Losar Greeting from Elizabeth

Dearest Friends,

As the Lunar New Year (of the Fire Monkey!) approaches, I have begun making some strong aspirations. Aspirations always give my mind direction and an opportunity to clarify and explore the meaning of my life and activity. As many strong aspirations have been surging up in my mind I wanted to share them with you, and hope that they influence you in many positive ways (that is, if you want them to). 

This year, I revisited some photos that I saw at a gallery several years ago in NYC called The Wild Horses of Sable Island, by photographer by Roberto Dutesco. The photographs capture the spirit of the wild horses that roam freely on a narrow island of sand one hundred miles off the coast of Nova Scotia. They blew me away. What I saw were horses that embodied their full essence, life force, or “chi.” I spend a lot of time around domesticated horses and I can see what comes with taming them. It’s not that there is something wrong with domesticated horses, but they have had to alter something very deep inside to live in a world—a human world—that is not natural for them biologically or psychologically. As I continue to work with my horse, Uma Devi, I learn a lot about her way of adapting to this foreign situation, and do my best to understand the world of “horse.” I continue to educate myself as to how I can communicate with her both energetically and physically. I have a long way to go but I find it sweet how we both try to meet each other half way.

Many years ago, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche hung two large photographs in our house: one photograph of two adolescent tribal girls in Africa, and the other of two elderly Sherpa women up in the Himalayas. Rinpoche pointed to the photos, and said: “This is the best of youth, and this is the best of old age.” I saw exactly what he meant. I had the same experience when encountering these photos as I did when admiring the raw beauty of the horses running on the sands of Sable Island. Like those horses, the women in the photos seemed to fully embody their humanness. Despite their bent, aged bodies and wrinkled faces, the Sherpa women, like the horses, looked unhindered, free, and luminous, with a strong authentic presence and life force. The two young women looked present and un-neurotic. As I look around at people moving about our high tech man-made environments, absorbed in their own small worlds—it has sometimes made me wonder whether returning to this state of authenticity is even an option for most of humanity at this time...

…but I think, “YES," we do have the opportunity to live freely. And this brings us to the true purpose of the Buddha’s dharma. For me, the purpose of practice is to bring our selves back to our natural state. All the practices we engage, bodhicitta, moving away from self-focus, seeing the interdependent and empty nature of things, appreciating the richness of this sacred world, and resting in the nature of mind...these provide us all with ways to return to something utterly simple and basic—something no one can tamper with or take away.

As practitioners, out of confusion, we often make the dharma a “thing”—just another thing to do, some thing to realize, some thing that removes us from the stress of ordinary life, some thing we feel pressured to do for our teacher. Do we really need more things?

I recently got a question on my blog asking how I would suggest introducing mindfulness meditation to children. I love the idea of this… as long as we don’t make it a thing. Children already have an easier time being natural than adults. They have not yet been forced out of their human-ness. So all we have to do is provide some quiet time, ask them questions, honor what they notice, show them by example, and give them an opportunity for silence. Then when they become teenagers and have to fit in socially, they have this basic knowledge or ground to return to. Even if they seem lost at times, they will at some point find the sanity of the ground. It will be an easy recognition of something that never actually left.

Nowadays we often complain how everything is moving so fast we can’t seem to catch up and we see a lot of violence in the world. We often talk about how we can’t find time to practice. It is true in some sense that we have removed ourselves form our natural habitat—that we have thrown things out of balance—but reconnecting with your true nature is not something that can be taken away from you. It’s right there if you seek it out. It is the nature of both natural and man-made environments, it is there amid violence and peace. The nature reveals itself, when we stop grasping at and rejecting life and rather appreciate its magnificent world of interdependent expression. So, with this bigger view and appreciation, you will have to include environmental degradation and even violence as part of the display of infinite contingency.

This is very important to remember so that you don’t turn away from life and develop an attitude of doom toward the expressive aspect of the nature.

There is no need to turn away from everyday life in order to connect with practice. We can’t actually even practice despite our life and resenting how things are will just get in the way. All the pain and glory that we experience in life is nothing more than the expressive nature of interdependent relationships converging, expressing themselves, and dissolving.

So now based on all of this rambling, I want to make some aspirations from my heart. These thoughts just bubbled up from my own mind with great feeling and so, because you are my friends, I want to wish you well…not as if I were someone special, but just out of care. If you like them you can just make them for yourself (using the pronoun “I”) or you can also make them for others as I am. Or, you can pick one or two that you like, or dismiss them all and make your own! But whatever you decide, here they are:

May you enjoy practice as returning to the naturalness of being and not see it as a pressure or just another "project" or ego-enterprise. May you pause continually so that you don’t get swept away by the momentum of habitual mind. May you respect that all things, whether you like them or not, arise from the great nature of interdependence. In the spirit of this, may you never resent your life and circumstances. When you see pain, may you respond to it with compassion instead of despair. When you see beauty may you rejoice and marvel at it. May you respect the nature of cause and effect and utilize the richness available to you in order to increase your wellbeing and the wellbeing of others. And in doing so, may your life force increase and remain strong!

Lots of love to you all! Happy Losar Year of the Monkey…yes, I know we are moving out of the year of the Sheep and into the year of the Monkey, but it’s always the year the of the horse for me.