! Be compassionate!”

“Mindfulness is not an evasion or an escape,” he explains. “It means being here, present, and totally alive. It is true freedom—and without this freedom, there is no happiness.”

Available from: Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.

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“The Three Commitments: Walking the Path of Liberation,” by Pema Chödrön

The Three Commitments

It has taken me an age to write this, and I have only just realized why.

Pema delivers such ‘big’ ideas and concepts – and often all in the same breath! It has taken quite a few listens. Also, the opportunity to review The Three Commitments arrived when I was creating an event called ‘White Night – What is Enlightenment?’ for Brighton Buddhist Centre, tending to an allotment (community garden), and producing a BBC documentary series, as well as a short stint at Buddhafield. Listening to Pema became a multitasking affair – either while driving or whilst making decorations with my friends for White Night, while it really should have been a pen-and-paper, full-attention type of affair and is probably something I will revisit.

Title: The Three Commitments: Walking the Path of Liberation
Author: Pema Chödrön
Publisher: Sounds True
ISBN: 978-1-59179-775-3
Format: 7 CDs (7 hours, 45 minutes), 1 Study guide (14 pages)
Available from: Sounds True, Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.

Pema Chödrön is an American born Tibetan Buddhist nun, who has authored several books including The Places That Scare You and The Wisdom of No Escape. She is resident teacher at Gampo Abbey monastery in Nova Scotia.

The Three Commitments consists of 7 CDs (7 hours, 45 minutes) and 1 Study guide (14 pages). With The Three Commitments, Pema Chödrön brings her unique blend of authentic insight with informal and accessible instruction to guide the listener through each of these vows.

  • The Pratimoksha vows–how we can find personal liberation through the inner work of letting go
  • The Bodhisattva vows–the way of genuine and compassionate service to others
  • The Tantric vows–how to accept impermanence with true equanimity and touch the underlying stillness from which all worldly forms arise

As Pema explains, suffering arises when we resist the law of impermanence—the fact that everything we know, including ourselves, will one day die. Here she provides teachings and practices for fully embracing life’s ephemeral nature using these three traditional monastic vows, or “commitments.”

She makes it all sound so easy, but in a good way! She talks from first hand experience; her authentic voice helps listeners discover how each of these sacred vows is not a burden or restriction but a guiding beacon on the path of liberation. The dharma can easily overwhelm me, but Pema keeps it real with humour and personal stories.

So what have I taken from listening to The Three Commitments and this search for ‘What is Enlightenment?’ Well, the question as to whether I ‘believe’ in “Enlightenment” plays on my mind, but I do want to ‘let go’ and accept that being human is ambiguous, uncertain and groundless and I know I will find peace. A starting point is, as Pema states “When you take a vow, it sows a seed in the mind and heart that never goes away.”

As much as this sounds quite simple, there is much work to do on this path, Pema says “It’s like someone played a joke on us, and programmed us the wrong way,” we have a huge task on our hands, but as Pema states “Life is dynamic and fresh…so enjoy it!”

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“Unconditional Confidence,” by Pema Chödrön

Unconditional Confidence, by Pema ChodronIs unconditional confidence possible? Famed meditation and dharma teacher Pema Chödrön argues that it is, says Vicky Matthews, and that the secret is a surprising one: unconditional confidence comes from being gentle with oneself.

Title: Unconditional Confidence: Instructions for Meeting Any Experience With Trust and Courage
Author: Pema Chödrön
Publisher: Sounds True
ISBN: 1-59179-746-2
Format: 2 CDs (2 hours)
Available from: Sounds True and Amazon.com.

The opportunity to review ‘Unconditional Confidence’ arrived at a time that couldn’t have been more pertinent. It had been the finale of a project I had been involved in, with a final pitch. The whole event had been a high-pressured affair, and the final fruits seemed non-existent.  Fear, in the form of blame, was abundant, and my confidence had plummeted. A week later the CDs arrive. Hallelujah!

Pema Chödrön is an American-born Tibetan Buddhist nun, who has authored several books including The places That Scare You and The Wisdom of No Escape. She is resident teacher at Gampo Abbey monastery in Nova Scotia.

The 120 min two CD audiobook offers practical tools for cultivating “tender-hearted bravery” in time of challenge and change, and a three-step method for overcoming fear and uncertainty. 

“The root of true confidence,” teaches Pema, “grows from our ability to be in unconditional friendship with ourselves, to train in gentleness, and to trust in our natural intelligence to navigate life.”

The book covers how to move in the direction of freedom through discovering “shaky tenderness,” why being right or wrong doesn’t affect true confidence, steps for learning to “leap into, smile at, and experience all of life” even when fear is present, and how to be kind to yourself, even when you don’t feel kind and keep the root of confidence growing strong.

I appreciated the informal, conversational style and the warm and inspiring insights from her own life. She offers clear and concise instructions.
  
As I’m listening, I can feel a hard shell of protection around me. It feels like a scary prospect not to be surrounded by this hard shell; to run away and avoid the experience seems like the obvious plan, but what we need to do is be receptive to the experience, tap into the well of tenderness and get to know the nature of fear intimately. Pema explains how meditation is the key: “touch what’s coming up, then let it go.” 
 
I take from “Unconditional Confidence” instructions of what do when fear arises. I am furnishing myself with useful skills to enable me to become a ‘Spiritual Warrior’ and approach fear with the ‘tenderhearted bravery’ she describes.

Chödrön describes situations that are all too familiar, such our culture of distracting oneself from our “ubiquitous nervousness” (or being slightly panicked at all times) so easily with music, drugs, and general distractions. She explains that the root of confidence is gentleness to oneself. Be brave enough to stick with the self through think and thin.

What to do when you panic? Chödrön advises to surround it with loving kindness and an attitude of gentleness.

What wonderful tools to have! I shall be practicing turning towards my fear with a huge open heart, which will hopefully allow confidence to flow into my life!

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