Will You Light the Advent Candle?

Will You Light the Advent Candle?

Advent literally brings a week by week brightening as each candle is lit - first one, then two, then three, then four. Each week as we light another candle we can be reminded to slow down, turn our gaze inward and “enlighten” ourselves from within. If we embrace this fully – we’ll experience a week by week brightening within us and a Lightening around us. In the culmination of the season, we will bear witness to this beautiful candleLIGHT – a full Illumination of exquisite clarity that cannot be seen in any other light. CandleLight brings with it the softness, the tenderness, the subtleness of LOVE. It offers compassion and peace - a respite for the weary.

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My Body is a Microcosm-

My Body is a microcosm of its time and place within the world. 

My Body Is A Microcosm

I feel deeply. The sadness, fear, and estrangement of others seeps deeply within me. It's always been this way. These feelings might come on when I'm just standing next to someone in a line, and before I realize it in my cognitive brain, I feel it. I well up with tears. They engorge me. They flow. Sometimes, it takes a while to understand what is causing it. It may be the empathic acknowledgement of fear/sadness/pain of someone I'm in close proximity to, or of someone I love. It may be a triggered memory -  a sadness from the Earth or even from the Greater Universe as something or someone is transitioning -  and the loss is transforming all.

I tear-up and sometimes cry with beauty, music, the Truth in spoken word, the observed gesture of loving kindness or in witnessing the love between people.  I'll experience the feeling of the great and inconceivable beauty of the natural world and the Cosmos (what an incredible Super Moon this past week!), and well up with tears of Joy.

And, like many of you, I've lived a life of working hard to compartmentalize my deep feelings so I can operate in a world that often doesn't care so much for their expression - even to the point of shutting them down - shutting them off. 

Messages of our youth go deep: "Stop Crying!" - "Go to your room until you're done crying" - "Don't cry" - "Crying is for girls" - "Crying isn't going to change anything" - and there's more. We've all heard it -or at least most of us have. And then there's the internalized idea that to be Strong, You must not cry. I've been pretty good at that one - holding on so tightly - pushing feelings down, down deep.

And how about the Joy side: Do you ever get the feeling some people believe you don't have the right to be Happy - That joy can't be felt in the midst of sorrow - That feeling happiness/Joy must mean you don't really care - That happiness is only the right of a chosen few...  

Wait a minute! Has anyone ever sat you down and told you the Big Secret?

If not, here it is... Joy is not something we need to deserve. Joy was present when we entered this world - infused in us in our Creation as our first true gift - always there, always available to us. You never needed to deserve Joy. You are Joy - maybe covered under feelings produced from many layers of words spoken and actions committed by others in their own pain - but Joy is there  - It can be uncovered again.

And, here's something else I know is important  - something I've learned the hard way and only fully understood when I heard this spoken aloud by another. Each time I will, and do feel this CRY (individually or collectively) - I don't need to run it through my body and allow it to take up permanent residence inside of me. The residual effect of shutting down and shutting off emotions/feelings over many years takes a high toll. I don't recommend it. Our emotions don't go away. They become stuck and show up in other ways - anxiety, depression, illness, disease. I'm not saying that blocking feelings is the only cause, but it's one cause that's only now getting some attention in the mainstream. It deserves our attention - and we can do something about it. 

When we are feeling stuck, overwhelmed, deeply sad, or just "Off", we can start coming back into our bodies through our Breath.  Breathe - slowly - concentrating on the Breath - counting slowly as we inhale, holding the breath briefly - counting slowly as we exhale, holding briefly - again. and again. and again. - until we feel that we are coming back into our bodies - released from the energies that hold us hostage and that are not our own. 

Once we've found our breath and we again feel "embodied", we can begin to allow ourselves  the space and time - both within and around us -  to truly feel deeply - and to witness, in our bodies, in our minds, and in our hearts, what happens when we do. We don't need to fix the pain/sorrow/anxiety, etc. -instead, we can take the opportunity to create a safe space around these feelings, and to observe these feelings and what is underneath them in this created space - with curiosity and an open heart - with Courage.  What we find underneath is usually fear. And, instead of giving into the fear we can simply acknowledge it.  Stay Open. Stay Aware. Stay Present. Continue to Breathe. Let our fear rest in the Heart Space - in the Courage.

You might just begin to feel those fears unwinding, softening, losing energy.

In creating an opening - a sacred space -  and allowing our feelings into this space (so as not to take up residence in our bodies), we can also summon Spirit to provide us with the comfort, clarity, direction, and Courage to act - or take action in a way that is most appropriate and loving for us - and for others. Taking heart-centered action cuts through the stranglehold of fear. Is this easy? NO.  But not to do so will be much harder. I've been down the harder road. In fact, I took up residence along this road for many years. 

Are you on this road? 

The harder road begs us to act with patience - especially with ourselves. AND, it always gifts us with an opportunity to tune in to what we truly want  - in alignment with who we are and how we want to show up in the world - right now. Taking time to Feel is necessary if we are to stand fully present and show up first of all for ourselves, then for our families, friends, our micro-world, and the larger world. Can you feel the rippling effect?

