In the last six weeks I’ve taught three 10-day teacher training intensives – two in Lynchburg and one in Berlin. The students in each program were earnest, smart, vulnerable, willing, strong, and creative. I feel honored to know each of them and inspired by the individual mentoring work they are all doing in order to be of service in the world. They are integrating yoga with social service, music, physical therapy, nutrition, anatomy, Buddhist meditation and philosophy by taking their practice into the real life of their countries: creating women’s shelters in Turkey; teaching yoga and mindfulness in the House of Parliament; working with prisoners in Florida and corporate leaders in North Carolina.
Now I am in New Mexico for a couple days of holiday before going back into Chaplaincy training at Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe. This morning I got to watch the sunrise come up behind the Sandia Mountains and as I reflected on my work this summer, I felt full and empty at the same time.
Emptiness. This is a word that comes up in Buddhist philosophy and I’ve noticed that a lot of people find it confusing. I get it. How can emptiness be a good thing? Emptiness can even seem to imply that Buddhists believe in nothing, that we think nothing exists, that we are nihilists.
Au contraire! Emptiness is more like a traditional, inside-out way of saying fullness. It means that nothing exists on it’s own. Everything comes from something, everyone has a mother. So we say that we are empty of independent existence — in other words, we are all connected to each other and to all that is. Indeed, we are full — full of connection, full of interdependence. With every breath we take, we are sharing the same ocean of air. Our every action has an impact, just as we are affected by actions and events in far away places.
This is what Chaplaincy training is all about – becoming a social change agent. We start with our own practice on the mat and cushion. This is how we learn to recognize our own stress and sadness, and to realize it comes from thinking we are separate. Then we look for opportunities to help and ways to relieve the suffering of others.
What I am learning from my teachers, Roshi Joan and Sensei Alan, is flowing through me and right into my sixty beautiful advanced teacher trainees. It is a network that is empty of separation and full of goodness.
Hope to see you all on the mat and cushion this year. I’m excited about all the opportunities I have to share the dharma goodness with you.
Lots of love,
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Adventures off the mat and into the world…