Right now, in this moment, I am experiencing a deep collective cry - The cry of the Earth, the cry of the displaced, the cry of the poor, the cry of the disenfranchised, the cry of the marginalized, the cry of all people who feel helpless, scared, and alone. But it isn't all I'm feeling.

I also feel the great Courage, the incredible strength, the immeasurable hope, and the unconditional Love of those who are showing up - fully heart-centered and fully present - to Lead in response to this collective cry. I'm talking about Standing Rock - about Doctors Without Borders - about Black Lives Matter and so much more- AND I'm talking about the visible gestures of those who quietly embrace and support those in need. 

If we look - if we listen - if we see with our heart's eyes,  we can feel the raging energetic movement of Light - moving as a counterbalance to the Darkness.

This sensation of energetic movement is palpable. We feel it when we keep our Courage - if we, with Intention, keep our hearts open. In Courage, is possibility. Be Curious. Practice using breath and creating sacred space to Feel. Call in your Heart - your Courage. Call in support from those you love and who love you right back.

And, don't forget to call upon Spirit -  the Higher Life Forces - whatever you deem them to be.  Watch. Listen. Feel.  For the Answer - the feeling of Joy - is maybe only a quiet whisper - maybe only a dim flicker - maybe only a gentle murmur. Claim it and watch it Amplify. The effect of our actions affect us All. Deeply.  The way forward calls for heart-centered action - for Courage.

My body is a microcosm of its time and place in the world. 

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below. I'd love to hear from you.  Jo Ann


Why the Buddha Kept Meditating: (an excerpt from the full article) by Thich Nhat Hanh

I'm sharing this beautiful excerpt to bring hope to all who struggle with finding and sustaining Happiness in daily life.  With great compassion, Thich Nhat Hanh, a renowned Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Monk, explains how to find our way on the road to JOY -  beginning with an invitation to ourselves to be fully present, not only to those around us and to the larger world, but to the deep recesses within as we Practice, Nourish. and Condition Ourselves to Happiness

We can condition our bodies and minds to happiness with the five practices of letting go, inviting positive seeds, mindfulness, concentration, and insight.
— Thich Nhat Hanh

When I was a young monk, I wondered why the Buddha kept practicing mindfulness and meditation even after he had already become a buddha. Now I find the answer is plain enough to see. Happiness is impermanent, like everything else. In order for happiness to be extended and renewed, you have to learn how to feed your happiness. Nothing can survive without food, including happiness; your happiness can die if you don’t know how to nourish it. If you cut a flower but you don’t put it in some water, the flower will wilt in a few hours.

Even if happiness is already manifesting, we have to continue to nourish it. This is sometimes called conditioning, and it’s very important. We can condition our bodies and minds to happiness with the five practices of letting go, inviting positive seeds, mindfulness, concentration, and insight.


The first method of creating joy and happiness is to cast off, to leave behind. There is a kind of joy that comes from letting go. Many of us are bound to so many things. We believe these things are necessary for our survival, our security, and our happiness. But many of these things—or more precisely, our beliefs about their utter necessity—are really obstacles for our joy and happiness.

Sometimes you think that having a certain career, diploma, salary, house, or partner is crucial for your happiness. You think you can’t go on without it. Even when you have achieved that situation, or are with that person, you continue to suffer. At the same time, you’re still afraid that if you let go of that prize you’ve attained, it will be even worse; you will be even more miserable without the object you are clinging to. You can’t live with it, and you can’t live without it.

If you come to look deeply into your fearful attachment, you will realize that it is in fact the very obstacle to your joy and happiness. You have the capacity to let it go. Letting go takes a lot of courage sometimes. But once you let go, happiness comes very quickly. You won’t have to go around searching for it.

Imagine you’re a city dweller taking a weekend trip out to the countryside. If you live in a big metropolis, there’s a lot of noise, dust, pollution, and odors, but also a lot of opportunities and excitement. One day, a friend coaxes you into getting away for a couple of days. At first you may say, “I can’t. I have too much work. I might miss an important call.”

But finally he convinces you to leave, and an hour or two later, you find yourself in the countryside. You see open space. You see the sky, and you feel the breeze on your cheeks. Happiness is born from the fact that you could leave the city behind. If you hadn’t left, how could you experience that kind of joy? You needed to let go.


We each have many kinds of “seeds” lying deep in our consciousness. Those we water are the ones that sprout, come up into our awareness, and manifest outwardly.

So in our own consciousness there is hell, and there is also paradise. We are capable of being compassionate, understanding, and joyful. If we pay attention only to the negative things in us, especially the suffering of past hurts, we are wallowing in our sorrows and not getting any positive nourishment. We can practice appropriate attention, watering the wholesome qualities in us by touching the positive things that are always available inside and around us. That is good food for our mind.

One way of taking care of our suffering is to invite a seed of the opposite nature to come up. As nothing exists without its opposite, if you have a seed of arrogance, you have also a seed of compassion. Every one of us has a seed of compassion. If you practice mindfulness of compassion every day, the seed of compassion in you will become strong. You need only concentrate on it and it will come up as a powerful zone of energy.

Naturally, when compassion comes up, arrogance goes down. You don’t have to fight it or push it down. We can selectively water the good seeds and refrain from watering the negative seeds. This doesn’t mean we ignore our suffering; it just means that we allow the positive seeds that are naturally there to get attention and nourishment.


Mindfulness helps us not only to get in touch with suffering, so that we can embrace and transform it, but also to touch the wonders of life, including our own body. Then breathing in becomes a delight, and breathing out can also be a delight. You truly come to enjoy your breathing.

A few years ago, I had a virus in my lungs that made them bleed. I was spitting up blood. With lungs like that, it was difficult to breathe, and it was difficult to be happy while breathing. After treatment, my lungs healed and my breathing became much better. Now when I breathe, all I need to do is to remember the time when my lungs were infected with this virus. Then every breath I take becomes really delicious, really good.

When we practice mindful breathing or mindful walking, we bring our mind home to our body and we are established in the here and the now. We feel so lucky; we have so many conditions of happiness that are already available. Joy and happiness come right away. So mindfulness is a source of joy. Mindfulness is a source of happiness.

Mindfulness is an energy you can generate all day long through your practice. You can wash your dishes in mindfulness. You can cook your dinner in mindfulness. You can mop the floor in mindfulness. And with mindfulness you can touch the many conditions of happiness and joy that are already available. You are a real artist. You know how to create joy and happiness any time you want. This is the joy and the happiness born from mindfulness.


Concentration is born from mindfulness. Concentration has the power to break through, to burn away the afflictions that make you suffer and to allow joy and happiness to come in.

To stay in the present moment takes concentration. Worries and anxiety about the future are always there, ready to take us away. We can see them, acknowledge them, and use our concentration to return to the present moment.

When we have concentration, we have a lot of energy. We don’t get carried away by visions of past suffering or fears about the future. We dwell stably in the present moment so we can get in touch with the wonders of life, and generate joy and happiness.

Concentration is always concentration on something. If you focus on your breathing in a relaxed way, you are already cultivating an inner strength. When you come back to feel your breath, concentrate on your breathing with all your heart and mind. Concentration is not hard labor. You don’t have to strain yourself or make a huge effort. Happiness arises lightly and easily.


With mindfulness, we recognize the tension in our body, and we want very much to release it, but sometimes we can’t. What we need is some insight.

Insight is seeing what is there. It is the clarity that can liberate us from afflictions such as jealousy or anger, and allow true happiness to come. Every one of us has insight, though we don’t always make use of it to increase our happiness.

We may know, for example, that something (a craving, or a grudge) is an obstacle for our happiness, that it brings us anxiety and fear. We know this thing is not worth the sleep we’re losing over it. But still we go on spending our time and energy obsessing about it. We’re like a fish who has been caught once before and knows there’s a hook inside the bait; if the fish makes use of that insight, he won’t bite, because he knows he’ll get caught by the hook.

Often, we just bite onto our craving or grudge, and let the hook take us. We get caught and attached to these situations that are not worthy of our concern. If mindfulness and concentration are there, then insight will be there and we can make use of it to swim away, free.

In springtime when there is a lot of pollen in the air, some of us have a hard time breathing due to allergies. Even when we aren’t trying to run five miles and we just want to sit or lie down, we can’t breathe very well. So in wintertime, when there’s no pollen, instead of complaining about the cold, we can remember how in April or May we couldn’t go out at all. Now our lungs are clear, we can take a brisk walk outside and we can breathe very well. We consciously call up our experience of the past to help ourselves treasure the good things we are having right now.

In the past we probably did suffer from one thing or another. It may even have felt like a kind of hell. If we remember that suffering, not letting ourselves get carried away by it, we can use it to remind ourselves, “How lucky I am right now. I’m not in that situation. I can be happy”—that is insight; and in that moment, our joy, and our happiness can grow very quickly.

The essence of our practice can be described as transforming suffering into happiness. It’s not a complicated practice, but it requires us to cultivate mindfulness, concentration, and insight.

It requires first of all that we come home to ourselves, that we make peace with our suffering, treating it tenderly, and looking deeply at the roots of our pain. It requires that we let go of useless, unnecessary sufferings and take a closer look at our idea of happiness.

Finally, it requires that we nourish happiness daily, with acknowledgment, understanding, and compassion for ourselves and for those around us. We offer these practices to ourselves, to our loved ones, and to the larger community. This is the art of suffering and the art of happiness. With each breath, we ease suffering and generate joy. With each step, the flower of insight blooms.

From No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering, by Thich Nhat Hanh. © 2014 by United Buddhist Church. Published with the permission of Parallax Press.www.parallax.org.